St. Gildas was a monk who chronicled the history of the British isles from the time near the end of the Roman era to the coming of the Saxons. He lived approximately from 500 – 570 AD. His most famous work is the De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin of Britain). It is an important piece of writing as it is one of few contemporary writings of the period surrounding sub-Roman Britain. I have linked to the translation of the document below:

On the Ruin of Britain

Britain Begins by Barry Cunliffe

Britain-Begins-Barry-CunliffeBritain Begins by Barry Cunliffe

Paperback: 568 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (January 1, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0199679452

Product Description:

The last Ice Age, which came to an end about 12,000 years ago, swept the bands of hunter gatherers from the face of the land that was to become Britain and Ireland, but as the ice sheets retreated and the climate improved so human groups spread slowly northwards, re-colonizing the land that had been laid waste. From that time onwards Britain and Ireland have been continuously inhabited and the resident population has increased from a few hundreds to more than 60 million.

Britain Begins is nothing less than the story of the origins of the British and the Irish peoples, from around 10,000BC to the eve of the Norman Conquest. Using the most up to date archaeological evidence together with new work on DNA and other scientific techniques which help us to trace the origins and movements of these early settlers, Barry Cunliffe offers a rich narrative account of the first islanders – who they were, where they came from, and how they interacted one with another. Underlying this narrative throughout is the story of the sea, which allowed the islanders and their continental neighbours to be in constant contact.

The story told by the archaeological evidence, in later periods augmented by historical texts, satisfies our need to know who we are and where we come from. But before the development of the discipline of archaeology, people used what scraps there were, gleaned from Biblical and classical texts, to create a largely mythological origin for the British. Britain Begins also explores the development of these early myths, which show our ancestors attempting to understand their origins. And, as Cunliffe shows, today’s archaeologists are driven by the same desire to understand the past – the only real difference is that we have vastly more evidence to work with.

Rating: 4.5 stars on Amazon (21 reviews)

Cast Set for BBC & Carnival’s ‘Game Of Thrones’-Style epic ‘The Last Kingdom’

I’m excited by this. Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Series is one of my favorite historical fiction series. The Last Kingdom is the first installment. Other books in the series include: The Pale Horseman, The Lords of the North, Sword Song, The Burning Land, Death of Kings, and The Pagan Lord.

An international cast has been firmed up as shooting begins on The Last Kingdom, BBC America, BBC Two and Downton Abbey producer Carnival Films’ Game Of Thrones-esque epic series. Set in the 9th century, the eight-part historical drama is an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling series of books The Saxon Stories, with Stephen Butchard penning the transfer.

Read more…

Medieval palace uncovered in England

From Fox News:

A prehistoric fortress is home to a much later structure: what may be one of the biggest medieval palaces ever discovered, one whose remnants remain buried beneath the ground.

The site in southern England is surrounded by huge earthworks that date to the Iron Age. Researchers used ground-penetrating radar and other technology to investigate what’s under the grass within the inner and outer baileys of the former fort.

Read more…

Review of Stormbird (Wars of the Roses) by Conn Iggulden

Stormbird Wars of the Roses by Conn IgguldenThere is no romance at the heart of war. Conn Iggulden captures this sentiment perfectly in his latest novel, Stormbird (Wars of the Roses). The medieval period is often glamorized as a period of chivalry and romance in many films and novels, so I was relieved when Iggulden did not fall into this typical cliche. His writing is more in the vein of Bernard Cornwell with a gritty, realistic approach to what it was actually like to live through this turbulent period of English history. Granted he does take some liberalities with the history, but remember this is historical fiction not a biography, and he does point out these areas in the historical note.

Stormbird is the first novel in a new series planned by Iggulden. The book opens with a marriage alliance between King Henry VI of England and Margaret of Anjou, a young French noblewoman, in hopes of easing the hostilities between England and France. As part of the alliance, England agrees to return a portion of territories captured back to France. This agreement is manipulated by Henry’s closest advisers, Derry Brewer the spymaster (a fictional character) and Duke William of Suffolk. This truce enrages many of the powerful English nobles, including Richard, Duke of York, and they plot to overthrow the timid Henry from his throne. Also beneath this chaos grows the seeds of rebellion from the lower class who are tired of the nobility suppressing their freedoms. The leader of this rebellion is Jack Cade, and he has plans to march on London.

Chaos. Betrayal. Corruption. Tactical diplomacy. War. These are the words that best describe England and France during the medieval period, and Iggulden does not fail to deliver. It was a brutal period of history in which to live, and it is felt in the setting that the author depicts. Iggulden does a nice job moving between the various plot points and points of view. The pacing is good. I do wish the characters were a little more fleshed out, but hopefully that will come in the subsequent books. Though it would not have been historical accurate, it would have added some additional tension to have William of Suffolk and Margaret of Anjou in a secret relationship, as there seemed to be something there between them when they first met. Since the relationship between Margaret and King Henry was rather bland, this element — though I admit may be cliche and falls risk to romanticizing the period if done incorrectly — could have created an extra layer for readers that seemed to be missing.

Overall, I’d rate Stormbird 4 out of 5 stars. I hope to see a return of many of these characters in the next novel.

About the author:

Conn Iggulden is one of the most successful authors of historical fiction writing today. His previous series, on Julius Caesar and on the Mongol Khans of Central Asia, describe the founding of two of the greatest empires in history. Now, with Stormbird, he plunges readers into one of the most bloody and brutal periods in history, when two rival branches of one royal English family threw their country into a devastating, decades-long civil war. Iggulden lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and children.

What’s next?

Within the week, I should be offering a book giveaway for one free copy of Stormbird. Details to come later, so check back with my site soon. Also, I plan to post a Q&A interview from the author later in the week.

The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell
Series: Saxon Tales
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (January 7, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0061969702

New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell returns to his epic Saxon Tales saga with The Pagan Lord, a dramatic story of divided loyalties, bloody battles, and the struggle to unite Britain.

At the onset of the tenth century, England is in turmoil. Alfred the Great is dead and Edward his son reigns as king. Wessex survives but peace cannot hold: the Danes in the north, led by Viking Cnut Longsword, stand ready to invade and will never rest until the emerald crown is theirs.

Uhtred, once Alfred’s great warrior but now out of favor with the new king, must lead a band of outcasts north to recapture his old family home, that great Northumbrian fortress, Bebbanburg.

In The Pagan Lord, loyalties will be divided and men will fall, as every Saxon kingdom is drawn into the bloodiest battle yet with the Danes; a war which will decide the fate of every king, and the entire English nation.

Rating on Amazon: 4.5 stars

Read my reviews on the other novels in the Saxon Tales:

Once I read The Pagan Lord, I will post my review of it as well.

Richard III laid to rest

From Yahoo News:

King Richard III of England will be laid back to rest in a wooden coffin sealed inside a tomb made of Swaledale fossil stone in Leicester Cathedral, the dean of the cathedral announced Monday (June 16)…

…The Plantagenet Alliance and its supporters argued that Richard III had adopted York as his hometown in life (he spent about a third of his 33 years in the city). Leicester, the scene of his ignominious burial in 1485, would not be the king’s choice of resting place, the group argued.

However, a British High Court ruled on May 23 that the University of Leicester had a valid exhumation license, and thus could reinter Richard’s remains.

Read the full story.

Related articles:

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle is a 14th century castle in East Sussex built by Edward Dalyngrigge in 1385. Edward Dalyngrigge was a former knight of Edward III, fighting for the king in the Hundred Years’ War as a member of the Free Companies. He received his license to build Bodiam from King Richard II.

The castle has a classic appearance with a water moat surrounding the outer defenses with a bridge leading across to the main gatehouse. The bridge that currently exists today is not the original bridge, however. The original bridge formed a right angle before straightening out to the main gatehouse to prevent attackers easy access to the castle.

While the water moat has a classic “medieval” look to it, surprisingly water moats were not all that common with medieval castles. Many castles simply had a dry ditch with stakes impaled in the dirt and an earthen wall sloping up to the foot of the outer walls. With a retractable drawbridge pulled back across the dry moat, these obstacles put attackers in a difficult position when assaulting a castle.

A unique feature about Bodiam is the fact it has no keep. The buildings within the castle are built into the inner walls and the courtyard is left open. Most castles would employ a central keep in the middle of the courtyard for a last defense, but Bodiam left that space open. This probably is a testament to the fact that Bodiam was as much or more of a residence than actually built for pure defense.

Additional Reading:

*photo by Antony McCallum, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.