Book Review: Everyman & Other Miracle and Morality Plays

everyman (1)

Art has always been a powerful medium. Some see it as a form of protest, injecting their political thought, to convince others of their ideology (or in this case, instill the fear of God in them), while others see it as another means of expression where political thought isn’t necessary.

Medieval art was no difference. What movies and TV shows are for us today, these plays were for the medieval average Joe and Jane. They were their form of escapism, a distraction from their everyday hard lives.

These plays also worked like fables. There was a lesson to be learned at the end of every tale. And like fables, the protagonist had to go through many obstacles, to realize what was truly important.

Among the few medieval plays that have survived is “Everyman” which this edition heavily focuses on. My advice is that you read every play, not just Everyman.

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Each play is a retelling of biblical stories, with some being an original story where protagonist face some sort of obstacle they must overcome with the help of supernatural beings (like with “Everyman”). If these plays had relied solely on scary imagery, the audience would have felt little encouragement to stay through the whole event. Similarly, if the Merchant’s Guild (who financed these plays) had not thrown in something funny, the people would have felt just like they did at church.

The commons were eager for the arrival of the holiday season because it meant they would get to be part of another spectacle. Unlike movies today where you have to pay to see them, these plays were free.

At the time that “Everyman” was released, England had been embroiled in a civil war. The two major branches of the Plantagenet Dynasty, York and Lancaster, been fighting each other off for over three centuries. Although Lancaster had been wiped off, one scion remained.

Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, was seen as the new hope for the House of Lancaster. Those who had fought with his uncle and his fierce queen, fled England and joined him in exile. Henry promised that he would beat Richard and crown himself King, and marry the King’s niece, the Yorkist Princess, Elizabeth Plantagenet. Their union would bring the two sides together, thus, ending the conflict. This oath brought many disaffected Edwardian Yorkists to his side.

After Henry became King of England, there was an outbreak of sweating sickness. People were once again reminded of their stark reality. More than ever, these plays became necessary. They needed something to bring them respite from their everyday hardships.

More than escapism, these plays also offered them a sense of comfort. The common man could see himself in the protagonist, or identify with the other characters and go back home, thinking that like them, if they put enough trust in God, things would get better.

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Book Review: How to be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman

how to be a tudor lucy worsley

Ruth Goodman weaves a wonderful tale of kings, queens, peasants, artisans, and other groups from the late fifteenth, sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, illustrating how people’s views on sex, religion, childbirth, education and other customs varied, depending on the region they lived and -for those in the middle and at the bottom- how different regimes affected their lifestyle.
As such, issues such as work, immigration, cleanliness, food and clothing are also addressed.

One thing that Ruth Goodman also excels at is tearing down through the myths that people still buy into when they think of the Tudor era. And we can hardly blame fans who do because there isn’t a lot of focus on important factors that dominated people’s lives such as identity, religion, social status, and region.

This is a must have for every history enthusiast and aspiring historian. You won’t be disappointed.

Richly descriptive, beautifully written and highly entertaining, Ruth Goodman does what you’d expect a good historian and someone who’s clearly passionate about her work would do. She relies on primary sources and archaeological evidence and when she has to fill in the blanks, she fills in the blanks based on what she knows, but ultimately she makes it clear that it is up to the reader to decide what he or she believes is the likeliest possibility of the subject she just addressed.
It really feels like you’ve hopped into the DeLorean and gone back in time!

Book Review: Edward III by W.M. Ormrod

Edward III ormond

An excellent biography on one of the middle ages greatest kings, Edward III of England. What makes this biography different from others is that it offers a new perspective on Edward without the need of being condescending to other historians and biographers.

Ormrod acknowledges that many of Edward’s policies were innovative, and praises his maverick nature but he points out that much of the former were nothing new. He simply built on what his predecessors had done, altering some of their statues and regulations to ensure a more stable government.

The Edward that emerges from Ormrod’s biography is ambitious, scheming (plotting with the pope and other councilors to get rid of Mortimer) but also pragmatic and a great military commander who had a great team of administrators and above all, a man not afraid to compromise when the occasion called for it. Ormrod also puts his flaws, while a careful administrator and able leader, his taxation crippled many and there were times when he was forced to submit to Parliament’s rule and the commons’ representatives. This is not a sign of weakness, as Edward was a great negotiator and nothing he did came without a price.

The last years of his reign however after his wife and eldest son died, became decadent and this is seen through the demands of the Good Parliament that Ormrod goes over in various sections. I like the narrative, and that he went step by step explaining how each group was relevant in medieval society and how much it influenced or was affected by Edward’s policies. I only wish it had more details, it seemed as if each part was a short summary and he kept repeating himself at times. Nonetheless, it was still a good book.

Book Review: Los Grandes – Maria Tudor

Maria tudor los grandes

El libro es mas que otra biografia sobre “Maria la Sanguinaria” como es mejor recordada. Esta biografia es acerca de la Maria historica. Una mujer que nacio en el Palacio de Greenwich en 1516, fue la unica hija que les sobrevivio a sus padres, Enrique VIII y su primera esposa, la Infanta Española Catalina de Aragon. Maria crecio mimada y con un futuro resplandeciente. Su madre era la hija de los Reyes Catolicos y por lo tanto esperaba que su hija heredara el trono de su padre. Sin embargo, la dinastia Tudor era bastante nueva e Inglaterra no tenia bien visto la idea de una Reina gobernante. Maria recibio una educacion de lujo pero esta fue suspendida una vez que Enrique se caso con Ana Bolena, declaro su matrimonio con Catalina nulo, y su hija una bastard.
El libro no excusa las acciones de Maria, pero tampoco da excusas para los otras personas que la rodearon. El siglo XVI era una epoca violenta, mas por los guerras religiosas entre varios grupos Protestantes y Catolicos, y tambien entre el Cristianismo y el Islam. Los autores no buscan dar una nueva interpretacion de Maria, si no reportar los hechos tal y como sucedieron, y presentar su mundo tal y como era. Y a Maria como una mujer que sufrio varias decepciones, las cuales influyeron en su decision de quemar varios Protestantes una vez que ella se volvio Reina. Aunque esto no fue de inmediato, no fue tan popular como se pensaba que iba a ser. Inglaterra estaba cambiando, y su decision de casarse con un hombre once años mas joven que ella, que no fue aceptado por el simple hecho de ser un extranjero, le trajeron muchos problemas. Felipe II, una vez que su padre abdico en su favor en 1556, tuvo menos interes en responder las cartas de su esposa o visitarla.
El libro termina con unas notas tristes, pero duras en cuanta a la vida de esta monarca. Claramente, ponerla como una incompredida heroina y angelita no le hace ningunos favores, pero exagerar su imagen y creer en todo lo negativo (mucho de lo cual era eso: exageracion) tampoco es bueno.

Los Grandes sigue siendo de las mejores ediciones de biografias historicas. No esperaba que me iba a gustar, pero me gusto porque a pesar de estar corta, el libro da a conocer todas los detalles importantes acerca de esta monarca. Tiene una buena documentacion y a la vez entretiene.

Book Review: Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty by Desmond Seward

Plantagenet demons brood by seward
The Plantagenet dynasty will never cease to fascinate us. With the recent explosion of novels and TV shows, people have become more interested in them.
In spite of this, historians are careful not to treat their subjects as modern day celebrities. Many insist in treating them as we would any other historical subject, by being as objective as we can be. However, bias will always exist and as much as I enjoyed this biography, I found that the author perpetuates a lot of the old Victorian myths and stereotypes about these kings and queens.
Desmond Seward subscribes to the view that the celebrated heroes of this dynasty who continued to be revered as national icons, only became famous because of their success in battle and being surrounded by good councilors.
He is quick to tear down through the myths of the most famous of them all, Henry V, by pointing out that he was a far cry from the noble and reluctant hero of Shakespeare’s play of the same name when he invaded France. For this, I was grateful. I partly agree with him. When Henry V invaded France, he ordered his men to leave civilians alone but his soldiers being desperate, and to avoid them turning against him, he turned a blind eye to their crimes. When one town refused to open its doors to him, he charged against his inhabitants. The survivors fled to a fortress where it ended up capitulating to Henry V who had little qualms about the fate of the townspeople.
This is cruel behavior but it is the type of behavior you’d expect from a fifteenth century monarch. Classifying him as a murderer, zealot, power-hungry, and amoral while turning a blind eye to similar atrocities other monarchs engaged in, makes little sense
I also noticed that when it comes to searching for evidence to support his views, he engages in confirmation bias by heavily relying on secondary sources. While I can see the value in these, to place them in higher regard than primary sources is problematic. This is largely in part because they come from a later period where the social and religious background had changed, making this person(s) views quite different from someone living in that era. 
Do not get me wrong. This is not a bad book. Not at all! But it is not great either. History buffs looking for a good book on the Plantagenets might be disappointed in this one. It is entertaining and accessible for newcomers; something you could consider giving to your students if you are an educator or to a friend if you want to introduce him or her to this era.

 

Book Review: Katherine the Queen by Linda Porter

Kathryn parr linda porter bio
This is an exceptional biography that does justice to the sixth and last consort of Henry VIII. For centuries, Katherine Parr was seen in an auxiliary role. The nurse, the one that survived because she was tactful where two of her predecessors were not, and finally, the surrogate mother.
Out of these three, there is truth to the last two.
The real  Katherine Parr was a reformer. She had an active role in the English Reformation. While Anne Boleyn is credited with being the first royal consort to embrace Protestantism -and she certainly does deserve some of that credit- the truth is that it was Katherine Parr who was England’s first full fledged Protestant queen.
Where Anne believed that religious reformers should thread carefully and still embraced some of her forefathers’ traditions, Katherine Parr wanted to do away with almost every aspect of the old world.
In her view, women were the Protestant Reformation greatest asset. Women were supposed to be -according to the bible- virtuous. For this very same reason, Katherine encouraged her young charges to live up to the highest standard. Among her charges were the ill-fated Jane Grey and the future Gloriana, Elizabeth Tudor.
Linda Porter understands the period and her audience, including those who are new to this era. For this reason, she decides to cut straight to the chase and exclude details that might make newcomers lose interest.In spite of this, she weaves every thread to form a rich tapestry that presents us with a remarkable woman. Out of all of the Tudor consorts, she and Henry VIII’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon whom her mother -lady Maud Parr- served and whom she was named after) were the only queens to be appointed regents in their husband’s absence. Henry VIII saw in Katherine a nobility of spirit and intellect. When he left the country to seek glory in France, he entrusted the well-being of his nation and offspring into her hands. Though he had also left competent men who’d guide her through her new duties, the sole weight of England rested on her shoulders.
Katherine proved to be more than capable.
After having a brief brush with death, she spent her last years building a friendship with many members at court.
Porter is also quick to point out that while she did not want to take any credit for the English reformation, she was one of the de-facto leaders of this religious movement. Her last book, published months one year after Henry VIII died, helped shape Anglican thought.
Aside of her strict moral code, this biography also sheds light on her social life. Katherine fulfilled the other important functions of a consort by being an exceptional hostess. She loved to dance, hear her husband’s minstrels, and dress in rich gowns that would reflect well on the crown.
Porter is not afraid to touch on the controversy surrounding her youngest royal stepdaughter and ward, lady Elizabeth Tudor and her fourth and last husband, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley.
Since most of our knowledge of that incident comes from sources that were written much later; she tries to be as factual as possible, delivering the most likely scenarios and the reason behind Katherine Parr reacting the way she did.

Lastly, this is one of the few books that paints a more complete picture of her noble ancestry. Out of all the four non-royals that Henry VIII married, her lineage was the most distinguished.
As previous stated, Linda Porter is not afraid of including the darker aspects of her life. In a perfect world, in a perfect time, she would have had it all. A learned and courteous woman, who was recognized for her intellect and her active role in the religious reformation, living happily ever after with a husband who loved and appreciated her with a child that will take after her mother.
 Nevertheless Katherine’s legacy lives through her writings and what she taught through her actions and her self to Elizabeth.

Book Review: Elizabeth: The Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton

Elizabeth i by lisa hilton

An objective, well written biography that explores the lesser known aspects of Elizabeth’s life, from her education, her relationship with her father, siblings and her eventual rivalry with Mary I and Mary, Queen of Scots, to the last years of her reign, and people’s perception of her during and in the aftermath of her death.
Elizabeth I is glorified in English history as the greatest monarch that ever lived. Not only that, but she has accolade of fans who -in their attempt to defend her- end up doing her the same disservice her rivals did back in the day. By putting her in a pedestal, she stops being a human being -an opportunistic, politically savvy, strong woman who was also a flawed individual, but didn’t let her demons get in the way of making her country great- and instead becomes a caricature.


Lisa Hilton also dispels myths about her rivals and family members, primarily her mother (Anne Boleyn), her half-sister (Mary I), her rival (Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots), and lastly, her last stepmother, Kathryn Parr. 


What emerges is a woman who was deeply scarred by her experience but, as previously stated, learned from them, and used her femininity as her shield against her enemies before she became Queen. When she was Queen, she was stern while also cautious to a fault, affirming nothing and denying nothing. She played both sides and like most female rulers, she regarded herself as half-divine, her power justified by her intellectual and political prowess. But Lisa Hilton notes that the Virgin Queen would not have been as successful had it not been for her councilors. She often clashed with the more radical Protestant faction. They wanted a republic, one modeled after the classical Greek and Roman Republics, and were emboldened by the Netherlands and their Northern neighbors, the Scots. Of the latter, the Netherlands were more successful, and it was largely in part to Elizabeth. But as with many politicians today, supporting one’s cause, doesn’t mean you agree with them.
As a pragmatist, Elizabeth was in need of allies and if the Catholic countries would continue to conspire against her, she would do the same and look elsewhere. The end result is a contradictory tale. Elizabeth applauded her father’s establishment and the supremacy of the Church of England because it placed the monarch above the law, on the other hand, she despised other Protestant doctrines that downplayed the monarch’s power and wished to return to the times of a classical republic. Elizabeth supported them because she needed them, but deep down she despised what they were doing and whenever some of her countrymen got similar ideas, she struck back.


This is a biography history buffs (especially those who are sick and tired of generalizations of their favorite Tudor monarchs) will absolutely love. If you are new to the Tudor era, worry not, this book is easy to follow, highly descriptive and engaging from start to finish.

Book Review (Nostalgia edition #1) Murder at the Orient Express

Murder at the orient express by Agatha Christie

Before watching the movie, read the book! That is the general rule, but it is truer when it comes to detective fiction because there is only so much that an adaptation can fit in, especially when in film.

While I do not wish to compare her fiction with that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle since the two lived at a different time and place, I feel that I must. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle no doubt inspired many authors, but it was Agatha Christie’s mysteries with her two witty protagonists, Hercules Poirot and Mrs. Marple that did more to popularize the genre of detective fiction.

These last two stand out more than their predecessor because whereas Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mammoth books tended to drag on, Christie’s mysteries cut straight to the chase. She did not shy away from pointing out the horrible nature of her suspects and victims without being as repetitive as the former.
Hercules Poirot relies purely on logic, being (as Kenneth Branagh who plays him in the recent adaptation of this novel brags) “possibly the best detective” that ever lived. Not apologetic about the arrogance her protagonist displays, Hercules Poirot remains one of the best detectives in fiction. He is not afraid to boast because he knows he can deliver, but he is also a human being subject to his own biases and as he comes closer to uncovering the truth, he’s faced with one the toughest decisions he will ever have to make.

The story centers on an unusual murder at the Orient Express, one of the most luxurious train rides of the last century. Hercules Poirot can’t come to grasp with the reality of the situation. Could there be more than one killer? The evidence suggests that there was more than one murderer, yet the case remains a paradox and with the train stranded, tensions continue to rise. Everyone is a suspect and no one is safe from Poirot’s watchful eye and methodical mind.
The end will leave readers shocked but satisfied as Poirot explains how he solved the case and what he plans to do next.
and the conclusion will be something that will leave everyone satisfied and shocked.

If you do not have time to read the book and prefer to watch the movie first, you can purchase it on kindle and then on audible or start a free trial on the latter to get it for free and after one month cancel your trial. Mystery and suspense readers won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Anne Boleyn, Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn by Amy Licence

To understand Anne Boleyn, we have to know about her world first. Her roots, going back to the very beginning, tracing her family story, her role in the shifting religious climate of the Tudor era and finally, the differing views on women. When it comes to giving these women’s a voice, nobody is more suited for this task than renowned women’s historian, Amy Licence. The past comes alive in her new biography on Henry VIII’s second consort, and the mother to one of the world’s greatest female leaders who ruled England the longest out of all her dynasty, Elizabeth I.

Anne Boleyn lived during a time when many changes were going on. Nobody could have predicted her fall, or how far Henry VIII would have gone to have her. Nevertheless, looking back further, some things about her character start to make more sense.

Like her previous biography on Catherine of Aragon, this is a very detailed book. Highlighting the difference in status and the ever-changing cultural norms regarding gender, religion, and ceremony, she pulls the reader in to the 15th and 16th century eras. Another thing that I enjoyed from this book is that she did not shy away from the brutality and prejudices that characterized these time periods.

We often forget that these were people, subject to the same emotional and physical pain, although the later was augmented two-fold given the time and place they lived in, and the large gamble many of the up-and-coming families like the Boleyns took; nevertheless, something set them apart. They viewed the world through dark-colored lens.

The courts where Anne Boleyn served women like the archduchess Margaret of Austria and Queens Mary (her future husband’s youngest sister when she married Louis XII) and Claude of France, and later Henry’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon, valued order above all else. Decorum and class were everything for these people. Everything had to be structured, otherwise, society would come crumbling down and with it, chaos would reign.

Anne Boleyn was aware of this so she chose to follow the rules unlike her spirited sister Mary. But Anne was spirited in her own way. Instead of giving herself freely to men, be it through pressure or for passion, she preferred to shine by showing off her intellectual attributes. Her etiquette, her subtle playful and comely behavior, her occasional defiance, her passion for the new learning and indulging others, including Henry Percy and later the king, in harmless games of courtly love is what made her into one of the most alluring and interesting women at the Tudor court.

But, and this is something that historians still ask (and will likely continue to ask in the many years to come), is this what she intended? Was Anne Boleyn responsible for her fall? Was she a victim, pawn, or villain, homewrecker, or all of these things neatly wrapped together? Amy Licence doesn’t pretend to know the answer and as the book progresses, she is not about to give a definite answer but merely what she believed happened given what we know so far, and leave the rest for the reader to decide.

This is what a good historian. He or she gives the reader as much information as it is available, separates fact from fiction, primary from secondary sources and explaining the why, what, where, and when of the latter- letting the reader come to his own conclusion.

Anne Boleyn was a woman of many faces. She was a woman who might not have started out as the ambitious and unique ‘it’ girl from fiction, but as things got out of hand, she saw no other way but to play the waiting game and indulge the King. Having a strong moral compass -and another one of self-preservation- she did not let him take her virtue just like that. If the two of them were going to be together, he had to propose something grander. And ultimately that was marriage.

The road to the marriage bed was paved with obstacles, and it didn’t become any easier after she was crowned Queen of England. Anne was the first and only consort ever to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward the confessor -meant only for kings and queen regnants. Henry’s choice for this was not merely because of his passion and adoration for her, it was to symbolize something greater. He was not going to let anybody question their unborn child’s legitimacy, hence, his wife was going to have a coronation unlike something that hadn’t been seen before.
This is what the monarchy meant. Displays of force and splendor -and if there was something that Henry loved most of all, was wasting no expense on the latter.

But things turned sour and the rest as they say is history. Anne Boleyn’s story plays out like a Greek tragedy. A woman who chose to take the reins of her own destiny like her ancestors before her and navigate dangerous waters. Her gamble paid off (in the beginning). But she ended up losing everything. Yet, something of her remained, something which has catapulted her to fame. Her daughter. Elizabeth I is remembered as one of England’s greatest rulers. “Good Queen Bess”, “Virgin Queen” “Glorianna”, there is no shortage of titles that history has bestowed on her. But when it comes to Anne, people are still divided.

How do we view her? How do we judge a woman whose moral ambiguity still troubles many? The answer is simple and sometimes the simplest answer is the best: We view her as a woman of her times, a woman of her status, who rose too high and who was brought down by various factors. Some of them her doing, many of them not. Once we do this, a new picture of Anne starts to emerge -the same one which Amy Licence brings back to life in this stunning biography of one of England’s infamous femme-fatale.

Those of you interested in learning more about women’s lives, the struggles they faced, and how they used their different strengths to survive and fight against the rising tide, will devour this book.

Few historians choose to focus on women’s lives, and on the harsh realities that others had to face. And even fewer historians choose not to shy away from the less than flamboyant details that these people had to face, and this includes women’s hygiene, their ordeals during pregnancy, widowhood, and general views regarding these by the old and new church.
Ultimately, this biography is a great addition to our Tudor history bookshelves and more importantly to women’s history as it reminds us why Anne Boleyn is still relevant, and how easy it is for her story to be misappropriated or distorted. It is a product of the ever changing times just as she was a product of hers.

Book Review: The Martin Luther Collection: 15 Classic Works

Martin Luther collection book

To understand Luther, you have to go back to the source and that source is Luther himself. The best way to understand a person is hearing, or in this case reading, what he has to say.

Martin Luther was an avid student of history but like any man of his times, he was a product of it and should be seen as such. He did not see himself as a heretic but rather a reformer. When you read his best known writings, the ones that propelled him to fame (and in the Catholic Church’s eyes, infamy) you realize that he wasn’t saying anything new. Plenty of other protesters before him had voiced the same opinion and had been met with harsher opposition, but whereas most of them wanted to break away from the church and turn the world upside down, Luther simply wanted to reform it. He never intended for things to get out of control. He took the best of early reformers, people whom the church had branded as heretics, believing that he could succeed where they failed, but he soon found out that it was easier said than done and when he was pushed into a corner, he did the only thing that a person in that situation could do: push back.

The more you move forward towards the end of his writing, you realize how more paranoid and to some extent, radical he was becoming, but that unlike many of his contemporary Protestant leaders and those that came after him, he still had boundaries and didn’t agree with much of their ideology.

Once again, the Protestant Reformation is far more complex than what it is made out to be in pop culture, be it TV, film, historical fiction, or in some cases by some historians who still buy into the old myths or choose perpetuate to create a false (and more ideal) narrative of Luther, painting him as this firebrand reformer who always knew what his mission was from the very start. Luther did see his role in history as something larger than in life, but even this is subjective. Wishing to leave his mark, he also became stricter with his followers, urging them to follow Christianity in its purest form.
This book also presents much of them in the original language that they were first written, which makes it feel more original, like we have gone back in time to when they were first published.

This is a must-have for every history buff and person interested in finding more about the roots of modern Christianity. Luther was a precursor of many Protestant leaders who as it has been previously stated, he didn’t agree with, but whose movement wouldn’t have gone any further than a single pamphlet of protestation or become another footnote in history like their medieval predecessors, if it weren’t for this rebellious German ex-monk. And Luther’s influence continues to be felt among many leaders, not just religious but secular as well who view him in high regard. For better or for worse, whichever way you choose to look at it, Luther changed the world, and these writings proved that once again, the pen is mightier than the sword.