Monday, October 07, 2013

Great Tales From English History #2

Great Tales From English History, vol. 2. Robert Lacey. 2004. Little, Brown. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

There are three volumes in Robert Lacey's series entitled Great Tales From English History. I loved, loved, loved the first volume. One of the reasons this series is so wonderful is the author's philosophy on history.
Our very first historians were storytellers--our best historians still are--and in many languages 'story' and 'history' remain the same word. Our brains are wired to make sense of the world through narrative--what came first and what came next--and once we know the sequence, we can start to work out the how and why. (xiii)
Great Tales From English written by an eternal optimist--albeit one who views the evidence with a skeptical eye. In these books I have endeavored to do more than just retell the old stories; I have tried to test the accuracy of each tale against the latest research and historical thinking, and to set them in a sequence from which meaning can emerge. (xiv)
The things we do not know about history far outnumber those that we do. But the fragments that survive are precious and bright. They offer us glimpses of drama, humour, frustration, humanity, the banal and the extraordinary--the stuff of life. (xvi)
The second volume begins in the reign of Richard II and ends during the reign of William and Mary. Highlights from this volume include:
  • Geoffrey Chaucer and the Mother Tongue
  • The Deposing of King Richard II
  • Turn Again, Dick Whittington
  • Henry IV And His Extra-virgin Oil
  • We Happy Few -- the Battle of Azincourt
  • Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans
  • House of Lancaster: The Two Reigns of Henry VI
  • The House of Theodore
  • House of York: Edward IV, Merchant King
  • Whodunit? The Princes in the Tower
  • The Battle of Bosworth Field
  • King Henry VIII's Great Matter
  • Let There Be Light -- William Tyndale and the English Bible
  • Divorced, Beheaded, Died...
  • ...Divorced, Beheaded, Survived
  • Lady Jane Grey -- The Nine Day Queen
  • Bloody Mary and the Fires of Smithfield
  • Elizabeth -- Queen of Hearts
  • Mary Queen of Scots
  • By Time Surprised
  • 5/11: England's First Terrorist
  • King James's Authentical Bible
  • Roundheads v. Caviliers
  • Behold the Head of a Traitor
  • Charles II and the Royal Oak
  • London Burning
  • Titus Oates and the Popish Plot
  • Monmouth's Rebellion and the Bloody Assizes
  • The Glorious Invasion
I loved this second volume. I just LOVED it. Lacey has such a narrative gift. He informs and entertains! I loved his selection of stories. I read it in one sitting; I just couldn't put this one down!

Favorite quotes:
For England, Agincourt has inspired quite a different national myth. London welcomed Henry home with drums, trumpets and tambourines and choirs of children dressed as angels. Flocks of birds were released into the air and gigantic carved effigies spelled out the meaning of the victory--a David defeating Goliath.
'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers', were the words with which Shakespeare would later enshrine Agincourt's model of bravery against the odds--the notion that the English actually do best when they are outnumbered. This phenomenon came to full flower in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, when Britain faced the might of Germany alone and Churchill spoke so movingly of the 'few.' To further fortify the bulldog spirit, the Ministry of Information financed the actor Laurence Olivier to film a Technicolor version of Agincourt as depicted in Shakespeare's Henry V. 'Dedicated to the Airborne Regiments' read a screen title in medieval script as the opening credits began to roll. (22)
If the Wars of the Roses were fought by the men, it was the women who eventually sorted out the mess. By the late 1400s the royal family tree had become a crazy spider's web of possible claimants to the throne, and it took female instinct to tease out the relevant strands from the tangle. The emotions of mothers and wives were to weave new patterns--and eventually they produced a most unlikely solution. (38)
Wars and Roses...we have seen that roses were rare on the battle banners of fifteenth century England. Let's now take a closer look at the 'wars' themselves. In the thirty-two years that history textbooks conventionally allot to the 'Wars of the Roses,' there were long periods of peace. In fact, there were only thirteen weeks of actual fighting--and though the battles themselves were bitter and sometimes very bloody, mayhem and ravaging seldom ensured. (46)
 Connections to Horrible Histories:

Plague Song
Owain Glyndwr Song
Agincourt the Movie
Joan of Arc
War of the Roses Reports & Richard III Song 
Wives of Henry VIII
Philip and Mary Love Story
Mary Tudor Song
The Axe Factor
William Shakespeare & The Quills
Spanish Armada Movie
Blue-Blooded Blues
English Civil War (Bob Hale)
English Civil War Song, Cromwell Laws, King of Bling

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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