Archive for August, 2011

I have been a big fan of Edward I since I saw his chain of castles in North Wales. I have been told by people not to use the word fan in this context; I ignored their advice. Edward I is often overlooked in our history of the monarchs, especially with recent Henry VIII events. Without this book Edward ‘Longshanks’ ran the risk of being a supporting character in a Mel Gibson film, and the associated history has also been romaticized to support or justify various modern notions of nationhood and independence.
Luckily for us, Morris has provided an in depth study of the man the myth and the mayhem of this interesting period of history. The book is accessible enough for someone with little or no prior knowledge of Edward I, it also has more than enough for any serious study into this period. We follow the deeply flawed and often superficial reign of Henry III through the actions of Edward, an ambitious Prince keen on asserting his own qualities to deal with his own affairs. The narrative includes Edward’s Crusades, dealings with the complex dynastic problems of Europe and his changing relationships with the various factions at court. The skill of Morris is his use of archive sources to piece together a rounded view of Edward the man.
I already had a reasonable knowledge of Edward’s reign and his ventures into Wales and Scotland. I studied this in year 8 or 9 History class and when I say studied I actually memorized the essays word for word and got an ‘A’ in the exam. It was rare for m to study but when something took my interest I would study obsessively, not for the temporary reward of achieving a good grade but for the sake of wanting to know something. When I saw this book as an adult it reignited my interest in this period of history and in Edward himself. This book was really helpful in illuminating the political complexities associated with ‘The Hammer of the Scots’. Forget the two dimensional views put forward by ‘patriots’ from England, Wales and Scotland… the political truth is far more interesting and enjoyable. When you consider that most of the problems between England and Scotland resulted from a young Norwegian girl dying en route to Scotland, it puts Hollywood speeches about freedom into a new context.

So, there you have it… a superb historical thriller with Political intrigue, giant Trebuchets, Chivalry and a King who must surely be placed in the company of Alfred the Great, Richard the Lionheart and Henry VIII.

When I lived in Manchester I used to cycle and walk everyday. On weekdays I dodged the insane buses on what I still believe is the busiest bus route in Europe – Oxford Road. On weekends I had a more leisurely pace and just cycled past any places that interested me. One of the places I went past was the Armenian Church in Ardwick, it’s round the corner from the Turkish Baths which won the Restoration programme’s vote on that BBC show. If you know your history then you will realise the ultimate irony of being round the corner from a Turkish place, many Armenians left their homes due to the Turks. Seeing this Church with its mystical looking alphabet filled me with curiosity about a place I knew nothing. It was with this in mind that I searched and found one of my favourite books and subsequently, one of my favourite authors.

From any perspective Armenia is one of the most interesting places on earth. The first Christian state, sight of Eden or resting place of Noah’s Ark. The problem is, few people actually know this. Luckily Phillip Marsden took the trouble to enlighten us by learning Armenian in Jerusalem and visiting members of the Armenian Diaspora (often by complete chance). I have rarely read a travel book that tackles so many important subjects without being crushed by it’s own weight. The author succeeds in being engaging without losing the complexity and academic weight of the subject. Marsden develops a real affinity for all things Armenian but always remains objective and critical. The book’s greatest asset, and the main reason why I chose to recommend it, is the fact that it is like a biography of a place and it’s people all rolled into one. If you want to find out a little more without reading the book click below: