Kingmakers: How Power in England Was Won and Lost on the Welsh Frontier by Timothy Venning

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Kingmakers: How Power in England Was Won and Lost on the Welsh Frontier by Timothy Venning

Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: Between the Norman conquest and the Tudor period, Britain often seemed to be on the verge of civil war. The Anglo-Welsh borders were a perpetual source of trouble, kept at bay only by the Marcher lords appointed by the King of England to guard the Welsh Marches. Packed with facts, but by and large a rather dry chronicle of events, more for the specialist or student than the general reader.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Amberley
ISBN: 978-1445659404

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Between the Norman conquest and the Tudor period, Britain often seemed to be on the verge of civil war. The Anglo-Welsh borders were a perpetual source of trouble, kept at bay only by the Marcher lords appointed by the King of England to guard the Welsh Marches.

Venning has explored an interesting facet of medieval history in this book. He traces the story from the development of the system under the reign of Edward the Confessor, who first appointed Norman knights and built castles to prevent Welsh leaders from raiding or even retaking border regions from England, up to the end of the Yorkist era. Although there is no explanation as such, it appears that the advent of a Welsh King, namely Henry VII, put an end to the issue.

Some of the Marcher lords were as powerful as their sovereign, if not more so. Simon de Montfort, who was a rival to King Henry III and his son, later Edward I, was a case in point and a formidable threat to the crown until his death on the field of battle at Evesham in 1265. Early in the next century Roger de Mortimer, who challenged Edward II and allegedly became the lover of Queen Isabella, made the swift journey from royal favourite and all-powerful regent to the gallows under Edward III. King Stephen, whose reign in an earlier age had been dominated by civil war, and King Richard II, who rarely had any peace from his discontented nobles, likewise suffered from overmighty and sometimes treacherous subjects, the latter paying with his life. Uneasy lay the head that wore a crown indeed.

It ends with a narrative of the fifteenth-century political instability that culminated in the conflict between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists, the Wars of the Roses. Various miscalculations by the Kings cost them dearly. This however seems to me where the basic premise of the book becomes slightly muddled, as the various rise and fall of both sides has less to do with the disputes on the Welsh border than with the baronial disputes between those who were closest to the court of the hapless Henry VI.

All things considered, I am in two minds about this book. The author has marshalled his facts very impressively, but the result is on the whole a rather events-heavy tale, wrapped in very dry prose; 'this happened, then this happened afterwards', 'A defeated B, B defeated C' and so on. At the same time, most of the paragraphs stretch over two pages or more. It does tend to detract from the readability of the book, of what is a very solid piece of research, more for the history specialist or student than the general reader. Mention must however be made of an excellent selection of colour plates, mostly of present-day views of the castles involved.

For more reading on the period, The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer is recommended as a look at 'living history', while Warriors and Kings: The 1500-Year Battle for Celtic Britain by Martin Wall looks in detail at some of the military leaders of the period.

Buy Kingmakers: How Power in England Was Won and Lost on the Welsh Frontier by Timothy Venning at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kingmakers: How Power in England Was Won and Lost on the Welsh Frontier by Timothy Venning at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Kingmakers: How Power in England Was Won and Lost on the Welsh Frontier by Timothy Venning at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kingmakers: How Power in England Was Won and Lost on the Welsh Frontier by Timothy Venning at Amazon.com.


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