Early History Books: C500 - C1500

  • AUXZK
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    'An endlessly fascinating and enjoyable book' Neil MacGregor 'Full of delights' Tom Stoppard An extraordinary exploration of the medieval world - the most beguiling history book of the year This is a book about why medieval manuscripts matter. Coming face to face with an important illuminated manuscript in the original is like meeting a very famous person. We may all pretend that a well-known celebrity is no different from anyone else, and yet there is an undeniable thrill in actually meeting and talking to a person of world stature. The idea for the book, which is entirely new, is to invite the reader into intimate conversations with twelve of the most famous manuscripts in existence and to explore with the author what they tell us about nearly a thousand years of medieval history - and sometimes about the modern world too. Christopher de Hamel introduces us to kings, queens, saints, scribes, artists, librarians, thieves, dealers, collectors and the international community of manuscript scholars, showing us how he and his fellows piece together evidence to reach unexpected conclusions. He traces the elaborate journeys which these exceptionally precious artefacts have made through time and space, shows us how they have been copied, who has owned them or lusted after them (and how we can tell), how they have been embroiled in politics and scholarly disputes, how they have been regarded as objects of supreme beauty and luxury and as symbols of national identity. The book touches on religion, art, literature, music, science and the history of taste. Part travel book, part detective story, part conversation with the reader, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts conveys the fascination and excitement of encountering some of the greatest works of art in our culture which, in the originals, are to most people completely inaccessible. At the end, we have a slightly different perspective on history and how we come by knowledge. It is a most unusual book.
  • AVODA
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    Viking ships landed on almost every shore in the Western world during the 350 years that followed the introduction of the sail into the region, from the 9th to the 11th century. Viking ravages united the Spanish kingdoms and stopped Charlemagne and the Franks' advance in Europe. Wherever Viking ships roamed, enormous suffering followed in their wake, but the encounter between cultures changed both European and Nordic societies. Employing unorthodox and unpredictable strategies, which were hard for more organized forces to respond to, the most crucial element of the Viking's success was their basic strategy of evading the enemy by arriving by sea, then attacking quickly and with great force before withdrawing quickly. The warrior class dominated in a militarized society. Honour was everything, and breaking promises and ruining one's posthumous reputation were considered worse than death itself. If a man offended another man's honour, the only way out was blood revenge. Never before have the Viking art of war, weapons and the history of their conquests been presented together in such detail. With over 380 colour illustrations including beautiful reconstruction drawings, maps, cross-section drawings of ships, line-drawings of fortifications, battle plan reconstructions and photos of surviving artefacts including weapons and jewellery, Vikings at War provides a vivid account of one of Europe's most exciting epochs. Vikings at War was awarded the Norwegian literary prize 'Saga Prize' in 2012; currently in its fourth printing in Norwegian, this translation makes it available for the first time in English.
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    Craig Clunas
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    Ming : 50 Years That Changed China
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    The Defence of Heaven brings together, for the first time in one volume, a complete history of the Jin, Song and Ming dynasties' wars fought against the Mongols. Lasting nearly two centuries, these wars, fought to defend Chinese civilisation against a brutal and unrelenting foe, pitted personal heroics against the inexorable Mongol war machine and involved every part of the Chinese state. The resistance of the Chinese dynasties to the Khans is a complex and rich story of shifting alliances and political scheming, vast armies and navies, bloody battles and an astonishing technological revolution. The great events of China's Mongol war are described and analysed, detailing their immediate and later implications for Chinese history. In this excellent new book James Waterson tackles this fascinating subject with characteristic verve and skill. Setting the Mongol war in the wider context of China's ancient and almost perpetual conflict with the northern nomads, it sheds light on the evolution of China's military society and the management, command and control of the army by the Chinese state.
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    This book is the culmination of over thirty years of work and research by the author, who is a King Arthur specialist and bestseller. The book brings new information to light by examining through a jigsaw of connections throughout Dark Age Britain, especially Wales and Cornwall, as King Arthur is revealed to have been a hereditary King of the ancient land of the Silures in South Wales. In this way, Chris Barber has set out to reveal the true identity of King Arthur, whose identity has been obscured by the mists of time and the imaginative embellishments of romantic writers through the ages. After sorting fact from fiction, he not only identifies the Celtic prince who gave rise to the legend of Arthur, but reveals his family background, 6th century inscribed stones bearing his name and those of his contemporaries; locations of his courts, battle sites such as Badon Llongborth and Camlann; the identity of his enemies, the ancient Isle of Avalon and his final resting place.
  • AULQI
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    When a band of Norman adventurers arrived in southern Italy to fight in the Lombard insurrections against the Byzantine empire in the early 1000s, few would have predicted that within a few generations, by force of arms, some of these men and other later arrivals would seize control of Apulia, Campania, Calabria and Sicily. How did they make such extraordinary gains and then consolidate their power? Paul Brown, in this thoroughly researched and absorbing study, seeks to answer these questions and throw light onto the Norman conquests across the Mediterranean which were even more remarkable than those achieved in France and England.Throughout he focuses on the military side of their progress, as they advanced from mercenaries to conquerors, then crusaders. The story of the campaigns they undertook in Italy, Sicily, the Balkans and the Near East, of the battles and sieges that marked their expansion, reveals their remarkable talent for war and the increasing efficiency of their organization.Particular attention is paid to the polyglot character of Norman forces, and the growing sophistication of their tactics, from cavalry raids to combined-arms warfare and siege craft. The dominant role played by a succession of Norman leaders from the Hauteville family is a key theme of the narrative - a line of ambitious and ruthless rulers that ran from Robert Guiscard and Bohemond to Tancred and King Roger II of Sicily.Paul Brown's account of the Norman conquests in the Mediterranean is based on the most recent scholarship in the field. It challenges some of the common assumptions about the equipment, organization and fighting methods of the Norman armies and the men who fought in them.
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    Robert Guiscard, William the Conqueror, Roger I of Sicily and Bohemond Prince of Antioch are just four of the exceptional Norman commanders who not only led their armies to victory in battle but also, through military force, created their own kingdoms in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Their single-minded and aggressive leadership, and the organization, discipline and fighting qualities of their armies, marked them out from their Viking forebears and from many of the armed forces that stood against them. Their brilliant careers, and those of Robert Curthose, William Rufus, Richard I of Capua and Henry I of England, are the subject of Paul Hill's latest study of medieval warfare. In a narrative packed with detail and insight, and with a wide-ranging understanding of the fighting methods and military ethos of the period, he traces the course of their conquests, focusing on them as individual commanders and on their achievements on the battlefield.The military context of their campaigns, and the conditions of warfare in France and England, in southern Italy and Sicily, and in the Near East, are vividly described, as are their decisive operations and sieges - among them Hastings, Bremule, Tinchebrai, Civitate, Misilmeri, Dyrrhachium and the Siege of Antioch. There is no doubt that the Normans' success in war depended upon the leadership qualities and military capabilities of the commanders as well as the special strengths of the armies they led. Paul Hill's accessible and authoritative account offers a fascinating portrait of these masters of warfare.
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    Byzantium. Was it Greek or Roman, familiar or hybrid, barbaric or civilised, Oriental or Western? In the late eleventh century Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in Christendom, the seat of the Byzantine emperor, Christ s vice-regent on earth, and the centre of a predominately Christian empire, steeped in Greek cultural and artistic influences, yet founded and maintained by a Roman legal and administrative system. Despite the amalgam of Greek and Roman influences, however, its language and culture was definitely Greek. Constantinople truly was the capital of the Roman empire in the East, and from its founding under the first Constantinus to its fall under the eleventh and last Constantinus the inhabitants always called themselves Romaioi, Romans, not Hell nik s, Greeks. Over its millennium long history the empire and its capital experienced many vicissitudes that included several periods of waxing and waning and more than one golden age . Its political will to survive is still eloquently proclaimed in the monumental double land walls of Constantinople, the greatest city fortifications ever built, on which the forces of barbarism dashed themselves for a thousand years. Indeed, Byzantium was one of the longest lasting social organisations in history. Very much part of this success story was the legendary Varangian Guard, the lite body of axe-bearing Northmen sworn to remain loyal to the true Christian emperor of the Romans. There was no hope for an empire that had lost the will to prosecute the grand and awful business of adventure. The Byzantine empire was certainly not of that stamp.
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    Whilst Richard I is one of medieval England's most famous kings he is also the most controversial. He has variously been considered a great warrior but a poor king, a man driven by the quest for fame and glory but also lacking in self-discipline and prone to throwing away the short-term advantages that his military successes brought him. In this reassessment W. B. Bartlett looks at his deeds and achievements in a new light. The result is a compelling new portrait of `the Lionheart' which shows that the king is every bit as remarkable as his medieval contemporaries found him to be. This includes his Muslim enemies, who spoke of him as their most dangerous and gallant opponent. It shows him to be a man badly let down by some of those around him, especially his brother John and the duplicitous French king Philip. The foibles of his character are also exposed to the full, including his complicated relationships with the key women in his life, especially the imposing contemporary figure of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his wife, Berengaria, with whom he failed to produce an heir, leading to later suggestions of homosexuality. This is a new Richard, one for the twenty-first century, and a re-evaluation of the life story of one of the greatest personalities of medieval Europe.
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    In 865, a great Viking army landed in East Anglia, precipitating a series of wars that would last until the middle of the following century. It was in this time of crisis that the modern kingdoms of Britain were born. In their responses to the Viking threat, these kingdoms forged their identities as hybrid cultures: vibrant and entrepreneurial peoples adapting to instability and opportunity. Traditionally, Aelfred the Great is cast as the central player in the story of Viking Age Britain. But Max Adams, while stressing the genius of Aelfred as war leader, law-giver, and forger of the English nation, has a more nuanced and variegated narrative to relate. The Britain encountered by the Scandinavians of the ninth and tenth centuries was one of regional diversity and self-conscious cultural identities: of Picts, Dal Riatans and Strathclyde Britons; of Bernicians and Deirans, East Anglians, Mercians and West Saxons.
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    The Knights Templar were the wealthiest, most powerful - and most secretive - of the military orders that flourished in the crusading era. Their story - encompassing as it does the greatest international conflict of the Middle Ages, a network of international finance, a swift rise in wealth and influence followed by a bloody and humiliating fall - has left a comet's tail of mystery that continues to fascinate and inspire historians, novelists and conspiracy theorists.
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    A new narrative history of the Viking Age, interwoven with exploration of the physical remains and landscapes that the Vikings fashioned and walked: their rune-stones and ship burials, settlements and battlefields. To many, the word 'Viking' brings to mind red scenes of rape and pillage, of marauders from beyond the sea rampaging around the British coastline in the last gloomy centuries before the Norman Conquest. And it is true that Britain in the Viking Age was a turbulent, violent place. The kings and warlords who have impressed their memories on the period revel in names that fire the blood and stir the imagination: Svein Forkbeard and Edmund Ironside, Ivar the Boneless and Alfred the Great, Erik Bloodaxe and Edgar the Pacifier amongst many others. Evidence for their brutality, their dominance, their avarice and their pride is still unearthed from British soil with stunning regularity. This is not, however, the whole story. In Viking Britain, Thomas Williams has drawn on his experience as Project Curator of the major international exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend to show how the people we call Vikings came not just to raid and plunder, but to settle, to colonize and to rule. The impact on these islands was profound and enduring, shaping British social, cultural and political development for hundreds of years. Indeed, in language, literature, place-names and folk-lore, the presence of Scandinavian settlers can still be felt, and their memory - filtered and refashioned through the writings of people like J.R.R. Tolkien, William Morris and G.K.Chesterton - has transformed the western imagination. This remarkable new book draws upon new academic research and first-hand experience, drawing deeply from the relics and landscapes that the Vikings and their contemporaries fashioned and walked: their rune stones and ship burials, settlements and battlefields, poems and chronicles. The book offers a vital evocation of a forgotten world, its echoes in later history and its implications for the present. It is a stunning exploration of Viking Britain by a writer of immense literary power.
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    There are many books about the Knights Templar, the medieval military order which played a key role in the crusades against the Muslims in the Holy Land, the Iberian peninsula and elsewhere in Europe. What is seldom explored is the military context in which they operated, and that is why Paul Hill s highly illustrated study is so timely, for he focuses on how this military order prosecuted its wars. The order was founded as a response to attacks on pilgrims in the Holy Land, and it was involved in countless battles and sieges, always at the forefront of crusading warfare. This absorbing study examines why they were such an important aspect of medieval warfare on the frontiers of Christendom for nearly two hundred years. Paul Hill shows how they were funded and supplied, how they organized their forces on campaign and on the battlefield and the strategies and tactics they employed in the various theatres of warfare in which they fought. Templar leadership, command and control are examined, and sections cover their battles and campaigns, fortifications and castles.
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    The 128-year dynasty of the Komneni (1057 to 1185) was the last great epoch of Byzantium, when the empire had to fend off Turkish and Norman foes simultaneously. Starting with the extremely able Alexios I, and unable now to count on help from the West, the Komneni played their strategic cards very well. Though the dynasty ended in cruelty and incompetence under Andronikos I (the Terrible), it fought a valiant rear-guard action in keeping eastern Christendom alive. The Komnene dynasty saw several changes in Byzantine military practice, such as the adoption of heavy cavalry on the western model, the extensive use of foreign mercenaries and the neglect of the navy (both of which were to prove a huge and possibly fatal disadvantage). A chapter is devoted to the famous Varangian Guard, which included many Saxons in exile following the Norman conquest of England. The terrible defeat at Myriokephalon in 1176 sealed the doom of the dynasty, preparing the way for the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusaders.
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    Joan of Arc's life and death marks a turning point in the course of the destiny both of France and of England and the history of the English and French monarchies. `It is a great shame,' wrote Etienne Pasquier in the late sixteenth century, `for no-one ever came to the help of France so opportunely and with such success as that girl, and never was the memory of a woman so torn to shreds.' Biographers have crossed swords furiously about her inspiration, each according to the personal conviction of the writer. As author Moya Longsaffe points out: 'She has been claimed as an icon by zealous combatants of every shade of opinion, clericals, anticlericals, nationalists, republicans, socialists, conspiracy theorists, feminists, far-rightists, loony-leftists, yesterday's communists, today's National Front, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all. As Bernard Shaw said, in the prologue to his famous play, "the question raised by Joan's burning is a burning question still."' By returning to the original sources and employing her expertise in French literature, the author brings 'La Pucelle' alive - and does not duck the most difficult question: was she deluded, unbalanced, fraudulent, or indeed a great visionary, of the order of Catherine of Siena or Francis of Assisi?
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    Evidence of the foulness and cruelty of the greatest catastrophe ever to hit London is still being unearthed under the streets of the capital today. The fresh plague pits containing thousands of skeletons uncovered during the construction of Crossrail are a reminder of the painful, drawn-out death suffered by Londoners as pustules and abscesses broke out all over their bodies. Plague has been a scourge of mankind since its onset in the sixth century. Its distinctive and repulsive symptoms, the excruciatingly painful effects inflicted on its victims, with a very high mortality rate, evoked a fear and repulsion that was caused by no other disease. Attempts to control its spread proved futile. The second plague pandemic in Europe began when the disease reached Sicily in October 1347. From there it spread remorselessly across the entire continent and erupted in London in the autumn of 1348, killing at least one-third, and perhaps one-half, of its inhabitants. As the largest city in England, London suffered a higher death-toll than any other community during the many subsequent outbreaks. Tudor and Stuart London was a city afflicted by plague, yet its population continued to grow inexorably, as it drew people from the rest of the country to replace the losses. Plague's last visitation came in 1665 and was its most destructive, claiming at least 70,000 victims in the space of just eight months and becoming known as the Great Plague. The legacy of plague has been a dread that has scarcely been overcome even today.
  • AHKYK
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    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.
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    By turning off the main highway and discovering old routes, some of which have been travelled for thousands of years, you will see Ireland in an entirely different way. Follow the Old Road will take you on a tour of a variety of pathways from great river roads to lost railways. Long before records began, travellers arriving on our shores found safe havens, natural harbours, the estuaries of rivers, and settled there, in sight of the ocean that had brought them to this land. Gradually they moved inland to more fertile soil, usually along the course of a river that provided both guidance and essential water supplies. In later centuries, great lords built their castles and monks their abbeys upriver, at the tidal limit. Some of the routes are still used today while others lie ignored and overgrown. Villages, and, later on, towns grew up around these castles and abbeys to serve their needs; towns that still prosper today.
  • AUIQE
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    Cursed Kings tells the story of the destruction of France by the madness of its king and the greed and violence of his family. In the early fifteenth century, France had gone from being the strongest and most populous nation state of medieval Europe to suffering a complete internal collapse and a partial conquest by a foreign power. It had never happened before in the country's history - and it would not happen again until 1940. Into the void left by this domestic catastrophe, strode one of the most remarkable rulers of the age, Henry V of England, the victor of Agincourt, who conquered much of northern France before dying at the age of thirty-six, just two months before he would have become King of France. Following on from Divided Houses (winner of the Wolfson History Prize and shortlisted for the Hessel-Tiltman), Cursed Kings is the magisterial new chapter in 'one of the great historical works of our time' (Allan Massie).
  • AYJAH
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    Ireland's history has been shaped by the many conquerors, kings and invaders who have stepped foot on the country's shores. For centuries conflict raged between the native Irish, Vikings, Anglo-Normans, English and Scots, and latterly competing Catholic and Protestant kings. This real-life game of thrones has shaped the social, political and military history of a nation which has often been dominated by problems caused by its proximity to more powerful neighbours. Being a largely empty land, Ireland was an attractive proposition for landless knights, and the Norman Conquest of Ireland in 1171 saw a group of filibustering Anglo-Normans begin to carve up the country. Nevertheless, without the incursions of the Vikings and Anglo-Normans, urban development in Ireland would have been stunted and its evolution into the country it is today would have been markedly altered. Beginning with Ireland's earliest history, 'Ireland Lost and Won' spans the centuries, covering the period of Scottish raiding during the War of Scottish Independence and the Elizabethan and Stuart plantations. It concludes at the end of the seventeenth century; a century which witnessed rebellions against English rule and Oliver Cromwell's storming of Drogheda and Wexford. Later, upon the deposition of James II and installation of William III on the English throne, Ireland became a battleground between competing European powers, the struggle culminating in decisive defeats for James at the battles of the Boyne and Aughrim, the bitter legacy of which have blighted modern times. A fascinating saga of invasion, resistance and colonisation, discover the history behind this real-life game of thrones.
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    'outstanding ...one of the most valuable contributions ever made to our knowledge of the history of our own land' English Historical Review This book covers the emergence of the earliest English kingdoms to the establishment of the Anglo-Norman monarchy in 1087. Professor Stenton examines the development of English society, from the growth of royal power to the establishment of feudalism after the Norman Conquest. He also describes the chief phases in the history of the Anglo-Saxon church, including the Conversion of the various English kingdoms, and the unification of Britain by the kings of Mercia and completed by the kings of Wessex. Drawing on many diverse examples-place-names, coins and charters, wills and pleas, archaeology, and the laws of the Anglo-Saxons-the result is a fascinating insight into this period of English history.
  • AWPAB
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    Decentralisation and outsourcing are not new to British history. In medieval England the practical limitations of the reach of the Crown forced the king and the government to entrust some autonomy and legal powers to its regional aristocratic rulers. The Norman and Plantagenet kings relied upon these nobles for the protection of the dangerous frontiers of the realm. In Wales, as in Ireland, the smaller size and military inferiority of the often divided neighbouring states encouraged conquest, with the seized lands enhancing the power of the aggressive English lords' domains. The great lords of the Welsh Marches were granted ever greater authority to the point where they believed they ruled like kings. They intermarried, schemed for extra lands and snatched power in a complex and often violent political process. Due to their huge resources and unparalleled military experience, they soon came to overawe weak kings and dominate national events. The strength of the Marcher Lords would come to the fore at various points throughout history, characterised by notorious figures such as Simon de Montfort, Roger Mortimer and Edward IV. Timothy Venning showcases the mentality of the Lords of the Marches, and reveals the dramatic careers of those who prospered from their loyalty to the king, to those whose power was gained by treachery. This is their story, from the Norman Conquest to the beginnings of the Tudor dynasty.
  • AXIEY
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    'Arthur himself, having put on a coat of mail suitable to the grandeur of so powerful a king, placed a golden helmet on his head, on which was engraved the figure of a dragon; and on his shoulders his shield called Priwen ...Then girding on his Caliburn, which was an excellent sword made in the Isle of Avalon, he graced his right hand with his lance'. The Historia Regum Britanniae, or History of the Kings of Britain, was written in around 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth and purports to tell the story of the kings of Britain from the settlement of the island by the Trojan Brutus, grandson of Aeneas, through to the seventh century when the Anglo-Saxons had taken control of much of Britain. History of the Kings of Britain was highly popular during the Middle Ages and copies spread across the whole of western Europe, with over 200 manuscripts surviving from the period. It went on to influence texts into the sixteenth century and was one of the first to weave together the legend of King Arthur as well as the stories of King Lear and Cymbeline, both later immortalised by Shakespeare. Although it purports to be history, History of the Kings of Britain has long been recognised as thoroughly unreliable and considered to be a literary work of national myth instead. In this book, Dr Miles Russell takes another look at Geoffrey of Monmouth's work and argues that there is verifiable archaeological and historical information to be found there, possibly deriving from a lost British source also used by other Dark Age texts.
  • AUOFF
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    In 2010, a parcel bomb was sent from Yemen by an al-Qaeda operative with the intention of blowing up a plane over America. The device was intercepted before the plan could be put into action, but what puzzled investigators was the name of the person to whom the parcel was addressed: Reynald de Chatillon - a man who died 800 years ago. But who was he and why was he chosen above all others? Born in twelfth-century France and bred for violence, Reynald de Chatillon was a young knight who joined the Second Crusade and rose through the ranks to become the pre-eminent figure in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem - and one of the most reviled characters in Islamic history. In the West, Reynald has long been considered a minor player in the Crusades and is often dismissed as having been a bloodthirsty maniac. Tales of his elaborate torture of prisoners and his pursuit of reckless wars against friends and foe alike have coloured Reynald's reputation. However, by using contemporary documents and original research, Jeffrey Lee overturns this popular perception and reveals him to be an influential and powerful leader, whose actions in the Middle East had a far-reaching impact that endures to this day. In telling his epic story, God's Wolf not only restores Reynald to his rightful position in history but also highlights how the legacy of the Crusades is still very much alive.