The third John Guy book in a short period, My Heart Is My Own, so he must be good. Actually I discovered I had this book in my library unread. Just as enjoyable as his others, equally well-researched, equally easy to read. There was just one section where I felt the going was a little tough and tedious where John made us party to all his detective work on the Casket Letters. Yes he does go back to the original sources unlike so many contemporary historians, but he makes rather a meal of it in this book whilst savaging the lax approach of others. Still, I now know all about Mary Queen of Scots. I have been fascinated ever since an early visit to Lochleven castle, where Mary was imprisoned, and a more recent visit to Fotheringay ruins where of course she was executed, both extremely evocative places.
A re-read of one of Susan Hill’s detective series, The Pure in Heart, the second Simon Serrailler novel. Now Susan Hill is not quite so hot on procedure as say Peter James ( who spends all his spare time with the police!), however she can tell a good story. And the strength in the Serrailer books is the setting, a cathedral town, the empathy we have with the protagonist who has lots going on in his life revealed in back-plots, and the story itself which races along. I must read more Serrailler, and easy bed-time read…and who wants taxing at bed-time?!
Because I like to have something serious going on at the same time as my ‘lighter’ reading, I also picked out Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars from my beautiful, beautiful Folio collection. Whilst the lives of the important Emperors – Caesar himself, Augustus, Nero and so on – are fascinating, not so with the minor characters. It’s a bit of a drag reading about them to be honest. If I were a historian of ancient Rome would I give much credence to what Suetonius tells us? A lot of it does seem gossip of the most credulous kind. Well, here is what the Faculty of History at Cambridge says..”Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars followed an established convention of the short biographical essay, which lent itself to convivial sharing before an audience but could also be used to explore important themes. Suetonius, who lived through a period of stable but despotic imperial rule, wanted to explore the nature of imperial power and how a city with a strong republican tradition had ended up handing absolute power to individuals and dynasties, some of whom abused it flagrantly. His eye for salacious detail has led some to dismiss Suetonius as a sort of Roman gossip-columnist; more recently, however, historians have recognised the value of his work as a reflection of 1st and 2nd century attitudes towards power.” And, there are no good alternative sources for some of the Emperors, so…..It is a valuable chronology, and lets us into the society of the times and what people at the time regarded as important, but it leaves me with the feeling that the Romans weren’t half a gullible lot with their reliance on reading the omens and seeing natural occurrences as arbiter of human fate. Worth reading…especially in the luscious Folio format.
Another wonderful little Folio book, I have just completed is Crusader Castles by T E Lawrence. Little did I expect to be reading an undergraduate History thesis bound up with letters to his Mum! It was really quite exceptional. Although it did indeed read like an undergraduate piece of work, nevertheless the work that went into this study was amazing, and from one so young. Basically, Lawrence of Arabia as we know him, crams what seems like a lifetime of research into disproving what was held ( and still is I think ) to be an accepted piece of historical understanding, that the sophisticated series of castles here and in France which replaced the Norman keeps were adopted from designs brought back from the Crusades. Lawrence shows with much detail that this could not be so and that in fact sophistication and development came from Western architects building on what they already knew. A most impressive shot against the Oxford establishment. All of this came from his extensive cycle rides around his own country and France from when he was just a child interested in History, and then from research trips to Syria and the wider Middle East. These indeed prepared him well for his later more well-known role as the saviour of Arabs and their culture. And no little interest is added by his letters home which not only go into great detail about what he was finding, but also about the vagaries of travelling alone in such country at such a time. What amazing people our ancestors were.