Book Review: “The Making of the Tudor Dynasty” by Ralph Griffith and Roger Thomas

Anyone who has an interest in the Tudor dynasty of English kings will find this book invaluable. It should be primary reading for an understanding of where the Tudor family originated, giving essential information on their Welsh origins. Originally published in 1985, it is an extremely enjoyable to read.

Before his retirement in 2002, Ralph A. Griffiths was a Professor of Medieval History at Swansea University in Wales. He says in the preface of the book the origins of this volume began with a trip to Bosworth Field where he noticed there were more and larger portraits and greater access to information on Richard III at the battlefield center than there was for Henry Tudor. He found this distressing. Around the same time he was researching the early Tudors in Wales and he had a student, Roger S. Thomas, who had completed his doctoral thesis on Jasper Tudor. Griffiths was now prepared to make what he calls an “authoritative, coherent account of the earliest Tudors, including the Bosworth campaign itself”. He says Chapters 4-7 were heavily indebted to Roger Thomas’ work, thus requiring the listing of Thomas as co-author of this book.

The first chapter of the book covers the early Tudor family and their service to the princes of Wales, especially in Gwynedd. The early Tudors were not nobility but servants to these princes in several capacities. They were richly rewarded for their services and became wealthy landowners. Ednyfed Fychan, the early thirteenth century Tudor ancestor, had many children who continued in their service. They also tried to negotiate a path between being loyal to the princes of Wales and to the Kings of England. This state of affairs existed until the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr in 1400 when the English king came down hard on Wales with many restrictions on the country.

The most crucial descendant of the Tudor family was Owen Tudor. He married Katherine de Valois, the widowed queen of the Lancastrian king of England Henry V. The circumstances of this marriage are mysterious and highly romanticized. However, the marriage was acknowledged as valid during their lifetime and all the children born of the marriage were recognized as legitimate. The two most significant of their offspring were Edmund and Jasper. Edmund was the father of King Henry VII and Jasper, his uncle was critical to his mission to wrest the throne of England from King Richard III.

Griffiths covers this era in great detail. He also has significant information on Jasper and Henry’s exile in France as well as their mustering of an army for Henry’s invasion of England in 1485. Griffiths gives a succinct description of Henry’s march from his landing in Milford Haven in Wales to the battle site of Bosworth and of the battle itself. Henry’s victory was unexpected. Griffiths ends with a short overview of how Henry began his reign, who he rewarded and who he punished after his conquest.

This book reads like an adventure story. In addition to recounting the Tudor story, Griffiths gives us a rundown of the sources he used. There are numerous illustrations in the book that greatly add to the story. There’s a map of Tudor holdings in Wales and of Henry’s march through Wales to confront Richard III. The genealogy charts of the early Tudors are essential to an understanding of the family. I love this book and will use it in the future as a reference guide. I understand The History Press has released a new edition of the book in 2011 with a new preface. It is available as an e-book and in used editions.

Book Review: “Paris, 1200” by John W. Baldwin

Paris 1200 book cover

I love French medieval history so this book looked like it was right up my alley. John W. Baldwin is Charles Homer Haskins Professor Emeritus of History at Johns Hopkins University and has written many books on French history. This particular book was originally published in French in 2006. It was so popular, Stanford University Press decided to publish it in English in 2010.

Using sources only for the years 1190 to 1210 gives Baldwin a laser like focus on this seminal year. Construction of Notre Dame and the great wall of King Philip Augustus was underway. Pope Innocent III put the royal domains under interdict in January because the king had tried to put aside his lawful wife, Ingeborg of Denmark. This uncomfortable state of affairs for the ordinary people lasted for nine months. The churches were closed, no weddings or burials were performed, no mass was celebrated and no confession was allowed. King Philip made an important treaty with King John of England and the students of Paris threatened to go on general strike to protest infringements of their rights.

Baldwin gives us an interesting perspective on certain personalities of this time period such as the bourgeoisie who played a role in the king’s government, the working poor, the prostitutes, the king, Pierre the Chanter who directed the choir of Notre Dame and other women of the city. He tells us how the city was provisioned, who the merchants were, the use of currency and credit, and how trade was imperative to the economy of the city and France. There is an important chapter on the government of Philip Augustus. Before he went on Crusade, he set up a bureaucracy to rule in his absence and to collect taxes which was very successful.

Other sections of the book deal with the church, clergy and religious life and on the operation of the schools in the city. The details Baldwin gives on the schools is fascinating. He has gleaned from the documents who the teachers were, the subject matter they taught and what books they used. He even tells us who the students were, how they lived and especially how they got into a lot of trouble.

A final chapter deals with everyday life of the people of Paris. Baldwin gives details about the festivals people celebrated, how they worshiped at Christmas, the tournaments of the aristocracy, the joys of marriage, entertainment such as jongleurs and music, how the people spoke and swore and the art of love. All of this is very intriguing and really gives a feel for how people lived in the era.

There are some great photos in the book. Included are miniatures from illuminated manuscripts depicting everyday life and how the clergy lived and worshiped. There are photos of Notre Dame and a diagram of its choir. There is a map of Paris from 1200 and other maps and tables. I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot. I highly recommend it.