Book Review: “Clash of Crowns” by Mary McAuliffe


Found this book while browsing at the local bookstore. It looked pretty interesting. The subtitle is “William the Conqueror, Richard Lionheart, and Eleanor of Aquitaine” and at the top of the cover it says “A Story of Bloodshed, Betrayal, and Revenge”. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Well, it is. McAuliffe obviously has a great passion for this era of French and English history. The book was inspired by the great fortification Château-Gaillard in France which was built by Richard the Lionheart during his clashes and wars with Philip Augustus II, King of France. She uses this castle to tell the story of Richard, beginning with the Viking Rollo, the first count of Normandy. The story progresses down to Rollo’s descendant William the Conqueror who became King of England in 1066.

William’s grand-daughter, Empress Matilda should have been Queen of England when her father King Henry I of England died. But her cousin Stephen got to England first causing the period of strife called the Anarchy while Matilda and Stephen fought for the throne. Eventually, Matilda’s first born son by Geoffrey of Anjou became King Henry II. Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine and had several sons who rebelled against their father.

All of this is recounted in this book in the context of European medieval history. McAuliffe brings all of these historical characters to life with all their admirable qualities and their foibles. She gives a detailed description of the fighting between Lionheart and Philip Augustus. Lionheart built the magnificent and modern fortress of Château-Galliard to safeguard a crucial point of defense in an effort to maintain possession of the duchy of Normandy. The castle was called Richard’s “Proud Daughter”. The final attack and siege of the castle by Philip is described in detail. It makes for fascinating reading.

Anyone who loves English and French medieval history will enjoy this book. It is well organized, and researched and well written. It includes a bibliography, illustrations, maps, a chronology and a list of key people in the story. Even if you know the history it’s a fun read and if you don’t, it’s a great introduction.

Book Review: “A Brief History of the Vikings” by Jonathan Clements

brief history vikings

Due to testing my family DNA, I discovered my paternal ancestry is Nordic Viking. To go along with this, the History Channel began airing a series called “Vikings” which I have thoroughly enjoyed, by the way! This made me want to know more so I began by reading “A Brief History of the Vikings: The Last Pagans or the First Modern Europeans?” by Jonathan Clements.

While this is not a definitive history of the Vikings, it’s a great introduction. Clements writes with an easy style, injecting subtle humor into the stories. He begins with a short rundown of the Viking people before the great Viking Age with a chapter on the myths and legends of Scandinavia. This includes an explanation of what is known of their religious practices and those of the people in the surrounding geographic area. He then moves on to the late eighth century when some of the raids began on England, Ireland, the Highlands of Scotland and other islands. Clements also tells us about the history of Iceland and the colonies there.

There are several reasons given for the diaspora of the Scandinavian peoples during the Viking Age. Most importantly has to be trade. The Vikings were in search of trade and especially silver. This led them to the Middle East where they traded with the Muslims for vast amounts of silver. But after the mines stopped producing the metal, they had other motivations for sailing to other locales. Clements points out there were family feuds among the men that drove them to conquer others. The Vikings also went in search of more land to farm and raise livestock.

They sailed their well-constructed ships to many geographical places: England, Scotland, Ireland, northern France, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and even North America. My favorite stories are of those who came to North America and about Hrolf the Walker, also known as Rolf or Rollo, who founded the Normandy dukedom in France and was an ancestor of William the Conqueror. Being American, I was always taught that Christopher Columbus was the first person to “discover” America. Clements gives a nice rundown of the many explorers and colonizers who viewed or touched on the shores of North America. Some stayed for short periods of time and some took lumber and brought it back to Greenland and Scandinavia. And of course they encountered the “Skraelings”, or Native Americans, much to their discomfort. This was my favorite part of the book.

The pinnacle of the Viking Age according to Clements was the life of Harald Hardada (the Ruthless). He had many adventures. Whether they were true or fanciful exaggerations doesn’t really matter because it still makes for a good story. This book is a great foundation for those who want to know more about the Vikings. There are some nice photos in the book and a great appendix. There are lists of Rulers During the Viking Age along with family trees and maps. And of course, there is an excellent bibliography for those who are interesting in exploring more. I recommend this book and will keep it in my library for further reference.