Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker of Swinbrook: Extracts and Special Offer

Geoffrey le Baker’s chronicle covers the reigns of Edward II and Edward III up to the English victory at Poitiers. The reign of Edward III is dominated, not by Edward III himself, but by Baker’s real hero, Edward prince of Wales. His bravery aged sixteen at Crécy is presented as a prelude to his victory at Poitiers, a battle which Baker is able to describe in great detail, apparently from what he was told by the prince’s commanders. It is a rarity among medieval battles, because – in sharp contrast to the total anarchy at Crécy – the prince and his staff were able to see the enemy’s manoeuvres. Baker writes in a complex Latin which even scholars can find problematic, so David Preest’s translation in an affordable paperback (£17.99/$24.95) will be widely welcomed.

This week we’ll be posting some excerpts from the Chronicle, including accounts of the death of Edward II, a lewd washerwoman and a secret escape route, and a vivid slice of action from the Battle of Poitiers.

From today we’re offering a 25% discount: just add it to your basket and enter code BB590 at the checkout. Offer ends midnight 5 May.

Extract One (Revealed 30th April 2018)

1327: Edward II’s guards are persuaded to kill him

Then began the final persecution of Edward, which continued until his death. First they shut him in the closest of chambers, and for many days they tortured him almost to suffocation by the stench of corpses placed in a cellar underneath his chamber. Indeed one day the servant of God at the window of his room lamented to some carpenters working outside that that unbearable stench was the heaviest punishment he had ever endured. But those tyrants saw that the stench could not of itself cause the death of a very strong man. And so on 22 September they suddenly seized him as he lay on his bed, and smothered and suffocated him with great, heavy mattresses, in weight more than that of fifteen strong men. Then, with a plumber’s soldering iron, made red hot, and thrust through the tube leading to the secret parts of his bowels, they burnt out his inner parts and then his breath of life. For they were afraid that if a wound was found on the body of the king, where friends of justice are accustomed to look for wounds, his torturers might be compelled to answer for an obvious injury and suffer punishment for it.

In this way the knight, for all his strength, was overpowered. His loud cries were heard by men inside and outside the castle, who knew well enough that someone was suffering a violent death. Many people in Berkeley and some in the castle, as they themselves asserted, were awoken by his dying shouts and took compassion on the sufferer, making prayers for the holy soul of one emigrating from this world. Thus the kingdom of the angels in heaven received one hated by the world, just as it had hated his master Jesus Christ before him. First it received the teacher, rejected by the kingdom of the Jews, and then the disciple, stripped of the kingdom of the English.

Extract Two (Revealed 2nd May 2018)

1352: English defeated outside Calais but capture Guines Castle

There was an archer called John Dancaster who had previously been captured and imprisoned in the castle of Guines. As he did not have the means to pay his ransom, he was set free by the French on the condition that he served as an archer for them. This fellow became acquainted with the lewd embraces of a lewd washerwoman and learned from her of a wall that had been built across the bottom of the chief moat of the castle. It was two feet wide and extended from the rampart to the inner wall of the castle. It was so covered with water that it could not be seen, but it was not so submerged that a man crossing by it got wet further up than his knees. It had been made
once upon a time for the use of fishermen and for that reason the wall was discontinued in the middle for the space of two feet.

Armed now with this information from his strumpet, John Dancaster measured the height of the wall with a thread. Having discovered it, he one day slipped down from the wall, entrusting himself to God, and crossed the moat by the hidden wall. He hid until evening in the marshes, came to the vicinity of Calais by night and waited for broad daylight before he entered the town, as he would definitely not have been let in at any other time.

He told those who were greedy for booty and keen to take the castle by stealth, where an entrance was lying open for them. These thirty conspirators made ladders of the length measured by him, and, wearing black armour without any brightness, they came to the castle of Guines by night, guided by John Dancaster. They climbed the wall with their ladders, knocked out the brains of a guard, who meeting them by chance was beginning cry out, and threw his body into the moat. In the hall they found and slaughtered many unarmed men who were playing at chequers or dice and who were as panic-stricken as sheep in the presence of wolves. Then, easily breaking into chambers and turrets where ladies and some knights were sleeping, they became masters of all that they wanted.

Extract Three (Revealed 4th May 2018)

1356: The Battle of Poitiers

Then the prince ordered his standard bearer, Sir Walter de Wodelond, to move off towards the banners of the enemy, and with his few fresh men he joined battle with the great army of the crowned one. Then sounded the signals for battle, with trumpets giving answer to clarions, tuneful horns and kettle-drums, and the stony cliffs of Poitou sent the sound in echo to the woods. You would have thought that the mountains were bellowing to the valleys and that the clouds thundered. Nor were these mighty thunderclaps without their frightening flashes of lightning, while the sunlight sparkled on their glittering golden armour and flashes came from their flying spears of polished steel, as their points like thunderbolts split their targets. Then the threatening mass of the French crossbowmen brought back grim night to the battlefield with the thick darkness of their bolts, but this darkness was repelled by the deadly shower of arrows shot by the young English archers, driven by desperation to frenzied resistance. Also there flew through the air spears of ash, which the French greeted at a distance, as their troops, packed together in dense bands, protected their breasts with a close-fitting line of shields and turned aside their heads from the missiles. Then our archers, having emptied their quivers in vain, and armed only with shields of leather and swords, were told by the passion boiling within them to attack the heavily-armed French and to sell dearly their deaths which they thought would be the settlement for that day’s work. But then with a roar the prince of Wales was upon the Frenchmen. Hewing them down with his sharp sword, he cut through their spears, repelled their blows, made their efforts a thing of nought, lifted the fallen English and taught the enemy how furious is the desperation in the breast of a man clothed for battle.

(Translation copyright David Preest 2012)
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The hunt for Shakespeare’s lost source

June Schlueter and I are thrilled with the attention the George North manuscript, “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels,” is receiving, which began on February 8 with Michael Blanding’s article in the New York Times. The recent publication and coverage of this little-known Elizabethan document will ensure that scholars will now be able to access it and analyze the various ways Shakespeare used it for his plays.

Over the last few weeks, June and I have fielded many questions about the finding—from scholars, reporters, and interested amateurs. The most common are: How did you find the manuscript? Why is it important? Are you sure Shakespeare used it? And how did Shakespeare have access to it? We will try to answer all four.

The way I found the manuscript was simple: I just emailed my partner and coauthor, June Schlueter, saying: “We have got to find this manuscript.” And she took it from there. I had found notice of the manuscript’s existence in a 1927 auction catalogue and had probably hit “send” on the email before I had finished reading the blurb. June is a scholar straight out of the pages of a Dan Brown novel. She hunts through the archives of museums and libraries throughout Europe, gently leafing through the yellowing papers of 16th-century manuscripts and reading their faded scrawl. Still, it took more than a year to pinpoint the manuscript’s location. June sent out feelers to other manuscript scholars, and Anthony Edwards located it among the Portland Papers in the British Library.

Scholars study Shakespeare’s sources because they help provide a deeper understanding of the plays. But unfortunately it seemed like all the major sources of the canon that could be discovered had been. These earlier works had all been squeezed for as much information as possible. Now, the George North manuscript gives scholars something new to examine, and it has already provided helpful information. For example, no one really understood why in the middle of a history on King Henry VI, Shakespeare devotes an entire scene to the death of the rebel Jack Cade, inventing numerous details: his followers were forced into halters, Cade felt hunted and fearful of everyone and regretted his decision to rebel, he was starving and forced to eat grass, his limbs were emaciated, his corpse would be dragged by the heels and eaten by crows. But when we read about the death of Jack Cade in North’s “Discourse,” we understand the purpose and origin of the scene: Shakespeare’s Jack Cade represented an amalgam of North’s version of Cade and other rebels—and he and his followers endured indignities and torments that, North argued, all rebels would suffer.

The manuscript also answers why the Fool, who served as a prophet of a world turned upside-down in King Lear, recites a Prophecy of the Poet Merlin. George North also offers a Merlin prophecy, describing Merlin as just such a dystopian prophet and associating him with a list of role-reversals that would eventually inform the Fool’s depictions of a topsy-turvy world. Shakespeare liked to have his characters reference their historical archetypes: Polonius, who would soon be stabbed, notes that he once played the part of Julius Caesar, and Hamlet then alludes to Brutus. In the same way, the Fool was quoting the historical model of his character.

The third question is typically whether we are sure that the George North manuscript was a source for Shakespeare’s plays—and yes, there is little doubt about it. When two passages share a series of peculiar terms or phrases in the same context, whether detailing the same historical event or describing the same distinctive idea, this entails a connection between the passages. Most people understand this instinctively when they are already familiar with the original passage. For example, if some post-Shakespeare writer were to create a story about Mark Antony in which the Roman statesman enters a room and says, “Hey everyone, lend me your ears,” we would naturally assume this author took those last four words from Shakespeare, whether directly or indirectly. We would understand that such a phrase is fairly rare, and so the chances are slim that someone else would dream it up for a similar situation just by happenstance. This is a quick way to understand how scholars determine literary obligation. This same rationale that has been used for centuries in source studies also confirms Shakespeare’s debt to George North. The difference is that the verbal correspondences between manuscript and canon—all reproduced in the same distinctive context—are far more compelling than the “lend me your ears” example. And the relevant passages in George North’s manuscript link to parallel passages in at least eleven of Shakespeare’s plays.

Finally, we are left with the question of how Shakespeare had access to “A Brief Discourse.” June and I have been researching the North family for several years, and we believe we have the answer. It will be central to the argument of another book, which is well underway.

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Editor’s Choice: Caroline Palmer talks Singing the Crusades

Singing the Crusades
French and Occitan Lyric Responses to the Crusading Movements, 1137-1336
By Linda Paterson

For publication in April (but available now), Linda Paterson’s Singing the Crusades is absolutely top-notch. The Crusades are of course a much-studied topic, but this offers something completely new. We all know about the chroniclers of the Crusades in official documents of the time, accounts of events, and so forth. Here, the author studies the troubadours and trouveres who composed lyrics about the Crusades (and were often crusaders themselves).

The best-known is Richard Lionheart’s own lament when he was held captive; but there are hundreds of them – and they have gone slightly under the radar, perhaps because they are in Old French and Occitan usually and so not so easy to read/consult. They vary from praise to criticism to moaning about the awful time they are having on Crusade (you can’t blame them), and frequently pull no punches in terms of upbraiding the Crusade leaders and rulers. (Marcabru comments acidly: “a good lady can improve, but she who takes two or three lovers and does not pledge herself to one alone, well, her worth decreases with every month that passes”. That’s told YOU, Eleanor of Aquitaine!)

The author takes a chronological approach, mapping the lyrics on to the events of the Crusade, and analysing the most important; the texts are provided with English translation. There’s also an introduction, and a timeline of events.

This book genuinely does break new ground. It ties into a number of strands across the Boydell list: Crusades history, military history, French studies, and even early music (there’s a list of manuscripts where the music is preserved – and on a website developed by the author and sponsored by the AHRC, you can actually hear performances of them).

(This post has been adapted from a light-hearted briefing to the sales and marketing department.)

Related Titles
Literature of the Crusades Troubadour Poems from the South of France Writing the Early Crusades

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Lord Liverpool

20 April sees the publication of Lord Liverpool: A Political Life, by William Anthony Hay (Associate Professor of history at Mississippi State University). If you are wondering who he was, Dr Hay’s book will explain all and leave you asking why on earth he’s not better known, for Lord Liverpool (1770-1828) was a political giant of his day: between 1793 and 1827 he was out of government office for only a little over one year. His tenure in office oversaw a series of seismic events including the War of 1812 with the United States, the endgame of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, the Corn Laws, the Peterloo Massacre, and escalating tensions over the issue of Catholic Emancipation. We are grateful to Dr Hay for this post which we hope will whet the appetites of readers of political and nineteenth-century history

While opening mail over breakfast on a Saturday morning in February 1827, Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, suffered a crippling stroke. A servant found him on the floor with a letter crumpled in his hand. The stroke left Liverpool, according to The Times, “politically, if not literally, dead.” He had spent nearly fifteen years as prime minister, an uninterrupted tenure no successor has yet matched. Only two earlier prime ministers, Sir Robert Walpole and William Pitt the Younger exceeded it.

Holding office so long itself marks an accomplishment, but Liverpool built a formidable record leading Britain through the final stages of the Napoleonic Wars, a peace settlement that won unprecedented security, and then social turmoil worsened by a postwar slump. Prime ministers before and after him dealt effectively with either foreign crises or equally difficult problems at home. Liverpool handled both with more success than most. Weathering those challenges, he set down a line of conservative policy with lasting effect. If, as an observer remarked, whoever writes England’s history of the period must necessarily write Liverpool’s biography, his life and career offer a revealing palimpsest for a pivotal era.

Liverpool became prime minister having mastered both policy and the administrative machinery that implemented it. Appointed foreign secretary at the age of thirty, Liverpool negotiated the brief Peace of Amiens with France. He later served as home secretary (1804-6 and 1807-9), handling Irish unrest along with the whole range of domestic policy. Working closely with magistrates attuned him to concerns among local political establishments across Britain. As war secretary (1809-1812), Liverpool guided British strategy and became Wellington’s essential partner in the struggle against Napoleon. Leading the House of Lords for seven and a half years under three prime ministers, he defended the government’s conduct and managed legislation. Colleagues turned to him as their leader after Spencer Perceval’s assassination in June 1812.

Lord Liverpool:
A Political Life

by William Anthony Hay

His premiership from 1812 to 1827 encompassed what Paul Johnson has called “the birth of the modern” as social, cultural and other dynamics held back by the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars found expression after 1815. E. P. Thompson famously argued that a slightly longer period between 1790 and 1830 saw the making of an English working class. More recent historians of the nineteenth-century including Richard Brent and Jonathan Parry have acknowledged the post-Waterloo years’ importance for understanding the decades that followed. Norman Gash, who pioneered the study of early Victorian politics, looked back from that era to credit Liverpool with developing policies which anticipated a recognizable conservative party under Sir Robert Peel.

Given his role at formative time, why did Liverpool fade into relative obscurity?

Liverpool seemed out of step as an emerging liberal consensus presented the decades before 1830 as a stagnant, reactionary period that had delayed necessary change. Historians, publicists and opposition politicians who had seen their aims thwarted by Liverpool and his colleagues had a considerable stake in framing the closing decades of the long eighteenth-century in those critical terms. Their opinions set a lasting narrative that guided historians as their subject developed into an academic discipline and shaped how Liverpool’s era was seen into the twentieth century.

Moreover, Liverpool lacked protégés to uphold his reputation. Canning’s followers carried on his reputation as the standard bearer of Liberal Toryism and Peel drew sympathy as a reformer easily cast as a forerunner of Gladstonian Liberalism. Benjamin Disraeli famously dismissed Liverpool as “the Arch Mediocrity who presided rather than ruled over this Cabinet of Mediocrities.”

An approach historians describe as Liberal Toryism guided Liverpool’s efforts. It sought to promote economic growth and raise living standards while separating particular, targeted reforms from restructuring the political system as a whole. Showing that ministers could address specific grievances within the existing constitution bolstered their standing while denying critics leverage against them. A closer look shows Liverpool an effective manager who took earlier programs for commercial and administrative reform much further than Pitt had imagined. Until a crippling stroke took him from the scene, he contained pressures for change and directed them to minimize their larger impact.

Those accomplishments merit a fresh look. Lord Liverpool: A Political Life reads the story of its subject’s career forward from the eighteenth-century world that formed him to bring his accomplishments to the forefront. Besides recovering a personality and outlook later generations neglected, the book uses Liverpool to explore the crucial transition from Georgian to Victorian Britain in a new light.

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