In this compact volume, historian Robert Lacey tackles stories that have been cloaked in mystery over the years, exposing fallacies with more sensible, if less colorful, explanations for such phenomena as Lady Godiva’s naked romp and King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. In an anecdotal chronicle of English History from 7150 BC through Richard II’s reign in AD 1381, Lacey uncovers the first faint rumblings of democracy and the opportunity for economic advancement that often arises from massive misfortune, such as the plague.
Lacey breathes life into pivotal characters, demythologizing history and placing them in an appropriate context, viewing their exploits with common sense. Taking advantage of the electronic age, Lacey lists a series of Internet sites for the reader to indulge his curiosity for English history in general, or individual stories as listed in the Table of Contents, whether it be The Lady of the Mercians, The Domesday Book, The Fair Maid of Kent and The Order of the Garter, the true adventures of Robin Hood, or the doomed White Ship of Henry I. The bibliography and source notes are valuable additions, as well, at the back of the book.
Myriad small but important details abound; for example, once the Romans left Britain in 410 AD, written records of civilization were not kept until nearly 600 AD, because the Anglo-Saxons did not keep recorded accounts; the Venerable Bede was the first real English historian, and it is he who tells of the insults passed between the Irish and the English. The first documented poet is Caedmon, followed by an introduction of the popular disciplines of science, mathematics, astronomy and poetry and the process of AD carbon dating.
After the Battle of Hastings in 1060, William the Conqueror introduced the concept of the people’s consent into governance, hence the phrase, “Long live the King!” The White Ship incident was the Titanic of the Middle Ages, carrying the heir of Henry I, as it tragically sank with the hopes of the future; this lack of an heir led to the first prolonged civil war. And the first anti-Semitic atrocities were committed during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, heir of Henry II, who did his best to stop the attacks, but later went on Crusade to Palestine, where he showed no mercy in the slaughtering of Muslims.
You can research your favorite myths or indulge in an historical romp through the centuries, choosing a tale from the Table of Contents. Once I started with Cheddar Man, I kept reading, tracking the evolution of civilization until I came to the end of the text, reluctantly. Then, I read the chapter notes, making a list of topics that piqued my curiosity. This is no Condensed Reader’s Digest, but a concise, erudite compilation of facts guaranteed to spark a reader’s interest.