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A Brief History of Britain 1066–1485

John Walker on a wide-ranging narrative of Britain's medieval past

Published: October 11, 2011 at 8:31 am
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Reviewed by: John Walker
Author: Nicholas Vincent
Publisher: Robinson
Price (RRP): £8.99


This book is the latest contribution to the Brief History series published by Robinson. The author makes it clear that his work is really focused on England with only limited reference to other parts of Britain. But with this qualification aside, what follows is an extremely readable and entertaining account.

The 540 pages transport us from the end of the Anglo-Saxon era through to the defeat of Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. For the most part the author follows a broadly chronological approach, which allows the reader to understand the changing political scene.

However, this study is so much more than a political chronology and contains a fascinating array of insights into such wide-ranging subjects as religion, the legal system, peasant life and art and architecture, to name but a few.

One of the strengths of the book is the way Professor Vincent is able to move from the political narrative to consider other subjects before effortlessly returning to the previous discussion. A good example of this is where the analysis of the violence of Richard II’s reign in the 1380s suddenly gives way to a discussion of the Wilton Diptych, commissioned by Richard, before returning to the political traumas of the 1390s.

In a book which covers so many themes there is still time for detailed analysis, ranging
from descriptions of the death of Harold Godwinson at Hastings in 1066 and the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury in 1170, to the impact of plague and war in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Overall, this study serves as an excellent introduction to the period, its people, their lives and experiences, and will be of use and enjoyment to both the general public and academic historians.

John Walker, department of history, University of Hull

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