Great Nonfiction: 1215: The Year of the Magna Carta

5.0 out of 5 stars When England became English

From the legend of Robin Hood, many Americans have a sketchy idea of King John and his evil sheriffs, taking from the poor to give to the rich. Turns out, it didn’t exactly happen that way. Authors Danziger and Gillingham have taken a slice out of history, examining a single year under a microscope, and have produced a useful and entertaining image of the lives of commoners and kings. The topics they cover range from marital discord, to hunting and jousting, to religion, to the people’s rebellion, presented in such a way that the inception of modern governmental ideas can be clearly understood. Henry VIII was not the first English king to divorce his queen; John did it simply because he was besotted by another, much foxier lady. Medieval folk, in spite of all their grand cathedrals, weren’t actually all that religious. It wasn’t only suspected witches who were tried by the water test. And while it’s true that King John lost most of the Plantagenet territories in France, but if he hadn’t, England would probably be something else entirely. Who knew?!

Recommended to anyone with an interest in England and medieval life.


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