A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain


Marc Morris - 2008
    His reign was one of the most dramatic and important of the entire Middle Ages, leading to war and conquest on an unprecedented scale, and leaving a legacy of division between the peoples of Britain that has lasted from his day to our own.Edward I is familiar to millions as ‘Longshanks’, conqueror of Scotland and nemesis of Sir William Wallace (‘Braveheart’). Yet this story forms only the final chapter of the king’s astonishingly action-packed life. Earlier Edward had defeated and killed the famous Simon de Montfort in battle; travelled across Europe to the Holy Land on crusade; conquered Wales, extinguishing forever its native rulers, and constructing – at Conwy, Harlech, Beaumaris and Caernarfon – the most magnificent chain of castles ever created. He raised the greatest armies of the English Middle Ages, and summoned the largest parliaments; notoriously, he expelled all the Jews from his kingdom. The longest-lived of all England’s medieval kings, he fathered no fewer than fifteen children with his first wife, Eleanor of Castile, and after her death he erected the Eleanor Crosses – the grandest funeral monuments ever fashioned for an English monarch.In this book, Marc Morris examines afresh the forces that drove Edward throughout his relentless career: his character, his Christian faith, and his sense of England’s destiny – a sense shaped in particular by the tales of the legendary King Arthur. He also explores the competing reasons that led Edward’s opponents (including Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Robert Bruce) to resist him, and the very different societies that then existed in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The result is a sweeping story, immaculately researched yet compellingly told, and a vivid picture of medieval Britain at the moment when its future was decided.

The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, The Power Behind Five English Thrones


Thomas Asbridge - 2014
    

Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe


Nancy Goldstone - 2007
     From a cultured childhood in Provence, each sister was propelled into a world marked by shifting alliances, intrigue, and subterfuge. Marguerite, the eldest, whose resolution and spirit would be tested by the cold splendor of the Palais du Roi in Paris; Eleanor, whose soaring political aspirations would provoke her kingdom to civil war; Sanchia, the neglected wife of the richest man in England who bought himself the crown of Germany; and Beatrice, whose desire for sovereignty was so acute that she risked her life to earn her place at the royal table.

Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England


Alison Weir - 2005
    Isabella arrived in London in 1308, the spirited twelve-year-old daughter of King Philip IV of France. Her marriage to the heir to England’s throne was designed to heal old political wounds between the two countries, and in the years that followed she became an important figure, a determined and clever woman whose influence would come to last centuries. Many myths and legends have been woven around Isabella’s story, but in this first full biography in more than 150 years, Alison Weir gives a groundbreaking new perspective.

Richard and John: Kings at War


Frank McLynn - 2006
    In the myth-making, King Richard, defender of Christendom in the Holy Land, was the “good king,” and his younger brother John was the evil usurper of the kingdom, who lost not only the Crown jewels but also the power of the crown. How much, though, do these popular stereotypes correspond with reality? Frank McLynn, known for a wide range of historical studies, has returned to the original sources to discover what Richard and John, these warring sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, were really like, and how their history measures up to their myth. In riveting prose, and with attention to the sources, he turns the tables on modern revisionist historians, showing exactly how incompetent a king John was, despite his intellectual gifts, and how impressive Richard was, despite his long absence from the throne. This is history at its best-revealing and readable.

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century


Barbara W. Tuchman - 1978
    Barbara Tuchman anatomizes the century, revealing both the great rhythms of history and the grain and texture of domestic life as it was lived.

Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle that Made England


Juliet Barker - 2005
    Although almost six centuries old, the Battle of Agincourt still captivates the imaginations of men and women on both sides of the Atlantic. It has been immortalized in high culture (Shakespeare's Henry V) and low (the New York Post prints Henry's battle cry on its editorial page each Memorial Day). It is the classic underdog story in the history of warfare, and generations have wondered how the English -- outnumbered by the French six to one -- could have succeeded so bravely and brilliantly. Drawing upon a wide range of sources, eminent scholar Juliet Barker casts aside the legend and shows us that the truth behind Agincourt is just as exciting, just as fascinating, and far more significant. She paints a gripping narrative of the October 1415 clash between outnumbered English archers and heavily armored French knights. But she also takes us beyond the battlefield into palaces and common cottages to bring into vivid focus an entire medieval world in flux. Populated with chivalrous heroes, dastardly spies, and a ferocious and bold king, Agincourt is as earthshaking as its subject -- and confirms Juliet Barker's status as both a historian and a storyteller of the first rank.

1415: Henry V's Year Of Glory


Ian Mortimer - 2009
    1415 was a year of religious persecution, personal suffering and one horrendous battle. This book presents the story of that year.

Waterloo: The True Story of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles


Bernard Cornwell - 2014
    Waterloo changed almost everything.’Bestselling author Bernard Cornwell is celebrated for his ability to bring history to life. Here, in his first work of non-fiction, he has written the true story of the epic battle of Waterloo – a momentous turning point in European history – a tale of one campaign, four days and three armies.He focuses on what it was like to be fighting in that long battle, whether officer or private, whether British, Prussian or French; he makes you feel you are present at the scene. The combination of his vivid, gripping style and detailed historical research make this, his first non-fiction book, the number one book for the upcoming 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.It is a magnificent story. There was heroism on both sides, tragedy too and much misery. Bernard Cornwell brings those combatants back to life, using their memories to recreate what it must have been like to fight in one of the most ghastly battles of history. It was given extra piquancy because all of Europe reckoned that the two greatest soldiers of the age were Napoleon and Wellington, yet the two had never faced each other in battle. Both were acutely aware of that, and aware that history would judge them by the result. In the end it was a victory for Wellington, but when he saw the casualty lists he wept openly. ‘I pray to God,’ he said, ‘I have fought my last battle.’ He had, and it is a story for the ages.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz


Erik Larson - 2020
    Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally--and willing to fight to the end.In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows how Churchill taught the British people "the art of being fearless." It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it's also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill's prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports--some released only recently--Larson provides a new lens on London's darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents' wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela's illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill's "Secret Circle," to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217


Richard Brooks - 2014
    But, at the battle of Lincoln, the seventy-year-old William Marshal led his men to a victory that would secure the future of his nation. Earl of Pembroke, right-hand man to three kings and regent for a fourth, Marshal was one of the most celebrated men in Europe, yet is virtually unknown today, his impact and influence largely forgotten.In this vivid account, Richard Brooks blends colorful contemporary source material with new insights to uncover the tale of this unheralded icon. He traces the rise of Marshal from penniless younger son to renowned knight, national hero and defender of the Magna Carta.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies


Ben Macintyre - 2012
    Operation Fortitude, which protected and enabled the invasion, and the Double Cross system, which specialized in turning German spies into double agents, deceived the Nazis into believing that the Allies would attack at Calais and Norway rather than Normandy. It was the most sophisticated and successful deception operation ever carried out, ensuring that Hitler kept an entire army awaiting a fake invasion, saving thousands of lives, and securing an Allied victory at the most critical juncture in the war.   The story of D-Day has been told from the point of view of the soldiers who fought in it, the tacticians who planned it, and the generals who led it. But this epic event in world history has never before been told from the perspectives of the key individuals in the Double Cross System. These include its director (a brilliant, urbane intelligence officer), a colorful assortment of MI5 handlers (as well as their counterparts in Nazi intelligence), and the five spies who formed Double Cross’s nucleus: a dashing  Serbian playboy, a Polish fighter-pilot, a bisexual Peruvian party girl, a deeply eccentric Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming and a volatile Frenchwoman, whose obsessive love for her pet dog very nearly wrecked the entire plan. The D-Day spies were, without question, one of the oddest military units ever assembled, and their success depended on the delicate, dubious relationship between spy and spymaster, both German and British. Their enterprise was saved from catastrophe by a shadowy sixth spy whose heroic sacrifice is revealed here for the first time.   With the same depth of research, eye for the absurd and masterful storytelling that have made Ben Macintyre an international bestseller,  Double Cross is a captivating narrative of the spies who wove a web so intricate it ensnared Hitler’s army and carried thousands of D-Day troops across the Channel in safety.

The Demon's Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty


Desmond Seward - 2014
    Four kings were murdered, two came close to deposition, and another was killed in a battle by rebels. Shakespeare wrote plays about six of them, further entrenching them in the national myth. Based on major contemporary sources and recent research, acclaimed historian Desmond Seward provides the first readable overview of the whole extraordinary dynasty, in one volume."

Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory


Michael Korda - 2017
    For, indeed, May 1940 was a month like no other, as the German war machine blazed into France while the supposedly impregnable Maginot Line crumbled, and Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as prime minister in an astonishing political drama as Britain, isolated and alone, faced a triumphant Nazi Germany.Against this vast historical canvas, Michael Korda relates what happened and why, and also tells his own story, that of a six-year-old boy in a glamorous movie family who would himself be evacuated. Alone is a work that seamlessly weaves a family memoir into an unforgettable account of a political and military disaster redeemed by the evacuation of more than 300,000 men in four days―surely one of the most heroic episodes of the war.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo


Tom Reiss - 2012
    The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature.Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave -- who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time.  Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East – until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.