Friday, October 19, 2007

Great Tales from English History: Joan of Arc, the Princes in the Tower, Bloody Mary, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, and More by Robert Lacey

In his series Great Tales from English History, Robert Lacey retells some of the most known stories about the monarchs and subjects of England. While this could be pretty dull reading in a less talented author's hands, Lacey entertains with humorous details, thoughtful observations, and swift portrayals of the key historical figures. In doing so, he often dispels myths and humanizes the exalted figures about whom he writes.

I read the second book Great Tales from English History: Joan of Arc, the Princes in the Tower, Bloody Mary, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, and More. In this volume, Lacey covers events and people between 1387 and 1687 in chapters that range from three to seven pages. You could read several a day and enjoy the book for a couple of weeks and then get one of the other volumes.

I most enjoyed reading about people whose names I knew but about whom I knew little.
  • Famous for his role in the folk tale Puss in Boots, Dick Whittington really did rise to become mayor of London and a counsellor for King Henry IV, but there is no evidence that he ever owned a cat.
  • Lady Jane Grey was a pawn in a political struggle and never deserved to lose her head at the block.
  • William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English and who lost his head for criticizing King Henry VIII's divorce, is the source of many famous phrases, including "salt of the earth," "the powers that be," and "eat, drink and be merry."
  • Samuel Pepys traveled to Holland to get an exclusive interview with Charles II before he was restored to the crown.
  • William Caxton, the first Englishman to own a printing press, is responsible for many of the inconsistent spellings in the English language.

Of course, Lacey tells stories about all the kings and queens of the three centuries. Richard II died because he went on a hunger strike in prison; he was not assassinated. Charles II really did hide in a tree to escape Puritan soldiers. Mary was hailed as a fair and just queen when she succeeded her brother Edward, but she spent her political capital rather quickly and everyone was happy to see her die.

The Great Tales from History series is fun to read and makes a nice introduction to English history. All public libraries should get Lacey's series.

Lacey, Robert. Great Tales from English History: Joan of Arc, the Princes in the Tower, Bloody Mary, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, and More. Little, Brown & Company, 2004. ISBN 031610924X.

Other volumes:

Great tales from English history : the truth about King Arthur, Lady Godiva, Richard the Lionheart and more. ISBN: 031610910X

Great tales from English history : Captain Cook, Samuel Johnson, Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin, Edward the Abdicator, and more. ISBN: 0316114596

2 comments:

Nonanon said...

Lacey is the best ever! I'm always glad to see him get a little publicity--he also did a masterful bio of the Ford family; I think it was called Ford: The Men and the Machine (or something like that). I listened to it on tape and Lacey even managed to make automotive history interesting!

Anonymous said...

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