Did you know that the “Robin Hood” of legend was quite likely inspired by one or more real-life Medieval outlaws? The Medieval period was home to many of history’s most fascinating figures. The titles below look at the real history behind this legendary figure, and describe the enthralling stories of some other less-well-known, but no less important, persons who shaped the Middle Ages.
Everyone has heard of Robin Hood, the brilliant archer who “robbed the rich to give to the poor” and who always triumphed over the forces of evil. But the man behind the legend is as mysterious as King Arthur. David Baldwin sets out to find the real Robin Hood, looking for clues in the earliest ballads and in official and legal documents of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. His search takes him to the troubled reign of King Henry III, and to Henry’s difficult and deteriorating relationship with his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Earl Simon became a popular hero, a man who, it was thought, might have changed everything for the better, and who was credited with miracles in the aftermath of his death at the battle of Evesham.
Supporters who continued to oppose the government inherited his mantle, and one of them, a man named Roger Godberd who retreated to the forest and defied the sheriff, won notoriety and respect in equal measure. Later generations added much to the story, but Godberd, Baldwin argues, is the original outlaw hero. The reason why the real Robin is inexplicably missing from contemporary records is that he was not called Robin Hood in his own day.
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After the Norman victory in Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror’s oppression of the English led to widespread famine, death and destruction, culminating in the brutal Harrying of the North and the deaths of 100,000 people. Did the English submit to the tyranny of their oppressors? Or was this to be the beginning of one man’s fight for liberty?
Returning from Flanders to find his country taken over by the Normans, Hereward, known traditionally as ‘the Wake’, embarked on a path of resistance that was to start with the violent plundering of the monastery at Peterborough. Subsequently abandoned by the Danes he had relied upon, Hereward barricaded himself on the Isle of Ely. Holding out alone until reinforced by the arrival of Earls Edwin and Morcar from the North, Hereward found himself the object of William’s personal hatred and his desire to stamp out the last remnants of English resistance. Peter Rex rescues Hereward from the myths associated with his life and career, and finally reveals the mystery of his parentage and baffling disappearance into the mists of the Fens…
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Known to be proud, regal, and beautiful, Cecily Neville was born in the year of the great English victory at Agincourt and survived long enough to witness the arrival of the future Henry VIII, her great-grandson. Her life spanned most of the fifteenth century. Cecily’s marriage to Richard, Duke of York, was successful, even happy, and she traveled with him wherever his career dictated, bearing his children in England, Ireland, and France, including the future Edward IV and Richard III.
What was the substance behind her claim to be ‘queen by right’? Would she indeed have made a good queen during these turbulent times? One of a huge family herself, Cecily would see two of her sons become kings of England, but the struggles that tore apart the Houses of Lancaster and York also turned brother against brother. Cecily’s life cannot have been easy. Images of her dripping in jewels and holding her own alternative ‘court’ might belie the terrible heartache of seeing her descendants destroy each other. In attempting to be the family peacemaker, she frequently had to make heart-wrenching choices, yet these did not destroy her. She battled on, outliving her husband, friends, rivals and most of her children, to become one of the era’s great survivors.
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Can’t get enough Robin Hood? You’re in luck! Here’s another exploration of the real history behind the man, myth, and legend.
Robin Hood – the legendary outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor. From the medieval era to the present day, we have sung about him, listened to tales, watched him and his Merry Men in plays, on TV, and even on the silver screen. We really are fascinated with this heroic archer. But what do we really know about the man and the origins of the legend?
Experienced author and historian Jim Bradbury goes in search of the truth, looking at the historical sources, the real-life candidates, his appearances in popular culture over the centuries, and his continuing popularity.
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Dragon’s Blood and Willow Bark
The medical practices of the Medieval period are just as fascinating as stories about the historical figures that shaped that era. A time when butchers and executioners knew more about anatomy than university-trained physicians – the phrase ‘Medieval Medicine’ conjures up horrors for us with our modern ideas on hygiene, instant pain relief, and effective treatments. Although no one could allay the dread of plague, the medical profession provided cosmetic procedures, women’s sanitary products, dietary advice, and horoscopes predicting the sex of unborn babies or the best day to begin a journey.
Surgeons performed life-saving procedures, sometimes using anaesthetics, with post-operative antibiotic and antiseptic treatments to reduce the chances of infection. They knew a few tricks to lessen the scarring, too. Yet alongside such expertise, some still believed that unicorns, dragons, and elephants supplied vital medical ingredients and the caladrius bird could diagnose recovery or death. This is the weird, wonderful, and, occasionally, beneficial world of medieval medicine.
In her new book, popular historian Toni Mount guides the reader through this labyrinth of strange ideas and such unlikely remedies as leeches, meadowsweet, roasted cat, and red bed-curtains – some of which modern medicine is now coming to value – but without the nasty smells or any threat to personal well-being and safety.
No animals large, furry, or mythological were harmed during research for this book.
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