Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Tower: The Tumultuous History of the Tower of London from 1078


Rating: 3 Stars - Did Not Finish


I had to keep reminding myself that this edition was published in 1979. It was not easy and I often found myself frustrated with some of the things Wilson wrote as fact. On the other hand, he also puts forth some of those same sentiments in more recent books, so, there's that to deal with as well (he is NOT a fan of Mary Tudor). As a result, I waver back and forth between two and three stars. The reason I did not finish this one is not due to the dryness of the writing, but to lack of interest in the periods following the reign of James VI/I. I did give it a go, but decided there are too many other books waiting for me.

The text was good, not great. Much of that is owed to the fact that it was written so long ago and the way we look at these eras is quite different, even from the way historians viewed them 40 years ago. I feel like this text would be much stronger if it was updated - not only to reflect more accurate facts as we know them now about those early periods, but so the Tower can be presented now up to it current status and function. As an aside, it still pains me that when Mom and I were in London as part of our UK Extravaganza, we had such short time in London itself that we were not able to see the Tower. This is, without a doubt, #2 on my list of attractions to visit (#1 encompassing any and every place still in existence connected to Eleanor of Aquitaine, of course.)

The many factual inaccuracies were distracting, despite my own attempt to remember it was 40 years old. For example, Wilson refers to de Burgh as being the man who held the most authority in Henry III's reign, due to him being an experienced soldier and administrator. To that I had to say, "Um, helloooo, ever heard of this man by the name of WILLIAM MARSHAL?!" I do have quite a soft spot in my heart for that ol' soldier and always like to see him get his due.

Moving on to the Tudor reign, there were a few issues I took with statements Wilson made as well. Now, I have never made it a secret that have no good feelings about Anne Boleyn. Catherine will always be the rightful and true queen to me, as Mary was always the rightful heir. That does mean that I support everything Mary did during her reign, but I do think everything that happened to her during her childhood once Henry initiated the divorce need to be weighed greatly in understanding how that impacted her. No one can really be surprised in how tightly she clung to her faith and viewed Catholicism as the only religion, given its treatment in her lifetime as a means to an end for Henry to get what he wanted. I know this is not a popular opinion among some and that is fine, but Wilson's assessment of Mary's reign as an "appalling blunder" by the English when they supported Mary instead of her cousin Lady Jane Grey is inaccurate in my eyes. Given a closer and less biased look, there were many aspects of Mary's reign that actually proved quite successful. While that is another debate for another post and I won't go into detail here, I might recommend The First Queen of England: The Myth of Bloody Mary for anyone interested in what I am suggesting. Continuing along this path, I was confused when Wilson states that Catherine Parr died in childbirth "or probably before". Everything I have read thus far indicates she died after giving birth to a daughter, who also did not live long - perhaps a year or two. I am curious as to where Wilson got this idea and if that was accepted as fact in the 1970s, where new information came from since then to change what we know now. He also cites tuberculosis as the cause of death for Edward, which gave way to Mary's reign. While it is certainly one of the theories, there have been others put forth as well. Again I wonder if this could be that TB was accepted in the 1970s and only with new information coming to light have we changed our thinking?

There are positives to the book, do not get me wrong. I found the illustrations included to be useful. Another reason I would like to see a new edition to the book would be to see new photographs of the Tower added in comparison. It would be very interesting to see drawings of the original structure, compared to how it looks now.

I realize that the issues I have touched on had more to do with the people connected to the Tower than the Tower itself. All in all, this is because this book was as much about the people who inhabited the the fortress as the buildings themselves. This I can appreciate, as it covered all of the periods in England's history that are among my most favorite (and more - if you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know I don't have much interest beyond the reign of James VI/I). I wish there would be an update, though if you can keep in mind the age, then I can recommend with some hesitancy. It is very dry at times after all and that could be very off-putting for those who are less interested in the times.

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