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The History of the English People 1000-1154…

The History of the English People 1000-1154 (Oxford World's Classics)

by Henry of Huntingdon

Other authors: Diana Greenway (Translator)

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Compelling work by a twelfth century historian, poet and son of a married clergyman Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon. Covering the eleventh and twelfth century up until Henry's own death in 1154, in the first year of the reign of Henry II.
The almost continuous round of treachery, betrayal, murder, corruption, and warfare wrought by feuding kings or backstabbing nobles vying for power could make for a depressing read, were in not for Henry's style.

For a monk and man of peace, his battle scenes and speeches are worthy of a modern novelist or screenwriter. In William the Conqueror's mouth before Hastings are placed the words- "Raise your standards men, and let there be no measure or moderation to your righteous anger. Let the lightening of your glory be seen from the east to the west, let the thunder of your charge be heard, and may you be the avengers of most noble blood".

An account of a battle of the first Crusade reads "The Christians were furiously put to the slaughter. Their horses, unable to endure the strange shouts, the sound of war trumpets and the banging of drums, would not respond to their spurs... as the Christians were already thinking of flight, or beginning to flee, Robert, Duke of Normandy, raced up crying, 'Where soldiers, are you fleeing? Their soldiers are faster than ours. There is no safety in flight. It is better to die here. Decide with me, follow me."

Such violent descriptions of Crusaders killing Turks might not appeal to modern sensibilities but even as one who despises William the Conqueror and his Norman thugs, its hard to deny Henry's ability to create drama and spin a ripping yarn. He does moralize, in common with all Medieval clerical chroniclers Henry drew moral and didactic examples from the past, but nevertheless one is sometimes inclined to agree with his sentiments such as "Nothing is more excellent in this life then to investigate and become familiar with the course of worldly events. Where does the grandeur of valiant men shine more brightly, or the discretion of the righteous, or the moderation of the temperate, then in the pages of history".

The author may have been something of a romantic, but he was also a pragmatist, and seemed to have genuine compassion for the abuses of the age. In an age when great men sought prestige and prowess was considered one of the highest of values for fighting men Henry was contemptuous of those who sought only worldly glory and gain, ay the expense of virtue, honour, honesty and humanity and implored men to "work hard at seeking the glory, honour, goodness, wealth,dignity and prestige that are in God. When you have gained these things, you will have them always. When you have gained the things of the world, they will flow away like water from a broken pitcher, and you have nothing"

Even for those who are not religious the thoughts are profound and the sentiments relevant even to our own age, with no less of man's inhumanity to man. My only complaint is that this version does not contain the whole of Henry's history, which was far longer and not all is devoted to tales of epic battles. Some is regular chronicle, a fairly plain recounting of events. This Oxford version does however include a comprehensive introduction and lots of handy extras like a timeline and glossary, so useful for those studying this period at an academic level- or the interested layperson.

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  Medievalgirl | Oct 4, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry of Huntingdonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Greenway, DianaTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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England 1000-1154
England in the early middle ages saw conflict and conquest, followed by assimilation, as successive waves of peoples came to her shores from Europe, first as raiders, then as conquerors, and finally as settlers who were gradually absorbed into a mixed population.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192840754, Paperback)

Henry of Huntingdon's narrative covers one of the most exciting and bloody periods in English history: the Norman Conquest and its aftermath. He tells of the decline of the Old English kingdom, the victory of the Normans at the Battle of Hastings, and the establishment of Norman rule. His accounts of the kings who reigned during his lifetime--William II, Henry I, and Stephen--contain unique descriptions of people and events. Henry tells how promiscuity, greed, treachery, and cruelty produced a series of disasters, rebellions, and wars. Interwoven with memorable and vivid battle-scenes are anecdotes of court life, the death and murder of nobles, and the first written record of Cnut and the waves and the death of Henry I from a surfeit of lampreys. Diana Greenway's translation of her definitive Latin text has been revised for this edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:53 -0400)

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