17 May 2022

Book Review: Rogues, Rebels and Mavericks of the Middle Ages, by John Brunton


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There are plenty of rogues, rebels and mavericks for John Brunton to discuss in this new book. It was only when I studied his list and found women like Christine de Pizan, Eleanor Cobham and Margaret, Countess of Slaisbury on his list that I realised he's using the terms to make a good point. 

We must not trust the legends and myths. Many of the accounts of these 'rogues and rebels' were written by their enemies,  and we must avoid the trap of judging people from the so-called 'middle ages' by present day standards. 

A good example is the flamboyant Raynald of Châtillon, He married well, and became the charismatic leader of the crusading army that defeated Saladin, yet the legends tells us of his ruthless ambition and flawed strategy, which led led to the fall of Jerusalem. 

Interestingly, the author finds a more balanced view, and even challenges the legend that Raynald was beheaded by Saladin, when he refused to convert to Islam, (the alternative version is he hacked off his arm, and he bled to death.) Either way, it's good to question Raynald's legacy as part of the long history of heroic failure.

I was also pleased to see a more nuanced treatment of Eleanor Cobham, who is so often portrayed as either a witch or a fool. As John Brunton points out, her mistake was to marry Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, her interest in astrology providing his enemies with an effective way to ruin his reputatation,

I enjoyed this somewhat meandering journey through some well known, and some less well known, figures from history,. What they all have in common is, for one reason or another, they left their mark, and we are still taking about them today. As John Brunton says, not a single one coud be described as less than remarkable.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

John Brunton was born in Sunderland and has lived his adult life in London. He has qualifications from four different universities and has research interests in medieval Britain and Europe and the Near East. He owns a business that undertakes historical research for clients all over the world. He also continues to teach History and other subjects in London. He is a historian and researcher specialising in medieval history and the author of a range of textbooks for schools.

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