Book Review of The Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann

This book has been on my to read pile for a while now and back in October, when it was Black history month, I thought there was no better time to read it. I had heard good things though, so I couldn’t wait to get started and I was definitely not disappointed!

It showcases ten very different examples of black people living in Tudor England to demonstrate that they would have been more judged by their social status than their skin colour. Each chapter is dedicated to telling the story of a different person. A few of the examples include the now fairly well known John Blanke, a trumpeter to Henry VIII, to Jacques Francis, a salvage diver who dived to the Mary Rose. All the examples chosen show the wide variety of trades available to them. They were not the slaves that we may perceive them to be, but free people who were able to chose their own path. Jacques Francis was a personal favourite and will be featured in a blog post at some point next year.

With focusing on these examples, the reader can clearly understand that Tudor and early Stuart England was not as white as we have been taught. For this reason, the book is very important as it sheds light on a little known aspect of history, which I am always a sucker for. The author not only gives a wider context to their situation, but gives smaller examples of other black people in the same situation, where we cannot find more than a fleeting glimpse of from the records. At times, this can take over a little from the people’s stories she is trying to tell, but I understand that it was necessary to do this in order to give a well-rounded picture to the times they lived in.

The writer’s style is easy to read and understand, which helps to appeal this book to a wider audience. It also helps them to ask questions about how racial attitudes and how this began to change following the introduction of the slave trade later in the seventeenth century. To do this, there are some uncomfortable moments in the book, particularly when explaining ideas of racism and slavery that were beginning to develop, and had already developed in places like Spain and Portugal, which are well explained throughout.

The main reason there has been a focus more on the contextual background is that the only sources that these black people existed in Britain are things like court and parish records. The issue with this is that it doesn’t add a wider context about how they would have been treated or viewed by those around them. It is for this reason that Kaufmann does add so much other information. This may put some people off, and there is no denying that there is some speculation amongst this, but I think the point of this book is to be expand historical thinking towards including those with different ethnical backgrounds. In this respect, it did well to answer some of the complex questions we may have about the book’s topic.

In general, I enjoyed this book and it left me wanting to know more about those black men and women who lived during this time period. I am not usually much of a fan of Tudor history, but this is certainly something I did enjoy. It brought something entirely new to the field and I hope that others authors take note of that and that there can be more research into black history during this period.

My Top 5 History Reads of 2022

As an avid reader, I usually can’t name all the books I read in a year, but as the majority of them have a history theme, I thought I would share my top five history books that I’ve read this year. It’s a mixture of different periods and some fiction and non-fiction, so hopefully there’s something for everybody there.

To Hell on a Fast Horse by Mark Lee Gardiner

If you are a fan of the Wild West, this one will be for you. It is a dual biography of the famous outlaw, Billy the Kid, and Pat Garrett, the sheriff that shot him dead in 1881. This book does help address some of those myths in an even and balanced way, particularly in terms of the biography of Billy the Kid, that was written by Pat Garrett himself, as it focused on Pat’s motivations behind his writing. It has a very journalistic and easy to read writing style, despite the many names, events and locations that are mentioned throughout. I would definitely recommend this as I found it very hard to put down. You can find a full review I wrote earlier this year here if you are interested in find out more.

The Earth is All that Lasts by Mark Lee Gardiner

I’ll be honest, this book was by far my most favourite read of the year. I was also lucky enough to be given a review copy of this by the author. It was shipped out to me all the way from America. A huge thank you for that too! I think, just like the book on Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, that this is one of those books you won’t forget reading. This one is another duel biography, but this time of the Lakota chiefs, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Sitting Bull is one of my favourite historical heroes, so I was very much looking forward to reading this. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest! It is a very emotive and sometimes uncomfortable read, as it tells of the gruesome reality of how settlers took over the plains. For this reason, as well as it showing the Lakota viewpoint, it is an important read. As I said in my review ‘this is the written equivalent of what Dances with Wolves was for the big screen, in that it very much shows the Lakota viewpoint, which is not shared often enough’. For that reason, I feel this is one of the most vital books to understand the final years of freedom for the Lakota. You can find my previous review of it here.

Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann

This book tells the stories of ten Africans who lived in Tudor and Stuart England. Each example shows that whilst they were in a minority, you could find Africans in a variety of different roles during this period. A personal favourite of mine was Jacques Francis, who was a salvage diver for the Mary Rose, the flagship of Henry VIII’s that sank off the coast of Portsmouth. The writing style is incredibly accessible and creates a personal narrative not only for the examples given, but also for those Africans in similar circumstances who can only briefly be discovered in documents such as parish registers. All in all, this is a very entertaining and informative book, which has quite clearly been based on meticulous research. I have written a full review of this here.

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

At the beginning of the year, I was reminded of a book I haven’t read since my childhood by an author who once lived in the countryside of Derbyshire, close to where I live. Whilst this is technically a children’s fiction book, it is well suited for all ages, and is based on real life events. First published in 1939, it tells the story of teenage girl, Penelope, who is sent to live on her aunt and uncle’s farm, once owned by Anthony Babington, an important Derbyshire landowner, who became embroiled in a plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. The girl manages to move between her own time and the 1580s and even meets Anthony Babington himself. Can Penelope alter the course of history or not? It is a slow starter, but once you get into it, this book does become somewhat all consuming and certainly triggers a lot of emotion.

Julian of Norwich: A Very Brief History by Janina Ramerez

This tells the story of Julian of Norwich, a medieval anchoress who shut herself away in a church in Norwich. It discusses her religious writings, as well as providing context to the times in which she lived. Once again, this is another reread, but I loved it just as much this time as I did before. I first came across this book after the author (a favourite historian of mine) did a TV documentary about trying to find the lost original manuscript version of Julian’s text. Sadly it still hasn’t been found, other than a fragment later edited. The author certainly has a special way of explaining things and making things accessible to an audience and this book is no exception. It is especially good at analysing the importance and legacy of Julian, who is now largely a forgotten figure. In the words of Julian herself, All shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

I know this was meant to be a post about my must read books of the year, but as we are on the countdown to Christmas, I thought I must share my favourite historical themed film to watch in time for Christmas.

The Man Who Invented Christmas:

This film showcases how Charles Dickens really wrote A Christmas Carol, which is now synonymous with how we celebrate Christmas. As a Dickens fan of many years, I must admit I love this film and Dan Stevens plays the author very well. It shows off his eccentricities brilliantly, whilst also detailing the tragic backstory of his time in the blacking factory that Dickens himself tried to hide his whole life. I have always been fascinated by the way Dickens kept note of names and places for his books, as well as how he re-enacted his stories to audiences during readings. The film does show this wonderfully. It also has a fantastic cast, full of wonderful British actors. If you have any interest in A Christmas Carol, or Dickens himself, this is a must watch. I have watched this many times and never seem to bore of it!

The King’s Lover: Motherhood and Sexuality at the Court of Edward III, Guest Post by Gemma Hollman

In this latest guest post, I am honoured to welcome Gemma Hollman for part of a book tour to promote her latest book, The Queen and the Mistress: The Women of Edward III. The book tells the story of the women in Edward’s life, his queen, Philippa of Hainault, and his mistress, Alice Perrers. It shows how two very different women, from very different backgrounds, were able to make their way in the royal court.

Gemma Hollman is a historian and author who specialises in late medieval English history. Her previous book, Royal Witches: From Joan of Navarre to Elizabeth Woodville, was published in 2019. When not working in the heritage sector, she also runs a history blog, Just History Posts, which features many different periods of history.

Being a woman in medieval England could be tricky. Society was run by men, and whilst women could and did have freedom and power, there were lots of conflicting social pressures placed upon them. They should be pious, quiet, affable, submissive, and fertile, but many women were also expected to be clever, able to run an estate or business in her husband’s absence, wise to politics and diplomacy and otherwise be an asset in a marriage.

One part of being a woman which was viewed with the most suspicion was her sexuality. Women were seen as emotional creatures, would-be-Eves just waiting to lead men into temptation and sin. Women could control men with the lure of the bedroom, and so they were seen as a danger. This danger was particularly heightened with the women who found themselves around the king – even his wife and queen.

British (English) School; Edward III (1312-1377); The Queen’s College, University of Oxford; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/edward-iii-13121377-223628

Philippa of Hainault was the wife of Edward III for four decades, and she amply fulfilled her duties as consort by providing a vast number of children and heirs for her husband. But though their sexual attraction was clear, Philippa knew well not to flaunt her sexual status at the king’s side. Her mother-in-law, Queen Isabella, had come under scandal during her effective regency of England for taking a lover, and her potential pregnancy by this man was what ultimately led to Edward III to rebel against her and seize the reins of power for himself. Philippa had seen the damaging effects of a loose woman in power, and she was happy to demonstrate that she did not have undue influence over Edward because of her position in his bed. On one occasion when the couple were travelling their kingdom, they stayed at a monastery. The resident monks were uncomfortable with the king and queen sharing a bed in their religious institution, and Philippa happily agreed to stay in separate accommodation so as not to insult her hosts.

But though Philippa downplayed her sexual hold over the king, she profited greatly from her position as a mother. By caring personally for her children instead of placing them in separate households, she obtained extra lands and income in order to pay for their upkeep. The close relationships she cultivated with her children gave her influence over them and their extended network later in their lives. And even the image of Philippa as mother was used as propaganda in pieces of history. One of the most famous stories of Philippa’s life places her as a heavily pregnant woman pleading at the feet of her husband to spare the lives of the Frenchmen of Calais who had come under Edward’s wrath. The visceral image of a pregnant queen gave Philippa great political currency, and she was apparently able to succeed in intervening in politics in a way that none of the lords of Edward’s council were able to as a result.

Queen Philippa of Hainault begging her husband, Edward III to spare the lives of six burghers in 1347, coloured lithograph (1914), Wikimedia Commons

Whilst Philippa had found a way to carefully navigate the power and suspicion that being a lover of the king entailed, towards the end of her life another woman was to take up this mantle. Alice Perrers was one of Philippa’s ladies-in-waiting and not long after her arrival at court she became the king’s only known mistress. As a young, lower-class woman who was causing the king to sin in adultery, Alice was in a far more immoral position than Philippa. Philippa’s position as the king’s partner was sanctified by marriage and her coronation, blessed by the church, but Alice could not be further from this. Though the couple kept their relationship secret during the lifetime of the queen, it still nonetheless resulted in three children. Once Philippa died, Alice was thrust into the limelight of Edward’s court as he became more open to sharing the place Alice had in his heart.

Though Edward was very much in love with Alice and lavished her with attention and gifts, others were more conflicted by her position. As the only woman who now shared Edward’s bed, powerful men across Europe recognised Alice’s influential position and they were not shy to petition her for help. But many also found her undue influence distasteful. Thomas Walsingham, a monk and chronicler, criticised Alice’s ugly appearance and shameless behaviour as a loose woman, attributing her rise in favour with Edward to witchcraft and good luck.

Detail of Ford Madox Brown’s painting, ‘Chaucer at the court of King Edward III’ (1856-68), depicting Alice Perrers and Edward III, National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons

As if Alice’s position as a mistress was not bad enough, she had no qualms reminding those around her exactly how she gained her influence with the king. During her downfall and trial in Parliament, the men of Edward’s household described how Alice sat at the head of the king’s bed beside him, and how Edward sometimes seemed to change his mind overnight – a suggestion that a certain woman had entered his bedroom that night and changed it for him. Alice directed orders to the men around her from the same bed that she slept in with the king, and this overt reminder of her sexuality was severely disapproved of. Alice was not ashamed of her sexuality and the power it brought her, and this was brought into sharp contrast with the behaviour of the queen before her.

Ultimately, the womanly behaviour of both women was reflected in their subsequent legacies. Philippa was seen as the ideal queen who never mis-stepped, who blessed the kingdom with her generosity and fecundity, whilst Alice was despised for being a power-hungry woman who used sex to her advantage and had none of the shame and modesty a woman of her time should have. In looking back on their legacies and attempting to find their real stories, we need to remember just how important gender roles were in their reputations amongst their contemporaries – and make sure this doesn’t unfairly colour our modern opinion of them.

For UK readers, Gemma’s second book, The Queen and The Mistress: The Women of Edward III is out now, you can buy it from Amazon. For American readers, the book is due for release in Spring 2023.

You can find Gemma’s site here: http://www.justhistoryposts.com/.

You can find Gemma’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/JustHistoryPosts

You can also find Gemma on Twitter here: @GemmaHAuthor

Book Review of Queens of Georgian Britain by Catherine Curzon

If you are a regular follower of the blog, you will have probably guessed that I have an interest in the Georgian period. However, I knew very little about the Georgian Queens. Perhaps part of that is that as the Georgian period is named after its kings, they have been pushed to the side somewhat. I wished to learn more, so that is what first attracted me to this book. As this book is written by an author I have not read before, I must admit I was a little apprehensive, but also excited, to see what this book would bring. I was definitely not disappointed with this book in anyway.

The women covered in the book are Sophia Dorothea of Celle, Caroline of Ansbach, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Streliz and Caroline of Ansbach. Each of the women featured have their own intriguing life stories to tell, which the author writes in an accessible and exciting way. I found this made it an easy read and despite the trials and tribulations all of the women went through, there were some light-hearted and entertaining moments throughout. The book certainly highlights how downtrodden the women were because of their husbands and the courts they lived in. This makes the reader empathetic with the lives the women lived, and showed that whilst covered in jewels, they were not necessarily as happy as modern readers may perhaps think.

All of the Queens, whilst mentioned individually, were placed into the context of the royal court they lived in. This gave a fascinating insight into the cycle of how they were influenced by the court and how the individual Queens in turn influenced the court. In doing this, it shows that the author has clearly done a good amount of research, not only into the lives of the Queens and their Georges, but also the wider context of society in Britain (and the German states where they all hailed from) at the time.

The occasional addition of extracts from letters about the Queens and other events also provided a good insight, as it felt like reading about more personal matters. The same could be said about the inclusion of newspaper articles, in order to gauge possible public opinion. This was particularly useful for considering the media war between George IV and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach, who actively disliked one another. With the retelling of this, it was clear that there were so many modern day parallels in. Again, moments like this provided a good context to the times, but also highlighted the wide range of research conducted by the author.

With the amount of women involved in this book, there is of course some skimming of their lives. I feel that doesn’t necessarily detract from the overall experience of the book. Instead it allows the book to be light and not so stuffy as other history books can sometimes be. I can understand how this may put some readers off, but it is fine to use, as I did, as an introduction to either the Georgian period, or to the Georgian Queens themselves. As the book covers so many people and has a large timespan, I can also understand that that may be confusing to some readers, especially as the people mentioned have similar names. Sadly that is what happens a lot in history, so please don’t let that put you off giving this a read.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. Not only is it written in a witty and engaging style, but the Catherine Curzon manages to make the Queens feel like real people that the reader can connect with, rather than figures from the distant past. It highlights the human side to royalty, that can so often be forgotten. As said above, this is the perfect book to introduce the topic and I hope it would encourage anyone who reads it to find out more about the Queens who would help define an era, although the era is clearly given its name by their husbands.

Book Review of The Earth is All that Lasts by Mark Lee Gardiner

First of all, I would like to personally thank the author, Mark Lee Gardiner, and HaperCollins, for sending me a review copy of this book. I am very grateful for that and it honestly means a lot that I received this.

Despite my love of the history of the Wild West, I must admit that I have always sympathised more with the plight of the Native Americans. Throughout, I have often come across many accounts that make it sound as though the Native Americans ‘deserved’ their fate. For many years I have often wished for someone to correct this narrative and push for the Native American point of view. Whilst I know there have been attempts previously to do this, I feel that Mark Lee Gardiner’s efforts in The Earth is All That Lasts shows at every corner that the white man had lied and cheated its way to get land belonging to the Native Americans, as told through the Lakota chiefs, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. As Sitting Bull has always been a hero of mine, I have read and written quite a bit about him in the past. This prior knowledge did give me a certain excitement, as well as high expectations, before I started reading this book. Whilst my expectations may have been high, I can gladly say that I wasn’t disappointed.

After recently reading one of the author’s other books, To Hell on a Fast Horse, which told the connected stories of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (I would highly recommend it), I had high hopes for this latest book. As I have come to expect with Gardner’s writing, it was easy going, which sounds like a bit of a contradiction considering that the subject matter at times was tough to deal with. I must admit I initially found it hard to get into, as there are lots of descriptions of violence and battles, this is only to be expected as it provides context to the negative relations between the Lakota and the white men, particularly the army and officials, who intended to either fight them or pacify them with treaties that were not understood. At every point the argument that white men had forcibly wanted to get their way by getting land the Lakota lived on, as well as either their assimilation or extermination, is driven home. I utterly commend the author for this as I feel in general that this is not nearly used enough elsewhere. As I was reading, there were many moments that I found were very emotional and poignant, which again shows just how well the whole subject was portrayed.

There is a lot of information, names and locations to take in, but with the easy writing style, as well as a handy map of the forts and battles mentioned at the beginning of the book, there is some help towards this. The amount of information just shows how wonderfully researched this book is, as is mentioned in the acknowledgements, it took the author five years to research and write. For the reader, who may not be that well informed of the culture of the Lakota, I feel that this aspect in particular was very well researched and portrayed. The analysis of the culture that both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse lived in provides the reader with a better understanding of just what made both of these figures the people they were, rather than just the stereotype of them both being involved in Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

As previously mentioned, this is not a book for comfortable reading, but it is definitely one that is needed in order to portray the realities of how settlers really came to populate the Great Plains of America. It was done by robbing, lying, cheating, massacring the Native Americans and desecrating their sacred sites and entire way of life. However, this reality is something that needs to be told as far too often, the general narrative is very much about how manifest destiny was a given. This narrative has been written by the white men who eventually ‘conquered’ the West, which is also shown very well throughout the book, but is in stark contrast to the truths that the Native Americans were living. I challenge anyone, whether already sympathetic to the Lakota, like myself, or not, to come away still thinking and believing the whole manifest destiny narrative to be the whole truth.

The epilogue is dedicated to the ones involved in the murders of both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, showing what happened to them all after these events. I found that the majority of them didn’t actually reap the rewards that they had hoped for, particularly the Lakotas who had chosen to follow the white men governing them when they were forced onto the reservations. One man who did seem to be promoted was James McLaughlin, the agent in charge of the Standing Rock Reservation that Sitting Bull lived on in the last years of his life. From what I had read previously, I found him a very hard man to like, mainly due to his hatred of Sitting Bull. The author showed just how McLaughlin didn’t want to understand the Lakotas he was in charge of, unless they wished to assimilate to a Western way of life. Again, I commend the author for writing about McLaughlin in such a way that shows just how strong his hatred was of Sitting Bull, leaving the reader in no doubt as to what his intentions were towards surrounding the famous chief’s death.

This is yet another book that I would recommend to anyone, whether they have an interest in the final years of freedom for the Lakota or not. I feel very much that this is the written equivalent of what Dances with Wolves was for the big screen, in that it very much shows the Lakota viewpoint, which is not shared often enough. This work is a vital piece to the history and understanding of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and those final years before the Lakota were forced onto reservations. Most importantly, I feel that those mentioned, whether white men, the US army officers, or any of the Lakotas mentioned, including Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull themselves, had their true characters revealed, whether for good or bad.

Book Review of The Waterloo Belles by Alice Church

I had heard good things about The Belles of Waterloo and was looking forward to getting stuck into it. Of course it helped that I have an interest in the Regency period in general, but I had hopes of this focusing on the more social aspects of a time we often understand as being full of war. In both respects I wasn’t to be disappointed.

The Belles of Waterloo tells the story of the Capel family who have had to move to Brussels a year before the Battle of Waterloo because of their father’s gambling debts. The narrative particularly focuses on the lives of the three eldest daughters named Harriet, Maria and Georgy, as they adjust to their new lives and loves. Little do they know that within months of their arrival that the war against Napoleon would be right on their doorsteps. This does give the reader an expectation of things to come.

Whilst this book is a work of fiction, Alice Church makes it clear that their story is a true one. I found it rather refreshing to know that the majority of the story told was based on letters that exist of the family. By using these letters as a basis, I found this gave the book a unique feel of authenticity. Whilst this meant that there was a risk that the story could have become dull, the opposite is true in fact. This meant that the real emotions felt throughout the family’s many highs and lows during this period are acutely portrayed. The reader easily becomes sucked in and emotionally involved with all that goes on, for good or ill.

The book had a very Bridgerton feel to it in that it portrayed a close knit large family trying to navigate life and for the girls in particular, that means trying to understand the first feelings of love and romance. I feel that even if you hadn’t watched Bridgerton, but liked the late Georgian/Regency period, you would find this as equally compelling. If you have any understanding of the period, you would expect to see lots of balls and house calling. The reader is definitely not disappointed in that. By attending balls and accepting house calls, the Capel sisters find lots of potential suitors and family friends alike. These particular scenes were written with great grandeur and it was easy to imagine the glitz and glamour of those events, most famously the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, where war with Napoleon was declared once more. The writer strikes a good balance between explaining the atmosphere of these large gatherings, but also focusing on the personal experiences of the Capel girls and the relationships they form whilst there.

Whilst all three of the Capel girls did have some experience of love, I do find that it did seem to be more focused on the romances that Maria has. Whilst of course it was necessary to show Maria’s romances, I would have lived to have seen more exploration of the other two girls experience. There are some mentions of this, but I feel it would have added to a greater understanding of the sisters by doing so. Whatever may be the case, there is no denying that the girls’ relationships are shown in a way that indicated that the girls are inexperienced in love, which is only to be expected, when they came out in society after they first reached Brussels. In many ways, this was a stark contrast to the heavy realism of the relationship of their parents, which has been tarnished by their father’s gambling.

By the end of the book, the Capel siters had grown in many respects and I think this was one of the best selling points of the book (beside the historical attention to detail of course!). It showed that just like any of us, the characters had become shaped by what they had gone through, even if in reality it was a short space of time. Whilst this meant it was more of a philosophical ending in some ways, it felt very apt and was the right choice to make. It also helped that there was an end note explaining what happened to the real people mentioned within the book and how this influenced what had been written.

Whilst I did enjoy the development of the characters within the Capel family, I found I had a soft spot for General Barnes. Barnes had become a friend to the family after first meeting some of the girls early on in their move to Brussels. He was a kind man and easily befriended the entire family, although he did have a particularly soft spot for Maria. I must admit I was very keen to find out his fate when towards the end of the book, he, as well as all the other military men that the family had grown to know and care for went off to war. There are also some descriptions of the injuries and horrors of war when the timeline reaches the Waterloo campaign, but these are actually necessary in the context they are portrayed in.

In general, I felt that this book, whilst primarily a novel, felt like it was about real people who you could easily relate to. It held its authenticity in a way that showed the research and passion the writer had for the topic. The historical attention to detail made it easy for the reader to imagine being within the events being described, but also like a fly on the wall for the more intimate and gossipy moments as well. It was this engaging narrative that made it very hard to put down and I was sad to finish this, which is always the sign of a good book! I would very much recommend giving The Belles of Waterloo a read as it was just the tonic and escape that I needed.

William Morgan and the Welsh Bible

In this modern age, we can often take things for granted. One of those things is how easily we can access information, particularly in our own languages, whatever that may be. In ages past, information written or printed in vernacular languages wasn’t always a given. Texts were mainly written in Latin or Greek, or possibly Hebrew. In terms of the language the Bible was written in, it was a mixture of all three of these languages. Church services and worship were also conducted in Latin, regardless of which country you lived in. However, with the advent of Protestantism in the sixteenth century, the debate about whether it was necessary to use languages that every day people could understand was raging. This included whether or not it was worth translating the Bible into these languages. Whilst this post isn’t necessarily about English translations of the Bible, but of the Welsh, it is important to give a quick explanation of the early form of Bible translations and what led to the Welsh bible translated by William Morgan.

In terms of the Bible being translated into English, William Tyndale had made attempts in the 1520s and 1530s. At that time, it was illegal to translate biblical texts into English, so he had to go into exile to what is now modern-day Germany. It was also illegal to own a copy of these texts, so not many original examples survive.[1] Even though these attempts were not entirely successful in reaching England, although some were smuggled into the country, it would help to form Protestant ideas that would go on to influence later translators, who would revise Tyndale’s version once the English Bible was acceptable.

Portrait of William Morgan (1907), Wikimedia Commons

In 1534, under Henry VIII, Wales became joined with England under an Act of Union. This act purposefully refused to recognise Welsh as an official language and instead sought to destroy it. This is somewhat ironic really when Henry was descended from Welshmen. Under the new rules, Welsh was banned from being used in areas of law and administration, with English taking precedence.[2] Only the English Bible and the Book of Common Prayer were allowed to be used as well.[3] However, under his daughter, Elizabeth I, William Morgan, was asked to write a Welsh translation of the Bible, which was published in 1588. Elizabeth did try and keep religious toleration, so it is not entirely surprising she may have made this suggestion, although offering an edition in Welsh would have been.

When given this task, Morgan took inspiration from some Welsh translations from the previous few decades: a 1567 edition of the New Testament by William Salesbury, Richard Davies and Thomas Huet, and an edition of the Psalms (also by Salesbury and Davies) from the same year, which was used in the Book of Common Prayer.[4] Whilst working on the book, Morgan lodged with the Dean of Westminster, so he could be closer to the printers in case any correction or guidance was needed. This would have been essential as at that time, means of transport and correspondence were improved during Elizabeth’s reign, but not really very reliable. In terms of the translation process, Morgan would have had to have been on hand as those working in the printer’s wouldn’t have necessarily had previous experience in dealing with Welsh texts.[5] Both the Dean and John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury were a huge help during the translation process, which Morgan made reference to in his explanation about how his edition came to be.[6] In fact, Archbishop Whitgift paid the printing fees from his own private purse.[7]

Title Page of William Morgan’s Welsh Bible of 1588 © The National Library of Wales 2022

Once the Bible was finally printed, it would have transformed the way Welsh people worshipped as it would have meant their services could now be conducted in Welsh, rather than either English or Latin, as had gone before, and that the Welsh language was allowed to continue.[8] Initially, this would have been on a small scale as it has been estimated that 1,000 copies were produced, although only 24 are known to still survive.[9] Morgan wasn’t entirely pleased with how the Bible had been produced. He complained that they were made too large and would have been only practical during a service, rather than to be used at home, and that they were too expensive at £2, which is around £343 today.[10] There were also misprints too.

Regardless of what Morgan himself thought of the edition, it has been seen as the most important book in Welsh.[11] Not just because it helped to establish recognition for the Welsh language, but because of how it was used to improve the lives of ordinary Welshmen. In 1620, the Bishop of St Asaph, Richard Parry and Dr John Davies, worked on a revised edition of Morgan’s text. Whilst was meant to be a counterpart of the English King James Bible, it mainly sought to correct the misprints found in Morgan’s original and also added 2,000 new words.[12] Ten years later, in 1630, Morgan’s other complaints were addressed. A new smaller and more affordable edition was printed, meaning that it could be easily read from home.[13]

Statue of William Morgan with his Bible outside St Asaph’s Cathedral (2016), taken by Llywelyn200, Wikimedia Commons

So what impact did William Morgan’s Welsh Bible have? Since its original publication in 1588, it has been used by all denominations in Wales as the main edition of the Bible. It’s popularity only grew again in the eighteenth century when it was used by circulating school set up by Griffith Jones and Thomas Charles. The purpose of these schools was to teach both adults and children from underprivileged backgrounds how to read and write. It largely used Morgan’s Bible to do this.[14] As a result, Wales had a large literacy rate.[15] In fact, it’s popularity was maintained so much, new translations of the New Testament, Psalms and the complete Bible, were not printed until the end of the twentieth century, in 1975, 1979 and 1988 respectively.[16]

As with many things, the popularity and success of Morgan’s Welsh Bible were not made in his lifetime. He died in 1604, the year that King James first commissioned the English translation that would be named after him. All in all, I hope that he would be very proud of what he achieved, for it not only improved the lives of Welshmen for generations to come, but also helped to save the Welsh language too.


[1] British Library, ‘Tyndale’s New Testament 1526’, https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/william-tyndales-new-testament

[2] National Trust, Bishop William Morgan, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ty-mawr-wybrnant/features/bishop-william-morgan

[3] The National Library of Wales, ‘Welsh Bible 1588’, https://www.library.wales/discover/digital-gallery/printed-material/1588-welsh-bible#?c=&m=&s=&cv=&xywh=-886%2C-1%2C4734%2C4026

[4] Oliver Currie, ‘The sixteenth-century Bible translations and the development of Welsh literary prose style’, Translation Studies, 9.2 (2016), p. 157

[5] Ibid, p. 118

[6] William Hughes, The Life and Times of Bishop William Morgan (Brighton: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1891), p. 121

[7] Ibid, p. 117

[8] Oliver Currie, ‘The sixteenth-century Bible translations’, pp. 152 and 154

[9] National Trust, Bishop William Morgan, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ty-mawr-wybrnant/features/bishop-william-morgan

[10] Rosemary Burton, ‘William Morgan and the Welsh Bible’, History Today, 38.5 (1988), https://www.historytoday.com/archive/william-morgan-and-welsh-bible

[11] William Hughes, The Life and Times of Bishop William Morgan, p. 130

[12] Timothy Cutts, ‘400th Anniversary of the 1620 Bible’, The National Library of Wales, 23 November 2020,  https://blog.library.wales/400th-anniversary-of-the-1620-bible/; John T. Kock, Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopaedia (ABC-CLIO, 2006), p. 210

[13] Timothy Cutts, ‘400th Anniversary of the 1620 Bible’

[14] John T. Kock, Celtic Culture, p. 210

[15] Ibid

[16] Oliver Currie, ‘The sixteenth-century Bible translations’, p. 153

Review of To Hell on a Fast Horse by Mark Lee Gardiner

If you are a fan of the Wild West and looking for your next book to read, I would seriously recommend To Hell on a Fast Horse by Mark Lee Gardner. This book tells the joint story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, the sheriff who shot him dead in a house in Fort Sumner New Mexico one night in 1881. I have always enjoyed tales of the Wild West, but didn’t really know too much about the back story to either Billy the Kid of Pat Garrett. All I really knew was that myth and legend shrouds the backstory to both of these men. This book does help address some of those myths in an even and balanced way, particularly in terms of the biography of Billy the Kid that was written by Pat Garrett himself as it focused on Pat’s motivations behind his writing.

The first few pages of the book are dedicated to other reviews the book has been given. All of these are positive, and at times a little dramatic sounding, so I must admit this gave me some reservations. However, I must admit that not long into the book, I felt I must agree with them. This book really has been one of the best I’ve read this year. The writing style was easy going and action packed, but in a concise way. Whilst this book is a biography, this writing style really did make me feel like I was reading a fiction book, rather than a history book. It certainly meant that the book was very hard to put down. In many ways, it felt as if this book transported the reader right into the middle of the events being described.

I feel I have learnt a lot about what made both men tick, but in a very entertaining and thrilling way. The double narrative could have easily become confusing for the reader, but in fact it was the opposite. It was done in a way that described the outlaw and the lawman not just as individuals, but how their paths crossed at various points along the way. I feel that whether or not the reader knew the outcome of Garrett shooting the Kid, everything does culminate towards that. I had read previously about what happened during the Kid’s death, but had found descriptions of it very confusing. However, I feel the author dealt with what was a confusing event in a very commendable way that made it easy to understand with previous versions I had read. Just taking this example alone does make me applaud the writing style, even though as previously mentioned, it is written well throughout.

The good research and time gone into this topic is evident. Whilst it does have the tone of a fiction book, there are always good references to works by other historians, witnesses who had known Pat and the Kid, and newspapers from the time. By using all of these sources, it does give a well rounded approach to the topic, whilst also giving a wider context to lawless New Mexico, and the Wild West as a whole. I did particularly like the addition of what happened to Pat Garrett after he had killed Billy the Kid. As this book suggests, Garrett hated the fact he was known across America as the one who killed the Kid. By adding these extra facts both before and after Pat knew the Kid, it felt right to respect Pat’s wishes and added to his character. The goes for the exploration of the early life of Billy the Kid. Whilst of course his level of criminality can’t be justified, it goes towards explaining how his life had led him to that point.

The only thing that initially confused me a little was that the first chapter deals with when Pat Garrett first arrested Billy the Kid and others and attempted to take them on a train to meet their justice. This resulted in a shootout and riot with locals who wanted one of the criminals, not Billy the Kid. After reading the rest of the book, the author’s choice to put this in the first chapter makes sense as it places the relationship Garrett and the Kid had straight into the reader’s mind, before the author goes into more detail about the background of both characters.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, whether they have an interest in the Wild West or not. It’s journalistic writing style is so easy to read and helps what is a difficult topic in places, in terms of the violence used by the criminals it mentions, but also as the life of Billy the Kid has become very sensationalised in the years since his death, easier to digest. There are many books on the Wild West out there and I genuinely feel that this is one of the best there is. As one of the reviews from the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper suggests “A superbly written story, utterly enthralling and unforgettable”. I would definitely reiterate that statement.

Just so you are aware, an updated edition for the tenth anniversary of this book was published in 2020. I am not sure what updates have been introduced in that version as I was reading the original 2010 one, but if you manage to get your hands on a copy, you’ll have to let me know if there are any differences.

Lew Wallace: The Author of Ben-Hur and His Connections to Billy the Kid

Until recently, I didn’t know that Ben-Hur was a novel written by Lew Wallace, a former Governor of New Mexico and Major General. Instead, I just assumed the famous 1959 film, starring Charlton Heston, was just an original screenplay suited to the epic film genre that was popular at the time. It was only whilst reading a book on Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, the sheriff responsible for the outlaw’s death, that I came across Lew Wallace. After doing further research, I found that Wallace had had an interesting and varied life. Hopefully this post will go some way towards demonstrating that.

Lewis, known as Lew, Wallace was born in Louisiana on 10 April 1927. He father, David Wallace, was a politician and Governor, something which he would pass onto Lewis. However, the pair disagreed a lot as Lew didn’t do well in school. He was more bothered about art and books than his school work, much to the annoyance of his father. At the age of 16, he was thrown out of the family home so he could start earning a living, with the hope this would cure him of his so-called delinquent ways.[1] In some ways it did a little. He went on to become a lawyer, but only to satisfy his father. He still loved his books and carried on reading whenever he had the opportunity, even if it meant reading till very late at night.

Image of Lew Wallace from his autobiography, published in 1906, Wikimedia Commons

Wallace took any opportunity he could to get away from his law practice by becoming a soldier. First in the American-Mexico war of 1846-1848 when he joined the Indiana regiment before joining the American Civil war, where he was first a general, then later a major general. At the Battle of Shiloah in April 1862, he was used as a scapegoat for the Union’s near defeat. He had been ordered to bring his division as reinforcements, but took the wrong route and didn’t get there until the second day of fighting.[2] Sadly, this was something he had to deal with for the rest of his life as people never let him forget and heaped the blame on him. The American Civil War was not the last time he attempted to join the army. In 1898, at the age of seventy one, he tried to join up again so he could fight in the Spanish-American War.[3] His efforts were politely declined.

In September 1878, Lew Wallace was brought in as the Governor of New Mexico in an attempt to create peace following the Lincoln County War, a conflict between two rival factions within the Lincoln County part of New Mexico. As Wallace had previously been one of the members of a military commission that tried the conspirators behind the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, it was thought he would do a good job.[4] There is no denying that Lew did his very best to create peace, but it was a very difficult job with so many outlaws causing havoc throughout the territory. The most notable being Billy the Kid.

Letter to Lew Wallace from Billy the Kid dated March 1881, Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, Wikimedia Commons

The Kid and Wallace met in Spring 1879 when Wallace offered him a pardon in exchange for his witness testimony in a high profile murder case. However, no pardon was ever given, despite Billy writing to Wallace numerous times to remind him of the promise. There were never any replied to these letters, but from Billy’s continued criminal behaviour and the many death threats he made against Wallace, it’s clear why the promise was never fulfilled. Many local newspapers reported on this situation, especially after Pat Garrett arrested Billy in December 1880, who still wanted a pardon. In response, one newspaper directly asked Wallace about it. He said “I can’t see why a fellow like him should expect any clemency from me”.[5] Billy certainly didn’t get it and in April 1881, Wallace signed the death warrant as ordered by the courts, with an execution date set for 13 May. The execution never happened as Billy escaped from jail and was later shot by Garrett on 14 July. Wallace had offered a $500 reward for anyone who recaptured the Kid, but by the time Garrett claimed the reward money, Wallace was no longer the Governor, meaning it took longer to be paid.

The connections to Billy the Kid could easily have become one of the only parts of Lew Wallace’s life that made him an interesting man. However, it was really his writing of the historical novel Ben-Hur, that would become his lasting legacy, even if we now remember it more from the Charlton Heston film, rather than the book itself. When it was published in November 1880, it was an almost instant success. By December, its first print run was completely sold out.[6] By 1900, the novel had been through thirty six English editions and twenty other language editions.[7] Ben-Hur has been described as the “most influential Christian book written in the nineteenth century”, as it outsold every other book in America, except the Bible, until Gone with the Wind was published in 1936.[8]

First Edition of Ben-Hur (1880), Wikimedia Commons

In later life, people of his hometown of Crawfordsville in Louisiana recalled a rather odd old man. They remembered him more of a solider than a writer as he was known to wear his military uniform around town.[9] To many he seemed aloof but those who were close to him, he was thought of as gracious and hospitable.[10] What many did remember though was the beech tree, later known as the Ben-Hur tree, on his land where he was often seen writing under.[11]

There aren’t enough words or time to go into all the details of the life of Lew Wallace, but I hope that this goes some way to show the ‘highlights’ of what was a varied and interesting life. He may be not so well known now, but in his own time, he was one of America’s best-known celebrities. With connections to one of the most infamous outlaws of the Wild West and one of the most famous stories (and later film) of all time, the legacy of Wallace is still around, just as long as you know where to look.


[1] Lifson, Amy, ‘Ben-Hur: The Book that Shook the World’, Humanities, 30.6 (2009), https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2009/novemberdecember/feature/ben-hur-the-book-shook-the-world

[2] Gardner, Mark Lee, To Hell on A Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), p. 153

[3] McGrath, Nick, ‘Major General Lewis “Lew” Wallace’, On Point, 19.4 (2014), p. 18

[4] Gardner, Mark Lee, To Hell on A Fast Horse, p. 87

[5] Ibid, p. 23

[6] Ibid, p. 154

[7] Lifson, Amy, ‘Ben-Hur: The Book that Shook the World’, https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2009/novemberdecember/feature/ben-hur-the-book-shook-the-world

[8] Ibid

[9] Forbes, John D., ‘Lew Wallace, Romantic’, Indiana Magazine of History, 44.4 (1948), p. 386

[10] Ibid, p. 386

[11] McGrath, Nick, ‘Major General Lewis “Lew” Wallace’, p. 21

Review of The Smuggler’s Daughter by Kerry Barrett

This book tells the story of two women trying to bring two smuggler gangs operating in Cornwall to justice; the first the teenage Emily Moon in 1799, the second Phoebe Bellingham in 2019. Both cases have their parallels, but to help solve the 2019 case, Phoebe has to figure out what happened to Emily Moon. Legend says she plunged from the cliff and her ghost still haunts the cliffs next to the pub she and her family once lived in. How true was this and how did it link to the present day case of smuggling? Of course, I won’t give you spoilers, but I hope that gives a bit of flavour to what the premise of the book is, without giving too much away.

I haven’t really read much historical fiction lately, so I must admit I was intrigued by the concept of the book, even if the main reason I chose it was because it reminded me of Poldark. There were a few reservations about it at the beginning, including the idea of having parallel timelines. Whenever I watch TV shows with that concept, I must admit, I do get quite confused with it at times. However, this book manages to keep it simple yet gripping at the same time. It certainly helps that the chapters are fairly short, so you don’t forget what’s happening in the other timeline. This also helped the reader to feel anticipation as to what was coming next, whilst also making it feel fast paced. Another reservation I had was about how much violence would be mentioned. Personally, I can take a bit, but I don’t like anything too gratuitous. I was happily surprised to find that other than at the beginning, there wasn’t much. Most of it was inferred rather than actually described, which I feel suited my tastes well. I will warn you that there are inferences of rape though, so just be careful of that.

After these initial reservations, I relaxed into the story and once I had, I found it really gripping and extremely hard to put down! The easy writing style helped with this enormously, but I also feel like the writer provoked a personal response from the reader. I know I certainly had one and just couldn’t wait to find out the fate of both the main characters and whether the bad guys were brought to justice or not.

For me, the best part was the character of Emily Moon. A girl who has only ever known the coastal village she lives in, struggles to talk and is viewed by her village neighbours as simple. She is far from it. At times, she is a silent observer, but is often helped by her drawing skills and her best friend, Arthur, who is really her childhood sweetheart. All this makes Emily a heroine with a difference, as her steely determination is often looked over by other characters in the book, but is clearly evident to the reader. Emily is a definite contrast with Phoebe, the modern day heroine.

Phoebe, originally from London, moves to Cornwall with her friend, Liv, to help run the pub Emily once lived in. She made the move after she was signed off from her job as a police officer following a particularly harrowing case. After hearing the local legends about Emily, she decides to discover more about her. Phoebe herself is very much affected by what had happened in London, so sees Emily as a way to cope with what has happened and to keep herself occupied. It is this that I feel ties both parallel timelines together. It also leaves the reader finding more about both Emily and Phoebe at the same time.

The ending does come to a satisfying conclusion, for both Emily and Phoebe, although there are a few surprises. To some extent, not all of them are total surprises, they are more logical conclusions. For that reason, the ending is definitely believable and I was very sad to finally come to an end of the book. I feel that’s always a sign of a good book, which this one definitely is! The author herself describes how she wanted to write a cross between Jamaica Inn and Line of Duty. I personally feel she has achieved that. It successfully mixed the gripping nature of Line of Duty with the smuggling and historical setting of Jamaica Inn. If there are any TV producers out there looking for the next thing to adapt, I would totally recommend this story.