I picked up this book at a closeout sale and I'm really glad that I did. As a fan of the American Revolution period, I found it to be full of useful information. Duffy is a superior historian and writer, who manages to combine great detail with an easy to read style. Every aspect of warfare in this period is covered: the officers, common soldiers, sieges, set piece battles, and the home front. It's a superior read.
The town of St Albans holds the dubious distinction of being the site of two of the bloody battles of the Wars of the Roses.
The First Battle of St Albans was also the first battle of the Wars of the Roses. On May 22, 1455, the Duke of York defeated a royal army and captured King Henry VI. The Second Battle of St Albans, on February 17, 1461, saw the recovery of Henry VI by a Lancastrian army nominally led by his queen, Margaret of Anjou. Both were bloody affairs fought in, and around the ancient town. St Albans’ unfortunate place in history was secured by its geographical location as the first major town on the old Roman road heading north from London. Any army moving on a North-South axis would pass through St. Albans.
In The Battles of St Albans , authors Burley, Elliott and Watson offer accounts and analyses of the battles, as well as a travel guide for the modern visitor. The book is an interesting read, with many useful maps, photos and illustrations. Although I have just a basic wargamer’s knowledge of the Wars of the Roses, I have long wanted to paint some figures and do some gaming in the period. The Battles of St Albans turned out to be a good place to start to scratch that itch.
In addition to descriptions of troop movement and fighting during the two battles, the authors offer a cogent summary of the politics of the era and of the progress of the decades-long war. Other parts of interest ot the wargamer are descriptions of the weapons, arms and armor of the period, and of tactics.
For those within a reasonable travel distance of the town of St Albans, the book offers both walking and driving tours of key locations in the two battles. The photographs and maps would really make the action come alive to anyone making those trips. Recommended.
Offa and the Mercian Wars:The Rise and Fall of the First Great English Kingdom by Chris Peers
In Offa and The Mercian Wars, Chris Peers offers an intriguing look at the powerful Dark Ages Kingdom of Mercia. Beginning around 600 AD in the central part of the island and continuing for nearly three hundred years, Mercia grew to be the region’s superpower. At its peak, Offa’s Mercian Kingdom encompassed most of southern England, including East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex.
Author Chris Peers is well known in miniature wargaming circles, both for his historical writing, and for his gaming rules sets and sourcebooks. Peers’ work in Offa is largely drawn from primary sources such as the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, Bede’s History of the English Church, Malmesbury’s Chronicles of the Kings of England; and from archaeological evidence.
I was surprised and pleased at how much Peers was able to reconstruct of this Dark Ages kingdom and of its greatest ruler, Offa. Fragmentary and sometimes contradictory or biased accounts are supplemented with archaeology and a good dose of common sense.
For example, Peers offers the story of Aethelberht the Martyr, as recounted by one Osbert of Clare. Aethelberht, it seems, was the religious young King of East Anglia, who went on a mission to ask for the hand of Offa’s daughter. While in Merica, he is seized, and beheaded ostensibly at Offa’s order under the urging of Queen Cynefrith. Aethelberht was supposed to have been plotting an invasion, not a wooing. The young pious King’s body, thrown into the River Lugg, is naturally later associated with various miracles.
Of this account, Peers writes:
The story has become well known, but can hardly be accepted at face value. Even if we concede that Osbert or the source upon which he drew preserved a genuine memory of events, their obvious East Anglian bias must be taken into account. The role of Cynefrith cannot be confirmed, and may be a device to avoid putting the blame for the crime onto a respected monarch such as Offa … Osbert remarks in passing that an earthquake as the young king set out terrified ‘the whole war band’, which reminds us that no Anglo-Saxon king would have travelled without a bodyguard. Perhaps his following was large and well equipped enough to me mistaken for an invading army.”
The excerpt above also illustrates, I think, the difficulty of obtaining large amounts of irrefutable evidence from the “Dark Ages.” They’re called that for a reason.
To his reconstruction of the history of the Kingdom of Mercia, Peers adds information on geography; military strategy, tactics and equipment; religion and other background. All of this helped to put the story of Mercia into context.
Offa and the Mercian Wars:The Rise and Fall of the First Great English Kingdom is worthy of a read by folk interested in the Dark Ages period. I enjoyed it a lot, and as usual, after reading such a book, I'm ready to go out and buy some Mercian miniatures.