Rating: 3 out of 5
I read two histories that could have been one. One of these was Isabella’s biography; the second was Edward III’s. Mr Mortimer had an interesting take on this medieval monarch, setting him above the more famous grandfather. His grandfather I know through the works of Marc Morris and it was a surprise that the third of that name (ignoring the Confessor…) would be put above him; so, I was sceptical…
Firstly, what was done well… I think the author introduces English military developments very well. Crecy, Poitiers, Halidon Hill and other battles are described in good detail including what went well and what went poorly. Contrary to this, life in the time was barely described at all (which suited me and improved the flow of the story). The battles were an interlude — and the political battles were not nearly as well described which could have been a better focus.
I think Mr Mortimer tried to be clever with Edward and “his mottoes” and the reader ended up seeing a lot about this theme. In these cases it often looked as if the author tried to take something that the king said in a period and create a theme around this saying. For example, the basis for linking “It is as it is” with the death of Edward II was pretty thin, more the author’s wish to say something than having actual cause for saying something.
Indeed, the above mentions two of my problems with this book. I found the premise of Edward II’s survival quite weak in this book — while Ms Weir’s biography of Queen Isabella did that quite well — and the political story of England was not very strong. For the third problem, the final decade of Edward’s life was also not very thorough.
So, overall, this is an okay biography with some serious deficiencies. I think from the style of this work that these deficiencies reflect on the author in general, but I will need to read more of him to be certain.