The Perfect King Paperback – Sep 23 2008
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“This is a story which, for its boldness of interpretation, success in evoking this vanished medieval world, and sheer narrative élan, deserves to be widely read.”
About the Author
Ian Mortimer is the author of The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, and The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self-Made King.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book contains sufficient detail to make the author's case credible, but not too much to be soporific. Reading it gives a feeling of the time and the mindset of the rulers.
A fascinating look into court life and intrigues.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In this book, Ian Mortimer combines a very clear respect for his subject with meticulous research and succeeds in providing a detailed contextual picture of this monarch.
Many with an interest in this period of history will know of Edward III as the king who started the 100 Years War, who won a number of battles (including at Crecy and Calais) - and who added Calais as a long standing English possession.
`For the 30 years between 1334 and 1363 he was the greatest exponent of chivalric kingship there was.'
The Black Death (1348-1349) occurred during his reign. The tragic loss of life and resulting labour shortages brought changes to the structure of society: a subject of study in their own right.
Ian Mortimer lists five overarching achievements:
(2) Domestic peace
(3) England's standing in the international community
(4) Modernised warfare
(5) Participatory government
I agree with these broad headings, but would make special mention of The Statute of Pleading (1362). This was the first piece of legislation to officially recognise the English language - thus making the law (potentially at least) more accessible to all.
I'd highly recommend this book to those with an interest in the life and times of arguably one of England's greatest monarchs. In his later years, Edward's authority waned but his achievements stand alone.
But Edward wasn't just a warrior. He was a lawmaker, who was called "The Second English Justinian" putting him on the same level as Edward I. Edward was also the greatest English patron of the arts of the late Middle Ages, collecting italian paintings, making alabaster tombs, and, above all, creating this majestic castles and churchs. When it comes to this book, I believe what Ian said was right: that had Edward died in 1363 he would be know today as "Edward the Great."
Another interesting feature is Mortimer's claim that Edward II did not die in 1327. Mortimer had made this point in a scholarly article in The English Historical Review. So it is a possibility but one not held by other historians of the period. For example, Phillips' very recent and thoroughly documented biography of the man himself, Edward II, does not agree. Nor does W.M. Ormrod in his biography of Edward III. But, granting that the survival of Edward's father is a theoretical possibility, what I found irritating is that Mortimer constantly gives Edward III motivations and emotions regarding his supposedly living father. It is a great example of weaving the interpretation of later events around a theoretical possibility. Engaging reading - a man in turmoil with strong emotions for a father whose death was faked and it all must be kept a secret. But it is based on a large assumption and Edward's feelings in the following years are hardly an open book to the historian.
So this is a wonderful read for bringing Edward to life but perhaps too much. Edward III was an impressive leader in his middle years and his reign did shape many later English institutions. He was both generous and terribly brutal and vicious in Scotland and France. (To be a medieval peasant was hell.) The title refers to Edward's aspirations to be the new Arthur but they were his aspirations, certainly not displayed in many of his actions. The book gives a thorough overview of his life. I just am not sure that Mortimer or anyone else today really knows Edward III THAT well.
It is rare for history to come alive as it does in this book. Battles are fought by flesh, blood, and spirit, and kings and queens agonize over their decisions, delight in their children, and experience the drama of the human condition which we all share. A marvelous book that will instill a love of this fascinating and pivotal time in English history.