Post 31: Emperor of the West

Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire

I’d been looking forward to this book for a while, drawn to it by an attractive cover and by the chance to fill in some gaps in my knowledge between the end of the western Roman Empire and the middle ages proper. Written in 2010 by Hywel Williams, and published by Quercus, this book covers this period in detail and tackles issues in the development of culture, nationality and religion. There’s less said about Charlemagne the man than one might expect from the title. I’ve covered a few books about a single character on this blog and there have been a number of different styles: Alcibiades got a very straight biography, while John Hawkwood was used as a tool to tell a broader history, and Mark Antony received some sort of revisionist argument. Charlemagne doesn’t really get anything – the focus is instead on the big themes of his reign and those of his dynasty; the book would probably have been more accurately titled Empire of the West. It is centred on his reign and we do get a vague chronological order through his life but the nine chapters are separated by these topics.

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Post 26: Havant Heritage Trail

St Faith's ChurchThis is a bit of a shorter and less thought out post than usual but I was in Havant near Portsmouth recently for work and, on my way back to the train station, noticed one of those blue plaques you see about the place – the ones that mark places of historical significance. That’s interesting, I thought, I didn’t think Havant would have an exciting past. It seemed like a fairly run of the mill satellite town to a provincial city. The plaque was outside an old church, and not a bad looking one at that (although not quite as atmospherically lit as the photo here, it was a slightly overcast afternoon) but there’s nothing too remarkable in it (England really is spoilt for choice when it comes to beautiful old buildings).

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Post 18: John Young, who lived to be old but died young

I was walking through Headington in the north east of Oxford the other day, passing some time before the time came for my reservation at the Black Boy gastropub (that makes me sound terribly posh), and came across an old church – St Andrews. The graveyard in front was a bit of a mix of stones, some newer ones from the early twentieth or late nineteenth century at the end and older, lichen covered, barely legible ones closer to the church. One of the gravestones stood out as being a clean, clear carving. Looking at the epitaph, it had the riddle-like one below.

Here lyeth John
Who to ye king did belong
He lived to be old
And yet dyed young

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