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Usurpers: A New Look at Medieval Kings

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In the Middle Ages, England had to contend with a string of usurpers who disrupted the British monarchy and ultimately changed the course of European history by deposing England's reigning kings and seizing power for themselves. Some of the most infamous usurper kings to come out of medieval England include William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry Bolingbroke, Edward In the Middle Ages, England had to contend with a string of usurpers who disrupted the British monarchy and ultimately changed the course of European history by deposing England's reigning kings and seizing power for themselves. Some of the most infamous usurper kings to come out of medieval England include William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry Bolingbroke, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry Tudor. Did these kings really deserve the title of usurper or were they unfairly vilified by royal propaganda and biased chroniclers? In this book we examine the lives of these six medieval kings, the circumstances which brought each of them to power, and whether or not they deserve the title of usurper. Along the way readers will hear stories of some of the most fascinating people from medieval Europe, including Empress Matilda, the woman who nearly succeeded at becoming the first ruling Queen of England; Eleanor of Aquitaine, the queen of both France and England who stirred her own sons to rebel against their father, Henry II; the cruel and vengeful reign of Richard II which caused his own family to overthrow him; the epic struggle for power between Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou, Richard of York, and Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses; the notorious Richard III and his monstrous reputation as a child-killer; and Henry VII who rose from relative obscurity to establish the most famous royal family of all time: the Tudors.


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In the Middle Ages, England had to contend with a string of usurpers who disrupted the British monarchy and ultimately changed the course of European history by deposing England's reigning kings and seizing power for themselves. Some of the most infamous usurper kings to come out of medieval England include William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry Bolingbroke, Edward In the Middle Ages, England had to contend with a string of usurpers who disrupted the British monarchy and ultimately changed the course of European history by deposing England's reigning kings and seizing power for themselves. Some of the most infamous usurper kings to come out of medieval England include William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry Bolingbroke, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry Tudor. Did these kings really deserve the title of usurper or were they unfairly vilified by royal propaganda and biased chroniclers? In this book we examine the lives of these six medieval kings, the circumstances which brought each of them to power, and whether or not they deserve the title of usurper. Along the way readers will hear stories of some of the most fascinating people from medieval Europe, including Empress Matilda, the woman who nearly succeeded at becoming the first ruling Queen of England; Eleanor of Aquitaine, the queen of both France and England who stirred her own sons to rebel against their father, Henry II; the cruel and vengeful reign of Richard II which caused his own family to overthrow him; the epic struggle for power between Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou, Richard of York, and Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses; the notorious Richard III and his monstrous reputation as a child-killer; and Henry VII who rose from relative obscurity to establish the most famous royal family of all time: the Tudors.

41 review for Usurpers: A New Look at Medieval Kings

  1. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    “The hardest thing of all about being a medieval king was holding onto the crown. England set itself up for hundreds of years of challenges to the throne by having no formal or legal statutes defining the line of succession. This opened the door to a whole string of challengers to the throne, including a number who ultimately succeeded and were thus labeled as usurpers. The goal of this book has been to reevaluate the stories of six medieval kings who have been traditionally labeled as usurpers “The hardest thing of all about being a medieval king was holding onto the crown. England set itself up for hundreds of years of challenges to the throne by having no formal or legal statutes defining the line of succession. This opened the door to a whole string of challengers to the throne, including a number who ultimately succeeded and were thus labeled as usurpers. The goal of this book has been to reevaluate the stories of six medieval kings who have been traditionally labeled as usurpers and then make a judgment as to whether or not they were deserving of that title.” This book describes the rise to power of William the Conqueror, King Stephen, King Henry IV, King Edward IV, King Richard III and King Henry VII. It addresses their claims to the throne, their efforts to achieve it and the lengths they went to to hold off challenges. It was interesting, but the book was written in an almost conversational manner. I am not a big reader of English history, but even I have read some of the books cited in the bibliography, so this book obviously isn’t breaking any new ground with a re-evaluation of primary sources. There were some editing errors and occasionally it felt like steps were skipped. Especially in the last half of the book, there was quite a bit of redundancy, the same events were described multiple times. The book was a little like a series of essays or lectures that should have been melded together better. Nevertheless, I did stick with the book and I did learn things, but that is because I am not a history buff. I was entertained enough to round up my 3.5 star rating. Anyone with more of a background in English history than I have should probably skip this book. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Melisende

    Whilst I appreciate that this promises a rather unique look at the reigns of some notable kings and whether they were worthy of the title "usurper" that had been applied to them, this really did not ignite any spark. If you are going to use the words "a new look" in the title, then there should be something new that has not been repeated elsewhere. If I have picked up your tome with the title "usurpers" in it - it means that I have read the usual tomes, have a working background knowledge, and d Whilst I appreciate that this promises a rather unique look at the reigns of some notable kings and whether they were worthy of the title "usurper" that had been applied to them, this really did not ignite any spark. If you are going to use the words "a new look" in the title, then there should be something new that has not been repeated elsewhere. If I have picked up your tome with the title "usurpers" in it - it means that I have read the usual tomes, have a working background knowledge, and don't need the details of each kings' reign ..... in detail, including a history of events of the previous rulers. If you plan to provide an analysis of the reign of kings considered as usurpers, then more than a one to two page assessment at the end of what I considered to be an information dump, is required. What I am after is a unique, unbiased, assessment of why each deserved or did not deserve the title of usurper - not just a throw-away "because he snuffed out the previous ruler" or "because of his father's political ambitions" or "because his stole it {the crown} away". The assessment, whatever the author's opinion is, needs to be weighted against the reign, the actions, and viewed in the context of the period in order to be able to formulate a cohesive analysis. Sure provide some background - but - after I finished and looked at the sources provided and noted that I had read them all - sometimes less is more - a short sharp summary of events. I know you've done the research - what I want to see is how you've applied it the the premise - did the book meet the brief. Well ... briefly. I would put this in the category of more popularist history - certainly, from the tone of the narrative, the language, it is not an academic text - I was left wondering who the intended audience was. Even if the reader had read nothing about the history of England from the time of Alfred to Henry VIII, I would be hesitant is suggesting this as an initial text. I actually did not enjoy reading this at all. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion - and this is mine (based upon many, many years of reading and studying history).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Pooja Peravali

    It was tough being a king in medieval England, and this book drives it home, relating the stories of six kings who won their thrones in less than savory ways. It was an informative, straightforward read that I quite enjoyed. The author covers six kings from William the Conqueror to Henry VII in brief chapters, touching upon the lead-up to their reign, the taking of the throne, and what they did with their power afterward. The various political machinations were laid out in a clear and easy to fol It was tough being a king in medieval England, and this book drives it home, relating the stories of six kings who won their thrones in less than savory ways. It was an informative, straightforward read that I quite enjoyed. The author covers six kings from William the Conqueror to Henry VII in brief chapters, touching upon the lead-up to their reign, the taking of the throne, and what they did with their power afterward. The various political machinations were laid out in a clear and easy to follow fashion, which is impressive considering the tangle that is the War of the Roses. However, I did not feel that the author dug deep with much new insight. Also, sections of the last three chapters were sometimes repetitive due to the intertwining nature of those kings' histories. Overall, this is an excellent read for those who are new to English royal history. Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Helene Harrison

    I was so excited to receive a copy of this book for review from Pen and Sword Books! I couldn't wait to get stuck in after finishing writing my own book and I wasn't disappointed. This book looks at the kings through the medieval period who could be considered to be usurpers - William the Conqueror, King Stephen, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. Each section goes through the context of the seizure of power, the consequences of that seizure, and then a short discussion of whether t I was so excited to receive a copy of this book for review from Pen and Sword Books! I couldn't wait to get stuck in after finishing writing my own book and I wasn't disappointed. This book looks at the kings through the medieval period who could be considered to be usurpers - William the Conqueror, King Stephen, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. Each section goes through the context of the seizure of power, the consequences of that seizure, and then a short discussion of whether the king could be considered a usurper. The book has obviously been well-researched and is a concise and easy read. There are several sections of repetition where monarchs overlapped, especially with the final three kings who did all overlap with each other, so sections are repeated from the views of the different kings. There are also a couple of historical errors which I noticed when reading. These two points knocked it down to 4 stars for me, for what otherwise I might have given 5 stars. It is a different view of kings in the Medieval period, looking at only those who could be considered usurpers, and how many there actually were. There were always several contenders for the throne, and it was when there were a lot of contenders that issues arose, and prompted civil war. This is a very interesting book which I know I will come back to again and again.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah - All The Book Blog Names Are Taken

    You can find my full review here: https://allthebookblognamesaretaken.b... I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I’m not really sure how to rate this one. It’s not really a “new“ look at these kings because every single one of them took a throne that was not rightfully theirs. So, the material is not new. I appreciate the look at the periods because they are among my favorite in history but nothing new is actually added to the conversation You can find my full review here: https://allthebookblognamesaretaken.b... I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I’m not really sure how to rate this one. It’s not really a “new“ look at these kings because every single one of them took a throne that was not rightfully theirs. So, the material is not new. I appreciate the look at the periods because they are among my favorite in history but nothing new is actually added to the conversation.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Heidi Malagisi

    In medieval Europe, to be considered a strong king, you must keep a firm grasp on your crown, or those who see you as weak will take advantage. These men were known as usurpers throughout history who steal the throne through combat or by illegal means. Some of the most well-known kings in English history have been categorized as usurpers, but is this a fair assessment of their mark in history, or is it a case of propaganda changing their legacy? In her debut nonfiction book, “Usurpers, a New Loo In medieval Europe, to be considered a strong king, you must keep a firm grasp on your crown, or those who see you as weak will take advantage. These men were known as usurpers throughout history who steal the throne through combat or by illegal means. Some of the most well-known kings in English history have been categorized as usurpers, but is this a fair assessment of their mark in history, or is it a case of propaganda changing their legacy? In her debut nonfiction book, “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings,” Michele Morrical explores the lives of six English kings who bear that title to see if it makes sense with the facts of how they came into power. I want to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard this book was published, I wanted to see how Morrical described a usurper and which king she considered usurpers. I have never heard of a book that focused solely on those who stole thrones in England, so I was excited to see how well it read. Morrical breaks her book into six sections, with each part focusing on one specific king and his rise to power. She focuses on William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII as examples of rulers in English history known to be usurpers. Morrical writes biography vignettes to give her readers an understanding of how they came to power and who they had to remove from the throne to become the next monarch. In some cases, it meant starting a new dynasty, and in others, it was just a continuation of the family’s lineage, but it was a different branch of the family tree. The biographies tend to get repetitive, especially with the sections dedicated to the Wars of the Roses. If you are new to these kings and the events of their lifetimes, the repetitive nature will help you understand how everything is connected. I think Morrical can improve if she writes another nonfiction book by using quotes from primary sources and other historians to strengthen her arguments. I wish she had included discussions from chronicles or other primary sources from around the times that these men became rulers to see the consensus of the time towards the new king. It would have added an extra layer to the stories, and readers could see how our definition of a usurper king would have compared or contrasted to the views of the past. I would have also liked Morrical to have discussed whether being a usurper king had a positive or negative connotation. Many kings on this list were considered game-changers when ruling England and transformed how England was viewed in the grander scheme of European politics. I think for her first book, Morrical does a decent job of presenting her viewpoints about certain kings and presenting the facts about their lives. One can tell that Morrical is passionate about usurpers and understanding why they took the English throne from their predecessors. Overall, I think it is not bad for a book that combines the lives of six kings of England into one text. If you want a good introductory book into the lives of usurper kings, you should give “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical a try.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    216 pages 4 stars Brief vignettes of six medieval kings who were traditionally named as usurpers. Ms. Morrical examines their ascension to the throne to determine if the usurpation charges are true. The first three examined I knew of but have not studied them in detail. However, Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII I have studied. While Richard III certainly got a bad rap from Shakespeare, I am still uncertain if he ordered the murders of the Princes in the Tower. Could Tyrell or Buckingham have d 216 pages 4 stars Brief vignettes of six medieval kings who were traditionally named as usurpers. Ms. Morrical examines their ascension to the throne to determine if the usurpation charges are true. The first three examined I knew of but have not studied them in detail. However, Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII I have studied. While Richard III certainly got a bad rap from Shakespeare, I am still uncertain if he ordered the murders of the Princes in the Tower. Could Tyrell or Buckingham have done the deed without Richard’s knowledge? Or, is that why Buckingham turned against Richard? Hmm…Ms. Morrical seems comfortable enough to state that Richard was ultimately responsible. This appears to be the telling point in the author naming him a usurper. (I agree.) This book is well written and linearly plotted. It is interesting, although I take exception to some of her conclusions. There were many tidbits in this book that I either did not know, or had not considered before. Food for thought! There is such a wealth of rich history, this book could have gone on for pages and pages. A few typos are present, but I assume that these will be caught and corrected before final publication. It must have been rather painful to cut it to a limited number of pages. Ms. Morrical has also included her notes and a bibliography for those who would like to further explore. If I know anything, however, it was not a good time during which to live. I want to thank NetGalley and Pen & Sword/Pen & Sword History for forwarding to me a copy of this interesting and informative book for me to read, enjoy and review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Hill

    I was so very excited to read this book! I love anything with medieval history, and I was excited to get a different look into the view of these kings. Overall, I think there were some great points made, but there was nothing in this book that really stood out as new. As with all kings, especially new ones, there are stories that can crop up, especially if it makes one look bad. Richard III is one of the ones that has gotten a bad rap in history - with the accusations that he murdered his nephew I was so very excited to read this book! I love anything with medieval history, and I was excited to get a different look into the view of these kings. Overall, I think there were some great points made, but there was nothing in this book that really stood out as new. As with all kings, especially new ones, there are stories that can crop up, especially if it makes one look bad. Richard III is one of the ones that has gotten a bad rap in history - with the accusations that he murdered his nephews in the Tower. There is no concrete evidence that he did, and there is no concrete evidence that he didn't. There are some redeeming qualities in the book. I enjoyed reading about Matilda - the almost queen of England, She lost her crown because she was a woman - and her cousin managed to twist the narrative toward his own well-being - although it did not end well for him. As well as another powerhouse, Eleanor of Aquitaine - a woman who managed to live longer than most, fomented a rebellion against her own husband, a powerhouse in her own right, and someone who knew how to hold and wield power. Of course, you have to always enjoy reading about Edward III. He has long been one of my favorite monarchs, not only because of the crazy aspects of his father - but because of the way that he managed to return power to where it should be, and how he treated his mother and her lover. There is always something fun when it comes to royalty, and while this book doesn't really give you anything new, it is still a fun and great read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ari

    An accessible account of the Kings of England who took the throne from another and of their lasting ill repute. With a title as such, it’d be necessary to define what a ‘usurper’ really is, and the author helps us with it: to usurp means ‘to seize and hold (a position, office, power, etc.) by force or without legal right’. The author doesn't really care much if the act of usurpation is justified morally; for example, if the current king is bad at his job or ill-fitted for the office while there i An accessible account of the Kings of England who took the throne from another and of their lasting ill repute. With a title as such, it’d be necessary to define what a ‘usurper’ really is, and the author helps us with it: to usurp means ‘to seize and hold (a position, office, power, etc.) by force or without legal right’. The author doesn't really care much if the act of usurpation is justified morally; for example, if the current king is bad at his job or ill-fitted for the office while there is someone else better prepared for it. The author picks William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry Bolingbroke, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry Tudor to put their reputation to the test. First is William the Conqueror: after Edward the Confessor’s death in 1066, with no successor mentioned (it wasn’t in his power to do so), the noblemen’s council known as Witan had to pick someone and they did so with King Harold Godwin. It was customary and within the law for the reigning king to make public his preference toward a candidate to succeed him, but the decision at the end of the day was the Witan’s. William — a Norman foreigner — did not like that decision and invaded England. So, his fame is not changed here. Full review at: https://medium.com/last-sentence-revi...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rev

    3.5 stars, rounded down. I wasn't wowed by this one, and thought it was just alright. Part of my problem is that the final three "usurpers" the author was talking about, were related to the War of the Roses (Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII) so their chapters ended up being a lot of repeating what we had already heard, just from the other side of the equation. I'm sure there must've been a better format for this book than what was written, especially since half the usurpers mentioned deal wi 3.5 stars, rounded down. I wasn't wowed by this one, and thought it was just alright. Part of my problem is that the final three "usurpers" the author was talking about, were related to the War of the Roses (Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII) so their chapters ended up being a lot of repeating what we had already heard, just from the other side of the equation. I'm sure there must've been a better format for this book than what was written, especially since half the usurpers mentioned deal with the same conflict. I also noticed a lot of typos. At first it didn't bother me, because I get it, I'm a writer myself, typos happen, but this many typos mean that either there wasn't an editor, or the editor was so bad at their job that they missed so many obvious typos. There's even one in the plates sections. All said, I did at the very least enjoy reading this book and I read it in a day, so I think that counts for something. It is nothing if not readable, but all in all, definitely not one of my favorites. I do kind of want to dig around through the bibliography for more books to read though.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adam Windsor

    NB: free copy received for honest review This is a solidly readable account of the origins, rises and reigns of six Kings of England, starting with William the Conqueror and ending with Henry VII. For me, the interesting hook to this work was its specific intent to answer the question 'were these men actually Usurpers?' I found the answers in practice a little constructivist, but it's a clever idea to anchor the six stories. There is one big weakness in the work, though, which is that there is a NB: free copy received for honest review This is a solidly readable account of the origins, rises and reigns of six Kings of England, starting with William the Conqueror and ending with Henry VII. For me, the interesting hook to this work was its specific intent to answer the question 'were these men actually Usurpers?' I found the answers in practice a little constructivist, but it's a clever idea to anchor the six stories. There is one big weakness in the work, though, which is that there is a lot of overlap in the stories of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII, what with them all succeeding each other, and this does start to get a bit repetitive at times. I did however like the glimpse it gives of the persistence and impact of women in the era; especially Empress Matilda, Margaret of Anjou, and the indomitable Margaret Beaufort.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jean-Luc

    A wonderful albeit succint overview of England's royal usupers and the grave and often very bloody political consequences behind their rash and often too bold grabs for power. Just one big disagreement with the author: William I was a conqueror not an usurper. I will advice her to get ready for some very fierce debates if she ever puts that claim on the table in Normandy. I just came back from a week's vacation in Rouen and the idea got some people really pissed....🤣🤣 A solid study of English Medie A wonderful albeit succint overview of England's royal usupers and the grave and often very bloody political consequences behind their rash and often too bold grabs for power. Just one big disagreement with the author: William I was a conqueror not an usurper. I will advice her to get ready for some very fierce debates if she ever puts that claim on the table in Normandy. I just came back from a week's vacation in Rouen and the idea got some people really pissed....🤣🤣 A solid study of English Medieval shenanigans to be enjoyed without any moderation whatsoever👍👍 Many thanks to Netgalley and Pen & sword for this terrific ARC

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jo-anne Atkinson

    In this book Morrical considers whether six of the medieval monarchs could be considered as usurpers both in terms of the historical contemporary context and with our distanced view. It's a really strong book as it considers the first three situations - William I, Stephen and Henry IV. However as the last three kings were all contemporaneous the book begins to break down as it repeats facts. Read separately these accounts would be fine but read consecutively I started to become annoyed. The book In this book Morrical considers whether six of the medieval monarchs could be considered as usurpers both in terms of the historical contemporary context and with our distanced view. It's a really strong book as it considers the first three situations - William I, Stephen and Henry IV. However as the last three kings were all contemporaneous the book begins to break down as it repeats facts. Read separately these accounts would be fine but read consecutively I started to become annoyed. The book feels like a series of excellent essays but needed edited to create a more effective narrative as a book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I want to thank Netgalley and the author for gifting me the ebook. As I have stated before in my other reviews I found this book fascinating! Very well research and the author did a great job. Highly recommend!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ron Baumer

    A fascinating look at the early years of English rule and the politics behind the hostile takeovers of the throne. The stories surrounding each of the events were intriguing and really kept my interest. Thank you to #NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Conor

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Coulter Martin

  18. 5 out of 5

    Adam Gravano

  19. 5 out of 5

    James Harrison

  20. 4 out of 5

    ktheland

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  22. 5 out of 5

    Whitney Wrestler

  23. 5 out of 5

    Julie Herringa Cirone

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Mix

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gem

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  27. 5 out of 5

    Abigail Rose

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alistair

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

  30. 5 out of 5

    Theo Logos

  31. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  32. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  33. 5 out of 5

    Juliew.

  34. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Smith

  35. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

  36. 5 out of 5

    Kara

  37. 4 out of 5

    Amalie

  38. 5 out of 5

    Emily Thorsley

  39. 5 out of 5

    Elsie

  40. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  41. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

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