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The Worst Medieval Monarchs (Hardback)

P&S History > British History P&S History > Medieval World > Medieval History P&S History > Royal History P&S History > Social History World History > Europe

By Phil Bradford
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 30 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399083058
Published: 20th October 2023



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Stephen. John. Edward II. Richard II. Richard III. These five are widely viewed as the worst of England’s medieval kings. Certainly, their reigns were not success stories. Two of these kings lost their thrones, one only avoided doing so by dying, another was killed in battle, and the remaining one had to leave his crown to his opponent. All have been seen as incompetent, their reigns blighted by civil war and conflict. They tore the realm apart, failing in the basic duty of a king to ensure peace and justice. For that, all of them paid a heavy price. As well as incompetence, some also have reputations for cruelty and villainy, More than one has been portrayed as a tyrant. The murder of family members and arbitrary executions stain their reputations. All five reigns ended in failure. As a result, the kings have been seen as failures themselves, the worst examples of medieval English kingship. They lost their reputations as well as their crowns.

Yet were these five really the worst men to wear the crown of England in the Middle Ages? Or has history treated them unfairly? This book looks at the stories of their lives and reigns, all of which were dramatic and often unpredictable. It then examines how they have been seen since their deaths, the ways their reputations have been shaped across the centuries. The standards of their own age were different to our own. How these kings have been judged has changed over time, sometimes dramatically. Fiction, from Shakespeare’s plays to modern films, has also played its part in creating the modern picture. Many things have created, over a long period, the negative reputations of these five. Today, they have come to number among the worst kings of English history. Is this fair, or should they be redeemed?

That is the question this book sets out to answer.

An extraordinary and unique study, "The Worst Medieval Monarchs" is enriched for the reader's benefit with an informative Preface and Introduction, a Conclusion (The Worst Monarchs?), thirteen pages of Notes, a twelve page Bibliography, and a twenty page Index. A seminal and groundbreaking study of meticulous scholarship and a simply fascinating read from first page to last.

Read the full review [link=

Midwest Book Review

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Phil Bradford’s The Worst Medieval Monarchs is a fascinating read! Bradford explores five of the worst monarchs. Did history treat them fairly and are they really as bad as we think they are? If you love reading about royalty, this book is for you! I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this well-written, well-researched book.

NetGalley, Jamie Lovett

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Diving into "The Worst Medieval Monarchs" by Phil Bradford, I found myself on a surprisingly hilarious historical journey, despite the grim subject matter. Bradford delivers a concise yet engaging exploration of some of England's most notoriously ineffective rulers.

What really adds flavour to this historical tour is Bradford's take on the outlandish punishments and political follies of the era. It's one thing to read about the missteps of medieval kings; it's another entirely to see their blunders and the often absurd consequences laid out with such aplomb. Bradford's book is a delightful blend of historical rigour and tongue-in-cheek commentary, making it a standout read for both history buffs and casual readers alike.

Whilst the book is also educational, detailing the reigns of kings like Richard II and Edward II, it’s Bradford’s light-hearted narrative style that keeps the pages turning. You'll find yourself chuckling at the bizarre world of medieval politics and wondering how some of these monarchs ever made it to the throne.

In summary, "The Worst Medieval Monarchs" offers a unique and amusing perspective on a period often portrayed as dreary and severe. Bradford’s ability to mix solid historical research with a humorous tone makes for a refreshing and enjoyable read. For someone who loves all things monarchy, this foray into a historical narrative was both entertaining and enlightening.

NetGalley, Ionia Froment

An in depth and thoroughly researched book, I feel I got to know each monarch in turn and the turning points of their rule which led to them becoming 'the worst monarchs'.

NetGalley, Clare Willmott

Source for lively discussion and airing of prejudices. Worth taking a vote before and after reading it.

NetGalley, Donal Monaghan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Stephen, John, Edward II, Richard II, and Richard III are often deemed England's worst medieval kings due to civil war, popular unrest, or the loss of their thrones. Their reputations are marred by allegations of tyranny and murder. This book explores their dramatic lives and their evolving reputations through history. Were these kings really as bad as they've been made out to be?

This book is a thorough and intriguing analysis of why the reigns of these five kings were ultimately unsuccessful. Were these men the product of circumstances, or their own personal failings?

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Addictive. This book had me glued to the pages.

Loved the narrative style, the monarchs chosen and the opinions delievered by the author.

It's an easy read, very complete and entertaining.

Loved it.

NetGalley, Sira Barbeito

This book looks at the historical evidence for the truth behind the rumours & looks at how their reputations evolved following their deaths. The author puts a slightly different spin on things as they briefly review the changing schools of thought about each King throughout the ages, & also looks at how they have been portrayed in plays, films, fiction books, etc. I thought it was an interesting & informative read.

NetGalley, Gayle Noble

Take a walk through some of the monarchs in Britain, who have had the distinction of being the worst in the long line of rulers.
Phil Bradford walks through the different monarchs, how they are remembered through the ages, and the final verdict of their overall reigns. The rulers he chose were well researched and their history and their final place in the annuls of time.

Great read! I enjoyed this one!

NetGalley, Rebecca Hill

Book is easy to read, peppered with references, and provides extensive research into all aspects that formed monarch’s reputation.
Interesting and entertaining read, tracing changes in perception of these monarchs over the centuries.

NetGalley, Maya Cherny

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The history of the monarchy in England (and this book is focused on England) features a range of names familiar to us from school, and taught to us as either good or bad rulers. Little focus is given to why those deemed as 'bad' are perceived to be that way or how historical retelling has shaped our view and this book tries to rebalance that with a look at the reigns of five of those ruled 'bad' (Stephen, King John, Edward II, Richard II, Richard III).

It's an interesting premise and very well executed. Phil Bradford gives us a detailed background on medieval monarchy and how the perception of monarchy has changed through the ages which gives a good context for his more detailed discussions on the five kings. His research covers material from the time and throughout the centuries since and it's very interesting to see the development of the narratives. He doesn't just try to take away negative impressions of their reigns but instead tries to give them more balance.

This was a very interesting read and I found it fascinating. The author's writing style is very natural and he makes a lot of information easy to follow. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in medieval history.

NetGalley, Rachel N

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was really great to read about what was considered the worst monarchs. Phil Bradford has a great writing style and it worked with what information was given. I’m glad I got to read this and look forward to more from Phil Bradford.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I love a good book that gives more than its title promises and in The Worst Medieval Monarchs how the rituals of coronation day came to be how the place the carnation happen became tradition and when they sovereign became king was also explained in the book or how it started and how it now is. The author does explain how any of these monarchs quality of reigns can be debated and often is he also tells us about the young lives of the king how they died who died in their bed who died on the battlefield and who was usurped and it all makes for one interesting book. I love things having to do with the rulers in the middle ages and so I just ate this book up from beginning to end. I love books about the middle ages especially nonfiction books it’s all I have read some really bad ones so to get a stellar read like this one was a real treat although they’re not proper biographies there’s enough there to give you a good idea of what kind of king he was and what kind of person he was if this sounds like something that’s interesting to you then you should definitely read this book it is one I highly recommend and one who any history lover would love to have in the library. Kudos to the author Phil Bradford for an excellent read.

NetGalley, Janalyn Prude

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I wanted to read this book because of the chapter on Richard III. I have been finding him an interesting person as of late because opinions of him have changed so drastically over the years. I was also enthralled by the histories mentioned regarding each of the other prominent figures in this book. Phil Bradford did a great job presenting each monarch.

NetGalley, Stephanie Peterson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Quite a bit has been written regarding Tudor history, and one of the interesting aspects of the book was addressing the evolving nature of historian's understanding of the Tudor time period, along with how some of the understanding of this unique, and oft well-studied time tend to be based on preconceived misconceptions, presentism, or in some cases, due to Shakespeare's plays "supposedly" based off of historical events, but given Bard's plays tend to be after the fact, and on literature written without supporting archeological or documented sources.

Focusing on kings such as Stephen, and King Richard III, the intriguing quality to Phil Bradford's book is his attempts to balance each presentation with verifiable historical records, a brief overview of how the kings were perceived, and a look at the actual understanding of each king, with the example of how the finding, and excavation of King Richard III helped change historians and cultural understanding of what was then known of Richard III.

While I go more in-depth into the book in my blog post, the highlights of this book are its attention to balancing how to address history, and how history treats people and events, but more than anything questioning how much do people really understand the rich history of the Tudor period.

The book is well suited for those who are interested in Tudor history, as a reference source, but also as a challenge to how history and people are perceived by not only historians but in cultural light.

NetGalley, Vida Clark

About Phil Bradford

Phil Bradford gained his PhD in medieval history, specialising in the fourteenth-century parliament, at the University of York, where he is now Honorary Visiting Fellow. Having trained in Cambridge and Lima, he was ordained into the Church of England in 2010. Currently, he works as a parish priest in Worcester, while also overseeing a link with the Anglican Church of Peru. Throughout, he has continued to enjoy studying the Middle Ages and has published work on the late medieval parliament and monarchy, including co-editing volumes of parliamentary records. More recently, he has been part of an interdisciplinary team studying the medieval Gough Map of Britain.

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