Heretics and Heroes (Hinges of History #6)

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our WorldHeretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the most pivotal periods of Western civilization occurred during the Renaissance and the Reformation, to culturally impactful events that overlapped one another across Europe. Heretics and Heroes is the sixth book in Thomas Cahill’s series “The Hinges of History” highlighting the artists and the priests that changed how Europe viewed creativity and worshipped God.

Cahill begins this volume talking about philosophical struggle over the ages between Plato and Aristotle, through it is the fourth time he has discussed this millennia-long debate during the series it allows Cahill to refer back to it in the text and gives the reader a basis to understand its importance during this era. Cahill continued setting up both the Renaissance and Reformation by highlighting moments during the Late Middle Ages, especially the effects of the Black Death, leading up to and allowed for these two important moments in Western history to occur. The ‘discovery’ of the New World by Columbus and rise of the humanists begin the look at the titular heretics and heroes that will dominate the book, using both events Cahill shows the changing trends in Europe just before both the Renaissance and Reformation completely change it. The Renaissance and it’s complete change of artistic creativity of the previous millennium is taken up first through the lives of Donatello, Leonardo, and Botticelli before focusing on its height and sudden stop as a result of the Counter-Reformation in the life of Michelangelo. Then, save for a brief look at the art of Northern Europe, Cahill turns to the Reformation of Luther and the Catholic Counter-Reformation with brief looks at the Reformed movements and the development of Anglicanism.

The entire book is packed with information in a very conversational style of writing which has always been one of the strengths of Cahill’s writing. As always with a popular history book, Cahill had to pick and choose what to focus the reader’s attention on while covering as much as possible about the subject he’s decided to write about. While Cahill is pretty successful at hitting the high points and pointing readers looking for information to the appropriate place to look, his personal opinions at times overwhelm the history and themes he’s trying to bring to fore. All history authors have their personal opinions influence their work; however Cahill’s armchair psychiatry and personal theological arguments that actually have nothing to do with the debate he’s writing about at that moment in the text. While Cahill’s personal opinions have been in all of the previous books of the series, this volume it seems to not be subtle but almost blatant.

Overall Heretics and Heroes is a fine addition to the “Hinges of History” series written in a very readable style by Cahill. However, unlike the previous books in which the reader was left with wanting more, the reader will be wishing less of Cahill’s opinion and more of actual facts. Yet even with this drawback and forewarning a reader will find this book very informative.

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The Princes in the Tower

The Princes in the TowerThe Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have read Alison Weir before, her biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her overview history of The Wars of the Roses, and have found her enjoyable.  However, I was disappointed less than 30 pages into this book and it never improved.  I read Princes in the Tower to contrast a biography of Richard III by Paul Murray Kendall, unfortunately instead of well thought out case for Richard III has the murderer of the Princes, I got Sir Thomas More 2.0 and arch villain of Shakespeare.

I give credit to Weir for the information written in Chapters 18-19 & 21 relating to the events that occurred after Bosworth and the discovery of the skeletons that are most likely the Princes and medical exams performed on them.  This later part of the book, save for Chapter 20 which will be written about below, is it’s redeeming quality.

However, the rest of the book just made me clinch my jaw and bare through the essential retelling of More with interesting Weir inventions.  One of the reasons can be found in Chapter 20 about Sir James Tyrell’s confession about murdering the Princes, a confession that wasn’t published.  Weir stated that because Tyrell had held positions under Henry VII, the first Tudor believed that the confession would implicate him in the Princes’ murder.  However, Weir also states that Henry VII’s “interviewers” also questioned John Dighton about Tyrell’s story and he confirmed it, why is this significant? Dighton was one of the two men Tyrell hired to murder the Princes.  Dighton was then let go while Tyrell, who had been arrested in relation to another conspiracy, was executed and afterwards Henry VII told his top officials he knew what happened to Edward V and his brother.  If Henry VII was so concerned about a confession given by someone he had given appointments to, why was Dighton who Henry VII never rewarded allowed to walk away instead of signing a confession have it published before being executed and while keeping Tyrell separate to his own fate?

Weir hoped readers wouldn’t catch the problems of her arguments, but this one example shows why I gave this book the rating I did.

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Richard the Third

Richard the ThirdRichard the Third by Paul Murray Kendall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard the Third is a readable biographical introduction of the last Plantagenet King of England that for many only comes to mind as the sinister hunchback of Shakespeare. Even though over 50 years worth of research has outdated some of Kendall’s evidence, his overall body of work gives the reader a truer glimpse of Richard the man than from Richard the arch villain. From the outset, Kendall informs his reader of personal interpretations he has made from evidence through the use of starred (*) references within the text with explanations in the Notes after the main body of text. Kendall does tackle the death of the Princes in the first Appendix as he feels a discussion within the text itself would not be proper, which given the subject seems to be the correct course. Although Kendall believes that Richard was not responsible for the death of his nephews, in fact believing the evidence points to the Duke of Buckingham as instigator if not actual culprit, but Kendall does acknowledge that Richard might have in some way acquiesced and ultimately believed he was at fault through taking the throne. In the second appendix Kendall gives a historiography surrounding Richard of over the centuries until the publication of his book, which he hopes to be a moderate addition instead of “revisionist.” Although the writing and pace are a little dated, Kendall’s book is a fine introduction to Richard the man.

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