A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Braveheart was such a stupid movie.

Quick synopsis: A complete biography of Edward I of England.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Other than the fact Edward I and William Wallace existed, Braveheart got everything else wrong.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Edward I effectively took control over Scotland by tricking them. After the Scottish royal line died out, Scotland’s leaders asked Edward I to mediate between arguing factions. He let them know he couldn’t do so without taking control of Scotland, at least on paper (suckers!). That’s the gist, but Morris really gives a great background to all the machinations.

My Take: Morris always writes well-thought-out and researched books and this is no exception. He writes about Edward’s life chronologically and gives a great overview of all the major players. For those new to British history, even an overview of the major players can be insanely convoluted. This is what happens when royalty keeps marrying other royalty. I recommend getting yourself a whiteboard and just draw the family trees out.

Morris does a great job of explaining how Edward’s upbringing formed who he became as a king. In a tale as old as time, his father was a king who failed in his martial duties, so Edward of course spent his entire life at war killing people in various places including on crusade, France (kinda), Wales, and Scotland.

The book is pretty lengthy, and Morris does not spare the details. It feels very much like Morris went day to day throughout Edward’s life. It is definitely recommended for someone interested in Edward I, but probably not a good place to start if this is your first foray.  If this is your kind of history, it will be very insightful. If not, this will seem interminable. The story does drag in a few places where Edward is not actively at war and you can get tempted to start skimming. That being said, Morris gives you everything you can ask for on the subject and Edward I was at war a lot.

Oh, and if you liked Braveheart, don’t read this book. It truly shows how dumb the whole movie was.

Verdict: Great book for people interested in the English monarchy. Won’t be for people who are not or novices to the endless number of names.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Justin Pollard, Alfred the Great
  • Michael Jones, The Black Prince: England’s Greatest Medieval Warrior
  • Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight
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A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris
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