The Royal Bastards of Medieval England

by Chris Given-Wilson & Alice Curteis

Charles Mosley | Published in

The dust jacket blazons Millais' The Princes in the Tower, a view of the Middle Ages encrusted with mid-Victorian sugariness and appropriately spurious for a study in bastardy. Chris Given-Wilson and Alice Curteis, his wife, furnish a competent account of the natural children of England's kings from 1066 to Tudor times. The coverage is uneven, but that is inevitable when so little is known about most regal by-blows. Only a handful, such as Robert of Gloucester, Geoffrey 'Plantagenet' and William Longsword in the early Middle Ages, Arthur Viscount Lisle around 1500 and, among women, Henry I's daughter Sybil, who married Alexander I of Scotland, were other than obscure.

In treatment this book is an example of what might, in the circumstances, be called bastard academicism. Just as bastard feudalism was a late adulteration of the purest high medieval practice, so bastard academicism seeks promiscuously to please both the general reader lacking background knowledge and the serious student. Thus what would ordinarily be an otiose date chart of English kings is given and the authors blandly declare 'it has not been possible to provide foot-notes'. Yet they have consulted primary sources (unnamed) and list secondary ones in a proper bibliography. There are disquisitions (and very ably handled for a lay readership they are too) on heraldry and comparative law, references to patristic writings on sexuality and an aside about Albertus Magnus' assertion that bees are an effective oral contraceptive. (Did the Church ever condemn melissophagy'?) In short, the approach is sometimes scholarly, sometimes a trifle lightweight, though never pandering to prurience.

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