Book Review: Edward III: The Perfect King by Ian Mortimer (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Edward III: The Perfect King by Ian Mortimer

(Four Stars)

“’The perfect king’ is not what Edward III was: it is what he tried to be. He was a prince who knew his job and did it.”

Better-than-average history. Mortimer goes behind battles and treaties to explore the personal, cultural and religious background of the high tide of the middle ages. Edward’s life is examined, warts and all, a feat in itself as reliable records are spotty.

“Edward III’s experiences are so extraordinary that the period 1326-50 reads at times like a fairy tale with footnotes.”

Beginning with Edward’s deliverance from his mother’s tyranny, Mortimer weaves this biography from the warp and weft of history, religion, economics, disease, family politics and personal drive. Along the way lists of tournaments, gifts, textiles, poems and galas gel into a picture of a real, if alien society and the man who, for one shining moment, stood atop Europe as King Arthur incarnate.

“The banner of aristocratic military splendor which characterizes the middle ages had been shredded, not in a single afternoon by a few thousand archers but by thirteen years of careful experimentation and thought as to how projectile-based warfare could be perfected.”

All of Edwards battles were fought in Scotland and France. Intentionally so. He changed the way wars were fought. The paragon of medieval chivalry, he was also its doom. Everyone mentions the English long bows, few remember Edward took hundreds of cannons to Crecy.

“The best way to avoid the inconvenience of war is to pursue it away from one’s own country.”

Written for an English audience, the book is detailed enough to engage and bore readers outside Britain.

“Edward and Phillip did not need to portray themselves as icons. They themselves were iconic.”