Sunday book notices: on the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne, and 1215 and All That (and Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours)

The Caxton Celebration - William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen

To Quell the Terror: The Mystery of the Vocation of the Sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne Guillotined July 17, 1774 by William Bush
The story of the Carmelites of Compiègne is one which threatens the stiffest upper lip and I was glad to find this well-informed study by William Bush whose research led him to revise his favourable view of the French Revolution. He stresses the unreliability of  the fictional accounts of the martyrs in Gertrud von Le Fort's Song at the Scaffold and Francis Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, aiming to give the reader a historical account of the sacrifice offered by the holy sisters.

The book takes each of the sisters in turn, giving an picture of their life in religion and their progress towards the ultimate oblation which they made with full deliberation. At times, it is difficult to follow the different changes of name for some of the protagonists, but the overall effect is one of terrifying, inevitable progress towards the guillotine, and a thoroughly realistic picture of heroism offered in the murky circumstances of the terror. The real account of the chants of the sacred texts while awaiting execution is every bit as moving as the simplified dramatic representations that are better known.

1215 and All That: Magna Carta and King John (A Very, Very Short History of England) by Ed West
Journalist, author and blogger Ed West, has written a number of entertaining popular histories (see his Amazon Author Page for further titles.) 1215 and All That is a fun romp through the basics of King John and Magna Carta which deserves a place on your Kindle or on your bookshelves.

STOP PRESS: The Path of the Martyrs: Charles Martel, The Battle of Tours and the Birth of Europe also by Ed West, and another of his books that I greatly enjoyed, is today available for 99p on Amazon UK. (Also on Amazon US for $1.28.) These 99p offers are time limited, so you need to act quickly. I loved this comment by Piers Paul Read:
"If there are cathedrals rather than mosques in the great cities of western Europe, it is thanks to the defeat of a Muslim army by Charles Martel in 732. With considerable scholarship spiced with wit, Ed. West puts the battle in its historical context, and shows how it set the course of history for more than a thousand years."

(Links go to the Amazon UK page for each book. I link to the Kindle edition because that is how I read most new books these days, but you can easily click around if you want the paper and glue version.)


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