Not so much the Whig view of history as a no-holds-barred Tory view in which the 'greatness' of a country is measured by military success. Thus Edwards I and III were great Kings and Edward II a disastrous weakling. There are heroes (Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, the Black Prince, John Wycliff etc) and there are villains (Piers Gaveston and the Despensers, Alice Perrers and John of Gaunt and any number of dastardly foreigners). And Costain loves a good story. Although he sometimes points out the lack of evidence for some of his tales, all the classics are here, such as the presentation to the Welsh lords of the first Prince of Wales, a child who spoke no English (because he was the recently born King's son). This is myth retold as if it were history and told for the purpose of encouraging patriotism. It is about great men and wicked men and matters such as economic conditions and complex characters are downplayed. It is racist ("There have always been forces at work in the world which over-ride justice. The sufferings that the defeated Saxons endured for two centuries were gradually forgotten in the fusion of the two races. Who will say that the Indians of North America should have been allowed to keep the continent for themselves?"; I, 9.1) and sexist ("She might have glanced slyly out of the corner of a starry eye at stout London aldermen and swished her scented wiliecoats at court receptions, but this was no more than the habitual exercise in mass subjugation in which beautiful women indulge"; II, 6.3) It is, in short, simplistic. But not naive. Not innocent. I think Costain understands the propaganda value of his stories.
- "Used at first for decoration only, on books and purses and scabbards as well as clothes, the button began to prove its utility in holding clothes closer to the body, thereby providing greater warmth and accentuating (where the ladies were concerned) the gentle curve of the figure." (I, 6.1) He really can't resist a sexist aside.
- "Even opportunities for reading were limited, the royal library consisting of three books." (I, 6.2)
- "He remained single all his life because he had no time for matrimony and perhaps also because of an admiration for the fair sex so general that he could not find one to exclude all others from his mind." (III, 16.2)
- "The battlefields where great warriors died are so encroached upon by modern villas and so befouled by the rotting remains of motorcars and the staves of oil barrels that they do not always repay a visit." (III, 17.2)
September 2021; 467 pages