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Review of the Musical The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon is taking the US by storm; it is difficult to get tickets both on Broadway, on tour and in the UK. We were lucky enough to book early and get tickets while they were on tour in Washington DC showing at the Kennedy Center. The tickets were incredibly expensive, and for not amazing seats, so we were hoping it wasn’t all hype and was going to be a good night out.

The Book of Mormon has been created and written by the creators of South Park Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and also Robert Lopez, who had co-created Avenue Q, another comedic musical. I went in expecting laughs and having seen South Park some very rude parts. We arrived at the Kennedy Center by the shuttle bus from the metro, which I think is a fantastic idea, although it is a short walk, the heat makes the shuttle bus very welcome, and it is free. The center itself is massive, and is fairly impressive, like most other buildings in DC. There was a free performance before the musical began, a gift shop and an area to get something to snack on during the show.

The musical was based on Mormon’s, and two particular young Mormon men who are sent off to spread the word of the Book of Mormon. Elder Price, the star Mormon wants to go to Orlando, but instead is paired with Elder Cunningham and they are sent together to Uganda, which is not to Price’s liking. They have many issues to overcome in Africa, but will they pull together as a pair to be a success in this country in the eyes of God, Jesus and of course the Mormon Mission President? We shall see, and through the medium of song and dance.

The songs are great, the music is catchy and the dancers and singers are fantastic, the acting is great as well. Moving onto the comedic value of the musical, which of course is its main pull.

The comedy was far less tame than South Park, but I think to appeal to a wider audience it has to be, most of the people in the audience at the theatre were older and probably not too familiar with South Park. It was still funny, with the occasional F-word and some good traditional potty humour. The first half was not as funny as I had expected, but the second half had me laughing out loud, as were many other members of the audience. The last few songs in particular were very clever and very funny.

I think that this musical appeals to a wide variety of people, young and old will enjoy the humour, songs and dancing. South Park watchers can spot the similarities to the show and those who have not seen South Park don’t need to worry. Most of all, the musical makes you think not just about the Mormon religion, but about Christianity and religion as a whole, and I would find it interesting to see what people take from this musical, especially the differences between those who are religious and those who are not.

If you are lucky enough to get tickets, I would go, and expect an evening of fun and laughter with some songs along the way.

BBC’s The White Queen Episode Five Review

There will be a change today, no spoilers, so if you haven’t watched this episode yet, feel free to read on without worry.

So far, we have seen trouble in the kingdom of Edward IV, who himself stole the crown from Henry VI. He marries Elizabeth Woodville, who is disliked by some, some of whom even call her a witch. Edward has to constantly fight to keep his throne, a fight which has seen women be married off to not very nice men, a queen giving birth in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey and brothers turning against brothers. Maybe episode five can bring peace to the country.

Episode five is largely about the battle to the throne, first between Edward and the Earl of Warwick and then Edward against Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife and her son, also called Edward. Edward comes back to England, despite rumours of his death, he visits his wife Elizabeth in sanctuary, and is not happy with her situation, but is pleased with his new born son. However, he has to leave for the battle with Warwick at Barnet, and his forces must go and intervene Margaret of Anjou before she reaches Henry Tudor for support. Meanwhile, Margaret of Beaufort’s husband, Henry Stafford chooses to fight, but for the wrong side according to her wife, he fights for York, in order to restore peace in England, Margaret is horrified by her husband’s position, saying that he has put her in the middle, having to choose between her husband and her family. However, in the end, she has to deal with the catastrophic results of this war.

This episode sees a lot of war, it seems to be fairly repetitive war, Edward arrives back in London, then back off to war again leaving Elizabeth fearing for what will happen to herself, her husband and her children.

This episode brings up two things that I would like to discuss. the first is the fact that men were willing to give up their lives for other men to be put on the throne or for peace. Henry Stafford wants peace, and so he chooses his side accordingly, he goes into battle knowing there is a chance he might die, but bravely fights on. Whether men were brave on the battlefield or not, I’m sure some were, but I’m also sure some were not, these men cannot be blamed for not enjoying the woes of battle. The King, rode into battle with his fellow soldiers, knowing that if he died, so much would be lost, Warwick demonstrates this well in this episode. He kills his horse in order to demonstrate to the men that he would not flee should the battle look to be lost. This gives courage to his men, but also means that he was clearly willing to die for his cause.

The other item I would like to discuss is the role of women in this programme. First, we have Margaret of Anjou who attempts to lead the battle, she is a stronger character than her son. The actress is amazing, she really puts into this character what is needed, she is a strong independent, willed women, and although named the bad queen, I think the fact that she stands up for herself is brilliant. We often think of women in the middle ages as being weak willed and simply doing what they are told first by their father and then by their husband, but some show that this is not the case. What we seem to forget, as we see here, is that women had to hold the fort when their husbands left for battle, they had to organise the household, make the major decisions and be the head of their staff. I hope more women were like Margaret of Anjou, not bad as she is in the series, but strong.

The episode ends on an interesting note, one which I do not wish to spoil so I won’t, but if you can get through the repetitiveness of the battle scenes, then watch the ending.

BBC’s The White Queen Episode Four Review

Spoiler alert! I will be discussing bits of the plot that if you have not read the book, or seen any of the four episodes of The White Queen, may spoil the story for you, you have been warned.

So far, we have seen the Earl of Warwick put King Edward IV on the throne, Edward choosing to marry Elizabeth for love, Warwick’s disapproval and therefore rebellion. Warwick’s flee to France, causing him to lose his grandson, Elizabeth’s new pregnancy, and Henry Tudor and his treasonous mother.

Warwick still fights on for the crown in episode four, we saw that he is desperate enough for it that he would risk his eldest daughter Isabel’s life and ultimately pay the price with his grandson, but this episode we see that he now gives over his second daughter for marriage. On arriving in France, Warwick meets with Margaret of Anjou, the deposed Henry VI’s wife in order to ally with her, of course, it was him who organised the end of the reign of Henry VI, so he has a lot of grovelling to do. He hands over his daughter for marriage to Margaret’s son, despite the fact that he is obviously a horrid person. Warwick makes to England, and heads to London to get Elizabeth, whom he calls a witch. Her two sons from her previous marriage come and warn a heavily pregnant Elizabeth that Warwick is coming, can she make it to sanctuary at Westminster Abbey in time, and what happens when the baby comes?  Back to Henry Tudor, who goes off to fight for Edward with his guardian, much to the disgust of his mother. He arrives home, shaken, he retells the story of how his guardian was beheaded, and then they came for him, but he said, with confidence, I am Henry Tudor, and his name saved him.

We now await the next episode, where we shall find out the fate of Edward, see the future of Henry Tudor and of course of the new son and hopeful heir to the throne of England.

This episode was another good one, it had action, emotion and everything you want from a drama, it also had me incredibly on edge when Elizabeth was escaping Warwick, even though I knew how the story goes. Something I always forget when watching these sorts of things is that they are actually real characters, some of the details are made up, not to a fantastical level, but to a level that is believable, but the deaths, lives, births and wars are all factual. It must have been a worrying time to live, not knowing which King to support in order not to lose one’s head.

The one thing I wanted to pick up on from this episode is the idea of sanctuary, I feel it wasn’t really explained well in the episode, not that it is the BBC’s duty to explain a historical concept. Many people have used sanctuary historically to hide from an almost certain death. They could go to a monastery or cathedral, and ask them for sanctuary, when within the walls, they were, theoretically, safe, sanctuary should not have been broken, although of course, it sometimes was. Elizabeth uses sanctuary to hide from Warwick, and, if my memory is right, will use it again later on in the series.

Another example of the use of sanctuary I wanted to mention was during the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381 in Bury St Edmunds. The townsmen of Bury St Edmunds rebelled against their lord, who was an ecclesiastical lord, the prior of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, he fled, but was eventually capture and executed, as was another man who was deemed to be too friendly with the monastery. Two monks were also on the list, but managed to seek sanctuary in the monastery, therefore, they were safe, although it is surprising that the townsmen didn’t break sanctuary to get them.

I’m looking forward to Sunday’s episode, five, to see what happens to Elizabeth in sanctuary and Edward.

To read more on Elizabeth Woodville, I can only suggest reading The White Queen itself!

To read more on the Peasant’s Revolt, an informative but old read is by Charles Oman, The Great Revolt of 1381.

 

BBC’s The White Queen Episode Three Review

I want to warn everyone, for the third time, that there will be spoilers in this review, so if you have yet to watch episode three, then beware! We are now on episode three, out of ten, which is a nice feeling because we are not even yet half way into this entertaining drama. Personally, I still cannot see why it had received so many bad reviews, but then again, I may well be blinded by the fact that I love this story and the book by Philippa Gregory. The three episodes are still on BBC’s iplayer, so you have a chance to catch up if you have not already done so. And of course, as always, I would recommend the three books this series is based on, The White Queen, The Red Queen and the Kingmaker, I have read them, but far too long ago to provide a decent review. But I will be reading others in the series from which they come from, The Cousin’s War.

Back to the show! Last night we saw Isabel, Warwick’s daughter star in a lot of this episode, this is because she is pregnant with George, the King Edward’s brother’s baby. We also discover that Elizabeth is pregnant again, with Edward’s baby, and she says that this time she is sure of a boy. After having three daughter’s with him, that’s a pretty big assumption to make. During this episode Warwick, George, and of course Warwick’s wife and two daughter’s set sail for France int he hope of finding some support for their cause there. However, when Elizabeth and her mother find out they are doing so, witchcraft ensues. The women sit and blow, in the hope of commanding a storm to prevent Warwick from crossing the channel, and the storm does arrive, so much such Elizabeth’s mother is concerned by its strength. The storm does not stop Warwick from boarding the boat, with his heavily pregnant daughter, who goes into labour during the crossing to Calais. Unfortunately for them, Calais close the gates to the harbour, showing themselves as being loyal to Edward. Isabel’s labour does not go as planned, the baby gets stuck and in the end, dies during the birth, it was a boy. Isabel’s husband George, with no emotion, turns to her and says they must have another as soon as possible because Elizabeth is pregnant again.

Moving onto another family, Margaret Beaufort’s appearances are increasing, and in this episode she goes to where her son is living with Jasper Tudor, she is still convinced he is King. On arriving there we discover that she is in fact in love with Jasper Tudor, and her husband is understandably unhappy about this. She again visits him during the storm, only to find that Jasper has fled, leaving Henry, who doesn’t seem to recall or love his mother.

There are some things worth discussing in this episode. The first is witchcraft, this features heavily in the books, the rumour that Elizabeth Woodville and her mother were both witches. We know now that even if they did practice some sort of witchcraft it would not have helped them, but at the time maybe they thought it did. What I love about this topic is that some women were accused of witchcraft for no reason, and killed for it, others probably practiced it and were never caught, but it was so incredibly dangerous. Not even being the queen, or the mother of the queen would have helped her. So, simply put, although on screen it doesn’t seem dangerous, and even though I know the story of Elizabeth, it still makes me incredibly nervous that they will be caught for their witchcraft.

The second thing is marriage. Marriage in modern times is, for the most part, about love, and committing to one another. However, in medieval times and indeed before that it was about securing allies and land, and ensuring the family name was kept well known and in high regard and of course passed down. Daughters would be given in marriage to whomever had the best deal and would take her, and marriages were often arranged when the children were mere infants. This is shown so well in this program, that father’s seemingly having no regard for their daughter’s happiness, marry them off to the highest bidder, I don’t think we should judge, it was the done thing.

The final item I want to discuss is the expectation of boys. We have all heard how kings and noblemen didn’t care for their daughters because they were not sons. These families needed sons for the future of their houses, they needed heirs to pass down their land and titles to. In the case of the royal family, the King needed an heir to secure his own future, a solid future on the throne. So, it is unsurprising that boys were expected, needed and so desperately wanted, not only just by the men but by the women too, so they didn’t feel like a failure. We can see in this episode how important a son can be, and how babies for some men were seen simply as a tool for securing their future.

I will be posting the review for episode four tomorrow, and then I shall be caught up, and on Monday, the review of Sunday’s episode five shall be posted. I’m looking forward to what they both have in store.

BBC’s The White Queen Episode Two Review

BBC’s The White Queen Episode Two Review

Episode two of the White Queen gets even more dramatic than the first. Again, I will warn you that there may be some spoilers in this post, of course, for those of have read the books, none of this will be new information. First, a quick recap, the BBC’s new historical drama seems to be quite popular, The White Queen is based on the trilogy of books by Philippa Gregory including The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker, all of which I would recommend. These three books are part of her Cousins War series, and she has another book to add to this series coming out in August called The White Princess, which is about Elizabeth’s daughter.

Episode one introduced us to Elizabeth Woodville and her family, and we saw her marry the new King Edward, despite this meaning they have changed sides in the War of the Roses. Now, with tensions rising in the country, episode two starts.

Episode two begins with the coronation of Elizabeth, which needed to be done, now her next task was to produce a son, to secure the throne, an heir is needed. Unfortunately, she fails in this task, and produces a mere girl, Edward however does not seem to mind this. The new King and Queen are happy, but it is not for long, because Warwick, who put Edward on the throne, is not happy with his new choice of bride he betrays Edward who has to fight him. This has devastating consequences for Elizabeth and her family, after Warwick kills some of them without a trial and captures the King.

Meanwhile, we see Margaret Beaufort, who is the mother of Henry Tudor, she is on the firm side of Henry VI, who had been deposed during the War of the Roses. She tells her son that he is to be King one day, and that he is Henry Tudor, if my readers know their history, then you surely know what happens to this boy. Margaret Beaufort is an odd character, she is incredibly pious, as we find out as the series moves on, but she is also very attached to her son and the idea that he will be king, which almost leads to her downfall because it is treason. She features as the main character in Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen, and symbolically, she does wear red a lot in the drama.

I think this episode was a good one, better than the first, it had everything in it that is needed of a historical drama, there was tension, tears, laughter and even some witchcraft, which is enjoyable because of just how dangerous is really was. I think this is a good show for historians and those who are simply watching it for entertainment. I think the errors in this episode were few and far between, personally, if I’m not looking for them I don’t see them, so maybe that is why, but I feel that this is shaping up to be a good series. I will review the next episode soon!

BBC’s The White Queen Episode One Review

The BBC have finally graced us with another fantastic historical drama, this time, The White Queen, based on the books The White Queen, The Red Queen and The King Maker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory. I have read the first two books out of the three but not the final one. I love Philippa Gregory, so when I found out about this series, I was of course excited. I believe the series merges the three books somewhat, but other than this I believe it to be quite true to the books. Philippa Gregory herself said how it was exactly what she had imagined.

 

Episode one aired on the 16th June, so I know I have a bit of catching up to do on my reviews. Set in the time of the War of the Roses, episode one opens with Elizabeth Woodville begging for lands on behalf of her sons that were lost when her husband died fighting for the Lancastrians. Now, the man she is begging to is Edward, soon to be Edward IV, King of England, he is on the side of York.  Edward is attracted to Elizabeth and within a day is in love with her, and so arranges to marry her in secret. There is some worry over this marriage because only Elizabeth’s mother was there to witness it, so she is unsure whether he will deny the entire thing, but I don’t want to spoil it for everyone, so you will just have to watch it (or know your history).

There are been some fairly bad reviews on the series, the most criticised part of it being that there are modern items in view when filming, so I watched a little bit worried that I wasn’t goingto enjoy it. Yes, there are some modern drainpipes, Victorian clothes pegs and even zips on the costumes, but does that take away from this amazing story that is being told…no, of course not. It may well put some historians off, but it is something that can be looked over, and for those who don’t know much about history, then they probably wouldn’t notice. However, I do think it is a bit of a poor show by the BBC not to have done their research on things like that.

 

The storyline is of course good, it’s by Philippa Gregory, so how can it not be (you may have noticed by now that I might be a little bit biased) but, it is entertaining, an hour’s episode goes past and you hardly notice. There is a bit of witchcraft involved, and I do love how it is played out. And, of course, the romancing of Edward and Elizabeth is worth watching, how often is it that two medieval people actually got to fall in love?

So, watch it, see what you think, I hope you will enjoy it and look forward to the next episode as I do.

How Medieval Monasteries Made Money

Medieval Monasteries needed to make money to survive, some orders, like the Cistercians, did not want to make any sort of profit, but the Benedictines liked to make their money and were very wealthy throughout the middle ages. The Benedictines followed the rule of St Benedict and are commonly known as the black monks. Some Benedictine monasteries were founded before the Norman Conquest tended to be financially better off, and those that weren’t still did well, and here is how.

As religious houses, Benedictine monasteries provided religious services to the community, at a cost; tithes would have been granted to them and for a large monastery, this could be a lot of money. Donations were also made to the monasteries, in either cash or materials that could be used or sold.

Benedictine monasteries were also land owners in the middle ages, most were endowed with land in their foundation, some didn’t increase the land they owned, but others did. Abbey’s such as St Albans and Bury St Edmunds increased their land ownership and used their monks to administer the manors and land they owned. This land generated money for the abbeys through rent and other services, paid in money and kind. Land could be used for arable farming, another way to generate money or it could be used for pastoral farming. Although the pastoral farming tended to be left to the Cistercians and those in Scotland, East Anglia, Northern England and Wales.

Multure was a big part of the income of many monasteries in England. Multure was a fee payable to the owner of a mill, and everyone needed to use a mill to grind their grain. Many monasteries, including St Albans and Bury St Edmunds, had mils on their land. Abbots did not allow any other mills, even hand mills, meaning that people had to use the abbot’s mill and pay multure to the abbot and monastery for this privilege.

Finally, monasteries held courts, which would create money through handing out fines to those living under the abbey’s jurisdiction. The monastery would also benefit from tolls from the markets that would take place in the market towns.

Medieval monasteries really were money-making machines. They knew how to administrate their land well, and how to squeeze every last penny out of those living and working on their lands. Many Benedictine monasteries grew in wealth and had many wealthy assets, including land and items. This ultimately did not help in their downfall, when Henry VIII was not happy with the wealth of the abbeys during his reign.

For a more detailed discussion on this see: –

‘The Monastic Economy’ in Monastic and religious orders in Britain, 1000-1300 by Janet Burton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Medieval Madness!

Recently I attended Medieval Madness, held in Alexandria in Virginia. It costs $60, and for that you get a medieval show plus dinner. It is easy to get to, being on King Street, the metro can be used to get there, and of course, you can drive.

First things first, the food. There were bread rolls to keep you going, and then first course was a beef and chicken pie, with fruits, alongside peas and a sausage. This, we were told, was the meal served at Henry V’s coronation in 1413. By this stage I was full and first course was delicious, but the main course was still to come. For the main course, we had chicken with rice and blueberries, again, delicious. For desert, we had something similar to pound cake with a strawberry and cream sauce, I can’t quite remember what it was called but it was very nice! I can’t comment on the quality of the ale and the mead, but there is either one free mug of mead or two of ale. This meal was meant to be authentic, and I can imagine it was very close to being so.

In-between courses, medieval entertainment was available, in the form of some comedy. The show is changed every few months, and for us, we had a debate between the Duke and Duchess. Audience members asked questions for the Duke and Duchess to answer, and they could defend themselves to see who would be sent as a delegate to the King’s council he has called. I lost track of the debate, it was fairly repetitive and the comedy in it wasn’t the best. The funniest thing was the Duchess’s English accent, she said ‘grand master plan’ a lot, and it was so elongated and posh I simply couldn’t help but laugh. There was other entertainment on offer, a sword fight by two people who would fight three rounds the winner winning money from a pot handed round before the fight. The sword fighting was impressive, and so I really enjoyed this part.

Every staff member was in character and put on English accents, some of which were really good. My favourite was the friar, who had taken a vow of silence; he won the crowd over during the debate by holding up some very intriguing signs. The setting was also very impressive, the hall had the throne at the top for the Duke and Duchess and two long tables, which the guests all sat at. The hall was decorated with medieval artefacts and various banners and standards; it had a very nice feel to it. I think the characters and setting did make it along with the food, it made it feel authentic.

Unfortunately, there were some bad points, everyone knows a tip is almost always required, and obviously not included in the price. The thing is, the waitresses, when reading out the rules, discussed how we should tip them in detail, and it was mentioned again a few times. I felt they overdid it slightly, it was almost verging on rude.

So, other than the tipping and the poor comedic factor, this show was worth going to. I had a lot of fun, and the food was good.

http://www.medievalmadness.org

Medieval Monasteries to visit

Medieval Monasteries to visit

A large part of the tourism in the UK is the history it offers. Part of this history is religious, and monasteries played a large part of medieval life. The current condition of the monasteries, varies, most in urban areas did survive more than those in rural areas. The urban abbeys are still historic, but after the destruction of the dissolution they do not have their monastic buildings still in tact. The rural abbeys however, although not in tact, can be mapped out easier.

  1. Glastonbury

Glastonbury abbey was one of the wealthiest monasteries throughout the middle ages. I haven’t been to this abbey, but the grounds on which the remains stand look incredible to wander round on a nice sunny day (I know, we don’t get many, but we can hope). But, the real pull to this abbey is the belief that the legendary King Arthur is buried there. So, well worth a visit.

  1. St Albans

Now, my research is on St Albans, so I may be a little bit biased! But, St Albans is a lovely town to visit, shop, sit in the park and visit the two museums there. The abbey is a wonderful building with good grounds. Although historic, with a medieval feel, some of the monastic buildings are no more. But, this abbey has always been important to Christians, being the site of the martyrdom of Alban, the proto-martyr of England.

3. Tintern

This abbey was home to the white monks. It is on the border of England and Wales, just being inside Wales. The drive to the abbey is almost as nice as the area and abbey itself. To get to the ruins, you go through the shop to purchase a ticket, and dogs are allowed to walk in the grounds on a lead (we took our German Shepherd through the shop into the grounds, which I fear shocked quite a few shoppers). The monastic buildings can be traced walking around the grounds. And for those who have read about the brave knight William Marshall, his wife is buried at Tintern abbey.

4. Bury St Edmunds

Bury St Edmunds was very similar to St Albans in the middle ages. Both were wealthy Benedictine monasteries who enjoyed the rule over their respective towns. Not that this came without trouble from the townspeople, but that is for another day. There are only remains of this abbey, but they are still great to look at.

5. Canterbury

The last on our list, Canterbury, which is probably the most famous of medieval abbeys. This is because of its featuring in the Canterbury Tales, by Chaucer, about a group of pilgrims sharing tales on their way to Canterbury. This cathedral is well worth a visit to look at its amazing buildings, the history can be learnt at this place and you can wander around the cloister and the chapter house, as the monks would have done before.

 

Five Medieval Blogs

Now, I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad idea. But, I want to alert your attention to five medieval blogs, other than mine, that I have checked out and think look good.

1. http://rachelrussell.wordpress.com

This blog, written by Rachel Russell, who writes on her blog that she is an author of fantasy literature, has a section of her blog called ‘Medieval Monday’. This section does what it says on the tin, and is a good way to top up on your medieval knowledge!

2. http://rautakyy.wordpress.com

This next blog is written by, as he calls himself, a European Male! His blog is not limited to the medieval period, but has some medieval posts among its historical writings. This blog is great for some good opinions on religion and history. Well worth a read.

3. http://ecambrose.wordpress.com

Blog number three is a by an author, E. C. Ambrose, of a dark historical fantasy series of books with a new book coming out soon called Dark Apostle. His blog has posts other than medieval history, but does have some good medieval topics, recent posts include medieval werewolves and falconry.

4. http://medievalhistorygeek.wordpress.com

This blog is by a self-professed geek, who is interested in the earlier medieval period. Because I am interested in the later period, I do like reading people’s writing on the earlier one. It includes some good posts on medieval history, and some book reviews on medieval historical books.

5. http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.co.uk

I’m sorry, but this blog had to be put in. I love Elizabeth Chadwick’s medieval novels, so I also enjoy reading her blog. She writes about the research she is doing, which I like, because it gives me encouragement for mine! She also has some other medieval posts, which are a great read for brushing up on that period of time.

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