Monarchs Of The Renaissance: The Lives and Reigns of 42 European Kings and Queens, by Philip J. Potter
Some time ago, I reviewed my first book for De Re Militari, the Medieval Military History society. The book was great, giving a scholarly history of the Muslim side of the Crusades in a readily accessible format for English-speaking students of history. Unfortunately, the chaos of moving to Thailand kept me from keeping in touch and getting more awesome books about the Middle Ages to review for some time, and when I sent a message it took a lot of time for the publishing editor to reply to my e-mail. However, when he did, he did say that the book I had requested, about the monarchs of the Renaissance, was able to review. Specifically, as might be expected, I was invited to look for the military aspects of royal Renaissance history. Given the amount of conflict in Europe at this time, this should not be a difficult task.
Looking briefly at the book, since I have not yet begun to read it, it would be good to at least comment briefly about its organization and contents. The book defines the Renaissance as the period lasting from 1400 to 1600, and it looks at the monarchs of England, Scotland, France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire during those times, ending up with 42 monarchs. Each of these five realms has its own part, which begins with a chronological listing of the monarchs as well as a genealogical chart (which is a nice touch, since monarchs are generally obsessed about the finer points of their geneaology). From what I have seen in flipping through the book, each of the 42 monarchs gets a biographical essay devoted to their reigns, with major sources included as well.
As a fond student of both political and military history, this looks like an excellent work. Given the scope of time and the desire to present a reasonably thorough account of the reigns of various monarchs, it would appear as if the selection of realms and monarchs was done in such a way as to provide a coherent scope. This will be the subject of some controversy. There were plenty of other realms (like Portugal, the Ottoman Empire, the Papal States, Burgundy, Poland-Lithuania, Sweden or Russia, among other kingdoms) whose rulers would have provided an interesting picture of the Renaissance to add.
The fact that no Italian rulers are included in a work of Renaissance history is due to the weakness and divided nature of that area, despite the fact that the Renaissance would not really have a great deal of meaning without the initial impetus being provided by insecure Italians seeking to promote their own superiority to previous generations. This same insecurity, of course, can be found among the rulers of all European realms during this time of conflict, which involved struggles over domination, the early ages of European imperialism, coups and civil wars, and religious conflicts. However, despite the fact that this book is clearly selective in its accounts of rulers, and seeks to present history through the guise of biographical sketches rather than in a strictly chronological or topical fashion, it appears to be a promising book, and I’m sure I will greatly enjoy it.