John De Courcy: Prince Of Ulster, by Steve Flanders
When I requested this book from the De Re Militari for my next read, I was pleasantly surprised to see this book looked much smaller than I had thought. Being used to reading somewhat lengthy biographies , noticing that this book was barely 120 pages was a bit of a shock. Then again, this book is rich in family trees, pictures of Courcy’s fine castle in Carrickfergus, and maps of his life and battles. From looking at that, one can tell that the author and the publisher (Colourpoint, a publishing house I am not familiar with) are interested in presenting a slim and inexpensive volume, but one which does justice to its subject. There are at least a few possible reasons, before I go about reading the book shortly, why the book would be so little. For one, the man himself is a moderately obscure person who is likely only written about in a few places, without the large quantity of personal letters that would allow for a more personal account to be given. Judging from the man, a younger scion of nobility who became an Anglo-Norman princeling in Ulster on his own force of arms and with the help of other similarly fierce Anglo-Norman knights, and whose end came as a result of the treachery of John Lackland, the perfidious younger brother of Richard Lionheart, and the man responsible for English losses in Normandy to the French as well as being forced to sign the Magna Carta. I’m not sure how much the author looks at this larger context, or the larger context of Irish politics during the late 12th and early 13th centuries, as that is an area of Irish history I must admit I know less well than other parts.
The fact that the author is willing to write a short book but one that is full of figures and maps suggests that he is not willing to speculate unduly about his subject. There are some people about whom one can write a little book that is full of facts—people like Shakespeare and Jane Austen spring to mind here, but where if one wishes to write long books one must fill them with suppositions and speculations, and there are some people who do not wish to do so at all. If that is the case, this book is to be praised. Flipping through its chapters to look briefly at its contents, the book consists of one main body chapter, which is divided into various section headings that talk about his castle, the battle of Downpatrick, his tenants, patronage, and the like. One thing I don’t see are any scholarly endnotes or footnotes or any bibliography of sources at all, and that is a concern as far as the scholarly nature of the material is concerned. I will look to see what citations are present so that the research provided is possible to follow-up and investigate by other historians. When someone writes about obscure personages , one needs to be able to provide worthwhile sources that can be checked by the curious reader, to demonstrate that the obscurity of the person in history is due to a lack of attention rather than a lack of worthiness to pay attention to.
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