Toby Clements – review

Historical novels seem to be all the rage this year, with Hilary Mantel and Philippa Gregory paving the way; and it was a pleasure to have Toby Clements visiting BGS History Department to talk about his new book, Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims, the first in an exciting trilogy.

Kingmaker follows Thomas and Katherine, runaways from monastery and convent respectively, as they get caught up in the Wars of the Roses. Full of bloody battles and political intrigue, the book is a gripping read which Mantel calls her ‘best historical novel this year.’

After an upbeat and funny introduction by Joe Bunting, Toby Clements talked us through the lives of everyday people – so regularly ignored by novelists, who focus on the nobility – in pre-Tudor England. It was fascinating to learn more about what they ate, wore, and made; and it painted a new – albeit grim – picture for us. I had never thought about the effort needed for every activity back then, and it made me very thankful not to have lived in a time when their eye-medicine was ‘rotten wolf’!

‘Loyalty to thy Lord’ played a key part in the Wars of the Roses; Toby explained how one half of the country ended up pitted against the other, simply because of ‘a family squabble’ among the nobility. It was very interesting to hear how such a small affair could grow to become one of the bloodiest wars in English history, and fascinating to learn how the Wars affected the Reformation (a key part of our ‘A’ Level History course).

Seeing through Toby’s eyes made Henry VIII – a man desperate not to repeat the war over inheritance – far more sympathetic. This was no mean feat!

Overall it was a light-hearted and interesting talk, making me desperate to read the second Kingmaker instalment, due out in May. On behalf of the History Department I’d like to thank Toby Clements for his wonderful talk, and wish him all the best.

Olivia, Year 12

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