PRIVATE LIVES OF MEDIEVAL KINGS: Monday 9th January, BBC4, 9pm
Contempory wisdom may tell us that the pen is mightier than the sword, but such philosophy probably wouldn’t have got you far back in England during the Middle Ages. Or so I thought. For despite the rep some ancient rulers got for dismembering their enemies, it seems that even Medieval kings understood the power of the media. In the first episode of this new series (titled ‘Ruling By The Book’) Janina Ramirez enthusiastically pores over ancient manuscripts to explain how monarchs have been using hardbacks to exert their authority since the 900s.
As you may have guessed, this is far from mainstream stuff and only those with more than a serious interest in history will make it past the the first five minutes, but it’s great that the Beeb do specialist stuff like this on smaller channels for a more acquired audience. On a personal note, I find the Medieval period one of the most fascinating, simply because it feels like a half-way house between legend and history. Britain as we know it was forming, kingdoms were won and lost on the flight of an arrow and those who could, sought power with reckless abandon.
With the Medieval times stretching from the fall of Rome in the late 400s to 1500, there’s certainly no shortage of kings for Ramirez to choose from and as such, we dart about through history quite a bit. Starting with Edward IV at the end the 15th century and shifting back to Æthelstan who united England as a nation back when William the Conqueror was an illegitimate twinkle in his old man’s eye.
Our wide-eyed and breathy presenter obviously has a soft spot for the era as well and it’s great to see how excited she is by touching the same book that King whoever did a thousand years ago. It may seem nerdish and arbitrary, but for me, allowing the mind to wander in such a way and soaking up the sheer scale of history is part of the allure. Her passion for the subject matter certainly plays a part in making the subject-matter from being dull, which in the wrong hands, it could easily be. She’s almost like a new Brian Cox.