The Riddle and The Knight – Giles Milton

The Riddle and The Knight - Giles Milton
The Riddle and The Knight – Giles Milton

Giles Milton always tells a good story and The Riddle and The Knight is no exception.

Part travelogue, part history, part biography, The Riddle and The Knight explores the life and times of medieval traveller (two of my loves combined!) Sir John de Mandeville, who spent 34 years on an extended pilgrimage tour of the near east and beyond, and wrote them up in The Travels of Sir John Mandeville on his return. His account became a Medieval best seller. In it he claimed to have circumnavigated the globe.

But, having finished the book relaxing on the sofa at 40A as the rain tipped down outside, I really, REALLY want to know how his wife spent those 34 years.

She get this one tantalising mention on page 110 (my emphasis added):

“Yet in 1321 – just months before the author of The Travels claimed to have left England – he sold everything he owned and disappears from all records for the next 37 years. According to one of the few surviving land registries from that year, a ‘John de Mandeville and Agnes his wife‘ sold ten acres of land to Richard and Emma Filliol. Furthermore, ‘John atte Tye of Teryling and Alice his wife had a settlement with John Mandeville of Borham and Agnes his wife by which the former secured twenty marks of silver one messuage, sixteen acres of land, and one and a half acres of wood in Borham.’ Men didn’t dispose of land in the Middle Ages unless they had an extremely good reason. But it is entirely possible that Sir John did have a good reason. He was going abroad for a very long time, and needed a huge amount of cash to find his voyage.”

Author’s page: The Riddle and The Knight – Giles Milton

P.S. I also like the fact the Sir John was liege man to Sir Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex. Those two counties loom large in this Loosemore’s life!

And look what popped up in my Twitter feed two days later:


The Riddle and the Knight – Giles Milton

Giles Milton on the trail of Sir John Mandeville, whose 14th century Travels took him from St Albans to Sumatra and China, via Cyprus, Constantinople, St Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai and other former crusader kingdoms.

The riddle (or rather one of them) – did he make these journeys for real, or just in his imagination?

Publisher page: The Riddle and the Knight – Giles Milton

Nathaniel’s Nutmeg – Giles Milton

Not raring to get my teeth into this one to be honest – it’s a bit too similar to his Samurai William book – late Elizabethan/early Jacobean period, male mariners-explorers-merchants, establishing trade with the East… Not difficult to read, just a bit too dry / familiar in terms of subject matter, especially after Allison Pearson!

Basically it’s the history of the spice trade, the East India Company and mapping of modern day South East Asia, in particular Indonesia and the Phillipines, and draws upon diaries and documents of the time.

I’ve started to I’ll finish. I just hope Battersea Library re-opens soon so that I can get some more varied books out on loan….

…21 July…. FInished it on the train back from Bristol!
Another of Giles Milton’s history tales, but again with a slightly misleading title. This narrative contains only one chapter on Nathaniel Courthope, and what little there is reads awkwardly, the facts not living up to the hype of the book’s title and Giles Milton’s interpretation. With analysis and fact coming from much of the same material as was used in Samurai William, the resulting parallels in the defects of both books shouldn’t surprise. However they do disappoint; and I can’t see myself buying or borrowing Big Chief Elizabeth.

Buy it: Amazon link

Samurai William – Giles Milton

This one’s been on my radar for a while, so I took the opportunity of turning 33 to include it on my birthday wishlist. Et voila (merci a TJBR).

Reading well so far – plenty of late 16C/early 17C history, both of Japan, Asia and the Far East, and of Europe. Quite a change from euro-centric stuff I studied at school, college and university, and the global perspective is fascinating. It’s even inspiring me to dip my toe into reading some popular Economics texts….

So what’s it about? William Adams, a 17C sailor/navigator-pilot/adventurer who wound up living in Japan for more than a decade, and rising to the position of hatamoto in Shogun Ieyasu’s court, becoming fluent in japanese and owning large tracts of land and servants/slaves.

So yes, the story that I’d say provided the inspiration for James Cavell’s Shogun.

Verdict: Well, the Samurai William story off in the second half of the book, to be replaced by that of Richard Cocks, the manager of the English factory in Japan. And that shift of emphasis, and the lack of information on Samurai William, and what became of his Japanese family, was frustrating. That said, I’m sure that Giles Milton made the most of what limited information there is… and my disappointment with the second half of the book reflects the strenght of my enjoyment of the first half.

Buy it: Amazon link