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Book Review – The Magna Carta (or is it?) by Howard of Warwick

I’ve written before about how much I love this author, who epitomizes all that is good in hilarious historical humor (history “as it might have happened, but probably didn’t”).  The best way I can describe him is to tell you to imagine reading Monty Python and the Holy Grail in a novel format, only slightly funnier.  I literally laughed out loud so much that my stomach hurt.  With so many of these stories from the middle ages where the chronicles are silent there are so many possibilities of how it could have all happened.  It’s so refreshing to see the gaps filled in with humor.

So let me set the stage.  2015 is the 800th anniversary the signing of the Magna Carta, so the quill of the good monk Howard of Warwick has been busily chronicling the events of this momentous occasion.  Runnymede: summer of 1215 – King John has just reached an agreement with the nobles, and signed the Magna Carta.  Everyone seems to be happy, except for the fact that no one is really happy.

After the clauses were all agreed and written down, John needs to have copies made.  The scribes say it will all take months, but he doesn’t have that long.  He tasks Aelward Dunktish to take the charter to Westminster where his personal scribes will do it in four days.   Dunktish has made a career out of doing work so half-assedly that no one will ever ask him to do anything again, and he prides himself on his terrible success rate and the notoriety it has brought him.  So he’s surprised when the King asks him to do something so important.  Doesn’t the King know his reputation?  Surely he can’t be trusted to carry a bucket of water along the river to Westminster, much less the world’s most important government document in the history of – well – ever?

As background, it’s really important to remember that no one is satisfied with the agreement.  The nobles want more concessions from the King.  The King wants everyone to go away and let him get on with being King.  They both want changes made.  And the man with the King’s seal, courrier-ing the document is completely hopeless in every way.

So a puzzled Dunktish sets off from the gathering at Runnymede.  He hears horses following behind him, and decides to get off the road and hide in the bushes by the river, where he meets a ferryman.  Or at least the man says he runs a ferry.  He charges him 4 shillings to take Dunktish across the river, which he survives, only to be met on the other side by a man saying it’s an illegal ferry, operating without a charter, and they must both come along straight away.

And thus, the stage is set for mayhem and hilarity.  Who was chasing Dunktish?  Was it men sent by the King to retrieve the charter and make changes?  Or the nobles, who want to add more concessions in.  Or maybe, both?  How will our hero, the hopeless Dunktish, make it to Westminster intact?  Will his new friends help?  Or make a difficult situation even worse?  And for goodness’ sake, how will the monks and scribes get everything copied in four days when it takes three years just to do an opening G?

The negative Amazon reviews (there were only 2) said this book was too silly.  I like silly.  I think we all need a little bit more silliness in our lives.  And the book is clearly researched, and the guy knows his stuff, so really, it’s actually amazing that he can be as silly as he is, while having researched the time period so thoroughly.  I laughed so hard I almost woke up my sleeping baby.  And so, for that, I highly recommend that you buy it, right now: