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Unruly: The Number One Bestseller ‘Horrible Histories for grownups’ The Times

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In Unruly, David Mitchell explores how early England’s monarchs, while acting as feared rulers firmly guiding their subjects’ destinies, were in reality a bunch of lucky bastards who were mostly as silly and weird in real life as they appear today in their portraits. Had he, as an ambitious minor prince, not suffered a sudden, violent bout of food poisoning while on board a ship in Barfleur harbour in 1120, he wouldn’t have disembarked before it headed into the Channel and sank. A funny book about a serious subject, UNRULY is for anyone who has ever wondered how we got here – and who is to blame.

Unruly is worth reading, not just for its exemplary gag to fact ratio, but to disabuse us of such delusions. A later ruler, King Stephen, owed his throne to the time he spent quivering in a bog – and in this case I mean a privy.

Nobody’s quite sure of the number and it’s not clear whether that fact has been lost in the intervening centuries or whether the king himself didn’t know. Kingship, despite the crown, robes, processions, coaches, trumpets and anthems, has often been an undignified activity – all the more so because it’s supposed to be dignified.

They went so far as to claim that they were in fact the rightful kings of France despite all the evidence to the contrary and repeatedly threw all their resources into mounting military expeditions to ruin the lives of thousands of innocent French residents which achieved, in even the medium term, precisely nothing. BBC One), the host of The Unbelievable Truth on Radio 4 and one of the Observer's most popular columnists. For this city break, he took 24 outfits, had 12 packhorses to carry his silver dinner service, eight wagons of baggage and horses with monkeys riding on them.

The psychological impact of this was particularly tough on Henry VI and, at the news of the collapse of England’s position in France, he too collapsed and was reduced to an inert blob, needing to be fed and washed and moved about for over a year.

But the real nightmare was when they seemed briefly to succeed, as happened under Edward III and Henry V. Mitchell doubts, for instance, that Henry II actually said: “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest? Despite the context into which she was thrust at a very young age, which was one of overt glory, one where people were obliged almost to worship her or it was a breach of protocol, she kept an amazingly firm lid on her self-esteem.To that end, Mitchell quotes Dennis, a character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who skewers the allure of Camelot: “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Worryingly the country was better governed during that year than at any other time during the reign.

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