The Very Bloody History of Britain without the Boring Bitsby John Farman, Red Fox Book, Random House Books, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA. 1990. 156 pp. Paperback. Illustrated, No Index. £3.99.
"King Henry VI became the first sovereign to wear nappies" in 1422. So starts the brief chapter called "King of the Cradle" in which author John Farman summarizes the history of England from the accession of Henry VI through the conclusion of the War of the Roses. In four quick pages he sums up the highlights with hilarious descriptions that are the secret of his success as a writer of comedy. We learn, for example, that at Bosworth, Richard III "jauntily sported his crown into battle, got the worst of it, and at one point offered his kingdom for a horse." This of course is but one episode in the War of the Roses, "which seemed to be about whether red roses were nicer than white ones." At the end of this chapter as with all others, Farman adds a list of other historic happenings of the period, to keep us laughing, honest, and in the end, to educate us. Cartoon illustrations throughout add to the humor without detracting from the accuracy of the history.
In just over 150 pages, this slim paperback book covers English history from prehistoric man through World War II. Funny as it is (I was laughing out loud all the way through), this book summarizes the history of England very accurately. It also makes a point. Farman's humorous style reminds us that we are funny creatures. Motivated as we are by greed, lust, avarice, or even charity, honor, and true nobility, we do a lot of crazy things. Our actions make up the events that create history. When we look at what has happened over the centuries from this human point of view, we surely ought to see the humor in ourselves as the creators of history.
For this American who has taken great pains to learn English history from more sober authors, I found Farman's approach fresh, delightful, and still true to the facts. For any genealogist who wants a review of English history, this book offers delightful instruction.
Reviewed by Carol Becker
BIGWILL v.3 no.3, 1996