Sarah Valente Kettler and Carole Trimble,
The Amateur Historian's Guide: Medieval & Tudor London
(Capital Books, Inc., 2001)

Sarah Valente Kettler and Carole Trimble,
The Amateur Historian's Guide: Medieval & Tudor England,
Day Trips South of London — Dover, Canterbury, Rochester

(Capital Books, Inc., 2002)

Sarah Valente Kettler and Carole Trimble,
The Amateur Historian's Guide, Volume 3: The Heart of England
— Nearly 200 Medieval & Tudor Sites Two Hours or Less from London

(Capital Books, Inc., 2003)

Sarah Valente Kettler and Carole Trimble have done a great service to scholars and amateurs alike by making many sites relating to a fascinating period in English history more accessible.

The two Amateur Historian's Guides suggest fascinating itineraries for anyone interested in Medieval and Tudor England, defined by the authors as the period from 1066 to 1600. The first takes you through the City of London proper and some of its suburbs, like Southwark, Chelsea and Westminster. The second consists of day-trips from London around southeastern England.

While the authors concentrate on 1066 to 1600, they don't present their subject in a vacuum. What happened in 1066 in England occurred because of events in England, France and Denmark over the previous several years. The last Tudor died in 1603, but English history didn't stop short. While events in this period can be confusing, with so many Henrys to keep straight, Kettler and Trimble are very good at giving the reader a historical context and sorting out which Henry did what to whom.

Each volume has a couple of introductory chapters about how to use the books, how to arrange your trip and the like. Subsequent chapters each outline one tour. These are thematic in the first volume, more geographic in the second because of the distances involved. Each site on a tour is introduced separately, with its address and directions for getting to it, its telephone number and Web address or e-mail (if known by the authors), facilities, admission times and fees, and so on. Then it is described in some detail. Historical context is added with "Did you know?" sidebars, as well as chatty articles on various persons or groups. There is also the occasional "Ghost Alert." There is a certain amount of repetition or rehashing of events between chapters, but not word-for-word. Each article adds a few tidbits relating events to the site in question, or gives another perspective.

The layout is rather busy, almost like a Web page. On the other hand, elements are divided graphically, so they are not hard to follow.

These two books are excellent, but they aren't stand-alone guidebooks. You do need one (or several) good maps to find your way around. The ones provided are more sketches than anything else and don't show modern landmarks. They also don't give any real information on lodgings or any modern entertainment. The tours in the second volume do list "Ancient Inns and Eateries," establishments where at least part of the public areas are Medieval or Tudor, however. In most cases, the authors have not actually visited these places, but they include them for information.

Kettler and Trimble have started another volume, The Amateur Historian's Guide: Medieval & Tudor England — The Midlands, and I am looking forward to it. I've never been to England, and I may never get there, but if I do, I now have a much longer list of places I want to see.

The Amateur Historian's Guide, Volume 3: The Heart of England
— Nearly 200 Medieval & Tudor Sites Two Hours or Less From London

In their first two books, The Amateur Historian's Guide: Medieval & Tudor London and The Amateur Historian's Guide: Medieval & Tudor England, Day Trips South of London — Dover, Canterbury, Rochester, Sarah Valente Kettler and Carole Trimble made sites relating to a long, rich period in English history more accessible. This third volume in the series is a worthy successor to the others.

Like the first two Amateur Historian's Guides, it suggests intriguing itineraries for anyone interested in Medieval and Tudor England, defined by the authors as the period from 1066 to 1600. The itineraries in this volume use London as a base for trips to Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire — the traditional "Heart of England."

Once again, an introductory chapter tells how to use the books and arrange your trip. The following chapters focus on one tour each. Each site on a tour is introduced separately, with its address and directions for getting to it, its telephone number and Web address or e-mail (if known by the authors), facilities, admission times and fees, and so on. Then it is described in detail. There is quite a bit less repetition or rehashing of events between chapters than in the first two books. According to the Introduction, this was a deliberate choice on the authors' part to lighten up the book (and the process of writing it).

The layout is busy, as it was in the earlier books in the series. But, as I said previously, elements are divided graphically, so they are not hard to follow.

As with the first two, this is no standalone guidebook. Again, you will need to supplement its sketchy maps with more detailed ones to find your way around.

If I ever get to England, my list of places I want to see has gotten longer again.

The authors have a Web site. Most of the information on it is excerpted from their books, but it will give you some idea of their style. I rather like the chattiness, but a purist might not.

[Faith J. Cormier]