Medieval Anglesey. By Antony Carr. Second edition. Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club. 2011. xvii + 317pp. £19.95.


Despite being published by the Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club, this volume is not user friendly for the non-academic historian, nor is it easily accessible to the academic historian unfamiliar with medieval Wales. The back cover of this new paperback, second edition, of Professor Carr's Medieval Anglesey proclaims itself to be a non-narrative historical study which ‘portrays and analyses a medieval society and community, showing what kind of place Anglesey was in the middle ages and illustrating the effect on the island and its people both of events in contemporary Wales and of developments common to most of medieval Europe’. Regardless of the failure of the volume's publisher to respect the ‘Middle Ages’ as a proper noun and the book's general title, Professor Carr's work is without question a serious piece of scholarship, focused overwhelmingly on the later thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. While the volume begins with chapters on ‘The Medieval Landscape’ and ‘The Age of the Princes’, and ends with a chapter on ‘Plague Slump and Revolt’, Professor Carr clearly specializes in interpreting the often scant documentary resources available to historians of the still under-studied century and a half following the Edwardian conquest and settlement of 1282–4. The central chapters of the book assess social, economic, administrative, urban and ecclesiastical developments on Anglesey within this time frame. However, where documentary evidence exists, this book often presents as much tedious detail as analysis, offering, for example, long series sums from accounts, rentals, etc. which are copious beyond the indicative, and yet, the reader expects, not exhaustive. These data undeniably comprise a valuable resource for other historians of post-conquest Wales, and yet they are presented here in a manner which renders them both problematic for analytical comparison and an impediment for the non-specialist reader. Hence, the unusually detailed scholarship contained within this volume, like its first-edition predecessor of 1982, is at one and the same time the volume's principal asset and its Achilles’ heel. For those familiar with the first edition of Medieval Anglesey, none of the criticisms levelled here will come as surprise. Reviews of the 1982 first edition ranged from the tepid endorsement presented in this journal, that the volume would be ‘welcomed and appreciated’ by historians of the interplay of later medieval economic and social development (infra, lxix (1984), 307), to the outright hostile review published in Speculum suggesting that general readers would be ‘actively discouraged from reading this book’ (Speculum, lx (1985), 474). But, likewise, it will be similarly unsurprisingly to read here that the volume's failings notwithstanding, it is too important a resource for historians of later medieval Wales to not have on their shelf. In the article-driven world of later-medieval Welsh history, this volume is a repository of information and references to often obscure, and yet very important, scholarship on Welsh history. In response to some of the criticisms directed at the first edition, the second edition features an improved set of nine maps and five genealogical tables which have been well drawn and helpfully collated at the back of the volume. Unlike the fourteen poorly produced plates to be found in the first edition, the new edition contains twenty high-resolution colour plates of exemplary quality, including six (easily legible) primary sources. The glossary of twenty-nine terms hidden away at the back of the first edition has been replaced by a forty-nineterm glossary more helpfully located at the front of the volume. The first two chapters (of ten) alone contain references to twenty scholarly books and articles published since the first edition – the findings of which Professor Carr has integrated into his text – and collated in a thorough bibliography. And indeed, a handful of important narratives in Welsh history which are not easily accessible in print elsewhere, such as the evolving relationship between English and Welsh in the towns of later medieval Anglesey, do emerge from the detail of the text. Overall therefore, the second edition of Medieval Anglesey, despite, or perhaps because of, its tedious and dense presentation of material, is an important upgraded resource for historians of medieval Welsh society, if still not a suitable text for the general reader.