I read a lot of books. Always have at least one on the go. Of these, a lot are history books, usually to do with whatever wargaming project I'm working on.
I also read books to do with my role in the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society. I am painfully aware that my knowledge of medieval history is weak, as it was not my favourite part of the syllabus when I was at Uni. Sorry, Professor Luscombe, if you are still with us, I just did not enjoy it. Probably something to do with the Latin. One of the problems I have now is that because we have a couple of "Wars of the Roses"* battlefields in our county I end up reading a fair bit of history for that period. And I have to say, the period attracts a lot of fanatics with an axe to grind (and I know one when I see one, - I spent a lot of my degree on the English Civil War). Most notable are the Ricardians. Firstly, it is important to point out that the Richard III Society has been responsible for creating the environment leading to some of the best scholarship on the period. The Ricardian journal is a repository of top quality historical research. After that it has to be said that the Cult of the Crouchback has produced some very annoying books coupled with lopsided thinking and the worst aspects of a form of hero worship.
I'm not averse to a bit of revisionism in my history**. Just because everyone thinks something happened a certain way doesn't mean that it did, - revisiting a subject and re-researching it with fresh eyes is valuable, even if you come to the same conclusions. Of course, secretly, every historical writer wants to find something some else hasn't found before.
However, I would say that if you are intending to shift the goal posts, then you need to be thorough and you need to document your argument carefully. This can create problems in several areas. One of the big problems we have in the medieval period is that the voice of women is very rarely heard. They are key parts of a household, - and many Queens and noble women have wielded enormous power and influence (Margaret of Anjou and Margaret Beaufort are just two women called Margaret who spring to mind). Alas we have little documentation about what they did, said or thought. That makes them marvellous material for speculation. The same can be said of anyone who isn't a seriously important noble as well. Add on top of that you have a society which still relies heavily on the spoken word and memory and important things, especially things meant to be secret, aren't always written down.
All of this is background to explain a type of "history" which is essentially just a whole load of speculation piled on top of more speculation and seeing everything in a particular light, ignoring the obvious and imputing motives we can't possibly know. In what I'd describe as a proper history book the writer should make clear where his facts come from through footnotes and referencing so you can go and check them. I made this point back in July in my post about the work I did on Major General Boteler. By following the references I was able to track down an error in the story about him that changed the complexion of it all quite a bit. In speculation history it doesn't matter, - you just write stuff with no references*** and leave people trying to guess where you got your information from. I recently gave up on a book about the Princes in the Tower because the whole line of argument involved very selective use of facts, an attempt to stare down logic and had what I'd describe as "corkscrew thinking", all without proper references. You can't just say "so-and-so reports" an event. You need to give chapter and verse. On the other hand (and I'm looking at you, John Ashdown-Hill) it isn't acceptable to rely on your own works as references and wikipedia articles, which are subject to change on a whim.
All of which has led me to the equivalent of shouting at the TV when history programmes are on. I have, on occasion, been reduced to shouting at one of these books "You cannot be serious!!"
Is that better or worse than shouting at the telly?
I used to think this was only really a problem with military history and books for wargamers. Much as I love the WRG guides to ancient armies there is no way, almost of verifying what they are telling you. They sit uncomfortably between proper history, - they are doing things no one else has done before, - and unsupported speculation****. But that's not unusual in our hobby. There's loads of stuff that "every wargamer knows", but where it comes from no one can say. But I see now that we are no better or worse than some people who publish mainstream history books of the late medieval period*****.
So am I the only person who shouts at books?
Because if I'm not, is it safe to admit I shout at fiction books too, when they annoy me?
*Strictly speaking one isn't part of the Wars of the Roses, but more on that some other time.
** I'm currently working on a revisionist piece myself at the moment, so I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't.
*** Although I have to point out here that Sir Charles Oman didn't really use footnotes or references either, curse him.
**** And Ospreys, too.
***** I have just finished Hugh Bicheno's two volume history of the WotR, and I should have been shouting at it for all the reasons given above. However, when he speculates, it is clear that he is doing so, and he doesn't seem, to me, to give his theories the same weigh as facts. Or it could be because I agree with a lot of what he has written as it accords with the period as I understand it.