The edge of the world, Michael Pye

This is the Dutch cover
beautiful, isn't it?
Catholic spies in protestant England, a kidnapped beguine, a monk who invented a system to calculate the date of Easter, a Saxon gospel where Jesus has a group of vassals and a dove that sits on his shoulder, painters, scientists, pirates, merchants and Vikings in America all come to the stage in this amazing book.

The edge of the World is about the history of North-West Europe 700-1700, the history of all the countries around the Northsea.

The Northsea may not be the most important sea nowadays, it is perhaps just a cold and grey sea, but it once was the axe of the northern world.

After the Western Roman Empire fell, there was no central authority anymore and many things had to be rebuilt. Trade was one of those things.

The Frisians were the first traders who came everywhere and were well known for their cunning ways. Sometime later it were the Irish and the Vikings who travelled everywhere and did everything. The Vikings were warriors who traded, plundered, dealt in the slavetrade and who built towns.

During the 14th and 15th century the loose partnership between merchant towns called The Hanze was able to bring kings to their knees if it wanted to. Their rough ways become outdated when in the Netherlands merchants used more modern ways like using credit. Dutch companies like the VOC and the WIC left all other countries far behind in the 17the century.

Ships with trade sailed across the Northsea and not only things were sold and distributed, ideas and techniques also. Trade and money were important, but not only because of their economic value.

The way people looked at the world changed. By using coins the worth of things became something abstract and when there came universities in Paris and Oxford, there was even a value placed on knowledge.
Books were distributed along the trading routes, at first the books copied in the monasteries, in later times the books of the Reformation.

Changes arrived over the water, like new fashions, new ideas about marriage and new techniques about windmills.
Sometimes even death came from the sea, like the Vikings or later the rats who carried the plague and who created chaos in society. To manage this chaos the kings and towns came with new and strict regulations and the basis for a bureaucratic government was born.

Michael Pye
Michael Pye writes about a Buddhastatue that was found in Sweden, the rise and fall of ordeals, why lawyers became the first professionals and the similarities between the hazing of new merchants in the Hanze and rituals at English boarding schools in the 19th century, or the similarities between the laws against the plague in the 14th century and the fear of terrorism now.

Too often people still think nothing worthwhile happened in the Middle Ages. But they forget that everything we have now, has its roots in the Middle Ages.
Michael Pye shows this in a excellent manner, he shows how everything is connected and how events follow another event. History is not a loose collection of facts, everything is intertwined. The outcome is not always logical or the only possibility, but everything that happened before made the outcome possible.

Sometimes there is a silly thing in the book, in my Dutch version Henry VII Tudor is called Henry Windsor. This may have been a mistake by Michael Pye, the printer or the translator, I do not know, but it is a mistake.

Apart from that The edge of the world is written beautifully, full of anecdotes and amazing little facts and an absolute must have for everyone who is interested in the history of Europe.

Published in 2014