The scotted-out Victorians are probably to blame for reducing the genre of historical fiction to its present lowly position in the literary pecking order. These days, anything set before Darwin and bathrooms seems to fall into two subcategories: daft romanticism or incredibly dirty realism. On the one hand, we have Ellis Peters and her host of imitators, cranking out amiable medieval whodunits in the sanitised tradition of the Past Times catalogue. On the other, we have posh writers like Barry Unsworth, who, when re-creating ancient times in his Booker-shortlisted Morality Play, felt obliged to remind us that absolutely everyone had dreadful teeth and smelt bad.
Bearing this in mind, you could be forgiven for groaning at the prospect of ploughing through Credo, Melvyn Bragg’s latest, a massive saga set in the smelly, savage Dark Ages. Like the rest of the world, I am acquainted with Bragg, and would therefore not have dreamt of reviewing this