Why Ronald Welch’s novels will help your children fall in love with history

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‘Ronald Welch, a tank commander turned schoolmaster, is one of the 20th century’s most underrated children’s writers. Like Hilary Mantel, he understood that what makes a lost epoch stick in your mind is not the dates but the details.

His books positively foam with information: why a longbow is so much more deadly than a crossbow; the art of reloading a screw-barrelled pistol; how to get revenge when your 14th-century warlord neighbour pinches one of your fields; the cheapest way to get from Cambridge to London in 1789, what those charming cylindrical, be-pom-pommed hats in the Napoleonic Wars are called (shakos, apparently) . . .

In all, Welch wrote 20 novels, but his grandest project was the Carey Family cycle, published between 1954 and 1972. Out of print for years, but now reissued by Slightly Foxed, these 12 enchanting – and addictive – adventures follow a single noble Welsh family, starting in Palestine (or “the Kingdom of Outremer”) in 1186 with Knight Crusader, and ending in 1917 with Tank Commander. As the series’ modern editor, Hazel Wood, puts it, they “join up the dots of English history in a remarkably vivid way”.’

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