Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 2, 2013

Eight generations of the greatest and worst kings and queens that this country has ever seen -- from the White Ship to the Lionheart, bad King John to the Black Prince and John of Gaunt -- this is the dynasty that invented England as we still know it today -- great history to appeal to readers of Ken Follet, Bernard Cornwell, and Tom Holland. The Plantagenets inherited a bloodied, broken kingdom from the Normans, and set about expanding royal rule until it stretched at its largest from the Scottish lowlands to the Pyrenees, and from the Ireland to the foothills of the Holy Roman Empire. At the same time, they developed aspects of English law, government, architecture, art and folklore that survive to this day. Despite all this, and having reigned for twice as long as their eventual successors, the Tudors, the Plantagenets remain relatively unknown. In this gripping, vivid new book, Dan Jones brings the Plantagenets and their world back to life. This is both an epic narrative history of the 'high' Middle Ages, and a spellbinding portrait of a family blessed and cursed in equal measure. 'The Plantagenets' sweeps from Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine's creation of a European empire to Richard the Lionheart's heroic Third Crusade and King John's humbling under Magna Carta. It explores the beginning of parliament under Henry III. It charts the fierce rule of Edward Longshanks, who conquered Wales and subdued Scotland but could never come to terms with his own son, the ill-fated Edward II. The book comes to an exciting climax in the age of chivalry, as Edward III saw England triumph in the Hundred Years War while plague stalked Europe, before the Black Prince and his beautiful princess Joan of Kent raised a son, Richard II, who would come to destroy the Plantagenet legacy. It is a compelling, fascinating journey through Britain's most spectacular age.

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Richard I the Lionheart, King of England
I don't know that I entirely agree with the blurb of Dan Jones' The Plantagenets. Compelling and fascinating are certainly accurate, but gripping and vivid are a bit of a stretch. I mean no offense to Jones, his work is really very interesting, but we are talking about a piece that covers more than three hundred and sixty years of history. It's a lot to absorb and doesn't lend itself to edge-of-your-seat, obsessive, got-to-know-what-happens-next, must-finish-this-chapter-before-going-to-bed type reading.

That being said I liked this book. Having picked up almost everything I know from fictional works I really enjoyed taking on a fact based piece. Jones is also very selective in the material he presents, offering readers as factually accurate a portrait as possible while shying away from conspiracy theories and disputing false myths. 

Here again, I want to reiterate that while I am familiar enough with the family, I can hardly be considered an expert. Coming from where I do, I found this book had a lot to offer, but I'm not sure someone who is more well-versed would feel the same. Jones gives readers enough detail to get their feet under them and while I think it is an excellent resource for the novice scholar, The Plantagenets is a comprehensive nonfiction and might not be the best choice for those looking for an in depth examination of any particular reign.

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Plantagenet is a powerful name. The kings who descended from Geoffrey ruled England for more than two centuries... They were the longest reigning English royal dynasty, and during their times were founded some of the most basic elements of what we today know as England. 
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