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Clash of Crowns: William the Conqueror, Richard Lionheart, and Eleanor of Aquitaine - A Story of Bloodshed, Betrayal, and Revenge Hardcover – 16 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 1 edition (16 Mar. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442214716
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442214712
  • Product Dimensions: 15.8 x 2.1 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,229,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


A rattling good read that captures the mood of the age. -- John France, Swansea University McAuliffe's well-researched and detailed newest ... recounts the familial and political tensions between England and France, which the author traces to Duke William of Normandy's conquering of the former in 1066. He and his descendants remained active in the Norman duchy, leading to conflicted loyalties, and attendant betrayals and battles. This interesting narrative focuses primarily on Richard Lionheart (son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and great-great grandson of William the Conqueror) and his rivalry with King Philip II of France, who resolved to change the notion that his country's kings were 'pitifully weak.' Their enmity manifested itself in Richard brashly constructing the mighty fortress Chateau-Gaillard on the border of French and English holdings, and Philip declaring his intentions to seize it, 'were its walls of iron.' ... Richard Lionheart's life is thoroughly told-from his imprisonment by Duke Leopold of Austria (during which Richard continued to strategize), his failed betrothal to Philip II's youngest sister, and to his unexpected death by one of his own armory's arrows, repurposed and let fly by an enemy to whom Richard, on his deathbed, gave 100 shillings. Supplemented with a timeline, a dramatis personae, and extensive notes, fans of medieval European history will delight in McAuliffe's rich tale. Publishers Weekly Among the many notables, McAuliffe (Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends, 2011, etc.) reintroduces us to the likes of William the Conqueror, Barbarossa, Rollo the Viking, Robert Curthose of Normandy, Louis the Fat and a cadre of Henrys. (Readers will have no problem keeping them straight-the author appends a table of key people and a helpful chronology). After assessing the famously dysfunctional English household of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, McAuliffe focuses on the truly excellent adventures of their son, Richard Lionheart. In clear prose, the author examines Richard's internecine struggles, usually with his brother, his feckless Third Crusade fighting Saladin and his many clashes with archenemy Philip of France. In these eclectic pages, we learn of 12th-century statecraft, the design of fortress castles and how to lay siege to them, the wages of mounted knights and foot soldiers, the rise of the notion of romance and the wonderful victuals consumed at great state dinners. The author weaves a selective tapestry that does not scant personal qualities of her featured players. She reveals the Conqueror's baldness and staunch Eleanor's attractions. Also, it appears that Lionheart may have been gay, according to the author's research. With measured verve, McAuliffe presents an accessible text. Kirkus Reviews [McAuliffe's] subject is the conflict between England's flamboyant warrior king Richard I and the more pragmatic Philip II of France and how their struggle shaped English-French relations over the following centuries. Being both a king and a duke put Richard in a peculiar situation, as he was simultaneously England's absolute ruler and, as Duke of Normandy, vassal to another king. The author provides a thorough discussion of that topic and also covers medieval warfare, presenting evidence that wars were fought not as huge pitched battles but rather conducted unglamorously, through lengthy sieges. McAuliffe credibly describes the unromantic work of sappers-miners who tunneled under walls and castles to destroy them. It was often their work that turned the course of battles and, indeed, wars. VERDICT A valuable effort that examines a pivotal time in the relationship between England and France. Best for lay readers. Library Journal The medieval ruins of Chateau Gaillard in Upper Normandy are the former residence of Richard the Lionheart and scene of a faceoff between him and his bitter adversary, Philip II of France. Historian McAuliffe provides a detailed account of this rivalry, taking the reader back to a time when sovereign feuds were commonplace. The book provides a fascinating insight into the great personalities of the time, particularly Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine, together with lesser-known monarchs such as Philip II. Capturing the nuances of these notable characters, Clash of Crowns is a superb portrayal of one of the most exciting periods of French history. France Magazine We're familiar with the names- William the Conqueror, Richard Lionheart, Eleanor of Aquitaine- but probably less so with the gripping stories of their never-ending confrontations with rivals at home and enemies abroad. It's this tangled history that Mary McAuliffe's aptly titled Clash of Crowns sets out to unravel. That she succeeds, splendidly, has to do with her uncanny ability to embed the myriad names and dates in a clearly developed narrative that features characters as fully fleshed out as those in any play. We care about most of the central figures who people the century and a half that McAuliffe describes, from William's Norman invasion of England in 1066 to the English loss of Normandy in 1204, because we understand their motives and psychology. Richard's untimely death, Eleanor's bad marriage, French King Philip's persistence, mean something to us and therefore we care about the battle that ends British control of Normandy, when Philip finally overruns Chateau-Gaillard, "the mightiest castle of its time." Along the way, McAuliffe, a Ph.D. historian, takes the time to fill us in on everything from castle engineering to the development of chess; from the role of women in the medieval era to the flowering of the troubadours and courtly love. She is especially good on Richard Lionheart, who in some ways is the book's central character. His slaughter of prisoners, his sheer physical courage, his acumen as strategist are all on ample display, especially in McAuliffe's analysis of the Third Crusade and the battles for Acre and Arsuf. This background helps make the mayhem of the foreground (the book's subtitle is A Story of Bloodshed, Betrayal, and Revenge) more understandable and three-dimensional. Then, too, McAuliffe's prose is a wonderful instrument, her tone of voice down-to-earth and commonsensical, all in all, a pleasure to read. Providence Sunday Journal A lively and affectionate account of a grand scenario in medieval history. -- Thomas N. Bisson, Harvard University

About the Author

Mary McAuliffe received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Maryland and has taught at several universities and lectured at the Smithsonian Institution. For many years she was a regular contributor to Paris Notes. She has traveled extensively in France and recently published Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends. She is also the author of Paris Discovered: Explorations in the City of Light. She lives in New York City with her husband.

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By Synnoeve Pedersen on 4 Mar. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a short book that tells alot.I whould particualarly recommend this to my fellow norwegian citizen.Get educated before talking.There is a norwegian proverb that it is typical norwegian to be GOOD,and this book proves that proverb WRONG.I find interesting to read good books like this.I learned something about my own culture.also the present day one,when I read this book.Nothing new under the sun I was thinking when I read it.I find it embarrassing to say I am from the land of the Vikings,especiallywhen I am abroad.To all of you others thar is that fortunated of not being of norwegian decendence. I can recommend it.By the way I would say there is many norwegians that is just like Lionheart to day. Attogent and larger than like in their own conceit
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Has a Marketer. Needs an Editor 5 July 2012
By Loves the View - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The title, "The Clash of Crowns" has the ring of the "Game of Thrones", "Storm of Swords" etc. The names in the subtitle conjure excitement, intrigue and sex, but there are no notable clashes between those named. Eleanor is shown (as usual) doting on her son Richard and William the Conqueror was deceased before Eleanor (and hence, Richard) were born. The clashing crowns are those of Richard I and Philip of France. Is Philip being underestimated (again, this time) by the book sellers?

Similarly, the blurb promises "A story of bloodshed, betrayal and revenge". There is a lot of war/bloodshed and betrayal/revenge (especially in the dysfunctional Plantagenet Family) but if there is a defining theme in this "clash" it is the claim to Normandy.

Overall, this is a biography of Richard the Lionhearted with an intro on his Norman heritage and an aftermath on how his brother lost Normandy.

The book, for me, started in a muddle. In Chapter 1, Merlin's prophesy and its meaning for Eleanor wasn't at all clear. Then the part about finding King Arthur's bones (the mythical king?) threw me... and still does. The writing style makes for a choppy read. It is a mix of serious prose that breaks into informality, with phrases such as "...but there was more than one way to skin an empire" (p.118).

Not familiar with the material, I found myself doubling back. One of the last examples in the book (fresh in my memory) is p.177 where the author refers to not "letting such a valuable hostage slip from their grasp." Presumably this hostage is Eleanor being held by the French. Reading back to see how I missed this, it says that she sought refuge in a place that was attacked and summoned help; with only this info, I accepted the fuzzy connection. On the next page, it says that Arthur is a hostage, a hostage of the English. There is a lot of this in the book. This is not a murder mystery where you look for clues. As a history for the general reader, it needs more clarity... it needs a good edit.

Taken as a bio for Richard I, there are a lot of good chapters. The history of the Plantagenet's Norman roots and French lands, Richard's nuclear family's dysfunction, the Third Crusade, Richard's captivity and the siege of Richard's Castle of the Rock are highlights. There is a chapter on Richard's castle building, while of marginal interest to me, seemed very well done.

The author seems quite knowledgeable and while the text is mixed, she demonstrates some style. A good editor could put this together very well.

If you are knowledgeable about Richard I, you can pass this one up. If you are interested an overview of this time in European history and don't mind the above problems with the text, it is a short book/quick read that does tell the story.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Lively Tour of the Middle Ages 16 Sept. 2013
By James Norwood - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The "clash of crowns" in the book's title refers to the unique political conditions of medieval France in which the feudal custom was for the powerful dukes of the western region to pledge homage to their king in Paris. That situation changed with the Norman Conquest when one of those dukes, William the Bastard of Normandy, became king of England. In the process, William possessed so much land that he was able to challenge the king of France for power. The "clash" of the kings of France and England over territory in western France lasted from 1066 through the Hundred Years War in the fifteenth century.

Mary McAuliffe writes with good feeling about her subject, and it is impressive that she has visited so many of the locations in France described in the book. At the same time, the coverage of the major topics is often superficial. For example, the Battle of Hastings is only briefly mentioned. In 1066, the victory of William the Bastard was not a foregone conclusion, and there could have been much more detailed analysis of this major historical turning point that led to the clash of crowns.

On the positive side, the book provides a number of interesting sidebars in the ongoing struggle between France and England. Dr. McAuliffe's original contribution is a detailed analysis of the so-called Castle of the Rock in Andely--a stupendous architectural achievement in medieval castle construction, resulting in the Château Gaillard castle. This tiny yet strategic spot in northwestern France was the subject of endless strife between Richard the Lionheart and his nemesis Philip II of France. The time, expense, and staggering loss of life around a "rock" says a great deal about the values of medieval culture. Dr. McAuliffe traces the struggle over Andely through the reign of King John, which concludes the book.

It was disappointing that the discussions of the major figures that are the subject of the book read like brief sketches, as opposed thoughtful short biographies. Among the lives addressed by Dr. McAuliffe, the most engaging is the brief overview of Eleanor of Aquitaine. But most of the book is devoted to Eleanor's favorite son, Richard the Lionheart. Unfortunately, a complete human portrait of Richard never emerges. Dr. McAuliffe touches on the controversial issue of whether Richard was gay, but she never provides her own interpretation, based on the evidence. The relationship of Richard and his queen, Berengeria of Navarre, was unorthodox even by medieval standards. While Richard was apparently not interested in cohabiting with Berengeria, he nonetheless would have been concerned about not having a male heir. But Dr. McAuliffe never discusses this perplexing side of one of the legendary monarchs of the age.

As published by Roman and Littlefield, the book is attractive in its layout and includes a fine set of photographs from the personal collection of the author. There is also an instructive glossary of biographical capsules and a useful chronology of major events. While the book is clearly intended as an introduction to the history of medieval England and France, the careful reader will discover many fascinating details about the lives of some of the most colorful members of the medieval power elite.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Misleading Title About a Biography of Richard I 31 Oct. 2012
By Greg Polansky - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Clash of Crowns suffer from a misleading title that draws the reader into a story that is not what one expects. Mary McAuliffe writes a straightforward political-military history of the early Kings (and disputed Queen) of England/Normandy. This history is almost solely about Richard I aka Richard the Lionheart. William the Conqueror is barely discussed. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard's mother, is discussed a little bit more, but still not enough that she should appear in the title of this book. The book's focus ends in 1204, the year one of Richard's fortresses in Normandy fell and the year that Normandy would be effectively lost to the English. What else happens in 1204? The death of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Which was not mentioned.

The book, sadly, is also severely disjointed. Rather than progressing in chronological order, it flips back and forth during the first half so that unless the reader is familiar with Norman and Plantagenet history and Capetian history. The Capetians - rulers of France - figure prominently in the story, and reading about Philip Augustus is interesting. But overall, the book is more of a chronicle of kings and battles than it is an analysis or a good book about the time period. And I wonder at the title - trying to ride the Game of Thrones wave? Not a bad marketing move but I wish that the editors had thought about the contents of the book as much as they did about the title. Then there is some questionable patronizing of the reader as when the author towards the beginning of the book states "King Henry II of England had thus most grievously jeopardized relations with his Continental overlord, the king of France, on the heels of yet other causes for hostility (a tedious list for the reader, but not for the French king). Is the list tedious for me to read or for you to write out and analyze??

But if this period does interest you, I would recommend you find the historical fiction books of Ellen Jones or other history books that cover the period in more depth and without strange mentions of King Arthur and Merlin (and I absolutely love the entire Arthur mythos!) at the beginning of the book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Nice historical account of England and France from 950-1200 31 Mar. 2014
By Leslie H Miles - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Great book on this time period. I felt like the time between Rollo and King Henry II was not as well-developed that of King Richard I. The "clash of the crowns" certainly had begun during (or prior to?) Duke William's time, but the French never seemed to get along with the Vikings, nor their Norman ancestors. The clash, then, was really between the Duke of Normandy, the French King 's vassal, and his Suzerian. Of course, had Henry the younger lived, this...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
As colorful as its protagonists 15 Sept. 2013
By J. S. Lang - Published on
Format: Hardcover
McAuliffe is a capable and entertaining writer, and she makes this fascinating (and often confusing) era come to life, and the reader comes away with a vivid impression of England's king Richard I, with McAuliffe scraping away the layers of legend and revealing the human (and occasionally superhuman) figure underneath. Thankfully, she writes history "as is," and the book is not tainted with the Political Correctness that is so prominent in historical writing today.
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