Top critical review
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on 19 June 2015
Having recently listened to an audiobook about The Vikings, I skipped the Norman invasion of Britain and rejoined our history with William The Conqueror's descendants still ruling at the beginning of the Plantagenet era. Derek Wilson's book is another overview and covers three hundred(ish) years from Henry II until the ascension of Henry Tudor in 1485. There are interesting snippets throughout the book including the Plantagenet name being the result of a sprig of broom, 'planta genet' in latin, worn in Geoffrey d'Anjou's hat. I learned that the Robin Hood era kings, brothers Richard (the Lionheart) and (bad king) John were actually remarkably similar characters, their historical remembrance as polar opposites the result of biased medieval Christian scribes - Richard only murdered and robbed Muslims overseas, John robbed Christian clergy within England. Plus ca change, plus le meme chose!
Huge social changes took place during the Plantagenet era such as the writing of Magna Carta (one surviving example of which we saw in Lincoln), the beginnings of Lollardy and individual religious freedom, the Peasant's Revolt, and the horrific plague years which saw the peasant class finding themselves with glimmerings of real power for the first. Unfortunately, Wilson gives these only brief mentions as most of the book, regardless of which King is on the throne, is a ceaseless round of war after war after war. The Plantagenets were essentially Normans who spoke French and saw their Kingdom as stretching from the Scottish borders straight down to southern France. The French disagreed, as did the Scots, Welsh and, on occasion, the Castilian Spanish, resulting in a merry-go-round of battles over the same bits of land that does make for dry reading, especially when sons are named for fathers. I frequently found myself with deja-vu!
Much of the military information in The Plantagenets I know has failed to sink in and I had to force myself to keep reading at times. For this reason I wavered between two and three stars, eventually setting on three as the history is well-written in itself. I just would have preferred more about the Kings' and the peoples' day-to-day lives.