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on 29 July 2012
Dan Jones makes it clear to the reader in his intro that this history of the Plantagenets is a long read, but he isn't apologetic and neither should he be because this is a thrilling, informative, enthralling experience. If we have preferences in reading then I would say I am a reader of literary fiction and poetry who likes to read narrative history as a change. I have tried Alison Weir, David Starkey, Leanda de Lisle and scholarly historians such as Eric Ives and Eamon Duffy etc but I enjoyed this more than any of the others. Dan Jones tells a brilliant story of the kings with verve, energy and intelligence. He manages to pull of the trick of conveying the canvas of historical events with exhilarating insights into character, political power and the often absurd fatefulness of events. I suppose I'm trying to say that in trying to engage the reader with the drama of history he doesn't sacrifice the more challenging aspects of historical research. He actually made me feel really clever and well-informed.I'd really recommend this exciting, fresh, compelling piece of work. If you can imagine most historical narratives as a pot-boiler of a series made for ITV, then this is the one made for HBO by the creative team behind The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire etc. Does that make any sense ? Forget it, read this book !.
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on 2 May 2012
I told myself that this year I would address my shameful lack of English history. So: Simon Schama DVDs, This Sceptered Isle on Radio 4 Extra and some books, including this one. Jones's splendidly written epic gripped me from start to finish, and filled my head with fascinating stories of kings, queens, wars, schemes, uprisings, invasions, escapes and conquerings. From the opening tale of a future king of England perishing in a Channel shipwreck, I was never once bored as I was taken through almost 300 years of conflict and chaos in England's palaces and parliaments, and on battlefields and battlements both home and abroad (especially France. Poor old France). And yet it's not all men with swords and grudges: Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of several memorable figures Jones brings to life, seems like Cleopatra and Boudicca rolled into one. Highly recommended.
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on 23 October 2012
The aim of this book is to tell the story of the eight Plantagenet monarchs that ruled England between 1154 and 1399. Each monarch in turn has his story told; which wars he fought in, the land he gained and lost, who he married and who were his children.

In his prologue, Jones tells us his intention with The Plantagenets is to tell the story in an entertaining way. In this he is successful. I was gripped by the stories of Henry II, Richard I and Richard II, because these are the reigns I am unfamiliar with. As the book is written to entertain and tell the story of the Plantagenet dynasty, not to analyse, those that are familiar with the monarchs may find this book is not for them. I found I learned nothing new about Henry III, Edward I and Edward II; but this is because I knew about these reigns before reading, it is not the fault of the author. This book would be a good introduction to the Plantagenet dynasty.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Some chapters, as I said above, really held my interest and I loved them, but others didn't really engage me. I found that the author was often very biased, and his love or hate for the monarch in question was really obvious. John is described as a `delinquent', Henry III `feather brained' and Edward II as `England's worst ever king'. These sort of sweeping, judgmental statements I found very off putting. I especially found with Edward II there was no attempt at all to be neutral; he was even blamed for the failings of Richard II. On the other hand, Edward III and Richard II's chapters were very good reading. The author certainly knows his stuff where these two monarchs are concerned.

As this book is a popular, narrative history it was not referenced in an academic way. Primary source material is still used and quoted though, which was a great addition to the narrative. When learning about Henry II, for example, we have a quote from Gerard of Wales; a man who apparently knew Henry well. This was ideal for a narrative book- someone who is reading for entertainment does not want to be bogged down with footnotes. A further reading section is provided at the back of the book, for people that want to learn more about the monarchs in the book that intrigued them.

The author uses his book to bust a few common myths, which I think is great. Henry II ordering Becket's death and Edward II's supposed red hot poker death are both challenged. Again, though, with the good comes the bad. The author states Edward II was kept in a dungeon at Berkeley; not true, he was kept in comfort in his apartments. Edward II did not give Isabella's wedding presents to Piers, he asked him to take them to the Tower for safe keeping. Henry III's attempted assassin broke into his apartments in September 1238, not some time in 1237. (OK, now I'm just nit-picking. Sorry.) We also learn where Jones stands on the `did Edward II escape?' mystery, but I won't spoil that for potential readers.

All in all, a good narrative history book. There were parts I loved, and parts I didn't. If you want an introduction to the Plantagenet dynasty, this is the book to read. Also, I love the cover. Is there a better portrait than Richard II's?
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on 2 May 2012
Dan Jones is a clever guy. I first came across his work when my wife bought me his previous book, Summer of Blood, a rip-roaring chronicle of the events leading up to the Peasants Revolt. What struck me was his deftness of touch, combining sharp historical insight with a freshness and brevity that's all too lacking in many history books, not least those that deal with the Middle Ages.

I picked up The Plantagenets on this basis, though I confess to knowing little of the Plantagenet dynasty beforehand. What he's done here is nothing short of remarkable. While Summer of Blood was highly focused in time and place, this one manages to get its teeth around hundreds of years and eight generations of kings, with a motley cast of the brilliant and the stupid, the heroic and ruthlessly cruel. And yet despite the size of his undertaking, with Jones you still get this lively and compelling jaunt through events, with a judicious probe at the events that matter and some analytical smarts that put events into intelligent context without detracting from the ride. It's a bit like watching a medieval DVD with the director's commentary on (and I mean that in a good way).

To make a book about European medieval history as gripping and compelling as this is no mean feat. Jones gets plaudits from the likes of Starkey and Sebag-Montefiore and you can see why: they know this exciting young historian knocking on the door is the real deal. He's done his research, he knows his stuff, and his prose style is as sharp as his insight. But when he's not writing history books he's clearly enjoying The Sopranos or The Wire.

What's not to like? A total breath of fresh air.
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on 21 June 2012
With florid contextualisation - notably the atmospheric conditions pertaining on the day of a battle - Dan Jones here serves history up as a soufflé rather than a heavy, indigestible, casserole. Ivory-tower academics should not, though, be sniffy at this; the facts are there by the cart-load, while the author's accessible writing style keeps the narrative flowing at a cracking pace. If I note that this was an excellent bedtime read, I mean that as a compliment. The Plantagenets is a magnificent and informative book; Dan Jones should be on television!
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on 23 July 2012
This is an exceptional work of history and really is quite breathtaking in its scope. From the devestating wars known as 'The Anarchy' which brought Henry II to the throne - right through 250 years of empire building and warfare - to the accession of Henry IV, Dan Jones really does capture his subject within an amazing readable narrative. A fabulous, though weighty tome, this is a great read for newcomers and seasoned historians alike.

If you love the history of medieval monarchy then you could not ask for much more in a single volume.
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on 6 February 2015
Packed with detail this book describes the rise and fall of the Plantagenet dynasty. Moreover it places into context some of the despotic background of individuals who by an accident of birth or military power became the most powerful individuals in England.
On reflection it makes you wonder about how history might have been different in respect of our Anglo- French foundations.
By today's standards you'd be forgiven for describing the early British monarchs as nothing more than dictators and scoundrels.
Time has an interesting way of allowing the atrocities of our royal forbears to mellow into extremely soft focus.

It almost makes you want to adopt a republican view with regard to the dissolution of the monarchy. It's better that their roles are merely constitutional. In analysing their ancestral backgrounds, they have no right to be anything other than figureheads of the state.
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on 16 October 2012
The Plantagenet period is one of the most interesting periods in British, indeed European history. Their domains at one point stretching from the Scottish border to the border of Spain and even the Holy Land. Full of battles, heroic feats and base treacheries the Plantegents were never boring.

Dan Jones looks at a near 300 year period from the Shipwreck which killed William, heir of Henry I up to the overthrow of Richard II. Dan Jones gives a very accesible overview of the period by focusing on the main line of the family and in brushstrokes describes what they did. For those wanting a deep view of the period, this isn't it, it would take up far too much space (see the excellent Yale English Monarch series for a detailed history of each monarch). This book though does give you a good view of what happened in the period and the changes that occured throughout the British isles and is a very good starting point for anyone interested in this period
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on 29 December 2014
This is a relatively straightforward popular account of that powerful dysfunctional family, the Plantagenets. From Henry II who gained power after the death of Stephen (we could have had a King Eustace or a King Theobald) to Richard II, the last Plantagenet king through all the internecine struggles and desperate fund-raising over the two hundred and fifty year's that the dynasty lasted.

I suppose the two best-known Plantagenet kings are John and Richard the Lionheart, because of Robin Hood and because they weren't called either Henry or Edward. Both rebelled against their father, Henry II. Richard spoke the language of Aquitaine, in Southern France where he spent most of his life, and spent little time in England during his reign. John was bad enough to be responsible for Magna Carta where the barons attempted to bring him to heel.

As a whole the Plantagenets were responsible for the setting up of a more formal bureaucracy for government. As in many modern failed states, they saw their kingdom as a means of finance for themselves, mainly to fund the permanent arms economy as they tried vainly to hold onto the French possessions and as they conquered Wales and attempted the conquest of Scotland (held back somewhat by William Wallace and Robert the Bruce).

As such, this makes for interesting reading, and Jones writes well. I don't think there is much that is new in the account (there are no footnotes or references), but the facts are well set out. Jones plays down the famous scandals sensibly. He does not think that the relationship between Edward II and Gaveston (or later Hugh Despenser) was homosexual (though he's correct that it doesn't matter one jot) and it is unlikely Edward II was murdered by having a red-hot poker inserted in his fundament.

For good or ill, many of the features of English life had their beginnings during the period covered in this book and this is a useful guide to the reigns.
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on 5 July 2016
Interesting and better than The Hollow Crown.
However, neither book really works on a Kindle. Almost everybody is known by at least two names (eg. Henry/Arthur/Edward/Richard and/or Suffolk/Norfolk/Essex/Wessex) and without being able easily to refer back to a list of identities and an organisation chart with dates reading the book is something of a mystery tour. Definitely NOT bedtime reading!
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