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Good narrative history
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?