Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Plantagenets

When I started The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones, I was excited to learn about all the monarchs and political figures of medieval England that I didn't actually know much about, primarily Henrys I and III and the first three Edwards. And then, I thought I would be able to sit back and enjoy reading the parts that I did know something about (Henry II, Richard I, John, and then Richard II, Henry IV/V/VI, Edward IV/V, Richard III).  Imagine my shock when I discovered that the book ended with Henry IV taking the crown from Richard II.  I felt cheated out of a non-fictional survey of the War of the Roses.  Grrr!

I've come to learn that despite the later kings calling themselves Plantagenets, historians peg these latter-day Kings as Lancasters or Yorks.  But really, what kind of a survey book on the Plantagenets ends with Richard II?  Now I have to get another book that deals with the War of the Roses, not that there aren't a lot to chose from.

Despite my disappointment at where the book stopped, I ended up liking The Plantagenets quite a bit.  The chapters were short enough to read in bite-size chunks.  This was a long reading project for me.  One that I dipped into almost daily, but didn't read for a long time during any one day.  I didn't want to inhale the material--I wanted to learn it, remember it, and enjoy it.  I liked the author's approachable, readable style. He focused on the big stories, and didn't delve into minute detail about all the various aspects of a war, treaty, agreement, or policy.  I felt like I got a good overview of the issues of the day, especially how the relationship between the king and his subjects evolved over time, and this was really the level I wanted.

I really enjoy reading historical fiction from this time frame, and I wanted a good overview before I started Sharon Penman's series of novels (although I have already read The Sunne in Splendour).  I'm starting with When Christ and His Saints Slept.  Here's the blurb from Penman's website:

In When Christ and His Saints Slept, the newest addition to her highly acclaimed novels of the middle ages, and the first of a trilogy that will tell the story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, master storyteller and historian Sharon Kay Penman illuminates one of the less-known but fascinating periods of English history. It begins with the death of King Henry I, son of William the Conqueror and father of Maude, his only living legitimate offspring.


  1. This book looks fantastic! I myself wish that I knew more about this period. A little of it was covered in A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman but only a the end and that covered many subjects.

    Though it did not cover everything that you wanted it to it sounds as if it made up for it in the detail of the period covered.

  2. I am always on the look out for a good bio of Henry II but it seems like the choices tend to be him as part of a compilation like this, or bio on Eleanor. Anyway, I've been eyeing this one but waiting for a recommendation before picking it up. Since you mention When Christ and His Saints Slept, and an interest in the War of the Roses, I was wondering if you had heard of She Wolves by Helen Castor? It's non-fiction but discusses Matilda and Margaret of Anjou as well as Eleanor and Isabel. Very engaging and well-written.

    1. I have heard of She Wolves, and it's on my list of books to somehow acquire next year. Thanks for the recommendation.