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The Plantagenets

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The Plantagenets
The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England
By Dan Jones
Viking, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-670-02665-4

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - April 22, 2013

The House of Plantagenet is considered to have been started with the marriage of the Empress Matilda with Geoffrey Plantagenet in 1128. However, the Plantagenets rule in England did not begin until 1154 when their son, Henry II, and husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine, took the throne after the death of King Stephen. He was followed by Richard I (The Lionheart), his brother John, then John's son, Henry III. Thereafter followed Edward II, Edward III, Richard II (the last Plantagenet king) who was followed in 1399 by Henry IV of the House of Lancaster. When Henry II began his rule of England, the country was politically disorganized, culturally divided, and violent conflict was common. It can be said that at the time of his accession to the throne, England was nothing more than a loose confederation of primitive feudal holdings. When Henry II came to the throne, the country was still recovering from the war that had raged between the Empress Matilda and King Stephen for rule of the country. A few generations later, when Henry IV established the House of Lancaster, the country was more or less united, had a solid political base, the Magna Carta had been signed and a comprehensive legal system had been created, and was in the process of becoming a super power - although the country was still anything but peaceful. Henry IV had to contend with rebellions his entire reign.

The story of the House of Plantagenet is a story filled with intrigue, murder, rebellion, military conflict - both internal and international, espionage, abdication, sexual shenanigans, and much more. The stuff of legend - and much fiction - grew out of this period, but as is often the case, reality is as interesting, if not more so, than the fictional offerings of modern writers. In The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, the British historian, Dan Jones, has provided a gripping overview of this exciting period and the personages that propelled English history through most of the medieval period. Written in a lively narrative style, this book reads like a work of fiction. Although it reads like fiction, the information presented in factual, making the story even more gripping and fun to read.

The Plantagenets is one of those books that will enthrall even those who thought that they hated history. This book is lively, and paints a vivid picture of what life was like in England, for the aristocracy, during the Middle Ages. Jones presents a great deal of information within the pages of this book, but does so in such a manner that you never feel bogged down with details or overwhelmed with dates. The book does not include any footnotes, which is a drawback if you are a historian, but they will not be missed by most readers. The author has included an annotated 'further reading' list for anyone who wants to delve deeper into this intriguing period in English history.

In short, if you like historical fiction, put aside the fiction for a while and delve into the real thing. You'll find the story as engaging and thrilling as any fiction book that you've read. As well, if you are a fan of historical dramas, you'll also find that this book to be engaging. Best of all, if you like historical fiction in any format, this book will provide you with new insights into the stories that you are already familiar with. The Plantagenets is popular history at its best, taking the reader from the tragic shipwreck of the White Ship that took the life of Henry I's son and heir, setting up the conflict between Matilda and Stephen, to the abdication and possible murder of Richard II, setting the stage for Henry IV's tumultuous reign!

Related Reviews:

England in the Later Middle Ages, by Maurice H. Keen.
A general survey textbook on English history from 1290 - 1485.

The Black Death: A Personal History, by John Hatcher.
This is a 'literary docudrama' that mixes rigorous historical research with elements of fiction in order to present an engrossing and informative overview of what life was like in a medieval rural village in England during the Black Death epidemic of 1345-1350.

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