“The prince was drunk.” So begins Jones fast-paced, bloody and insightful narrative of The Plantagenets ruled long and hard – joining and separating England and big chunks of France (Aquitaine, Maine, Normandy, Potoirs and Anjou) in addition to Scotland, Ireland and Wales. They also fought fiercely amongst themselves and against others. Some of the kings tried to model themselves and their reigns after the mythical King Arthur while others just went for the blood.
First there was Henry II, coming to the throne after the only son of Henry I died. Henry II was of French birth, but the grandson of Henry I, and he fought hard for many years to gain the throne. He then married the adventurous French queen whose 1st marriage (annulled) was to King Philip I of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry and Eleanor had three sons who in turn became kings and thereafter their progeny kept the throne occupied for 350 years (1154 to 1485) with 14 kings in total – this book goes through 1399, Richard II, at which time the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets took over.
Jones covers Henry II, Henry the Young King, Richard I – the Lion-Heart, John, Henry III, Edward I – Longshanks, Edward II, Edward III, Edward IV – Black Prince, and Richard II.
I’m read this as a precursor to Jones’ “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors” (2014) which is the March selection for the Yahoo All-Nonfiction reading group.
In addition to relating the succession and military issues (see the sub-title), Jones does a very good job at the general personalities of the kings and examines the many, many wars, the marriages, the politics and legislation, the uprisings and the economics of the times. And he does this in the contemporary manner of stylish narrative history maintaining interest in a very complex subject.
I’m not sure how much space he gives to the Queens (again, see the subtitle) but there is Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Many of the others seem to be young sex objects or marriage pawns.
Some of the other players Jones outlines are Thomas Becket, Piers Gaveston, Peter of Wakefield and Geoffrey of Monmouth. Like other really good books about some piece of history or other – a lot of editing is involved to keep the subject in hand – but the author was able to pique my interest to the point of seeking out more information.