History · Nonfiction

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who made England

by: Dan Jones

This is the other awesome book I talked about a while back; it took me quite a while to finish it.  Nonfictions generally take me longer to work through than fiction books.

This is a broad history of the Plantagenets, England’s ruling dynasty for over 200 years.  Despite the name, there is a heavy focus on the kings at, I suppose, the expense of the queens. There was reasonable focus on Eleanor of Aquitaine in the beginning of the book but the queens further on in didn’t get much exposure.  (In fact, a few were briefly shown- and I mean a sentence or so – as being important to diplomatic or political events but how or why they were important was never shown.)  So, don’t get too excited about a book that places emphasis on both kings and queens.  This isn’t that book.

Jones’ writing is engaging and informative.  There’s no dialogue – it is a history book – and sometimes it becomes hard to tell people apart. All the men are named John, Edward, Edmund, or Richard; all the women Isabella or Eleanor.  (Okay, this is a bit of exaggeration but only a bit.)  Though Jones did a good job of describing the different personalities, he didn’t always do a good job of helping me keep them separate, especially when they were casually referenced later in the book.

Note-keeping would have been helpful for me, but my brain doesn’t handle details well.  Jones keeps things organized and presented in a logical manner, so if you’ve got a sharp mind for small details you’ll probably find it easier to keep everything sorted than I did.   Otherwise, I think Jones did a good enough job tying the story together into a bigger picture that even without keen mind for dates that I came away with a great understanding of the time period.  (Also the anti-Semitism. Holy cow, people. I had no clue.)

As a broad history, it really works.  The book flows seamlessly from war to domestic and international politics to matters of dynasty and heirs.  I don’t feel like anything was out of balance. Enough action to keep the reader interested, enough politics to keep the reader intrigued, and enough analysis to make the reader think. There are lots of maps of Europe and England and a family tree at the beginning and a list of recommended readings at the end; very helpful!  You don’t have to know much about the history of England to be able to follow (thank god, because at this point my British history is pretty much limited to what I’ve learned from romance novels.)  I really loved the analysis of the kings politically and from international standpoints.   There was a time or two where I felt Jones was overreaching in reading the personalities of the time, but for the most part he asserted his conclusions by saying what he felt the evidence pointed to and occasionally even walked the readers through an analysis of a primary source.

Speaking of primary sources, the really nice thing about this book was that the primary sources were translated into modern-day English.  I loved, loved, loved that. Lovely!

If you’re looking for a broad history of the Plantagenets, or a jumping-off point into English history, than definitely give this book a go.  It’s easy to read, well-balanced and well-written.  It seems fairly unbiased but unfortunately I don’t really know enough about history to say that with any authority.  If you’re looking for an equal focus on kings and queens or if you want a really in-depth analysis of any of these kings, than perhaps this isn’t the book for you.

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