The first Plantagenet king inherited a blood-soaked kingdom from the Normans and transformed it into an empire that stretched at its peak from Scotland to Jerusalem. In this epic history, Dan Jones vividly resurrects this fierce and seductive royal dynasty and its mythic world. We meet the captivating Eleanor of Aquitaine, twice queen and the most famous woman in Christendom; her son, Richard the Lionheart, who fought Saladin in the Third Crusade; and King John, a tyrant who was forced to sign Magna Carta, which formed the basis of our own Bill of Rights. This is the era of chivalry, Robin Hood, and the Knights Templar, the era of the Black Death, the Black Prince, the founding of Parliament, and the Hundred Years’ War.
©2012 Daniel Jones (P)2013 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets is outstanding. Majestic in its sweep, compelling in its storytelling, this is narrative history at its best. A thrilling dynastic history of royal intrigues, violent skullduggery, and brutal warfare across two centuries of British history." (Simon Sebag Montefiore, New York Times best-selling author)
"The Plantagenets played a defining part in shaping the nation of England, and Dan Jones tells their fascinating story with wit, verve, and vivid insight. This is exhilarating history - a fresh and gloriously compelling portrait of a brilliant, brutal, and bloody-minded dynasty." (Helen Castor, prize-winning author of She-Wolves)
"This is history at its most epic and thrilling. I would defy anyone not to be right royally entertained by it." (Tom Holland, prize-winning author)
I had listened to Dan Jones book on the Wars of the Roses and had decided that this would be my next listen. Before purchasing I read reviews and found myself unsure due to the narration. I still decided to go with it and I am glad I did. The story itself is riveting, which helped me get through the first part of the narrative. The reading style of Clive Chafer can be distracting at first, but I found that by hour five his style mellowed and I was used to his groove. His quoting voices are very good.
It's often been observed that Americans have a fascination with royalty and many are prone to fawning over the royals from the mother country more than their own subjects do. Probably modern British citizens have become jaded and cynical about their living relics in Buckingham, while we Yanks still find the idea of an "absolute ruler" by birthright foreign and exotic. (And let's be honest, lots of Americans would probably be happy to live under a monarchy if they thought the monarch shared their values.)
Most of us, however, not having grown up with English kings and queens as part of our national history, can only name a few of them. There's good old King George, of course. And Henry VIII. And the king from Robin Hood. And the guy in Shakespeare's play... And, umm.... no, King Arthur doesn't count. Look, English kings are a long string of Henrys and Edwards and Richards and Johns. Who can differentiate between them?
The Plantagenets will help you out (though honestly, I still have trouble keeping all the various Edwards straight). And it's a really interesting read for anyone interested in history or the foundations of the British empire.
The Plantagenet line ruled from 1154 (Henry II) to 1399 (Richard II) - the High Middle Ages, more or less. They were the immediate descendants of William the Conqueror. The line ended (or really, split) into the two branches of Lancaster and York, which led the War of the Roses a few generations later. While George R.R. Martin is known to have loosely based his epic on that conflict, you'll learn in this book that the Plantagenets and their rivals were playing a game of thrones long before then.
Uneasy Lies the Head
The king (or queen) of England has never rested easy. Even before the Magna Carta was signed by the unpopular King John, the king could never take his power for granted. Reading The Plantagenets, you have to feel sorry for the kings, even the really terrible ones. They had troubles like any modern ruler - peers and parliaments that wouldn't give them the money they wanted to go crusading or waging war in France, relatives scheming to take their throne (half the time it was the king's own brothers or even sons rebelling against him!), and while some kings enjoyed periods of popularity and absolute rule, a downfall was never far away. More than one king was basically reduced to a puppet, sometimes in danger of being imprisoned or beheaded by his own people. The king couldn't just do what he wanted, and those who did inevitably discovered that payback is a b.
This is probably more relevant to American history than you might think. England, it is clear, had a long, long history of curbing its more excessive rulers. A king could get away with an awful lot, but London would turn on you, the people would rise against you, your own family would depose you, if you went too far. So when the American colonists rebelled against King George (by which time the power of the monarchy was already a shadow of the days when a king or queen could simply say "Off with his head!"), they were following a tradition that went back to even before the Magna Carta.
Who were the Plantagenets? Here's a quick line-up, but of course the book goes into far more detail, making each of these characters living, breathing, flawed historical figures. The author, Dan Jones, passes a verdict on each of them, generally the one popularized by historical consensus, but whether a king is now regarded as "good" or "bad," all of them had moments of glory (or at least fortitude), and moments of ignominy.
Generally reckoned as the first Plantagenet. A grandson of William the Conqueror, and married to Eleanor of Aquitaine (who continued to be an influential figure even after his death). Started the long, multigenerational conflict with France, and raised England from a little island kingdom to a major European power. Whether or not he actually had Thomas Becket killed is still debatable, but he never actually said "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?"
"Richard the Lionhearted," who rebelled against his old man, then took his crown upon Henry's death, then went off crusading in the Holy Lands, leading England to be ruined by his younger brother, King John, who was openly treasonous and by all accounts a coward and a weasel pretty much his entire life. And yet, when Richard returned, he forgave his brother, and John assumed the throne after his death. This wasn't great for England. Richard is the Robin Hood guy. He also exchanged correspondence with his arch-rival in Jerusalem, Saladin, but the two never actually met, counter to various historical fantasies.
While historians today debate whether he really deserved his reputation as the villain of Robin Hood legends, he was by all accounts not one of England's nicer kings, and certainly not its most competent. He fought (another) losing war against France, was mockingly called "John Softsword" by his contemporaries, and is the king famously forced to sign the Magna Carta.
The remaining Plantagenet kings - Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II, whose tyranny and ineptitude led to a coup in which he was deposed and died in a dungeon, each have their own interesting stories. Besides their rulership, in which the economy of England rose and fell, and sometimes it was peace and prosperity and other times it was nothing but famine, civil wars, and the Black Death, they all had marital or family problems, periodic invasions of or by France, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales (the long grinding conflict with those countries also began with the Plantagenets), and then of course there was the Church, which long before Henry VIII was vexing and occasionally excommunicating British monarchs who didn't want to do what the Pope said.
This was a really fascinating read, and while I still have trouble sorting out the various Henrys and Edwards, I have a better understanding of the pivotal events in British history and what its rulers did to shape the history that followed.
The period from circa 1150-1400 of English history was one full of famous (and infamous) Kings, great events, historic battles and great losses. While I have read many books on English and British history they generally have covered the very early period of the Roman invasion and occupation or the later period from the Tudors through the present period. Many of the books I have read covered some of this period (the Crusades, many of the battles in France and the Magna Carta) but none of them covered the Plantagenet Kings in sequence so as to put the famous names of Richard I, John, Edward Longshanks, Richard II, Henry Bolingbrook, Robert Bruce and many others in an order that made sense of the period. This book does that and does it in wonderful style and language.
The book covers the period from Henry II through Richard II in enough detail to understand why events took place, but not in so much detail as to obscure the main events themselves. We see the English King go from being one of relative obscurity to the most powerful monarch in Europe and then, as the wheel of fortune descended, back to being only one of many. For me this book clarified many things - the rise of English power, the wars against both Wales and Scotland, the constant battles of the English Kings in trying to maintain their claim to the French lands that were part of the English King's patrimony, the lure of the Crusades, the events that lead to the Magna Carta and the waxing and waning of English claims to French land as the English and French Kings vied over rule of those lands.
While I have always been interested in history and especially in European history, this book clarified for me many things that I knew about only as events rather than as part of an ongoing sequence of events. For me this book was so interesting that I found myself reluctant to put it down and do other things. That is not uncommon for me when I read books, but it is uncommon for history books.
The book ends with the death of Richard II and before the War of the Roses. Mr Jones has another book on that topic and I will be buying it soon. I thought that the narration by Clive Chafer was first class and added immensely to my enjoyment of the book. Other reviewer's opinions have differed, but I enjoyed his narration so much that I am sorry he did not also narrate the War of the Roses. All in all one of the best reading experiences I have had in a long time and I recommend this book without reservation to anyone interested in this period in English history.
I love books about magic and period drama. Kim Harrison, Deborah Harkness, and Jane Austin are my favorite authors.
The book was about killing, killing, killing. There must have been other interesting information about the success of these Plantagenets. Did they bring any architecture, medicine, science, government, policy, law, anything besides killing to the time period and to the English kingdom? This book was mostly about territories that would become part of France. It was repetitive, as was apparently, according to the author, the Plantagenets reign. Loose territory, gain the territory back only to loose it again. Tedious.
I finally gave up and did not even finish listening this book.
The book was too gossipy for my taste (though I'm glad I stuck it out - it was an interesting window into the time), and I mainly wondered if the mentalities back then were really that bad, or if the author was simply focusing on that aspect (focused on conquest, wealth, and glory rather than the survival of higher consciousness in a harsh and deadly universe) (but then how could they have been so enlightened?) since it made the best gossip. I concluded that the mentalities were truly that bad, and the author had focused on the actual mental deliberations (no matter how vain or monstrous) behind the significant events of each king's reign.
The book makes one wondered if anything truly significance came from that time (other than plots, murder, and mass slaughter that made for good action movies), and I reflected back on my foray into other aspects of history, and I realized that there are now (with so many good historians) many histories to explore. For example, I recently explored the history of music which went through that time, and the history of the world in six drinks, to give you other focuses. None as world-shaking (usually in a destructive way) as the history of Kings (who we would now regard as having primitive mindframes), but no less fascinating. The Black Knight was especially tragic for me, as I could see his motivations (mainly honor) within the limits of his primitive mindframe (which reflected the primitive mindframe of the time among his peers).
I think this line from Richard II to the English commoners sums it up, "You are our subjects, and we will do everything in our power to keep you subjugated!" Good grief. Thomas Paine would have drawn a lot of material from this book for his "Common Sense".
"Omg - narrator is the worst I have heard in 280 books on audible - unlistenable . . . Also the story is a recitation - only!"
How to explain - this is a recitation of names, dates, and places - no more. When combined with the narrator - the first UNbearable narrator I have listened to in the 280 books on audible that I have listened to. I had to stop and write this I can listen to it no more. Like I said OMG!
This book just never grabbed my interest. There were lots of facts, but they just were not presented in a made me want to hear more. I did make it through to the end and it did help me get better sleep so three stars for that.
I really wanted to enjoy this book but the narration is so bad that this book is only good for insomnia. I'll get the paper version of this one to read.
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