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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.
This is one of those great overview books where you get enough of the story to be engaged, but you're also left wanting more. In short, my kind of history book. I love these kinds of launch pads into deeper research. Without a book like this, the in-depth works keep the reader on the outside. A work like this helps a person to do so much more than tread water; it makes history accessible to everyone. This is not my first dip into the Plantagenet history, but it is the first time I've had it delivered cohesively and linearly. What a difference that makes, putting it all into persective! Now I can read these longer stories about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard I, and so on with a far better understanding of how it all fits together.
Clive Chafer's narration... I have really mixed feelings about. I want so much to give him high marks. The man has an incredibly fantastic voice, the kind of voice you wish you could have so as to impress others. The problem is that his inflection and overall delivery comes across, and I hate to say this, as a parody of a BBC newscaster. Anyone remember those Monty Python skits where Eric Idle would read the news? It's that sort of thing, only with a more authoritative voice and no punchline. His cadence is very similar to this as well, where he's very "radio announcer" instead of being conversational or documentary narrative as it needs to be, and it's repetative. Let me attempt to illustrate this. You remember when your teacher first introduced you to Shakespeare and iambic pentameter, and that rhythm (da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM) was plugged in to stay for the rest of your life? Chafer isn't doing that exactly, but there is a cadence there in regard to his vocal inflection that will make itself known within just a few minutes of listening, and it goes like that to the end of the book. Maybe that's just how I'm hearing it, but if you do pick up this title - and it's well worth your credit to do so - you can judge for yourself and tell me if I'm just way off base. Based on other reviews, it seems I'm in the minority here.
75 of 75 people found this review helpful
... but listen carefully to the audio sample to see if the style of reading is to your taste. the narrator ends every single sentence with the same emphasis. another reviewer mentions this predictable cadence which, to me at times during the 20 hours of listening, became a distraction.
in all, the book is well-written and worth a credit, but i suspect the narrration may be off-putting to some.
44 of 45 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to The Plantagenets the most enjoyable?
What other book might you compare The Plantagenets to and why?
How could the performance have been better?
I found the narration tedious and distracting, but at least I have learned to avoid this particular narrator in future, and buy the book instead! Just sorry I tried to listen several times instead of returning it within the time frame.
Any additional comments?
I wish I had read all the reviews, and listened to the sample before I bought it, as at least one reviewer advised. After several attempts to listen, I plan on deleting this from my library and putting the book on my Christmas list, because it's about a period in which I am interested. That's why overall and story are worth 4 stars, and performance receives two for <br/>stamina!
23 of 24 people found this review helpful
Truly avoid this audio book. The book itself seems fine, but admittedly I only could suffer an hour of it. The narrator sends to be nearly falling asleep; I understand it is history and that can be dry, but at least feign some interest for the reader's sake.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful
This was a period in English history where I had some glancing familiarity with key moments (mostly via Shakespeare, A Lion in Winter, Robin Hood, etc.) but no appreciation of the details or how it links together. As a result, I found the book fascinating, as it managed to give a very detailed, but still fairly fast-moving, overview of the Plantagenet era. Even more than the great biographic details, I appreciated the way that Jones managed to communicate how different the ideas of government were in the Middle Ages, and the ways in which rule and misrule led to the evolution of modern ideas.
There are a few quirks to the book that keep in from being a five-star listen. First, this is a narrative, and not a historical discussion, so while not necessarily ignoring debates over particular events, Jones tends to present an authoritative view, ignoring alternatives (like discussions over the relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston). This feeds into the second issue, which is that the author clearly has some strong ideas of what good kingship is like, and the result is a slight tendency to justify the less savory actions of some rulers that he likes, while being less forgiving of other monarchs. Finally, the narrative itself is a bit odd, since the author slides between occasional first-person segments ("Richard approached the gates of the city...") and the majority of the book, which is written as a historian. None of these are fatal flaws, but they, combined with the length of the book, did make it drag a little at points.
Overall, though, a great, well-read history of a period I did not know a lot about. I found it illuminating, and would recommend it strongly to anyone interested in the history of government, England, or the Middle Ages.
21 of 23 people found this review helpful
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!
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
From the beginning of the Plantagenet Dynasty thru the end of the reign of Richard, the history of the Plantagenet’s is simply riveting. These leaders, though called Kings of England, were actually French Norman until well into the 14th Century. The marriage alliances, the intrigues, the betrayals, the pure brutality, the military campaigns, the plagues and ultimately the advances towards modern day governing all contribute to make this a fascinating book. The Kings and leaders were certainly not gentle people, yet many of actions they took played a significant role in how England, and ultimately Europe developed into what it is today. I guess I thought there was more National identity during these times than there actually seemed to be – the spheres of influence were in actuality more aligned with ruling families than nationalistic. Most of the coastal areas of modern day France were frequently under the rule of the Plantagenet Kings, until nearly the 15th century. Through each ensuing reign, you can see small advances in curbing the ultimate power of the Kings to the point of removing later Kings Edward II and Richard II. And while the Kings power was slowly being curtailed, the power of the legislative part of Government slowly grew – from the inception of the Magna Carta during King John’s reign until the removal of King Richard II. If you enjoy History of the middle Ages you will enjoy this book. Well worth the credit.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
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.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
I have long wanted to get the audible version of one of my favorite historical novels, "Katherine" (Anya Seton), but decided I should brush up on my Plantagenet history first since I get some of this period confused. I couldn't have asked for a better, more interesting overview. Dan Jones hits the highlights of each of the kings and this presentation done in precise linear fashion makes it very easy to follow. I did find that keeping a family tree handy on my computer helped, but this was not difficult to follow in spite of the fact that the same 3 or 4 male and female names were used by those people over and over. (Keep wanting to holler back 800 years and suggest someone throw in a Tammy or a Larry!) One of the biggest reasons I used to get confused is that at about the 4th Matilda and the 3rd Edward, my brain wants to wander, but this book kept me plugged in the whole time. I was not thrilled with Clive Chafer's highly declarative style of reading - as one reviewer aptly put it, Chafer's delivery is more suited to a broadcaster than a narrator. However, the material is so interesting, I didn't get too hung up about the narrator. I will definitely read Jones' next book, "The War of the Roses", as soon as I finish my beloved "Katherine".
11 of 13 people found this review helpful
A true Masterpiece.
I have no idea why this book has anything less than straight 5 stars. It is a very readable, compulsively addictive, in-depth story of the kings and queens who were the early ruling class: the Plantagenets.
If you want something as a quick beach read, go back to Phillipa Gregory. This is actual history, and amazingly the author does a fantastic job showing both the good and negative sides of each Plantagenet King (and one Queen).
This is historical NONFICTION, people.
I think it's exceptional, and I eagerly look forward to Jones' next book. As for Narrator, he is flawless!! The negative reviews shok me!
If you have a brain and are interested in the Plantagenets (early English kings beginning with Henry I and part of the war of the roses, with the Lancastrians) this is the best treatment of the subject on audible! Hands down!!
23 of 28 people found this review helpful