The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England

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“Outstanding . . . A thrilling history of royal intrigues, violent skullduggery and brutal warfare.” —Simon Sebag Montefiore

The first Plantagenet king inherited a blood-soaked kingdom from the Normans and transformed it into an empire 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 ...

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The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England

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“Outstanding . . . A thrilling history of royal intrigues, violent skullduggery and brutal warfare.” —Simon Sebag Montefiore

The first Plantagenet king inherited a blood-soaked kingdom from the Normans and transformed it into an empire 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, of Robin Hood and the Knights Templar, the Black Death, the founding of Parliament, the Black Prince, and the Hundred Year’s War. It will appeal as much to readers of Tudor history as to fans of Game of Thrones.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Although less famous than their Tudor cousins, the “unnaturally cruel” and powerful Plantagenets were the longest-reigning English royal dynasty, ruling for more than two centuries, from Henry II’s ascendance in 1154 after a violent civil war to Richard II’s deposition at the hands of his cousin Henry Bolingbroke in 1399. The great-grandson of William the Conqueror, Henry II—cunning, dynamic, and “a great legalist”—ruled over England and great swaths of France, but was labeled a “pariah” for his involvement in Archbishop Thomas Becket’s murder and was betrayed by his redoubtable wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons. One of the dynasty’s worst kings was Henry II’s youngest son, John—“weak, indecisive, and mean-spirited”—who killed his nephew, a hapless prisoner, with his own hands in a drunken rage, lost Normandy to France, and was forced to guarantee his barons’ rights through the Magna Carta. By contrast, John’s great-great-grandson, Edward III, considered the greatest Plantagenet, was a new Arthur who “bonded England’s aristocracy together in the common purpose of war,” revived the knight’s code of chivalry, and ushered in English as the accepted language. Blood-soaked medieval England springs to vivid life in Jones’s (Summer of Blood) highly readable, authoritative, and assertive history—already a #1 bestseller in the U.K. 6 maps. Agent: Georgina Capel, Capel & Land (U.K.). (Apr. 22)
Kirkus Reviews
A novelistic historical account of the bloodline that "stamped their mark forever on the English imagination." The first 250 years of the Plantagenets included numerous battles, the first half of the Hundred Years' War and some of the most colorful kings, from Henry II (the first king of England, as opposed to "of the English") and his "eaglets" to the three Edwards and Richard II. With a bit of background on the civil war between Stephen and Matilda that first gained the throne for Henry, Jones (Summer of Blood: The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, 2009) splits his tale in two at the usurpation of Richard II in 1399 by his first cousin Henry IV. This structure will whet readers' appetites for the second volume, which will cover the War of the Roses, the princes in the Tower and Richard III. Shakespeare and the movies have given most nonhistorians sufficient background to enjoy further tales of these kings and the little I-never-knew-that! moments that a good historian uses to tickle our fancies. For example, Edward I's Hundred Rolls was an even larger inventory than William the Conqueror's Domesday Book. After King John's death, his wife, Isabella of Angouleme, returned to France and married the man she was betrothed to when John swept her off her feet. There were so many battles and skirmishes with France and invasions back and forth, readers may wonder why the French and British even speak to each other anymore. Perhaps Jones' regular column in the London Standard has given him a different slant on history; however he manages, it's certainly to our benefit. Historians may question a few dates and events, but for enjoyable historical narratives, this book is a real winner.
Library Journal
Although their presence in popular culture pales in comparison with that of the Tudors, the Plantagenet succession that ruled England for nearly 300 years during the Middle Ages was no less interesting or pivotal to the development of the Western world. Here, historian Jones (Summer of Blood) presents a riveting portrait of the royal lineage from Henry II through Richard II, after which the line split into the houses of York and Lancaster (the subject of Jones's next book). The author's special focus is on the qualities and decisions that led to each ruler's eventual downfall. Despite the density caused by any attempt to cram centuries of English history into one volume, Jones manages to create a work that is highly accessible to readers with only a basic knowledge of this era. The brief "Further Reading" section instead of a bibliography is a disappointment, however. VERDICT While the sheer volume of information presented may prove daunting to the casual reader, this is an excellent study of the period, both an overview and a series of character studies. It will be thoroughly enjoyed by Anglophile history buffs and others who love popular history or even historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 10/28/12. To read LJ's Q&A with the author, visit]—Ben Neal, Sullivan Cty. P.L., Bristol, TN
The Barnes & Noble Review

The Plantagenets: these were the kings under whose inconceivably turbulent and violent reign England became the country it still recognizably is today — in geography, language, political culture, and, one might even venture, national character. When the first Plantagenet king, Henry II (great-grandson of the Conqueror and son of the Count of Anjou, Geoffroi Plantagenêt — hence the name) assumed the throne in 1154, what we now call the English Channel was not a barrier but a causeway connecting the vast holdings of the Anglo-Norman inheritance. France was a patchwork of discrete territories, ruled by noblemen who were essentially warlords, owing little allegiance to any centralized authority. The Anglo-Norman ruler was a great magnate rather than a divinely appointed monarch, battling with other Continental magnates to preserve his lands — the most important of which were assumed to be the French ones. Yet by the time the last Plantagenet, Richard III, lost his life at Bosworth Field in 1485, the English kings had shed their foreign possessions along with the French language; their legal system had developed into a distinctively English one; and their relations with their closest neighbors, Wales and Scotland, were much as they are today. From being French warlords they had become British monarchs, and though they were not yet constitutional ones, the signs pointing in that direction can in hindsight be perceived.

This is the tale told with verve and a certain amount of conscious pageantry by the young English historian Dan Jones in The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, a projected two-volume work of which this is the first installment. This volume takes the story from the twelfth-century "Anarchy," the battle for the Conqueror's patrimony between two of his grandchildren, Stephen and Matilda (and the eventual triumph of Matilda's line), to the deposition of Richard II in 1399, when the dynasty split into two sections, launching the so-called Wars of the Roses. It's a complex story, known to us Yanks, with our poor educational standards in European history, more from Shakespeare and Mel Gibson than from our schoolbooks. The Plantagenets makes mincemeat of the so-called "history" doled out by Braveheart and the no more reliable film versions of Robin Hood, though Jones by no means eschews their dramatic approach to storytelling, for as a historian he returns unapologetically to the sort of narrative history — exciting yarns of monarchs and "great men" — that has been unfashionable for the last fifty years, during which time academic historians have tended to concentrate on larger socioeconomic trends and the lives of ordinary people, often peasants. The Plantagenets is an old-fashioned, one might even say swashbuckling, account of a blood-soaked dynasty.

Curiously enough, Jones's evaluation of the embattled monarchs and belligerent barons who bludgeon their way through his pages is also quite traditional. He seldom questions the chivalric standards on which leaders have traditionally been judged, stating blandly, for instance, "The greatest of all the Plantagenet kings was Edward III" — a claim that should be and indeed frequently has been challenged. What does the word great mean, when it comes to statecraft? If we define it as the ability to win spectacular battles and to achieve triumphs in public relations, then yes, Jones has a point: Edward (r. 1327–77), aided by his glamorous son the Black Prince, laid claim to the throne of France, gained back many of the dynasty's lost French territories in dazzling set- piece battles like Poitiers and Crécy, and created a "national mythology that interwove Arthurian legend, a new cult of St. George, and a revival of the code of knightly chivalry in the Order of the Garter?. [A] culture that bonded England's aristocracy together in the common purpose of war." But the cost of military glory was, as ever, exorbitant, its fruits evanescent. Edward's military tactics were brutal even by the standards of his day: "bloody rampages around enemy countryside, burning, looting, and killing with no greater strategic purpose than to demoralize enemy civilians." His chronic warmongering plunged him into deep debts with Italian bankers (debts on which he eventually defaulted, precipitating a financial crisis in Florence and the rise of the Medici); at home the economic brunt was borne, inevitably, by the overtaxed peasantry.

A rural laborer born in 1300 would have been lucky to reach his fortieth birthday?. Had he done so, he would have lived through near- constant war on two fronts, seven years of the Great Famine coinciding with a period of plummeting wages, and onerous rates of taxation, while hearing rumors that Edward III rather enjoyed his expensive campaigns in Flanders as an excuse to hold lavish, wasteful, and costly tournaments.
And all for what? In the years since King John had lost most of the Plantagenet patrimony in Normandy and Aquitaine, these provinces had remained French while the Plantagenets were beginning to be seen as Englishmen, foreign and hence unpopular overlords in France. "[A]t the heart of Edward's tactics," Jones points out, "lay a paradox: although his army had inflicted a crushing defeat on the combined forces of the French king and his son, it had in no way endeared the people of Normandy to English lordship, or won favor for an English king over a French one." The same was true in Aquitaine, where cities reconquered by Edward defected en masse back to the French Crown. The vicious revenge of the Black Prince, slowly dying from dysentery, and the unedifying dotage of Edward III revealed that the family's claim to the French throne was a hollow fiction, and when the Black Prince's ten-year-old son, Richard II, succeeded his grandfather in 1377 he was welcomed with relief, seen by many as God-given, even Christlike in his potential to bring peace to the realm. Of course the paranoiac and unstable Richard turned out to be totally unequal to the demands of kingship, and the disasters of his monarchy did much to reburnish Edward's image in popular memory.

One after the other, all the early Plantagenet kings — Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edwards I, II, and III, and Richard II — emptied their treasuries for the purposes of war, pageantry, and vast building projects, and when the coffers were empty the lower echelons of society had to pony up. One might conclude (though Jones does not explicitly do so) that the reason England began during this period to develop the foundations of the relatively enlightened political and legal culture that would distinguish it until the end of the millennium is precisely because of the Plantagenets' rapacity: with commoners taxed and pressed intolerably, and proud and once-powerful barons pushed to the sidelines, some system had to be found to contain the kings' voracity, wanton destruction, and capricious favoritism. Magna Carta, the barons' bargain with King John in 1215, is the most famous of the compromises that were hammered out during the Plantagenet years and that defined the limits of the monarchs' power and gave some measure of legal redress to their subjects. But there were many others, including the Charter of Liberties (1154), the Charter of the Forest (1217), the Provisions of Oxford (1258), the Statute of Marlborough (1267), and the Statute of Laborers (1351). It might be said, then, that the Plantagenets' destructive ways, devastating in the short term, strengthened England in the long run.

With the Plantagenets as with other political leaders, charisma, machismo, and the common touch did much to make up for crude rapacity. Edward I bludgeoned the Welsh into submission and drove the beleaguered Scots into the arms of the French, initiating the "Auld Alliance" that would plague English monarchs for centuries to come; he also expelled England's Jewish population. Yet the noble aura he took on in casting himself as the new King Arthur has never really worn off. Richard I, "Coeur de Lion," was as brutal as any of his line, and as spendthrift: the "Saladin tithe" he imposed on his subjects to fund the Third Crusade, his depletion of the royal treasury (he quipped that he would sell London itself if he could find a buyer), and the enormous ransom paid for his person afterward — a 25 percent tax on all income and movables — would not have been forgiven a less attractive monarch, but the glamorous Richard got away with it, with Jones stating, "The sums he demanded may have been fed into the insatiable maw of siegecraft and bloody warfare, but they were never wasted." This is an inexplicable claim in view of the sticky end and ultimate futility of the entire crusading venture; Richard's tenuous gains in the Third Crusade were very soon lost again.

While Jones appears to condone popular ideas of "glory" in The Plantagenets, the facts as he relates them tell us a different story: the dynasty's history can be seen as a devastating verdict against military adventurism, the monarchs' more intelligent moves as those which limited rather than expanded territorial claims. King John was despised for giving up so much French territory and for retaining what he did purely as a vassal of the French king, but could this have been the inevitable, perhaps the only sensible course of action? His brother Richard I after all "had subjected his realm to some of the most severe financial demands in its history. How long would heavy taxes levied on barons and Church alike be sustainable?... How long could England bankroll the mercenaries necessary to keep Normandy on a permanent defensive footing? How could John hope to sustain his brother's system of alliances when all around him friends were disappearing on crusade?" Indeed, could his glorious brother Richard or their father, Henry II, have themselves succeeded in regaining Normandy? It's certainly doubtful. Thirty years after the fall of the last Plantagenet, Sir Thomas More wrote a heartfelt protest against military adventurism into his 1516 satirical work, Utopia. It was without doubt directed against the thoughtless campaigns of his own monarch, Henry VIII, but it's hard not to read a bitter indictment of centuries of Plantagenet militarism in the plea he makes his protagonist utter:
[A]ll this warmongering, by which so many different nations were kept in turmoil as a result of one man's connivings, would exhaust [the king's] treasury and demoralize his people, and yet in the end come to nothing, through some mishap or other. And therefore he should look after his ancestral kingdom, improve it as much as he could, cultivate it in every conceivable way. He should love his people and be loved by them; he should live among them, govern them kindly, and let other kingdoms alone, since his own is big enough, if not too big, for him.
The Plantagenets did almost the exact opposite of all these things, yet, as Jones points out, the years of their sway nevertheless show England becoming England: "The Plantagenet kings did not just invent England as a political, administrative, and military entity. They also helped invent the idea of England, an idea that has as much importance today as it ever has before." Parts of this idea of England, such as the cults of Arthur, St. George, and St. Edward the Confessor, were purposeful creations of the Plantagenet kings. Other parts were forged in reaction to these kings, such as the country's system of law and its distinctive political institutions. Contemporary chroniclers often referred to the early Plantagenets as "devils," and Jones's descriptions reinforce this image. Yet their larger-than-life personalities and dramatic reigns make great theater: viz., Shakespeare's Richard II, Marlowe's Edward II, and numerous more recent entertainments, such as The Lion in Winter (Henry II and his family), Becket (the same), Braveheart (Edward I), and the various Robin Hoods (Richard I, John). Jones capitalizes on the theatricality, and he keeps his treatment of the Plantagenets at the popular history level, seldom questioning traditional, often troubling assessments of the monarchs in question.

Brooke Allen is the author of Twentieth-Century Attitudes; Artistic License; and Moral Minority. She is a contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The New Criterion, The New Leader, The Hudson Review, and The Nation, among others. She was named a finalist for the 2007 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

Reviewer: Brooke Allen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670026654
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/18/2013
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 69,620
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Jones is an award-winning historian of the Middle Ages who writes a regular column for London’s Evening Standard. A popular presenter of documentaries for the BBC and commentator on radio and TV, he lives in London and travels frequently to Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

Age of Shipwreck

It was as if Christ and his saints were asleep.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The White Ship

The prince was drunk. So too were the crew and passengers of the ship he had borrowed. On the evening of November 25, 1120, nearly two hundred young and beautiful members of England’s and Normandy’s elite families were enjoying themselves aboard a magnificent white longship that bobbed gently to the hum of laughter in a crowded harbor at Barfleur, in Normandy. A seventymile voyage lay ahead across the choppy late autumn waters of the Channel, but with the ship moored at the edge of the busy port town, barrels of wine were rolled aboard, and all were invited to indulge.

The prince was William the Aetheling. He was the only legitimate son of Henry I, king of England and duke of Normandy, and Matilda of Scotland, the literate, capable queen descended from the line of Wessex kings who had ruled England before the Norman Conquest. His first name, William, was in honor of his grandfather William the Conqueror. His sobriquet, Aetheling, was a traditional Anglo Saxon title for the heir to the throne. William was a privileged, sociable young man, who conformed to the time honored stereotype of the adored, spoiled eldest son. One Norman chronicler observed him “dressed in silken garments stitched with gold, surrounded by a crowd of household attendants and guards, and gleaming in an almost heavenly glory.” He was pandered to on all sides with “excessive reverence” and was therefore prone to fits of “immoderate arrogance.”

William was surrounded by a large group of other noble youths. They included his half brother and half sister Richard of Lincoln and Matilda countess of Perche, both bastard children from a brood of twenty four fathered by the remarkably virile King Henry; William’s cousin Stephen of Blois, who was also a grandson of William the Conqueror; Richard, the twenty six year old earl of Chester, and his wife, Maud; Geoffrey Ridel, an English judge; the prince’s tutor, Othver; and numerous other cousins, friends, and royal officials. Together they made up a golden generation of the Anglo Norman nobility. It was only right that they traveled in style.

The White Ship belonged to Thomas Fitzstephen, whose grandfather Airard had contributed a longship to William the Conqueror’s invasion fleet. Fitzstephen had petitioned the king for the honor of carrying the royal party safely back from Barfleur to the south coast of England. Henry had honored him with the passage of the prince’s party, but with this duty came a warning: “I entrust to you my sons William and Richard, whom I love as my own life.”

William was a precious charge indeed. He was seventeen years old and already a rich and successful young man. He had been married in 1119 to Matilda, daughter of Fulk V, count of Anjou and future king of Jerusalem. It was a union designed to overturn generations of animosity between the Normans and Angevins (as the natives of Anjou, a small but important province on the lower Loire, were known). Following the wedding, William had accompanied his father around Normandy for a year, learning the art of kingship as Henry thrashed out what the chronicler William of Malmesbury described as “a brilliant and carefully concerted peace” with Louis VI, “the Fat,” the sly, porcine king of France. It was intended as an education in the highest arts of kingship, and it had been deemed effective. William had lately been described as rex designatus (king designate) in official documents, marking his graduation toward the position of coking alongside his father.

The highest point of William’s young life had come just a few weeks earlier, when he had knelt before the corpulent Louis to pay homage as the new duke of Normandy. This semi-sacred ceremony acknowledged the fact that Henry had turned over the dukedom to his son. It recognized William as one of Europe’s leading political figures and marked the end of his journey to manhood. A new wife, a new duchy, and the unstoppable ascent to kingship before him: these were good reasons to celebrate, and that was precisely what William was doing. As the thin November afternoon gave way to a clear, chilly night, the White Ship stayed moored in Barfleur, and the wine flowed freely.

The White Ship was a large vessel, capable of carrying several hundred passengers, along with a crew of fifty and a cargo of treasure. The Norman historian Orderic Vitalis called it “excellently fitted out and ready for royal service.” It was long and deep, decorated with ornate carvings at prow and stern and driven by a large central mast and square sail, with oar holes along both sides. The rudder, or “steerboard,” was on the righthand side of the vessel rather than in the center, so the onus on the captain was to be well aware of local maritime geography; steering was blind to the port side.

A fair wind was blowing up from the south, and it promised a rapid crossing to England. The crew and passengers bade the king’s vessel farewell sometime in the evening. They were expected to follow shortly behind, but the drinking on board the White Ship was entertaining enough to keep them anchored long past dark. When priests arrived to bless the vessel with holy water before her departure, they were waved away with jeers and spirited laughter.

As the party ran on, a certain amount of bragging began. The White Ship contained little luggage and was equipped with fifty oarsmen. The inebriated captain boasted that his ship, with square sail billowing and oars pulling hard, was so fast that even with the disadvantage of having conceded a head start to King Henry’s ship, they could still be in England before the king.

A few on board started to worry that sailing at high speed with a well lubricated crew was not the safest way to travel to England, and it was with the excuse of a stomach upset that William’s cousin Stephen of Blois excused himself from the party. He left the White Ship to find another vessel to take him home. Dismayed at the wild and headstrong behavior of the royal party and crew, a couple of others joined him. But despite the queasy defectors, the drunken sailors eventually saw their way to preparing the ship for departure. Around midnight on a clear night lit by a new moon, the White Ship weighed anchor and set off for England. “She [flew] swifter than the winged arrow, sweeping the rippling surface of the deep,” wrote William of Malmesbury. But the ship did not fly far.

Whether it was the effects of the celebrations on board, a simple navigational error, or the wrath of the Almighty at seeing his holy water declined, within minutes of leaving shore the White Ship crashed into a sharp rocky outcrop, which is still visible today, at the mouth of the harbor. The collision punched a fatal hole in the wooden prow of the ship. The impact threw splintered timber into the sea. Freezing water began to pour in. The immediate priority of all on board was to save William. As the crew attempted to bail water out of the White Ship, a lifeboat was put over the side. William clambered aboard together with a few companions and oarsmen to return him to the safety of Barfleur. It must have been a terrifying scene: the roar of a drunken crew thrashing to bail out the stricken vessel, combining with the screams of passengers hurled into the water by the violence of the impact. The fine clothes of many of the noble men and women would have grown unmanageably heavy when soaked with seawater, making it impossible to swim for safety or even to tread water. The waves echoed with the cries of the drowning.

As his tiny boat turned for the harbor, William picked out among the panicked voices the screams of his elder half sister Matilda. She was crying for her life, certain to drown in the cold and the blackness. The thought was more than William could bear. He commanded the men on his skiff to turn back and rescue her.

It was a fatal decision. The countess was not drowning alone. As the lifeboat approached her, it was spotted by other passengers who were floundering in the icy waters. There was a mass scramble to clamber to safety aboard; the result was that the skiff too capsized and sank. Matilda was not saved, and neither now was William the Aetheling, duke of Normandy and kingdesignate of England. As the chronicler Henry of Huntingdon put it, “instead of wearing a crown of gold, his head was broken open by the rocks of the sea.”

Only one man survived the wreck of the White Ship, a butcher from Rouen who had boarded the ship at Barfleur to collect payment for debts and been carried off to sea by the revelers. When the ship went down, he wrapped himself in ram skins for warmth and clung to wrecked timber during the night. He staggered, drenched, back to shore in the morning to tell his story. Later on the few bodies that were ever recovered began to wash up with the tide.

King Henry’s ship, captained by sober men and sailed with care and attention, reached his kingdom unscathed, and the king and his household busied themselves preparing for the Christmas celebrations. When the awful word of the catastrophe in Barfleur reached the court, it was greeted with dumbstruck horror. Henry was kept in ignorance at first. Magnates and officials alike were terrified at the thought of telling the king that three of his children, including his beloved heir, were what William of Malmesbury called “food for the monsters of the deep.” Eventually a small boy was sent to Henry to deliver the news; he threw himself before the king’s feet and wept as he recounted the tragic news. According to Orderic Vitalis, Henry “fell to the ground, overcome with anguish.” It was said that he never smiled again.

The sinking of the White Ship was not just a personal tragedy for Henry I. It was a political catastrophe for the Norman dynasty. In the words of Henry of Huntingdon, William’s “certain hope of reigning in the future was greater than his father’s actual possession of the kingdom.” Through William the Aetheling’s marriage, Normandy had been brought to peace with Anjou. Through his homage to Louis VI, the whole AngloNorman realm was at peace with France. All of Henry’s plans and efforts to secure his lands and legacy had rested on the survival of his son. Now it was all in vain.

The death of William the Aetheling and the fortuitous survival of his cousin Stephen of Blois would come to throw the whole of Western European politics into disarray for three decades.

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  • Posted May 8, 2013

    I love medieval history. I know that makes me weird. It's ok. O

    I love medieval history. I know that makes me weird. It's ok.

    Once, my father brought one of his friends up to New Hampshire to visit me. While sitting in a diner, my dad says, "Joe, ask him what he does with his free time." His friend looked at me. I told him, "I study medieval and Byzantine history." The two of them exchanged a look and my dad just laughed.

    It is not that my father thinks I am weird. He gets it. History is the fabric of our own existence, and the medieval world is our most neglected and possibly also most influential thread of our history.

    Given an opportunity to read a book that explores the Plantagenet kings who defined what it meant to be English in the Middle Ages, of course someone interested in such history would want to read it. 

    It should come as no surprise that when the opportunity came up to review The Plantagenets by Dan Jones (Penguin Group - Viking), I leapt at it. 

    What can I say? Dan Jones was a great job of surveying the period from Henry II's ascension in 1154 until Henry VII's ascension in 1485. Being three hundred years makes the job of creating a readable single volume history hard enough; but when those three centuries are filled with Plantagenet intrigue, corruption, marriage, warfare, plague, and any number of other elements, the job's complexity is multiplied.

    Dan Jones' prose is direct and to the point, but he takes the time to occasionally pause for a brief humanizing anecdote that helps us understand specifics a little better. He balances his views of all of the Plantagenet kings and avoids the generalized caricatures you find in many works on the period.

    Most importantly, Jones does not gloss over significant events. He does not simply note, as many histories do, that the Hundred Years' War was a catalyst for the rising use of English as England pulled away from France. He takes the time to note the progress of this change, particularly focusing on Edward III's Pleading in English Act of 1362 which changed the official language of the courts of England. I have read a lot of popular histories of the Middle Ages, and Jones is the first to note this seminal event.

    In brief, I found Dan Jones' book to be well worth the investment of money and time to explore it. So much of the book illuminates the seed ideas of our modern English-speaking culture. 

    44 out of 47 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013


    To those who gave a low rating because the sample crashed on page 17 is moronic and does a disservice to the author and potential readers. Got a tech problem keep it off a review of the merits of the work itself. This book so far has been entertaining and well written I love reading about this period of English history. A 400 year real Game of thrones.

    35 out of 35 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 15, 2013

    This is just to counteract every jackass who gave this book a on

    This is just to counteract every jackass who gave this book a one-star review, thus penalizing book and author for a mistake made by Barnes & Noble. If you can't figure out how to lodge a complaint correctly, and you're willing to hurt the sales of an author whose work you were, apparently, interested in, you're a loser who should just stop commenting, period. 

    23 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    A lively visit to the Middle Ages

    This history moves like a novel, but is jam packed with familiar historical figures.. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, Thomas Becket,to begin. Richard the Lionhearted who actually spent more time across the Channel. Richard's villainous brother John who was forced to sign the Magna Carta by nobles. Edward the Hammer who conquered Scotland. This royal family was always fighting someone... even each other. Dynastic feuds were the norm. The author is working on a follow up book covering the biggest dynastic feud of all aka the Wars of the Roses.

    19 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I am a self proclaimed history geek.  Although my first love was

    I am a self proclaimed history geek.  Although my first love was, and always will be, Historical Fiction, over the years I have developed an intense love affair with many well written History books of the non-fiction variety.  I have said many time, on here no less, that a good Historical Fiction book should peak my interest and make me seek out factual books on the given subject to fill in the gaps and give me the "true" picture.  As a result, I am always excited when I found one of the said History books that I can not only enjoy, but recommend.  The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who made England  by British historian Dan Jones is just such a book.   

    When it comes to history, nothing is more fascinating to me than the history of the families designated as Royalty and their nobles.  If you look throughout history, there are not many families or dynasties that you can find who would be more fascinating than the Plantagenets.  From the beginning of their rule in England in the 1100s, to the splintering of their family into the Lancasters and Yorks, and on to the takeover of England by the Tudors, the Plantagenets have had a huge affect on the history of England and Great Britain.  To me, they are the dynasty that all other Royalty, English and other, are measured by. 

    Dan Jones' book begins with the death of Henry I's son William and the demise of Norman rule in England. From there he deftly covers the history of the Plantagenet Dynasty, ending with Henry Bollingbrooke's takeover as Henry IV and the end of the reign of Richard II.  Here is a family full of heroes and heroines, crusaders, thieves, murderers.  Their lives had tragedies and triumphs.  At times they were both brilliant in their rule and careless in their mistakes, but through it all, they made England into a force to be reckoned with.  Dan Jones captures all of these events and their consequences and impacts, and he does it with a writing style that reads more like a good story than just the listing of facts and dates.  That is perhaps the best thing about this reads like a good story, not like a textbook.  I became so engrossed in the lives of the various members of this ruling family, that I would find that I had been reading for an hour or more without realizing it.  

    In the end, I enjoyed this one so much that, although I was given a free copy to read for review, I actually spent the $25.00 to buy myself a hardback copy to read and re-read at my leisure.  I can say, that almost never happens when I am given a book to read for review.   Dan Jones' book, though, is the kind of book that I can see myself enjoying more than one, while also using it as a reference on the Plantagenet Dynasty.  My only complaint was that the book ended too soon, leaving out some of the more familiar members of the family.  Although I understand the reason to stop at the point that this books ends, I am holding Dan Jones to his "promise" of  a second book to finish the tale.  I am highly anticipating this second book, and only hope that he meant what he said about writing it and that it comes out soon.  This book is highly recommended by me to anyone who is interested in the history of the ruling families of England, but of England and Great Britain itself. 

    A Huge thanks to Viking Adult and Netgalley for allowing me the privilege of reading this book in exchange for my review. 

    14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    This is definitely one of the best histories I have read...and I have at least three shelves (double stacked) of English history...WOW...I am going to order his previous book and will impatiently wait for his next book...

    13 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2013

    Good book - makes history live

    I am interested in this type of literature and have read many about the other "houses". This one covers a lot of monarchs and time. There are times when it is a bit dry but overall it is easy and fascinating to read.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    Highly entertaining. Anyone that reads history can see the para

    Highly entertaining. Anyone that reads history can see the parallels that exist today. Power corrupts....

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2013

    Great book!

    No problems with this book. A really good read.

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2013

    Lack of Sample

    sample freezes on pg 17, after very brief intro. So unable to make decision whether to purchase.

    6 out of 93 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Software bug

    The sample book freezes on page 17.

    6 out of 99 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2013

    Good but kind of boring

    I think this book was really good for what it was, I just didn't really know what it was when I bought it. It reads as a history book with absolutely no dialog. That's okay, but that means there were times when I actually feel asleep reading. I loved the overall story and hearing a more accurate version of stories like Robin Hood and William Wallace. And it seemed to get better and more detailed the more you read. Very interesting, but not compelling.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2013

    Great, engaging narrative history of Plantagenet England. The au

    Great, engaging narrative history of Plantagenet England. The author is very competent at providing detailed information about not just the monarchs and their families, but also the political dynamics within England, Scotland, Wales, France, and more. He does this without the book becoming overly complex or bogged down in unimportant details. Each monarch and many of the supporting characters comes to life and I think I have a decent understanding of what they must have been like. Most of the monarchs are some of the most compelling historical figures in English history: from Henry II and his brilliant Queen Elanor to Richard the Lionheart and King John down to the brutal efficiency of Edward I, absolute incompetence of Edward II, and triumphant mastery of Edward III, I was always entertained.

    I do have to say that, contrary to edivietro's review, the book goes from Henry II (well, even before that, but roughly) to Henry IV, not Henry VII. It follows the main branch of Plantagenets but does not cover the Wars of the Roses between the York and Lancaster factions beyond the initial upheaval and end to the main Plantagenet line with the ascension of Henry IV.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2013

    great book for $23.82 

    great book for $23.82 

    2 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2013

    Love it!

    A great way to learn about the first royal family in England! Entertaining and educational

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2015

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    So much history!! Bravo to Dan Jones for taking on the work of w

    So much history!! Bravo to Dan Jones for taking on the work of writing about the Plantagenet kings and queens of England. And he did a brilliant job! This book takes the reader through a time period when England really began to move from an outlyer on the world stage to a forward position in world events– thus it really becomes the preface to the story about how England changed the world as they moved into the twentieth century. The impact of the events detailed in this book still resonate today. For me, that makes for exciting reading. But if that isn’t enough to capture the attention, Jones also have a way of telling the story that keeps it readable, engaging and exciting. And if you enjoy this book you will also want to read his next book, War of the Roses.

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  • Posted January 16, 2015


    Did not let me down on this continuing saga.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2015

    Historical work that reads like a novel. Mr. Jones brings the p

    Historical work that reads like a novel. Mr. Jones brings the period and players to life in a straightforward and engaging manner. after finishing this, I look forward to picking up a copy of his latest.

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  • Posted December 13, 2014

     Not bad, but overall the work is mediocre due not to the style,

     Not bad, but overall the work is mediocre due not to the style, which flows smoothly enough, but because of a very slippery grasp on the facts he creates to embellish the story. 

    In the very first chapter, for instance, he writes about sailing under 'the light of a new moon.' Seriously?! So right away, he doesn't know the difference between a new moon (dark) and a full one (bright). Then he talks about the 'cries' of the drowning. Seriously?! Drowning people don;t actually call out because they can't. (Look it up.)

    Later on he describes a cathedral in summer time as cold. Seriously?! Ever been in a French cathedral in summer? Then he describes the smell of incense as 'sickly.' Seriously?! The gift given to the child Christ by the magi?

    Anyway, you learn to read past these errors, and decide he researched the history, but the embellished portions he didn't fact check. At least I think that. But still, I wonder.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2014

    Not fiction

    This book does not 'flow like fiction' as mentioned in a review below.
    It is primarily a factual recounting of how the crown was passed through one family for 250 years.
    If you are looking for a dry accounting of this period in the history of english reign, this is book is for you.

    I found it tough to get through this one.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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