Every now and then you come across a non-fiction title that really stands out and is as much fun to read as a good novel. Such is Desmond Seward’s history of the Plantagenet dynasty. In fact, I found it so interesting that I kept highlighting little sections and will post them here in the review to give you an idea of why this book is so worth reading. Witness extract 1:
It came as something of a surprise to me to see the range of dates and kings covered by the book. I had always thought of the Plantagenets as being the sort of Henry II through to Edward I or II sort of era. Surprised me to see that the story begins in the 10th century and only comes to a close in the Tudor era with the last lost scions of the family.
The book takes a specific format, beginning with the origins of the Plantagenets and then taking us through the dynasty one king at a time, and then finishing with an examination of the fading of the family from the limelight after Bosworth Field.
For each king, we are treated to a brief precis, then a chronological acocunt of their life and reign, focusing on each important aspect separately, with an examination of their personality, the historiography, and then finally a summation at the end. This is a nice, neat way to deal with them and worked very well for me, with a sort of smattering of tit-bits that clung to the memory.
Another thing that struck me with the book is just how much I learned, even about the kings I thought I knew quite well. And, indeed, how interesting some of the kings I really knew little about (Henry IV for eg) compared with those I did (Richard I). So as I went through, I selected one little fact about each king that I hadn’t known by was fascinating.
Here’s a sample of what I learned:
- Stephen & Matilda – if Matilda hadn’t come out on top, we’d probably have had a king Eustace!
- Henry II – was given Ireland by the Pope. Who knew?
- Richard I – offered coastal cities & his sister to Saladin’s brother if he would convert to Christianity…
- John I – was unusually clean, with an impressive bathing routine
- Henry III – was thoroughly happily married!
- Edward I – rebuilt the sinking port of Winchelsea.
Edward II – he really did die in the gruesome manner we heard as kids. I’d always thought it exaggeration!
Edward III – at the battle of Berwick killed over 4000 Scots, but lost a knight, a squire & 12 foot soldiers…
Richard II – his clerk of the King’s Works was one Geoffrey Chaucer!
Henry IV – fought in the Baltic crusades with the Teutonic knights. Fascinating.
Henry V – first king since the Norman conquest to use English for his written business.
Henry VI – was a very prudish fellow who abhored nudity.
Edward IV – despite fighting some of the worst actions of his age, he never lost a battle!
Richard III – was a very capable sea captain and curtlailed the menace of Scottish piracy.
See what I mean? Fascinating little facts, and there are thousands more waiting for you in the book.
The book was released by Constable yesterday, and I recommend it thoroughly, whether you have an interest in the Plantagenets or not. It’s always good to learn more about our history, and this is to some extent the forging of the nation we know.
If I haven’t managed to hook your interest with these titbits then I never will. Go buy the book and have a read. You’ll be fascinated.