Review: The Plantagenets, Dan Jones

Rating: 3 out of 5

I am reviewing this a long time after getting through the book. This isn’t because of any problem that occurs in the book, but rather my general feeling that it was “okay” through and through. The book is unlikely to impress someone who has read a biography of half the kings covered by the title, but it does serve a purpose in providing a unified narrative of the era. In this way, I feel it is a suitable title to go through before focussing on the specific rulers and their actions.

As the majority of the topics here are well-publicised — the White Ship, Richard and the Crusades, John and his magnates, the Hammer of the Scots, Piers Gaveston, the Black Prince, etc. Inevitable, the nature of the book returns the story to military history in many a case which seems to satisfy the causality of events rather well. I think my own interests have changed, however, because the how and why of the various campaigns was that much more interesting compared to the moment the sword fell. In this, we are also helped by the author’s original fixation on Normandy which is reasoned through the interests of the King of England, Duke of Normandy. This changes latest by the time of John, whose ineptitude in military matters allows the Crown to lose those lands previously held so dearly. Yet, even in this the politics of the events were shaped by John’s youth — and these politics don’t really get the chance they could have in this introduction.

I think that for Mr Jones, this was primarily an introduction that his other research efforts, but, then again, many of his other titles are broad in scope without the personal touch of say Marc Morris who has written biographies on at least two of the kings here (Edward I and John) or Ian Mortimer, who detailed the life of Edward III. In any case, English kings are popular enough to know that a similar title is in the works already and probably these recent biographies will be superseded again in the not too distant a future. This, overall, is an argument in favour of the work of Mr Jones here even if some of his views (for example, concerning Isabella the She-Wolf of France) seem to be a bit too rigid when compared against other authors (Alison Weir to be specific).

To echo my opening: this is a good starter or reminder, to feel at home again with the basics of England’s kingship from the early 12th century to the early 15th. Yet, it doesn’t have the option to investigate any crisis in great detail while the “compulsory” events and people do get mentioned. I think it a good book overall, but didn’t suit my interests as well as a more detailed investigation of a particular subject could have.

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