The year is 1120 and the place is England and off the coast of France a ship filled with wine-soaked Norman nobles sinks and with it, the last direct male descendant of William the Conqueror, the only son of Henry I. So opens Dan Jones’ blood-soaked, history-filled, and enthralling tale of one of the longest-reigning and most influential dynasties of the British monarchy. From out of the bitter civil war that divided England for two decades after the death of Henry I as his daughter Matilda and his nephew Stephen of Blois fought for control of the English crown, came the birth of the Plantagenet kings, a line that began with Henry II and which Jones covers for eight generations, ending the book with the deposition of Richard II in 1399. Over the course of these more than two centuries, Jones describes the life and reign of Henry II and his powerful queen Eleanor of Aquitaine as well as their devil’s brood of sons, including Richard I and John. Here too is the story of the weak and pious Henry III and his strong-willed son Edward I, the disastrous reign of Edward II and the rise of his son Edward III who led a successful coup to take power from his mother’s lover at the age of seventeen, as well as the rule of Richard II from the age of ten until he was deposed in 1399. This is where Jones ends The Plantagenets, saving the story of their fall and the rise of the Tudors for his second book, The Wars of the Roses.
You’d think that with over two centuries of history to cover, this book would get boring or at least confusing, but Jones is able to make all of these royal kings and queens, as well as the many barons, earls, and bishops surrounding them, come to life and stand out as individual characters with their own personalities and agendas. Some people describe great non-fiction books as reading just like a novel, and this book isn’t like that at all, but this was the other best kind of non-fiction, the kind where you feel yourself learning something new each time you pick up the book and are drawn into the history itself by a master storyteller. The Plantagenets can serve both as a great introduction to the macro-level events surrounding the English throne during the reign of the Plantagenet monarchs or as a new perspective on the Plantagenets for the reader who already knows about medieval English history. Either way, it is a captivating read and not to be missed for any Anglophile.
-Illyanna L., Central Library