Audiobook Review: The Plantagenets

The Plantagenets:  The Warrior Kings And Queens Who Made England, by Dan Jones, read by Clive Chafer

It should come as little surprise that as a confirmed Anglophile that I would enjoy reading and writing a fair bit about the Plantagenet rulers of England and associated imperial territories and the great men and women they interacted with [1].  This audiobook was a sprawling one at 17 discs, one of the longest audiobooks I have ever listened to, but the story was a worthwhile one in that it covered the history of the family from their beginnings in Angou to the deposition of Richard II by his cousin Henry IV of Lancaster.  The story is surprisingly melancholy, and is divided into several sections based on the wildly fluctuating fortunes of the realm under the rule of Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II and their various rivals and relatives.  Beginning in the anarchy of the mid 12th century and ending with a look towards the Wars of the Roses and the destruction of nearly all with even a drop of Plantagenet blood by the Tudors in order to bolster their own shaky claim to the English throne, there is a lot of sorrow and suffering to be found here.  I was a bit surprised that I would feel compassion for this particular family and their struggle for mastery in England and abroad.

In terms of its contents, this book is a solid example of biographical history at its finest.  It is not particularly surprising that the book would do such a good job at discussing the kings, but what was surprising is that the author spent such time talking about the more obscure members of the family as well as their favorites and retainers and great barons and their rivals among the French in particular, but also among the Scots and Welsh, among others.  There are many threads that run through this volume and appear over and over again.  Among them are the problems of royal favorites and the resentment they caused among the British nobility, the longstanding struggles of rulers to protect the larger Plantagenet empire in the face of plague and unrest over taxation, the need for rulers to build a consensus within the political community, the concept of fortune’s wheel, the importance of coronation oaths and the divide between seeing kingship in its sacramental aspects and its martial aspects, to name but a few elements that are repeated over and over again.  This book must have taken a long time to write and edit and research because its scope is immense and the author shows a mastery of a wide variety of source material and is able to explain it in a compelling fashion.

This is not a book to be taken lightly.  The book looks at the Plantagenet dynasty from a variety of perspectives and with considerable nuance.  Throughout the book, the author approaches kingship from a highly practical perspective, showing how kings needed to care care of their succession, how even the most able of monarchs depended a great deal on luck, and how kings gained legitimacy through military victories, piety, the ability to deal with with the political classes, and a shown concern for the well-being of the common people.  These lessons are certainly valuable for contemporary leaders, and the author’s attention to detail makes this book a pleasure to read or listen to by those readers who are fond of English medieval history.  Of particular and striking interest is the way that the author draws the empathy and compassion of the reader for the many suffering people of this account, even while pointing out that in many cases these people lacked empathy for others.  Over and over again English kings are shown as being high-handed towards rulers in the Celtic fringes of Britain even as they strive to defend their own dignity in the eyes of French monarchs.  A little bit of empathy would have gone a long way in encouraging them to be more understanding of their neighbors.  It still would for us today.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History, International Relations, Military History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Audiobook Review: The Plantagenets

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