A recovery from romantic fable of some of the brightest stars of Western medieval history.
Among the many notables, McAuliffe (Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends, 2011, etc.) reintroduces us to the likes of William the Conqueror, Barbarossa, Rollo the Viking, Robert Curthose of Normandy, Louis the Fat and a cadre of Henrys. (Readers will have no problem keeping them straight—the author appends a table of key people and a helpful chronology). After assessing the famously dysfunctional English household of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, McAuliffe focuses on the truly excellent adventures of their son, Richard Lionheart. In clear prose, the author examines Richard’s internecine struggles, usually with his brother, his feckless Third Crusade fighting Saladin, and his many clashes with archenemy Philip of France. In these eclectic pages, we learn of 12th-century statecraft, the design of fortress castles and how to lay siege to them, the wages of mounted knights and foot soldiers, the rise of the notion of romance and the wonderful victuals consumed at great state dinners. The author weaves a selective tapestry that does not scant personal qualities of her featured players. She reveals the Conqueror’s baldness and staunch Eleanor’s attractions. Also, it appears that Lionheart may have been gay, according to the author’s research.
With measured verve, McAuliffe presents an accessible text that occasionally approaches Barbara Tuchman’s talented touch.