Henry II, His Sons and the Wars for the Plantagenet Crown
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A history of King Henry II (1133-1189) and his unpleasant royal sons.

A medieval king did not simply give orders. He was the first among equals, a baron whose land provided income to support his army and who had convinced other barons with their own land and armies that he was the most powerful. Being king was expensive and hard work, but there were always candidates. Crowned in 1154, Henry II ruled Britain and more French territory than the French king. Although called the Angevin Empire, writes broadcaster and historian Barratt (The Forgotten Spy: The Untold Story of Stalin’s First British Mole, 2016, etc.), it was more like a commonwealth since French nobles preferred to rule on their own. Everything began well because Henry took kingship seriously, pacified his realm, and introduced reforms that have persisted to the present time. Then four of his sons reached adulthood and required attention. Henry appointed his eldest heir but gave him no responsibility. He gave lands and income to the others, who acquired more through marriage, but all remained unsatisfied. From the 1170s until well into the following century, the sons engaged in a relentless series of quarrels, wars, rebellions, reconciliations, and betrayals with their father and, then, after his death, with each other and several foreign powers. “What made the Angevin conflict so noteworthy was that Henry’s entire family turned against him,” writes Barratt, “and that so many other powers were dragged into the conflict as a result of interconnected geopolitical alliances.” Matters did not improve when son John emerged as the sole survivor in 1199. Expensive, unpopular wars did not prevent the loss of most French territory, and rebellious British nobles forced him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. Readers curious about how ordinary people lived in medieval times must look elsewhere, but this is a solid political history of a royal family whose members were pugnacious, grasping, devious, and shortsighted.

A good choice for scholars and students of the Plantagenets.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-571-32910-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2018


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