The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

The Plantagenets As someone who has always read mainly fiction, I have been making an effort to read more non-fiction. The type of non-fiction books I find myself drawn to tend to be books about history or biographies of historical figures; I’ve read a few of these recently and The Plantagenets by Dan Jones is one of the best I’ve read. It’s a very long book at almost 700 pages but as the book covers two centuries of history that’s not surprising!

The book begins in the year 1120 with the wreck of the White Ship in which King Henry I lost his only son and heir. This led to the period of English history known as The Anarchy, a civil war with the country divided between supporters of Henry’s daughter, Matilda, and of his nephew, Stephen. It was the son of Matilda and her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, the future Henry II, who was England’s first Plantagenet king. Dan Jones tells the story of not only Henry II’s reign, but the reigns of all the Plantagenets who followed, up to and including Richard II who was deposed in 1399. Of course there were several more Plantagenet kings after Richard II, but Jones does explain why he chose to end the book at this point.

I love reading about the Plantagenets and find them far more interesting than the Tudors. However, I have to admit that most of my knowledge of them comes from reading historical fiction and while I certainly think it’s possible to learn through fiction, it was good to have the opportunity to read a factual account of the period. Actually, I found this book almost as entertaining and compelling as a novel anyway; Dan Jones does a great job of making the historical figures he’s writing about come to life and conveying the drama of some of the most important events of their reigns. Instead of just telling us that Henry I’s son died in a shipwreck, for example, he describes the sails of the ship billowing in the wind, the shouts of the crew and the freezing water pouring into the ship. This makes the book very readable, though despite it not being too academic it still feels thoroughly researched and I never had any reason to doubt the accuracy.

Before beginning this book, there were some Plantagenet kings whose lives I was more familiar with than others. I found that I already had quite a good knowledge of Henry II and his relationships with his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, his sons and daughters, the knight William Marshal and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. And I knew the basic facts about Richard I (the Lionheart) and his crusades, and about his brother, King John. The story of the final king featured in the book, Richard II, was also familiar to me, but I had less knowledge of the others in between – Henry III and the three Edwards (I, II and III). I enjoyed learning about Simon de Montfort’s rebellion during the reign of Henry III, the 1326 invasion of England by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, and the possible fate of Edward II, all subjects I had previously known very little about.

The Plantagenets would be a great choice for any history lover looking for an accessible introduction to a fascinating time period. I’m hoping for a second volume covering the 15th century and the Wars of the Roses.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review.

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16 thoughts on “The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

  1. Andrea says:

    I don’t know anything about the Plantagenets, but that’s because I always have to remind myself that there were dynasties beyond popular Tudors. I will put this one on my wishlist and see what happens.

  2. Nell says:

    I’ve never heard of this period of history before, but this sounds fascinating. I think your insight into historical periods and books is impeccable, and so I trust you when you say this is more entertaining that the Tudors (who I adore!)

    Nell at And Nell Writes

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Nell! Sometimes I wonder if I’m boring people with all my history posts, so it’s good to know that I’m not. 🙂 The Tudors are fascinating but the Plantagenets interest me more, partly because they are written about less often.

  3. Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp) says:

    I took a British history class in college and remember learning about the Plantagenets, but of course I can’t remember much about them now. The Tudors have been overdone, in my opinion, so it is nice to read about other eras once in a while!

    • Helen says:

      It’s very refreshing to read about other periods for a change. I think it must be very difficult for authors to find anything new to say about the Tudors.

  4. Leander says:

    I’d spotted this on Netgalley and was wondering whether or not to take the plunge, so read this with great interest, and it really does sound worthwhile. Like you, I remember certain details about the period (Sharon Penman’s “When Christ and his Saints Slept” series covers Stephen and Matilda, and Henry II), but it would be great to get a better overview. Thanks so much for your contagious enthusiasm on this. It would be so nice to read a bit more non-fiction this year. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read When Christ and His Saints Slept yet (I’m hoping to get to that series after I finish Falls the Shadow, which I’m reading now, and The Reckoning) but I read about Stephen and Matilda just last year in The Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick so it was still fresh in my mind. It was great to read about the other kings too that I knew almost nothing about.

  5. Fleur in her World says:

    I have a copy of this sitting on our dining table, and so it’s good to read a positive report. my knowledge of the Plantagenets is patchy, and comes mainly from Sharon Penman’s novels, so I’m looking forward to filling some gaps.

  6. ajhowes says:

    I bought this book last year and then somehow never got around to reading it; now I can’t wait to get started on it! We learned very little about the Plantagenets at school, which seems a shame for such a fascinating period of history.

  7. eao says:

    I found it to be a decent survey, but I think the subject would have been better served by dividing it into two books and moving through time a little more slowly.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, you’re right…it was a lot of history to cover in just one book. Dividing it into two might have been a good idea as it would have meant he could spend more time on each king.

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