Guys, I am a huge history nerd. As a voluntary elective in college, I took a course on the higher Middle Ages, and I loved it (I didn’t do so great on the final, but hey, that’s another story). But for some reason, there is a HUGE gap in my education on anything that happened between like…the beginning of time [excluding some sketchy details about Greek/Roman civilization] and roughly 1300, where both my high school European history and college Middle Ages classes picked up.
But again, big nerd, and when I saw this ARC I though oooooh, pretty, kings and English history. The Plantagenets ruled basically from 1100, shortly after the conquest, until Henry Bolingbrook (Henry IV) kicked Richard II out of office because Richard was a complete idiot around 1399.
If you’re completely bored of this post already, you will absolutely not like this book. At all. Just skip it.
If you’re still with me, though, there is a very good chance that this book is going to be your jive. This 550ish-page tome gives the history of all the kings/queens—who they married, who they fought with, who they got pregnant, the land they lost & gained, who they had duels with, etc. It also goes a little into how they changed legislation & a lot about how they changed the governmental system from a complete disastrous mess into the beginning shape of the institution that it is today.
There were some fun facts in here—things like Henry II was in 1154 the first ruler to be crowned king of England rather than the old form, which was king of the English. A subtle distinction. Or the fun fact that the mortar used for the Tower of London was mixed with animal’s blood. Why? No idea. It doesn’t say.
If you’re looking for a people’s history—what life was like in the eleventh-to-fourteenth centuries, or any kind of sympathy for an entire population that probably had PTSD from being constantly invaded, burned, raped, pillaged, disease-stricken, and abused—this is not your book. Go check out A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman (she won a Pulitzer for Guns of August, which is also awesome but not about the Middle Ages).
Here, we only care about the kings, and Jones obviously has a fondness for kings who were able to get shit done—regardless of the methods they used. Kill entire armies full of people? Slaughter innocent villages? Hey, as long as you’ve got successful financing and a good relationship with your barons, go for it.
I learned a lot, but I could have probably used more fun facts and less “this dude fought with this dude, so that dude went over to hang with this person in this other place that you’ve never heard of because your sense of geography sucks, and then this other dude was upset so he got this other guy killed.” But that’s history.
Three stars because it wasn’t awesome but it was pretty good and now I know that thing about the Tower of London’s mortar, which will be fun to bring up randomly in conversation.
[disclaimer: I received this ARC free from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review]