This article will feature in Issue 35: Fractured Nations (March 2020)
A chronicle of the dynastic medieval royal family known to us as the Plantagenets, narrating the many turns of the wheel of fortune which so affected their fates.
This book is magnificent right from the offset. Jones begins by pointing out that the Plantagenets were never the ‘Plantagenets’ at all; as with most historical epochs, the name was applied with hindsight. In Jones’ beautifully woven narrative, the only figure who would identify themselves as a Plantagenet would be ‘Father of the Dynasty’, Geoffrey Count of Anjou, who never so much as set foot on English soil. The book traces the descendants of the only self-recognising Plantagenet and Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England. Jones explains how the dynasty was founded upon Matilda’s determination for her descendants to be able to claim their inheritance: the English throne. From the text we also learn that Henry II – the first Plantagenet king – was crowned in 1154, three years after the death of his father.
In ‘The Plantagenets…’, Dan Jones manages to encapsulate the dynasty from King’s Henry II to Richard II in astonishing detail. The book may be heavy on pages for popular history, but it is not heavy to read. Jones manages to impart facts and tales of heroic and villainous rulers gone by, and he does so in such incredible detail. Jones is a storyteller and the way that he describes the lives and deaths of the Plantagenets is riveting. Woven throughout the narrative is the metaphor of the ‘wheel of fortune’, which Jones returns to regularly. The wheel of fortune is turning from the offset, with the stories of those affected by the tumultuous reign of the Plantagenet dynasty incorporated into Jones’ narrative in such a way as to be almost as easily readable as a work of historical fiction.
Jones succinctly summarises the plethora of historical narratives from the entirety of the Plantagenet dynasty. He includes events such as the foundation of the British Union, the creation and successive reissues of Magna Carta, the various crusades to the holy land, and a constant battle with the king of France for the Plantagenet territories on the continent.
Jones’ narrative ends with the deposition of Richard II by his first cousin and childhood friend Henry IV in 1399. The decision to stop there is interesting, as this point in history marks the foundation of the House of Lancaster and the commencement of the political upheaval which would later become the war of the roses. This cessation of the plot is also logical in that Jones’ third book offering ‘The Hollow Crown’, picks up where this one ends.