Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"The Plantagenets," by Dan Jones

"The Plantagenets" is one of the few books I've purchased as the combined Kindle and Audible versions with "Whispersync for voice." I thought it would be good value, as the combination cost only slightly more than my monthly audible credit alone. I haven't really used the pairing as intended: to seamlessly switch back and forth between the audible and eyeball versions. However, I liked the idea of having the e-book version on hand as a reference – one drawback of audible "books" is the difficulty of going back to find a particular passage or check a detail. As much as I love the flow of audiobooks, they do not function well as resource material.

As an audiobook, The Plantagenets was engaging listening, although I thought the narration was a bit flat. It takes a lot to put me off the narration though, so once I got used to the style it didn't bother me much.

In comparison to Thomas B. Costain's four-volume series, which I recently reread, this single volume is doesn't cover all the same information in as much detail. Overall, I did not notice any major differences from Costain's version of Plantagenet history.

There were a couple of points the author made that particularly caught my attention. For one thing, he discusses Thomas Becket's struggles to fit in as Archbishop of Canterbury – upon finding himself abruptly presiding over life-long churchmen who disliked and mistrusted him on principle. There's a suggestion that rather than undergoing some kind of religious and personality conversion, he felt unequal to the role he'd been assigned and determined to do whatever it took to fill it. In order to accomplish that, he needed to embody the views of those he suddenly found himself leading. Perhaps much of his former famous extravagance had been a bit of a front to amuse Henry, and Becket's natural bent had always been a bit more ascetic.

Also, the author firmly concludes that Richard II was the worst of the Plantagenet kings – worse than John, Henry III, or even Edward II. I had always thought of Richard as more capricious and pitiful than actively malign, but perhaps that is an impression formed from Shakespeare – maybe even from (my) being insufficiently attentive to Shakespeare.

Richard's deposition is accounted worse for the country than that of Edward II -- because Edward II had a son who was clearly his legitimate heir. Therefore, a rebellion could be (and was) carried out within the lineage, and did not so violently overturn established order. Henry IV's claim on the throne, in contrast, took a bit of spinning, and everybody knew it.

In the end, Henry IV's usurpation of Richard II's throne was considered to set the stage for the Wars of the Roses. Suddenly deposition and usurpation of a sitting king by someone else with a distant claim became a thinkable outcome.

Dan Jones has a new book "The Wars of the Roses" scheduled to come out in October of 2014. I'll be keeping an eye out for its release!

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