When I was young my parents used to traipse my two brothers, my sister and me around Europe to see the sights – my mother was a historian, and we spent a lot of time reliving the Albigensian crusades, climbing ramparts and re-enacting the fates of kings and heretics. I remember a trip through Normandy when every time we passed a broom bush we would cry out “Plant a Genet” – Geoffrey Plantagenet, the founder of the dynasty that ruled England before the Tudors, used to stick a sprig of broom in his hat. The Plantagenets controled England and Normandy, and large swaths of France. Their most famous kings – Henry Ist, Richard the Lionheart, Edward I, were heroic rulers, brave on the battlefield and skillful in their stewardship of government. The less appealing among them – “Bad” King John, Edward II, Richard III – were conniving and duplicitous egotists, the famous villains of Shakespeare’s history plays.
All of this was a bit of a blur of fact and myth until I read Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England. Dan’s history is alive – he puts you right there on the battlefield, and inside the thoughts of knights and knaves as they contemplate cunning acts of treachery or meet their gory deaths. He is a natural storyteller – which means that he tells history as it should be told, as a story, with larger than life characters and surprising plot twists. This is history for fans of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings – with all of the sexual escapades and gory ends –only in this case every word is true.
My son is three and thinks of himself as a knight, and I think there is something deeply appealing about that world, with its code of honor, bravery and chivalry. Dan Jones’ Plantagenets was a surprise NY Times bestseller for us – everyone in house loved it, and it became a huge sales department favorite. We are about to publish his follow up, The Wars of the Roses, which tells the story of how the Plantagenets essentially clawed themselves apart and were finally replaced by the Tudors. The Tudors are familiar – Henry with his bloody serial monogamy, Elizabeth and Mary, Queens who knew that their power was at once sharpened and compromised by their sex. But how did they come to rule England? It turns out that their grandfather would never in his wildest dreams have imagined that his descendents would one day wear the crown. When Katherine of Valois chose him as her second husband, she did so because she thought he was safe. Little did she know what trouble their children would have in store for them. Dan Jones is so much fun to read that once you finish you want to go right back to the beginning and start all over again.