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Andrew Lownie
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undefined, undefined (2014)
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English
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Biography: royalty
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The Demon's Brood

by Seward , Desmond

Our longest reigning dynasty, the Plantagenets are among the most important in European history, on a par with Hohenstauffen and Habsburgs, with Valois and Bourbons. They took their name from an ancestor's habit of wearing a sprig of bloom flower in his cap although they did not use it as such until 1460.

Their contribution to our history cannot be exaggerated. They saved England's unity, unique in medieval Europe. Rebuilt by Henry II after the chaos left by Stephen, had his sons's revolt succeeded, the kingdom would have fallen apart, as it almost did at the end of John's reign when the barons tried to replace him by the Dauphin Louis. As late as the fifteenth century Henry IV had to crush an alliance of great magnates with the Welsh to divide the country between them. Yet at the same time, not only did the Plantagenets begin the conquest of Ireland and complete that of Wales, but in the Hundred Years War they overran large areas of France, creating an Anglo-French dual monarchy. Meanwhile they presided over the amazing cultural transformation of medieval England into early modern England, when Norman immigrants and Anglo-Saxon natives turned into a nation.

Although the dynasty produced some highly effective rulers, four Plantagenet kings were deposed and murdered, two came close to deposition, and another was killed in battle by rebels. An almost demonic streak appeared when they feuded with their kindred - as Bacon says, 'It was a race often dipped in their own blood.' Finally, fatally divided, they destroyed themselves in the Wars of the Roses.'

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Comments

"This is a big ballsy history of the sort that is seldom written in these nuanced days, and Seward reminds us of a style that has been all-but lost in this thundering account of the Plantagenet family — from 999 when Count Fulk burnt his young wife in her wedding dress, through 500 years to the man he calls the “suicide king”, Richard III... Best of all, and typical of this vivid opinionated history, is the postscript at the end of every reign when the author — who has not minced his words in the previous chapter — gives a magisterial summing up of the progress so far.... The general reader will find this book invaluable for filling in gaps of knowledge and putting a vivid story to a previously unknown monarch... It is a dramatic and page-turning history taking in the loss of the Norman inheritance, and then the shifting ownership of the “English” lands in France during the Hundred Years’ War. Seward’s description of the battle of Agincourt is particularly vivid ... this is the medieval world — populated with heroes and seductresses, gods and murderers —and few know it better than Desmond Seward."

Philippa Gregory

Reviews: Thimes

"The author deftly covers 300 years of English history and more than a dozen kings... Seward is a good author to turn to for ease in reading history; his writing style is quick, vibrant and delightfully pithy in its simplicity of phrase. "


Reviews: Kirkus

"This is popular history at its most buoyant and informative."


Reviews: Booklist

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