THE RESTLESS KINGS
HENRY II, HIS SONS AND THE WARS FOR THE PLANTAGENET CROWN
‘Each of the five chapters begins with a dramatic incident’
NICK BARRATT Faber, 336pp, £20, Oldie price £14.16 inc p&p
‘Poor old Henry II: once fêted as one of England’s greatest kings, he has long been neglected,’ wrote Sean Mcglynn in the Spectator. ‘Accessible books on Henry were few and far between until, like the proverbial buses, three came along in fairly rapid succession.’ In addition to Richard Barber’s 2015 contribution to the Penguin Monarchs series and Claudia Gold’s study, we have this book about Henry and his sons by Nick Barratt, a history professor at the University of Nottingham. ‘For constitutionally minded Victorians, it was above all Henry’s comprehensive legal reforms that elevated him to one of England’s foremost kings’ and ‘Barratt echoes this verdict’. Nonetheless, the ‘dramatic machinations’ of Henry’s sons during the last 15 years of his reign, said Mcglynn, ‘are explained especially well’ in The Restless Kings.
In Literary Review, Nick Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, observed that ‘the whole of the Anglo-french tragedy that we know as the Hundred Years’ War was a consequence of Henry II’S empire-building. So too were the problems of Anglo-ireland. It might be argued that geopolitical rivalries originating in Henry’s reign continued to define Anglo-european relations in the ages of Crécy, Agincourt and Boyne, indeed as late as the two world wars and beyond.’ Vincent reviewed Barratt’s book alongside Gold’s. ‘Barratt begins each of his five chapters with a dramatic incident – the drowning of Henry I’s sons in 1120, the murder of Becket and the announcement of the capture of the king of Scots in 1174 – in each case as a fanfare to grab the reader’s attention. The ruse succeeds, but thereafter narrative swiftly yields to analysis… For those in search of the finer points of accountancy, Barratt’s book is to be preferred. For those seeking a broader sweep and more colourful narrative, I recommend Gold, who writes with both vigour and a desire to get the details right.’
Henry II: a long neglected king