THE REST­LESS KINGS

HENRY II, HIS SONS AND THE WARS FOR THE PLAN­TA­GENET CROWN

The Oldie - - HISTORY -

‘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

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