The Demon's Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty

The Plantagenet family ruled England for more than three centuries, and its historical legacy continues to mark English history, literature and the popular imagination. William Shakespeare immortalized six Plantagenet kings in his history plays, and the recent discovery of the remains of the last Plantagenet monarch, Richard III, has rekindled interest in the redoubtable family and its history.

In The Demon's Brood, Desmond Seward (The Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors) provides an introduction to the Plantagenet line--and he does so with a vengeance. The "wolfish, half-crazy" King John is "arguably the worst king in our entire history." Henry III is "amiable but disastrously inept," Richard II "effete" and "narcissistic," and Edward II summed up in a single word: "abysmal." Seward mingles his own evaluations of each monarch with equally colorful reports from their contemporaries, injecting humor and verve into a past that is anything but dusty in his hands. At the same time, Seward never loses sight of historical context. Included in the "colorful" accounts are careful evaluations of both contemporary and secondary sources. Seward notes, for example, that historical opinion on King John has varied widely over the centuries, from "worst king ever" to "not so bad, actually" and back again.

Keeping the prodigious Plantagenet line straight can be a challenge, and the Wars of the Roses--which Seward also addresses--complicate the task. Seward eliminates the hardship for those new to English history, placing each king in the context of his time, his contemporaries and his family. The result is a delightfully incisive introduction to early English history. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

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