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Henry Plantagenet: A Biography of Henry II of England

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Henry II is the most imposing figure among the medieval kings of England. His fiefs and domains extended from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and his court was frequented by the greatest thinkers and men of letters of his time, besides ambassadors from all over Europe. This readable and accessible biography offers both a study of his character, and an estimate of his wo Henry II is the most imposing figure among the medieval kings of England. His fiefs and domains extended from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and his court was frequented by the greatest thinkers and men of letters of his time, besides ambassadors from all over Europe. This readable and accessible biography offers both a study of his character, and an estimate of his work as a ruler, work which is in a sense the history of his life, since it occupied his entire energies from his accession at the age of twenty-one to his death thirty-five years later. Nor is this the mere routine of government; from the desolate and lawless anarchy of Stephen's reign, and against the opposition of the great magnates and the Church, he built in England a stable and prosperous realm, and welded his diverse inheritance overseas into a single, and by the standards of the time, peaceful, unit. Only the folly of John dispersed his empire, and his work in England left an enduring mark on the institutions by which we are governed today.RICHARD BARBER's other books include Tournaments, with Juliet Barker, Edward Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince, The Knight and Chivalry and books on King Arthur; he is currently working on a study of the legend of the Holy Grail. 1154-1189


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Henry II is the most imposing figure among the medieval kings of England. His fiefs and domains extended from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and his court was frequented by the greatest thinkers and men of letters of his time, besides ambassadors from all over Europe. This readable and accessible biography offers both a study of his character, and an estimate of his wo Henry II is the most imposing figure among the medieval kings of England. His fiefs and domains extended from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and his court was frequented by the greatest thinkers and men of letters of his time, besides ambassadors from all over Europe. This readable and accessible biography offers both a study of his character, and an estimate of his work as a ruler, work which is in a sense the history of his life, since it occupied his entire energies from his accession at the age of twenty-one to his death thirty-five years later. Nor is this the mere routine of government; from the desolate and lawless anarchy of Stephen's reign, and against the opposition of the great magnates and the Church, he built in England a stable and prosperous realm, and welded his diverse inheritance overseas into a single, and by the standards of the time, peaceful, unit. Only the folly of John dispersed his empire, and his work in England left an enduring mark on the institutions by which we are governed today.RICHARD BARBER's other books include Tournaments, with Juliet Barker, Edward Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince, The Knight and Chivalry and books on King Arthur; he is currently working on a study of the legend of the Holy Grail. 1154-1189

30 review for Henry Plantagenet: A Biography of Henry II of England

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Brown

    A solid if not terribly informative biography of Henry II I can only give it two stars because it barely explored the relationship between Henry and his wife itself a crime nor with his sons or with the major powers on continental Europe a shame. I finished this book with not a lot more knowledge of Henry than when I started

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Harwood

    A good biography is obviously hard to find - hence why I found this (how long has it been in my piles hiding??) US copy of a 1964 (1990s print) biography! Not sure how, maybe one day, a decade ago, or far enough I can't actually recall, I saw this on Amazon & bought it. One of the great mysteries of the mind is that we can recall the most trivial things & forget important things - obviously I wonder why I didn't read it before!! Great writing, as well! Very well done, as the devil's brood, as he A good biography is obviously hard to find - hence why I found this (how long has it been in my piles hiding??) US copy of a 1964 (1990s print) biography! Not sure how, maybe one day, a decade ago, or far enough I can't actually recall, I saw this on Amazon & bought it. One of the great mysteries of the mind is that we can recall the most trivial things & forget important things - obviously I wonder why I didn't read it before!! Great writing, as well! Very well done, as the devil's brood, as he and Eleanor of Aquitaine's children are known (Richard, later Lionheart, for example, shot an arrow at his father, though that's something I picked up elsewhere, not a spoiler!) are known, can be a difficult group to get a feel for, and it's all so political and dry in reality that making such things interesting or at least less academic, as can the episodes with Becket, who was obstinate and one of those friends you should keep closer because they're not really friends... A saint should never be slated, though, I think, can I get lynched for it nowadays? I hope not! Here, it's all explained, sometimes a little boring or academic or confusing (we no longer have the link of Church and state that made such arguments possible), and I'm not sure it's made interesting, but at least the reader comes away knowing the author knew his stuff & tried not to bore the reader. I know there are better biographies out there, especially with new evidence and opinions out there all the time, almost 60 years later, but at times it's good to get back to the older writing as it's good to have differing opinions and impressions to compare and analyse, or just for the simple enjoyment of knowing what happened. Fiction has tried, & sometimes partially succeeded, in writing of this time, but there's nothing like the facts to get your teeth into how the past reflects & affects the present.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mark Valentine

    Alacrity, celerity: Henry II raced death, kings, archbishops, women, and his sons. He raced them in his mind and in his actions. He rode hundreds of miles in weeks to be at a council or negotiation; he survived a shipwreck at sea; he sped through relationships; his mind never rested. Barber marches through his life, explaining the family and genealogies well. He has a great explanation of the fiasco that haunted Henry until his end--the assassination of Archibishop Thomas Becket, his friend. I w Alacrity, celerity: Henry II raced death, kings, archbishops, women, and his sons. He raced them in his mind and in his actions. He rode hundreds of miles in weeks to be at a council or negotiation; he survived a shipwreck at sea; he sped through relationships; his mind never rested. Barber marches through his life, explaining the family and genealogies well. He has a great explanation of the fiasco that haunted Henry until his end--the assassination of Archibishop Thomas Becket, his friend. I wished Barber had spent equal attention devoted to Henry's family life but that received only a paragraph here or there. What does get related well is the age, the controversies, and the vitality of his lifetime. I'll wager a dollar that James Goldman had this book on his desk when he wrote The Lion in Winter.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Phair

    After a recent re-read of Mistress of the Art of Death I decided to read more about King Henry II and picked this relatively short biography. Unfortunately this biography concentrated so heavily on Henry's almost obsessive traveling and preoccupation with securing his continental empire that I never felt I learned much about the man, nor his impact on his British lands. Even the whole Becket thing felt glossed over. Not very enlightening apart from military and diplomatic who, what, when and whe After a recent re-read of Mistress of the Art of Death I decided to read more about King Henry II and picked this relatively short biography. Unfortunately this biography concentrated so heavily on Henry's almost obsessive traveling and preoccupation with securing his continental empire that I never felt I learned much about the man, nor his impact on his British lands. Even the whole Becket thing felt glossed over. Not very enlightening apart from military and diplomatic who, what, when and where. No real sense of place or period comes through this rather dry effort.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brynna

    I cannot vouch for the accuracy or comprehensiveness of this book, but as a restful distraction from my chemistry dissertation it was invaluable. Readable enough to be pleasant, but not so absorbing that I couldn't put it down to go back to work. I cannot vouch for the accuracy or comprehensiveness of this book, but as a restful distraction from my chemistry dissertation it was invaluable. Readable enough to be pleasant, but not so absorbing that I couldn't put it down to go back to work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    Less comprehensive than Henry II by Warren, but if you want something shorter, this is THE book on Henry II (after Warren's, of course). Again, historical writers can take tips from Barber on how to write a "keep reading" biography. Less comprehensive than Henry II by Warren, but if you want something shorter, this is THE book on Henry II (after Warren's, of course). Again, historical writers can take tips from Barber on how to write a "keep reading" biography.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mick Maye

    History of Henry II and a very enjoyable book it is. I found this book to be a very easy and enjoyable read. Well worth the time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Kniphfer

    A very sound biography of King Henry II of England.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brennan

    Nearly unreadable. The prose is flabby and poorly edited, and clearly the author enjoys hearing himself go on. Still looking for well-written English history; this isn't it. Nearly unreadable. The prose is flabby and poorly edited, and clearly the author enjoys hearing himself go on. Still looking for well-written English history; this isn't it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Armen Chakmakjian

    Really a good explanation of the time of Henry II, and his famous and infamous sons. If you've seen "The Lion in Winter" or "Becket" with Peter O'Toole, this is the real history behind it. Really a good explanation of the time of Henry II, and his famous and infamous sons. If you've seen "The Lion in Winter" or "Becket" with Peter O'Toole, this is the real history behind it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Fischer Kelly

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  13. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

  15. 5 out of 5

    Marsha Boyd

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lyndsey

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ramon4

  18. 4 out of 5

    Leesa Bugher

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Fried

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Winterburn

  21. 4 out of 5

    Keegan Bray

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alex Lukic

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bobby

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brad Slavik

  25. 5 out of 5

    P.G. Holyfield

  26. 5 out of 5

    Toed Cramp

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lollypop

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sean Healy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lara

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