Tag Archives: Thomas Costain

The Magnificent Century: A Booky Mom Review

The Magnificent Century (The Plantagenets, #2)The Magnificent Century by Thomas B. Costain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thomas B. Costain’s second book in his Plantagenet series focuses on the life of Henry III and to a large extent Simon De Montfort. The first book runs through Henry II and his sons with solid details, but without spending too much time on any of the people. For me, I was not expecting book 2 to be almost totally devoted to the life of Henry III. Additionally, I just do not find Henry III to be the most interesting of the Plantagenets.

However, Costain does a good job with subject matter again. He covers the key women of the period in a fair manner and gives them their place in the rolls of history. I appreciated this because he is writing prior to the “women’s movement” so his cover of these women is genuine and fair. They have important parts to play and are given credit for their good and bad behaviors because that’s how it happened.

One of the joys of reading Costain are his “tangents” where he discusses the details of time and place or the personal history of other people of the period. In this book we are treated to digressions including discussions of woman’s fashion and the life of Roger Bacon.

The final few chapters are a wonderful summation of the book, so if you get bored reading it— skip to the end.

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Dan Jones’ Plantagents—Skip It.

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made EnglandThe Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets was a disappointment for me. I started out really loving it and I wanted to love it. I am very interested in that period and thought that a new discussion/overview of the period would be interesting. Sadly, I found his research lacking and that he dismissed key points in the historical period he was covering without justifying his point of view.

I say skip it and go ahead and pick up Thomas Costain’s series on the family.

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Best Book on the Plantagenets Yet!

The Conquering Family (The Plantagenets, #1)The Conquering Family by Thomas B. Costain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally published in 1949, Thomas Costain’s Conquering Family is a history of Henry II and his family. It is the first volume in a series about the Plantagenet Dynasty and is told from a wonderfully British perspective.

The work discusses the succession problems created when Henry I’s son died in the White Ship crash. He continues through the death of that famously hated king, John.

Costain uses his British style to introduce readers to the Plantagenet’s with detail and an entertaining voice. For example, in describing Richard the Loinheart: Richard was always the knight, never the king.

The author also addresses court rumor and works to help readers distinguish fact and fiction. However, because the book has an older publication date there are a few things that historians have discovered in the past 60 years. It seems history is always coming to light. One example of this is Henry II’s illegitimate son, William. New research has discovered William is not Rosamund’s son– the child of one of Henry’s other mistresses, Ida.

Throughout the work, the author provides useful asides. For example, he gives a good description of Strongbow’s conquest of Ireland, the Robin Hood Legend and the life of a villen during the period. These details help paint a picture of the times beyond just what was happening to the Plantagenet dynasty.

One aspect that maybe tough for new readers to this period of history are the author’s speculations. Every once in while he adds his own opinion of events. I enjoyed his ideas, however, people less well versed in the period my be confused and take his musings as fact. As long as you give the book a close reading, I don’t think readers will be confused.

I was reading this concurrent with The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones. Jones’ book is more recent (2013) but Constain’s book is much better, more entertaining and readable. Over and over I found myself wishing I was reading Costain’s when I was reading Jones’.

Finally, I had the extra treat of listening to Conquering Family on audio and the narrator David Case does a wonderful job. His voice, accent, and timing add a lot to the book!

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