Book Review: “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor De Montfort” by Darren Baker

52044884._SX318_SY475_Two women who shared a name, related by marriage but divided by political and monetary motives. In Medieval Europe, this statement could refer to any number of women, but the two women who are the center of this particular story revolve around medieval England and the reign of King Henry III. One was Henry’s sister whose marriages and money problems were a thorn in her brother’s side. The other was Henry III’s wife who stood by his side and protected their children even when the nation despised her. Their names were Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence respectfully; their stories are filled with disasters and triumphs that would shape how England was ruled in medieval times. Darren Baker explores their lives and the lives of their families in his latest biography, “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor De Montfort”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I wanted to read more books about Medieval Europe and this one caught my eye. I have never read a book by Darren Baker or about either Eleanors, so I did not know what to expect. I am glad I decided to take a chance on this book.

Baker’s book begins with the story of King John’s children, King Henry III and his sister Eleanor Plantagenet. As Henry III was figuring out how his new rule would work under the newly formed Magna Carta, Eleanor Plantagenet was married to William Marshal. In all likelihood, their union would have been successful, except that he died in 1231; they were only married for seven years, but this marriage would leave a massive inheritance problem in the form of the Marshal estate. Instead of marrying again, Eleanor decided to become a bride of Christ.

In the meantime, Henry III found his wife in France, Eleanor of Provence, making an alliance with the French that would prove to be beneficial in the long run. As Henry and Eleanor were settling down into married life, Eleanor Plantagenet left the religious life to marry Simon de Montfort, a friend and rising star in Henry III’s court. These two couples were thick as thieves until money and politics drove a wedge between them that could never be repaired. This conflict between the couples would help establish a parliamentary democracy in England, that caused a civil war to break out between the Montfortians/ Lusignans and the King/Savoyards. The war would end at the Battle of Evesham.

Since this is a double biography, Baker takes the time to show both sides of the conflict, through Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence’s stories. It is really interesting to see how each woman handled the conflict and how chroniclers either praised or criticized them for their actions and who they were. My only concern with Baker’s approach is that he will sometimes put words into the mouths or in the minds of the historical figures. You could understand what Baker’s opinions were on certain issues. I don’t think I would have minded if it was every once in a while, but it was quite frequent and it started to bother me.

Overall, I did enjoy Baker’s writing style in this book. It may be a double biography, but it reads like a historical fiction novel. Although it is sometimes difficult to tell the two Eleanors apart, Baker does his best and presents a fascinating tale of a family in turmoil over finances and power. “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort” by Darren Baker is an enjoyable introduction into this fascinating, tumultuous time in Medieval English history.

Book Review: “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands” by Dan Jones

43899574The story of the Crusades has been told in many different ways from numerous directions. The epic conflict between Christianity and Islam for the Holy Lands that went on for centuries that has lived in infamy. Many questions have arisen as historians try to separate facts from the myths surrounding this topic. How and why did it start? Why did it continue to go on for so long? Was there really a winner in this conflict? Who were the people who defined this conflict? Dan Jones has taken on the challenge of writing a comprehensive history of this conflict and the people who fought during this time in his latest book, “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands”.

I wanted to read this book since the day that it was announced. I did not know a whole lot about the Crusades and what I did know about this time was from quick overviews from history classes that I took while in school. I wanted a book that told the story of the Crusades from all sides to fully understand this struggle as a whole. This book delivered everything that I wanted and more.

Like the title suggests, Jones’s focus is more on the people, the crusaders, and how their decisions led to the numerous crusades from 1099 until 1492 when the Reconquista ended. But what separates this book from other books about the Crusades is that he doesn’t focus on one group of people, his focus is on multiple stories to paint a complex story of the time. Jones includes the tales of the dynamic and colorful people we think of when we study the crusades; Alexios I Komnenos, Anna Komnene, Pope Urban II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, Simon de Montfort, Saladin, Henry Bolingbroke, and many others. However, the story of the crusades was not limited to royalty, generals and popes. Jones includes the tales of the lowly monks who preached for fellow Christians to defend the Holy Lands, scholars and poets who told the tales of those who fought, servants and peasants who fought for their homes and their religions.

This particular subject may feel like a daunting challenge to tackle, but this book is so easy to understand. With a more human-centric approach, Jones is able to present the history of the Crusades in a rather enlightening way. It was not just a series of wars about religion, Christianity versus Islam or, in some cases, against pagan groups. In fact, it was a lot more complicated. They were wars about politics, monetary gains, and to regain lands from other groups of people.

I was blown away with how truly remarkable this book was to read. Jones’s combination of a plethora of facts with an engaging and comprehensive writing style brought the Crusades back to life. There were so many people who I was introduced to by reading this book that I really want to study more in the future. “Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands” by Dan Jones was an absolute delight to read. If you want an excellent book that gives you a comprehensive look at the Crusades and the Crusaders, no matter if you are a novice or someone who has studied this period before, I highly recommend you read this book.