Book Review: “Harry of England: The History of Eight Kings, From Henry I to Henry VIII” by Teresa Cole

52509401English kings are some of the most recognizable monarchs in all of European history, and when we think of Kings of England, a few names pop into our minds. Edward, George, and William tend to be popular, but you cannot study English history without Henry. Eight kings of England were Henry, and they would change the history of England forever. These eight kings give us an entire range of what kingship was like in medieval Europe. From men born to be king to opportunists who decided to take the throne as their own, from saints to warrior kings, the Henrys of English history were a colorful group of characters. Each king has had numerous biographies written about him, but there has never been a collection of biographies about the kings named Henry until now. This is “Harry of England: The History of Eight Kings, From Henry I to Henry VIII” by Teresa Cole.

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this title, I was fascinated by the concept. I have read several books about certain Henrys, but I have never read one that talks about them all in one book.

Cole begins her book with the first Henry, the 4th son of William the Conqueror. The prospects of him ever becoming king was very slim, especially when William the Conqueror passed away and the crown went to William Rufus, the eldest son. Yet destiny took an unexpected turn when William Rufus was killed in a hunting accident, and Henry was there to take the throne before his other brothers had a chance. Henry had to deal with numerous rebellions and the tragedy of the White Ship, which killed his only legitimate son and heir. This led to the period of fighting between Henry’s daughter Matilda and Stephen of Blois, known as the Anarchy, which led to the reign of King Henry II and the beginning of the Plantagenet Dynasty.

King Henry II had his fair share of family drama with his sons and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, plus a deadly confrontation with his former best friend, Thomas Becket. The following Henry, Henry III did not have the best of starts to his reign as he followed King John and had to deal with barons’ war and external threats to the throne while balancing the Magna Carta. Luckily for Henry III, he had the longest reign of any medieval English king, fifty-six years.

We enter the Hundred Years’ War with France during the reign of Henry IV, the son of John of Gaunt, who took the throne from Richard II. Henry IV’s son Henry V was the great warrior king who won a decisive victory against the French at Agincourt. Henry V’s son Henry VI became king when he was just a baby, and it was during his reign, that we saw the emergence of what we call today the Wars of the Roses. Finally, Cole tackles the Tudor kings, Henry VII and his second son Henry VIII.

Cole has done her research and given her readers a collection of biographies that are easy to read. Each king has his moment to shine, and Cole does not show favoritism as she explains important battles, events, policies, and changes to the law and religion that each king brought forth. If you want an excellent book that gives you an introductory course into the English kings named Henry, I would recommend “Harry of England: The History of Eight Kings, From Henry I to Henry VIII” by Teresa Cole.

Book Review: “Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy” by Matthew Lewis

47355586Civil wars between cousins have had many names in the past, notably in England, the Wars of the Roses. However, there was a civil war that pre-dates the colorful contest known as The Anarchy. Two cousins fighting against one another from the throne of England, but what makes this contest unique was the main protagonists caught in the middle. One was the only legitimate child of King Henry I, Empress Matilda. The other was Henry I’s favorite nephew, Stephen of Blois. This conflict stretched for decades and has fascinated historians for centuries. It is complex and at times, a bit confusing, but Matthew Lewis has chosen to shed some light on what happened during this period in history in his latest book, “Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Matthew Lewis’ books in the past and I didn’t know much about The Anarchy, so this book seemed like a good place to start.

The story of The Anarchy started when Henry I’s only legitimate son died tragically in The White Ship disaster. Although Henry I did have numerous illegitimate children, the only legitimate child that he had left was his daughter Matilda. She was married to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, thus she took her illustrious title Empress Matilda. However, when her husband died, she married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou.

When Henry I died in 1135, the throne was supposed to pass down to Empress Matilda, which would have been unprecedented as a woman never ruled England before. However, Empress Matilda’s cousin and Henry I’s nephew, Stephen of Blois got to England first and became King Stephen. To make matters a bit more confusing for those who study this time period, King Stephen married Matilda of Boulogne, who is known in this book as Queen Matilda. Although they shared the same name, these two women acted very differently when it came to how women in power demanded respect from the men around them.

As Lewis explains, The Anarchy which lasted from 1135 until 1154, was not this period of extreme chaos caused by King Stephen’s reign. There are some misconceptions about King Stephen and Empress Matilda that have been passed on through the centuries such as King Stephen was an ineffective leader and Empress Matilda was power-hungry and heavy-handed. Since Lewis decided to keep a very neutral approach, showing both sides of the conflict, which was such a strength in this book, the reader can understand what both Stephen and Matilda were fighting for and how they fought their war. Lewis also showed how the barons, clergy, and other European rulers played into this confusing conflict which led to Empress Matilda’s son Henry II becoming the first Plantagenet King of England.

This was a great introductory book to the conflict known as The Anarchy and the colorful characters of King Stephen and Empress Matilda. Lewis was able to combine well-researched information and an easy to understand writing style to bring this conflict to life. As someone who did not know a whole lot about The Anarchy before I read this book, I found it rather enlightening. The only qualm that I did have with this book was that I was getting confused about the barons and clergy who were helping either side and which side they were on. I do wish that Lewis included a table of names of the people involved to help clear the confusion. Overall, I did enjoy this book. If you want a great book that introduces you to the tumultuous time in English history known as The Anarchy, I recommend you read, “Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy” by Matthew Lewis.