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: “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream” by Charles Spencer

53604802._SY475_In the middle of the night on November 25, 1120, screams could be heard from the English Channel. A ship known as The White Ship hit a rock and began to sink. Those on board were the glamorous English elite, including the legitimate son of King Henry I, William Aetheling. In an era where people feared the sea and could not swim, those on board sank to their watery death on that cold winter night that began with such frivolity. No one knew that night that this one disaster at sea would cause a dynastic struggle that would lead to the founding of the infamous Plantagenet dynasty. In his latest book, “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream”, Charles Spencer takes his readers on a journey to fully understand the impact that this tragedy had on the English royal family.

Charles Spencer has written many nonfiction books in the past, but they have all been out of the time periods that I enjoy reading about. I might go back and read them in my own time, but when I saw that this particular title was going to be published and how much praise it had received from prominent historians, I decided to give it a try.

Spencer’s tale into this tragedy begins with a vivid account of the night of November 25th and then it jumps to the first part of the tale. To understand why this event was so horrific for Henry I, we have to understand what it took for Henry I to become King of England. Henry, I was one of three sons of William the Conqueror. After his father died in 1087, the third son, William Rufus became King William II, much to the chagrin of the eldest son, Robert Curthose, who remained Duke of Normandy, but he continued to be a thorn at his brother’s side. When William II died after a hunting accident, Henry knew that it was his chance to beat Robert to the throne, which he did, becoming Henry I, who fought hard to restore order to England.

His two legitimate children, William Aetheling and Matilda, allowed Henry I to breathe a sigh of relief, although he had numerous illegitimate children. This is why this tragedy hit me so hard. With William’s death, it meant that anyone could take the throne after Henry I’s death, which is exactly what happened. The period we know as The Anarchy was a battle between Matilda, who was Henry’s heir, and her cousin Stephen of Blois for the throne of England.

Spencer has painted a dramatically dark portrait of the fall of the Norman dynasty. The Normans were notorious for their cruelty towards those who opposed them, even their own family. What I thoroughly enjoyed with this book was Spencer’s tone. It is as if you are having a casual conversation with Spencer about Henry I’s reign and his family’s drama for the throne. I was impressed with how well researched this book was and the new information that Spencer provided to present the bigger picture of this catastrophe.

I found this book to be a thrilling read full of information and vivid descriptions. This may be Charles Spencer’s first dive into the world of medieval nonfiction, but I hope it is not the last. If you want a brilliant read about the aftermath of the Conquest, the rise and fall of Henry I, and the Anarchy, I highly recommend you read, “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream” by Charles Spencer.