The Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty

Desmond Seward. Pegasus (Norton, dist.), $28.95 (364p) ISBN 978-1-60598-618-0
Seward, who has written on the Tudors and the Hundred Years’ War, gives a whirlwind overview of the Plantagenet kings, from Henry II through Richard III (1154–1485). The book focuses on men, battles, and politics in a manner that ignores the past 50 years of medieval scholarship. While he relies on period accounts and chronicles, Seward (The Last White Rose) doesn’t account for the biases of his sources; a book praising Thomas à Becket, for example, is a hardly a reliable source information on Geoffrey of Anjou, the father of Henry II. Elsewhere Seward proposes motives and beliefs for individuals without providing citations. Strong queens, such as Matilda, the mother of Henry II, are “viragos,” while other queens are disparaged as termagants, lustful, arrogant, cruel, or scheming. Even Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry’s wife, is barely mentioned. Horrendous punishments, however, are described in gleeful detail, as is an account of Edward II’s murder that is now dismissed by most historians. Seward also reinforces long-demolished stereotypes about the Middle Ages: that all Jews were money-lenders and lived under the constant threat of persecution; that belief in black magic and omens was rampant; and that life was uniformly dirty, superstitious, and violent. There are many scholars and even novelists who have portrayed the Plantagenets and the period more accurately. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/16/2014
Release date: 09/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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