Crown and Empire: the Early Plantagenets by Guy Fraser-Sampson

 I’d like to use my final blog post this week to tell you about my new narrative history of the Plantagenets, to which the latest Picnic Author Update referred.


I am writing the book for the best of all reasons: I have been looking to buy and read it for thirty years, but it does not exist! Like most of us, history at school always seemed to stop with the Norman Conquest and start again at the battle of Bosworth and I was always left with a sense of emptiness caused by not knowing what happened in between. This book (or rather, two books, since it will almost certainly run to two volumes) tells that story.


It is written very deliberately as narrative history as it is aimed at the general reader, not the historian, and thus there are no footnotes, and no references to primary sources. It has been written largely from memory, as over the years I have devoured all the books I could find on the period, most of which deal with a specific person or event, and many of which are out of print; one of my bookshop finds some years ago, for example, was a biography of Philippa of Hainault published in 1910. I have however gone back to my bookshelves repeatedly to check facts, dates and names, most notably from the wonderful Oxford History of England series.


It is the story of a largely dysfunctional family. At one stage, all four of Henry II’s legitimate sons were in rebellion against him, and his wife tried to flee disguised as a man to join them (she was caught and held prisoner for twenty years). John personally killed his own nephew, quite possibly having had him blinded and castrated first. Edward II was deposed by his wife and her lover. From Richard II onwards, first legal murder and then just plain murder became commonplace. If the narrative were fiction nobody would believe it, but it isn’t – it’s fact.


The working title is Crown and Empire, though suggestions would be welcomed, and the author is feeling very depressed as he has just killed off Henry II. I have no doubt that you will hear a lot more about this project in the months ahead.


Finally, it only remains for me to say how very much I have enjoyed posting on this blog over the last week, and to thank Picnic once again for their generosity in allowing me to plug a book that is actually being published by someone else. Hopefully no such accident will befall the Plantagenets.


I am leaving you in the capable hands of Brian Landers, a director of Penguin Books, who’s Empires Apart: the American and Russian Empires from the Vikings to Iraq will be published by Picnic, 2 April 2009.  I will stick with the Plantagenet Empire. Much sin but no spin.  It did not pretend its missiles were good for you.  And, of course, it lasted longer . . .