The National Endowment for the Humanities turns 50 next year. William “Bro” Adams, the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, wants to make sure that the study of history, philosophy, and literature remains accessible to everyone. A conversation about his new "Common Good" initiative.
Despite its longevity, the English crown has had few enduring dynasties. Even Britain’s most famous royal family, the Tudors, stayed on the throne for just over a century. But the Plantagenets — who directly preceded the Tudors –- reigned longer than any family before or since. From 1154 to 1399, eight generations of Plantagenet kings and queens ruled England in unbroken succession. Their names are legendary: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and King John. They transformed a broken kingdom inherited from the Normans into the powerful realm we know today. And they created institutions we regard as essentially British, from parliament to Magna Carta. Diane and her guest, British historian Dan Jones, talk about a new history of the Plantagenet dynasty.
- Dan Jones historian and author.
Read An Excerpt
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from “The Plantagenets” by Dan Jones. Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Jones.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. When the world watches the funeral of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, many will be struck by its pageantry. The ceremonial funeral with full military honors will be similar to those of the Queen Mother and Princess Diana.
MS. DIANE REHMMy guest today says many of the symbols in the institution we'll see along the procession route and in the ceremony came about during the High Middle Ages. Joining me in the studio to talk about England's longest-ruling royal family is historian Dan Jones.
MS. DIANE REHMHis latest book is titled "The Plantagenets." You can join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir.
MR. DAN JONESGood morning.
REHMGood to have you here. Before we begin talking about the warrior kings and queens who made England, let's talk about Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday. It has been announced her funeral will be next week. I wonder about her legacy. We're hearing sort of mixed reviews. Tell us about that.
JONESI think the most important thing you can say about Margaret Thatcher is that she was totally transformative of Britain that she founded at the end of the 1970s. The cost of that transformation was an extreme division in British society.
JONESI've been in the States since Saturday and to watch the events surrounding Lady Thatcher's death from afar was actually quite shocking to me to realize the scale of division within my own country.
JONESTo see, on the one hand, tributes paid across the board from politicians, Prime Minister David Cameron, his ally in the British Coalition Nick Clegg, also the Labor Leader Ed Miliband and Tony Blair, his predecessor, but one giving fulsome praise to Thatcher as a politician, as someone whose legacy had defined modern England and yet in the streets in towns like Bristol and Glasgow and Brixton in South London, we've seen parties, people singing Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead, breaking open the champagne.
JONESI mean, the level of joy, I find it quite distasteful in some ways, but you're seeing a divided society.
REHMIs it because of the labor unions that she did succeed in breaking apart?
JONESI think the most important political legacy of Thatcher was her destruction of the organized Left in the sense that the unions, as a serious force in British society, were broken apart during the 1980s. But she also broke apart the parliamentary Labor Party to the extent that to get Labor re-elected in 1997, Tony Blair had to effectively become the heir to Thatcher.
JONESAnd I think what we saw him saying yesterday, in his praise for Lady Thatcher, was what you might have expected from one of her cabinet colleagues. You know, he was her heir.
JONESAnd that has left a serious lack of organization amongst the British Left at the top level.
REHMInteresting, you actually lived through her era?
JONESI did. I did and I can remember, I mean, I was born at the beginning the '80s so I was a child of Thatcher, if you like. I can remember being eight or nine years old. My family is from South Wales mining towns that were devastated by Thatcher's government.
JONESBut some of my family moved away and were people who became quite wealthy, quite well-off, thanks to some of the reforms that she brought in. But I can remember family parties when we all got back together getting to the point of near fist fights between uncles on one side, uncles on the other.
JONESI honestly can remember that, yes, over Thatcher.
REHMNow she was certainly The Iron Lady, a staunch conservative. How would you characterize the difference between her conservatism and that of today's conservatives?
JONESI think the most important thing you could look at is her background. She was the daughter of a grocer. She was entrepreneurial. She believed in ordinary, I guess we call them now lower class, low middle-class people making good of themselves.
JONESNow, if we look at the background certainly of David Cameron and George Osborne, the head of the Conservative Party, but also Nick Clegg in charge of the Liberals and to an extent the Miliband brothers, you're not seeing people of that background at all.
JONESConservatism now has reverted to its position, which is to the position it was in when Thatcher found it, which was a party of the social elite. And I think what her remarkable achievement was, was to make conservatism something that was appealing to ordinary people and not just the old British...
REHMBut surely not the labor unions.
JONESCertainly, not the labor unions, no.
REHMCertainly not, so when you think of an American emissary going to England today, this week, to try to persuade the government to back off from its restrictive financial attitude, what do you think might be accomplished in this day and age when people are looking at exactly what Margaret Thatcher did?
JONESI think the most important thing you could say is -- let's make an analogy here. Thatcher came to Britain in the 1970s and found it in the grip of the unions, of an interest group who were extremely powerful and who were able to wield political power far beyond their station.
JONESWe're in the same position now, except the power is not being wielded by the unions. It's being wielded by the financial sector and that's part of Margaret Thatcher's legacy. Now the banks and the financial institutions have become the heart and the hub and the engine of the British economy and I think it's fair to say that most people would agree they need to remain a strong force for Britain to prosper.
JONESBut on the other hand, what I would say is that the power that they've wielded in recent years has been responsible for the economic catastrophe that faces Britain right now. And if David Cameron wanted really to be the heir to Thatcher, he would be brave enough to stand up to financial interest groups in the city.
REHMAnd to do what?
JONESAnd to reverse the position that they found themselves in after Tony Blair's government, which was almost total deregulation, the ability to hold the government to ransom by saying, you know, if you want to regulate the city, fine, we'll go to Luxemburg or we'll go to Hong Kong whatever, to make threats and in the same way that the unions could make. They could hold the country to ransom in the 1970s by means of strikes then.
REHMHistorian Dan Jones, his new book is titled "The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England." Now, is there a segue between Margaret Thatcher and the Plantagenets?
JONESWell, I think there probably is and there are a couple of segues. Let's look at what we're going to see next Wednesday in London, which is a funeral for Margaret Thatcher attended by the Queen, which will be rich in pageantry and military pageantry, a procession from Westminster, which is the mausoleum of British kings, to St. Paul's, which is another one of sacral homes of British kingship.
JONESThere will be a degree of pageantry and reverence which has its roots ultimately in the Middle Ages when -- although Thatcher was clearly not our queen. Our queen will be attending the funeral.
REHMShe will be attending? That was announced today?
JONESShe will be attending right, right. What we'll see is, on television, pictures beamed across the world is Britain at its most -- sort of, Britain engaging in pageantry in a way that few other countries will, would or can, I think, and that has its roots in the Middle Ages. How's that for a segue?
REHMAnd it was the same kind or it will be the same kind of funeral as was held for Princess Diana?
JONESIt will look similar to Princess Diana's funeral. It will look similar to the Queen Mother's funeral. Lady Thatcher will not lie in state in Westminster as were her wishes, but there will be a military parade too. There will not be a fly-past. I believe that Margaret Thatcher thought that that would be a waste of money, typically...
REHMAha, all right.
JONES...but it will look, to all intents and purposes, like a form of royal funeral. It's not a state funeral and it's not paid for by the state.
REHMThe first sentence of your book, "The prince was drunk, "there have been a lot of people who have been quoting that, but it really sets the tone. Tell us why you chose that.
JONESWell, "The prince was drunk" introduces a scene which took place in 1120, which we can loosely call the Medieval Titanic. It was the sinking of the White Ship and on board, it was the heir to England and to Normandy, a young man called William the Atheling, who was the grandson of William the Conqueror in 1066.
JONESHe was the prince who was drunk. The ship was in Barfleur in Normandy getting ready to sail to England and everyone on board was having a party, including the sailors who were supposed to be navigating the course to England with disastrous consequences.
JONESThe ship sank before it even got out of Barfleur harbor and it destroyed at a stroke almost the whole of the Anglo-Norman noble generation and it led, in its turn, to a civil war which engulfed England for 20 years. We call it the anarchy, but contemporaries call it the shipwreck.
JONESAnd this is the start of the story I've tried to tell in "The Plantagenets" of England's progress from a part of the Anglo-Norman realm, which is to say England plus Normandy, which was -- as the country had been following William the Conqueror.
JONESTo the England that seems familiar, if any of your listeners have studied the Tutors, which may be a more familiar dynasty, the England of Geoffrey Chaucer and the English language, the England of castles and of Robin Hood and of King Arthur and of the battles of Agincourt and Crecy and Poitiers, that familiar self-confidence, high medieval England. That's the story I've told in this book, the creation of that.
REHMDan Jones and after a short break, we'll talk further about his new book titled "The Plantagenets" and we'll talk about the origin of that name.
REHMAnd how appropriate that today historian Dan Jones is with me as we look across the pond and see the preparations being made for the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. Dan Jones has written a new book on "The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England." Talk about the origin of that Plantagenet name.
JONESWell, I'm sure it sounds unfamiliar, Plantagenets, but this is the longest reigning dynasty in English royal history. The name itself comes from the Latin Planta genista, which is a name for broom blossom which was -- it's the blossom of a plant that was quite widespread in England and France in the middle ages. Broom, you still see today. It was worn in the hair of a young man called Jeffry (sp?) of Anjou who married the Empress Matilda who was one of the parties in the civil war that engulfed England during the 12th century.
JONESAnd he was nicknamed Jeffry Plantagenet. And so it's from his descendants we call the Plantagenets. Now it's important to say that most of them didn't call themselves Plantagenets, Certainly not until we get to the 15th century. But this is an unbroken line of kingship that spanned more than 250 years.
REHMAll right. And here's our -- one of our first emails. "What, if any, is the basis for the speculation concerning the relationship between the young Richard the Lionhearted and the French (word?) ?"
JONESSo what we're talking about here is I would call him Richard the Lionheart. Richard the Lionhearted is a perfectly good translation.
REHMHow did that happen?
JONESHe was nicknamed for his bravery Coeur de Leon, the heart of the line in French. So in England we tend to call him Richard the Lionheart. He's the only king who has a statue outside the houses of parliament, which was ironic. He did not spend too much time in England. But there was a rumor when he was young that he had some sort of relationship of a degree of closeness, we're not quite sure about, with the man who became Philip Augustus and King of France.
JONESIt was said that they shared a bed, but we're not sure whether that literally means they shared a bed, they were sleeping together. Personally, I don't think it does. I think it's much more likely that this is a display of political closeness. Richard was in rebellion against his father Henry II and he allied with his father's greatest enemy, who was King Philip. And in an age before the internet, before newspapers, before any sort of mass media at all, public pageantry and spectacle was incredibly important.
JONESAnd I think it's much more likely that we can imagine the two of them ceremonially holding courts on a chaise lounge, or you might call a bed to show their closeness than it is that they were engaged in some sort of relationship as lovers.
REHMAnd here's our second email from Kathleen in Sterling, Va. who says, "It was the Duke of York's sons Edward IV and Richard III who brought sorely needed reforms to British law. For example, prior to these legal improvements it was impossible -- it was possible for an unscrupulous individual to sell the same property several times. After Henry VII defeated Richard III, his historians rewrote history. They turned Richard III into a monster and Henry VII assumed responsibility for popular reforms by his two predecessors."
JONESWell, it's certainly true -- I would agree with the second part of that statement, which is to say that Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England certainly was very concerned to rewrite the history of the 15th century to suit himself and to show the Tudor dynasty as the family who could restore political harmony to England. And as part of doing that he had to and did damn the reputation, particularly of Richard III.
JONESI'm sure your listeners will have followed all the events a couple months ago with Richard III being dug up in Leicester and all the talk at that time of how his name had been blackened and damned. But I would add a note of caution which is to say that Richard III, whether you believe he killed the princes in the tower or not, certainly used up the throne from his brother's son with no cause whatever.
JONESNow in my book I've written about the deposition or forced application of Edward II and Richard II, two of the worst Plantagenet kings who were deposed for tyranny, being -- for taking their subjects' property, for having favorites who misused their power. Edward V, who's the young -- one of the princes in the tower, Edward IV's son, was deposed for no reason whatever other than Richard III wanted the crown for himself. And then Richard III made up a whole bunch of reasons why he said he'd done it. So anyone who takes any political action at any time in human history tends to justify themselves after the event. Henry VII was a master at it.
REHMSo having Richard III's remains dug up in a parking lot in England, what does that tell us or could tell us -- that is, the location, what could that tell us about how he died, where he died? What was there before that parking lot? What does it tell us?
JONESThe whole story of Richard being dug up was absolutely fascinating. It started with a very ordinary piece of work. It started with a desk-based piece of research where a guy at the University of Leicester took a bunch of old maps, overlaid them, took all the accounts of Richard's death -- his body had been lost for centuries -- and pinpointed where he thought the church had lain -- that Richard had been buried there. And he sort of drew an -- it's almost an X marks the spot. He said, I think Richard's body is here.
JONESAnd you know what? They dug there and it was there. That's the astonishing thing about this story.
REHMAnd how do they absolutely know for sure that that was his body?
JONESIt was DNA tests taken from a 16th generation relative of Richard's sister, which said, you know, the DNA match was conclusive.
REHMOkay. All right.
JONESIt said these are the remains of Richard III. What it tells us about his death? Well, we know that he was cut down in battle. We knew that anyway, but we see that there was a slice taken out of the back of his skull. We know that after his death he was roughly treated. Now the historical accounts say that he'd been taken to Leicester, slung naked over the back of a horse. And what we found was that he'd been stabbed and beaten and mistreated, particularly -- he was stuck in the buttocks after his death, which was a sign of great sort of (word?).
JONESSo we know that he was roughly treated after his death. We know that his spine had a curvature to it which would have caused one of his shoulders to be higher than the other. He's not the hunchback of Shakespeare, but he certainly would've appeared to walk lopsidedly, which observers also said.
JONESSo his body actually confirmed a lot of things we'd always suspected about Richard. It didn't tell us a great deal more or less about the political arguments over his reign, and particularly over his user patron of the throne.
REHMWhat about the heart of Richard I, the Lionheart?
JONESSo we're going back a few centuries to Richard the Lionheart now who inherited the throne in 1187 and ruled until 1199. The famous warrior of the third crusade who battled -- although not in person, battled Saladin at the end of the 12th century. Was imprisoned, came back to England to reclaim his kingdom, which was in the process of being lost by his brother King John -- you know, bad King John of Magna Carta.
JONESNow when Richard died in the middle of a siege in 1199 in southern France his body was buried in different bits in different places. The entrails were taken out and buried close to where he died because the body would otherwise have decomposed badly. The body itself was embalmed and buried at Fontevraud which is the -- his family mausoleum where his father and mother were both buried. But his heart was taken out and it was taken to Rouen the capital of Normandy as a symbolic gesture to say -- Rouen and Normandy were argued over between the kings of England and France and it was a symbolic gesture on Richard's behalf to say, I want my heart buried in Normandy.
JONESSo they don't forget who's the rightful king. Now this heart was not lost but it was kept in a sort of metal box for many centuries. And French researchers just this year ran some tests on it and they found that it's been embalmed with some of the most -- some of the richest and most valuable substances, frankincense and myrrh and some of the things we associate with Biblical kingship. And so it had been treated as an object of great veneration. And it was buried in Rouen. And they ran -- I mean, it doesn't look like a heart anymore. It looks like a bunch of dust.
JONESBut still, the fact that we have Richard the Lionheart's heart -- I mean, we can still talk to this Plantagenet era today.
REHMDan Jones and his book is titled "The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England." This is such a rich book filled with so many stories, not to mention years and personalities. Why did you decide to embark on this entire period as opposed to taking bits and pieces of it?
JONESWell, I'd studied a lot of Tudor history. I'm very familiar with the Tudor dynasty, which was always treated as one block. I'd also studied a lot of Medieval history, but there was far less popular knowledge about what I considered to be a much more exciting period. And there wasn't a book that connected everything from 1120 through to, you know, the eve of the War of the Roses. And I felt that you needed to tell that whole story in order to get a sense of what this age was about and what was changed and what was developed during that age.
JONESI also thought what we have here are some of the best stories from English history. Stories of the crusades and the stories of the Magna Carta and the barons war against King John and Henry III and, you know, Edward Longshanks conquering Scotland. And then when you get into the 14th century, the 100 years war with famous battles like Crecy and Poitiers through to that -- the times that are made famous by Shakespeare, you know, the deposition of Richard II.
JONESAnd I felt if we could somehow get these rich stories into one great tabloid of medieval England, and that's what I tried to do. And I hope the book succeeds.
REHMHow long did it take you to write?
JONESTo write it took just under two years.
REHMAnd to research?
JONESTo research, I mean, I've been thinking about and researching and studying this period for about ten years.
JONESSo perhaps 12 years of your life going into this book.
JONESTwelve years of my life, ten years of serious though and consideration and research and then two years of really intense writing.
REHMAnd putting it all together. Dan Jones and the book is titled "The Plantagenets." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have lots of callers. I'm going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Sterling, Va. Good morning, Kathleen, you're on the air.
KATHLEENOh, good morning. I heard you read my quote.
KATHLEENI just wanted to make a comment. I wrote a book called "Richard III: White Boar" and I did it after having a psychic experience about Richard. But I backed it up with tons and tons and tons of research and going to all of the sites. And actually the reason why Richard III felt that it was his responsibility to take the throne was because his brother Edward III had been married and not divorced before he married his queen, which left his children bastards. And the whole counsel agreed with this. There was enough evidence to support this that the population was not in an uproar.
JONESIt's a nice speech you've got there. And I know the argument you're referring to about Richard III and the supposed paternity of Edward IV's sons. And what I would say is that this is an argument made by Richard III subsequent to his user patron of the throne. And there's also the argument that a bastard child is not totally debarred from the succession. If we move into the 16th century, let's look at Henry VIII. His son Henry Fitzroy was considered for quite a long time to be a perfectly valid or at least a candidate for the throne who would be politically acceptable, despite the fact of his parents not having been married at the time of his birth.
JONESNow I do see what you're saying but I've looked at the same evidence as you and I have to say I think Richard's user patient of the throne was an act of political pragmatism for which he has been rightly downed, although his name has been blackened by Tudor historians in far -- his name has been far too blackened by Tudor historians to the extent that when we get to Shakespeare we have this image of a monster, which is totally at odds with a man who is to all intents and purposes generally quite forward thinking and, if we can use the term, progressive.
REHMThanks for calling, Kathleen. To South Bend, Ind. Good morning, Matthew.
MATTHEWGood morning. I had a different question that you just addressed but I have a second one if you don't mind.
MATTHEWWhy would one cut off the Plantagenets at 1399 because while Henry IV was not in the direct line, he was certainly as much a Plantagenet as Richard II was by blood? That would seem to me that those kings, the Lancastrian kings, are every bit as much Plantagenet as anyone else.
JONESYou know what? That is a very, very good point which I've addressed in the introduction to the book. At present, I'm writing what you could consider a second volume of Plantagenets, all about the Wars of the Roses. And so we're going to take up the story from 1399 to -- in fact I'm going to go into the Tudor period. I'm going to go as far as the 1540s. You're absolutely right. Lancaster and York are cadet branches of the Plantagenet family. The trouble was, I got to the point where my publisher was saying, give us the book.
JONESYeah, the book's getting too long. So I'm very pleased to tell you that the second volume should be out next year.
REHMSo you've already pretty much finished it then.
JONESI am in the process of writing and I have -- I'm going to deliver to my publishers in UK and the US on December the 1st.
REHMBoy, you have been working very hard, it seems to me.
JONESWell, I'm absolutely fascinated by this period.
REHMYou're fascinated with it.
JONESAnd I think all that fascination is growing. If you look at the popularity of a show like Game of Thrones at the moment, people are getting into the middle ages in a way that they used to be into the Tudor period -- well, still are into the Tudor period. And I want to tell these stories. I want to communicate with people and tell them the stories that I'm so fascinated by about the middle ages.
REHMAnd clearly a lot of people are as well. Short break here. Dan Jones. His book is titled "The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queen Who Made England." We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's clear many of you are fascinated not only with English history and especially with this period about which Dan Jones is writing, "The Plantagenets." He calls them, "The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England." Here's an email from Kelly in Dallas, who says, "My mother's family, the Mases (sp?) claim descent from King John of England. That's the good news. The bad news, of course, is that he was so inept. His nobles forced upon him the Magna Carta to protect their interest and thus laid the foundation for the American Constitution." What are your views on King John?
JONESWell, I think that's an excellent email from Kelly in Dallas. I’m afraid I don't know very much about the Mases, with regards to descent from the Plantagenets. Well, some research has been done which suggests that most people who are English born, and we're talking about 85 to 90 percent of people here are descended from Edward III, who was, of course, descended directly from King John. So I mean I can absolutely believe that the Mases could claim descent from King John.
JONESNot a great ancestor though. As Kelly says, pretty inept, a very sophisticated legal mind. He was taught. His tutor as a child was Glanville, the greatest legal theoretician of the day. But John also seems to have been very cruel, very inept at commanding both troops and support at home. And in 1215 his nobles forced the Magna Carta upon him, which was a long document whose guiding principle was that the king should obey his own law. And I think that that principle is something that underpins most documents, including the Bill of Rights in the Anglo American tradition.
REHMSo how do you read that? Do you read that as a good thing, a not so good thing, a mediocre thing? How do you read it?
JONESI don't know whether it makes sense to say a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly Magna Carta was the central document of the Middle Ages. And the constitutional battles around its principle and the question that it raised were formative to the period I've written about. The question it raises, from the principle, the king should obey his own law. The question that is then raised is how do you make that happen without civil war? Because how do you coerce a king? It's very important to have a king who's the single source of public authority. Someone to decide the great disputes between his nobles, between his barons, someone to make the law to exercise equity, someone from whom all authority can be said to emit.
JONESBut, of course, you're placing that power into the hands of someone who could be completely inept or borderline mad and inbred. So you have a difficult question and it's never really resolved. And I--we probably see the question unresolved today. How do you force a government to obey its own law and not to tyrannize its people?
REHMAll right. Let's go to Indianapolis. George, you're on the air.
GEORGEHello. My question was did Richard III actually have his nephews killed like it says in Shakespeare? And would it be correct to say that although he's been painted as a villain, wouldn't it be safe to say that Harry VIII for instance and his daughter, Queen Mary, were just as murderous or may even more so?
JONESGreat question, George. We've got two issues here. Did Richard III have his nephews killed? Listen, there's no smoking gun. My opinion is that in all likelihood, once he has usurped the throne, those children, the princes in the tower had to die. History would suggest that once you've deposed a king, that king no longer survives. It had happened with Edward II. He had been forced to abdicate and within a year he was dead, murdered. It happened with Richard II. He was deposed. Within the year he was dead, probably starved to death.
JONESIt's almost certain that the princes in the tower were killed and were killed in Richard's interests, whether or not he gave a direct order. Now, let's move onto the second part of your question, which is, is it fair to say that Henry VIII and his daughter, Queen Mary, Mary I, Bloody Mary, as she's often called, were just as big monsters? God, absolutely. I would say that Henry VIII, he's one of the greatest monsters in English history.
JONESAnd I think there's a lot of people, you know, with Mary responsible for the death of a lot of Protestants during the counter reaffirmation in the middle of the 16th century, you might open it up and say that Elizabeth herself, Mary's sister and successor was a particularly nice piece of work either.
REHMSo many questions. Here's one from Matt in Clearwater, Fla. "Can you speak to the fascinating women who were the wives of both Edward II and Henry VI?"
JONESAnd Henry VI. Well, we've talked about a lot of men, haven't we? We've talked about a lot of kings.
JONESAnd the subtitle of the book is, "The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England."
JONESSo I would open it up a little and say let's look at a few more of the women, Eleanor of Aquitaine the wife of Henry II, so the queen who brought the Dutch of Aquitaine which counted for about a quarter of Southwest France, brought that into the Plantagenet empire during the 12th century. The most extraordinary woman. She had a political career. She was married to the King of France, then to the King of England. She was the mother to Richard the Lionheart, the mother to King John. She was the power behind the throne, certainly in King John's reign, as long as she survived, certainly during the time that Richard was away on Crusade.
JONESShe had this tremendous, tremendous row with her husband, Henry II, which led to her being imprisoned for the best part of a decade.
REHMBecause the king is always right.
JONESBecause the king is always right and the king has more prisons. So Eleanor of Aquitaine, I think, the most astonishing woman of her age.
JONESBut Matt is absolutely right to mention Isabella of France, who was known as the she-wolf of France, the sister of three French kings, the wife of Edward II. And she helped forced her husband to abdicate in 1326.
JONESWell, Edward II, who was son of Edward Longshanks, you know, the Edward we know from--these are the two kings we know from the film "Braveheart," right. So Edward II was I think the most inept king of the whole Middle Ages. Not very interested in government and would devolve his government to favorites. And at the end of the reign those favorites were known as the dispensers. And they were using royal power to enrich themselves at the expense of the other subjects. Edward turned into a tyrant. He had his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, beheaded after a civil war.
JONESHe caused war, he caused dispossession. He was an awful, awful king. He sent his wife, rather foolishly, off with his young son, who later became Edward III, off as an emissary to France and they didn't come back. His wife took up with a boyfriend, Roger Mortimer--or rather I should say they did come back. They came in 1326 and forced Edward II to abdicate because he was useless. And then the dispensers were murdered and Edward was killed, himself in turn. But the exercise of this kind of power by Isabella of France, to not only to go off and refuse to come back, but to take this lover, Roger Mortimer, who's a pretty nasty piece of work himself, then to come back and chuck the king off the throne, was absolutely astonishing.
JONESAnd then Matt I think mentioned Margaret of Anjou, who was the wife of Henry VI and a sort of driving force and a huge personality during the War to the Roses. I'll save that for the next book.
REHMYou know what, Dan? As you talk it sounds as though you have come to know these people, almost as well as you know your own family.
JONESWell, I've lived with the Plantagenet family I think longer than I've lived with my own family. And although, I hope my wife and daughters aren't listening, as I say that. What we get with the Tudor dynasty, partly because we have artists like Holbein and partly because there's just more evidence, is we've had for a long time these well-drawn portraits of the family. And what I want to do with the Plantagenets is draw those same sort of portraits. We don't have physical images of many of them, say for one portrait from life of Richard II.
JONESBut I want to draw these people and bring them back to life, in the same way that all the characters of "Game of Thrones," are brought to life.
JONESI want to do the real history.
REHMHere's a caller from Annapolis, Md. Good morning, Wendy.
WENDYGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
WENDYI wanted to ask Mr. Jones about "Lion in Winter," the film, which is a favorite of mine. I especially liked its focus on the family dynamics and this is kind of building on what you were saying about Eleanor just a few minutes ago. Do you think the relationship depicted among Henry, Eleanor and three sons is an accurate one?
JONESHi, Wendy. Well, I think "The Lion in Winter," which I saw on the stage in London, I think it was last autumn, it's a fantastic piece of drama. And it was played in London for laughs. Now, what was interesting, I talked to the actor who was playing Henry II in that play afterwards. And he said he had two different responses when they staged, "The Lion in Winter." He said when there was a predominately British audience people were laughing as though it were a pantomime.
JONESAnd he said when there was an audience of American tourists or anyone from outside Britain, they were watching this as though it were historical documentary. I thought, well, where does the truth lie? Well, James Goldman, the play and the film, I mean, this is fiction. But it's based on a family dynamic, which as you rightly say, Wendy, was incredibly complex. You had a king whose wife and sons had rebelled against him. You had the queen, who's sort of rankling from her poor treatment by her husband and his refusal to allow her political power in her own Dutch.
JONESAnd then you had the sons who are itching to take over their father's power before he dies. So what you have in "The Lion in Winter" is this played out in this domestic environment. And it's a soap opera, it's high politics, it's a great piece of writing. I personally feel it's ripe for updating.
REHMThanks for calling, Wendy. And an email from Nickolas in Dallas, Texas. "Do we really know what happened to Thomas Beckett?"
JONESWe know an awful lot about Thomas Becket. And a lot of that is down to Thomas Beckett himself. I should say Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury during Henry II's reign. He was at one time Henry II's great friend and boon companion. And he was Henry's sort of chief fixer and minister, if you like. Henry wanted to reform the relationship between church and state. So he dropped Thomas Becket into the Archbishop of Canterbury, a position, which is rapidly became clear, Becket didn't think he was fit to fulfill.
JONESSo Becket turned from being the king's great friend into his arch enemy, pushing for the rights of the church over the crown. Exactly the opposite thing that Henry had wanted him to do. So they had this tremendous falling out, which is well documented. Now, what Becket did was surround himself by writers and by people he knew were going to write his biography. And so we have lots and lots of biographies of Becket and lots of eyewitness testimony, including eyewitness testimony to his death in Canterbury Cathedral at Christmas in 1170, when four knights who thought they were acting for Henry II burst into Canterbury Cathedral and hacked Becket to pieces.
JONESIf you go to Canterbury Cathedral today there's this beautiful, beautiful marble pavement. And you have other Plantagenets, the Black Prince and you have Henry IV, their tombs around it, but in the center of this pavement is the very spot where Becket was cut down. So we know a fantastic amount about Thomas Becket. And there was a great biography of him by John Guy, which I think may come out in the States this year, which I would recommend.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, you've said that what you wanted to do was to bring together these stories, these historical figures because they are so rich and people don't know as much about them as they do, for example, about the Tudors. The question I have is how important do you think this history is to Britain today and even to the United States?
JONESI think this history is still incredibly important today. We talked a little bit earlier about Magna Carta. The Magna Carta and the principle that underpins it, which is that the government should obey its own laws and the government should not tyrannize its subjects. I think that principle can be seen in any number of political arguments today. If you want to argue about whether Obama should be ordering drone strikes on his own citizens, that talks to the principle that power must be scrutinized and cannot be operated against the subjects of a territory.
JONESBut it's a long hike from Magna Carta to Obama and drones, but the principle is still there. Now, we can drill down into some more specifics. If we look at British history, you look at what's going on in Ireland, for example. We've been talking about Margaret Thatcher. And Margaret Thatcher had a very, very antagonistic relationship with Ireland. If you look back into the history of the Plantagenets, that's where the story of the Irish question begins, because in 1155 the only English Pope, Adrian IV, gave a bull, which is sort of a papal document, to King Henry II and it was called Laudabiliter, which said that the English king was well within his rights to go and conquer Ireland.
JONESI mean, I'm paraphrasing, but that was the principle. And that, you could say, was the beginning of the story of antagonistic relationships between Ireland and England. Now, 2014, we're going to have a referendum in Scotland about independence. Should Scotland break away from England? Well, if you want to understand that, you have to look right back into Plantagenet history. And you're looking back to the stuff we know from "Braveheart," where Edward I went up in the 1290's, conquered Scotland--or attempted to conquer Scotland. Didn't quite conquer Scotland. But that was the beginning of the story of hostility and of union between Scotland and England.
JONESAnd that's the story which may come to an end next year. You have to look back to Mediaeval history to get a handle on the political issues and to have an opinion about them.
REHMAnd one other question from Veronica, in Winter Haven, Fla. Good morning, you're on the air.
VERONICAGood morning. Thank you for taking my call. I just wondered will Maggie Thatcher be buried alongside her husband at the Chelsea Pensioners.
JONESGood question. I believe Margaret Thatcher is going to be cremated privately following the service in St. Paul's. I'm only telling you what I've read in the newspapers. And I would have thought that she'd be buried alongside Dennis. It would be incredibly strange for her not to be.
REHMYes. She suffered from Alzheimer's at the end.
JONESShe did. She had a series of mini strokes, I believe, which led to dementia. She lived not far from me in London. In fact, my eldest daughter was once in the park with her nanny and a sort of quite frail lady came along and started playing. And the nanny came home and was describing this lady to me. And I said, "Did she look like this?" It was Margaret Thatcher. She had been sort of out for a walk with her minders and Battersea Park and just playing with children out there. And I mean what a soft image of the Iron Lady that I don't think most people would associate with her. I think, yeah, she had--she was unwell, very unwell at the end of her life.
REHMDan Jones, his new book is titled, "The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England." It has become the number one international best seller. Congratulations.
JONESThank you so much. What a pleasure to be here.
REHMMy pleasure, as well. Thank you. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is earning more than $3 billion from its investment in a new drug. Other charitable organizations are hoping to follow a similar path. New opportunities and new questions for nonprofits.
Joel Klein served as the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education for eight years. In a new book called "Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools," he recounts his experience as head of the nation's largest school district and explains his vision for how to solve the problems plaguing our education system.
Last night, the Senate came within one vote of passing legislation that would approve construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. A look at the ongoing controversy around its potential economic benefits and environmental costs.