England / France
The First Plantagenet is the story of Henry of Anjou, the man who became Henry II of England, the first of the Angevin kings of England and father to two more kings, Richard and John. We meet him as a teenager when he first sets eyes on Eleanor of Aquitaine and decides that he is going to be her second husband. We follow him to kingship, strife and ultimately betrayal.
Ms Appleyard has a unique style that puts her knowledge of events and the politics of the time to the fore in a treatment that is more docudrama than novel, that has less dialogue than you would expect. Her research is obviously thorough as far as events, places, names are concerned, though it is not perfect as the author misses some things - Henry II was illiterate, and he did not he 'sign' his letters - no king signed anything in this era, clerks added the name and the seal. Chausses versus hose, velvet tunics before velvet was used for clothing. The author also has a slip that is accurate but upsets her title by explaining that Geoffrey of Anjou was the first Plantagenet, not Henry: 'Geoffrey used to ride around with a sprig of the planta genesta, the broom plant, stuck in his cap earning him the nickname Plantagenet.'
That said, readers come away with a thorough understanding of the tumultuous period of British history that Henry presided over, although one does feel that this ruthless attention to events and chronology is at the expense of the characters themselves who are rather underdeveloped. They are firmly under Ms Appleyard's control and it would have been nice, every now and then, to see them come alive.
This is not a novel in the traditional sense, as it is a concise narrative of events from the point of view of a historic personage in the form of Henry II. However, for history buffs Ms Appleyard’s narrative is much easier to access than a traditional history text and far more digestible.
© Louise Adam