Lionheart And Lackland And The Wars Of Conquest

Written by Frank McLynn
Review by Sarah Bower

This is a scholarly but somehow nostalgic look at the “Devil’s Brood”, the quarrelsome sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although opening with the revisionist argument that Richard was a Bad King who bled the country dry to pay for his wars, and John was an Alright King who did much to develop the legislative and judicial systems founded by his father, McLynn finally comes round to the view that Richard was the best of a bad bunch after all. This is dangerous talk at a time when European colonial ambitions in the Middle East are coming home to roost yet again, nor did I find McLynn’s arguments, or his analyses of the characters of the Plantagenet boys, particularly convincing. His style, however, is easy and beguiling. The book is full of modern phrases such as Henry II adducing “the weight loss argument” to explain his love of hunting, or John’s enjoyment of his “mobile library”. Do I feel a script for a TV series coming on?

          A good, old fashioned biography, told straight and with humour, about a family whose fascination continues to abide after nearly a thousand years.