The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings Who Invented England

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For example, prior to these legal improvements it was impossible -- it was possible for an unscrupulous individual to sell the same property several times. JONES Well, 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.

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JONES I'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.

JONES Now 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. REHM So 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?

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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. They dug there and it was there. That's the astonishing thing about this story.

Dan Jones: “The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England”

REHM And how do they absolutely know for sure that that was his body? 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.

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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? 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. 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.

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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. JONES Now when Richard died in the middle of a siege in 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.

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.

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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. Why did you decide to embark on this entire period as opposed to taking bits and pieces of it? 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 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. And then when you get into the 14th century, the 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. And I hope the book succeeds. JONES Twelve years of my life, ten years of serious though and consideration and research and then two years of really intense writing.

REHM And putting it all together. Dan Jones and the book is titled "The Plantagenets. I'm going to open the phones, First to Sterling, Va. Good morning, Kathleen, you're on the air. 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. 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. 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.

JONES Now 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.

To South Bend, Ind. Good morning, Matthew. I had a different question that you just addressed but I have a second one if you don't mind. That would seem to me that those kings, the Lancastrian kings, are every bit as much Plantagenet as anyone else. 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 to -- in fact I'm going to go into the Tudor period.

I'm going to go as far as the s. 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. So I'm very pleased to tell you that the second volume should be out next year. 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. REHM And clearly a lot of people are as well. Short break here. Dan Jones.

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REHM And 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. 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. 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.

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 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.

REHM So 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? 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.

JONES But, 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.

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How do you force a government to obey its own law and not to tyrannize its people? Let's go to Indianapolis. George, you're on the air. Henry Triumphant. The Expulsion of the Jews. The Conquest of Scotland. The King Restrained.

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