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Two Houses, Two Kingdoms

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Definitely an enjoyable and informative read. I loved the way the histories of these two great kingdoms were laid out in parallel.  I've studied their individual histories but putting them in relation to each other makes understanding them more meaningful in context of the roles both countries play in the world. They were eternal enemies and cousins, and in a lot of ways, they ebbed and flowed because of each other,
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An exhilarating, accessible chronicle of the ruling families of France and England, showing how two dynasties formed one extraordinary story

It’s definitely an unforgettable story and it just gets more beautiful and moving as it goes on until it reaches its conclusion
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As a child growing up in the United Kingdom, I was taught that William of Normandy (or “The Conqueror” or other derogatory describer) became England’s ruler in 1066 and heads the list of that country’s rulers. This was after he won the Battle of Hastings, which didn’t actually take place at Hastings but at a location several miles north. We came to associate Normandy as just a region of France, just as one might say Yorkshire is a region of England. What we forget is that Normandy was far more than that. It was a powerful location in its own right, part of a loose collection of feudal municipalities. Two Houses, Two Kingdoms is not only about the rivalry between two families in different parts of France; it is also about the creation of the centralized France we know today.
As other reviewers have stated, this is an “accessible chronicle” for all, despite it being almost 500 pages. I found it remarkably easy to read, with one exception which is not the fault of the author. I often state one way we can know the truth of a tale is by the number of repetitive names. (A fiction author will often go to great lengths to ensure their characters have unique names.) There’s a massive list of names at the start of the book. Some are distinctive, such as “Louis the Fat.” But thanks to naming traditions we end up with many people, in both England and France, with the same name or similar (Henry and Henri, for example). As Hanley points out, every king of France from 1060 to 1316 was either a Louis or a Philip. Women aren’t exempt from this confusion either. Henry I had four daughters, all named Matilda. Another dignitary gave each of his four daughters the first name of Mary. 
Daughters seemed to have suffered the most in two hundred years of rivalry and upheaval. Often seen as little more than pawns in their fathers’ machinations, they were often betrothed to men much older than themselves as soon as they could crawl. Not all got to marry the man to whom they’d been betrothed at that time. Often the man died, or her father switched allegiances. We read the sad tale of Alys, daughter of Louis VII, who was sent to England at the age of eight as part of a contract that would see her married to Richard I. She was 30, and they were still officially engaged when he married someone else. Hanley repeatedly observes that we have little information about how the women felt regarding their positions and it’s due to their relative unimportance in the world back then. Their thoughts simply didn’t matter in a patriarchal society.
Two Houses, Two Kingdoms is a fascinating albeit a very detailed look at the two most important families of England and France, as well as their allies and enemies. These were people who lived full lives, and the author notes early on that the book only focuses on the dealings each family had with the other. I’ll add that although the first 70 per cent of the book is narrative, it also includes notes for each chapter with references to material on connected subjects. You’ll also find additional information and author opinions regarding some of the events described within the main text. Lastly, there are lists of primary and secondary sources, encyclopedias, and online sources, as well as an extensive index.
Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic Advance Uncorrected Proof of this book from the publisher, the opinions above are my own.
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I found the book boring.   It should have been interesting,  but the book could not hold my attention.  I wanted more personalities and less battles.
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An excellent book on a very interesting time in European history. Catherine Hanley has done a marvelous job in making the topic engaging while being informative & detailed.  I particularly appreciated the charts delineating the various people, both royal and aristocratic, discussed in the book. All European history buffs should read this. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press for this advanced review copy, which I voluntarily read.
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A rather broad history, that at times feels like it's taking on too many events at one time.  In trying to compare to kingdoms (France and England) across two hundred years, some important battles are of course left out, while minor details sometimes outstay their welcome.  That said, the author deserves recognition for attempting a comparison of two of the most complicated medieval kingdoms, and pulling it off successfully, with only a few minor discrepancies mentioned above.
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Of the books I’ve read lately, this is by the far the most academic and “historical” in subject, language, and depth of detail. Yet, at the same time, this is not strictly for an academic audience. Readers will find that Two Houses, Two Kingdoms is suitable and accessible for all adults interested in the Medieval age, the ins and outs of politicking and the martial exploits of kings, queens, and the nobility in Western Europe. (I say “adult readers” because this is really not accessible for a younger, less mature reader. Its audience is a small sliver of the total general reading population; children, juvenile, and young adult readers will likely find this plodding.)

The structure of the book follows a traditional, chronological form, moving from the 1100s to end at the beginning of the 14th century, allowing readers unfamiliar with the dynasties and generations of these royal houses to follow along with who was whom’s son, daughter, niece, cousin, and so on. It was a tangled mess of consanguineous relationships. This is a historical monograph in the traditional sense of the word.

The prose however, is refreshingly modern, flowing with an ease that many older monographs lack. In many ways, Hanley’s narrow focus on the royal and noble houses attached to them is what keeps the reader’s attention: the chapters read like episodes of a family drama. There is a soap opera like quality to the mechanics of politics in this age; there are kidnappings of maidens and children, sordid adult-minor affairs and marriages, betrayals of the deepest cuts, adulterous liaisons leading, The men and women Hanley depicts in these pages could achieve viral fame on The Jerry Springer Show or feature on a highlight of Judge Judy. No joke.

What the reader should not expect is a cultural or social history of the Medieval period; the ordinary, non-royal, non-noble classes do not make an appearance in this text, nor does it dwell on cultural norms or landscapes of the time. This is a political history focused on the highest classes of society at the time. Hanley is clear from the beginning this is what the book centers on.

As a text for the classroom then, this is potentially useful and not. For a course on Medieval history, say, a graduate level seminar, Hanley’s monograph would be perfect — except that by that stage in students’ careers, they are liable to be already familiar with its content. And Hanley does not delves into the historiographical literature or methodology. This is far less suitable for an undergraduate seminar. It is too long and dives too deeply into the nitty gritty for an introductory course. This is better suited to a general adult non-fiction audience than the classroom.

As a historian reading for pleasure, I found it enjoyable. The prose was smooth, flowing, logical, and concise. Hanley did not waste words; this economy delivered what was necessary to understand the course of events, the personalities involved, their ambitions and motivations. The depth of detail warrants praise; Hanley is an expert in this period and the level of research and analysis they invested in this scholarship is apparent, even if their methodologies were not. An excellent monograph well worth any interested reader’s attention and time.
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I have recently taken a liking to non-fiction reads and this one really taught me a lot. I didn’t realize how interesting this topic was until I finished reading and had to sit with what I had just learned. I definitely would read more from this author.
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Two Houses, Two Kingdoms by Catherine Hanley gives us the historical backdrop of the interactions of the Capetians of France and the Angevins of England.

Having read many novels on the history of both France and England I found this book priceless in that it gave me the historical foundation for these novels that I had read and how many of the kings, queens, and sons and daughters of both houses were connected.

Hanley expertly describes the relationships of kings and queens to their offspring and how those relationships secured or destroyed different monarchies. One never knew if they could trust their cousin, sister, brother, father, or mother to follow through on their promises or contracts. Minds and betrothals were changed on a whim.

Highly recommended especially for those who have read novels of either of these two Houses.

My thanks to #NetGalley and Yale University Press for the pleasure of reading this ARC. This opinion is my own.
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I'm a total nerd when it comes to royal history, although I don't have much knowledge when it comes to the Middle Ages. This book covers the kingdoms of England and France during the twelfth to fourteen centuries, in particular their relationships between each other.

This was super well-researched and comprehensive in nature. And even though it was nonfiction, which can sometimes be dry, I found it to be quite the page turner. There was lots of drama - deception, kidnappings, murder, etc. I definitely learned a lot from it.

Keeping track of everyone was a little difficult, especially since everyone has one of about ten different names and they all seem to be related or interconnected in some way. Since this was just for my own pleasure and not for academic purposes though, it wasn't that big of a deal.
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Who needs thrillers and soap operas when you have real 12-13th century clashes between the royal houses of England and France - the Plantagenets/Angevins and the Capetians - who embroiled their countries in their neverending power squabbles leading to constant violence and deaths and readjustment of political maps.

“This is a book about people. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the personal could influence the political to a great extent, and nowhere is this better exemplified than in the relationship between the ruling houses of France and England, whose members waged war, made peace and intermarried – sometimes almost simultaneously – in a complex web of relationships. These people, these kings and queens, siblings, children and cousins, held positions determined by birth; positions that often involved playing a role on the national and international stage from a very young age. Their life stories, their formative experiences and their interpersonal relationships shaped the context of decisions and actions that had the potential to affect the lives and livelihoods of millions.”

Set in 1100-1300, Two Houses, Two Kingdoms covers the time starting a few decades after William the Conqueror brought Norman rule to England and ending with the wedding between Edward II of England and Isabella, daughter of Philip IV of France, setting in place some of the pieces of the puzzle that very soon would lead to the collapse of the direct line of the Capetian dynasty and the Hundred Years’ War between England and France.

Catherine Hanley navigates the telling of the complicated, convoluted webs of the royal affairs of that time with impressive skills. Not only there seems to be just a handful of names that the royalty opted to use — “It is unfortunate, for the purposes of clarity and possibly even sanity, that every single French king we will meet is called either Philip or Louis” — but the familial relationships between the royal houses were not as much of a family tree as a hopelessly intertwined and tangled up family shrubbery where political marriages combined with high rates of widowhood and remarriages led to everyone being everyone’s cousins, uncles, aunts and all matters of step-relatives. Not to mention the peculiar relationship of English kings also holding territories in and around France, leading to complicated sovereign-vassal tensions and squabbles.

Hanley, through nothing short of miraculous skills and great storytelling skills manages to keep all these Henrys, Philips, Louises, Matildas, Eleanors and Blanches pretty distinct. It’s dense with information and yet very readable, engaging even if not at all simple. And a bonus point — despite being set in very patriarchal times it does not gloss over women and their roles and lives. 

I found it lively, even if a bit complicated — and very interesting.

4.5 stars.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Houses, Two Kingdoms: A History of France and England, 1100–1300 by Catherine Hanley is a wonderful nonfiction that dives into the two royal dynasties of England and France. Just wonderful!

I am a huge fan of English history, so I knew quite a bit about the monarchy during these two centuries, but I learned a bit more when the author was able to take the royal house of France and incorporate those figures and how the relationships (familial, friendship, and by marriage) integrated into the English monarchy. 

We are able to see specifically how the history of England was molded by these two groups, and how they influenced their respective countries and one another through this presentation. I was impressed with the level of  research, the passion, and the layout. The maps/lists/lineages really helped, especially when there are so many historic figures with the same name. It flew by and was easy to read, comprehend, and enjoy. 

I highly recommend. 

5/5 stars 

Thank you NG and Yale University Press for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

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A compelling and fascinating history book that tells how two countries, England and France, shared royal families and how the history was made.
I had a lot of fun and learned a lot. The book is easy to follow and well researched.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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