I'm about 3 chapters behind in writing up what I've read of this book - this summer has been rather busy! After the great lords Prestwich moves a step down the social scale to consider the lesser aristocracy.
The last section of the book I'm reading about Plantagenet England is about the society and people of the era. Prestwich starts the first chapter in this section by noting that whilst society was very stratified in this period the boundaries weren't rigid and well defined (or least not in ways that historians can be sure of now). However, you can divide the society at this time into four rough groups - the great lords (both lay & church), the knights, the peasants and the merchants. This chapter deals with the first of those groups.
In terms of page count I'm about three fifths of the way through Michael Prestwich's "Plantagenet England 1225-1360" and in terms of subject matter I've just finished one of the two sections that the book is divided into. So this seemed a good place to take a small pause and think about what I've spent the last several months reading.
The Plantagenets was a three part series about this dynasty of English monarchs presented by Robert Bartlett. He points out that this is the longest running dynasty of English kings, which I hadn't realised - they stretch from Henry II (who takes the throne in 1154) right the way through to Richard III (who dies in battle in 1485). Bartlett covered them in chronological fashion, conveying some feel for the politics of the time and for the dysfunctional soap opera-like personalities and family relationships of the Plantagenets.
The next chapter of the history of Plantagenet England returns to the chronological discussion of the politics of the era, and Prestwich starts by reminding us that Edward I had presided over a 20 year span of peace and prosperity. This had now come to an end in part because Edward's main advisers during that period had died, as had his first wife. The next couple of decades covering the end of Edward I's reign and the start of Edward II's were to be characterised by war and political crises.
In this chapter Prestwich takes a digression from his chronological trot through the Plantagenet era to look at the situation in Wales during this period. It's very much Wales from the perspective of its interactions with England, and fits in here because Edward I conquered Wales.
After the turbulence of the bulk of Henry III's reign up to the death of Simon de Montfort & the conclusion of the civil war in 1266, the next 30 years were a period of both stability & recovery. The transition between the reigns of Henry III and Edward I was smooth, even tho Edward wasn't in the country when his father died. And even tho the royal side had won the war, many of the reforms that de Montfort and his associates had been calling for were instituted.
After the introductory chapters the first half of the book proper is a chronological look at the politics & wars of the time period. This chapter covers 40 years of Henry III's reign, from when he started to exert his own authority in 1225 through to the final end of the rebellion against him with the death of Simon de Montfort in battle in 1265.
The second episode of Helen Castor's She Wolves: England's Early Queens was about Isabella of France & Margaret of Anjou. Neither of these women ruled England in their own right, but both ruled in the name of a man (son & husband respectively) and neither have been remembered kindly by history. Rather unfairly, I think (although Isabella brought it on herself to some degree).
This post covers the second half of the introductory section of the book. Having discussed the environment Prestwich moves on to an overview of the legal & political institutions of the country during the period.