Monday, December 12, 2011

The Devil's Brood - The Bad Guys, Part 2

The Plantagenet family. What a bunch of bastards...which made them the perfect villains for The Wrong Sword.

They got their start as the Counts of Anjou, which is why historians call Henry II and his sons Richard and John the "Angevin kings." Local legend (and backbiting medieval chroniclers - I'm looking at you, Gerald of Wales!) said they were demon seed: that somewhere along the line, one of them had married a devil, and the infernal streak stayed in their blood. (Richard liked to say that his family had come from the devil, and to the devil they would go.)

By the start of The Excalibur Trick, Henry II has already been dead for a few years - but his wife and sons are still around, and still terrifying to criminal small fry like our hero, Henry the Rat. So maybe we should take a look at the father and see how far the apples fell from that tree.

Actually, as the first Plantagenet king of England, Henry II didn't suck. He laid the groundwork for trial by jury; he tried to stop priests and monks from literally getting away with murder; and he didn't drain the treasury (winning wars instead of losing them helped - he was a good general). He also established a bureaucracy that was effective enough to keep functioning even when the king in charge of it was weak...which became important later on, with kings like Edward II, Richard II, and Henry VI. 

Contemporary accounts describe him as stocky, red-haired, neither tall nor short, with "boxer's arms," bow legs from always being on horseback, and just crazy energetic: "He never sits, unless riding a horse or a single day, if necessary, he can run through four or five day-marches and, thus foiling the plots of his enemies, frequently mocks their plots with surprise sudden arrivals... Truly he does not, like other kings, linger in his palace, but traveling through the provinces he investigates the doings of all, judging powerfully those whom he has made judges of others." (Peter of Blois.)

He was also very well educated - he spoke Latin as well as French and Saxon, was a master of law, and had a superb memory. In fact, it's hard not to like the guy: He did have anger management issues,  but he also had a good sense of humor, didn't "magnify himself as more than man," and always had your back if you were his friend. He didn't waste money on fancy clothes and crap friends, unlike his son Henry Junior. And, unlike so many of his fellow kings before and since, he actually tried to do a good job of running his kingdom; it wasn't just a source of gold and swords.

But he must have done something wrong, somewhere along the line.
Because his wife and his sons tried to kill him.

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