Louis (2016)


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2016 Hardback

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While not part of the English Monarchs series this book, like its subject, comes very close and for that reason is a magnificent companion to the series, a side-story between the main events. Louis the Lion, the son of King Philip II of France, came close to being king of England but never quite achieved it. In the wake of the death of John his claim to the English throne by force of arms had some initial success, but his star waned and he returned to France.

This book published by Yale in April 2016 (June 2016 in the USA), on the eight-hundredth anniversary of the event, tells the story of the king who nearly was and how England almost had a King Louis I. It is not a conventional biography but an account of the attempt by Louis to seize the throne of England and places this in the context of English politics and events. It is a description of the military campaign, with an examination of why this was thought to be a good idea. These events are an important link between the death of John and the beginning of the reign of his son Henry III and a story not often told. This book redresses that omission.

Dr Tom Horler-Underwood (Swansea University) described this book in Reviews in History (10.14296/RiH/2014/2202) as “a very fine work...very carefully researched, and written by someone with a keen eye for the finer details which bring the character and person of her subject to life...Hanley cleverly interweaves discussion of salient political and military events with details of Louis’ personal life.” He concludes that “It will not replace those biographies already in print, but will complement them nicely.”

Hagar Barak (an “independent scholar" who has had posts at Harvard and Princeton) reviews the book in Speculum, Volume 93 (1) 2018 and has some reservations about the way Hanley has treated institutional and cultural biases in the sources, for example "the sources from the tradition of Saint-Denis, which are intentionally moralistic, didactic, and doctrinal.” She also queries Hanley’s assertion that Louis had a profound influence on English constitutional history and finds this interesting, if debatable. She comments that it is an “engaging and accessible account of the invasion, it is less successful as a biography”, missing the point that it is indeed an account of the military expedition in England, not an account of Louis life in France, and a characteristic of the book flagged by the author in the introduction.

Cecilia M. Gaposchkin of Dartmouth College writing in The Journal of British Studies, Volume 56, Issue 3 (2017), finds the writing style "more discursive than analytical" and adds that "The storytelling imperative manufactures unnecessary or undocumented tensions", and concludes that "The French invasion of 1216–17 is certainly an episode that deserves more attention from historians of both sides of the channel, and with this book Hanley has made this history widely available to an English-speaking audience."

This account of the life of Louis by Catherine Hanley was published soon after Yale’s biography of Henry IV by Chris Given-Wilson, and was itself quickly followed by Henry the Young King; Æthelred II and William the Conqueror. All of these titles were released in 2016 - a bumper year. Catherine Hanley is a researcher and novelist rather than an educator and has a lengthy background in medieval history. She holds a PhD in Medieval Studies, and Yale published her biography of The Empress Matilda in 2019.

The American e-book version of this title from Amazon is their ""eTextbook" version, which is an electronic version identical in appearance to the print copy, with the ability to make notes, highlight and search. Be aware though that it it costs more than twice the price of the hardback. The British e-book version is the standard Kindle release. However, Amazon USA does not offer the Kindle version and Amazon UK does not offer the eTextbook, and you can only buy the one offered in your region.

Note: A paperback version of this title has not been released.

Companion Book Number: 3

Cover: Coronation of French King Louis VIII and Queen Blanche of Castille at Reims in 1223. Taken from the Grandes Chroniques de France by Jean Fouquet c.1460. Held by the Bibliothèque nationale.

The image is credited to the copyright agent Bridgeman Images, which acknowledges the monetisation of the ancient image, rather than mention the long deceased creator. How a 550 year old image held in a certain Paris library can garner copyright money for an English corporation is one of life’s little mysteries.

Louis: the French Prince Who Invaded England

By Catherine Hanley (1972-  )

Book Editor: Heather McCallum