This long book is a serious biography, and the fact it is part one of a two-volume set is the first indicator that it is a subject Carpenter has spent upwards of three decades researching. The second is his easy handling of so many interlocking strands, weaving the official records and gossipy chronicles into a vibrant account of the reign. This volume charts Henry’s life from birth to the putsch of 1258. The second will cover the rise of the barons, Simon de Montfort’s rebellion and Henry’s final years of weakness and senility.
That Carpenter can create such a vivid account of a man and age so distant is due not only to his ample gifts as a historian, but also to the rich sources for the period. Chroniclers such as Matthew Paris (a fascinating figure in himself) and Roger of Wendover, as well as chancery rolls and pipe rolls (essentially tax returns), provide a near daily record of Henry’s actions. Carpenter has served them well and one looks forward to the concluding volume. There may be more trouble ahead.