McAuliffe's well-researched and detailed newest . . . recounts the familial and political tensions between England and France, which the author traces to Duke William of Normandy's conquering of the former in 1066. He and his descendants remained active in the Norman duchy, leading to conflicted loyalties, and attendant betrayals and battles. This interesting narrative focuses primarily on Richard Lionheart (son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and great-great grandson of William the Conqueror) and his rivalry with King Philip II of France, who resolved to change the notion that his country's kings were 'pitifully weak.' Their enmity manifested itself in Richard brashly constructing the mighty fortress Château-Gaillard on the border of French and English holdings, and Philip declaring his intentions to seize it, 'were its walls of iron.' . . . Richard Lionheart's life is thoroughly told—from his imprisonment by Duke Leopold of Austria (during which Richard continued to strategize), his failed betrothal to Philip II's youngest sister, and to his unexpected death by one of his own armory's arrows, repurposed and let fly by an enemy to whom Richard, on his deathbed, gave 100 shillings. Supplemented with a timeline, a dramatis personae, and extensive notes, fans of medieval European history will delight in McAuliffe's rich tale.
— Publishers Weekly
Among the many notables, McAuliffe (Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends, 2011, etc.) reintroduces us to the likes of William the Conqueror, Barbarossa, Rollo the Viking, Robert Curthose of Normandy, Louis the Fat and a cadre of Henrys. (Readers will have no problem keeping them straight—the author appends a table of key people and a helpful chronology). After assessing the famously dysfunctional English household of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, McAuliffe focuses on the truly excellent adventures of their son, Richard Lionheart. In clear prose, the author examines Richard’s internecine struggles, usually with his brother, his feckless Third Crusade fighting Saladin and his many clashes with archenemy Philip of France. In these eclectic pages, we learn of 12th-century statecraft, the design of fortress castles and how to lay siege to them, the wages of mounted knights and foot soldiers, the rise of the notion of romance and the wonderful victuals consumed at great state dinners. The author weaves a selective tapestry that does not scant personal qualities of her featured players. She reveals the Conqueror’s baldness and staunch Eleanor’s attractions. Also, it appears that Lionheart may have been gay, according to the author’s research. With measured verve, McAuliffe presents an accessible text.
A lively and affectionate account of a grand scenario in medieval history.
— Thomas N. Bisson, Harvard University
A rattling good read that captures the mood of the age.
— John France, Swansea University
[McAuliffe’s] subject is the conflict between England’s flamboyant warrior king Richard I and the more pragmatic Philip II of France and how their struggle shaped English-French relations over the following centuries. Being both a king and a duke put Richard in a peculiar situation, as he was simultaneously England’s absolute ruler and, as Duke of Normandy, vassal to another king. The author provides a thorough discussion of that topic and also covers medieval warfare, presenting evidence that wars were fought not as huge pitched battles but rather conducted unglamorously, through lengthy sieges. McAuliffe credibly describes the unromantic work of sappers—miners who tunneled under walls and castles to destroy them. It was often their work that turned the course of battles and, indeed, wars. VERDICT A valuable effort that examines a pivotal time in the relationship between England and France. Best for lay readers.
— Library Journal
We're familiar with the names— William the Conqueror, Richard Lionheart, Eleanor of Aquitaine— but probably less so with the gripping stories of their never-ending confrontations with rivals at home and enemies abroad. It's this tangled history that Mary McAuliffe's aptly titled Clash of Crowns sets out to unravel. That she succeeds, splendidly, has to do with her uncanny ability to embed the myriad names and dates in a clearly developed narrative that features characters as fully fleshed out as those in any play. We care about most of the central figures who people the century and a half that McAuliffe describes, from William's Norman invasion of England in 1066 to the English loss of Normandy in 1204, because we understand their motives and psychology. Richard's untimely death, Eleanor's bad marriage, French King Philip's persistence, mean something to us and therefore we care about the battle that ends British control of Normandy, when Philip finally overruns Chateau-Gaillard, "the mightiest castle of its time." Along the way, McAuliffe, a Ph.D. historian, takes the time to fill us in on everything from castle engineering to the development of chess; from the role of women in the medieval era to the flowering of the troubadours and courtly love. She is especially good on Richard Lionheart, who in some ways is the book's central character. His slaughter of prisoners, his sheer physical courage, his acumen as strategist are all on ample display, especially in McAuliffe's analysis of the Third Crusade and the battles for Acre and Arsuf. This background helps make the mayhem of the foreground (the book's subtitle is A Story of Bloodshed, Betrayal, and Revenge) more understandable and three-dimensional. Then, too, McAuliffe's prose is a wonderful instrument, her tone of voice down-to-earth and commonsensical, all in all, a pleasure to read.
— Providence Journal