One of the great epics of Europe’s history, the story of the rise and rise of the Capetian dynasty dominates the Middle Ages. Starting in the tenth century from an insecure foothold around Paris, the Capetians built a nation that stretched from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and from the Rhône to the Pyrenees. They founded practices and institutions that endured until the Revolution, transformed Paris from a muddy backwater to a splendid metropole, and popularized the fleur-de-lys, the lily, as the emblem of France. Time and again, their opponents woefully misjudged who they were up against, as through guile, ruthlessness, luck and marriage the Capetians disposed of them all.
This is their story, the story of the most powerful kingdom in Christendom. It is a tale of religious upheaval, heroism, adulterous affairs, holy wars, pogroms and persecution. From Hugh Capet to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Capetians were men and women of vision and ambition, who considered themselves chosen by God to fulfil a great destiny. If they were mistaken in their assumptions and merciless in their methods, in one respect they were right. They did not simply rule France: they created it.
House of Lilies is a highly enjoyable, state-of-the-art account of this extraordinary sequence of events, set against one of the great eras in the history of western Europe, a time of remarkable cultural efflorescence. Justine Firnhaber-Baker brilliantly conveys not only the sheer glamour of the French court, but also the intellectual achievements, the battles and the centrality of religion, as well as the series of catastrophes that led to the dynasty’s ultimate demise.