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Plantagenet England

House of Normandy (1066-1154)
1154-1189 Henry II
1189-1199 Richard I
1199-1216 John
1216-1272 Henry III
1272-1307 Edward (Longshanks) I
1307-1327 Edward II
1327-1377 Edward III
1377-1399 Richard II
House of Lancaster (1399-)
see also:   Medieval England

Had Henry I's only male heir not died with the tragic loss of the White Ship the strong Norman rule which held England since the Norman Conquest would probably have continued and English history would have taken a very different course to that which followed Henry I's death in 1135 when the country was plunged headlong into its first civil war lasting nearly two decades.

In the event, sheer exhaustion caused Matilda (or Maud, the daughter and only surviving heir of Henry I) to settle for the crown of England passing to her son Henry Plantagenet on the death of Stephen and Stephen's own agreement to the arangement a year or so before his death. Henry Plantagenet held vast estates in France. Rivals of the Kings of France as Kings of England and yet their vassals by virtue of their huge holdings in France, this dicotomy would dominate English foreign policy for over two centuries of Plantagenet rule.

Plantagenet England: Monarchs
HENRY II 'Plantagenet'

Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, succeeded King Stephen on his death in 1154. The son of Henry I's daughter and sole heir Mildred or Maud by her second husband Geoffrey, Count of Anjou.

Before her brother perished in the sinking of the White Ship, Mildred had been ignored by her father Henry I; aged 14 years, she was married to the Holy Roman Emperor but, widowed, was recalled to the English court on her brothers death and, aged 25 years, married to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, then only a boy of fourteen.

Henry was Duke of Normandy through his mother and through his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, he was the count or duke of so many provinces that he was lord of half of France (and thus vassal of the French King). The conflict between his position as King of England and yet vassal of the French Crown for his French possessions would dominate not only his foreign policy, but that of all the Plantagenet Kings for over two centuries.

Almsot 20 years of Civil War had wrecked all but the simplest of organisation in the charismatic Henry's new kingdom and he immediately set about restoring order; within two years he had subdued the more turbulent of his barons and over-awed the remainder. Pulling down the unauthorised castle which the magnates had erected in the turbulent and lawless reign of Stephen, he re-instated the laws of his grandfather Henry I.

The shire-levies were also re-organised to ensure that any man called up by the sherrif (the shire-reeve, an officer appointed by the king for various administrative purposes within each county) appeared armed according to his means.

In Ireland, Henry established an English government although it jurisdiction covered only a small area known as the English pale. William the Lion of Scotland had been captured while raiding northern England and was forced to do homage to Henry as his overlord.

Henry II is perhaps best remembered, however, for his abortive attempt to bring the clergy, subject only to ecclesiatical courts, within the jurisdiction of the King's courts. The attempt brought him into conflict with the Archbishop of Canterbury - Thomas-a-Becket. When a group of ther King's knights brought him ill news from Canterbury, Henry in a moment of anger asked whether there was none is his kingdom who might rid him of the troublesome cleric. The loyal knights took Henry's ill-guarded words as their command and murdered Becket in his cathedral. Misconstrued the monarch might have been but, by his martyrdom, Becket so stirred up popular feeling against the monarch that the church could not fail but win the battle.

Toward the end of his reign, the country was again thrown into turmoil as henry II warred with his turbulent sons - and such was the state of affairs when he died in 1189. He was succeeded by Richard I, later surnamed the Lion-Heart.

 King Henry II 'Plantagenet' of England (1154-1189)

Plantagenet England: Monarchs
RICHARD I 'the Lion-Heart'

Arguments between Henry II and his turbulent sons had led to their warring against him when he died in 1189 to be succeeded by Richard I, later to be sur-named 'Lion Heart'. Fond of Aquitaine and speaking no English, this Plantagenet King of England spent only some six months of his ten-year reign in England.

Richard I's lion-heart, however, was nowhere more contented than in Palestine where he spent most of his energies crusading against the Muslims who were threatening the Holy Land (Saladin had recent;y captured Jerusalem itself). While England's monarch was engaged in the Holy Land answering the call of The Cross, the country was left in the wise and very capable hands of Richard's minister Hubert Walter.

Returning home from the Crusades through Europe, Richard I was captured and held to ransom. He died on the battlefield fighting a recalcitrant Norman baron and the council of barons elected his brother John to succeed him as King of England.

KING JOHN (1199-1216)

King John was a man of great ability which was rarely glimpsed during his reign which was marked by the more base aspects of his nature. History has regarded him as the worst King that ever ruled England - so much so that no royal child has since born his name. Yet the ignobility of this king did England a great if unwitting service for the magnates, the clergy and the commonality became so incensed with their monarch towards the end of his reign that they conspired together to make King John seal the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215 by the Thames - the Great Charter which established clearly that henceforth no person, whatever his rank, was above the law of the land and that none could change the law without general assent.

It was early in King Johns reign however that he loast most of the French possessions which had come to the Kings of England with the crowning of Henry II. When the barons of Normandy rallied around John's feudal lord King Phillip II of France who had declared the dukedom to be forfeit, the barons of England were so disgusted with John's misrule that they refused to ride with him to do battle.

During the final year of John's reign, some half of the magnates of England conspired to put Louis the dauphin (crown-prince) on the English throne but on John's death all rallied around his son who was crowned Henry III.

With the loss of the Duchy of Normandy the barons of Norman blood who held estates on both sides of the English Channel lost their Norman holdings and were thus forced to soon think of themselves as English.

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HENRY III (1216-1272)

Only an infant when he became King Henry III, England was ruled ably by William Marshal and later by Hubert de Burgh - both had been faithfull to Henry's father, King John but had not become tainted by that King's crimes.

On comming of age, the pious King Henry came under the influence of an ambitious bishop who surrounded the young monarch with foreign favourites. His marriage to Eleanor of Savoy only exacerbated the situation by bringing several of her kinsmen into the circle influencing the King and causing opposition to the foreigners. This opposition was led by Simon de Montfort, the earl of Leicester (who, ironically, was a foreigner himself).

For a time it seemed that Leicester might win out and he called a Great Council, successor to the Witangamoot of the Saxons which for the first time included elected burgesses from some of the towns as well as the barons and clergy. Some of the magnates abandoned Leicester's cause to join the king and Leicester was slain at the battle of Evesham by the royal forces commanded by the King's son Edward, later Edward I.
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 King Henry III of England (1216-1272)

EDWARD (Longshanks) I (1272-1307)


Although Henry III's reign is remembered for the Civil War led by Montfort, it must be remembered that he had ruled for nearly sixty years and it was only in the last decade of his reign that the troubles errupted. By the standards of the times his reign was one of peace and prosperity for England, so much so that when he died in 1272, Edward, his son and successor was far from England crusading and yet the government of the realm continued peacefully until his return to English soil.

The struggle between crown and barons continued throughout Edward's reign and, to combat it, he reformed both the law and the Great Council - the latter into a parliament which remained unaltered in its basic form for some five hundred years. In law, Edward attempted to replace certainty in those areas of law where there were uncertainty and to do so in such a manner that the interpretation favoured the crown against the barons.

EDWARD I (1272-1307)

Under Edward I, the composition of parliament was extended. Parliament had developed form the Saxon Witangamot - this having been composed of the few of thre great magnates, bishops and superior abbots. The knits of the shire, of which each shire sent two, were appointed by the King's servant, the sherrif, and not elected. Under the Norman Kings, the Witangamot became the Great Council.

Simon de Montfort had added two burgesses from each of a number of selected boroughs (large towns which which possessed charters allowing them self-government). Edward not only made the presence of the burgesses permanent, but also caused the knights of the shire to be elected rather than appointed by the sherrif of the shire.

These arrangements were settled in the Model Parliament called to sit in 1295 and so-called because this arrangement remained unchanged for some five hundred years. The elected representatives of the shire were collectively called the commons commons.

The greater barons, the lords or peers, were summoned to parliament by personal letter from the monarch and the right to be thus summoned became a hereditary right. During the reign of Edward III it became an established custom for the 'Lords' and the 'Commons' to sit and vote in separate chambers and the clergy also separated from parliament to sit in 'Convocation' to legislate for the Church and settle their own contributions to the exchequer (although bishops and certain abbots still sat witht the Lords).

Acts passed by parliament and confirmed by the signature of the monarch became the law which could only be altered by another Act of Parliament.

The legislation of Edward I's reign was primarily concerned with setting the laws about succession, the inheritance and alienation of land, and the king's right to lawfully enforce his claims for money to be paid to royal exchequer from which all the expenses of government had to be paid.

This amount invariably fell short of that which the monarch, for whatever reason, required and he was obliged to ask parliament for this excess. Parliament, in time, refused to vote the money the monarch demanded if it was dissatisfied with the way it was being spent and so learnt that it possessed 'the power of the purse'. The evolution of legislation and parliament itself was a process which continued throughout Edward I's reign.

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EDWARD I (1272-1307)

Edward I strove throughout his reign to unify the mainland Britain into a single dominion under the English Crown. After much hard fighting, he succeeded in vanquishing the Welsh and built garissoned castles in the marches to maintain control over the country.

The Welsh Princes and Scottish Kings had occassionally agreed to acknowledge the overlordship of the English Crown to some extent, sometimes to overlordship of the person of the English king - more often they refused to do so.

Subduindg Sctoland, however, was a task of a much different order; not only was there less legal pretext for doing so, but Scotland physically a far larger and more challenging country to deal with. Two ooportunities presented themselves to Edward on the death of Alexander III of Scotland and later his infant daughter Margaret, when the Scottish nobles (many of whom were his vassals in respect of lands which they also held in England) asked him to arbitrate between rival claimants to the Scottish crown.

Many nobles held lands in the Scottish lowlands as vassals of the King of Scotland and also estates in England as vassals of the English King. The highlands remained the province of the Scots.

See also:   Scotland about the Time of the Norman Conquest

Edward I agreed to arbitrate between the contenders but only on condition that, previous Scottish Kings having done homage to the Kings of England, the successful candidate for the Scottish Crown must do likewise. Understanding Edward's claim to suzerianty over Scotland to be a formality, the Scots agreed and the decision fell in favour of John Baliol.

The Scots soon found to their surprise that Edward I had intended his claim as no formality but expected a very real acceptance of his authority over Scotland and John Baliol rebelled. Baliol's revolt was crushed by Edward who resumed the Scottish Crown as his right by forfeit of his vassal's rebellion. The lands of Baliol's supporters were also forfeited and English officers and garrisons were sent to Scotland were they behaved as rulers of a vanquished foe, much as the Normans had done following their conquest of England in 1066.

With no king to lead them, the Scots followed William Wallace who raised an army of followers and, for a time, drove the English from Sctoland. Edward vowed vengeance for the revolt and Wallace's army was overwhelmed by the skill of the English archers at the battle of Falkirk. Wallace himself was taken to England as a captive to die a traitor's death. The Scots again found themselves under the harsh rule of the English.

Robert Bruce, grandson of the claimant to the Scottish throne, committed a murder for which he could have no hope of pardon and made his own bid to liberate Scotland from the grip of the English and the Scottish crown which had been forfeited by Baliol. The aged Edward I assembled a great host to crush the new rebellion but died before he could reach Scotland and his army of invasion was disbanded.

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EDWARD II (1307-1327)


Edward inherited the kingdom after Edward I, one of the ablest Kings of England. He however allowed himself to be swayed by unworthy favourites. The barons of the realm who had respected and feared his father, attempted to control the country without King or parliament.

Edward's father had died in 1307 having assembled a huge host to invade Scotland and crush the rebellion of Robert Bruce. During the first six years of Edward's reign he had been too preoccupied by quarrels with his English barons to turn his attention north of the border with Scotland and Robert ousted the English from stronghold after stronghold in Scotland until none were left save for Stirling. Now he sought to rectify the matter and marched into Scotland with the largest English army to have ever gone into battle. Despite this, the English were utterly defeated at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and the independance of the Scots was trully established although the English did not concede the fact until the treaty of Northampton in 1329, fifteen years later and two years after Edward's death.

Eventually it was his own wife, Isabella of France whome he married aged 24 when she was aged only 24, who rebelled against him with Roger Mortimer. Edward was captured, imprisoned and forced to abdicate in favour of his sixteen-year-old son as Edward III. Isabella and Mortimer ruled England during the minority of Edward III and one of their first acts was to murder the Edward I at berkeley Castle.

EDWARD III (1327-1377)


Edward III came to the throne of England aged only sixteen after the successful rebellion of his mother, Isabella of France, and her lover Roger Mortimer against her husband Edward II. For the first two years of his reign, his mother and Mortimer ruled the country in his name and arranged to have Edward II murdered at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire.

The young king and his friends staged a coup d'état; Roger Mortimer was tried and hanged for treason while Edward's mother, Isabella of France, was tried and found guilty but spent the remainder of her days at Castle Rising in Norfolk.

The long reign of Edward III was dominated by war with France. The first twenty years of warfare with France brought repeated successess but these were folowed by a series of failures.

The great French possessions of the early Plantagenet kings had lessened under King John and Henry III but Edward I still held Gascony and Guienne. The French Kings operated a consistent policy of annexing the fiefs of their feudal vassals at any available pretext. While Edward I held his own against the French Crown, Edward II had suffered losses.

Charles IV, the last male of the house of Capet died in 1328 and the French decided that his cousin, Philip of Valios should succeed him. Edward III could also possibly claim the throne of France as he was the son of Isabella of France, sister of Charles IV - although the claim was made, it was not pressed.

Philip VI was crowned and continued the old policy of annexing his vassals' fiefs and thus placed Edward III in danger of loosing the French possessions which were of considerable commercial importance to England. Edward pressed his claim to the French throne and thus, what became know as the Hundred Years' War with France began in 1337.

The naval victory at Sluys in 1340 secured command of the Channel for the English. In 1346, Edward III led a great raid into France but the assemblage of a huge force by the French to repel him caused him to retreat towards Flanders. The French overtook Edward's force at Crécy near the Somme and the French were thoroughly routed in the battle which followed. mainly due to the English archers.

In 1347, the English captured Calais giving them a foothold in France which the English monarchs were to retain for two centuries, and a huge market for English commerce. The town was starved into surrender (it was one of the first battles in which canon were used - although they were not very effective) and, although Edward III spared the lives of the six chief burghers of the town who had been condemned to death, its French citizens were expelled and replaced by Edward's English subjects.

Edward's son, the Black Prince, won the Battle of Poitiers over an enormouslt superior French force in 1356 and this led to the Peace of Brétigny by which Edward III acquired complete sovereignty over the fiefs he had previously held as vassal of the French Kings.

The short period of peace was brocken when war again errupted in 1359 - each of the sides claiming that the other had brocken the treaty. Unlike the earlier successes, however, each campaign which followed ended in failure and, on his death in 1377, Edward III's possessions in France were no greater than when the war began.

EDWARD III (1327-1377)

One of the effects of the wars with France was to reduce the amount of labour available while the armies were abroad soldeiring. In the short-term, this brought economic prosperity to the country.

Edward also sought to encourage sound trading conditions, particularly as regarded the woolen industry. Weavers' Guilds had existed as early as the 12th century but clothworking had declined so the monarch took steps to revive it; Edward forbade the importation of foreign wool and the excellent weavers of Flanders were invited to settle in England and many did and settled in centers such as Bristol, London and Winchester, among others. At the time, England was practically the only country supplying wool to Western Europe.

The wool staple was transferred to England from Bruges though, after its capture, it was transferred to Calais (the object of a staple town was that all trade in wool should pass through it and, thus, the monarch's revenue due on the trade could be readily secured.

The economy of England was thrown into turmoil during Edward's reign by the arrival of the Black Death or Plague from the Middle East (from whence it had been carried by the travels of the crusaders) in 1348. The Black Death is thought to have wiped out about a third of England's population.

The scarcity of labour caused by the Black Death caused a scarcity of labour and a consequent increase in wages and turmoil throughout the feudal system. The small freeholder was frequently able to purchase his land from his lord because the latter could not afford the wages involved in working it. Because of the high wages for labour, the feudal lord valued service highly and was very unwilling to commute it as had often been the custom. Unable to pay their rents, many bitter villeins deserted their holdings to try and seek a livlihood in the towns - there was a serious danger to the ecenomy of the country of much land falling out of cultivation.

The prosperity at the start of Edward III's reign had turned to widespread discontent at the time of the monarch's death. Edward was succeeded by his ten-year-old grandson, the son of the Black Prince, as Richard II.

RICHARD II (1377-1399)


Richard, the son of the Black Prince, succeeded his grandfather Edward III in 1377 when he was only ten years old and the eighth and last king of England of the House of Plantagenet.

His uncles and other nobles vied for control of the kingdom in his name and added to the discontent caused by the economic turmoil England had been thrown into by the Black Death in his grandfather's reign. The discontent resulted in the rising of the peasantry lead by Wat Tyler and Jack Straw. When the insurgents arrived at London, the boy-king rode up to meet them and persuaded them to disperse by making promises which were never kept - the leaders of the rising were severly punished.

Like Edward II bfore him, Richard II put his trust in favourites and achieved similar results - the anger of the barons. For a period, however, Richard used his power in moderation to maintain the upper hand and avoid war.

Without warning, the monarch turned on his uncle Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, charging him with treason allegedly committed earlier in the reign and imprisoned him. Gloucester was murdered during his imprisonment. The barons were alarmed and two of his opponents charged each other with treason; one was Henry, Earl of Hereford and Derby, his cousin and the oldest surviving son of Edward III, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; the other was Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Richard took the oportunity to banish both opponents. On the death of Lancaster, Richard seized his estates (which should have been inherited by Hereford) and departed for Ireland.

Hereford returned to England to do no more than claim his inheritance but, when the King returned to England, the angered nobles had deserted him and Hereford now insisted that he help the monarch to rule better.

Richard II surrendered to Hereford and was taken to London as his prisoner. Once there, the King was forced to sign his abdication and his captor claimed the throne as the grandson of Edward III. parliament accepted Henry, Duke of Hereford's claim and he was crowned as Henry IV, the first king of England of the House of Lancaster.

Saxon Britain Mediaeval Britain


Magna Carta
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Normandy, Loss of...
'The Power of the Purse'
Simon de Montfort



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