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"Plantagenet" redirects here. For other uses, see Plantagenet (disambiguation).

House of Plantagenet

Armorial of Plantagenet
Country Kingdom of England, Kingdom of France, Lordship of Ireland, Principality of Wales
Ancestral house Angevins

Founder Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou
Final sovereign Richard III of England
Founding 1126
Dissolution 1485
Cadet branches

The House of Plantagenet (/plænˈtæənət/ ) was a royal dynasty that came to prominence in the High Middle Ages and lasted until the end of the Late Middle Ages. Within that period, some historians identify four distinct Royal Houses: Angevins, Plantagenet, Lancaster and York.[1]

The Plantagenet name for the dynasty dates from the 15th century and comes from a 12th-century nickname of Geoffrey. A common retrospective view is that Geoffrey V of Anjou founded the dynasty through his marriage to Matilda, the daughter of Henry I of England. From the accession of their son, Henry II, via the Treaty of Winchester that ended decades of civil war, a long line of 14 Plantagenet kings ruled England, until Richard III's death in 1485 (at the Battle of Bosworth). Henry II accumulated a vast and complex feudal holding with his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, which extended from the Pyrenees to Ireland and the border of Scotland, that was later called the Angevin Empire.

The Plantagenets transformed England from a realm ruled from abroad, into one of a deeply engaged and mature kingdom, although not necessarily always intentionally.[2] Winston Churchill, the twentieth-century British prime minister, articulated this in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples; "[w]hen the long tally is added, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns".[3] From Magna Carta onward, the role of kingship transformed under the Plantagenet—driven by weakness to make compromises that constrained their power in return for financial and military support. The king changed from being the most powerful man in the country with the prerogative of judgement, feudal tribute and warfare into a polity where the king's duties to his realm, in addition to the realm's duties to the king, were defined, underpinned by a sophisticated justice system. Success for the Plantagenets required martial prowess, and many were renowned warrior leaders. Conflict with the French, Scots, Welsh and Irish was to help shape a distinct national identity and re-established the use of English. They also provided England with significant buildings such as Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle and the Welsh Castles.

No royal dynasty was as successful in passing the crown to a succeeding generation as the Plantagenets from 1189 to 1377. In 1399 the splintering of the dynasty into competing cadet branches, the House of York and House of Lancaster, combined with economic and social tumult led to internecine strife later named the Wars of the Roses. Conclusive defeat in and the burden of taxes supporting the Hundred Years' War had devastated the English economy and broke confidence in the status quo. Several popular revolts demanded greater rights and freedoms for the general population. Destitute soldiery returned from France had turned to crime to survive, while feudalism declined into bastard feudalism, where the nobility acquired private armies used to pursue personal feuds and defy the Plantagenet government. These events culminated in 1485 with the death of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Many historians consider this as marking the end of Plantagenet power and the Middle Ages in England as the succeeding Tudors were able to resolve these problems by centralising royal power. This enabled the stability necessary for an English Renaissance and the development of Early modern Britain.


The Angevins (/ænvɪns/, meaning from Anjou) were a family of Frankish origin descended from a ninth-century noble named Ingelger. They were Counts of Anjou since 870. The male line of Ingelger became extinct in 1060. The House of Plantagenet descended from a Count of Gâtinais who married the sister of the last count of the House of Ingelger.[4][5] Fulk V, Count of Anjou, married his daughter Alice to the heir of Henry I of England, William Adelin, to address competition from Normandy but the prince drowned in the wreck of the White Ship.[6] Fulk then wed his daughter Sibylla to William Clito, heir to Henry's older brother, Robert Curthose. Henry had this marriage annulled because of the threat of a rival claim to his throne. Finally, Fulk married his son and heir, Geoffrey, to Henry's daughter and only surviving child, Matilda. This brought about the convergence of the Angevins, the House of Normandy and the House of Wessex to form the Plantagenet dynasty. Fulk then resigned his titles to Geoffrey and sailed to become King of Jerusalem. The chronicler Gerald of Wales borrowed elements of the Melusine legend to give a demonic origin to the Angevins, and several of them were prone to joke about the story.[7]

It was Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York, who adopted Plantagenet as a family name for him and his descendants in the 15th century. Plantegenest (or Plante Genest) had been a 12th-century nickname of Geoffrey, perhaps because his emblem may have been the common broom, (planta genista in medieval Latin).[8] It is obscure why Richard chose this specific name but it emphasised Richard's hierarchal status as Geoffrey's (and six English kings') patrilineal descendant, during the Wars of the Roses. The retrospective usage of the name for all of Geoffrey's male descendants was popular in Tudor times, perhaps encouraged by the added legitimacy it gave Richard's great grandson, Henry VIII of England.[9]

The Angevins come to England

Main article: Angevin Empire

Matilda's father Henry I of England named her as heir to his large holdings in what are now France and England.[10] But on Henry's death her cousin Stephen had himself proclaimed King.[11] Geoffrey showed little interest in England, but he supported Matilda by entering Normandy to claim her inheritance.[12] Matilda landed in England to challenge Stephen and was declared "Lady of the English" which resulted in a civil war called the Anarchy. When Matilda was forced to release Stephen in a hostage exchange for her half-brother Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, Stephen was re-crowned. Matilda was never crowned as the English conflict continued inconclusively. However, Geoffrey secured the Duchy of Normandy. Matilda's son, Henry II, by his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine had acquired the Duchy of Aquitaine and was now immensely rich. With skilful negotiation with the war-weary Barons of England and King Stephen, he agreed to the Treaty of Wallingford and was recognised as Stephen's heir.[13]

Henry saw an opportunity to re-establish what he saw as his rights over the Church in England by reasserting the privileges held by Henry I when Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, died, by appointing his friend, Thomas Becket to the post. Henry had clashed with the church over whether Bishops could excommunicate royal officials without his permission and whether he could try clerics without them appealing to Rome. However, Becket opposed Henry's Constitutions of Clarendon and fled into exile. Relations later improved, allowing Becket's return, but soon soured again when Becket saw the crowning as coregent of Henry's son by the Archbishop of York as a challenge to his authority and excommunicated those who had offended him. On hearing the news Henry uttered the infamous phrase "What miserable drones and traitors have I nurtured and promoted in my household who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low born clerk". In response to please Henry three of his men murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, probably by misadventure after Becket resisted a botched arrest attempt.[14] In Christian Europe Henry was considered complicit in this crime making him a pariah and he was forced to make a dramatic exhibition of penance, publicly walking barefoot into the cathedral and allowing monks to scourge him.[11]

In 1155 Pope Adrian IV had given Henry papal blessing to expand his power into Ireland in order to reform the Irish church.[15] This was not a matter of urgency until Henry allowed Dermot of Leinster to recruit soldiers in England and Wales for use in Ireland including Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke known as Strongbow. These knights took on the role of colonisers accruing autonomous power which concerned Henry. When Dermot died in 1171 Strongbow, as his son-in-law, seized significant territory. In response, and also to escape the controversary caused by the murder of Becket, Henry landed and re-established all fiefs and jurisdictions in Ireland were held subordinate to him as High King.[16]

When Henry II attempted to give his land-less youngest son, John, a wedding gift of three castles it prompted his three eldest sons and wife to rebel in the Revolt of 1173–1174. Louis VII encouraged the three elder sons to destabilise his mightiest subject and not to wait for their inheritances. William the Lion and disgruntled subjects of Henry II also joined the revolt for their own ends. It was only after eighteen months of conflict that Henry II was able to force the rebels to submit to his authority.[17] In Le Mans in 1182 Henry II gathered his children to plan for partible inheritance in which his eldest son, also called Henry, would inherit England, Normandy and Anjou; Richard the Duchy of Aquitaine; Geoffrey Brittany and John would receive Ireland. This broke down into further conflict and The younger Henry rebelled again, but died of dysentery. In 1186 Geoffrey died as a result of a tournament accident but still Henry was still reluctant to have a sole heir [18] so, in 1189, Richard and Philip II of France took advantage of a sickening Henry II with more success. Henry II was forced to accept humiliating peace terms, including naming Richard as sole heir. When Henry II died shortly afterwards his last words to Richard were allegedly "God grant that I may not die until I have my revenge on you".[19]

Angevin decline

On the day of Richard's English coronation there was a mass slaughter of the Jews, described by Richard of Devizes as a "holocaust".[20] Quickly putting the affairs of the Angevin Empire in order he departed on Crusade to the Middle East in early 1190. Opinions of Richard amongst his contemporaries was mixed. He had rejected and humiliated the King of France's sister; deposed the well-connected King of Cyprus and afterwards sold the island; insulted and refused spoils of the third crusade to nobles like Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and was rumoured to have arranged the assassination of Conrad of Montferrat. His cruelty was demonstrated by his massacre of 2,600 prisoners in Acre.[21] However, Richard was respected for his military leadership and courtly manners. He achieved victories in the Third Crusade but failed to capture Jerusalem, retreating from the Holy Land with a small band of followers.[22] Richard was captured on his return journey by Leopold. Custody was passed to Henry the Lion and a tax of 25% of movables and income was required to pay the ransom of 100,000 marks, with a promise of 50,000 more. Philip II of France had overrun great swathes of Normandy while John of England controlled much of the remainder of Richard's lands. But, on his return to England, Richard forgave John and re-established his control. Leaving England in 1194 never to return, Richard battled Phillip for the next five years for the return of the holdings seized during his incarceration. Close to total victory he was injured by an arrow during the siege of Château de Châlus-Chabrol and died after lingering injured for ten days.[23]

Richard's failure in his duty to provide an heir caused a succession crisis. Anjou, Brittany, Maine and Touraine choose Richard's nephew and nominated heir Arthur, while John succeeded in England and Normandy. Yet again Philip II of France took the opportunity to destabilise the Plantagenet territories on the European mainland and supported his vassal Arthur's claim to the English crown. When Arthur's forces threatened his mother, John won a significant victory, capturing the entire rebel leadership at the battle of Mirebeau.[24] Arthur was murdered, it was rumoured by John's own hands, and his sister Eleanor would spend the rest of her life in captivity. John's behaviour drove numerous of the French Barons to side with Phillip and resultant rebellions by the Norman and Angevin barons broke his control of the continental possessions leading to the de facto end of the Angevin Empire, even though Henry III would maintain the claim until 1259.[25]

After re-establishing his authority in England, John planned to retake Normandy and Anjou. The strategy was to draw the French from Paris while another army, under Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor, attacked from the north. However, his allies were defeated at the Battle of Bouvines in one of the most decisive and symbolic battles in French history.[26] The battle had both important and high profile consequences.[27] John's nephew Otto retreated and was soon overthrown while King John agreed a five-year truce. Philip's decisive victory was crucial in ordering politics in both England and France. The battle was instrumental in forming the absolute monarchy in France.[28]

Magna Carta and the First Barons War

Main articles: Magna Carta and First Barons' War

John's defeats in France weakened his position in England. The rebellion of his English vassals resulted in the treaty called Magna Carta, which limited royal power and established common law. This would form the basis of every constitutional battle through the 13th and 14th centuries.[29] However, both the barons and the crown failed to abide by the terms of Magna Carta, leading to the First Barons' War in which the rebel barons invited an invasion by Prince Louis. This is considered by some historians to mark the end of the Angevin period and the beginning of the Plantagenet dynasty with John's death and William Marshall's appointment as the protector of the nine-year-old Henry III.[1] Marshall won the war with victories at the battles of Lincoln and Dover in 1217, leading to the Treaty of Lambeth by which Louis renounced his claims.[30] In victory, the Marshal Protectorate reissued the Magna Carta agreement as a basis for future government.[31]

The Henry III exhibited typical Plantagent and Medieval antisemitism Henry exacting heavy Jewish taxation between 1219 and 1272 totaling 200,000 marks, a vast sum of money.[32] Henry made repeated unsuccessful attempts to reclaim Normandy and Anjou.[33] Despite the 1217 Treaty of Lambeth, hostilities continued and Henry was forced to make significant constitutional concessions to the newly crowned Louis VIII of France and Henry's stepfather Hugh X of Lusignan. Between them, they overran much of the remnants of Henry's continental holdings, further eroding the Angevin's grip on the continent. Henry saw such similarities between himself and England's then patron saint Edward the Confessor in his struggle with his nobles[34] that he gave his first son the Anglo-Saxon name Edward and built the saint a magnificent still-extant shrine.[35]

The barons were resistant to the supply of the men and money required to support a foreign war to restore Plantagenet holdings on the continent. In order to motivate his barons, and facing a repeat of the situation his father faced, Henry III reissued Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest in return for a tax that raised the incredible sum of £45,000. This was enacted in an assembly of the barons, bishops and magnates that created a compact in which the feudal prerogatives of the King were debated and discussed in the political community.[36] The pope had offered Henry's brother Richard the Kingdom of Sicily but he recognised that the cost of making this claim real was prohibitive. Matthew Paris wrote that Richard responded to the price by saying, "You might as well say, 'I make you a present of the moon – step up to the sky and take it down'". Instead, Henry purchased the kingdom for his son Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster, which angered many powerful barons. Henry left a longer lasting legacy in his building projects that cost £3,000 a year or a tenth of his income,[37] including Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle and the town of Harwich. Bankrupted by his military expenses, Henry was forced to agree to the Provisions of Oxford by barons led by his brother in law, Simon de Montfort, under which his debts were paid in exchange for substantial reforms. He was also forced to agree to the Treaty of Paris with Louis IX of France, acknowledging the loss of the Dukedom of Normandy, Maine, Anjou and Poitou, but retaining the Channel Islands. The treaty held that "islands (if any) which the King of England should hold", he would retain "as peer of France and Duke of Aquitaine"[38] In exchange Louis withdrew his support for English rebels, ceded three bishoprics and cities and was to pay an annual rent for possession of Agenais.[39] Disagreements about the meaning of the treaty began as soon as it was signed.[40] The agreement resulted in English kings having to pay homage to the French monarch, thus remaining French vassals, but only on French soil. This was one of the indirect causes of the Hundred Years War.[41]

Second Barons War and the establishment of Parliament

Main article: Second Barons' War

Friction intensified between the barons and the King, and Henry repudiated the Provisions of Oxford in 1261. Henry obtained a papal bull in 1261 exempting him from his oath, and both sides began to raise armies. Prince Edward, Henry's eldest son, was tempted to side with his godfather Simon de Montfort, and supported holding a Parliament in his father's absence, before he decided to side with his father. The barons under de Montfort captured most of south-eastern England and at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, Henry and Edward were defeated and taken prisoner. De Montfort summoned the Great Parliament, regarded as the first Parliament worthy of the name because it was the first time cities and burghs sent representatives.[42] Edward escaped, raised an army and defeated and killed de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.[43] Savage retribution was exacted on the rebels and authority was restored to King Henry. Edward, having pacified the realm, left England to join Louis IX on the Ninth Crusade, funded by an unprecedented levy of one-twentieth of every citizen's movable goods and possessions. He was one of the last crusaders in the tradition of aiming to recover the Holy Lands. Louis died before Edward's arrival, but Edward decided to continue. The result was an anti-climax and Edward's small force limited him to the relief of Acre and a handful of raids. Surviving a murder attempt by an assassin, Edward left for Sicily later in the year and was never to return on crusade. The stability of England's political structure was demonstrated when Henry III died and his son succeeded as Edward I; the barons swore allegiance to Edward even though he did not return for two years.[44]

Expansion in Britain

Conquest of Wales

Main article: Conquest of Wales by Edward I

From the beginning of his reign Edward I sought to organise his inherited territories. As a devotee of the cult of King Arthur he also attempted to enforce claims to primacy within the British Isles. Wales consisted of a number of princedoms, often in conflict with each other. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd held north Wales in fee to the English king under the Treaty of Woodstock, but had taken advantage of the English civil wars to consolidate his position as Prince of Wales and maintained that his principality was 'entirely separate from the rights' of England. Edward considered Llywelyn 'a rebel and disturber of the peace'. Edward's determination, military experience and skilful use of ships ended Welsh independence by driving Llywelyn into the mountains. He later died in battle. The Statute of Rhuddlan extended the shire system, bringing Wales into the English legal framework. When Edward's son was born he was proclaimed as the first English Prince of Wales. Edward's Welsh campaign produced one of the largest armies ever assembled by an English king in a formidable combination of heavy Anglo-Norman cavalry and Welsh archers that laid the foundations of later military victories in France. Edward spent around £173,000 on his two Welsh campaigns, largely on a network of castles to secure his control.[45]

Constitutional change and the reform of feudalism

Main article: Edward I of England

Because of his legal reforms Edward is sometimes called The English Justinian,[46] although whether he was a reformer or an autocrat responding to events is debated. His campaigns left him in debt. This necessitated that he gain wider national support for his policies among lesser landowners, merchants and traders so that he could raise taxation through frequently summoned Parliaments. When Philip IV of France confiscated the duchy of Gascony in 1294, more money was needed to wage war in France and Edward summoned a precedent setting assembly known as the Model Parliament, which including barons, clergy, knights and townspeople.[46]

Edward imposed his authority on the Church with the Statutes of Mortmain that prohibited the donation of land to the Church, asserted the rights of the Crown at the expense of traditional feudal privileges, promoted the uniform administration of justice, raised income and codified the legal system. He also emphasised the role of Parliament and the common law through significant legislation, a survey of local government and the codification of laws originating from Magna Carta with the Statute of Westminster 1275. Edward also enacted economic reforms on wool exports to take customs which amounted to nearly £10,000 a year and imposed licence fees on gifts of land to the Church. Feudal jurisdiction was regulated by the Statute of Gloucester and Quo Warranto. The Statute of Winchester enforced Plantagenet policing authority. The Statute of Westminster 1285 kept estates within families: tenants only held property for life and were unable to sell the property. Quia Emptores stopped sub-infeudation where tenants subcontracted their properties and related feudal services.[47]

The oppression of Jews following their exclusion from the guarantees of Magna Carta peaked with Edward expelling them from England.[48] Christians were forbidden by canon law from providing loans with interest so the Jews played a key economic role in the country providing this service. In turn the Plantagenets took advantage of the Jews' status as direct subjects heavily taxing them at will without the necessity of to summoning Parliament.[32] Edward's first major step towards Jewish expulsion was the Statute of Jewry,[48] which outlawed all usury and gave Jews fifteen years to buy agricultural land. However, popular prejudice made Jewish movement into mercantile or agricultural pursuits impossible.[49] Edward attempted to clear his debts with the expulsion of Jews from Gascony, seizing their property and transferred all outstanding debts payable to himself.[50][51][52] His tax demands continued and he made this more palatable to his subjects by offering to expel all Jews in exchange.[53] The heavy tax was passed and the Edict of Expulsion was issued. This proved widely popular and was quickly carried out.[54]

Anglo-Scottish wars

Edward asserted that the King of Scotland owed him feudal allegiance, which embittered Anglo-Scottish relations for the rest of his reign. Edward intended to create a dual monarchy by marrying his son Edward to Margaret, Maid of Norway, who was the sole heir of Alexander III of Scotland.[55] When Margaret died there was no obvious heir to the Scottish throne. Edward was invited by the Scottish magnates to resolve the dispute. Edward obtained recognition from the competitors for the Scottish throne that he had the 'sovereign lordship of Scotland and the right to determine our several pretensions' deciding the case in favour of John Balliol who duly swore loyalty to him and became king.[56] Edward insisted that Scotland was not independent and as sovereign lord he had the right to hear in England appeals against Balliol's judgements, undermining Balliol's authority. In 1295 John, on the urgings of his chief councillors, entered into an alliance with France.[57] In 1296 Edward invaded Scotland, deposing and exiling Balliol.[58]

Edward was less successful in Gascony, which was overrun by the French. His commitments were beginning to outweigh his resources. Chronic debts had been incurred by wars against France, in Flanders and Gascony and in Britain in Wales and Scotland; the clergy refused to pay their share of the costs, with the Archbishop of Canterbury threatening excommunication; Parliament was reluctant to contribute to Edward's expensive and unsuccessful military policies; Humphrey de Bohun, 3rd Earl of Hereford, and Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk, refused to serve in Gascony, and the barons presented a formal statement of their grievances. Edward was forced to reconfirm the Charters (including Magna Carta) to obtain the money he required. A truce and peace treaty the French king restored the duchy of Gascony to Edward. Meanwhile William Wallace had risen in Balliol's name and recovered most of Scotland, before being defeated at the Battle of Falkirk.[59] Edward summoned a full Parliament, including elected Scottish representatives for the settlement of Scotland. The new government in Scotland featured Robert the Bruce, but he rebelled and was crowned king of Scotland. Despite failing health, Edward was carried north to pursue another campaign, but he died en route at Burgh by Sands.[59] Even though Edward had requested that his bones should be carried on Scottish campaigns and that his heart be taken to the Holy Land, he was buried at Westminster Abbey in a plain black marble tomb that in later years was painted with the words Scottorum malleus (Hammer of the Scots) and Pactum serva (Honour the vow).[60]

Edward II's coronation oath on his succession in 1307 was the first to reflect the King's responsibility to maintain the laws that the community "shall have chosen" ("aura eslu").[61] The King was initially popular but faced three challenges: discontent over the financing of wars; his household spending and the role of Piers Gaveston.[62] When Parliament decided that Gaveston should be exiled the king had no choice but to comply.[63] The King engineered his return but Gaveston's behaviour was worse than ever and the king was forced to agree the appointment of Ordainers led by his cousin Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, to reform the royal household with Piers Gaveston exiled again.[64][65] The Ordinances were published widely to obtain maximum popular support but there was a struggle over their repeal or continued existence for a decade.[66] When Gaveston returned to England, he was abducted and executed after a mock trial.[67] This brutal act drove Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, and his adherents from power, but Edward's humiliating defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn by Bruce confirming Bruce's position as an independent King of Scots, returned the initiative to them. Lancaster and Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick, had not taken part in the campaign claiming that it was in defiance of the Ordinance and now governed but were increasingly isolated until the king was restored promising to uphold the Ordinances.[68][69] Edward finally repealed the Ordinances after defeating and executing Lancaster at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.[70]

The Hundred Years' War

Main article: Hundred Years' War

The War of Saint-Sardos' was a short conflict between Edward and the Kingdom of France that led indirectly to his overthrow. The French monarchy used the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris to overrule decisions of the nobility's courts. As a French vassal Edward felt this encroachment in Gascony with the French kings adjudicating disputes between him and his French subjects. Without confrontation he could do little but watch the duchy shrink. Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent, decided to resist one such judgement in Saint-Sardos with the result that Charles IV declared the duchy forfeit. Charles's sister, Queen Isabella, was sent to negotiate and agreed a treaty that required Edward to pay homage in France to Charles. Edward resigned Aquitaine and Ponthieu to his son, Edward, who travelled to France to give homage in his stead. With the English heir in her power, Isabella refused to return to England unless Edward II dismissed his favourites and also formed a relationship with Roger Mortimer.[71] The couple invaded England and joined by Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, captured the king.[72] Edward II abdicated on the condition that son would inherit the throne rather than Mortimer. He is generally believed to have been murdered at Berkeley Castle by having a red-hot poker thrust into his bowels.[73] A coup by Edward III ended four years of control by Isabella and Mortimer, Roger Mortimer was executed and though removed from power Isabella was treated well, living in luxury for the next 27 years.[74]

Hundred Years' War (1337–60) – The Edwardian phase

Main article: Hundred Years' War (1337–1360)

In 1328 Charles IV of France died without a male heir. His cousin Phillip of Valois and Queen Isabella on behalf of her son Edward were the major claimants to the throne. Philip, as senior grandson of Philip III of France in the male line, became king over Edward's claim as a matrilineal grandson of Philip IV of France, following the precedents of Philip V's succession over his niece Joan II of Navarre and Charles IV's succession over his nieces. Not yet in power, Edward III paid homage to Phillip as Duke of Aquitaine and the French king continued to assert feudal pressure on Gascony.[75] Philip demanded that Edward extradite an exiled French advisor, Robert III of Artois, and, when he refused, declared Edward's lands in Gascony and Ponthieu forfeit[76] In response Edward put together a coalition of continental supporters, promising payment of over £200,000.[77] Edward borrowed heavily from the banking houses of the Bardi and Peruzzi, merchants in the Low Countries and William de la Pole, a wealthy merchant who came to the king's rescue by advancing him £110,000[78] Edward also asked Parliament for a grant of £300,000 in return for further concessions.[79]

The delay caused by fundraising allowed the French to invade Gascony, and threaten the English ports[80] while the English conducted widespread piracy in the Channel.[81] Edward proclaimed himself King of France to encourage the Flemish to rise in open rebellion against the French King, and won a significant naval victory at the Battle of Sluys, where the French fleet was almost completely destroyed. Inconclusive fighting continued at the Battle of Saint-Omer and the Siege of Tournai (1340), but with both sides running out of money, the fighting ended with the Truce of Espléchin. Edward III had achieved nothing of military value and English political opinion was against him. Bankrupt, he cut his losses ruining many whom he could not, or chose not to, repay.[82]

Both countries suffered from war exhaustion. The tax burden had been heavy and the wool trade had been disrupted. Edward spent the following years paying off his immense debt, while the Gascons merged the war with banditry. In 1346 Edward invaded from the Low Countries using the strategy of chevauchée, a large extended raid for plunder and destruction that would be deployed by the English throughout the war. The chevauchée discredited Philip VI of France's government and threatened to detach his vassals from loyalty. Edward fought two successful actions, the Storming of Caen and the Battle of Blanchetaque. He then found himself outmanoeuvred and outnumbered by Philip and was forced to fight at Crécy. The battle was a crushing defeat for the French, leaving Edward free to capture the important port of Calais. A subsequent victory against Scotland at the Battle of Neville's Cross resulted in the capture of David II and reduced the threat from Scotland.[83]

... destructive Death (who seizes young and old alike, sparing no one and reducing rich and poor to the same level) has lamentably snatched from both of us our dearest daughter, (whom we loved best of all, as her virtues demanded).

Edward III in a letter to King Alfonso of Castile[84]

The Black Death in England brought a halt to Edward's campaigns by killing between a third and more than half of his subjects.[85][86] The only Plantagenet known to have died from the Black Death was Edward III's daughter Joan on her way to marry Pedro of Castile.[87] The King passed the Ordinance of Labourers and the Statute of Labourers in response to the shortage of labour and social unrest that followed the plague.[88] The labour laws were ineffectively enforced and the repressive measures caused resentment. Edward also encouraged the re-adoption of English as the official language of royal courts and parliaments with the Statute of Pleading transforming the language from one of the serfs into one fit for poetry and scholarship. Among others the Pearl Poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower and William Langland created a distinctive English culture and art.[23]

Edward, the Black Prince, resumed the war with one of the most destructive chevauchées in Plantagenet history. Starting from Bordeaux he laid waste to the lands of Armagnac before turning eastward into Languedoc. Toulouse prepared for a siege, but the Prince's army was not equipped for one, so he bypassed the city and continued south, pillaging and burning. Unlike large cities such as Toulouse, the rural French villages were not organised to provide a defence, making them much more attractive targets. In a second great chevauchée the Prince burned the suburbs of Bourges without capturing the city, before marching west along the Loire River to Poitiers where the Battle of Poitiers resulted in a decisive English victory and the capture of John II of France. The Second Treaty of London was signed, which promised a four million écus ransom. It was guaranteed by the Valois family hostages being held in London, while John returned to France to raise his ransom. Edward gained possession of Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, Maine and the coastline from Flanders to Spain, restoring the lands of the former Angevin Empire. The hostages quickly escaped back to France so John, horrified that his word had been broken, returned to England and died there. Edward invaded France in an attempt to take advantage of the popular rebellion of the Jacquerie hoping to seize the throne. However, although no French army stood against him, he was unable to take Paris or Rheims. In the subsequent Treaty of Brétigny he renounced his claim to the French crown, but greatly expanded his territory in Aquitaine and confirmed his conquest of Calais.[89]

Fighting in the Hundred Years' War often spilled from the French and Plantagenet lands into surrounding realms. This included the dynastic conflict in Castile between Peter of Castile and Henry II of Castile. Edward, Prince of Wales allied himself with Peter, defeating Henry at the Battle of Nájera before falling out with Peter, who had no means to reimburse him, leaving Edward bankrupt. The Plantagenets continued to interfere and John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, the Black Prince's brother, married Peter's daughter Constance, claiming the Crown of Castile in the name of his wife. He arrived with an army and asked John I to give up the throne in favour of Constance. John declined, instead his son married John of Gaunt's daughter, Catherine of Lancaster, creating the title Prince of Asturias for the couple.[90]

Hundred Years' War (1369–89) – the Caroline Phase

Main article: Hundred Years' War (1369–1389)

Charles V of France resumed hostilities when the Black Prince refused a summons as Duke of Aquitaine and his reign saw the Plantagenets steadily pushed back in France.[91] Prince Edward went on to demonstrate the brutal character that some think is the cause of the "Black Prince" nickname at the Siege of Limoges. After the town had opened its gates to John, Duke of Berry, he directed the massacre of 3,000 inhabitants, men, women and children.[92] Following this the prince was too ill to contribute to the war or government and returned to England where he soon died: the son of a King and the father of a King, but never a King himself.[93] Prince Edward's brother John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster assumed leadership of the English in France but he was rather ineffectual[94] despite further chevauchées, destroying the countryside and the productivity of the land.[95] The French commander, Bertrand Du Guesclin adopted Fabian tactics in avoiding major English field forces while capturing towns, including Poitiers and Bergerac. In a further strategic blow English dominance at sea was reversed by the disastrous defeat at the Battle of La Rochelle, undermining English seaborne trade and allowing Gascony to be threatened.[96]

The 10-year-old Richard II of England succeeded on the deaths of his father and grandfather, with government in the hands of a regency council until he came of age.[97] The poor state of the economy caused significant civil unrest as his government levied a number of poll taxes to finance military campaigns.[98] The tax of one shilling for everyone over 15 proved particularly unpopular. This, combined with enforcement of the Statute of Labourers, which curbed employment standards and wages,[99] triggered an uprising with refusal to pay the tax. Kent rebels, led by Wat Tyler, marched on London. Initially, there were only attacks on certain properties, many of them associated with John of Gaunt. The rebels are reputed to have been met by the young king himself and presented him with a series of demands, including the dismissal of some of his ministers and the abolition of serfdom. Rebels stormed the Tower of London and executed those hiding there.[100] At Smithfield further negotiations were arranged, but Tyler behaved belligerently and in the ensuing dispute William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London, attacked and killed Tyler. Richard seized the initiative shouting "You shall have no captain but me"[101] a statement left deliberately ambiguous to defuse the situation.[102][103] He had promised clemency but on re-establishing control he pursued, captured and executed the other leaders of the rebellion and all concessions were revoked.[104]

A group of magnates consisting of the king's uncle Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel, and Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick, became known as the Lords Appellant when they sought to impeach five of the King's favourites and restrain what was increasingly seen as tyrannical and capricious rule.[105] Later they were joined by Henry Bolingbroke, the son and heir of John of Gaunt, and Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk. Initially, they were successful in establishing a commission to govern England for one year, but they were forced to rebel against King Richard, defeating an army under Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, at the skirmish of Radcot Bridge. Richard was reduced to a figurehead with little power. As a result of the Merciless Parliament, de Vere and Michael de la Pole, 1st Earl of Suffolk, who had fled abroad, were sentenced to death in their absence, Alexander Neville, Archbishop of York, had all his worldly goods confiscated and a number of Richard's council were executed. Following John of Gaunt's return from Spain, Richard was able to rebuild his power, having Gloucester murdered in captivity in Calais. Warwick was stripped of his title and Bolingbroke and Mowbray were exiled.[105]

End of Plantagenet main line

When John of Gaunt died in 1399, Richard disinherited Henry of Bolingbroke, who invaded England in response with a small force that quickly grew in numbers and, meeting little resistance, he deposed Richard to have himself crowned Henry IV of England. Richard died in captivity early the next year and was probably murdered, bringing an end to the main Plantagenet line.[106]

Plantagenet cadet branches

House of Lancaster

Main article: House of Lancaster

Henry's accession by force broke the principles of Plantagenet succession; from this point any magnate with sufficient power and Plantagenet blood could consider the throne.[107] His assertion that his mother had legitimate rights through descent from Edmund Crouchback, whom he claimed was the elder son of Henry III of England, set aside due to deformity, was not widely believed. Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, was the heir presumptive to Richard II by being the grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, but as a child he wasn't considered a serious contender and as an adult never showed any interest in the throne, instead serving the House of Lancaster loyally. When Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, later plotted to use him to displace Henry's newly crowned son, and their mutual cousin, he informed the new King and the plotters were executed. However, the later marriage of his granddaughter to Richard's son, consolidated his descendants' claim to the throne with that of the more junior House of York's.[108]

Henry planned to resume war with France, but was plagued with financial problems, declining health and frequent rebellions.[109] A Scottish invasion was defeated at the Battle of Homildon Hill, but it resulted in a long war with Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, for northern England, which was resolved only with the near complete destruction of the Percy family at the Battle of Bramham Moor.[110] In Wales Owain Glyndŵr's widespread rebellion was only put down in 1408.[111] So many saw it as a punishment from God when Henry was later struck down with leprosy and epilepsy.[112]

Hundred Years' War (1415–53) – the Lancastrian war

Main article: Hundred Years' War (1415–1453)

Henry IV died in 1413. His son and successor, Henry V of England was a successful and ruthless martial leader. Aware that Charles VI of France's mental illness had caused instability in France, he invaded to assert the Plantagenet claims, captured Harfleur, made a chevauchée to Calais and won a near total victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt, despite being outnumbered, outmanoeuvred and low on supplies.[113] In subsequent years Henry recaptured much of Normandy and successfully secured marriage to Catherine of Valois. The resulting Treaty of Troyes stated that Henry's heirs would inherit the throne of France. However, conflict continued with the Dauphin and Henry's brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence, was killed in the defeat at the battle of Baugé in 1421. When Henry died in 1422, possibly with dysentery, he was succeeded by his nine-month old son as Henry VI of England. The elderly Charles VI of France died two months later. Led by Henry's brother John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford, there were several more victories, such as the Battle of Verneuil, in 1424, but it was impossible to maintain campaigning at this level. Joan of Arc's involvement helped force the lifting of the siege of Orleans.[114] French victory at the Battle of Patay enabled the Dauphin to be crowned at Reims and continue the successful Fabian tactics, avoiding full frontal assaults and exploiting logistical advantage. Joan was captured by the Burgundians, sold to the English, tried as a witch and burned at the stake.[115]

During the minority of Henry VI the war caused political division amongst the legitimate and illegitimate Plantagenets. Bedford wanted to defend Normandy, Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, just Calais, but Cardinal Beaufort wanted peace.[116] This division led to Gloucester's wife being accused of using witchcraft with the aim of putting him on the throne and he was later arrested and died in prison.[117] The refusal to renounce the Plantagenet claim to the French crown at the congress of Arras enabled the former Plantagenet ally Philip III, Duke of Burgundy, to reconcile with Charles, while giving Charles time to reorganise his feudal levies into a modern professional army that would put its superior numbers to good use.[118] The French retook Rouen and Bordeaux, regained Normandy, won the Battle of Formigny in 1450[119] and with victory at the Battle of Castillon in 1453 brought an end to the war.[120]

Henry VI was a weak king vulnerable to the over-mighty subjects, created by the decline of Feudalism into bastard feudalism, who took advantage of the feudal levy being replaced by taxation to develop private armies of liveried retainers. The result was rivalries often over spilled from the courtroom into armed confrontations such as Percy–Neville feud.[121] The common interest given by the war in France had ended so Richard, Duke of York, and Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, used their networks to defy the crown while the gentry attached themselves to different factions depending on their private feuds. Henry became the focus of discontent, as population, agricultural production, prices, wool trade and credit declined in the Great Slump.[122] Most seriously, in 1450 Jack Cade raised a rebellion in an attempt to force the King to address economic problems or abdicate his throne.[123] The uprising was suppressed, but remained deeply unsettling with more radical demands coming from John and William Merfold.[124]

Wars of the Roses

Main article: Wars of the Roses

Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York's attitude to the marriage contract of Henry and Margaret of Anjou, which included the surrender of Maine and an extended the truce with France, contributed to his appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. This conveniently removed him from English and French politics on which he had influence as a descendent of both Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and Edmund, Duke of York.[125] Conscious of the fate of Duke Humphrey at the hands of the Beauforts, and suspicious that Henry intended to nominate Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, as heir presumptive in his stead, he recruited militarily on his return to England. Richard claimed to be a reformer but was possibly plotting against his enemy Somerset. Armed conflict was avoided because Richard lacked aristocratic support and he was forced to swear allegiance to Henry. However, when Henry had a mental breakdown, Richard was named regent. Henry himself was trusting and not a man of war, but Margaret was more assertive, showing open enmity toward Richard, particularly after the birth of a male heir that resolved the succession question.[126]

When Henry's sanity returned the court party reasserted its authority, but Richard of York and the Nevilles, who were related by marriage and had been alienated by Henry's support of the Percys, defeated them at a skirmish called the First Battle of St Albans. Possibly as few as 50 men were killed, but among them were Somerset and the two Percy lords, Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, and Thomas Clifford, 8th Baron de Clifford, creating feuds that would prove impossible to reconcile; reputedly Clifford's son would later murder Richard's son Edmund. The ruling class was deeply shocked and reconciliation was attempted.[127][128] However, threatened with treason charges and lacking support, York, Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, and Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, fled abroad. The Nevilles returned, winning the Battle of Northampton and capturing Henry.[129] When Richard joined them he surprised Parliament by claiming the throne and then forcing through the Act of Accord, which stated that Henry would remain as monarch for his lifetime, but that York would succeed him. Margaret found this disregarding of her son's claims unacceptable and so the conflict continued. York was killed at the Battle of Wakefield and his head set on display at Micklegate Bar, York along with those of Edmund, Earl of Rutland, and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, who had both been captured and beheaded.[130]

House of York

Main article: House of York

The Scottish queen Mary of Guelders provided Margaret with support and a Scottish army pillaged into southern England.[131] London resisted in the fear of being plundered and then enthusiastically welcomed York's son Edward, Earl of March, with Parliament confirming that Edward should be made king.[132] Edward was crowned after consolidating his position with victory at the Battle of Towton.[133] Edward's preferment of the former Lancastrian-supporting Woodville family, following his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, led to Warwick and Clarence helping Margaret depose Edward and return Henry to the throne. Edward and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, fled, but on their return Clarence switched sides at the Battle of Barnet leading to the death of the Neville brothers. The subsequent Battle of Tewkesbury brought the demise of the last of the male line of the Beauforts. The battlefield execution of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, and later murder of Henry VI extinguished the House of Lancaster. The House of York was victorious and by the mid-1470s looked safely established with seven living male princes, but it quickly brought about its own demise. George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, plotted against his brother and was executed. Following Edward's premature death in 1483, his brother Richard had Parliament declare his brother's two sons illegitimate on the pretext that Edward's marriage was invalid because of an alleged prior pre-contract to Lady Eleanor Talbot.[134] Richard seized the throne and the Princes in the Tower were never seen again. Richard's son predeceased him and he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, following an invasion of foreign mercenaries led by Henry Tudor, who claimed the throne through his mother Margaret Beaufort. He assumed the throne as Henry VII, founding the Tudor dynasty and bringing the Plantagenet line of kings to an end.[73]

Henry VII, the Tudors and the Plantagenet descendants

Henry VII of England was crowned and married Edward's heiress Elizabeth of York to legitimise his reign. Henry battled for more than a decade to prevail over Plantagenet plots by Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy.[135] She sent Lambert Simnel to Ireland, who purported to be her nephew Warwick. His army of Irish and Flemish supporters was defeated at the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487.[136] The Duchess of Burgundy also claimed that Perkin Warbeck was Richard of Shrewsbury and twice supported invasions of England before Warbeck was captured and imprisoned in 1497. Warbeck's later escape attempt led to his execution and the execution of the last legitimate male line Plantagenet, Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, in 1499. When Henry Tudor seized the throne, there were numerous Plantagenet descendants who by later modern standards had a stronger right, including both his mother and future wife. By 1510 the number of claimants had increased by the birth of more than a dozen more Yorkists. Yorkists continued to be imprisoned or executed up to the reign of Elizabeth I of England with the Tudors ruthlessly extinguishing rival claims to the throne. Many legitimate and illegitimate lines of descent outside of politics remained unmolested and have survived to the present.[73]

Family tree

This family tree includes only male members of the House of Plantagenet who were born legitimate.
House of Lancaster
House of York
Geoffrey V,
Count of Anjou

Henry II,
King of England

Count of Nantes

William FitzEmpress
Junior King of England

Richard I,
King of England

Geoffrey II,
Duke of Brittany

King of England

Arthur I,
Duke of Brittany

Henry III,
King of England

King of Germany

Edward I,
King of England

1st Earl of Lancaster

Henry of Almain
2nd Earl of Cornwall

Earl of Chester

Edward II,
King of England

1st Earl of Norfolk

1st Earl of Kent

2nd Earl of Lancaster

3rd Earl of Lancaster

Edward III,
King of England

Earl of Cornwall

2nd Earl of Kent

3rd Earl of Kent

1st Duke of Lancaster

Prince of Wales

1st Duke of Clarence

1st Duke of Lancaster

Edmund, 1st Duke of York
1st Duke of Gloucester

Richard II,
King of England

Henry IV,
King of England

2nd Duke of York

3rd Earl of Cambridge

2nd Earl of Buckingham

Henry V,
King of England

1st Duke of Clarence

1st Duke of Bedford

1st Duke of Gloucester

3rd Duke of York

Henry VI,
King of England

Edward IV,
King of England

Earl of Rutland

1st Duke of Clarence

Richard III,
King of England

Prince of Wales

Edward V,
King of England

1st Duke of York

17th Earl of Warwick

Prince of Wales


Further information




Royal house
House of Plantagenet
Cadet branch of the Angevins
Deposition: 1485
Preceded by
House of Blois
Ruling House of England
Angevins (until 1214)
House of Lancaster (1399–1461)
House of York (1461–1485)

Succeeded by
House of Tudor
Preceded by
House of Penthièvre
Ruling House of Brittany
Succeeded by
House of Thouars
Preceded by
House of Ingelger
Ruling House of Anjou
until 1214
Succeeded by
House of Anjou

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