The Plantagenets

images (4)Neo’s last post put the discovery of the skeleton of Richard III into the wider context of medieval history and that of the Plantagenets.

They were so called because their heraldic device was the planta genet – the broom plant. When Henry I died in 1130, the barons broke their oaths to serve his daughter, Matilda, and pledged their allegiance to one of his grandsons, Stephen, who seized the throne in a coup. A brave knight, with great courage, Stephen was far too nice a man to be a medieval king; on one occasion, when he had Matilda surrounded, he actually let her go as an act of chivalry. A lovely gesture, but one which meant the war between the two of them went on for another decade and a half. In the end they compromised, and Stephen was allowed to be King for life, as long as Matilda’s eldest son, Henry, became king after that. This duly happened in 1154. Henry’s father, Geoffrey of Anjou, had a spring of broom for his badge, and that became the name – Plantagenet – by which the dynasty was known.

Henry II and his sons, Richard I and John, are usually called the Angevins – a nod to their ancestry, but also to the fact that while we call them Kings of England, they ruled huge swathes of modern France, spoke French and are, with the exception of John, buried in France. It was John, the least successful of them who, by losing Normandy, actually made the Kings who succeeded him more English than their predecessors – they didn’t have the option of spending time in their French lands.

His son, Henry III, is usually regarded as the first of the Plantagents, although that is a bit artificial, and reflects the new reality that although the dynasty continued, its centre of gravity changed. Henry was, as Neo pointed out, not much more successful than his father. However, thanks to him, the Barons continued the policy begun under John of uniting in a parliament (literally a place where you talked – French parler) to keep the King in check. Sometimes bad and tyrannous kings can be useful.

Edward I (King from 1272-1307) was the ultimate tough guy. He conquered the Welsh and hammered the Scots. He might not have inherited the lands in France, but he was determined to make up for that. His grandson, Edward III, started the 100 Years’ War in an effort to regain those lost lands in France. He lived into his seventies, a great age then, and outlived his son, Edward the Black Prince, and left the throne to his young grandson, Richard II.

Edward III was not only the model medieval king in his martial exploits – his marital ones were pretty impressive, as he sired seven healthy sons. The problem there was that when Richard II proved incompetent, there were plenty of cousins who thought they’d do a better job.  It was Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, who seized the throne in 1399 and founded the Lancastrian dynasty. His son was the great victor of Agincourt, Henry V, and had he not died young, or had his son, Henry VI, not been mad, then the line would have continued. But by the late 1450s it was clear that poor Henry could not rule. His cousin, Richard, Duke of York, led a revolt against him, and while he was killed, his son Edward, took the throne in 1461, and, uniquely, although he lost it in 1470, regained it.

Edward IV was a man in the mould of his great-grandson, Henry VIII. A tall and imposing man, who grew fat in early middle age, he was a great womaniser. His chief adviser, the Earl of Warwick, had a French marriage in mind for him and was not best pleased when Edward admitted he was already married, secretly, to the widow of a Lancastrian knight. As Neo’s post explained, her family, the Woodville’s, were an avaricious lot, and it may well have been fear of them which drove Edward’s brother, Richard, to seize the throne on his early death.

The Plantagent dynasty ended at Bosworth – but their legend will never die.

About JessicaHof
Anglican Christian, evangelist, survivor, grateful

2 Responses to The Plantagenets

  1. Pingback: Loyaulte me lie « The Constitution Club

  2. Pingback: The King ( No Longer) in the Parking Lot | nebraskaenergyobserver

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