The Plantagenets

King Henry I arranged the marriage of his widowed daughter Matilda to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou.  It was not a happy marriage however Geoffrey’s personal badge was a sprig of flowering broom (Planta genista) which gave England’s medieval royal family its surname.

Henry II     1154-1189

Henry succeeded to the English throne upon the death of Stephen.  Aged 21, he was already the Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Touraine and by his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine also Duke of Aqitaine. He’d been involved in governing his realm since 1144.  He spent most of his time travelling from province to province ruling his vast empire: the Angevin Empire.

Married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, initially a love match, in his later years he took  the ‘Fair Rosamund’ as a mistress. He is also famous  for his ill-fated relationship with his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.

Henry had his eldest surviving king crowned King of England while he was still alive.  The Young King Henry was crowned in 1172 and when no power followed, he rebelled against his father in 1173.  He was still rebelling when he died in 1183.

Gerald of Wales described Henry II. “He was a man of reddish, freckled complexion, with a large round head, grey eyes that glowed fiercely and grew bloodshot in anger, a fiery countenance and a harsh cracked voice.”

Richard I (the Lionheart)    1189-1199

Richard reigned for ten years but spent only seven months in England.  He once said that he would sell London, if he could, in order to raise funds for his crusade.  He was crowned on the 2nd September 1189 in Westminster Abbey.  He married Princess Berengaria of Navarre in Limassol during his journey to the Holy Land.  Richard was personally brave and a military strategist but although he was able to negotiate a three year truce with Saladin in 1192 he was never able to take Jerusalem.  On his return from the Holy Land he was taken prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor who ransomed the English king for 100,000 marks.

John    1199-1216

Richard’s brother John was also called ‘Lackland’ and ‘Softsword’.

Henry II had arranged John’s marriage to Isabella of Gloucester in order to ensure that John had land.  Richard made sure the marriage went ahead so that John should not cause trouble while he was on crusade.  It was a strategy that failed.  Upon his accession to the crown on 27 May 1199 John found himself faced with rebellion in Normandy.  His nephew Arthur of Brittany, the son of his older brother Geoffrey, had been heir to Richard’s crown and as the son of the elder brother had, in many men’s eyes a better claim.

The rebellion against John failed and Arthur disappeared.  John is the only King of England who has been accused of personally committing murder.  John’s reputation continued on its downward spiral when he divorced his wife in order to marry the strategically more important Isabella of Angouleme.  He is said to have been besotted with his bride but their marriage was a strange one with John forcing his ex-wife and wife to live in the same palace on occasion. John is once said to have sent a poisoned egg to a woman who spurned his advances and fined another one 100 chickens for daring to ask to spend the night with her own husband rather than him.  Another man substituted a prostitute in John’s bed rather than his wife.  Along with his seeming inability to keep his hands off other men’s wives and daughters John also irritated the barons by paying attention to them.  Having lost his father’s empire he focused on England.  This led to the Baron’s War and the signing of Magna Carta. Positively, John was a keen reader and a good administrator. John is alleged to have lost his jewels in The Wash.

Henry III    1216-1272

Henry was nine when he was crowned at Gloucester Cathedral on the 28 October 1216.  London was under the control of the french and the land was in the midst of civil war.  He was also the first child monarch to accede to the throne.  England was ruled by two regents during his minority – Hugh de Burgh and William Marshall.  Henry took full control of England in 1227.

He married Eleanor of Provence with whom he had nine children.

Henry was forced to sign the Provisions of Oxford in 1258 which sought to limit royal power.  Henry repudiated the provisions and a war with the barons broke out in 1264.  It was led by Simon de Montfort who was married to Henry’s sister, Eleanor. De Montfort won the Battle of Lewes even though he had a broken leg at the time and was forced to direct the battle from a cart. Henry was captured but the following year Henry’s son Edward was victorious at the Battle of Evesham.

Henry’s reign was a long one but following the battle of Evesham the real power lay with Prince Edward.

Edward I      1272-1307

Edward was the first king not to have to be on ‘the scene’ in order to claim his crown.  He was on his was home from crusade when he learned that his father was dead.  He became king in November 1272 but was not crowned until 19 August 1274.

This is the king famous for the great circle of castle’s built around Wales.  He invaded Wales in 1282 and the Welsh lost their independence in 1284 with the Statute of Rhuddlan.  The death of King Alexander III of Scotland without an heir resulted in the short-term with the investiture in Scotland of John Balliol and in 1296 with the invasion of Scotland.  1297 saw the Battle of Stirling Bridge and the defeat of the English at the hands of William Wallace who was finally executed in London in 1305.  Edward died in 1307 on his way back to Scotland.  Warfare between England and Scotland occurred intermittently for the next two hundred years and gave rise to a culture of border reiving.

Edward married first Eleanor of Castille, commemorated by the Eleanor Crosses that mark the places where her body lay on its journey for burial.  He then married Marguerite of France.

Edward II    1307-1327

Edward was the fourth son of Edward I but the first Prince of Wales having been born while Queen Eleanor was staying at Caernarfon.  He was married to Isabella of France (known as the She-Wolf) and they had four children.  It was Isabella who probably ordered Edward’s murder at Berkeley Castle.

Edward relied on his favourite Piers Gaveston who was so secure in the king’s favour that he wore Isabella’s jewels on her wedding day.  Gaveston was kidnapped and murdered in 1312.  Two years later the Scots won the Battle of Bannockburn under Robert Bruce.

The period is notable for the growing power of the Despensers and for the fact that Queen Isabella together with her lover, Roger Mortimer, seized power, deposed Edward and executed both of the Hugh Despenser – father and son.  It is also a time when Parliament can be seen to be growing in power.

Robert the Bruce is said to have declared that he was more afraid of the bones of Edward I than he was of his living son.  He also made a comment about the fact that it was more difficult to get a half a foot of land from the first Edward than a kingdom from his successor.

Edward III    1327-1377

Edward came to the throne after the deposition of his father.  He was 15.  It wasn’t until 1330 that he was able to take power from Isabella and Mortimer.  Edward was married to Philippa of Hainault.  His mistress was the infamous Alice Perrers.

Parliament was divided into Commons and Lords during this period; the Hundred Years War got started and the Black Death killed one-third of the English population.

Edward’s heir – the Black Prince- died in 1376 meaning that when Edward died the following year the throne was once again inherited by a child.  Unfortunately Edward left many other sons all of whom he’d made dukes. This was the first time that England had dukes as well as earls.

Richard II  1377-1399

This image -oil painted on board- is the first portrait of a monarch.  Richard was ten when he was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 16 July 1377.  His regents were his uncles John of Gaunt and Thomas of Gloucester.

Richard’s reign is chronicled by Froissart who writes not only about the king but narrates his own story as well.

“I was sitting at table in Bordeaux when King Richard was born. It was a Wednesday, at ten o’clock. And Sir Richard de Pont-Chardon, who was at that time Marshal of Aquitaine, came over to me and said: ‘Froissart, write it down and record it that the Princess of Wales has given birth to a fine son. He is a King’s son, for his father has been made King of Galicia by Don Pedro, and is even now leaving for that country to conquer it. He is of a royal line, and he will be a king himself’. The gentle knight of Pont-Chardon made no mistake, for Richard was King of England for twenty-two years”

from Froissart’s Chronicle


Richard’s reign began promisingly when he faced down the peasants on Blackheath during the Peasants Revolt in 1381.  His wife was Anne of Bohemia pictured on the right from the Liber Regalis (Coronation Book). They had no children but he came to rely upon her and was distraught when she died unexpectedly.  He then married Isabella of Valois, a child-bride. It was also during this reign that John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales but internal family politics led to his demise.  In 1387 the Lords took control of the Government.  Initially, once Richard regained control he made no move to take his revenge but then in 1397 he exiled his cousin Henry Bolingbroke.  In 1399 Bolingbroke became the Duke of Lancaster upon his father’s death.  Richard confiscated his property and Bolingbroke returned to England to claim his inheritance.  Richard was away fighting in Ireland.  When he returned he was captured and imprisoned in Pontefract Castle where he was starved to death.