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House of Plantagenet

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House of Plantagenet
Royal Arms of England (1198-1340).svg
Armorial of Plantagenet
Country Kingdom of England, Kingdom of France, Lordship of Ireland, Principality of Wales
Parent house Angevins
Founded 1126 (1126)
Founder Geoffrey V of Anjou
Final ruler Richard III of England
Dissolution 1499 (male)
1541 (female)
Deposition 1485
Ethnicity French, English
Cadet branches

The House of Plantagenet (/plænˈtæənət/ plan-TAJ-ə-nət)[nb 1] was a royal house which originated from the lands of Anjou in France. The name Plantagenet is used by modern historians to identify four distinct royal houses – the Angevins who were also Counts of Anjou, the main body of the Plantagenets following the loss of Anjou, and the houses of Lancaster and York, the Plantagenets' two cadet branches. They held the English throne from 1154, with the accession of Henry II, until 1485, when Richard III died. [1]

Under the Plantagenets, England was transformed from a colony, often governed from abroad and considered less significant among European monarchies, into a sophisticated, politically engaged and independent kingdom. This was only partly due to the conscious intentions of the Plantagenets. Winston Churchill stated in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples: "When 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."[2][3] The Plantagenet kings were often forced to negotiate compromises such as the Magna Carta. These would constrain royal power in return for financial and military support. The king was no longer solely the most powerful man in the nation, holding the prerogative of judgement, feudal tribute and warfare. The monarch now had defined duties to the realm, underpinned by a sophisticated justice system. A distinct national identity was shaped by conflict with the French, Scots, Welsh and Irish, and the establishment of English as the primary language. The Plantagenets were also responsible for the construction of significant English buildings, such as King's College, Eton College, Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle and Welsh castles.

Defeat in the Hundred Years War, misgovernment, harvest failures, the collapse of commerce, and rising taxes towards the end of the Plantagenet dynasty left England in a pitiful state later known as the Great Slump. Revolts were commonplace, triggered by the denial of numerous freedoms. Crime was rampant, and was often perpetrated by destitute soldiers returning from France. Meanwhile, English nobles were restless, raising private armies and feuding endlessly. They openly defied Henry VI, who was peaceful by nature, and unsuited for the rigours of dynastic conflicts. Rivalry between the House of Plantagenet's two cadet branches of York and Lancaster brought about the Wars of the Roses, a decades-long conflict for English succession. While the Lancastrians and the Yorkists fought, the reign of the Plantagenets, and the English Middle Ages both met their end with the death of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry VII, a Lancastrian, ascended to the English throne; two years later, he married Elizabeth of York, thus ending the Wars of the Roses, and giving rise to the Tudor dynasty. The Tudors worked to centralise English royal power, which allowed them to avoid a number of the problems that had plagued the last Plantagenet rulers. The resulting stability allowed for the English Renaissance, and the advent of early modern Britain.


An illuminated diagram showing the Angevins; coloured lines connect the two to show the lineal descent
13th century depiction of the Angevins (Henry II and his legitimate children): (left to right) William, Henry, Richard, Matilda, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan and John

The later counts of Anjou, including the Plantagenets, descended from Geoffrey II, Count of Gâtinais, and his wife Ermengarde of Anjou. In 1060 the couple inherited the title via cognatic kinship from an Angevin family that was descended from a noble named Ingelger, and whose recorded history dates from 870.[4][5]

During the 10th and 11th centuries, a power struggle occurred between the counts of Anjou and rulers in northern and western France. Among these rulers were Henry, Duke of Normandy, the rulers of Brittany, Poitou, Blois, and Maine, and the kings of France. The marriage of Geoffrey V to Empress Matilda, Henry's only surviving legitimate child and heir to the throne, resulted in the unification of the counts of Anjou and the houses of Normandy and Wessex. As a result of this marriage, Geoffrey's son Henry II inherited the English, Norman and Angevin thrones, thus marking the beginning of the Angevin and Plantagenet dynasties.[6]

The marriage was the third attempt of Geoffrey's father, Fulk V, Count of Anjou, to build a political alliance with Normandy. He first espoused his daughter, Alice, to William Adelin, Henry I's heir. However, William drowned in the wreck of the White Ship. Fulk then married another of his daughters, Sibylla, to William Clito, heir to Henry I's older brother, Robert Curthose. Henry I, however, had the marriage annulled to avoid strengthening William's rival claim to his lands. After achieving his goal through the marriage of Geoffrey and Matilda, Fulk relinquished all his titles to Geoffrey and departed to become King of Jerusalem.[7]



Henry II is considered by some to be the first Plantagenet King of England.

Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York, adopted Plantagenet as his family name in the 15th century. "Plantegenest" (or "Plante Genest") had been a 12th-century nickname for Geoffrey V, perhaps because his emblem may have been the common broom, named planta genista in medieval Latin.[8] It is uncertain why Richard chose this specific name, but during the Wars of the Roses it emphasised Richard's status as Geoffrey's patrilineal descendant. The retrospective usage of the name for all of Geoffrey's male descendants was popular during the subsequent Tudor dynasty, perhaps encouraged by the further legitimacy it gave to Richard's great-grandson, Henry VIII.[9] But it was only in the late seventeenth century that it passed into common usage among historians. [10]


Further information: Angevin kings of England and Angevin Empire

The adjective "Angevin", meaning from Anjou in French, is used in English history to refer to the three kings of the Angevin dynasty—Henry II, Richard I and John—and to their characteristics, their descendants and the period of history in which they reigned. Many historians identify the Angevins /ænvɪns/ as a distinct English royal house. In addition, "Angevin" is used in reference to any sovereign or government derived from Anjou. As a noun, it refers to any native of Anjou or an Angevin ruler, and specifically to: other counts and dukes of Anjou, including the ancestors of the three kings that formed the English royal house; their cousins, who held the crown of Jerusalem; and to unrelated members of the French royal family who were later granted the titles and formed different dynasties, such as the Capetian House of Anjou and the Valois House of Anjou.[11] Consequently, there is disagreement between those who consider Henry III to be the first Plantagenet monarch and those who do not distinguish between Angevins and Plantagenets and therefore consider the first Plantagenet to be Henry II.[12][13][14][15]

The term "Angevin Empire" was coined by Kate Norgate in 1887. There was no known contemporary collective name for the territories to which circumlocutions such as "our kingdom and everything subject to our rule whatever it may be" or "the whole of the kingdom which had belonged to his father" may have referred. The "Empire" portion of "Angevin Empire" has been controversial. In 1986 a convention of historians concluded that there had not been an Angevin state, and therefore no "Angevin Empire", but that the term "espace Plantagenet" was acceptable.[16] Nonetheless, historians have continued to use "Angevin Empire".[nb 2]

Angevin kings[edit]

Arrival in England[edit]

Further information: The Anarchy
Henry's continental holdings in 1154, forming part of the Angevin Empire

When Henry II was born in 1133, his grandfather, Henry I, was reportedly delighted, saying that the boy was "the heir to the kingdom". The birth reduced the risk that the king's realm would pass to his son-in-law's family, which may have occurred if the marriage of Matilda and Count Geoffrey had proved childless. The birth of a second son, also named Geoffrey, increased the likelihood that, in accordance with French custom, Henry would receive the English maternal inheritance and Geoffrey the Angevin paternal inheritance. This would separate the realms of England and Anjou.[17] But Henry I quarrelled with Count Geoffrey and Matilda about handing over some possessions and power while he was still alive to ensure the succession. When he died in November 1135, the couple were in Anjou, allowing Matilda's cousin Stephen to seize the crown of England. Stephen's contested accession initiated wide spread civil unrest later called The Anarchy.[18]

Count Geoffrey had little interest in England. Instead he commenced a ten-year war for the duchy of Normandy, but in 1139 Matilda invaded England.[19] From age nine, Henry was repeatedly sent to England to be the male figurehead of the campaigns, since it became apparent that he would become king if England was conquered. In 1141 Stephen was decisively captured at the Battle of Lincoln. He subsequently lost his support, enabling Geoffrey to continue with the conquest of Normandy. But Stephen was released in exchange for Matilda's half-brother, Robert. Geoffrey transferred Normandy to Henry in 1150, but Geoffrey retained the primary role in the duchy's government.[20]

Three events allowed for the successful termination of the conflict:

  • Count Geoffrey died in 1151 before finalizing the division of his realm between Henry and Henry's younger brother Geoffrey, who would have inherited Anjou. According to William of Newburgh, who wrote in the 1190s, Count Geoffrey decided that Henry would receive England and Anjou for as long as he needed the resources for the conflict against Stephen. Count Geoffrey instructed that his body should not be buried until Henry swore an oath that the young Geoffrey would receive Anjou when England and Normandy were secured.[21] The young Geoffrey died in 1158, before receiving Anjou, but he had become count of Nantes when the citizens of Nantes rebelled against their ruler. Henry had supported the rebellion.[22]
  • Louis VII of France divorced Eleanor of Aquitaine on 18 March 1152, and she married Henry (who would become Henry II) on 18 May 1152. Henry consequently acquired the Duchy of Aquitaine, greatly increasing his resources and power.[23]
  • Eustace, Stephen's elder son, died in 1153. This disheartened Stephen, whose wife had recently died, and he surrendered. The Treaty of Wallingford enacted the peace offer that Matilda had rejected in 1142. The treaty recognised Henry as Stephen's heir, guaranteed Stephen's second son William his father's estates and allowed Stephen to be king for life. Stephen died soon after, and Henry acceded to the throne in late 1154.[24]

Angevin zenith[edit]

Henry's siblings Geoffrey and William died unmarried and childless, but the tempestuous marriage of Henry and Eleanor, who already had two daughters (Marie and Alix) through her first marriage to King Louis, produced eight children in thirteen years :[25]

Henry reasserted and extended previous suzerainties to secure possession of his inherited realm.[26] In 1162 he attempted to re-establish his authority (as he saw it) over the English Church by appointing his friend Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, when the incumbent archbishop, Theobald, died. Becket’s defiance as Archbishop, alienated the king and his counsellors. Henry and Becket repeatedly disputed issues such as church tenures, the marriage of Henry's brother and taxation. Henry reacted by getting Becket and other members of the English episcopate to recognise sixteen ancient customs—governing relations between the king, his courts and the church—in writing for the first time in the Constitutions of Clarendon. When Becket tried to leave the country without permission, Henry tried to ruin him by filing legal cases relating to Becket's previous tenure as chancellor. Becket fled and remained in exile for five years. Relations later improved, and Becket returned, but they declined again when Henry's son was crowned as coregent by the Archbishop of York, which Becket perceived as a challenge to his authority. Becket subsequently excommunicated those who had offended him. When he received this news, Henry said: "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." Four of Henry's knights killed Becket in Canterbury Cathedral after Becket resisted a failed arrest attempt. Henry was widely considered complicit in Becket's death throughout Christian Europe. This made Henry a pariah; in penance, he walked barefoot into Canterbury Cathedral where he was scourged by monks.[27]

Pope Adrian IV issued a papal bull in 1155, allowing Henry to reform the Irish church by assuming control of Ireland. It originally allowed Henry's brother William some territory. But William had died and other matters distracted Henry.[28] In 1171 Henry personally invaded Ireland to assert his authority due to alarm concerning the success of knights who, with Henry's permission, had recruited soldiers in England and Wales. These knights colonised Ireland and accrued autonomous power. Henry subsequently gave Ireland to his youngest son, John.[29] In 1172 Henry gave John the castles of Chinon, Loudun and Mirebeau as a wedding gift. This angered Henry's eighteen-year-old son, Henry the Young King, who had not received any lands from his father. A rebellion by Henry II's wife and three eldest sons ensued. Louis VII supported the rebellion. William the Lion and others joined the revolt. After eighteen months, Henry subdued the rebels.[30] In Le Mans in 1182, Henry II gathered his children to plan a partible inheritance: his eldest surviving son, Henry, would inherit England, Normandy and Anjou; Richard would inherit the Duchy of Aquitaine; Geoffrey would inherit Brittany; and John would inherit Ireland. This resulted in further conflict. The younger Henry rebelled before dying of dysentery. Geoffrey died in 1186 after an accident in a tournament. In 1189, Richard and Philip II of France exploited Henry's failing health and forced him to accept humiliating peace terms, including naming Richard his sole heir.[31] Henry II died two days later, defeated and miserable; even his favoured son, John, had rebelled. French and English contemporary moralists viewed this fate as retribution for the murder of Becket.[32]

Counter seal (1195) of Richard I of England. Exhibited in History Museum of Vendee

Following Richard's coronation he quickly put the kingdom's affairs in order and departed to Crusade in the Middle East. Contemporary opinions of Richard were mixed. He had rejected and humiliated the sister of the king of France, deposed the king of Cyprus and subsequently sold the island, refused to give spoils from the Third Crusade to nobles such as 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.[33] But he was respected for his military leadership and courtly manners. He obtained victories during the Third Crusade, but failed to capture Jerusalem, retreating from the Holy Land with a small band of followers.[34]

While returning from crusade, Richard was captured by Leopold. He was passed to Henry the Lion, and required to pay 100,000 marks for ransom. Philip II of France overran large portions of Normandy, while John controlled much of the remainder of Richard's lands. After returning to England, Richard forgave John and re-established his authority. He left England again in 1194 and battled Philip for five years, attempting to regain the lands seized during his captivity. When close to complete victory, he was injured by an arrow during the siege of Château de Châlus-Chabrol and died ten days later.[35]

Decline and the loss of Anjou[edit]

Richard's failure to provide an heir caused a succession crisis. Arthur, Richard's nephew and nominated heir, obtained Anjou, Brittany, Maine and Touraine, while John ruled over England and Normandy. Once again Philip II of France attempted to disturb the Plantagenet territories on the European mainland by supporting his vassal Arthur's claim to the English crown. John won a significant victory when Arthur's forces threatened his mother, capturing the entire rebel leadership at the Battle of Mirebeau.[36]

It was rumoured that Arthur was murdered by John himself, and his sister Eleanor spent the rest of her life in captivity. As a result of John's actions, French barons supported Philip. John lost control of his mainland possessions due to rebellions by Norman and Angevin barons, leading to the de facto end of the Angevin Empire; however, King Henry III maintained the claim to the empire until 1259.[37]

One of only four surviving exemplifications of the 1215 text of Magna Carta

After re-establishing his authority in England, John planned to recapture Normandy and Anjou. The strategy was to draw the French from Paris, while another army, under John's nephew Otto IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, attacked from the north. John's allies were defeated at the Battle of Bouvines, one of the most decisive battles in French history.[38] Otto retreated and was soon overthrown, and John agreed to a five-year truce. Important political consequences in England and France resulted from Philip's victory.[39] The battle greatly contributed to the formation of the absolute monarchy in France.[40] John's defeat weakened his authority in England, and his barons forced him to agree to the Magna Carta, which limited royal power. John failed to abide by the terms of the Magna Carta, leading to the First Barons' War, in which rebellious barons invited Prince Louis, the husband of Blanche, Henry II's granddaughter, to invade England. Louis did so, but John died in October 1216, before the conflict was conclusively ended.[41] The official website of The British Monarchy presents John's death as the end of the Angevin dynasty and the beginning of the Plantagenet dynasty.[42]

Main line[edit]

Baronial conflict and the establishment of Parliament[edit]

Many English monarchs were descendants of the Angevin line via John, who had five legitimate children with Isabella:

John also had illegitimate children with several mistresses. These children included nine sons (Richard, Oliver, John, Geoffrey, Henry, Osbert Gifford, Eudes, Bartholomew and [probably] Philip) and three daughters (Joan, Maud and probably Isabel).[47] Joan was the best known of these, since she married Prince Llewelyn the Great of Wales.[48]

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, was appointed protector of the nine-year-old King Henry on King John's death. Thereafter, support for Louis declined, and he renounced his claims in the Treaty of Lambeth after Marshal's victories at the battles of Lincoln and Dover in 1217.[49] The Marshal Protectorate issued an amended Magna Carta as a basis for future government.[50] Despite the Treaty of Lambeth, hostilities continued and Henry was forced to compromise with the newly crowned Louis VIII of France and Henry's stepfather, Hugh X of Lusignan. They both overran much of Henry's remaining continental lands, further eroding the Angevins' power on the continent. Henry perceived many similarities between himself and England's patron saint, Edward the Confessor, due to his struggle with the nobility.[51] Consequently, he named his first son Edward and built a magnificent, still-extant shrine for the Confessor.[52] The barons opposed a war to restore Plantagenet lands on the continent, since it would require many soldiers and much money. To motivate his barons, and risking a repeat of the situation his father faced, Henry III reissued the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest In return, the barons paid a tax that raised £45,000. These actions took place during an assembly of the barons, bishops and magnates, in which the feudal prerogatives of the king were debated and discussed.[53]

Henry III had nine children:[54]

Cast of the effigy of Henry III in Westminster Abbey, c. 1272

The pope offered Henry's brother Richard the Kingdom of Sicily, but the cost of materialising the claim was prohibitive. Matthew Paris wrote that Richard stated: "You might as well say, 'I make you a present of the moon—step up to the sky and take it down'." Henry purchased the kingdom for his son Edmund, which angered many powerful barons. He was bankrupted by his military expenses, and barons led by Henry's brother-in-law Simon de Montfort forced him to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, under which his debts were paid in exchange for substantial reforms. He was also forced by Louis IX of France to agree to the Treaty of Paris, in which Henry acknowledged the loss of the Duchy of Normandy, Maine, Anjou and Poitou, although he retained the Channel Islands. The treaty stated that Henry would retain "islands (if any) which [he] should hold ... as peer of France and Duke of Aquitaine".[59] In exchange, Louis withdrew his support for the English rebels, ceded three bishoprics and cities to Henry and agreed to pay an annual rent for Agenais.[60] There were immediate disagreements concerning the treaty's meaning, and it became one of the primary causes of the Hundred Years War.[61]

Death and mutilation of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham

Disagreements between the barons and the king intensified. The barons, under Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, captured most of southeast England in the Second Barons' War. At the Battle of Lewes in 1264, Henry and Prince Edward were defeated and taken prisoners. De Montfort assembled the Great Parliament, recognized as the first Parliament because it was the first time the cities and burghs had sent representatives.[62] Edward escaped, raised an army and defeated and killed de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.[63] Savage retribution was inflicted upon the rebels, and authority restored to Henry. With the realm now peaceful, Edward left England to join Louis IX on the Ninth Crusade; he was one of the last crusaders. Louis died before Edward's arrival, but Edward decided to continue. The result was disappointing; Edward's small force only enabled him to capture Acre and launch a handful of raids. After surviving an assassination attempt, Edward left for Sicily later in the year, never to participate in a crusade again. When Henry III died, Edward acceded to the throne; the barons swore allegiance to him even though he did not return for two years.[64]

Constitutional change and the reform of feudalism[edit]

Edward married Eleanor of Castile, daughter of King Ferdinand of Castile, in 1254. Edward and Eleanor had sixteen children; five daughters survived to adulthood, but only one son survived Edward:[65]

  • Eleanor (1264/69−1298)
  • Three daughters (Joan, Alice, and Juliana/Katherine) and two sons (John and Henry) born between 1265 and 1271, who died between 1265 and 1274 with little historical trace.
  • Joan (1272–1307)
  • Alphonso (1273–1284)
  • Margaret (1275–1333)
  • Mary of Woodstock (1278–1332)—became a nun
  • Isabella (1279–1279)
  • Elizabeth (1282–1316)—among her eleven children were earls of Hereford, Essex, and Northampton, and countesses of Ormond and Devon
  • Edward
  • Two other daughters (Beatrice and Blanche) who died as children

Following Eleanor's death in 1290, Edward married Margaret of France, daughter of Philip III of France, in 1299. Edward and Margaret had two sons, who both lived to adulthood, and a daughter who died as a child:[66]

Because of his legal reforms, Edward is sometimes called "The English Justinian",[67] but whether he was a reformer or an autocrat responding to events is a matter of debate. His military campaigns left him in debt, and to enable him to raise more taxes through the frequently summoned Parliaments, he tried to gain support for his policies among the lesser landowners and merchants. When Philip IV of France confiscated the Duchy of Gascony in 1294, Edward needed funds to wage war in France. To obtain financial support, Edward summoned a precedent-setting assembly known as the Model Parliament, which included barons, clergy, knights, and burgesses.[67] With the Statutes of Mortmain, Edward imposed his authority over the Church; the statues prohibited land donation 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.[68]

Expansion in Britain[edit]

Wales after the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267
  Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's principality
  Territories conquered by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
  Territories of Llywelyn's vassals
  Lordships of the Marcher barons
  Lordships of the King of England

On his accession, Edward I sought to organise his realm, enforcing his claims to primacy in the British Isles. Under the Treaty of Woodstock, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd ruled North Wales as a subordinate of the English king. But Llywelyn maintained that he was "entirely separate from" England and Edward considered him to be "a rebel and disturber of the peace". Edward's determination, military experience and skilful naval maneuvers ended the rebellion. The invasion was executed by one of the largest armies ever assembled by an English king, comprising Anglo-Norman cavalry and Welsh archers and laying the foundation for future victories in France. Llywelyn was driven into the mountains, later dying in battle. The Statute of Rhuddlan established England's authority over Wales, and Edward's son was proclaimed the first English Prince of Wales upon his birth. Edward spent around £173,000 on his two Welsh campaigns; a large portion of it was spent on a network of castles, used to secure Edward's control.[69]

Edward asserted that the king of Scotland owed him feudal allegiance, and intended to unite the two nations by marrying his son Edward to Margaret, the sole heir of King Alexander III.[70] When Margaret died in 1290, competition for the Scottish crown ensued. By invitation of Scottish magnates, Edward I resolved the dispute, ruling in favour of John Balliol, who duly swore loyalty to him and became king. The competitors recognized Edward's "sovereign lordship of Scotland and [his] right to determine our several pretensions."[71] Edward insisted that he was Scotland's sovereign and possessed the right to hear appeals against Balliol's judgements, undermining Balliol's authority. Balliol allied with France in 1295;[72] Edward invaded Scotland the following year, deposing and exiling Balliol.[73]

Scene from the Holkham Bible, shows knights and foot soldiers from the period of Bannockburn

Edward was less successful in Gascony, which was overrun by the French. With his resources depleting, Edward was forced to reconfirm the Charters, including the Magna Carta, to obtain the necessary funds. In 1303 the French king restored Gascony to Edward by signing the Treaty of Paris. Meanwhile, William Wallace rose in Balliol's name and recovered most of Scotland. Wallace was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk,[74] after which Robert the Bruce rebelled and was crowned king of Scotland. Edward died while travelling to Scotland for another campaign.[74]

King 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").[75] The king was initially popular but faced three challenges: discontent over the financing of wars; his household spending; and the role of Piers Gaveston.[76] When Parliament decided that Gaveston should be exiled the king had no choice but to comply.[77] The king engineered Gaveston's return, but was forced to agree to the appointment of Ordainers, led by his cousin Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, to reform the royal household with Piers Gaveston exiled again.[78][79] When Gaveston returned again to England, he was abducted and executed after a mock trial.[80] This brutal act drove Thomas and his adherents from power. Edward's humiliating defeat by Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn, confirming Bruce's position as an independent king of Scots, returned the initiative to Lancaster and Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick, who had not taken part in the campaign, claiming that it was in defiance of the Ordinances.[81][82] Edward finally repealed the Ordinances after defeating and executing Lancaster at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.[83]

Isabella, third from left, with her father, Philip IV, her future French king brothers, and Philip's brother, Charles of Valois

The French monarchy asserted its rights to encroach on Edward's legal rights in Gascony. Resistance to one judgement in Saint-Sardos resulted in Charles IV declaring the duchy forfeit. Charles's sister, Queen Isabella, was sent to negotiate and agreed to 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 she became the mistress of Roger Mortimer.[84] The couple invaded England and, with Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, captured the king.[85] Edward II abdicated on condition that his son would inherit the throne rather than Mortimer. Although there is no historical record of the cause of death, he is popularly believed to have been murdered at Berkeley Castle by having a red-hot poker thrust into his bowels.[86] [87] A coup by Edward III ended four years of control by Isabella and Mortimer. Mortimer was executed. Though removed from power, Isabella was treated well, living in luxury for the next 27 years.[88]

Conflict with the House of Valois[edit]

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, leading Edward to go to war.[89] Edward proclaimed himself king of France to encourage the Flemish to rise in open rebellion against the French king. The conflict, known as the Hundred Years' War, saw a significant English naval victory at the Battle of Sluys,[90] eventually followed by a victory on land at Crécy, 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.[91] The Black Death brought a halt to Edward's campaigns by killing between a third and more than half of his subjects.[92][93] The only Plantagenet known to have died from the Black Death was Edward III's daughter Joan, on her way to marry Peter of Castile.[94]

The victory at Crécy was an important Plantagenet success of the Edwardian War in France.

Edward, the Black Prince, resumed the war with destructive chevauchées starting from Bordeaux. His army was caught by a much larger French force at Poitiers, but the ensuing battle was a decisive English victory resulting in the capture of John II of France. The Second Treaty of London was signed, promising a four million écus ransom. It was guaranteed by hostages from the Valois family 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. Horrified that his word had been broken, John returned to England and died there. Edward invaded France, hoping to take advantage of the popular rebellion of the Jacquerie to seize the throne. 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.[95]

Fighting in the Hundred Years' War spilled from the French and Plantagenet lands into surrounding realms, including the dynastic conflict in Castile between Peter of Castile and Henry II of Castile. The Black Prince 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 her name. He arrived with an army, asking John I of Castile 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 themselves.[96]

Richard II meets the rebels of the Peasants' Revolt in a painting from Froissart's Chronicles

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.[97] The prince fell ill and returned to England, where he soon died.[98] John of Gaunt assumed leadership in France, but the English lost towns and territory, including Poitiers and Bergerac,[99][100] and English dominance at sea was reversed by defeat at the Battle of La Rochelle, which undermined seaborne trade and threatened Gascony.[101]

Descendants of Edward III[edit]

The marriage of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault produced thirteen children and thirty-two grandchildren:[102]

  • Edward (1330–1376)—married his cousin Joan of Kent, a granddaughter of Edward I, with whom he had two sons:
  • Edward (1365–1371/2)
  • Richard (1367–1400)
  • John of Gaunt (1340–1399)—married Blanche of Lancaster, the heiress to the duchy of Lancaster and a direct descendent of Henry III, and had six children with her:
After Blanche's death in 1369, John married Constance of Castile, trying unsuccessfully to obtain the throne of Castile. The marriage produced two children:
Constance died in 1394, after which John married Katherine Swynford on 13 January 1396. Their four children were born before they married. The pope legitimised them in 1396, as did Richard II by charter, on the condition that their children could not ascend the throne:

Demise of the main line[edit]

The Black Prince's ten-year-old son succeeded as Richard II of England on the death of his grandfather, with government in the hands of a regency council.[103] The poor state of the economy (as his government levied a number of poll taxes to finance military campaigns) resulted in the Peasants' Revolt in 1381,[104] followed by brutal reprisals against the rebels.[105] 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.[106] 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 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 possessions confiscated. A number of Richard's council were executed. On John of Gaunt's return from Spain, Richard was able to reestablish his power, having Gloucester murdered in captivity in Calais. Warwick was stripped of his title. Bolingbroke and Mowbray were exiled.[106]

When John of Gaunt died in 1399, Richard disinherited John's son, Henry, who invaded England in response with a small force that quickly grew in numbers. Meeting little resistance, Henry deposed Richard to have himself crowned Henry IV of England. Richard died in captivity early the next year, probably murdered, bringing an end to the main Plantagenet line.[107]

House of Lancaster[edit]

Main article: House of Lancaster

Henry married his Plantagenet cousin Mary de Bohun, who was paternally descended from Edward I and maternally from Edmund Crouchback. They had seven children:[108]

  • Henry (1421–1471)—also had one son:

Henry went to convoluted legal means to justify his succession. Many Lancastrians asserted that his mother had had legitimate rights through her descent from Edmund Crouchback, whom it was claimed was the elder son of Henry III of England, set aside due to deformity.[109] As the grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, was the heir presumptive to Richard II and Henry had to ignore the legal precedent of numerous kings, back to Henry III, entailing their inheritance away from the male line in order to discount Mortimer's descent in the female line.[110] In the event Mortimer never showed interest in the throne. However, the later marriage of his granddaughter Anne to Richard's son consolidated his descendants' claim to the throne with that of the more junior House of York. Henry planned to resume war with France, but was plagued with financial problems, declining health and frequent rebellions.[111] He defeated a Scottish invasion, a serious rebellion by Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland in the North and Owain Glyndŵr's rebellion in Wales.[111] Many saw it as a punishment from God when Henry was later struck down with unknown but chronic illnesses.[112]

Henry IV died in 1413. His son and successor, Henry V of England, aware that Charles VI of France's mental illness had caused instability in France, invaded to assert the Plantagenet claims and won a near total victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt.[113] In subsequent years Henry recaptured much of Normandy and secured marriage to Catherine of Valois. The resulting Treaty of Troyes stated that Henry's heirs would inherit the throne of France, but, conflict continued with the Dauphin. When Henry died in 1422, his nine-month-old son succeeded him as Henry VI of England.

Hundred Years' War evolution. French territory: yellow; English: grey; Burgundian: dark grey.

During the minority of Henry VI the war caused political division among the Plantagenets, Bedford, Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, and Cardinal Beaufort. Humphrey's wife was accused of treasonable necromancy after two astrologers in her employ unwisely, if honestly, predicted a serious illness would endanger Henry VI's life, and Humphrey was later arrested and died in prison.[114]

While depopulation stemming from the Black Death led to increased wages, static food costs and a resulting improvement in the standard of living for the peasantry the English economy sunk to a pitiful state under Henry. The economy was in ruins by 1450, a consequence of the loss of France, piracy in the channel and poor trading relations with the Hanse League. [115] The economic slow-down began in the 1430s in the north of the country, spreading south in the 1440s, with the economy not recovering until the 1480s.[116] It was also driven by multiple harvest failures in the 1430s and disease amongst livestock, that drove up the price of food and damaged the wider economy.[117] Certain groups were particularly badly affected - cloth exports fell by 35 percent in just four years at the end of the 1440s collapsing by up to 90 percent in some parts of the South-West.[118] The Crown’s debts reached £372,000, Henry’s deficit was £20,000 per annum and tax revues were half those of his father. [119]

House of York[edit]

Main article: House of York
Further information: Wars of the Roses

Edward III created his fourth son Edmund as the first duke of York in 1385. Edmund was married to Isabella, a daughter of King Peter of Castile and María de Padilla and the sister of Constance of Castile, who was the second wife of Edmund's brother John of Gaunt. Both of Edmund's sons were killed in 1415. Richard became involved in the Southampton Plot, a conspiracy to depose Henry V in favour of Richard's brother-in-law Edmund Mortimer. When Mortimer revealed the plot to the king, Richard was executed for treason. Richard's childless older brother Edward was slain at the battle of Agincourt later the same year. Constance of York was Edmund's only daughter and was an ancestor of Queen Anne Neville. The increasingly interwoven Plantagenet relationships were demonstrated by Edmund's second marriage to Joan Holland. Her sister Alianore Holland was mother to Richard's wife, Anne Mortimer. Margaret Holland, another of Joan's sisters, married John of Gaunt's son. She later married Thomas of Lancaster, John of Gaunt's grandson by King Henry IV. A third sister, Eleanor Holland, was mother-in-law to Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury—John's grandson by his daughter Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. These sisters were all granddaughters of Joan of Kent, the mother of Richard II, and therefore Plantagenet descendants of Edward I.[120]

Edmund's son Richard was married to Anne Mortimer, the daughter of Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March and Eleanor Holland and great-granddaughter of Edward III's second surviving son Lionel. Anne died giving birth to their only son in September 1411.[121] Richard's execution four years later left two orphans: Isabel, who married into the Bourchier family, and a son who was also called Richard. Although his earldom was forfeited, Richard (the father) was not attainted, and the four-year-old orphan Richard was his heir. Within months of his father's death, Richard's childless uncle, Edward Duke of York, was killed at Agincourt. Richard was allowed to inherit the title of Duke of York in 1426. In 1432 he acquired the earldoms of March and Ulster on the death of his maternal uncle Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, who had died campaigning with Henry V in France, and the earldom of Cambridge which had belonged to his father. Being descended from Edward III both in the maternal and the paternal line gave Richard a significant claim to the throne if the Lancastrian line should fail, and by cognatic primogeniture arguably a superior claim.[122] A point he emphasised by—from 1448— being the first to assume the Plantagenet surname. Having inherited the March and Ulster titles, he became the wealthiest and most powerful noble in England, second only to the king himself. Richard married Cecily Neville, a granddaughter of John of Gaunt and had thirteen or possibly fifteen children:[123]

When Henry VI had a mental breakdown, Richard was named regent, but the birth of a male heir resolved the question of succession.[125] When Henry's sanity returned, the court party reasserted its authority, but Richard of York and the Nevilles defeated them at a skirmish called the First Battle of St Albans. The ruling class was deeply shocked and reconciliation was attempted.[126][127] York, Richard Neville—Earl of Salisbury, and Richard Neville—Earl of Warwick, fled abroad. The Nevilles returned to win the Battle of Northampton, where they captured Henry.[128] When Richard of York joined them he surprised Parliament by claiming the throne and forcing through the Act of Accord, which stated that Henry would remain as king for his lifetime, but would be succeeded by York. Margaret found this disregard for 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 along with those of Edmund, Earl of Rutland, and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, who had both been captured and beheaded.[129]

Copper-alloy boar mount found on the Thames foreshore near the Tower of London, London in October 2012. The boar is chained and collared, is wearing a crown, and has a crescent moon on the top of one of its forelegs (indicating that its wearer was a second son). It is believed to be associated with King Richard III, and may have been attached to an item of leather clothing worn by one of the king's supporters

The Scottish queen Mary of Guelders provided Margaret with support and a Scottish army came pillaging into southern England.[130] London resisted for fear of being plundered, then enthusiastically welcomed York's son Edward, Earl of March. Parliament confirmed that Edward should be made king,[131] and he was crowned after consolidating his position with victory at the Battle of Towton.[132]

Edward's preferment of the former Lancastrian-supporting Woodville family, following his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, led Warwick and Clarence to help 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.

By the mid-1470s, the victorious House of York looked safely established, with seven living male princes. Edward and Elizabeth Woodville themselves had ten children, seven of whom survived him:[133]

Dynastic infighting and misfortune quickly brought about the demise of the House of York. 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 Edward's two sons illegitimate on the pretext of an alleged prior pre-contract to Lady Eleanor Talbot, leaving Edward's marriage invalid.[134] Richard seized the throne, and the Princes in the Tower were never seen again. Richard's son predeceased him and Richard was killed in 1485 after 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.[135]

House of Tudor and other Plantagenet descendants[edit]


When Henry Tudor seized the throne there were eighteen Plantagenet descendants who might today be thought to have a stronger hereditary claim, and by 1510 this number had been increased further by the birth of sixteen Yorkist children.[56] Henry mitigated this situation with his marriage to Elizabeth of York. She was the eldest daughter of Edward IV, and all their children were his cognatic heirs. Indeed, Polydore Vergil noted Henry VIII's pronounced resemblance to his grandfather Edward: "For just as Edward was the most warmly thought of by the English people amongst all English kings, so this successor of his, Henry, was very like him in general appearance, in greatness of mind and generosity and for that reason was the most acclaimed and approved of all."[136]

This did not deter Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy—Edward's sister and Elizabeth's aunt—and members of the de le Pole family—children of Edward's sister and John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk— from frequent attempts to destabilise Henry's regime.[137] Henry imprisoned Margaret's nephew Edward, Earl of Warwick, the son of her brother George, in the Tower of London, but in 1487 Margaret financed a rebellion led by Lambert Simnel pretending to be Edward. John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln, joined the revolt, probably anticipating that it would further his own ambitions to the throne, but he was killed in the suppression of the uprising at the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487.[138] Two further failed invasions supported by Margaret using Perkin Warbeck pretending to be Edward IV's son Richard of Shrewsbury, and Warbeck's later planned escape for them both, implicated Warwick, who was executed in 1499. However, Edward's execution may simply have been a precondition for the marriage of Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon in 1501.[139]

De La Pole[edit]

John de la Pole's attainder meant that his brother Edmund inherited their father's titles, but much of the wealth of the duchy of Suffolk was forfeit. Edmund did not possess sufficient finances to maintain his status as a duke, so as a compromise he accepted the title of earl of Suffolk. Financial difficulties led to frequent legal conflicts and Edmund's indictment for murder in 1501. He fled with his brother Richard, while their remaining brother, William, was imprisoned in the Tower—where he would remain until his death 37 years later—as part of a general suppression of Edmund's associates. In 1506 Archduke Philip returned Edmund and he was imprisoned in the Tower. In 1513, he was executed after Richard de la Pole, whom Louis XII of France had recognised as king of England the previous year, claimed the kingship in his own right.[140] Richard, known as the White Rose, plotted an invasion of England for years but was killed in 1525 at the battle of Pavia while fighting as the captain of the French landsknechts during François I of France's invasion of Italy.[141]


Warwick's sister, and therefore Edward IV's niece, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was executed by Henry VIII in 1541. By then, the cause was more religious and political rather than dynastic. Richard III had asserted that her father Clarence's attainder barred his children from any claim to the throne and that her marriage arranged by Henry VII to Sir Richard Pole was not auspicious. Nevertheless, it did allow the couple to be closely involved in court affairs. Margaret's fortunes improved under Henry VIII and in February 1512 she was restored to the earldom of Salisbury and all the Warwicks' lands. This made her the first and, apart from Anne Boleyn, the only woman in sixteenth-century England to hold a peerage title in her own right.[142]

Her daughter Ursula married the son of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham's fall, arguments with the king over property, and Margaret's open support for Katherine of Aragon and Princess Mary began the Poles' estrangement from the King. Hope of reconciliation was dashed by De unitate, the letter that Margaret's son Reginald Pole wrote to Henry VIII, in which Reginald declared his opposition to the royal supremacy. In 1538 evidence came to light that Pole family members in England had been in communication with Reginald. Margaret's sons Geoffrey and Henry were arrested for treason along with several friends and associates, including Henry's wife and brother-in-law—Edward Neville. Among those arrested was the King's cousin Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter, his wife and 11-year-old son. (His wife was released two years later, but their son spent 15 years in the Tower until Queen Mary I released him). Except for the surviving Geoffrey Pole, all the others implicated were beheaded.[143]

Margaret was attainted; the strategic position of her estates on the south coast (a perceived invasion threat in which Reginald was involved) and her embittered relationship with Henry VIII precluded any chance of pardon, but the decision to execute her seems a spontaneous, rather than a premeditated, act. Her execution was botched at the hands of "a wretched and blundering youth ... who literally hacked her head and shoulders to pieces in the most pitiful manner". In 1886 she was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on the grounds she had laid down her life for the Holy See "and for the truth of the orthodox Faith".[142]


Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, combined multiple lines of Plantagenet descent: from Edward III by his son Thomas of Woodstock; from Edward III via two of his Beaufort children and from Edward I from Joan of Kent and the Holland family. His father failed in his rebellion against Richard III in 1483 but was restored to his inheritance on the reversal of his father's attainder late in 1485. His mother married Henry VII's uncle Jasper Tudor, and his wardship was entrusted to the king's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. In 1502, during Henry VII's illness, there was debate as to whether Buckingham or Edmund de la Pole should act as regent for Henry VIII. There is no evidence of continuous hostility between Buckingham and Henry VIII, but there is little doubt of the duke's dislike of Thomas Wolsey, whom he believed to be plotting to ruin the old nobility. Therefore, Henry VIII instructed Wolsey to watch Buckingham, his brother Henry Stafford, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and three other peers. Neither Henry VIII nor his father planned to destroy Buckingham because of his lineage and Henry VIII even allowed Buckingham's son and heir, Henry Stafford, 1st Baron Stafford, to marry Ursula Pole, giving the Staffords a further line of royal blood descent. Buckingham himself was arrested in April 1521; he was found guilty on 16 May and executed the next day. Evidence was provided that the duke had been listening to prophecies that he would be king and that the Tudor family lay under God's curse for the execution of Warwick. This was said to explain Henry VIII's failure to produce a male heir. Much of this evidence consisted of ill-judged comments, speculation and bad temper, but it underlined the threat presented by Buckingham's descent.[144]

Tudor succession[edit]

As late as 1600, with the Tudor succession in doubt, older Plantagenet lines remained as possible claimants to a disputed throne, and religious and dynastic factors gave rise to complications. Thomas Wilson wrote in his report The State of England, Anno Domini 1600 that there were 12 "competitors" for the succession. At the time of writing (about 1601), Wilson had been working on intelligence matters for Lord Buckhurst and Sir Robert Cecil. [145] The alleged competitors included five descendants of Henry VII and Elizabeth, including the eventual successor James I of England, but also seven from older Plantagenet lines:[146]

Ranulph Crewe, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, argued that by 1626 that the House of Plantagenet could not be considered to remain in existence in a speech during the Oxford Peerage case, which was to rule on who should inherit the earldom of Oxford. It was referred by Charles I of England to the House of Lords, who called for judicial assistance. Crewe said:

I have labored to make a covenant with myself, that affection may not press upon judgment; for I suppose there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry or nobleness, but his affection stands to the continuance of a house so illustrious, and would take hold of a twig or twine-thread to support it. And yet time hath his revolutions; there must be a period and an end to all temporal things—finis rerum—an end of names and dignities, and whatsoever is terrene; and why not of de Vere? For where is Bohun? Where is Mowbray[nb 3]? Where is Mortimer? Nay, which is more, and most of all, where is Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality! yet let the name of de Vere stand so long as it pleaseth God.[147]

Further information[edit]


  1. ^ The Plantagenet name is spelt in English sources in a number of ways, such as Plantaganet, Plantagenett, Plantagenette, Plantaginet, Plantagynett, etc.
  2. ^ For instance, David Crouch in William Marshal: Court, Career, and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire, 1147–1219 (Longman, 1990); Ralph V. Turner and Richard Heiser in The Reign of Richard Lionheart: Ruler of The Angevin Empire, 1189–1199 (Routledge, 2000)
  3. ^ The Mowbray family was Anglo-Norman and from Geoffrey de Montbray who accompanied Duke William of Normandy at the Conquest of England in 1066. Mowbray and Plantagenet descent merged through intermarriage—John de Mowbray, 3rd Baron Mowbray married Joan of Lancaster who was the granddaughter of Edmund Crouchback and John de Mowbray, 4th Baron Mowbray married Elizabeth Segrave who was the daughter of Margaret, Duchess of Norfolk, granddaughter of Edward I. It is through this they became royal dukes of Norfolk.


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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