Who Were the Plantagenets?
The Plantagenets were a French family that assumed control of the English throne in 1133. Although the Plantagenets were not successful in gaining power in France, the English Plantagenet Kings ruled until 1485. The line comprised 14 monarchs, and fell into extinction at the hands of the Tudor Dynasty.
The house of Anjou, or Angevin Dynasty, as the family was called in their native France, was one of four main ruling families in Northern France. They are said to have been rowdy and some experts believe the male line had a history of insanity or mania. One Angevin count, Fulk III of Anjou, accused his wife of adultery and had her burned at the stake in her wedding gown. After the accession of William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne in 1066, the Anjou house lost most of its power. The province of Anjou was eventually taken by the French Crown in 1206.
In 1128, Matilda, the grand-daughter of the English king, married the Geoffery Plante Genest, Duke of Anjou. Through political wrangling, Matilda managed to get her son, Henry, in line for the English crown. In 1154, after defeating King Stephen of England in battle, the Plantagenets forced Stephen to name Henry as heir by signing the Treaty of Wallingford. Henry was crowned Henry II of England on 19 December 1154, beginning the Plantagenet reign over the country.
Henry II was succeeded by his third son, Richard the Lionhearted. Richard spent most of his youth in a battle for succession between his father and his older brothers. Eventually, after Henry’s defeat by Richard at the Battle of Ballans, Henry named Richard his heir. Richard’s throne passed to his younger brother John at his death. From John onwards, the throne passed from father to son for several generations.
At the end of the 14th century, the line splintered into two groups, the House of Lancaster and the House of York. The split was the result of a complex line of succession between the sons of King Edward III. Edward’s heir died of illness, and the King made his grandson, Richard II, his new heir. This infuriated Edward’s younger sons, the Duke of Lancaster and the Duke of York. Richard II was eventually captured, deposed and killed by Henry Bolingbroke, son of the Duke of Lancaster. Henry succeeded as Henry IV, continuing the rule of the family.
Experts are divided as to how to identify the line after the succession of Henry IV. Some still consider Henry and his descendants part of the Plantagenets, while others refer to the following monarchs as the Lancaster and York kings. Genetically, the line of Plantagenets continued until the defeat of Richard III in 1485. After this point, the Tudor Dynasty took the throne, ending the reign of the Plantagenets. The direct genetic line died out with the execution of Edward, Earl of Warwick in 1499 and Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, in 1541.
In their centuries-long rule, the Plantagenets oversaw many key events in British history. In 1215, King John signed the Magna Carta, guaranteeing protection from unlawful imprisonment to all citizens. The plague reached Britain in 1348, leaving 1.5 million people dead in the wake of the Black Death. Lancastrian King Henry V won the storied battle of Agincourt in 1415 against incredible odds, securing the recapture of British lands on the European continent. The rule of the Plantagenets was essential in forming the modern character of England, and has provided endless sources of material for books, plays and films throughout the ages.
@CoffeeGirl85: "Richard III" is one of my favorite Shakespearean plays. One of the other inaccuracies is Margaret of Anjou's presence (I believe she was dead by then), but she's such a wonderfully sinister character, and her insults are priceless.
If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend the film adaptation with Ian McKellan as Richard. It sets the play in 1930s England, and makes Richard into a sort of Hitler type. Great movie with wonderful performances.
A fun way to learn about the basic history of this feud without having to get bogged down in a tedious history book, is reading Shakespeare's history plays. The Henry IV series, Henry V and Richard III are some of Shakespeare's best works. They deviate from actual history in a few minor ways, for the sake of entertainment and the ability to stage the play. For example, Richard III is deformed in Shakespeare's play. There is no actual evidence that he was, so this could be a literary device to physically symbolize his mental cruelty. Some historians believe that it was Tudor propaganda to portray him as having been hunchbacked so the people would dislike him and accept their new ruler. This is just one of the controversies that makes this family and period of English history so interesting!
King Henry VII, the first of the Tudor rulers, felt insecure throughout his reign about his right to the throne and the Plantagenets' line. He tried to ally himself with other strong European powers, in order to further legitimize his rule. This was done most notably through marrying his sons, first Arthur and then Henry VIII, to Katherine of Aragon. Spain was a huge power at the time, under Ferdinand and Isabella, and tying the two families together was important. When Henry VIII ascended the throne, the insecurities continued. It ultimately resulted in Arthur Plantagenet, a member of Henry's court and the illegitimate son of Edward IV, being charged with treason and held in the Tower of London. Illegitimate lines of the Plantagenets live on to this day. However, the royal family doesn't seem too worried about them these days!
The political wrangling this article accuses Matilda of was actually her father's. She was the daughter of Henry I and the granddaughter of William I. Her father forced her to marry Geoffrey of Anjou because he wanted to secure the succession after the death of her only legitimate brother on the ill fated White Ship eight years before.
Henry I compelled his vassals to promise to support Matilda's claim to the throne, but after his death the English quickly moved to support her cousin, Stephen, instead.
Matilda fought Stephen for England, managing to imprison him for a while after the Battle of Lincoln. But the English nobles were unready to accept a queen ruling in her own right.
Nearly two decades later, after the anarchy that characterized Stephen's rule, and the death of his son and heir, they were more than happy to embrace her capable son. He, in turn, became Henry II.
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