British Middle Ages—Early Plantagenets

1154 to 1350
Henry II Plantagenet to Reign of Edward III

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Early Plantagenets

The rule of the Plantagenet dynasty was long and eventful. Henry Plantagenet (II) came to the throne in 1154, and the last Plantagenet, Richard III, was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, over three hundred years later. During this time, great changes took place in England. In the early years of the Plantagenet dynasty, the barons revolted against king John and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, which guaranteed certain rights to the towns and nobles. Later, they forced the king to call a Parliament, or group of nobles to advise him in ruling the kingdom. The Plantagenets were involved in two long and ruinous wars. The first was the Hundred Years War with France, which went well for England at first but in the end proved disastrous. The second was the War of the Roses, a frightful civil war between rival claimants to the throne that nearly wiped out the entire Plantagenet line.

Henry Plantagenet and Sons

Henry Plantagenet, the founder of the Plantagenet line, was the grandson of Henry I, and the great-grandson of William Rufus. He inherited the throne through his mother, but had to fight to establish his claim. He married another very powerful monarch, Eleanor of Aquitaine, heir to the duchy of Aquitaine, so between the two they eventually controlled much of France as well as all of England. Henry spent much of his reign in various wars, consolidating his power. He had four sons, two of whom became king. The elder son, Richard I, is best known as a crusader. He spent almost his entire reign away from England, leaving the country in the hands of his devious brother John Lackland. John was one of the worst kings that England ever had and managed to lose most of the land in France that he had inherited from his parents. Finally, Archbishop Langton, and the barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta, limiting his power.

Edwards I, II, and III

John's son Henry III supposedly ruled for 56 years, but for much of that time his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort , governed in his place and orchestrated the Parliament. When Henry III's son Edward I came to the throne the people rejoiced because they finally had a king who was half Saxon and spoke English instead of French, which had been the language of the ruling class since the Norman Conquest. He proved to be a competent king, and brought Wales, Ireland, and Scotland under his sway. His hold on Ireland was never strong though, and shortly after his death Scotland decisively won its independence from England at the Battle of Bannockburn. The Edward I's son was a no-account king with very unpopular favorites. He was deposed in favor of his young son Edward III, who ruled for fifty years and got England involved in the Hundred Years War with France. There were several important battles in the hundred years war, the first two being Crecy and Poitiers. England won both battles against great odds, but never succeeded in establishing Edward III's claim to the French throne.

Characters—Early Plantagenets

Character/Date Short Biography

Henry II and Sons

Henry II
Reclaimed kingdoms in England and Normandy after chaotic reign of Stephen. Founded Plantagenet dynasty.
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Wife of Henry II, queen of Aquitaine. Led dramatic, adventurous life.
Thomas a Becket
Appointed Archbishop by Henry II, but strove for an independent church. Martyred.
Richard I
Son of Henry II. Spent almost his entire reign crusading and fighting in France.
Robin Hood
~ 1200
Leader of a legendary band of benevolent bandits who stole from rich and gave to the poor.
John I
Wicked king, murdered his nephew and usurped throne. Forced to sign the Magna Carta.
Archbishop Langton
Archbishop who rallied opposition to king John and forced him to sign Magna Carta.
Richard de Wyche
Appointed by the Pope against the wishes of Henry III. Faithful servant of the poor.
Henry III
Blundering king whose government lay largely in the hands of Simon de Montfort throughout his reign.
Simon de Montfort
French nobleman who led resistance to Henry III and laid foundations of English Parliament.

Edward I, II, III and Richard II

Edward I
Competent and decisive king of England. Reformed government, pacified Wales and Scotland. Ruled 35 years.
Edward II
Weak and profligate son of Edward I. Lost all his father's holdings in Scotland.
William Wallace
Commoner who led resistance to Edward I's conquest of Scotland.
Robert the Bruce
Scottish nobleman who claimed the crown and led resistance to England at Bannockburn.
James Douglas
Associate of Robert the Bruce. Fought in wars of Scottish Independence.
Philippa of Hainault
Wife of Edward III and mother of 13. Intervened at siege of Calias in favor of citizens.

Timeline—Early Plantagenets

AD YearEvent
1151 Henry Plantagenet marries Eleanor of Aquitaine, heir in France.
1154 Henry Plantagenet assumes the throne on the death of Stephen.
1170 Thomas a Becket is murdered after he defies Henry II.
1172 Henry II Conquers Ireland.
1190 Richard Coeur de Leon goes on Third Crusade.
1215 John Lackland signs Magna Carta.
1265 Meeting of first Parliament arranged by Simon de Montfort .
1284 Edward I conquers Wales.
1291 Edward I Conquers Scotland.
1314 Scots, under Robert the Bruce Win their Independence at the Battle of Bannockburn.
1348-1349 Black Plague devastates all of Europe.

Recommended Reading—Early Plantagenets

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments

Guerber - The Story of the English    Story of Fair Rosamond to The Murderers punished (19)
Marshall - Our Island Story   Henry II—Gilbert and Rohesia to The Battle of Bannockburn (15)

Supplemental Recommendations

Harding - The Story of England   Henry II, First Plantagenet King to The War of the Roses (10)
Church - Stories from English History   Thomas Becket, The Chancellor to The Great Battle of Poitiers (12)
Morris - Historical Tales: English   Captivity of Richard I to Bruce at Bannockburn (4)
Abbott - Richard I    entire book
Tappan - The Chaucer Story Book    entire book
Marshall - English Literature for Boys and Girls   About some Song Stories to The Story of Everyman (17)

Easy Reading Selections

Cambridge Press - Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary   Richard the Lion-Heart to Little Princes in the Tower (10)
Haaren - Famous Men of the Middle Ages   Henry the Second and His Sons to Warwick the Kingmaker (5)
Skae - Stories from English History   Boy Who Would be a King to The Black Prince (2)
Lindsay - Ivanhoe Told to the Children    entire book
Marshall - Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children    entire book