The essence of government is power, and power, lodged as it is in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. — James Madison

British Middle Ages—Plantagenet Kings

1154 to 1485
Henry II Plantagenet to Battle of Bosworth Field

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Plantagenet Kings

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

Johnís 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 IIIís 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 IIIís claim to the French throne.

The Edward III's eldest son was The Black Prince, a great warrior who was very popular with the people, but who never became king because he died before the long-lived Edward III. The crown then passed to the Black Princeís son Richard II, who was unpopular and was eventually deposed in favor of his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (IV). Unfortunately Henry IV was not the next in line for the throne, but his selection was not resisted because his father John of Gaunt had been regent during most of Richard IIís reign. The issue was not pressed for two generations but later became the cause of a great civil war.

Lancasters and Yorks

Henry Bolingbroke's son was Henry V, famous for his victory over the French at Agincourt. Henry V reopened the Hundred Years War and came close to gaining the French crown, but he died only a few years after his great victory. He left a young son, Henry VI, who was a peace-loving and studious man, but a weak leader. During his reign the French rallied under Joan of Arc and reclaimed all of the land England had won, bringing an end to the hundred year war, and the king became extremely unpopular. Seein his opportunity, his cousin, the Duke of York, made a claim for the throne. He denied Henry Bolingbroke's claim three generations back, which led to the disastrous War of the Roses, in which the Lancaster and the York lines vied for the throne. The plots turns and reverses of this war are difficult to follow, but the main contenders were not the monarchs themselves, but rather the Earl of Warwick, cousin to the Duke of York, and Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's wife. The war proved bitter and deadly, and many great nobles lost their lives. It also greatly enhanced the power of the king, since the king was allowed to confiscate the estates of any noble that rose in rebellion to him; as the kingship passed back and forth between the Lancasters and Yorks, almost every house was at some point in alliance with a "rebel".

The Yorks were finally victorious, but they came to a bad end. Edward IV ruled for 22 years, but when he died, his brother Richard III plotted to usurp the throne by killing his Edward's young sons. This accomplished, he found he had made many enemies, and when Henry Tudor (VII), a distant relative on the Lancaster side brought an army against him, several of his generals deserted him. Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings was killed on the battlefield of Bosworth, bringing the noble line that had ruled England for three centuries to an inglorious end.

Characters—Plantagenet Kings

CharacterDate Short Biography

Henry II and Sons

Henry II1133–1189 Reclaimed kingdoms in England and Normandy after chaotic reign of Stephen. Founded Plantagenet dynasty.
Eleanor of Aquitaine1122–1204 Wife of Henry II, queen of Aquitaine. Led dramatic, adventurous life.
Saint Thomas a Becket1118–1170 Appointed Archbishop by Henry II, but strove for an independent church. Martyred.
Richard I1157–1199 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 I1167–1216 Wicked king, murdered his nephew and usurped throne. Forced to sign the Magna Carta.
Archbishop Langton1150–1228 Archbishop who rallied opposition to king John and forced him to sign Magna Carta.
Saint Richard de Wyche1197–1253 Appointed by the Pope against the wishes of Henry III. Faithful servant of the poor.
Henry III1207–1272 Blundering king whose government lay largely in the hands of Simon de Montfort throughout his reign.
Simon de Montfort 1208–1265 French nobleman who led resistance to Henry III and laid foundations of English Parliament.

Edward I, II, III and Richard II

Edward I1239–1307 Competent and decisive king of England. Reformed government, pacified Wales and Scotland. Ruled 35 years.
Edward II1284–1327 Weak and profligate son of Edward I. Lost all his father's holdings in Scotland.
William Wallace1272–1305 Commoner who led resistance to Edward I's conquest of Scotland.
Robert the Bruce1274–1329 Scottish nobleman who claimed the crown and led resistance to England at Bannockburn.
James Douglas1286–1330 Associate of Robert the Bruce. Fought in wars of Scottish Independence.
Philippa of Hainault1313–1369 Wife of Edward III and mother of 13. Intervened at siege of Calias in favor of citizens.
The Black Prince1330–1376 Excellent general and leader who ruled alongside his father, Edward III. Victor at the Battle of Poitiers.
Edward III1312–1377 Reigned for nearly 50 years. Invaded France, and won the Battles of Crecy and Calias.
Wat Tylerd. 1381 Leader of a peasant rebellion during reign of Richard II. He was killed during talks.
John Wycliffe1335–1384 Early proponent of reform in the Catholic Church. Favored power of state over church.
Geoffrey Chaucer1340–1400 Wrote the first widely read epic poem in the English language, Canterbury Tales.
Richard II1367–1400 Son of the Black Prince. Reigned after Edward III. Deposed by Henry Bolingbroke.

Henry IV, V, and VI (Lancasters)

Henry IV1367–1413 Son of John of Gaunt. Assumed the throne after Richard II was deposed.
Owen Glendower1359–1416 Last Welshman to be crowned Prince of Wales. He led an unsuccessful Welsh revolt.
Henry V1387–1422 Led a victorious army of longbowmen against France at Agincourt.
Jack Caded. 1450 Led a rebellion against Henry VI's government. Rebels looted London and many were killed.

Edward IV and Richard III (Yorks)

Duke of York1411–1460 Aspirant to the throne in the early years of War of the Roses. Killed in action with eldest son.
Earl of Warwick1428–1471 Primary figure in war of the Roses. Changed sides from York to Lancaster. Killed at Barnet.
Margaret of Anjou1429–1482 Ruled in stead of her weak husband, Henry VI. Led armies against Yorks. Deposed after the York victory at Hexham.
Edward IV1442–1483 Son of the Duke of York. Became king of England when other aspirants were dead or deposed.
Richard III1432–1485 On death of his brother Edward IV, he killed his nephews and usurped the throne.
Margaret Beaufort1441–1509 Mother of Henry Tudor. Benefactor of Cambridge University.

Timeline—Plantagenet Kings

AD YearEvent
1151 Henry Plantagenet marries Eleanor of Aquitaine, heir in France.
1154 Henry Plantagenet assumes the throne on the death of Stephen.
1170 Saint 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.
1337-1453 Hundred Years War: England vs. France.
1346 Edward III, victor at the Battle of Crecy.
1356 The Black Prince, victor at the Battle of Poitiers.
1415 Henry V, victor at the Battle of Agincourt.
1428 Joan of Arc, victor at the Siege of Orleans.
1362 English becomes official legal language, displacing French.
1381 The government of Richard II puts down Wat Tyler's Rebellion.
1399 Richard II deposed by Henry Bolingbroke.
1400 Death of Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales
1403 Henry IV puts down a rebellion at the Battle of Shrewsbury.
1415-1453 Henry V invades France and re-opens the Hundred Years War.
1415 Henry V, victor at the Battle of Agincourt.
1428 Joan of Arc, victor at the Siege of Orleans. Tide turns in favor of France.
1455-1485 War of the Roses
1461 Yorkists prevail at Battle of Towton; Lancastrians exiled.
1469 Lancastrians regain throne thanks to the machinations of Earl of Warwick.
1471 Yorkists again prevail at Battle of Barnet.
1483 Richard III usurps throne at death of Edward IV.
1484 Henry Tudor defeats Richard III at Battle of Bosworth Field.
1476 William Caxton bring a printing press to England. Publishes first book.

Recommended Reading—Plantagenet Kings

Read chapters from "core" texts before reviewing study questions.

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Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments *

Cambridge Press - Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary   Richard the Lion-Heart to Little Princes in the Tower (10)
Guerber - The Story of the English    Story of Fair Rosamond to Richard's Punishment (34)
Marshall - Our Island Story   Henry II—Gilbert and Rohesia to Two Princes in the Tower (30)

Supplemental Recommendations

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
Marshall - Stories of Guy of Warwick Told to the Children    entire book
Harding - The Story of England   Henry II, First Plantagenet King to The War of the Roses (10)
Pyle - Men of Iron    entire book
Tappan - The Chaucer Story Book    entire book
Morris - Historical Tales: English   Captivity of Richard I to Jubilees of Queen Victoria (7)
Abbott - Margaret of Anjou    entire book
Abbott - Richard I    entire book

Also Recommended

Church - Stories from English History   Thomas Becket, The Chancellor to The Great Battle of Poitiers (12)
Church - Stories From English History, Part Second   Wat Tyler to Bosworth Field (11)
Synge - Great Englishmen   Thomas a Becket to William Caxton (6)
Synge - Great Englishwomen   Eleanor of Aquitaine to Margaret of Anjou (3)
Tappan - European Hero Stories   The Magna Carta to The Black Prince (4)
Wood - The Boy's Book of Battles   Damme to Agincourt (3)
Abbott - Richard II    entire book
Abbott - Richard III    entire book
Church - The Chantry Priest of Barnet    entire book
Marshall - English Literature for Boys and Girls   About some Song Stories to The Story of Everyman (17)

* Level I & II study questions are based on Core Reading Assignments.

I: Introductory, II: Intermediate, Y: Young Readers, C: College Prep