British Middle Ages—Lancasters and Yorks

1340 to 1485
Hundred Years War to Battle of Bosworth Field

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Lancasters and Yorks

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—Lancasters and Yorks

Character/Date Short Biography

Edward III, Black Prince, and Richard II

The Black Prince
Excellent general and leader who ruled alongside his father, Edward III. Victor at the Battle of Poitiers.
Edward III
Reigned for nearly 50 years. Invaded France, and won the Battles of Crecy and Calias.
Wat Tyler
d. 1381
Leader of a peasant rebellion during reign of Richard II. He was killed during talks.
John Wycliffe
Early proponent of reform in the Catholic Church. Favored power of state over church.
Geoffrey Chaucer
Wrote the first widely read epic poem in the English language, Canterbury Tales.
Richard II
Son of the Black Prince. Reigned after Edward III. Deposed by Henry Bolingbroke.

Henry IV, V, and VI (Lancasters)

Henry IV
Son of John of Gaunt. Assumed the throne after Richard II was deposed.
Owen Glendower
Last Welshman to be crowned Prince of Wales. He led an unsuccessful Welsh revolt.
Henry V
Led a victorious army of longbowmen against France at Agincourt.
Jack Cade
d. 1450
Led a rebellion against Henry VI's government. Rebels looted London and many were killed.

Edward IV and Richard III (Yorks)

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

Timeline—Lancasters and Yorks

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—Lancasters and Yorks

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

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments *

Guerber - The Story of the English    The Battle of Crecy to Richard's Punishment (16)
Marshall - Our Island Story   The Battle of Sluys to Two Princes in the Tower (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, Part Second   Wat Tyler to Bosworth Field (11)
Morris - Historical Tales: English   The Siege of Calais to The White Rose of England (4)
Abbott - Margaret of Anjou    entire book
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)

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)
Marshall - Stories of Guy of Warwick Told to the Children    entire book