The Plantagenet line of English Kings is a fascinating period in both English and European history. They are the quintessential royal family, marked with political intrigue, treachery, deceit and stern, yet progressive rule.
There were European conflicts, crusades, civil wars and conquest. Several of Britain’s most lauded and notorious monarchs hail from this line, which includes Edward ‘Longshanks‘ I, Richard The Lionheart and the enigmatic Richard III.
The name itself comes from the Latin, planta genista, meaning “sprig of broom” which hails from their time as the counts of Anjou in France.
This comes from Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, who is said to have worn this on his helmet.
Their holdings in Anjou, and through marriage, the Duchy of Aquitaine, made them one of the richest houses in all of Europe.
Their reign as kings of England lasted over 300 years, and came to a cataclysmic end in the War of The Roses.
This line of kings is normally divided among several different sections, starting with the Angevin line in the mid 12th century, then developing further through the Plantagenet line to the houses of Lancaster and York.
Henry II (1133-1189)
Henry II ascended to the throne in October, 1154 and was crowned in December of the same year.
He is the first in the line of England’s Plantagenet Kings.
He did not just rule England however, with holdings in Wales, Normandy, Anjou and Gascony he was one of the most powerful and influential nobles in Europe.
Henry is said to have been an ill-tempered man, and in 1170, the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett was murdered on his orders.
Henry however was remorseful for his actions and ordered he be lashed 100 times in penance for his crime.
Henry introduced several administrative and legal reform programmes, which saw civil courts introduced in each county, and the introduction of trial by jury.
In addition to this, the church was brought under the umbrella of English law. Under previous rules the church – backed by the papacy – had free reign and exemption from a host of legislative acts.
Richard I The Lionheart (1157-1199)
Upon the death of his father, Richard ascended to the throne aged 31 in July 1189 and ruled for ten years till his death in 1199.
Richard I is one of England’s most recognisable monarchs, and gained the nickname ‘Lionheart’ for his bravery in battle.
Richard spent most of his reign on crusade in the holy lands and solidifying his control over holdings on mainland Europe.
He spent a mere one year ruling in England.
Although in modern times Richard I has a reputation as a fine commander and warrior – which he undoubtedly was – he appears to be a lacklustre king. Concerned more with war, glory and the religious fanaticism that surrounds the crusades, rather than ruling and governing.
Richard’s flaws as a king however faired well for his brother, John, who would come to be a far more suitable and competent ruler than his hot-headed brother.
King John I (1199-1216)
King John succeeded his brother, Richard, in April of 1199 and ruled until his death in October 1216.
John was no newcomer to English politics at the time of his ascension. When his brother departed in 1189, he had been named acting monarch in Richards stead.
King John’s rule is notable for losing all English possessions on mainland Europe to King Philip II of France.
It seems John was not in the same mould of king as his brother, Richard, who was renowned for his military prowess and penchant for conflict.
What John lacked in strength however he more than compensated for with wit and progressive governance. Under his rule the Magna Carta was introduced, placing England down a path toward a more transparent monarchy and ultimately, democracy.
Human rights introduced into English law mark a momentous change in English society and to this day the Magna Carta still retains its relevance in English law.
In part two we will explore further the Plantagenet line, starting with Henry III; A boy king who ascended to the throne at age nine and would go on to become *England’s longest reigning monarch.
*Does not include British monarchs post-Union, 1603.