Henry III (1216-1272)
Henry came to the throne at aged nine in the year 1216, making him one of the youngest monarchs in British history.
Despite this, he did not assume the role of king until he was twenty years old. Throughout his formative years the young king was mentored by a series of nobles and members of the clergy, placing him in a prime position to rule when the time came.
As the longest reigning monarch in English history, Henry’s time as king was marked by the Second Baron’s Rebellion – a civil war that resulted in the establishment of a Parliament in Westminster, heralding the early beginnings of the House of Commons.
Renowned as a pious man, under his rule the universities of Oxford and Cambridge began to truly flourish and grow. In addition to this a number of cathedrals across the kingdom were built.
King Edward I (1272-1307)
King Edward and his legacy reverberates throughout British history; His time as king was unparalleled.
As a leader, he was near perfect. His campaigns in France and Scotland placed England firmly at the peak of European power.
His brutality in dealing with the Scots is arguably the most notable factor in his fame. Major uprisings – particularly led by William Wallace – were crushed and upon his death, Edward left his son one of the strongest kingdoms in medieval Europe.
In addition to his military prowess, Edward I was also an astute politician. In 1295 he formed the ‘Model Parliament’ which essentially brought together nobles and commoners for the first time in English history. This system allowed Edward to better gauge public feeling and introduce policy that applied universally in England.
King Edward II ( 1307-1327)
Edward II is a figure in English history that is often smirked at. He is portrayed as a weak, useless monarch in the modern day and this largely stems from his inability to quell dissent from Robert Bruce.
Ask anyone with a modicum of knowledge on the individual, and they would likely point toward his defeat at Bannockburn in 1314. Edward was not in the same mould as his father, and his inability to defeat Robert Bruce would tarnish his name and forever relegate him to a category of ‘weak’ kings.
Despite this, he reigned for some twenty years and although he had experienced defeat at the hands of the Scots, he successfully suppressed a barons revolt at Boroughbridge in March 1322.
His death is a topic of much debate. Legend has it that he was deposed by his wife, Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France and replaced by his son.
His death allegedly came during his imprisonment at Berkeley Castle, which involved a hot fire poker and his rear end.
This traditional belief is not confirmed by any contemporary sources however, and modern historians deny it ever happened. It is likely that Edward died due to ghastly conditions during his imprisonment.
Edward III (1327-1377)
Edward III ruled for fifty years in an age when many were lucky to reach adulthood.
Under Edward the separation of powers between commoners and lords in established and the Order of the Garter hails to Edwards time as king.
During a long reign Edward successfully repulsed French invasion fleets and had numerous violent quarrels with the Kingdom of Scotland.
In addition to this, Edwards reign marks both the beginning of the bubonic plague – which wiped out half the population of England – and the Hundred Years War in 1348 and 1337 respectively; An eventful reign to say the least.
Edwards ascension to the throne came after his fathers deposition and imprisonment and it was under his rule that Edward II’s death was acknowledged as murder, with the accused executed for regicide.
Richard II (1377-1399)
Richard II’s reign is widely known for the Peasants Revolt in 1381, which came as a result of the Poll Tax introduction which imposed hefty tariffs on English commoners.
Richard became king at ten years old, due to a number of deaths in the line of succession, and he did not rule as king during his earlier years, John of Gaunt essentially ruled the country in every sense.
Richard’s rule in later years is described as ‘Richards Tyranny’. Due to his close ties with several aristocrats, many grew suspicious of his rule and plotted against him. Despite suppressing unrest by both commoners and nobles, Richard it seems was a paranoid individual and had many former opponents executed or exiled.
His time as king comes to an end when Henry Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt, arrived in England and gained enormous support from English nobles. Without much resistance Richard is deposed and died in captivity in February 1400.
In part three of this series we will explore the great rift that tore apart not only the house of Plantagenet, but England itself; House Lancaster and York.