The Plantagenets by Dan Jones tells the story of the first eight Plantagenet monarchs that ruled England between 1154 and 1399, beginning with Henry I and ending with the disposition of Richard II.
Each monarch, in turn, has his story told; which wars he fought in, the land he gained and lost, who he married, and his children.
Plantagenet/ Angevin Kings of England 1154 until Deposition of Richard ii in 1399.
You might think of the Plantagenet dynasty as the Angevin dynasty, but that is not how they are remembered by history and popular culture.
The Plantagenet dynasties are essential to mention that the Plantagenet kings never called themselves the Plantagenets, the only two people to call themselves Plantagenets.
The first Plantagenet would be Henry II of England’s father, Geoffrey, who was called Plantagenet due to his wearing a flower.
The second individual who used the name Plantagenet was Richard the third Duke of York, the father of Edward IV of England.
I make this point just because it’s essential to understand the Plantagenets were never actually called the Plantagenet dynasties.
I would divide the Plantagenets into four branches.
This is only regarding the Kings of the Plantagenet line of England, the Angevin Kings Henry II, and Richard the Lionheart.
The Plantagenets Kings were John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II, the Cadet House of Lancaster Henry IV of England, Henry V of England and Henry VI, the House of York Edward IV of England, Edward V of England and Richard III of England was the last Plantagenet king of the Cadet House of York.
Henry FitzEmpress or Henry II Plantagenet (1154-1189)
Henry’s mother, Matilda, was embroiled in a civil war (known as The Anarchy) with her cousin, King Stephen, from 1135 until 1153. When Henry inherited the throne in 1154, he proved himself a capable ruler, re-established royal authority and English domination of Wales and the homage from Scotland, and ensured his lands in France were under solid control.
His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine further cemented his position in France: their marriage proved fruitful, producing 4 sons that lived to adulthood.
Henry is perhaps most famous for the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170: the culmination of years of tension as Henry tried to reform the relationship between church and state.
King Henry II followed the same traditions of the Franks by crowning his eldest son Henry during his lifetime to ensure succession.
Henry The Young King, as he is known, became increasingly frustrated at his father’s inability to give him any real power: in 1173, he, along with Eleanor of Aquitaine and several of his siblings, rebelled against Henry in an event known as The Great Revolt.
One of King Henry’s most significant and long-lived failures is not successfully training his sons to succeed him in a great Plantagenet confederation.
I believe, due to Henry styling himself as the King of the English and Lord of the Norman, Aquitaine, and the Angevin, he was singling his overlordship and maybe even true kingship over his French lands.
Richard I the Lionheart (1189-99)
The third son of Henry and Eleanor, it seemed initially unlikely that Richard would inherit: however, his elder brothers all predeceased their father, leaving Richard as heir.
A strong and capable military leader, Richard spent most of his reign campaigning on the Third Crusade and was in the Holy Land in June 1191, and Acre fell the following month.
In September, his victory at Arsuf gave the crusaders possession of Joppa.
He came close to taking Jerusalem, and Saladin abended the city, but Richard had to return to England due to the plotting of Philip II of France and his brother, the future King John of England.
John Lackland (1199-1216)
He was known as ‘Bad King John or John Lackland John’s reign was far from triumphant. He lost large quantities of English lands in Normandy, leading to the collapse of the Angevin Empire established by his father, Henry II.
Attempts to regain these lands lasted for most of his reign, meaning these years were characterized by high taxes, military reforms, and attempts to build continental alliances.
On returning to England following another defeat in 1214 at the Battle of Bouvines, John was met by a revolt from his barons.
Unhappy at the high taxes and a lack of consideration for their views, they raised an army and marched on London, Lincoln, and Exeter.
John met the leaders at Runnymede, where he consented to sign the Magna Carta: technically a peace treaty, it was also full of proposals for broader political reform.
Despite this, neither side attempted to stick to the bargain: the First Barons’ War consumed most of John’s subsequent reign.
He died in 1216, probably from dysentery, having lost a significant part of his baggage in The Wash – one chronicler claims this baggage included the Crown Jewels.
Henry III (1216-1272)
Henry inherited the crown as a minor, so for the early years of his reign, he was under the guardianship of William Marshal – a mighty knight appointed by John.
The first ten years of his reign focused on ending the Barons’ War and restoring royal authority: Henry assumed formal government control in 1227.
Instead of building on the relatively solid foundation laid down for him, Henry’s lax application of his constitutional rights and lack of discipline in court led to the gradual collapse of royal authority.
His strongly anti-Jewish policies became increasingly disliked, the presence of the powerful Poitevin faction at court caused tensions, and Henry’s increasing obsession with obtaining the kingdom of Sicily all strained relations with his nobles: by 1258, he faced a revolt from his barons.
Henry agreed to the Provisions of Oxford – an attempt to limit the ability of the king and leading nobles to abuse their power and force Henry to hold triannual parliaments.
These were reinforced by the Provisions of Westminster (1259), which Henry’s son and heir Edward helped push through, having allied himself with Simon de Montfort, a leading baron.
A period of instability followed, in which power was held by several jostling factions, eventually culminated in the Second Barons’ War, which saw Henry and Simon de Montfort, each backed by several barons, clash on the battlefield.
After a decisive victory at the Battle of Evesham, Henry issued the Statute of Marlborough, which removed most of the curtailments on his authority whilst tightening them on nobles.
Edward I the Hammer of the Scots (1272-1307)
Nicknamed Edward Longshanks, at 6’2″, Edward was unusually tall for his time, which many considered gave him a somewhat intimidating presence.
Edward initiated war with Scotland which lasted long after his death, and a full-scale conquest of Wales following a minor rebellion.
Edward did initiate a range of reforms to common law, particularly surrounding feudal liberties, as well as reforming aspects of royal administration.
Parliament became a permanent fixture in Edward’s reign, mainly because it was needed to grant taxes.
Expensive wars meant Edward needed many of these grants, enabling Parliament to become a fixture in a way it had not been previously.
King Edward I of England is one of my favorite Plantagenet kings.
What I find most remarkable about this individual is that he has unstoppable willpower due to fighting the Welsh rebellion, the King of France Philip iV of France and defeated William Wallace at Falkirk in 1298.
Being able to fight a war on multiple fronts shows the capability and caliber of his kingship.
Edward II (1307-1327)
Edward II’s reign was plagued by failure. Crowned in 1307, he married Isabella of France in 1308 to end tensions between England and France.
Edward’s reliance on male favorites, most notably Piers Gaveston, proved deeply unpopular in court: nobles demanded his banishment, and Edward’s refusal to do so entirely led to a complete breakdown in relations between the king and his barons.
Combined with disastrous defeats in Scotland in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn, Edward quickly lost what little popularity he had.
Edward’s new favorites, the Despensers, were as unpopular as Gaveston and further exacerbated tensions as they attempted to strengthen their grip on power.
Edward’s wife, Isabella, began to work against him, going rogue on a diplomatic mission to France and returning with a small army in 1326, led by her lover, the exiled Roger Mortimer.
Edward was forced to relinquish his crown to his young son Edward and died shortly afterward: he is generally believed to have been murdered.
Edward III (1327-77)
One of the most popular Plantagenet kings in his lifetime, Edward III reigned for fifty years, overseeing England’s transformation into a formidable military power and the development of Parliament.
Crowned aged 14 following his father’s deposition, Edward began to rule personally in 1330, overthrowing and executing Mortimer.
In 1340, Edward declared himself the rightful heir to the French throne, beginning what is now known as the Hundred Years’ War.
Costly and all-consuming initially, Edward and the English Army won significant victories at Crecy and Calais, as well as other theatres of war in Spain and Scotland.
The Black Death struck shortly after that, severely reducing human resources as more men were needed for agricultural jobs back in England.
The first chapter of the war was closed with the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360, where Edward renounced his claims to the throne.
Edward’s later reign is generally perceived to be full of failures: international and domestic. Parliament’s influence grew as it was needed to grant taxation so often, and royal authority began to wane.
Edward also created the Order of the Garter (which still exists today), reviving chivalry at his court to cement the national identity of his nobles. Ultimately the life of Edward III can be seen as a glorious failure.
He ruled gloriously, but all his victories and strong kingship turned to ash. During his later life, he had Alzheimer’s and was manipulated by court favorites, a truly tragic end for a glorious King. Edward III’s last words were, “Jesus have mercy”.
Richard II (1377-1399)
Primarily known to people through Shakespeare’s interpretation, Richard II’s deposition marked the start of one of the most turbulent periods in English history: The Wars of the Roses.
Grandson of Edward III, Richard inherited the throne in 1377, aged 10, with a series of councilors to help guide him.
The Peasants’ Revolt (1381) saw Richard play a relatively significant part for a boy of 14 as he initially met with rebels to agree to their demands.
Although he granted amnesty to the rebels, he went back on his original agreements and suppressed the rebellion relatively harshly.
Many historians consider this a pivotal moment in Richard’s understanding of kingship.
He believed in absolute royal authority and his prerogative.
As a result, he attempted to lessen the overall power of the aristocracy whilst maintaining a small group of favorites on whom he became dependent.
Richard’s court was lavish, and he was a keen patron of the arts: both of these things needed money to maintain, and high taxes, particularly after the war with France was over, made him increasingly unpopular.
1397-99 is known by many as Richard’s ‘tyranny’: Richard arrested and tried several men who he felt were a threat to his power, acting in a way that made his nobles nervous.
In 1398, he called the Parliament of Shrewsbury, which declared that no restraints could legally be put on the king.
This proved too much for his nobles: when Henry Bolingbroke, Richard’s cousin, invaded England in 1399, he received a warm welcome – Richard was deposed, and Henry crowned king.
My final thoughts:
Dan Jones’s book the Plantagenets provides a comprehensive and robust overview that is narrative-based and will provide an excellent understanding of England’s first eight Plantagenet kings.
Dan Jones’s book the Plantagenets is the closest you will get to reading a historical version of Game of Thrones by George RR Martin.