Wikijunior:Kings and Queens of England/The Plantagenets
Henry II (1154-1189)
Henry II was born on 5 March 1133 in Le Mans. He ruled as Count of Anjou, Duke of Normandy and as King of England from 1154 until his death in 1189. Following the disputed reign of King Stephen, Henry's reign saw efficient consolidation. Henry II has a reputation as one of England's greatest medieval kings. At various times he controlled parts of Wales, Scotland, eastern Ireland, and western France. He was the first of the Plantagenet or Angevin Kings. Before becoming king Henry already controlled Normandy and Anjou. Whilst king, he had an empire, known as the Angevin Empire, that stretched from the Solway Firth almost to the Mediterranean and from the Somme to the Pyrenees. His mother was Empress Matilda, and his father was her second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou. He was brought up in Anjou, which is where the name Angevin comes from, though he visited England in 1149 to help his mother with her claim to the English throne.
Peter of Blois left a description of Henry II in 1177: "...the lord king has been red-haired so far, except that the coming of old age and gray hair has altered that colour somewhat. His height is medium, so that neither does he appear great among the small, nor yet does he seem small among the great... curved legs, a horseman's shins, broad chest, and a boxer's arms all announce him as a man strong, agile and bold... he never sits, unless riding a horse or eating... In a single day, if necessary, he can run through four or five day-marches and, thus foiling the plots of his enemies, frequently mocks their plots with surprise sudden arrivals...Always are in his hands bow, sword, spear and arrow, unless he be in council or in books."
Early reign and Thomas Becket
Henry II's first task as king was to wrest more control from the barons, who had gained more power during King Stephen's reign. Castles that were built by barons during Stephen's reign without permission were torn down.
Henry II also made many legal reforms. Henry established courts in various parts of England. His reign saw the production of the first written legal textbook, providing the basis of today's Common Law. By 1166 trial by jury became the norm. The legal reforms also reduced the power of church courts. The church opposed this, and their most prominent spokesman was Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who used to be a close friend of Henry's who was made archbishop as Henry wanted to avoid conflict. Becket went into exile in 1164, but after a reconciliation with Henry in 1170, came back. However, Becket again argued with Henry, this time over the coronation of Prince Henry, and Henry II is famously reported to have said, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Four knights took the king literally and travelled immediately to Canterbury, where they killed Becket in the Cathedral on 29 December 1170. In penance, Henry made a pilgrimage in sackcloth to Becket's tomb.
Marriage and children
In 1152 he married Eleanor of Aquitaine and added on her lands to his, therefore increasing the size of his empire. They had five sons and three daughters. Their first son died in infancy. Their second, Henry, was crowned king at age fifteen in 1170, when Henry II was still king, and was known as the Young King, but he never actually ruled and does not figure in the list of the monarchs of England. They also had Richard and John who both later became Kings of England. Henry also had a number of illegitimate children by various women.
Revolting sons and death
Henry II's attempt to divide his titles amongst his sons but keep the power that came with them provoked them into trying to take control of the lands assigned to them in the Revolt of 1173-1174. In Henry's eyes, this was treason.
When Henry's legitimate sons rebelled against him, they often had the help of King Louis VII of France. Henry the Young King died in 1183, after which there was a power struggle between the three sons that were left. Finally, Henry's third son, Richard the Lionheart, with the assistance of Philip II Augustus of France, attacked and defeated Henry on 4 July 1189. Henry died at the Chateau Chinon two days later and was laid to rest at Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon in the Anjou Region of present-day France. Richard then became King of England.
Richard I (1189-1199)
Richard I was born in 1157 in Oxford. He was King of England from 1189 to his death in 1199, and is often known as Richard the Lionheart or its French equivalent, Coeur de Lion.
He was brought up, mostly by his mother in France. Richard was able to compose poetry in French and in the Provençal language. He was also very attractive. He was blond, blue-eyed, and his height estimated at six feet four inches (1.93 m) tall. He gloried in military activity.
His father, Henry, made him Duke of Aquitaine in 1168, and of Poitiers in 1172. He therefore learned to defend these territories from an early age. In 1173, Richard joined his brothers, Henry and Geoffrey, in a revolt against their father. They were planning to dethrone their father and leave Richard's brother Henry as the ruling king of England. Henry II invaded Aquitaine twice. At the age of seventeen, Richard was the last of the brothers to hold out against Henry, though, in the end, he refused to fight his father face to face and humbly begged his pardon. In 1174, after the end of the failed revolt, Richard gave a new oath of subservience to his father.
After this, Richard concentrated on putting down internal revolts by the nobles of Aquitaine. His increasing cruelty led to a major revolt of Gascony in 1183. The rebels hoped to dethrone Richard and asked Richard's brothers Henry and Geoffrey to help them succeed. Their father feared that the war between his three sons could lead to the destruction of his kingdom. He led the part of his army that served in his French lands in support of Richard. The death of Richard's brother Henry in 1183, ended the revolt.
When in 1188 Henry II planned to concede Aquitaine to his youngest son John Lackland, later King John of England, Richard allied himself with Philip II of France. In return for Philip's help against his father, Richard promised to concede his rights to both Normandy and Anjou to Philip. Richard gave an oath of subservience to Philip in November of the same year. In 1189 Richard attempted to take the throne of England for himself by joining Philip's expedition against his father. They were victorious, and when Henry II died on 6 July 1189, Richard I succeeded him as King of England.
Soon after his accession to the throne, inspired by the loss of Jerusalem to the Muslims under the command of Saladin, Richard decided to join the Third Crusade, Afraid that during his absence the French might usurp his territories, Richard persuaded Philip to join the Crusade as well. Richard finally started his expedition to the Holy Land in 1190, and for England he appointed as regents Hugh, Bishop of Durham, and William de Mandeville, 3rd Earl of Essex, who soon died and was replaced by Richard's chancellor William Longchamp.
In September 1190 both Richard and Philip arrived in Sicily, where they became embroiled in a war for the succession after the death of King William II of Sicily the year before. As part of the peace treaty that ended the conflict, Richard officially proclaimed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, who was only four at the time, as his heir. After signing the treaty Richard and Philip left Sicily. The treaty undermined England's relationships with the Holy Roman Empire and caused the revolt of Richard's brother John, who hoped to be proclaimed heir instead of their nephew. Although his revolt failed, John continued to scheme against his brother after this point.
In April 1191, Richard overthrew the ruler of Cyprus, gaining a major supply base for the Crusade that was not under immediate threat from the Turks as was Tyre. Richard looted the island and massacred those trying to resist him. Meanwhile, Richard married Berengaria, first-born daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre. There were no children from the marriage, although Richard did have at least one illegitimate child.
Richard and most of his army left Cyprus for the Holy Land early in June. King Richard arrived at Acre in June 1191, where he and his forces captured the city. Saladin dragged negotiations on certain points of the surrender of Acre. As Richard's army could not move until 2,600 prisoners of war that he had taken hostage were disposed of, Richard took this to be a deliberate attempt to bottle the Crusaders up in Acre. In what history records as a fit of impatience, Richard ordered all 2,600 prisoners killed.
Richard was also involved in other disputes with his allies, Duke Leopold V of Austria and King Philip II of France. Leopold and Philip no longer supported Richard's Crusade. Still, Richard continued to march south, and Saladin's men were unable to harass the Crusader army into an impulsive action which might not have gone their way. However, the desertion of the French king had been a major blow, from which they could not hope to recover. Realising that he had no hope of holding Jerusalem even if he took it, Richard ordered a retreat. Despite being only a few miles from the city, he refused, thereafter, to set eyes on it, as he had vowed to look upon it only once he had conquered the city.
After the retreat from Jerusalem, there was a period of minor skirmishes with Saladin's forces while Richard and Saladin negotiated a settlement to the conflict: both had realised that their positions were growing untenable. In particular, both Philip and John were taking advantage of Richard's absence to make themselves more powerful at home. He and Saladin finally came to a settlement of the conflict on 2 September 1192.
Captivity and return
Bad luck dogged Richard on his return home. Bad weather forced his ship to put in at Corfu, the territory of the Byzantine Emperor, who was still angry at Richard for his annexation of Cyprus. Disguised as a Knight Templar, Richard sailed from Corfu with four attendants in a pirate ship, which wrecked near Aquileia, forcing Richard and his party into a dangerous land route through central Europe.
On his way to the territory of Henry of Saxony, his brother-in-law, Richard was captured shortly before Christmas 1192 only a few miles from the Moravian border, near Vienna, by Leopold V of Austria. Richard and his retainers had been travelling disguised as pilgrims, complete with flowing beards and tattered clothes. Richard himself was dressed like a kitchen hand, but was identified because he was wearing a magnificent and costly ring no menial worker could afford. The Duke handed him over as a prisoner to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor.
His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, worked tirelessly to raise the exorbitant ransom of 150,000 marks demanded by the German emperor, of which 100,000 had to be paid before release, with the remainder after. 150,000 marks represented twice the annual income for the English Crown. Both clergy and laymen were taxed for a quarter of the value of their property, the gold and silver treasures of the churches were confiscated, and money was raised from other taxes too. John, Richard's brother, and King Philip offered 80,000 marks for the Emperor to hold Richard prisoner until Michaelmas 1194. The emperor turned down the offer. Finally, on 4 February 1194 Richard was released.
One fictional aspect to Richard's life is the legend of his minstrel, Blondel, who, after Richard's capture, travelled Europe, going from castle to castle and loudly singing a song known only to the two of them. Eventually, the story goes, he came to the place where Richard was being held, and heard the song answered with the appropriate refrain, thus revealing where the king was.
Death and legacy
After his many famous battles, it was a minor skirmish with the rebellious castle of Châlus-Charbrol in Limousin, France on 26 March 1199 that would take Richard's life. Richard, who had removed some of his chainmail, was wounded in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt launched from a tower. Gangrene set in and Richard asked to see his killer, who he ordered to be set free and awarded a sum of money. However as soon as Richard died, with his 77-year-old mother Eleanor at his side, on 6 April 1199, the killer was flayed alive and then hanged. Richard's bowels were buried at the foot of the tower from which the shot came, his heart was buried at Rouen, while the rest of his remains were buried next to his father at Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon, France.
During Richard's absence abroad, John had come close to seizing the throne. However, Richard had forgiven him, and named him as his heir in place of Arthur. So it was John who became the next king. However, Richard's French territories initially rejected John as a successor, preferring his Arthur instead. However, the lack of any direct heirs from Richard was the first step in the dissolution of the Angevin Empire. While England continued to press claims to properties on the continent, it would never again command the territories Richard I inherited.
In the long run Richard's legacy includes the capture of Cyprus, which proved valuable in keeping the Frankish kingdoms in the Holy Land viable for another century. Secondly, his absence from England meant that the highly efficient government created by his father was allowed to entrench itself. Another part of Richard's legacy was romantic and literary. No matter the facts of his reign, he left an indelible imprint on the imagination extending to the present, in large part because of his military exploits. Indeed, due to his bravery, savagery, and fame in the Arabic world, Richard became a bit of a bogeyman in the Middle East for centuries after his death. Mothers would occasionally threaten unruly children with the admonition "King Richard will get you" well into the late 19th century.
On the downside, Richard has been criticised for doing little for England, and instead using the kingdom's resources to support his journeys away on Crusade in the Holy Land. He spent only six months of his ten year reign in England, claiming it was "cold and always raining". During the period when he was raising funds for his Crusade, Richard was heard to declare, "If I could have found a buyer I would have sold London itself".
John was born, probably in the year 1166, in Oxford. He was the fifth son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He reigned as King of England from 1199 until his death in 1216. He succeeded to the throne as the younger brother of King Richard I. John acquired the nicknames of "Lackland" and "Soft-sword".
King John's reign has been traditionally characterised as one of the most disastrous in English history: he lost Normandy to Philip II of France in his first five years on the throne, and his reign ended with England torn by civil war, with him on the verge of being forced out of power. In 1213, he made England a papal fief to resolve a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, and his rebellious barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, the act for which he is best remembered.
In 1185, John became the ruler of Ireland, whose people grew to despise him, causing John to leave after only eight months. During Richard's absence on the Third Crusade from 1190 to 1194, John tried to overthrow Richard's regent, despite having been forbidden by his brother to leave France. However, on his return to England in 1194, Richard forgave John and named him as his heir.
John's reign as King
After Richard's death, John did not gain immediate universal recognition as king. As we have seen above, some regarded his young nephew, Arthur of Brittany, as the rightful heir. Arthur enjoyed the support of King Philip II of France, and the two sides fought. The war upset the barons of Poitou, who sought help from the King of France, who was King John's feudal overlord in respect of some of his territories on the Continent. In 1202, King John was summoned to the French court to answer the charges. King John refused and, under feudal law, because of his failure of service to his lord, the French King claimed the lands and territories ruled by King John as Count of Poitou. The French promptly invaded Normandy, King Philip II invested Arthur with all those fiefs King John once held (except for Normandy), and betrothed him to his daughter Mary. As part of the war, Arthur attempted to kidnap his own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau, but was defeated and captured by John's forces. Arthur was imprisoned first at Falaise and then at Rouen. No one is certain what happened to Arthur after that, but the rumour that he was murdered caused Brittany and later Normandy to rebel against King John.
John functioned as an efficient ruler, but he won the disapproval of the English barons by taxing them in ways that were outside those traditionally allowed by feudal overlords. John was a very fair-minded and well informed king, however, often acting as a Judge in the Royal Courts, and his justice was much sought after. John is also said to have founded the modern Royal Navy. In 1203 he ordered all shipyards in England to be responsible for at least one ship, with places such as the newly-built Portsmouth being responsible for several. By the end of 1204, he had 45 large galleys available to him, and from then on an average of 4 new ones every year. It was during John's reign that great improvements were made in ship design. He also created the first large transport ships.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury died on 13 July 1205, John became involved in a dispute with Pope Innocent III over who the next Archbishop should be. Eventually Innocent appointed a man who John coud not acceept and in July 1207 the Pope ordered an interdict against England. This meant no Church services could happen. John responded by seizing Church property for failure to provide feudal service. After a while, the pope realised that too long a period without church services could lead to loss of faith, and gave permission for some churches to hold Mass behind closed doors in 1209, and in 1212, the pope allowed last rites to be given to the dying. While the interdict was a burden to many, it did not result in rebellion against John. In November 1209 John was excommunicated, and, in February 1213 Innocent threatened stronger measures unless John submitted, which he now did.
After putting down the Welsh Uprising of 1211 and settling his dispute with the pope, John turned his attention back to his overseas interests. His European wars ended in defeat at the Battle of Bouvines, after which John had accept an unfavourable peace with France. This finally turned the barons against him, and he met their leaders at Runnymede, near London, on 15 June 1215, Great Charter, which in Latin is known as the called, Magna Carta. Because he had signed under duress, however, John received approval from his overlord the Pope to break his word as soon as hostilities had ceased, provoking the First Barons' War. For a long time, schoolchildren have learned that King John had to approve Magna Carta by attaching his seal to it because he could not sign it. In fact, King John did sign the draft of the Charter that the negotiating parties hammered out in the tent on Charter Island at Runnymede on 15-18 June 1215, but it took the clerks and scribes working in the royal offices some time after everyone went home to prepare the final copies, which they then sealed and delivered to the appropriate officials. In those days, legal documents were sealed to make them official, not signed.
Marriage and children
In 1189, John was married to Avisa, daughter and heiress of William Fitz Robert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester. (She is sometimes referred to as Isabella, Hawise, Joan or Eleanor.) They had no children, and John had their marriage annulled around 1199, and she was never acknowledged as queen. In 1200, John married again, this time to Isabelle, the daughter of the Count of Angoulême, who was twenty years his junior. John and Isabelle had five children, including Henry, who went on to become the King when John died. John also had many illegitimate children.
In 1216, Prince Louis of France invaded after being invited by the majority of English barons to replace John on the throne. John retreated, and whilst crossing the area known as The Wash in East Anglia lost his most valuable treasures, including the Crown Jewels, when he was caught by the incoming tide. This dealt him a blow, which affected his health and state of mind. He caught dysentery and died on 18 or 19 October at Newark in Lincolnshire. He was buried in Worcester Cathedral, and his nine-year-old son succeeded him and became King Henry III of England. Although Louis continued to claim the English throne, the barons switched their support to the new king, forcing Louis to give up his claim in the Treaty of Lambeth in 1217.
Henry III (1216-1272)
Henry III was born on 1 October 1207 in Winchester Castle. He became King of England in 1216 aged only 9, when he succeeded his father, John. The barons who were in dispute with John quickly withdrew their support of Prince Louis as they considered Henry a safer option, especially as the regents who ruled for Henry declared their intention to rule by Magna Carta. Henry later grew into a thickset man of medium height, with a narrow forehead and a drooping left eyelid. When Henry reached maturity in 1227, the regency ended, and Henry was keen to restore royal authority.
Henry was extremely religious, and his journeys were often delayed by his insistence on hearing Mass several times a day. He was also much taken with the cult of the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor who had been made a saint in 1161. Told that St Edward dressed austerely, Henry did the same and wore only the simplest of robes. He had a mural of the saint painted in his bedchamber for inspiration before and after sleep, and named his eldest son after him. Henry designated Westminster, where St Edward had founded the abbey, as the fixed seat of power in England. Westminster Hall duly became the greatest ceremonial space of the kingdom, where the council of nobles also met. Henry appointed French architects to renovate Westminster Abbey in Gothic style, and work began at great expense in 1245. The centrepiece at the renovated Abbey was a shrine to Edward.
Henry's reign was marked by civil strife as the English barons, led by Simon de Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester, demanded more say in the running of the kingdom. After de Montfort married Henry's sister Eleanor without asking Henry, a feud developed between the two. Their relationship reached a crisis in the 1250s when de Montfort was brought to court on charges relating to actions he took as lieutenant of Gascony, the last remaining Plantagenet land across the English Channel. However, he was acquitted by the Peers of the realm, much to the King's displeasure.
Henry also funded a war in Sicily on behalf of the Pope in return for a title for his second son Edmund, which made many barons fear that Henry was following too much in the footsteps of his father and needed to be kept in check. De Montfort became leader of those who wanted to reassert Magna Carta and force the king to give more power to the baronial council. In 1258 seven leading barons forced Henry to agree to the Provisions of Oxford which effectively abolished the complete supremacy of the monarchy, and gave power to a council of fifteen barons to deal with the business of government and providing for a three yearly meeting of parliament to monitor their performance.
Henry was forced to take part in the swearing of a collective oath to the Provisions of Oxford. However, Henry's supporters and de Montfort's supporters grew further apart. When in 1262 Henry got the pope to say that he didn't need to take the oath anymore, both side raised armies and a civil war, known as the Second Barons' War started. By 1263 de Montfort had captured most of southeastern England by and at the Battle of Lewes on 14 May 1264, Henry was defeated and taken prisoner by de Montfort's army.
Henry remained king, but was kept under house arrest and the real power was held by de Montfort, who carried out a number of reforms, in particular increasing representation in parliament to include each county of England and many important towns rather than keeping it to the nobility. However many of the barons who supported de Montfort began to suspect that he had gone too far with his reforms.
Only fifteen months later, Henry's son Edward, who was held as prisoner with Henry, escaped and led the royalists into battle again. De Montfort was beaten at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and revenge was taken on de Montfort and his supporters.
Marriage and children
Henry married Eleanor of Provence in 1236 and he promoted many of his French relatives to power and wealth, which was unpopular among his subjects and barons. He was also extravagant: when his first child, Prince Edward was born, Henry demanded the Londoners bring him rich gifts to celebrate, and even sent back gifts that did not please him. He had at least four other children by Eleanor.
Henry died in 1272 and his body was first put in the tomb of Edward the Confessor, whilst his final resting place was constructed in Westminster Abbey. Henry was succeeded as King of England by his son, Edward.
Edward I (1272-1307)
Edward I was born in Westminster in 1239. He was King of England from 1272 until his death in 1307. Edward initially intended to call himself Edward IV, recognising the three Saxon kings of England of that name. However, for reasons unknown he was called Edward I instead - establishing the custom of numbering English monarchs only from the Norman Conquest. His nicknames include "Longshanks" because he was 6 foot 2 inch tall and the "Hammer of the Scots" as he kept Scotland under English domination. Unlike his father, King Henry III, Edward I took great interest in the workings of his government and made a number of reforms to preserve royal rights and improve the administration of the law.
Marriage and children
Edward married twice. His first marriage, in October 1254, was to Eleanor of Castile which produced sixteen children, and her death in 1290 affected Edward deeply. His second marriage, in September 1299, was to Marguerite of France (known as the "Pearl of France" by her English subjects), the daughter of King Philippe III of France. It produced three children.
In 1269 a representative of the pope arrived in England and appealed to Prince Edward, as he then was, to participate in the Eighth Crusade alongside King Louis IX of France. To fund the crusade, Edward borrowed heavily from Louis IX and English Jews, even though the size of Edward's crusading group was quite small. The aim was to relieve the Christian stronghold of Acre, but Louis was diverted to Tunis. By the time that Edward arrived at Tunis, Louis had died of disease. Most of the French forces at Tunis returned home, but a small number of them joined Edward who continued onwards to Acre in the Ninth Crusade. After a short stop in Cyprus, Edward arrived in Acre with thirteen ships. While in Acre, Edward engaged in diplomacy with the Mongols hoping to form an alliance against Sultan Baibars of Egypt, but the alliance did not happen. In 1271 Hugh III of Cyprus arrived with a contingent of knights. These new forces encouraged Edward to raid the town of Ququn. Soon afterwards Edward signed a ten year peace treaty with Baibars. Around the same time, Edward was nearly killed, but fought off his attacker with a metal tripod. Edward left the Holy Land and returned to England in 1272.
One of Edward's early achievements as king was to conquer Wales. Under the 1267 Treaty of Montgomery, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd extended Welsh territories southwards into what had been the lands of the English Marcher lords, and gained the title of Prince of Wales although he still owed homage to the English monarch as overlord. Edward refused to recognise the Treaty, which had been concluded by his father. After Llywelyn repeatedly refused to pay homage to Edward in 1274-75, Edward raised an army and launched his first campaign against the Welsh prince in 1276-77. After this campaign Llywelyn was forced to pay homage to Edward and lost all his lands apart from a small amount of Gwynedd, although Edward allowed Llywelyn to keep the title of Prince of Wales.
However, Llywelyn's younger brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, started another rebellion in 1282. Llywelyn died shortly afterwards in a skirmish, after which Edward destroyed the remaining resistance. He captured, brutally tortured and executed Dafydd in the next year. To consolidate his conquest, Edward then built a string of massive stone castles around the coast of Wales. Wales was incorporated into England under the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284. In 1301 Edward named his eldest son Edward as the new Prince of Wales. Ever since this, the eldest son of each English monarch has taken the same title.
Edward then turned to Scotland and, on 10 May 1291, Scottish nobles recognised the authority of Edward I. He had planned to marry off his son to the child queen, Margaret of Scotland, but when Margaret died the Scottish nobles agreed to have Edward select her successor from the various claimants to the throne, and he chose John Balliol. Edward summoned John Balliol to do homage to him in Westminster in 1293 and made it clear he expected John's military and financial support against France. Balliol did not accept this and entered into a pact with France and prepared an army to invade England.
Edward gathered his largest army yet and razed Berwick and massacred its inhabitants. He next went to Dunbar and Edinburgh. The Stone of Destiny, on which Scottish kings were crowned, was removed from Scone Palace and taken to Westminster Abbey, where it stayed until 1996. Balliol gave up the Scottish crown and was imprisoned in the Tower of London for three years before going to his estates in France. All freeholders in Scotland had to swear an oath of homage to Edward, and he ruled Scotland like a province through English Viceroys. Opposition sprang up, and Edward executed the focus of discontent, William Wallace, in 1305. Edward was never able to conquer of all Scotland though.
Edward died in 1307 at Burgh-by-Sands in Cumberland by the Scottish border, while on his way to wage another campaign against the Scots, who were led by Robert the Bruce. Against his wishes, Edward was buried in Westminster Abbey. His son, Edward, succeeded him as king.
Edward II (1307-1327)
Edward II was born in Caernarfon Castle on 25 April 1284, the fourth son of King Edward I by his first wife, Eleanor of Castile, but he became heir to the throne when he was just a few months old, when his elder brother Alfonso died. Edward II was the first English prince to hold the title of the Prince of Wales. There is a story that his father promised the Welsh a native prince who spoke no English and presented Edward II as a baby. However, this is not true, the story coming from a 16th-century Welsh work. Edward was king of England from 1307. The new king was physically as impressive as his father. He was, however, lacking in drive and ambition. His main interest was in entertainment, though he also took pleasure in athletics and in the practice of mechanical crafts. He was deposed in January 1327, after he had alienated the English nobility. He died the following September, in what has been said to be a very brutal manner.
Edward's first favourite
As a prince, Edward took part in several campaigns against the Scots, but "all his father's efforts could not prevent his acquiring the habits of extravagance and frivolity which he retained all through his life". Edward I put his son's problems down to Piers Gaveston, a knight from Gascony that some believe to have been the prince's lover. Gaveston was exiled by King Edward I after the then Prince Edward gave him a title reserved for royalty. When Edward I died, and Edward became King Edward II, his first acts were to recall Gaveston and to abandon the Scots campaign on which his father had set his heart. In the early years of Edward's reign Gaveston was made regent when Edward went to France.
In January 1308, Edward married Isabella of France, the daughter of King Philip IV of France. Although Edward and his wife had children, Isabella was neglected by her husband. They had two sons, Edward and John, and two daughters. Edward also had at least one illegitimate son. However, Edward spent much of his time with the few friends he shared power with, and looking to limit the power of the nobles. This made him appear to prefer the company of his male favourites, and in particular, Piers Gaveston, and this led to rumours that Edward was homosexual.
Gaveston married the king's niece, Margaret of Gloucester, and was given the earldom of Cornwall. The barons grew to hate Gaveston and twice insisted on his banishment, and Edward twice recalled his friend. As a result, the barons, led by the king's cousin, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, went to war against the king and Gaveston. Gaveston was assassinated in 1312. Edward was not strong enough to resist further, and he stood aside to allow the country to come under the rule of a baronial committee of twenty-one lords ordainers.
Bannockburn and the dominance of the barons
During the quarrels between Edward and the "ordainers", Robert the Bruce was re-conquering Scotland. His progress was so great that he had occupied all the fortresses apart from Stirling, which he besieged. The danger of losing Stirling shamed Edward and the barons into an attempt to make up their lost ground. In June 1314 Edward led a huge army into Scotland to relieve Stirling. On 24 June, his army was heavily defeated by Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn. Bruce was now sure of his position as King of Scots, and took revenge for Edward I's actions by devastating the northern counties of England.
Edward II's defeat made him more dependent on his barons than ever, but they started to argue amongst themselves. Eventually a group of barons so hated the other barons they supported more power for Edward, and he gained more authority after 1318. Edward now found an able adviser in Hugh le Despenser, 1st Earl of Winchester, a baron of great experience. His son, Hugh the younger Despenser, became a personal friend and favourite of Edward, and effectively replaced Gaveston. The barons hated the Despensers as much as Gaveston and resented the privileges Edward lavished them.
The rule of the Despensers
In 1321, the barons met in parliament, and had Hugh le Despenser and his son banished. This inspired Edward to act. In 1322 he recalled the Despensers from exile, and waged war against the barons on their behalf, which he won. For the next five years the Despensers ruled England. They instituted the rule that no law was valid unless the House of Commons had agreed to it, and this marks the most important step forward in Edward II's reign. But the rule of the Despensers soon became corrupt.
The Despensers had a dispute with Edward's queen, Isabella, over the building of a fortified town by the English possession of Aquitaine by Isabella's brother, King Charles IV of France. The Despensers took away the queen's estates. Queen Isabella kept silent until 1325, when she went to France to negotiate a solution to the dispute. Isabella's polite attitude to Despenser and Edward, despite her hostility to them, meant that she was considered loyal.
However, Isabella refused to return to her husband as long as the Despensers remained his favourites. On 24 September 1326 Isabella, with Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, and her son, Edward, landed a large army in Essex. She intended to expel the Despensers. Edward's followers deserted him, and on 2 October he fled London and took refuge in the younger Despenser's estates in Glamorgan. When Isabella entered London, there was a violent revolution in her favour and weeks of anarchy followed. Isabella's army followed Edward and the Despensers, and Edward was captured on 16 November and taken to Monmouth, and then Kenilworth, Castle.
On 20 January, Edward was forced to abdicate. The Articles of Deposition accused Edward of many offences including: being incompetent to govern, unwilling to heed good counsel, allowing himself to be controlled by evil councillors, giving himself up to unseemly works and occupations, and plundering the kingdom. A parliament met that same month at Westminster and Edward's son was proclaimed King Edward III, although in practice Isabella and Mortimer held power. Both Despensers were tried and executed. And the next day they had a battle with the Franks, half his army was killed!
Captivity and death
On 3 April, Edward was moved from Kenilworth and handed over to two dependants of Mortimer, who imprisoned him at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. It is said the Edward died in October 1327 when a red-hot iron (earlier reports say a piece of copper) was pushed up his bottom, a supposedly deserved end for a homosexual. There is no proof that this happened, and he may just have been suffocated instead.
Edward III (1327-1377)
Edward III was born at Windsor Castle on 13 November 1312. He was king from 1327 until his death in 1377. He was one of the most successful English kings of mediaeval times. Edward's reign was marked by an expansion of English territory through wars in Scotland and France. His reign was marked by the start of the Hundred Years' War.
Edward III was crowned on 25 January 1327, at the age of 14. As he was still a child, the country was ruled by his mother, Queen Isabella, along with Mortimer. Mortimer and Isabella made peace with the Scots, but this was highly unpopular. In 1330, the Earl of Kent, brother of Edward II, was executed for plotting to restore Edward II, who the Earl of Kent believed to still be alive. The Earl's execution lost Mortimer his last support, and as soon as Edward III came of age in 1330, he executed Roger Mortimer on charges of treason, which included the murder of Edward II. Edward III spared his mother, Queen Isabella, but made her retire from public life. The reign of Edward III saw continued war with Scotland, and Edward's first major military success was early in his reign at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, which he won in support of his puppet, the new Scottish king, Edward Balliol.
The Hundred Years' War
In 1328, Edward's uncle, King Charles IV of France, died without male heirs, although he did have a pregnant wife. This left Edward as the senior surviving male descendant of King Philip IV of France, who was Charles's and Queen Isabella's father. Edward's claim to the French throne was contested by French nobles who invoked Salic law, under which held that the royal succession could not pass through a female line. The French nobles therefore said that the legitimate king of France was Edward's cousin, Philip, who became King Philip VI of France.
Edward allied himself with the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis IV, in July 1337, and declared war on Philip VI. On 26 January 1340, Edward declared himself king of France. The conflict that had now started eventually became known as the Hundred Years' War. In fact it lasted longer than 100 years up to the 1450s, although this period did not see continuous fighting.
In 1346, Edward defeated the French at the Battle of Crecy, which was also fought by his sixteen-year-old son, Edward, the Black Prince. The Black Prince commanded England's victorious army at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. The first phase of the Hundred Years' War was concluded in 1360 with the Treaty of Brétigny, marking the height of English influence in France and providing a three million crown ransom for the release of the captured French king, who by that time was John II.
Edward's reign in England
While the king and the prince campaigned abroad, the government was left largely in the hands of the prince's younger brother, John of Gaunt. Economic prosperity from the developing wool trade created new wealth in the kingdom, but the bubonic plague, or Black Death, had a significant impact on the lives of his subjects. Commercial taxes became a major source of royal revenue, which had previously been largely from taxes on land. The Parliament of England became divided into two houses. At the beginning of Edward's reign, French, which came over with the Norman Conquest, was still the language of the English aristocracy, in 1362 English was made the official language of the law courts.
The king also founded an order of knighthood, the Order of the Garter, allegedly as a result of an incident when a lady, with whom he was dancing at a court ball, dropped an item of intimate apparel. Gallantly picking it up, Edward tied it around his own leg, and remarked Honi soit qui mal y pense ('Shame on him who thinks evil of it'), which became the motto of the Order of the Garter. The woman in the incident is known only as the "Countess of Salisbury". Some say it was Edward's daughter-in-law, Joan of Kent, but a more likely candidate is Joan's mother-in-law from her first marriage.
Facing a resurgent French monarchy and losses in France, Edward asked Parliament to grant him more funds by taxing the wine and wool trades, but this was badly received in 1374–1375 as a new outbreak of bubonic plague struck. The "Good Parliament" of 1376 criticised Edward's councillors, and advised him to limit his ambitions to suit his revenues.
Marriage and children
Edward III married Philippa of Hainault on 13 January 1328, when he was aged 15. The couple eventually produced thirteen children, including five sons who reached maturity. Their eldest son and Edward's heir was Edward the Black Prince, who was born in 1330. Edward was a notorious womaniser. After Philippa's death in 1369, Edward's mistress, Alice Perrers, became a byword for corruption.
Edward died of a stroke in 1377 at Sheen Palace and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His son Edward, the Black Prince, had died the year before, and so Edward III was succeeded by his young grandson, King Richard II of England, who was the son of the Black Prince.
Richard II (1377-1399)
Richard II was born on 6 January 1367 in Bordeaux. He was the son of Edward the Black Prince and grandson of Edward III, whom he succeeded as King of England in 1377, when aged only ten.
The Peasants' Revolt
John of Gaunt, his uncle, ruled on Richard's behalf for the first years of his reign and it was the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 that brought Richard into the limelight. It fell to him personally to negotiate with Wat Tyler and the other rebel leaders and their massed armed ranks of several thousand. As Richard was only 14 at the time, this must have taken some personal courage. He offered a pardon to the leaders of the rebellion, but he went back on his word and the ringleaders were eventually arrested and executed. It remains a matter of doubt as to whether Richard always intended this to happen, or whether he was forced to go against his word by some of the English nobility. Either way, his tactics had the desired effect of dispersing the rebel forces from the streets of London back to the shires and bringing the disorder to an end. The young king seemed to be showing great promise. As he matured into adulthood, however, he was unwilling or unable to deal and compromise, which was an essential aspect of 14th century politics. This led to his downfall.
On 22 January 1383 he married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, but they had no children, and she died in June 1394. On 31 October 1396 he married Princess Isabella of Valois, daughter of King Charles VI of France, but again the marriage was childless.
First crisis of 1387-88
As Richard began to take over the business of government himself, he sidelined many of the established nobles, and instead he turned to his inner circle of favourites for his council. The nobles he had snubbed formed the head of a group that called themselves the Lords Appellant. Their main aim was to seek to continue war with France, which went against Richard's policy of peace. This was an aim that many of them pursued in the interests of personal gain rather than the interests of the nation.
In 1387 the English Parliament, under pressure from the Lords Appellant, demanded that Richard remove his unpopular councillors. When he refused, he was told that since he was still a minor, a Council of Government would rule in his place. Richard had the Earl of Arundel, leader of the Lords Appellant, arrested, but Richard's small army was overpowered by the forces of the Lords Appellant outside Oxford, and Richard was held in the Tower of London. Richard's unpopular councillors were either executed or exiled, and Richard was forced to accept new councillors. Richard was effectively stripped of almost all his authority.
A fragile peace
In the years which followed, Richard became more cautious in his dealings with the barons. In 1390 a tournament was held to celebrate Richard's coming of age. The situation at court had improved since Richard's uncle John of Gaunt's return from Spain to lead the Lords Appellant. Richard’s team of knights, The Harts, all wore the identical symbol – a white hart – which Richard had chosen for himself. Richard himself favoured genteel interests like fine food, insisting spoons be used at his court and inventing the handkerchief. He beautified Westminster Hall with a new ceiling and was a keen and cultured patron of the arts, architecture and literature. However, his tastes were before his time and many began to see him as another Edward II figure, unworthy of his military Plantagenet heritage. Richard lacked the thirst for battle. His Scottish campaign in 1385 was not decisive, and he signed a 28-year truce with France in 1396 which was hugely unpopular at home in spite of the dividends that peace brought to the kingdom.
Richard's commitment to peace rather than war can also been seen in his first expedition to Ireland in 1394. He put forward a sensible policy based on the belief that the Irish rebels were motivated largely by the grievances they had against absentee English landowners. Those who he labelled the "wild Irish" - native Irish who had not joined the rebel cause - he treated with kindness and respect.
Second crisis of 1397-99
In spite of his forward-thinking attitude toward culture and the arts, Richard seems to have developed a passionate devotion to the old ideal of the Divine Right of Kings, that he could pretty much do whatever he wanted. In 1397 Richard decided to rid himself of the Lords Appellant, who were confining his power, on the pretext of an aristocratic plot. Richard had the Earl of Arundel executed and Warwick exiled, while Gloucester died in captivity. Finally able to exert his autocratic authority over the kingdom, he got rid of all those he saw as not totally committed to him, fulfilling his own idea of becoming God's chosen prince.
As Richard was still childless, the heir to the throne was Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March, and after his death in 1398, his seven-year-old son Edmund. However, Richard was more concerned with Gaunt's son and heir Henry Bolingbroke, whom he banished for ten years in 1399. After Gaunt's death, Richard seized Bolingbroke's lands and gave them to his own followers. At this point Richard left for a campaign in Ireland, which allowed Bolingbroke to land in Yorkshire with an army provided by the King of France. Richard's autocratic ways worried many nobles and were deeply unpopular, which helped Bolingbroke to soon gain control of most of southern and eastern England. Bolingbroke originally just wanted his inheritance and a return of the Lords Appellant, but with Richard remaining King and Edmund as his successor. But by the time Richard finally arrived back on the mainland in Wales, a tide of discontent had swept England. In the King's absence, Bolingbroke, who was generally well-liked, was being urged to take the crown himself.
Richard was captured at Conway Castle in Wales and taken to London, where crowds pelted him with rubbish. He was held in the Tower of London and forced to abdicate. He was brought, on his request, before parliament, where he officially gave up his crown. Thirty-three official charges were made against him, but he was not allowed to answer them. Parliament then accepted Henry Bolingbroke as the new king.
Richard was moved in Pontefract Castle, and was probably murdered there in 1400. Richard's body was put on display in the old St Paul's Cathedral for all to see that he was really dead, and he was then buried in Kings Langley Church. His coffin was badly designed, however, and it was easy for disrespectful visitors to place their hands through several openings in the coffin and interfere with what was inside. It is said that a schoolboy walked off with Richard's jawbone. Despite all this, rumours that Richard was still alive continued well into the reign of King Henry, who decided to move Richard's body to its final resting place in Westminster Abbey with much ceremony in 1413.