House of Plantagenet

The House of Plantagenet (pronounced /plænˈtædʒɨnɨt/), a branch of the Angevins, was a royal house founded by Geoffrey V of Anjou, father of Henry II of England. Plantagenet kings first ruled the Kingdom of England in the 12th century. Their paternal ancestors originated in the French province of Gâtinais and gained the County of Anjou through marriage during the 11th century. The dynasty accumulated several other holdings, building the Angevin Empire which at its peak stretched from the Pyrenees to Ireland.

In total, fifteen Plantagenet monarchs, including those belonging to cadet branches, ruled England from 1154 until 1485. The initial branch ruled from Henry II of England until the deposition of Richard II of England in 1399. After that, a junior branch, the House of Lancaster, ruled for some fifty years, before clashing with another branch, the House of York, in a civil war known as the Wars of the Roses over control of England. After three ruling Lancastrian monarchs, the crown returned to senior primogeniture with three ruling Yorkist monarchs, the last of whom, Richard III, was killed in battle during 1485. The legitimate male line went extinct with the execution of Richard’s nephew, Edward, Earl of Warwick in 1499. However an illegitimate scion, Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, was active at the court of Henry VIII of England. Several illegitimate lines persist, including the Dukes of Beaufort.

A distinctive English culture and art emerged during the Plantagenet era, encouraged by some of the monarchs who were patrons of the “father of English poetry”, Geoffrey Chaucer. The Gothic architecture style was popular during the time, with buildings such as Westminster Abbey and York Minster remodeled in that style. There were also lasting developments in the social sector, such as John of England’s signing of the Magna Carta. This was influential in the development of common law and constitutional law. Political institutions such as the Parliament of England and the Model Parliament originate from the Plantagenet period, as do educational institutions including the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

The eventful political climate of the day saw the Hundred Years’ War, where the Plantagenets battled with the House of Valois for control of the Kingdom of France, as both claimed House of Capet seniority. Some of the Plantagenet kings were renowned as warriors: Henry V of England left his mark with a famous victory against larger numbers at the Battle of Agincourt, while Richard the Lionheart had earlier distinguished himself in the Third Crusade; he was later romanticised as an iconic figure in English folklore.

The Angevin Curse

Civil war and rebellion

“ It is the common fate of sons to be misunderstood by their fathers, and of fathers to be unloved of their sons, but it has been the particular bane of the English throne.”

The “Angevin Curse” is infamous amongst the Plantagenet rulers. Trying to divide his lands amongst numerous ambitious children resulted in many problems for Henry. The king’s plan for an orderly transfer of power relied on Young Henry ruling and his younger brothers doing homage to him for land. However, Richard refused to be subordinate to his brother, because they had the same mother and father, and the same Royal blood. Also, Richard was his mother’s favorite, and had been promised the rulership of Aquitaine; when Henry attempted to overset this arrangement, Richard was enraged and rebellious.

In 1173, Young Henry and Richard moved against their father and his succession plans, trying to secure the lands they were promised. The king’s changing and revising of his inheritance nurtured jealousy in his offspring, which turned to revolt. While both Young Henry and Richard were relatively strong in France, they still lacked the manpower and experience to trouble their father unduly. The king crushed this first rebellion and was fair in his punishment, Richard for example, lost half of the revenue allowed to him as Count of Poitou.

In 1182, the Plantagenet children’s aggression turned inward. Young Henry, Richard and their brother Geoffrey all began fighting each other for their father’s possessions on the continent. The situation was exacerbated by French rebels and the king of France, Philip Augustus. This was the most serious threat to come from within the family yet, and the king faced the dynastic tragedy of civil war. However, on 11 June 1183, Henry the Young King died. The uprising, which had been built around the Prince, promptly collapsed and the remaining brothers returned to their individual lands. Henry quickly occupied the rebel region of Angoulême to keep the peace.

The final battle between Henry’s Princes came in 1184. Geoffrey of Brittany and John of Ireland, the youngest brothers, had been promised Aquitaine, which belonged to elder brother Richard. Geoffrey and John invaded, but Richard had been controlling an army for almost 10 years and was an accomplished military commander. Richard expelled his fickle brothers and they would never again face each other in combat, largely because Geoffrey died two years later, leaving only Richard and John.