The Plantagenets (1216-1485)

The Plantagenets were dominated by the two houses of York and Lancaster. Read on to find out more about some of the most notable monarchs of this royal house.

Henry III

Henry III (1216 – 1272)

John’s son, Henry was the first child monarch in English history since 1066, crowned in 1216 at the age of nine. With rule of the country taken up by his Regents, it would be eleven years before Henry took personal power of the throne.

Henry made little attempt to recover the English territories lost abroad and his financial policies, in particular his commitment to the Pope, made him very unpopular with his baron. This led to a civil war between Henry and those supporting the charismatic Simon de Montfort. During this time Henry was reduced to a figurehead monarch until his son Edward defeated de Montfort in battle, restoring the crown to its former glory until Henry’s death.

Edward I (1272 – 1307)

Ascending the throne of England after the death of his father, this formidable monarch was popularly known as ‘Longshanks’ because of his 6 foot 2 inch frame.

His defeat of Scottish rebellion earned him the nickname ‘Hammer of the Scots’; even his tombstone reads the latin inscription Hic est Edwardvs Primus Scottorum Malleus, which translates as "Here lies Edward I, Hammer of the Scots.”

Edward is primarily remembered as the monarch who conquered Wales and who kept Scotland under English domination during his lifetime. Centuries before Hitler, it was also Edward Longshanks who persecuted Jews living in England, forcing them to wear a yellow Star of David in public. In 1290, he finally banished all Jews from the country.

Edward II (1307 – 1327)

The fourth son of the previous King Edward, Edward II was the first English prince to hold the title of Prince of Wales. Throughout his reign he had a tendency to ignore his noble duties in favour of ‘low-born’ activities such as entertaining and athletics. The frustration his actions caused in the nobility led to constant political unrest and eventually he was deposed by Isabella of France.

Isabella accused Edward of, among other crimes, being incompetent to govern, unwilling to heed good counsel and plundering the kingdom.

Today, he is perhaps best remembered for the brutal method of his alleged murder, with a red hot poker up his backside! This account however has since been discounted by many historians, in favour of the theory that he was suffocated.

Edward III (1327 – 1377)

Enjoying a fifty-year reign, Edward III is seen as being one of the more successful Plantagenet Kings and it would be over 400 years before another monarch would sit on the throne for that duration. It was Edward who founded the Order of the Garter, the world's oldest national order of knighthood and the pinnacle of the British honours system, which still continues today.

His reign was also marked by the expansion of English territory through wars in Scotland and France. In particular, it was during his reign that the Hundred Years War began, a struggle between England and France.

Richard II (1377 – 1399)

Due to many unexpected family deaths, Edward III’s grandson Richard ascended to the throne at the age of ten. During Richard II’s reign the seeds were sown for the War of the Roses and for the next century the crown would be disputed by two conflicting family strands, the Lancastrians and the Yorkists.

It’s also worth noting that Richard employed a certain Geoffrey Chaucer as diplomat and Clerk Of The King’s Works, and Richard enjoyed a fruitful and lasting professional relationship with the great writer. Towards the end of his reign however, a tide of discontent had swept the country, most notably with the Peasants Revolt of 1381. Richard was eventually deposed and died a prisoner, leaving no heir.

The House of Lancaster

Henry IV (1399-1413)

The first of three monarchs from the house of Lancaster, Henry was the son of John of Gaunt, Richard II's chief adviser. Several conflicts between Richard and Gaunt caused the King to deprive Henry of his inheritance; livid, Henry invaded England. Richard soon surrendered in August and Henry was crowned King the following month. Henry's coronation is notable as the first time since 1066 that the monarch made a public address in English.

Henry IV also has the rather dubious honour of being the first English King to allow the burning of heretics.

Following years of severe ill health Henry finally died and was buried not at Westminster Abbey but at Canterbury Cathedral – the only King laid to rest there - leaving his son Henry to take the throne.

Henry V (1413 – 1422)

History and English literature has recorded Henry V as being a truly heroic British monarch. True enough, by the time Henry died, he had not only quashed civil war and consolidated power as King of England but had also succeeded where generations of his ancestors had failed: unification of the crowns of England and France.

Henry V is perhaps best known for his brilliant victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt, immortalised by Shakespeare’s rousing play. However, this success would be short-lived; he died of dysentery at Bois de Vincennes on August 31, 1422. Had he lived another two months, he would have been crowned King of France.

Henry VI (1422 – 1461; 1470 – 1471)

Possibly the youngest king in English history, the King’s sole heir ascended the throne at the age of nine months! Great things were expected of Henry, but he turned out to be a weak and incompetent ruler. His concerns for religious piety over governance led to dissent in his court, particularly from the Yorkist faction.

Henry was finally captured and deposed in 1461, with Edward of York crowned King Edward IV in June. However, a quarrel between Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick led Warwick to restore Henry back to the throne in October 1470. However, Edward ultimately destroyed the Lancastrian forces at Tewkesbury and Henry was murdered in the Tower of London.

The House of York

Edward IV (1461-1470; 1471–1483)

Edward was the eldest surviving son of Richard Plantaganet, Duke of York, who, following his succession to the throne, seemed to spend the entirety of his first reign trying to fight off Lancastrian opposition, further complicated by his former ally the Earl of Warwick turning against him. At the end of his first stint as King, Edward fled to the Netherlands until he and his brother Richard returned to England, defeated the Lancastrians and had Henry executed.

Edward's second reign was a period of relative peace and security. A popular king, he lived a rather debauched existence; indeed it is believed that it was this that finally killed him. After his death his sons, Edward and Richard, were left in the protection of their Uncle Richard, who housed them in the Tower of London, where they ‘disappeared’. What happened to these ‘Princes In The Tower’ is one of the great mysteries of English history, although it is widely viewed that Uncle Richard had them killed, securing his place on the throne.

Richard III (1483 – 1485)

Following the deaths of his nephews, Richard was crowned King Richard III, the last monarch of the Yorkist dynasty. The legend of Richard as a deformed hunchback and wicked tyrant is well known, but it belies a King who was actually a devout man and an efficient ruler. However, his seizing of the throne left him with many enemies.

After a rebellion led by Richard's former ally the Duke of Buckingham failed, anti-Richard support found a figurehead in the last man with claim to Lancastrian roots - the previously unimportant Henry Tudor. At the same time Richard's support began to dwindle, and he was killed in the famous Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard III was the last English King to die in battle.