I’m trying something different with this blog post. It would seem that my original idea to write a snappy bite sized slice of history seems to have grown to be more of a rather bloated stodgy cake of history! I’m going to attempt a short Q & A of interesting facts about the Plantagenet’s. This is inspired by Derek Wilson’s brilliant A to Z of The Plantagenets in the November 2011 issue of BBC History Magazine.
Who were the Plantagenets?
The Plantagenet dynasty ruled England longer than any other royal family. Geoffrey of Anjou claimed the crowns of England and Normandy in right of his wife Matilda when Henry I died in 1135. Their son Henry was recognised as hair-apparent in 1154. The Plantagenets ruled until 1485 when Richard III, the last Plantagenet was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field by Henry Tudor who became Henry VII; the first Tudor Monarch.
What’s a Plantagenet?
In the twelfth century Geoffrey of Anjou wore a sprig of the common broom, known in Latin as the Planta genista in his hat. Plantagenet is a corruption of Geoffrey’s nickname Plantegenest or Plante Genest. Interestingly there is hardly any evidence of the name being used before the mid fifteenth century but has been applied retrospectively as a surname for all descendants of Geoffrey of Anjou. It’s suspected that the name was popularised by Shakespeare.
Who was Edward Longshanks?
Edward I of England
Edward longshanks was the nickname of Edward I who reigned from 1272 to 1307. Longshanks is a reference to Edwards tall stature and literally means “long legs” or “long shins”. On 2 May 1774, the Society of Antiquaries opened Edward’s tomb in Westminster Abbey. They reported that his body had been well preserved over the preceding 467 years, and measured the king’s body to be 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm). At this length, he would tower over most of his common contemporaries who would average around 5 feet 5 inches (170cm) in height.
How did the Wars of the Roses Start?
The Wars of the Roses was fought between two rival branches of the House of Plantagenet; the house of York and Lancaster. John of Gaunt (gaining his name from his birth place of Ghent) was the youngest son of Edward III. When Edward II died in 1377 he left his crown to his grandson Richard II, John became a leading political figure but courted controversy by attempting to separate the crown from the church. When John’s son Henry Bolingbroke rebelled against Richard II John initially supported the king but later switched alliances to support Bolingbroke’s claim to the throne sparking the Wars of the Roses.
Who Reigned The Longest?
Henry III ascended the throne in 1216 aged only 9 and reigned until his death in 1272; a total of 56 years. Henry spent extravagantly to emphasis the importance of the crown and the church. Henry extended Westminster Abby turning it into a shrine to Edward the Confessor and making it his seat of government. Henry spent much of his time fighting the baron s over the Magna Carta; a legacy from his father John.
Who was Revolting?
There were a number of revolts across medieval Europe during the Plantagenet reign. Perhaps the best known is the Peasants’ revolt of 1381 led by (among others) the articulate and violent Wat Tyler. The revolt was sparked by a combination of a heavy handed Poll Tax and a reduction in the labor force caused by the Black Death. Tax collectors attempted to collect the poll tax from villagers at Fobbing in Essex, the villages refused to pay and the tax collectors left empty handed. When Robert Belknap (Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas) arrived in Brentwood to investigate he was attacked. Violence spread and soon Essex and Kent were in full revolt. Soon after an armed uprising moved on London. Although the rebels that had gathered with Jack Straw were systematic with their violence the Kentish contingent led by Tyler embarked on an orgy of looting. The rebels dragged the Lord Chancellor (Simon of Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury) and the Lord Treasurer (Robert de Hales, the Grand Prior of the Knights Hospitallers of England) from the Tower of London and executed them. Richard II rode out at Smit hfield to meet the rebels. The meeting did not go well, Tyler was ran through with a sword and mortally wounded, the king hastily arranged a militia of 7000 to pursue the rebel leaders and execute them. The revolt later came to be seen as a mark of the beginning of the end of serfdom in medieval England, although the revolt itself was a failure.
When Geoffrey and Matilda’s son Henry was recognised as hair-apparent in 1154 England was just one part of a loose confederation of states, most of which lay in what is now France. As the Barons started to identify more with their English estates they lost interest in foreign adventure and by 1485 only Calais remained. The plantagenets attempted to excerpt their rule successfully over Wales and unsuccessfully over Scotland, Parliament was established as a partner in government and Henry V won one of the most famous battles in English history ; Agincourt!