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Plantagenet Dynasty

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Plantagenet Dynasty

The Plantagenet Dynasty was a family of rulers from 1154 to 1485. During this period, they ruled England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and parts of what is now France. What made these rulers distinctive? How did they change the European landscape?

Plantagenet Dynasty, Plantagenet Coat of Arms, StudySmarter

Plantagenet Coat of Arms. Source: Sodacan, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Plantagenet Dynasty: Summary and History

The Plantagenets ruled over vast regions with very different cultures, economies, and landscapes. Their "empire" was decentralized and loosely controlled by feudal vassals pledged to the king's service. This decentralization made the regions, especially those on the European Continent, vulnerable to attack. Constant warfare with France over territory occurred during the Plantagenet dynasty's centuries in power, including the Hundred Years' War that lasted from 1337 to 1453.

The Plantagenet line was founded by Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, and Empress Matilda, the only surviving child of King Henry I of England. Henry I named his daughter heir to England's throne, but she was in Anjou when he died in 1135. Her cousin Stephen seized the throne in her absence and proclaimed himself king. Matilda retaliated, leading to a period of chaos, political instability, and bloodshed known as The Anarchy (1138-1153).

Neither side would agree to a truce until 1153, when Stephen's wife and only son died. Finally, Matilda and Stephen struck a deal where Matilda and Geoffrey's son Henry would become king upon Stephen's death. When Stephen died in 1154, Henry II succeeded to the throne, beginning the Plantagenet dynasty.

Origins of the Name Plantagenet

Plantagenet comes from the Latin name of the Common Broom plant (Plante Genest). Geoffrey of Anjou often used to wear it in his hat, and it developed as a nickname. Later, Geoffrey's descendant Richard of York formally adopted the name for his family in the fifteenth century.

Plantagenet Dynasty, Common Broom plant, StudySmarter

Plante Genest, or Common Broom, was used in the heraldic badge for the Plantagenet dynasty. Source: Sodacan, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Plantagenet Dynasty Rulers

Plantagenet Dynasty, Plantagenet rulers timeline, StudySmarter

Timeline of Plantagenet Rulers. Source: CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Henry II (1133-1189): Henry ascended the English throne in 1154 after his great-uncle Stephen died, making him the first Plantagenet king. He is best known for being a ruthless warrior and, in attempting church reform, caused the murder of Tomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was later sainted.

He had eight children with his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The eldest, Henry the Young King, rebelled against his father over inheritance rights in 1173, even though he had been named co-ruler by his father. Henry II defeated the revolt, but his son died in the fighting. Henry died from a bleeding ulcer more than fifteen years later, abandoned by most of his family, who had joined the rebellion.

Plantagenet Dynasty, Portrait of King Henry II of England, StudySmarter

King Henry II, from the "Henry Plantagenet Book." Source: PD-Art, Wikimedia Commons

Richard I, the Lion-Hearted (1157-1199): Richard, Henry II's second son, became king in 1189. He was entirely devoted to the Crusades in the Holy Land and his family's Continental territories and therefore spent only a handful of months in England during his reign. Regardless, he is remembered as a valiant and ideal king.

John I (1166-1216): When Richard died in the Crusades without an heir, his younger brother John became king in 1199. Where Richard was a hands-off type of king, John was the opposite. He enjoyed administration and traveled around England to see his policies carried out. However, the nobility was against the scrutiny the king paid to the management of the reign and revolted in 1215. The nobles forced John to sign the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta (1215)

The Magna Carta is a charter outlining the rights of the king's subjects. It demanded that a king follow common law and not introduce new administrative measures such as extra taxation. By forcing John to sign the Magna Carta, his nobles declared that even a king was not above the law, thereby imposing limitations on a monarch's power. This document outlined common law for the first time and remains an important constitutional document.

John is considered one of the worst kings in English history. He lost most of the Plantagenet landholdings on the Continent to France and engaged in a power struggle with the Pope. In retaliation, Pope Innocent III put England under interdict for four years from 1209 to 1213, meaning that all churches closed and clergy performed no services. John only patched things up when he needed papal support for a new war against France.

Did you know?

The territories lost by John gained him the nickname of "John Lackland" precisely because he "lacked lands"!

Henry III (1207-1272): Henry became king at nine years old after his father died in 1216. His reign was marked by constant wars with his nobility, who demanded more rights and failed attempts to regain lost lands on the Continent.

Edward I (1239-1307): Edward was on a crusade when his father died in 1272, and it took him two years to return to England. He is best known as the conqueror of Wales, forcing its integration with England and beginning a brutal war with Scotland, which continued after his death. He also expelled the Jews from England in 1290, which was not overturned until 1657.

Plantagenet Dynasty, Painting of King Edward I of England, StudySmarter

King Edward I. Source: Westminster Abbey, United Kingdom, CC-PD-Mark

Edward II (1284-1327): Edward II was a weak king compared to his imposing father. He relied overmuch on his favorite, a commoner named Piers Gaveston, which infuriated the nobility. They rebelled against Edward, forced him to sign ordinances limiting his power, and banished Gaveston. When Edward revoked the ordinances and recalled his favorite, the nobles executed Gaveston, leading to more war between Edward and the English nobility.

Edward chose a new favorite, Hugh Despenser, who meddled with politics even more and turned the king against his French Queen, Isabella. She took the heir with her when she went to France to negotiate a treaty on her husband's behalf. Isabella then refused to return to England until Edward dismissed his favorite. When he would not, she raised an army and forced his abdication. Edward was thrown in jail and died of mysterious circumstances.

Queen Isabella of France (1295-1358)

Queen Isabella was the daughter of Phillip IV, King of France, and married Edward II to ally with France and England. However, relationships between the two countries were still strained. Isabella was an able diplomat, and her husband and son utilized her skills for negotiation with the French royal court. While many believe she was locked away in a tower after her son ousted her from power in 1330, she was actually still politically active and a trusted advisor to Edward III.

Edward III (1312-1377): While Edward became king in 1327, his mother Isabella ruled as regent during his first three years on the throne. He staged a coup in 1330 that ousted her from power and then began to rule in his own right. He strengthened England's military power and is best known for starting the Hundred Years' War in 1337 by declaring himself the rightful king of France through his mother's side. Edward also had thirteen children, including five surviving sons, whose infighting would later cause the Wars of the Roses.

Richard II (1367-1400): Edward III's son died during the Hundred Years' War, so his grandson succeeded him in 1377. He was ten years old. Richard preferred art and culture to war and tried to end the Hundred Years' War with France. This perceived weakness made him very unpopular with his nobility. When he tried to remove his cousin Henry from the line of succession in 1399, they revolted and forced Richard to abdicate. The king died in prison.

Henry IV (1367-1413): Henry was the son of Edward III's third surviving son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. After he deposed Richard II, he took the throne for himself in 1399. Henry fought one uprising after another during his reign before passing the administration to his son in 1410.

Henry V (1386-1422): Henry V is best known for restarting the Hundred Years' War with France. He was an able military commander and crushed the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He negotiated a peace treaty with France that named him heir to their throne, but everything fell apart because of his early death in 1422.

Plantagenet Dynasty, Portrait of King Henry V of England, StudySmarter

King Henry V painted in the sixteenth century. Source: National Portrait Gallery, United Kingdom, NPG 545.

Henry VI (1421-1471): Henry was only a baby when he became king. His reign was marred by a series of economic and military disasters that led to the loss of nearly all of England's French territories before the Hundred Years' War ended in 1453. In addition, Henry's perceived weakness and mental instability caused a power struggle with his cousin Richard, Duke of York, igniting the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485). Richard's son Edward deposed Henry from 1461 to 1470. He was briefly reinstated as king before being forced to abdicate again in 1471. Henry was murdered in the Tower of London later that year.

Edward IV (1442-1483): After Henry VI's second forced abdication, Edward became king in 1470. His reign was relatively peaceful despite opposition from Henry Tudor, the Lancaster claimant to the throne. However, he died suddenly, leaving his twelve-year-old son as king. Young Edward V reigned for a month before his uncle seized the throne from him and locked him and his brother in the Tower of London. They were never seen again.

Richard III (1452-1485): Richard was Edward IV's brother and the last Plantagenet ruler. He declared his brother's marriage invalid and blocked Edward's sons from succeeding to the throne because they were illegitimate. His reign saw numerous revolts, culminating in the Battle of Bosworth Field against Henry Tudor in 1485. Richard III was killed, and the Plantagenet line ended.

Replacement of the Plantagenet Dynasty

King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, ending the royal Plantagenet line. Henry Tudor became King Henry VII and began the Tudor Dynasty. He married Elizabeth of York, Edward IV's daughter, to heal the divide between Lancaster and York, which ended the Wars of the Roses. The last legitimate Plantagenet was Edward, Earl of Warwick, who was executed in 1499 for plotting to overthrow Henry VII.

Plantagenet Facial Features

The Plantagenet line inherited long, sloping noses and drooping eyelids set farther back into the skull. Many, for example, King Edward II, were considered handsome. In 2012, archeologists discovered the remains of King Richard III under a parking lot where Greyfriars Church used to sit. Researchers recreated Richard's facial features from the skeleton and revealed the same long-sloping nose and sunken eyes.

Plantagenet Dynasty, Forensic reconstruction of King Richard III, StudySmarter

Forensic reconstruction of Richard III's face, 2015. Source: Ann Longmore-Etheridge, Flickr

Plantagenet Dynasty - Key takeaways

  • The Plantagenet Dynasty ruled England from 1154 to 1485.
  • The first ruler was Henry II, and the last was Richard III.
  • The Plantagenet kings ruled during the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses.
  • Early Plantagenets ruled over vast, decentralized regions in the British Isles and Continental Europe. Gradually they lost their Continental holdings to France.

Frequently Asked Questions about Plantagenet Dynasty

The Plantagenet dynasty was a family line of monarchs, who ruled England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and parts of France. They were in power from 1154 to 1485.

After the defeat of King Richard III in 1485, the Plantagenet dynasty ended and the Tudor dynasty began.

The name comes from the Latin name for a plant, the common broom (Plante Genest). The house's founder, Geoffrey of Anjou, often used to wear it in his hat and it developed as a nickname. Descendent Richard of York adopted the name formally in the fifteenth century.

The Plantagenet Dynasty lasted from 1154 to 1485.

Rulers included kings Henry II to Henry VI, Edward I to Edward V, and Richard I to Richard III.

Final Plantagenet Dynasty Quiz


What parts of Europe did the Plantagenet Dynasty NOT rule?

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When did the Plantagenet line of kings begin?

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When did the Plantagenet line of kings end?

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Who was the first Plantagenet king?

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Henry II

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Who was the last Plantagenet king?

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Richard III

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What dynasty replaced the Plantagenets as kings of England?

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Tudor Dynasty

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What wars were Plantagenet kings most active in?

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Hundred Years' War and Wars of the Roses

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Who was forced to sign the Magna Carta by his nobles?

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Who started the Hundred Years' War?

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Edward III

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How did the Plantagenet Dynasty end?

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King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Henry Tudor became King Henry VII, beginning the Tudor Dynasty.

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