Follow TV Tropes


Useful Notes / The House of Plantagenet

Go To

"What I love about the Plantagenet story is that it's more shocking, more brutal, and more astonishing than anything you'll find in fiction."
Dan Jones, Britain's Bloodiest Dynasty.

The longest running dynasty in English history, running from 1154 to 1485.

For much of this period, the King of England was also Duke of Aquitaine (and later, claimed to be king of all France) and ruled several other places — the first three Kings didn't speak English at all, and the first four identified themselves as French, or at least Angevin, first. French remained the official court language until 1361.

Part of the broader House of Anjou (hence the term "Angevin"), which was noted for having its members turn up just about everywhere you look in medieval European history, much like the Habsburgs would later on (though the Angevins didn't quite reach the same scale). They also got the nickname "The Devil's Brood" from an old legend that they were descended from a union between some past Count of Anjou and the daughter of Satan himself, which offered as good an explanation as any for the family's leanings toward violence and infighting. (Interestingly, the Plantagenets themselves did little to discourage the legend.) The etymology of "Plantagenet" remains unclear; one of many popular theories suggests the blossom of common broom, a bright yellow ("gold") flowering plant, genista in medieval Latin, as the source of the nickname. note 

The Wars of the Roses - which could kindly be described as the biggest family spat England has ever seen - kicked off towards the end of this, so monarchs changed back and forth a bit.

Note that the regnal numbers given below for the earlier kings are anachronistic. Like the Normans before them, the early Angevin kings were known only by their first name and a sobriquet, either a nickname or their place of birth—the former being more common in the earlier period, while place names became virtually standard towards the end of the main line of the dynasty. Regnal numbers were assigned by law clerks in the time of Edward III.note  The tradition of regnal nicknames continued until the end of the Plantagenet era, although (with a few exceptions) it wasn't used as often after Edward's reign. Each king's most common sobriquet is given here in parentheses after his regnal name.

Fifteen male monarchs here:

The Angevins (1154 ― 1216)

Henry II of England
Lived: 5 March 1133 –- 6 July 1189
Reigned: 25 October 1154 –- 6 July 1189
Parents: Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou and Empress Matilda of the Holy Roman Empire
Consort: Duchess Eleanor Of Aquitaine
Nicknames: Henry Curtmantle (French: Court-manteau); Henry FitzEmpress;note  Henry Plantagenetnote 

It has been said that his father, Geoffrey V of Anjou, gave the Plantagenets their name from the broom-plant he wore on his chest, the Latin name of which was Planta Genista. This etymology, however, cannot be dated back beyond the 15th century. (Neither can members of his family using "Plantagenet" as a last name; the first was Richard, Duke of York, pretender to the throne and father of Edward IV and Richard III).

Stabilized England after the chaos of the Civil War between his mother Matilda and her cousin King Stephen (Matilda was the designated heir but, you know, she was a chick, plus married to Anjou, whose house was the traditional enemy of the House of Normandy, leading to the Civil War for all but 5 years of Stephen's disputed reign). Thanks to a combination of inheritance, marriage, conquest and treaties, ruled what would later be called the Angevin Empire (named for Anjou in western France, the original land his father Geoffrey held). Comprised England, parts of Wales and Ireland, and the western half of modern France; at its peak, it stretched north to south from River Tweed to the Pyrenees. It was less of a unified empire, and more of a collection of territories which happened to have the same overlord (though he still paid homage to the King of France for the French territories, it was pretty much lip service), but still damn impressive.

Famous today for three things:

1. Founded the concept of The Common Law, a legal system where the law is usually determined by court decisions, and the foundation for the legal systems of the UK, the United States and Commonwealth countries such as Canada.

2. After a dispute over who should be the High King of Ireland, he took advantage of a Papal Edict of 1158 ― issued by the only English Pope, Adrian IV (born Nicholas Breakspeare (No, really)) ― that gave overlordship of Ireland to the King of England to establish an English zone of control (The Pale) around Dublin, which had repercussions for centuries to come.

3. The most (in)famous thing was that he got into a savage argument with the original Turbulent Priest, his one time friend Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, over whether the Church was subordinate to secular authority. His expression of frustration was construed to be a Royal Command: a Rhetorical Request Blunder. Four knights made haste to Canterbury and brutally murdered Becket. The murder of an archbishop at the altar of his own cathedral on orders from the King was considered the worst crime in Christendom for a long time, and clouded Henry's reputation in history. It was something for which Henry appeared to truly show regret and remorse, and he was publicly whipped as penance by the canons of Canterbury Cathedral.note  (Becket, on the other hand, got made into a saint and had a great film made about him in which he was played by Richard Burton. Henry was played by Peter O'Toole).

Had many mistresses (notably Rosamund Clifford and (reputedly) Princess Alice of France), and therefore illegitimate children, but also had five legitimate sons and a few legitimate daughters as well. William died when only two years old, Henry the Young King died from dysentery, and Geoffrey of Brittany was trampled by a horse. When his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine had had enough of his infidelity and his high-handedness over Aquitaine, she successfully manipulated her surviving sons into rebellion against him. (Their fraught relationship was depicted in a great film in which Katharine Hepburn won a record third Oscar for playing Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry was played by Peter O'Toole. Yes, again.) Although so ill he could barely speak above a whisper, he let loose one final Badass Boast toward his son Richard during said rebellion by telling him, "God grant that I don't die before I can take my revenge on you". Unfortunately for him, he died shortly afterwards upon hearing the news that his favorite son John was siding with Richard. Today, Henry is regarded by most historians as one of England's better Kings even though he died believing his reign to have been a failure.

Henry (the Young King)
Lived: 28 February 1155 –- 11 June 1183
Co-reigned: June 1170 –- 11 June 1183
Parents: King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine
Consort: Margaret of France
Nickname: Henri le Jeune Roy

Son of Henry II, appointed co-regent with his father, following the French tradition — he’s often described as the “junior king”. Because he predeceased his father, is not counted as Henry III, and it's often forgotten that he was ever King at all, inasmuch as, though he reigned, he never ruled, unlike his brother(s)…

Richard I of England
Lived: 8 September 1157 –- 6 April 1199
Reigned: 6 July 1189 –- 6 April 1199
Parents: King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine
Consort: Berengaria of Navarre
Nickname: Richard the Lionheart (French: Richard Cœur de Lion)

Richard I spent most of his reign abroad ― he was only in England for 6 months of his 10-year reign ― most famously leading the Third Crusade against Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, better known to English-speakers as Saladin. He is the only monarch better known by his nickname than his regnal number.

A small-scale pogrom kicked off around his coronation and he was forced to order the Jews of England to be left alone. An account of the massacre used the word holocaustum to describe it.

Spent a massive amount of money on the Crusade, sold titles, raised taxes, etc. Having managed to annoy Leopold V, Duke of Austria, he was spotted in a village near Vienna eating roast chicken while dressed as a peasant, so was captured and held prisoner from 1192 to 1194. Cue one literal king's ransom (the sum was 2-3 times the annual income of the English crown). Richard spent most of the rest of his reign fighting Philip II Augustus of France and doing quite well. In 1199, he got shot by a crossbow bolt, was badly treated, and died. He wanted to let the fellow (in some accounts a young boy) who shot him go, but Mercadier, the captain of Richard's mercenaries, flayed him alive as soon as Richard had died, perhaps at the command of Richard's sister. Charming.

Once shared a bed with Philip while he was a prince, leading to speculation that it was that sort of bed sharing, but it was more likely entirely non-sexual and just a political thing. Men shared beds more commonly in those days, and in some places do still.

While Richard I was away, Prince John, his brother, seized control of England from the regents the King had left in charge. This plays a key part in the Robin Hood mythos, with Robin Hood fighting along with his band of outlaws to keep England safe from the corrupt rule of John until Richard's return. (In the early ballads, however, it's one of the Edwards' reigns that is the setting.)

Historians differ wildly over Richard's quality. There is a statue of him, by Marochetti, outside the Palace of Westminster.

Richard had a fierce temper, much like his father. He once leaned into his family's legend as descendants of Satan by boasting, "From the Devil we came and to the Devil we shall go!"

Had no legitimate heirs,note further note  so the throne went to his younger brother...

John of England
Lived: 24 December 1166 –- 18 or 19 October 1216
Reigned: 6 April 1199 –- 19 October 1216
Parents: King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine
Consorts: (1) Isabella, Countess of Gloucester (1189—1199); (2) Isabella, Countess of Angoulême (1200—1216)
Nickname: John Lackland (French: Jean sans Terre)

Fourth son of Henry II. Known as "Lackland" (since, being the fourth son, he didn't get any land to inherit at first and then when he did, he lost all the French territories) and "Soft-sword" (for supposedly being a poor general).

Henry II's youngest, he was also his most beloved son. The lacking of land was not intentional—John was supposed to become Lord of Ireland, but as Ireland had yet to be properly conquered when Henry the Young King, Geoffrey, and Richard went to war against their father, John never got his hands on the territory. Henry often showered John with gifts and responsibilities—indeed, the straw that broke the camel's back when it came to the Great Revolt was Henry II's transfer of three of Henry the Young King's castles to John. It should come as no surprise that it was John's decision to side with his brothers in the second revolt that sent Henry II, already seriously ill, catatonic to his deathbed.

Gets a reputation for being evil, and was accused of murdering his nephew Arthur. Some revisionist historians think he was reasonably good, but unscrupulous, and with an eye for the ladies. Similarly, many now believe that he was not so much an incompetent general as a ridiculously unlucky one. Fathered a lot of illegitimate kids, mostly with the surname FitzRoy (son of King) - sadly, is also known to have been a prolific serial rapist.

As mentioned, plays a key role in the Robin Hood mythos, sometimes as the Big Bad to the Sheriff of Nottingham's Dragon.

John has been blamed for losing France. Traditionally historians hold a rather mixed view of this; several centuries of nationalism in both England and France have led many to regard the Angevin Empire as something of an aberration and its demise as inevitable, or even welcome. Regardless, from a purely dynastic and personal point of view it is difficult to see it as anything other than a disaster. Anjou and Normandy were richer and more populated than most of England and their loss in 1203-04 fatally undermined his reign.

You either like him or hate him. His refusal to admit Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury caused Pope Innocent III to place the English Church under an interdict from 1208 to 1214. He was considered to be kind and friendly with the Jews, which was one of the things his enemies used to rally against him. The barons who hated him got him to sign the Magna Carta (Great Charter) in 1215, which the Pope annulled (not entirely unjustified; since John was forced to sign it, that is a pretty strong argument against its legitimacy). This caused the Barons to invite Prince Louis of France to invade England. John then died of dysentery while on campaign (though the legend persisted that he had been poisoned by a monk), and the Barons lost their appetites for French rule, so they reissued Magna Carta in the name of his nine-year-old son.
Magna Carta was hugely significant as the first document forced onto a king by his subjects, to limit his powers and enshrine certain rights and liberties of the people. Though its specific clauses have been almost all repealed or modified (or codified in a different form) over the centuries, it remains one of the symbolic foundation stones of the unwritten British constitution and an important part of the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in the English-speaking world.

John's one success from a dynastic point of view, especially in contrast with his much more popular brother Richard, was the very large number of legitimate male-line descendants he produced. The streak of five father-to-son successions started by him and ended by his great-great-grandson Edward III is the longest in English history, and every subsequent Plantagenet monarch was a direct male-line descendant of his.

When his grandson Edward I (then a prince) named his first son John, it caused a minor scandal. Since that John died in infancy, King John is the only English King to have been named John, and will probably remain so. The popular misconception that there is a taboo in the English (later British) royal against giving sons the name John is, however, disproved not just by Edward I's eldest son, but also by Edward III's son John of Gaunt (father of Henry IV) and George V's youngest son, Prince John.note 

The Plantagenets (1216—1399)

Henry III of England
Lived: 1 October 1207 –- 16 November 1272
Reigned: 19 October 1216 –- 16 November 1272
Parents: King John and Isabella, Countess of Angoulême
Consort: Eleanor of Provence
Nickname: Henry of Winchester

Chafed under the restrictions of Magna Carta, and desperately wanted to recapture the lands his father lost. His political machinations backfired horribly, and for the first half of the 1200's he was essentially a puppet king, while the country was ruled by parliament. This lasted until his son Edward made a daring escape from being held hostage, and won an important battle at Evesham in which the parliamentary leader Simon de Monfort was cut to pieces.

Later half of his reign was rather stable, and he managed to make England economically strong again after the chaos of King John's reign. Often an overlooked monarch due to his rather mild and quietly eccentric nature, he kept a large zoo in the Tower of London. Notes left by his physicians show that he probably suffered from Alzheimer's Disease in the last year or so of his life.

He once survived an assassination attempt when assassins came to his chambers to kill him... because he was having sex with the Queen in her chambers and thus wasn't in his at the time.

Edward I of England
Lived: 17 June 1239 –- 7 July 1307
Reigned: 16 November 1272 — 7 July 1307
Parents: King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence
Consorts: (1) Eleanor of Castile (1254—1290); (2) Margaret of France (1299—1307)
Nicknames: Edward Longshanks; Hammer of the Scots

As established during his father's reign, a talented general. Also the first King truly raised as an Englishman since 1066. Didn't care too much for the French territories, and was far more interested in re-establishing Roman Britannia. Successfully conquered and annexed Wales, but initially allowed Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native Prince of Wales, to retain his authority and rule over Wales in Edward's name. He also sanctioned the marriage of Llywelyn to Eleanor de Montfort, a granddaughter of King John, in what is believed to have been a Perfectly Arranged Marriage. She unfortunately died shortly after giving birth to Princess Gwenllian, Llywelyn's only child, and the prince's conniving half-brother Dafydd took advantage of his grief to persuade him to once again take up arms against the English. During the fighting, Llywelyn was lured into a trap and killed, possibly (nobody knows for sure) thanks to Dafydd double-crossing him. Dafydd and his family were later captured, and he eventually became the first man in recorded history to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. His sons were imprisoned, and his daughters and the infant Gwenllian were handed over to various convents and raised to become nuns in order to end the Welsh royal line. Llywelyn is known to this day as "Llywelyn the Last" in Wales, and his memorial stone calls him "our last prince/our last leader." Gwenllian is likewise remembered as the last (and technically only) native Princess of Wales, since she inherited her father's title and held it for six months.

With Wales now without a ruler, Edward I started the tradition, via some clever Loophole Abuse, of the heir to the throne being named the Prince of Wales. It's a really funny story, actually. The title of "Prince of Wales" had traditionally meant "sovereign ruler of Wales." According to legend, after Edward announced he was reviving the title, several Welsh nobles went to him demanding "a prince born in Wales and speaking no language other than Welsh." He agreed, and presented them with his infant son Edward, born at Caernarfon Castle in Wales, who didn't speak any language at all — Welsh included.

Controlled large parts of Scotland around the end of the 13th Century, becoming known as "The Hammer of the Scots". Was not as evil as you see in Braveheart (Dante thought well of him), but when re-crowned on the Scottish stone of Scone (pronounced skoon), is reported to have said "A man does a good thing when he rids himself of shit." The stone was kept in Westminster Abbey, was stolen and broken by four University of Glasgow students in 1950, and only returned to Scotland in 1996. Expelled all Jews from England; Jews were not allowed to return for over 350 years until Oliver Cromwell let them back in because of a prophecy. (Yes, that's the actual reason.) note 

When his beloved first wife, Eleanor of Castile, died in 1294, he established 12 stone crosses along the route her body took to be buried in Westminster Abbey. Known as the Eleanor Crosses, these were erected at each place where the funeral cortege stopped for the night, and several of them still exist at least in part.

Died on his way north to handle the latest round of fighting with Scotland, leaving the throne to his son...

Edward II of England
Lived: 25 April 1284 –- 21 September 1327
Reigned: 7 July 1307 –- 25 January 1327
Parents: King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile
Consort: Isabella of France
Nickname: Edward of Caernarfon

Every bit as physically tall and powerful as his father, but didn't care for war. Scotland eventually kicked him out in 1314. Spent much time indulging his passions of sailing, and granting favours and titles on his favourites. Widely rumoured to be an active homosexual, his relationships with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser earned both men widespread enmity and, eventually, unpleasant deaths.

Highly unpopular, he was murdered, supposedly by having a red-hot poker applied as an enema, though most historians think it was the less dramatic method of smothering with a pillow. Point being that, with English monarchs having assumed divine right, regicide was both high treason and a crime against God; to pull it off you needed a damn good reason, an impregnable position, or to make it look like natural causes. Now, most of the poisons of the day could leave certain external signs that even the crude physicians of the day might recognise. As did smothering. But with dissection and autopsy forbidden by religious decree, Edward's alleged cauterised bowel would have left no external signs other than a sudden attack of terminal peritonitis. Well, that's what his wife Isabelle (the "She-Wolf of France") and her lovernote  hoped, as they planned to rule though her fourteen-year-old son...

Edward III of England
Lived: 13 November 1312 –- 21 June 1377
Reigned: 1 February 1327 –- 21 June 1377
Parents: King Edward II and Isabella of France
Consort: Philippa of Hainault
Nicknames: Edward of Windsor; The Bankrupt note 

Didn't take to being controlled very well. As soon as he was of age he seized power in his own right and executed his father's murderers. He exiled his mother, who lived out the rest of her days in a castle in Norfolk; he apparently retained a soft spot for her, however, naming his eldest daughter after her. Much more like his grandfather in both physical prowess and military talent. Oversaw the start of The Hundred Years War, and had several noticeable victories against France and Scotland, such as the Battle of Crécy in 1346, before the Black Death put everything on hold. He never quite regained the initiative after that, and eventually signed a truce in 1367, leaving England better off than when they started. Spent a lot of his time after that trying to prevent the mass social changes unleashed by the plague, but ultimately failed. It was in 1373 that the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was first formalized under the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373. England (and later Great Britain) is often thought to have enjoyed a better track record with its queens as opposed to kings, though Edward is regarded today as a very good king, ranking near his ancestor Henry II as the most successful Plantagenet monarch, and much of the imagery we now associate with a Medieval European Fantasy (jousting, knights in armour, vast castles, beautiful princesses, etc) is derived from his reign in the 14th Century.

A strange belief propagated by the movie Braveheart has Edward being the son of William Wallace. The real Wallace died in 1305, seven years before Edward was born; worse, Edward's mother was a nine-year-old child living in France at the time of Wallace's death.

Several of his sons are notable for very important reasons, even though none of them ever became king. His eldest son was Edward the Black Prince, who was dashing, courageous, a great general, and highly popular. (His third son was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his fourth was Edmund of Langley, Duke of York — remember those titles, they'll be important later). Ultimately though, Edward died of dysentery two years before his father, so the throne went to his son...

Richard II of England
Lived: 6 January 1367 –- c. 14 February 1400
Reigned: 21 June 1377 –- 30 September 1399
Parents: Edward the Black Prince and Joan, Countess of Kent
Consorts: (1) Anne of Bohemia (1382—1394); (2) Isabella of Valois (1396—1400)
Nickname: Richard of Bordeaux

Ten years old at his succession, he showed what he could do at the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, where he defused the immediate threat to London while the leader, Wat Tyler, was butchered shortly behind them, and ultimately ordered the remaining rebels to surrender, which they did. This went to his head, however, and he started the tradition of addressing the King as "Majesty" and "Highness"note . Like his great-grandfather, he didn't care for the war with France, being much more interested in art and architecture. He was also fond of good food, and had his cooks write a great cookbook, the Forme of Cury, one of the greatest surviving resources on the (upper-class) medieval kitchen (and a great source of inspiration if you ever want to make an unusual or especially fancy dish—you'll be surprised what medieval English chefs got up to, especially considering what their modern equivalents are famous for). A group of nobles (the "Merciless Parliament") had some of his favorites executed for abusing his youth, and he repaid them in kindness ten years later, including having his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, smothered.

The final straw came with the banishment for life of his cousin, John of Gaunt's eldest son Henry Bolingbroke, and the seizing of his valuable Lancastrian land. The other nobles rallied against him, and under the pressure, Richard folded. Like his great-grandfather he met a nasty end, being starved to death, and the nobles proclaimed his exiled cousin the new King...

The House of Lancaster (1399—1461, 1470—1471)

Henry IV of England
Lived: 15 April 1367 -– 20 March 1413
Reigned: 30 September 1399 –- 20 March 1413
Parents: John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster
Consorts: (1) Mary de Bohun (1380—1394); (2) Joan of Navarre (1403—1413)
Nickname: Henry Bolingbroke

In his youth was probably the best jouster in England (an opportunity to prove it against his only serious rival was interrupted by the king), and fought in a crusade. He made a rather sharp contrast with his egotistical (and childless) cousin, Richard II. Considered by many (including himself) to be Richard's obvious and legitimate heir, but never recognised as such by the king himself. Eventually lost patience and seized the throne after the Richard exiled him and took his estate.

Henry's first language was English as it existed at the time rather than the Norman-French the nobility had largely been speaking since the Norman invasion of 1066. He was the first King of England to claim the crown in English rather than Norman French or Latin since before William the Conqueror took control of the country.

Thereafter, according to accounts, he angsted about stealing the crown a fair bit, was rather poorly, and it was up to his son to put down a rebellion intended to put a descendant of an elder son of Edward III on the throne. This was a descendant of Edward III's second son, Lionel of Clarence, whose only child married her cousin, the Duke of York, and combined their claims. The crown instead went to Henry IV's son...

Henry V of England
Lived: 16 September 1386 –- 31 August 1422
Reigned: 21 March 1413 –- 31 August 1422
Parents: King Henry IV and Mary de Bohun
Consort: Catherine of Valois
Nicknames: Henry Monmouth; Hal

Had Richard II's body buried in Westminster, in part to assuage bad feelings caused by his father's seizing of the Crown, and in part because he had been closer to Richard than to his own father.note  He then put down a Welsh rebellion, before turning his attention to resuming the Hundred Years War, his most famous activity. Parliament made the transition from writing their documentation in French to English under his rule.

Besides being William Shakespeare's Henry V, "Prince Hal" is best known for winning the Battle of Agincourt, which in many ways was a rerun of Crécy 70 years earlier. An excellent general, he pretty much conquered most of Northern and Central France, and a treaty proclaimed him heir to the French Throne, making him the single most successful king in France since Henry II. Unfortunately struck down by dysentery two months before the French King died, so both crowns went to his nine-month-old son...

Henry VI of England
Lived: 6 December 1421 –- 21 May 1471
Reigned: 31 August 1422 -– 4 March 1461; 30 October 1470 –- 11 April 1471
Parents: King Henry V and Catherine of Valois
Consort: Margaret of Anjou
Nickname: Henry of Windsor

Pretty much controlled by everyone around him, including his wife. His regents handled the emergence of Joan of Arc and the concept of France as a unified nation pretty badly, and the previous King of France's son was restored to the throne in 1431. Though saintly in character (indeed, in the early 16th century he was England's foremost folk saint), generally considered weak-willed, and mentally ill in his later years, including several lengthy bouts of mania and catatonia.

After the Hundred Years war ended in 1453 with England only holding Calais, the nobles descended from the second and fourth sons of Edward III, who had been given land in and title of York, started the rebellion known as the Wars of the Roses. They seized the throne in 1461. Henry got it back in 1470, but not for long, and according to legend had his skull smashed in while in prison,note  returning the throne to...

The House of York (1461—1470, 1471—1485)

Edward IV of England
Lived: 28 April 1442 –- 9 April 1483
Reigned: 4 March 1461 –- 3 October 1470; 11 April 1471 -– 9 April 1483
Parents: Richard, Duke of York and Cecily Neville
Consort: Elizabeth Woodville
Nickname: The Rose of Rouen note 

At 6'4", the tallest Monarch in English history. During his first reign, was pretty much a puppet for his cousin Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick ("the Kingmaker"). Warwick resented the growing power Edward's wife (a parvenu and the widow of a Lancastrian soldier, to boot, whom he'd eloped with just as Warwick was trying to get him married to someone of much higher station) and her family had over him, and led an army against him, allowing Henry VI to reclaim the throne in the process. In a repeat of Henry IV, Edward landed on the coast and gathered support for his cause. Warwick and Henry's son were killed in battle, and Henry was quietly disposed of, leaving the cause of Lancaster to be championed by an obscure nobleman with only a tenuous claim to the throne, Henry Tudor.

Perhaps England's last true warrior king, and an underrated one at that; Edward IV has the rare distinction of being undefeated in battle. It is telling that once his father, previous champion and claimant to the English throne, had been killed in combat in 1460, he was able to win and take the throne outright within a year. In the two episodes that endangered his throne (Edgcote Moor 1469 and the Lancastrian restoration of 1470), he was not in direct field command and was forced to run mostly by political inconvenience or treason on his side. All the same, he ably won back his throne come Tewkesbury 1471—not even a year since his flight. His administrative skills, on the other hand, leave much to be desired. He carelessly eloped with one of his mistresses when a political marriage would have been much more valuable for the dowry it would have brought to England's coffers (ruined by the war with France and then the civil war at home) along with the potential for a powerful political alliance; he failed to anticipate Neville the Kingmaker's double-cross, as well as his own brother's defection against him; and he failed to secure the succession for his own son when his younger brother Richard usurped the throne from him. After his death, in 1483, the House of York lost the throne within two years.

During his second reign, he had some military success against France (acquiring lots of money) and Scotland (acquiring some territory), but his health failed due to a sedentary lifestylenote  (Edward became grossly overweight in his late 30s and was thought to be England's second fattest monarch after his grandson Henry VIII - though he only gets the title of second fattest as he didn't live long enough to get even bigger; some historians believe he could have been fatter than his grandson if he had enough years behind him). Edward had had his unreliable, alcoholic brother George Duke of Clarence executednote , leaving his favourite and youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as protector of his son...

Edward V of England
Lived: 2 November 1470 –- c. 1483
Reigned: 9 April 1483 –- 26 June 1483
Parents: King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville
Consort: n/a (12 when he died)
Nickname: Edward of Sanctuary note 

Had the job two months, but was never crowned. His uncle had him imprisoned and had Edward IV's marriage invalidated, making him illegitimate and disqualified for the throne. Disappeared from the Tower of London, along with his younger brother. May or may not have been murdered by his own uncle, later Richard III. Assuming that he died close to the time of his disappearance, he is the English monarch with the shortest lifespan, dying at the age of 12. (His great-nephew and namesake Edward VI has the shortest confirmed lifespan, dying at age 15. But Edward V would have had to survive until mid-1486 to outlive him, which is basically impossible, as every conceivable candidate for his murderer would have done the deed long before then.)

Dispute has raged ever since with regard to the fate of Edward and his brother Richard. The traditionalists believe that they were killed on their uncle Richard's orders. The revisionists argue that Richard was cast into the role of villain by Tudor propaganda and that his successor, Henry VII, or the Duke of Buckingham, had equal cause to remove the two boys, as they stood as much in their path to the throne as they did in Richard's. The Duke of Buckingham also stood in the line of succession — he was descended from Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, the youngest son of Edward III.

Much evidence to support both claims has been raised. At a distance of more than five hundred years, it is impossible to state with certainty who was responsible for ordering the murder of Edward V and his young brother. All that can be said with certainty is that at the time, rumour was rife that someone had done away with them... and that they were never seen alive again. In 1674, workmen in the Tower unearthed a box beneath a staircase which contained two small human skeletons; at the time these were widely accepted as being the remains of the Princes, and Charles II had them interred in Westminster Abbey as such, where they are still buried to this day. There has been some talk of using modern equipment to try to confirm their identities once and for all, but it's unlikely that the efforts would be successful.

Richard III of England
Lived: 2 October 1452 –- 22 August 1485
Reigned: 26 June 1483 –- 22 August 1485
Parents: Richard, Duke of York and Cecily Neville
Consort: Anne Neville
Nickname: Richard of Gloucester, Crookback note 

Thanks to Sir Thomas More and William Shakespeare, the poster boy for Historical Villain Upgrade; thanks to Sir George Buck, the poster boy for revisionist history. Was almost certainly not badly deformed (though the discovery of his skeleton proves he had scoliosis), nor probably irredeemably evil. Definitely seized the throne, but there's no direct evidence he was involved in the princes' disappearance. The perception that he did, though, was enough to make him very unpopular among some people. Some people hypothesize he took the crown only because of a genuine belief that a boy-king would leave England vulnerable (as was shown by previous boy-kings) and that an adult should rule in his own right to keep England secure; he may also have acted purely in self-defense, believing that the young Edward V would be strongly influenced by his ambitious mother, who detested Richard and had been deeply involved in the condemnation and execution of Richard's brother, the Duke of Clarence.

Richard's main achievement in his reign was improving conditions in Northern England, where he was pretty popular, too. In fact, he generally improved conditions for the lower orders and was loved for it by some, while said actions antagonised the nobility. He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the last English king to die in battle, and was succeeded by Henry Tudor as Henry VII, who beat him with foreign support (he was a Lancastrian, though several others had better claims). Through marriage, Henry VII united York and Lancaster into The House of Tudor. The last Plantagenet claimant to the throne — Edward, Earl of Warwick and nephew of both Edward IV and Richard III by their brother George, Duke of Clarence — was executed in 1499. His sister, Margaret Plantagenet Pole, was the last surviving scion of the House of Plantagenet until she too was executed in 1541. A Catholic martyr, she was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.

His skeleton was found in 2012-2013 under a car park in Leicester. They were verified as his bones by matching mitochrondrial DNA from multiple enatic descendants of his sister, Anne of York. However, his Y-chromosomal DNA was tested against the only surviving agnatic line of his male-line ancestor Edward III - the illegitimate Dukes of Beaufort - and was found not to be a match, indicating at least one episode of false paternity somewhere along the line.note  Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't a hunchback but suffered from a severe form of scoliosis which may have made one of his shoulders higher than the other. A facial reconstruction using his skull was made possible.

Depictions in fiction

Comic Books

  • In the short comic series The Black Dragon (set in 1193), the main protagonist is a nobleman exiled by Henry II who returns after the king's death. King Richard being absent on his crusade, Queen Eleanor makes a crucial appearance, assuming de-facto rulership of (mundane) Englandnote  to deal with the crisis instigated by the villain(s).


  • Becket
  • Braveheart is set during Edward I's reign. Edward II, then Prince of Wales, also appears.
  • Kingdom of Heaven ends on the eve of the Third Crusade, with Richard I making an appearance.
  • A Knight's Tale is set during the reign of Edward III, and the Black Prince features prominently.
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, who appears at the very end; this version of the Robin Hood mythos puts Maid Marian in the royal family as Richard's cousin.
  • Outlaw King follows Robert the Bruce during his rise to the throne of Scotland. Edward I Longshanks, being King of England and Hammer of the Scots, is the primary antagonist, with the Prince of Wales Edward II as the Dragon Ascendant when the old man croaks. While ruthless, Ed Sr. has some Noble Demon qualities about him. Ed Jr., not so much.
  • Robin Hood (1973) is also set during the reign of Richard I, albeit in a World of Funny Animals version.


  • The traditional setting for the Robin Hood mythos is under Prince John while Richard was absent from England and his French domains. Prior to that Robin Hood was set during the reign of one of the Edwards, either I-III or one of the Edwards of the House of Wessex.
  • While set in France, the later half of The Accursed Kings has a great deal to do with Edward II, his wife, and their son (particularly their son's claim on the French crown), treating his alleged homosexuality as fact and using the "hot poker up the ass" treatment for all the lurid horror it's worth.
  • The Lord Darcy stories depict an Alternate History where the Plantagenets still rule England in the 1960s. Which is now called the "Angevin Empire", and controls half of Europe. (And is having a little cold war with the Polish Empire.) The bloodline's history diverges from ours in that Richard the Lionheart survived his crossbow wound to return to England, exiled John Lackland from the country, and passed the throne to Geoffrey of Brittany's son Arthur in 1219.
  • The Pillars of the Earth spans the war between Stephen and Matilda and ends in Henry II's reign.
    • The sequel World Without End jumps ahead two centuries, beginning with the death of Edward II and covering the lengths to which his wife goes to cover up her involvement.
  • George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture inspired by medieval England. The Targaryen family is based on the Plantagenets (plus a few Capetian-Valois thrown in), with the "devil's brood" becoming "The Blood of the Dragon" (with literal dragons under their command). Several posthumous characters are based on them: Jaehaerys I (Henry II), Daeron the Young Dragon (Richard I and Henry V), Prince Rhaegar (Edward the Black Prince), and Queen Rhaenyra (Empress Matilda). The Baratheon family, descendants of Targaryens via a recent marriage, are based on the Yorkist-Plantagenets — King Robert (Edward IV), Renly (George Clarence), and Stannis (Richard III).
  • The novel The Lady Royal by Molly Costain Haycraft is a fictionalized history of the family of Edward III, with the title character being his eldest daughter Isabel. The life of the princess is framed chiefly as a medieval romance, with many historical details being exaggerated or even invented for the story.note 
  • In the Animorphs book Megamorphs #3, the first thing Visser Four does when he gets control of the Time Matrix is attempt to assassinate Henry V at Agincourt. (Tobias catching the arrow he fires at Henry alerts him to the fact that the 'Andalite bandits' are hunting him.) The Animorphs are confused as to why he would do this, until Visser Four's host, John Berryman, explains: he's an actor, and would quote Shakespeare's Henry V at Four as an act of rebellion, and since it would be too hard to pinpoint a time and place to kill Shakespeare, Four elected to kill Henry V instead so Shakespeare wouldn't write Henry V and John would shut up.

Live-Action TV


Video Games

  • All the Plantagenets through Edward III are playable in Crusader Kings II. You have to pick a custom start date for them, though: most of the bookmarks in that time period deal with events in the Middle East, and you can't pick a custom date after 1337 (the game ends in 1453). The rest of them are playable in Europa Universalis IV.
  • Edward I turns out to be a major part of the backstory in Hidden Expedition: A King's Line, which is a creative take on Arthurian Legend. Edward's historical role as an antagonist of the Welsh factors into the Arthurian mythology.
  • The Britannia Campaign to the Kingdoms expansion of Medieval II: Total War is set in 1258 with Edward I as the English faction leader. Other notable figures from the time including William Wallace, Brian O'Neill, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, and Haakon IV lead the Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and Norwegian factions, respectively, all while the Baron's Alliance threatens rebellion.

Web Comics

< Prior to these guys was the Normandy Dynasty

> After these guys, we're into the Tudor Dynasty