administration of justice in existing county courts, and sent members of

his own court to conduct important trials. However, the introduction of

Church courts, the mix of Norman/Roman law and the differing customs led to

a continuing complex legal framework. More severe forest laws reinforced

William's conversion of the New Forest into a vast Royal deer reserve.

These laws caused great resentment, and to English chroniclers the New

Forest became a symbol of William's greed. Nevertheless the King maintained

peace and order. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1087 declared 'he was a very

stern and violent man, so no one dared do anything contrary to his will ...

Amongst other things the good security he made in this country is not to be

forgotten.' William spent the last months of his reign in Normandy,

fighting a counter-offensive in the French Vexin territory against King

Philip's annexation of outlying Normandy territory. Before his death on 9

September 1087, William divided his 'Anglo-Norman' state between his sons.

(The scene was set for centuries of expensive commitments by successive

English monarchs to defend their inherited territories in France.) William

bequeathed Normandy as he had promised to his eldest son Robert, despite

their bitter differences (Robert had sided with his father's enemies in

Normandy, and even wounded and defeated his father in a battle there in

1079). His son, William Rufus, was to succeed William as King of England,

and the third remaining son, Henry, was left 5,000 pounds in silver.

William was buried in his abbey foundation of St Stephen at Caen.

Desecrated by Huguenots (1562) and Revolutionaries (1793), the burial place

of the first Norman king of England is marked by a simple stone slab.


Strong, outspoken and ruddy (hence his nickname 'Rufus'), William II

(reigned 1087-1100) extended his father's policies, taking royal power to

the far north of England. Ruthless in his relations with his brother

Robert, William extended his grip on the duchy of Normandy under an

agreement between the brothers in 1091. (Robert went on crusade in 1096.)

William's relations with the Church were not easy; he took over

Archbishop Lanfranc's revenues after the latter's death in 1089, kept other

bishoprics vacant to make use of their revenues, and had numerous arguments

with Lanfranc's popular successor, Anselm. William died on 2 August 1100,

after being shot by an arrow whilst hunting in the New Forest.

HENRY I (1100-1135)

William's younger brother Henry succeeded to the throne. He was crowned

three days after his brother's death, against the possibility that his

eldest brother Robert might claim the English throne. After the decisive

battle of Tinchebrai in 1106 in France, Henry completed his conquest of

Normandy from Robert, who then (unusually even for that time) spent the

last 28 years of his life as his brother's prisoner. An energetic,

decisive and occasionally cruel ruler, Henry centralised the administration

of England and Normandy in the royal court, using 'viceroys' in Normandy

and a group of advisers in England to act on his behalf when he was absent

across the Channel. Henry successfully sought to increase royal revenues,

as shown by the official records of his exchequer (the Pipe Roll of 1130,

the first exchequer account to survive). He established peaceful relations

with Scotland, through his marriage to Mathilda of Scotland. Henry's name

'Beauclerc' denoted his good education (as the youngest son, his parents

possibly expected that he would become a bishop); Henry was probably the

first Norman king to be fluent in English. In 1120, his legitimate sons

William and Richard drowned in the White Ship which sank in the English

Channel. This posed a succession problem, as Henry never allowed any of his

illegitimate children to expect succession to either England or Normandy.

Henry had a legitimate daughter Matilda (widow of Emperor Henry V,

subsequently married to the Count of Anjou). However, it was his nephew

Stephen (reigned 1135-54), son of William the Conqueror's daughter Adela,

who succeeded Henry after his death, allegedly caused by eating too many

lampreys (fish) in 1135, as the barons mostly opposed the idea of a female



Though charming, attractive and (when required) a brave warrior, Stephen

(reigned 1135-54) lacked ruthlessness and failed to inspire loyalty. He

could neither control his friends nor subdue his enemies, despite the

support of his brother Henry of Blois (Bishop of Winchester) and his able

wife Matilda of Boulogne. Henry I's daughter Matilda invaded England in

1139 to claim the throne, and the country was plunged into civil war.

Although anarchy never spread over the whole country, local feuds were

pursued under the cover of the civil war; the bond between the King and the

nobles broke down, and senior figures (including Stephen's brother Henry)

freely changed allegiances as it suited them. In 1141, Stephen was captured

at Lincoln and his defeat seemed certain. However, Matilda's arrogant

behaviour antagonised even her own supporters (Angevins), and Stephen was

released in exchange for her captured ally and illegitimate half-brother,

Earl Robert of Gloucester. After the latter's death in 1147, Matilda

retired to Normandy (which her husband, the Count of Anjou had conquered)

in 1148. Stephen's throne was still disputed. Matilda's eldest son, Henry,

who had been given Normandy by his father in 1150 and who had married the

heiress Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine, invaded England in 1149 and again in

1153. Stephen fought stubbornly against Henry; Stephen even attempted to

ensure his son Eustace's succession by having him crowned in Stephen's own

lifetime. The Church refused (having quarrelled with the king some years

previously); Eustace's death later in 1153 helped lead to a negotiated

peace (the treaty of Wallingford) under which Henry would inherit the

throne after Stephen's death.


Henry II, the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet and Henry I's daughter

Matilda, was the first in a long line of 14 Plantagenet kings, stretching

from Henry II's accession through to Richard III's death in 1485. Within

that line, however, four distinct Royal Houses can be identified: Angevin,

Plantagenet, Lancaster and York.

The first Angevin King, Henry II, began the period as arguably the most

powerful monarch in Europe, with lands stretching from the Scottish borders

to the Pyrenees. In addition, Ireland was added to his inheritance, a

mission entrusted to him by Pope Adrian IV (the only English Pope). A new

administrative zeal was evident at the beginning of the period and an

efficient system of government was formulated. The justice system

developed. However there were quarrels with the Church, which became more

powerful following the murder of Thomas а Becket.

As with many of his predecessors, Henry II spent much of his time away

from England fighting abroad. This was taken to an extreme by his son

Richard, who spent only 10 months of a ten-year reign in the country due to

his involvement in the crusades. The last of the Angevin kings was John,

whom history has judged harshly. By 1205, six years into his reign, only a

fragment of the vast Angevin empire acquired by Henry II remained. John

quarrelled with the Pope over the appointment of the Archbishop of

Canterbury, eventually surrendering. He was also forced to sign the Magna

Carta in 1215, which restated the rights of the church, the barons and all

in the land. John died in ignominy, having broken the contract, leading the

nobles to summon aid from France and creating a precarious position for his

heir, Henry III.


Henry II ruled over an empire which stretched from the Scottish border

to the Pyrenees. One of the strongest, most energetic and imaginative

rulers, Henry was the inheritor of three dynasties who had acquired

Aquitaine by marriage; his charters listed them: 'King of the English, Duke

of the Normans and Aquitanians and Count of the Angevins'. The King spent

only 13 years of his reign in England; the other 21 years were spent on the

continent in his territories in what is now France. Henry's rapid movements

in carrying out his dynastic responsibilities astonished the French king,

who noted 'now in England, now in Normandy, he must fly rather than travel

by horse or ship'. By 1158, Henry had restored to the Crown some of the

lands and royal power lost by Stephen; Malcom IV of Scotland was compelled

to return the northern counties. Locally chosen sheriffs were changed into

royally appointed agents charged with enforcing the law and collecting

taxes in the counties. Personally interested in government and law, Henry

made use of juries and re-introduced the sending of justices (judges) on

regular tours of the country to try cases for the Crown. His legal reforms

have led him to be seen as the founder of English Common Law. Henry's

disagreements with the Archbishop of Canterbury (the king's former chief

adviser), Thomas а Becket, over Church-State relations ended in Becket's

murder in 1170 and a papal interdict on England. Family disputes over

territorial ambitions almost wrecked the king's achievements. Henry died in

France in 1189, at war with his son Richard, who had joined forces with

King Philip of France to attack Normandy.


Henry's elder son, Richard I (reigned 1189-99), fulfilled his main

ambition by going on crusade in 1190, leaving the ruling of England to

others. After his victories over Saladin at the siege of Acre and the

battles of Arsuf and Jaffa, concluded by the treaty of Jaffa (1192),

Richard was returning from the Holy Land when he was captured in Austria.

In early 1193, Richard was transferred to Emperor Henry VI's custody. In

Richard's absence, King Philip of France failed to obtain Richard's French

possessions through invasion or negotiation. In England, Richard's brother

John occupied Windsor Castle and prepared an invasion of England by Flemish

mercenaries, accompanied by armed uprisings. Their mother, Queen Eleanor,

took firm action against John by strengthening garrisons and again exacting

oaths of allegiance to the king. John's subversive activities were ended by

the payment of a crushing ransom of 150,000 marks of silver to the emperor,

for Richard's release in 1194. Warned by Philip's famous message 'look to

yourself, the devil is loosed', John fled to the French court. On his

return to England, Richard was recrowned at Winchester in 1194. Five years

later he died in France during a minor siege against a rebellious baron. By

the time of his death, Richard had recovered all his lands. His success was

short-lived. In 1199 his brother John became king and Philip successfully

invaded Normandy. By 1203, John had retreated to England, losing his French

lands of Normandy and Anjou by 1205.

JOHN (1199-1216)

John was an able administrator interested in law and government but he

neither trusted others nor was trusted by them. Heavy taxation, disputes

with the Church (John was excommunicated by the Pope in 1209) and

unsuccessful attempts to recover his French possessions made him unpopular.

Many of his barons rebelled and in June 1215 they forced the King to sign a

peace treaty accepting their reforms. This treaty, later known as Magna

Carta, limited royal powers, defined feudal obligations between the King

and the barons, and guaranteed a number of rights. The most influential

clauses concerned the freedom of the Church; the redress of grievances of

owners and tenants of land; the need to consult the Great Council of the

Realm so as to prevent unjust taxation; mercantile and trading

relationships; regulation of the machinery of justice so that justice be

denied to no one; and the requirement to control the behaviour of royal

officials. The most important clauses established the basis of habeas

corpus ('you have the body'), i.e. that no one shall be imprisoned except

by due process of law, and that 'to no one will we sell, to no one will we

refuse or delay right or justice'. The Charter also established a council

of barons who were to ensure that the Sovereign observed the Charter, with

the right to wage war on him if he did not. Magna Carta was the first

formal document insisting that the Sovereign was as much under the rule of

law as his people, and that the rights of individuals were to be upheld

even against the wishes of the sovereign. As a source of fundamental

constitutional principles, Magna Carta came to be seen as an important

definition of aspects of English law, and in later centuries as the basis

of the liberties of the English people. As a peace treaty Magna Carta was

a failure and the rebels invited Louis of France to become their king. When

John died in 1216 England was in the grip of civil war.


The Plantagenet period was dominated by three major conflicts at home

and abroad. Edward I attempted to create a British empire dominated by

England, conquering Wales and pronouncing his eldest son Prince of Wales,

and then attacking Scotland. Scotland was to remain elusive and retain its

independence until late in the reign of the Stuart kings. In the reign

of Edward III the Hundred Years War began, a struggle between England and

France. At the end of the Plantagenet period, the reign of Richard II saw

the beginning of the long period of civil feuding known as the War of the

Roses. For the next century, the crown would be disputed by two conflicting

family strands, the Lancastrians and the Yorkists.

The period also saw the development of new social institutions and a

distinctive English culture. Parliament emerged and grew. The judicial

reforms begun in the reign of Henry II were continued and completed by

Edward I. Culture began to flourish. Three Plantagenet kings were patrons

of Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English poetry. During the early part of

the period, the architectural style of the Normans gave way to the Gothic,

in which style Salisbury Cathedral was built. Westminster Abbey was rebuilt

and the majority of English cathedrals remodelled. Franciscan and Dominican

orders began to be established in England, while the universities of Oxford

and Cambridge had their origins in this period.

Amidst the order of learning and art, however, were disturbing new

phenomena. The outbreak of Bubonic plague or the 'Black Death' served to

undermine military campaigns and cause huge social turbulence, killing half

the country's population. The price rises and labour shortage

which resulted led to social unrest, culminating in the Peasants' Revolt in



1216 - 1485


= Eleanor, dau. of Count of Provence


Eleanor, =


dau. of



King of Castile

and Leon


II = Isabella, dau.

(1307–1327) of PHILIP IV,

King of France

EDWARD III = Philippa, dau. of Count

(1327–1377) of Hainault and Holland

Edward, Prince = Joan, dau. of Earl Lionel, Duke = Elizabeth

Blanche of = John, Duke = Katharine Swynford,

of Wales, of Kent (son of Clarence de

Burgh Lancaster of Lancaster dau. of Sir


The Black Prince of EDWARD I)

of Guienne

RICHARD II Edmund, = Philippa

Mary = HENRY IV John Beaufort,

(1377–1399) Earl of March

Bohun (1399–1413)

Roger, Earl = Eleanor HENRY V

(1) = Katherine, dau. John Beaufort,

of March Holland

(1413–1422) of CHARLES VI, Duke of Somerset

King of France

Richard, Earl = Anne

HENRY VI Margaret Beaufort =

Edmund Tudor,

of Cambridge Mortimer


Earl of Richmond


Richard, Duke = Cecily

Elizabeth of York, = HENRY


of York Neville

dau. of EDWARD IV

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