Nine royal houses have ruled England since the Norman Conquest in 1066 and all of them have made their mark. But eight have seen their power pass elsewhere and this summer Royal Central is looking at what happened to those that have now faded into history. We now reach the longest ruling dynasty of all, one that dominated England for centuries and ask – what happened to the House of Plantagenet?
The House of Plantagenet
The longest reigning royal house in English history took the throne in October 1154 with the accession of Henry II after a long battle for power with his cousin, King Stephen. Henry soon consolidated his power and began the process of building an empire that would stretch across Europe.
His throne passed to two of his sons, Richard I and John, and despite the disastrous reign of the latter, the Plantagenets retained their power. Henry III would oversee rapid changes in administration in England while his son, Edward I, was a celebrated soldier king whose Crusades were as famous as his battles against the Welsh and Scots.
Edward II’s unhappy reign put the first real chink in the Plantagenet armour but the steady rule of his son, Edward III, turned England into a powerhouse once again. When Richard II succeeded in 1177, there were high hopes that the Plantagenet dynasty was heading for its most glorious time of all.
The Last King
Richard of Bordeaux, however, proved to be a disaster. Born as the second son of the legendary Black Prince, he became king at the age of nine and was soon at the centre of power struggles between older relatives. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 put him in danger but his own personal involvement in its resolution would strengthen his reputation, if only briefly.
As Richard attained adulthood, he gave power and influence to favourites, causing divisions within the ruling circle which led to dissent and bloodshed. Government was weakened while Richard acted in an increasingly autocratic manner. His weak rule encouraged parties to form against him and by 1397 he was being described as a tyrant.
The Last Queen
Richard’s second marriage had also caused anger. In 1396, he married the six year old Isabella of France in a move for peace with England’s near neighbour. The young queen moved to Windsor but her husband’s increasing political problems turned her into a potential target and she spent the last part of his reign being moved around England for her own safety.
In 1399, Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt, died. The king had already exiled John’s eldest son, Henry Bolingbroke, in one of his paranoia driven purges the previous year. However, his decision to seize the huge inheritance which now belonged to Henry proved to be a fatal mistake.
Bolingbroke quickly raised troops and invaded England, landing to a hero’s welcome in June 1399. There was popular discontent with Richard’s weak rule and within weeks, Henry had the upper hand. Richard was taken into Bolingbroke’s custody in August and abdicated in his favour on September 30th 1399. He died in mysterious circumstances in 1400 by which time his cousin had established his rule as Henry IV, first king of the House of Lancaster.