30 April 2020
The Dating Game
The early Plantagenets.
By Chin Chin
Well, have you used your new knowledge yet? Do you drop into conversation things like “Tell me, Matilda, are you named after the Queen or the Empress?” If so, you will be losing friends fast but who wants friends who are ignorant about the dates of the English kings? Anyway, pomposity needs to be fed, so let’s move on to the early Plantagenets.
Henry II, 1154-1172
Henry scored three in a row: on the death of his father – kerching! – the duchy of Anjou; with his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine – kerching! – most of South West France; on the death of Cousin Stephen – kerching! – England and Normandy. It certainly beats three lemons in a line at The Dog and Duck. He had three names too (apart from his titles): Henry FitzEmpress, because he was the son of the Empress Matilda; Henry Curtmantle, because of his taste in coats; and Henry Plantagenet because that’s who he was. What about:
The assize of Northampton in 1176 which, building on the assize Clarendon 10 years earlier, extended the king’s justice through a system by which the judges toured the country? The system lasted well and High Court judges in England are still arranged in circuits.
The murder of Beckett in 1170? Henry didn’t do the murdering of course and he probably didn’t mean to incite it, but there was no Sherlock Holmes around in those days to prove his innocence and he had to do penance. Still, it got him a role in T S Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral. Not quite the same as being in Shakespeare, but the medieval equivalent of a good Twitter following.
The great revolt in 1173? Louis VII of France did not care much for Henry who had married Eleanor shortly after Louis himself divorced her. He was delighted, then, when Henry’s eldest sons asked him to help them against their father. Everyone pitched in, including William the King of Scotland and Eleanor herself, although she was detained. Still, Henry saw them off, scoring better than he did in his later war with his son Richard who defeated him on the day before his death.
Richard 1 (the Lionheart), 1189 to 1199
The best stories about Richard aren’t true. There was no Robin Hood and, although Richard was held prisoner in Austria, the account of his minstrel singing outside successive castles until the Kings sang back is romance and not history. Richard was, however, a great warrior and a practical one too. When his crusading army could have taken Jerusalem, he realised that, once he had done so, his troops would have fulfilled their oaths and would go back home, leaving him to hold it by himself. So, wisely, he let the opportunity slip. He was apt to take risks, though, and when he suffered a wound from a crossbow while standing without armour at a minor siege near Limoges, he decided to take the bolt out himself. Unfortunately, like President Trump he was no doctor and he died of gangrene, his last action being to pardon the archer who had by then been captured. What about:
His capture of Acre in 1191? If that was the high point of the Third Crusade it was also a low point in Richard’s reputation because, rather untypically, he had more than 2000 prisoners killed.
His release from captivity in 1194? Captured as he travelled back from the crusades to deal with an alliance between his brother John and Philip Augustus of France who were after his throne and his French lands respectively, Richard was ransomed and released. Message: Philip to John: “look to yourself; the devil is loose.”
His completion of state of the art fortress Château Gaillard in 1198 to support his reconquest of Normandy? The ruins are well worth a visit. Richard himself is said to have been the architect.
John, 1099 to 1216
Although John’s image is set by the film Robin Hood, that isn’t entirely unfair. He and Philip Augustus did offer 80,000 marks to the Holy Roman Emperor to detain Richard for longer so they could bag his territories. It didn’t work because the Emperor thought Richard a good egg. John, on the other hand, was vicious, cruel and unpopular. True, he was erudite and travelled with a library. True, he was a great reformer of administration. Still, that did not make up for the loss of Brittany, Anjou and Normandy, and sleeping with the wives of his nobles which they did not like (the nobles, that is). In the end his barons made him sign the Magna Carta, limiting his powers, and when he got the Pope to declare it void, they invited Prince Louis of France to invade. John was struggling to retain his throne when he died. What about:
The murder of Arthur, his elder brother’s son in 1203? Arthur, naturally, thought he should be king but was unfortunate enough to be taken prisoner. Still, by murdering him with his own hands, John went too far and lost popularity points in northern France.
The Battle of Bouvines in 1214 when John’s attempt to regain his losses in northern France finally went pear-shaped?
Magna Carta 1215? It is true that it was declared void by the Pope but the habit of making charters stuck and Henry III confirmed most of its terms.
Henry III, 1216 to 1272
Henry became king at the age of nine but never really had the edge needed to be successful, his undoubted piety not making up for the fact that his laid-back attitude resulted in standards slipping. His hero was Edward the Confessor and he became a good friend of the sainted Louis IX of France, but in the end it all got a bit beyond him. What about:
The battle of Lincoln in 1217, when William Marshall, as regent, defeated the French so that they returned to France?
The Provisions of Oxford, 1258, under which the country was to be ruled by a Council of 15, appointed by 12 nobles and 12 representatives of the King. Henry’s release from his promises by the Pope was one of the reasons why the Baron’s leader, Simon De Montfort, took over the running of the country in 1264.
The Battle of Evesham, 1265? It was careless of Simon, really. With the King and Queen effectively his prisoners he should have kept a closer eye on their son Edward who slipped quietly away to raise an army, with which he defeated and destroyed de Montfort. Although the King kept his throne, Edward became the power behind it.
Links to previous issues: