England from Norman to Plantagenet

The mid 11th to mid 13th centuries saw England transform in fortunes during the reigns of the Norman, Anglo-Norman, Angevin and Plantagenet Kings.

Anglo Saxon England ended on October 14th 1066 when Duke William of Normandy won the Battle of Hastings, and was crowned William I, the Conqueror, on Christmas day.

William spent his reign dealing with rebellions in both England and Normandy, and in 1086 ordered the creation of the 'Domesday Book', a survey of all landholding in most of England and parts of Wales.  He was succeeded by his son William Rufus in 1087, who in died in mysterious circumstances in the New Forest in 1099.  As soon as his death was announced, his younger brother Henry raced to Winchester to be crowned Henry I.

Henry I's reign, was long, harsh but overall very peaceful.  However, the death of his son, William the Aethling, in the White Ship disaster of 1120 left Henry's daughter, the Empress Matilda, as the only legitimate heir to the throne.  Henry forced the barons to swear an oath to recognise Matilda as Queen, but on Henry's death in 1135, the majority of barons turned to the Empress' cousin, Stephen.

The death of Henry I saw the country descend into a chaotic civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda – the war raged for 19 years and was described as ‘the Anarchy’ by contemporary writers.  By 1154, when King Stephen died (the last Anglo-Norman King), the country was devastated by war and virtually bankrupt.

This dramatically changed when Count Henry of Anjou (the son of the Empress Matilda) arrived in England to be crowned King Henry II (the first ‘Angevin’ King) on December 19.  Henry had already inherited the French lands of Anjou and Normandy from his father, and his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine made him the ruler of more of France than the French king, Louis VII.  Henry immediately enforced his will on the English barons, reorganised the laws of justice, taxation and administration, making England wealthier and better governed than it had been in decades.  When Ireland was invaded in 1169, his lands stretched from central Ireland to the Pyrenees mountains – effectively, an Angevin Empire.  A rebellion by Henry’s own family (Eleanor and their oldest sons) in 1173 was firmly put down, and though Eleanor remained imprisoned for the rest of Henry’s life (at Old Sarum, Winchester Castle and Nottingham Castle), the Angevin Princes continued to rebel against their father until his death in 1189.

Henry II was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, Richard (Henry, ‘the young King’ had died in 1183) who immediately began making plans to go on crusade to Jerusalem.  Despite a ten year reign, Richard was present in England for no more than six months.  During his imprisonment in Germany, his younger brother John attempted to seize the throne (and also lost many of Richard’s territories in France), but failed and was forgiven by Richard.

Richard’s return to England was short, as he soon returned to France to regain his lost lands.  His successes were immediately stopped at the castle of Châlus-Chabrol, where he was struck by a crossbolt.  He died from gangrene ten days later, to be succeeded by John.

John is remembered as one of the worst Kings in English History, and his violent rule and harsh laws resulted in his barons rebelling against him (after he had lost almost all of the French lands his father and brother had ruled).  Following the sealing of the Magna Carta (which was immediately annulled by Pope Innocent III), the barons invited the Prince Louis of France to take over the throne, and Louis led a highly successful invasion in 1216.  John’s death on October 18th left the throne in the hands of his nine year old son, Henry, and the young Prince’s prospects looked bleak.  But he was supported by the legendary William Marshall, who had supported the Angevin dynasty since Henry II arrived, and by the following year, the battle against the invading French and their supporters had turned in favour of the young King.

Henry III (the first Plantagenet King of England)had a long reign, but it was fraught with problems, notably the Second Barons War, which was led by Simon de Monfort, the King's brother-in law.  However, the defeat and death of de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 ended the war, and terms with the rebels whom Henry had disinherited were resolved by 1266.

This is merely a summary of the events that took place in England in approximately 200 years – and it is this chaotic, but fascinating period in history that Chanz des Reis brings to life.

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