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The Plantagenets (1154-1485) - Introduction - History of England
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The Plantagenets (1154-1485) - Introduction

PlantagenetsIntroduction

This dynasty is normally subdivided into three parts.

  • The Angevins 1154-1216
    3 Kings, commencing with Henry 2nd 1154-1189
    So called because they were originally Counts of Anjou in France.

    The Norman uncrowned Queen Matilda married  the Count of Anjou and  produced the first King of this dynasty Henry 2nd. Hence he was not only ruling England and Normandy but also Anjou. This was immediately extended south to the boarders of Spain when Henry married Eleanor ofAquitaine.  

  • The houses of Lancaster and York 1399-1485
    6 Kings, commencing with 10 year old Henry 4th 1399-1413
    Normally separated from main stream Plantagenets because they are  considered the first truly English rather than French Kings.  

Main events during the Plantagenet period were: 

  • These were barbaric times. The punishments of hanging, drawing and quartering and burning at the stake were both invented in England during this period.

  • The slow loss of dictatorial power of the English kings coupled with the introduction of parliamentary democracy. (Magna Carta and Simon de Montfort etc)

  • The continuous battle between English Kings and the Church in Rome for the legal high ground. For example King Henry 2nd and Thomas Becket.

  • The corruption and unchristian like behaviour of the Church headquartered in Rome particularly through the Inquisition Office which ordered mass killings of peaceable people like the Cathars and the cash payments demanded of the laity to guarantee their passage to heaven.

  • The development of Universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge as centres of free thought. For example John Wycliffe and his Lollards were a product of Oxford, demonstrating a freedom of religious thought.

  • The steady increase in power of Islamic forces in the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, Turkey and the Balkans and the disastrous efforts of European Christian forces who often fought each other (Rome v Constantinople) in their attempts to save Jerusalem and their trading routes to the Far East.  Note even though 1000 miles away the English were often closely involved both with the Pope’s Crusades e.g. Richard 1st  and being directly asked for military support (Henry 4th)

Wars with France, including the “100 Years War”

This Dynasty was almost in constant battle with the French Kings which was not surprising as at the start of the Plantagenet period King Henry 2nd ruled more land in France than the French King and he wanted it back. This coupled with the Plague or Black Death of 1348 resulted in economic stagnation at best and a loss of almost 50% of the population. However by 1431 England had conquered all of France using the famous “Long Bow” but following the heroics of Joan of Ark the French gained a new heart and rose up and fought with a renewed purpose and by 1450 even Normandy was in French hands. The English losses in France were compensated by the subjugation of Wales, Scotland and Ireland and were a catalyst to the redirection of English territorial interests with the commencement of world exploration towards eventual world domination.  

Crusades

The Byzantium or Eastern Roman Empire were the custodians of the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Palestine and the Levant as the font of Christianity ever since Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian in 300AD and moved his headquarters eastward to the impenetrable Constantinople. (Now Istanbul). The Persians over ran the Holy Land in 614AD but to the surprise of both Byzantines and Persians an Arab upstart Mohammed claimed a new religion and under his Islamic banner took Jerusalem in 636. In Norman times the Turks- originally from present day Kazakhstan overran Persia, converted to Islam, and expanded eastwards to rule the Holy Land and Egypt and to threaten Anatolia (the main bulk of land east of the Bosporus. The Byzantine Emperor Romanus set forth from Constantinople to annihilate the Islamic Turks but instead at the land-mark battle of Manzikert (1071) the Christian East Roman armies were routed by the mounted archers of the Turks. This battle proved to the Muslims that they could beat a crack Christian army and for the next 500 years the Islamic Turks steadily advanced westwards conquering all of Europe east of Hungary but never Austria but of course eventually taking the Christian headquarter city of Constantinople. After Manzikert, the Emperor of Constantinople asked the Pope in Rome for military support. Unfortunately Pope Urban 2nd saw this request as an opportunity not only to push the Muslims out of Anatolia but also to recapture Jerusalem for Rome, thus pulling a fast one over his Christian theological rivals in Constantinople.

Had the two Christian groups worked together the outcome might have been different and today’s problems in modern day Jerusalem non existent. However the same could be said for the Muslims who were then as now split between the Sunni and Shia factions.

Generally therefore the Crusades were a failure. The first actually recovered Jerusalem and Antioch but the Turks were too powerful and the Christians were soon expelled. English King Richard 1st was involved in the third but his main achievement was taking Cyprus from his allies the Christian Byzantiums and neglecting his subjects back home. The 4th Crusade in the reign of English King John coincides when England lost most of its possessions in France (1204). This Crusade is remembered for the Crusaders diverting from their intended target, Jerusalem to the headquarters of their allies at Constantinople with the intention of looting the city, which they did having been invited through the city gates by those who thought they were friends. English King John was not involved with this Crusade being too busy with domestic problems. The main culprits were the Venetians. 

The 200 years of Crusading failed and Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands until the end of the First World War (1917) when the English, (now British Army) finally retook Jerusalem and tried to make it an open city for Christians, Muslims and Jews. Currently after almost 2000 years, thanks to the British who enabled Jews to return to the Holy Land following 2000 years of persecution by Christians, Jews rule Jerusalem once more, Christians are almost unrepresented but Muslims are still the majority. Fundamental Jews and Muslims both want Jerusalem for themselves and mini wars are frequent. Christians who are not represented locally in any numbers but are the current superpowers want the town to be open to all three.

There were 8 Crusades in all. The first in 1096 in the reign of William (Rufus) the 2nd, and the last in 1270 in the reign of Henry 3rd. Plantagenet King Richard 1st was the most famous Crusader from the line of English Kings but was so involved that the English never saw him and his French lands were neglected. 

Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire.

Genghis and his sons created havoc across Asia and Eastern Europe over a period from 1211 to 1241 (During the reign of Henry 3rd) when his armies from Mongolia having dominated China, Persia and Russia entered Poland. Here they were particularly ferocious killing more than 80% of the population. Europe was quaking at the knees particularly as the Roman Church claimed Mongols were sent by God to punish Christians for their sins. Fortunately one of Genghis’ sons died back in the East and their armies in Europe turned for home.

The Mongols owed their military supremacy to the use of horses in battle much as the Normans had done but the Mongols took it to the next level. Each member of their cavalry had not one but five horses all rideable with leg and voice aids alone so the riders could use both hands for shooting arrows with extreme accuracy.  

Jews

Ever since Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the Official Roman Religion Jews became second class citizens not permitted to own slaves without which farming was uneconomic. So they turned to city life. In Norman times life became worse for them when the Pope forbade all Christians from lending money and this trade was then taken up by the Jews. We have seen that William the Conqueror brought Jews  with him to England. As money lenders they were despised and as they also did or were not allowed to integrate and they were often accused of crimes they had nothing to do with. This caused many Kings to expel Jews to keep their nations happy. In England Edward 1st expelled all Jews in 1290. Oliver Cromwell allowed them back.

In Poland their population had been so decimated by the Mongols in 1241 that their King asked the Germans if they would like to send any people to Poland to rebuild the population, this they did with alacrity, their population of Jews! This is why Poland had more Jews than any other country. That is until the Second World War when Hitler tried to exterminate the lot. Auschwitz etc.  

It should also be noted that: 

Towns

The largest towns at the start of the period reflected that business and culture were very much centred around today’s Middle East namely, Baghdad ruled by the Islamic Turks and Constantinople ruled by Byzantine (Roman) Christians at the start of the period and Islamic Turks by the end. Both had populations over 100,000. However during the early Plantagenet period the Italian port cities of Genoa and Pisa increased their population over the 15,000 mark with Venice and Milan over 25,000. In England the port and capital city London had increased to over 15,000 and was comparable to Bruges, Ghent Paris, Toledo, Cordoba and Seville. The latter two cities are in modern day southern Spain but were then ruled by Islamic forces from North Africa.

Trade

All the above towns were fuelled by trade. The English had discovered that English wool (from sheep) was the best in Europe and was the prime supplier to the cloth manufactures in Bruges. Wool kept the economy going in England for the whole of the Plantagenet period. At the same time Cairo and the surrounding Nile valley was the main producer of cotton which was shipped to Europe from Alexandria (a larger city than London) via Venetian and Genoese shipping. The trade balance between Muslim east and Christian west was very much in favour of the Muslims. The difference was made up by silver mined in Saxony, Carinthia (south east Austria) and Sardinia. The spice trade already flourished and the Muslim Arab traders now had a monopoly creating much discontent in Western Europe. Along with spices, wheat, Linens, Paper and Sugar found there way into Europe via Alexandria in Egypt, Constantinople, Venice and Genoa. 

Finance

After the expulsion of Jews, certain Italian traders took up the business of lending money, notably the nobles in Florence and Genoa. A Plantagenet King would have to travel all that way (almost 1000 miles) to negotiate a loan. Notwithstanding this, one beleaguered Byzantine Emperor of Constantinople travelled as far as London to drum up support and finance for his continuous battle with the Muslim Turks as he was turned down in Italy. He was unlucky in England too!

How could Italians be bankers when the Pope had forbade it? The solution was quite simple, by the payment to the church of a fat sum which miraculously absolved the money lenders of their sins! The Medici bankers in Florence were told by the Pope to pay for the decoration of the local churches and thus was financed the fantastic Renaissance art of Michael Angelo and co.

Linage and culture

Plantagenet kings were even more French than the Normans (who were largely of Viking blood.) The first Plantagenet was King Henry 2nd whose father owned vast lands in Anjou an area as big as Normandy around the modern town of Tours. Henry’s wife Eleanor ruled the even larger territory to the south called Aquitaine. Plantagenet Kings were thus the richest clan in Europe and ruled England and half of France. Unfortunately weak King John lost most of the French Territory and the 100 years war is the name given to the series of battles designed to regain the lost French territories.

This loss of land had an upside;

  • The commencement of the weakening and absolute power of the King via the development of Magna Carta, then a Parliament of Barons and Bishops followed by a House of Lords (Barons and Bishops) and a House of Commons (elected commoners), leading to human rights ahead of the rest of Europe.

  • The slow Anglicization of the French bred English Kings.

The power of the church in Rome

The Pope held his subjects in fear more than love as both Kings and the ordinary people were petrified by the process of death and the fear of going to hell rather than heaven or something in-between which seemed as bad as hell. This enabled the Church to collect easy money from parishioners who were persuaded that cash payments to the church would guarantee a passage to heaven.

The Pope acted as a one man European parliament as Kings would have to clear with him who they married, why they were going to war and who could be local national Church leaders like Archbishops. It was not until English King Henry 8th broke this bond (c1530) and created the climate for individual learning and logical thought, allowing England to be come the Super Power of Victorian times.


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