The Plantagenet Dynasty in the History of Great Britain
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ÔÀÊÓËÜÒÅÒ “ßÇÛÊÈ È ÊÓËÜÒÓÐÛ”
“Äèíàñòèÿ Ïëàíòàãåíåòîâ â èñòîðèè Àíãëèè”
Ñòóäåíò 301 à/è ãðóïïû
Institute of foreign Languages
Faculty “ Languages and Cultures”
«The Plantagenet Dynasty in the History
of Great Britain”
Student 301 a/i group
Part I. The early Plantagenets ( Angeving kings) 6-16
1. Henry II 7-11
2. Richard I Coeur de Lion 12-13
3. John Lackland 14-16
Part II. The last Plantagenets 17-30
1. Henry III 17-18
2. Edward I 19-20
3. Edward II 21-22
4. Edward III 23-24
5. Richard II 25-30
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a monarchy, now Parliamentary and once an absolute one. That’s why the history of the country closely connected with the history of Royal dynasties.
Speaking about royal dynasties in England we should take in mind the fact, that the first one appeared in the country with the Norman invasion in 1066. In the ancient time after Anglo-Saxon invasion the country consisted of small kingdoms each ruled by its own king. Their representatives (Chieftains of the kingdoms)– the Witan – chose king of England (for example Edward the Confessor). It was William the Conqueror, who began the first dynasty – House of Normandy. William I the Conqueror –Duke of Normandy (1035-1087) invaded England, defeated and killed his rival Harold at the Battle of Hastings and became King of England. With the coronation of William the new period in history of England began. England turned into a centralizes , strong feudal monarchy. The period of small kingdoms ended and started the Era of Absolute Monarchy. William was Duke of Normandy and at the same time the King of England. He controlled two large areas: Normandy – inherited from his father and England – he won it. Both areas were his personal possession. To William the only difference was that in France he had a King above him and he had to serve him. In England he had nobody above him. Nobody could say who he was – an Englishman or a Frenchman. The Norman Conquest of England was completed by 1072 aided by the establishment of feudalism under which his followers were granted land in return for pledges of service and loyalty. As King William was noted for his efficient harsh rule. His administration relied upon Norman and other foreign personnel especially Lanfranc Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1085 started Domesday Book. In this book there was the reflection of what happened to England.
The next kings were kings of Plantagenet’s dynasty.
I have chosen the history of this dynasty as a subject for my course paper because, on the one hand, being a student of the English language I can’t but be interested in the history of this country, and, on the other hand, not so much is written about the Plantagenet’s kings, among which there were such world-known persons as Richard-the-Lion Heart and John Lackland.
Part I. The early Plantagenets (Angeving kings)
House of Plantagenet.
“The Plantagenet dynasty took its name form the “planta Genesta” (Latine), or broom, traditionally an emblem of the counts of Anjou. Geoffrey is the only true Plantagenet so-called, because he wore a spring of broom-genet in his cap. It was a personal nickname, such as Henry’s “Curt-manted”. Soon this nick-name habit was to die, to be replaced by names taken from one’s birthplace. Members of this dynasty ruled over England from 1154 till 1399. However, in conventional historical usage , Henry II (son of Count Geoffrey of Anjou) and his sons Richard I and John are Normandy termed the Angeving kings, and their successors, up to Richard II, the Plantagenets. The term Plantagenet was not used until about 1450, when Richard, Duke of York, called himself by it in order to emphasize his royal descent from Edward III’s fifth son, Edmund of Langley.”(1)
“Henry II, the first Plantagenet, born in 1133, was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count Of Anjou, and Matilda, the daughter of Henry I. Henry II, the first and the greatest of three Angevin kings of England, succeeded Stephen in 1154. Aged 21, he already possessed a reputation for restless energy and decisive actions. He was to inherit vast lands. As their heir to his mother and his father he held Anjou (hence Angevin) , Maine, and Touraine; as the heir to his brother Geoffrey he obtained Brittany; as the husband of Eleanor, the divorced wife of Louis VII of France, he held Aquitaine, the major part of southwestern France. Altogether his holdings in France were far larger than those of the French king. They have become known as the Angevin empire, although Henry II never in fact claimed any imperial rights or used the title of the emperor.” (2) From the beginning Henry showed himself determined to assert and maintain his rights in all his lands.
In the first decade of his reign Henry II was largely concerned with continental affairs, though he made sure that the forged castles in England were destroyed. Many of the earldoms created in the anarchy of Stephen’s reign were allowed to lapse. Major change in England began in the mid 1160s. The Assize of Clarendon of 1166. , and that Northampton 10 years later, promoted public order. Juries were used to provide evidence of what crimes had been committed and to bring accusations. New forms of legal actions were introduced , notably the so-called prossessory assizes, which determined who had the right to immediate possession of land, not who had the best fundamental right. That could be decided by the grand assize, by means of which a jury of 12 knights would decide the case. The use of standardized forms of edict greatly simplified judicial administration. “Returnable” edicts, which had to be sent back by the head to the central administration, enabled the crown to check that its instruction were obeyed. An increasing number of cases came before royal court rather than private feudal courts. Henry I’s practice of sending out itinerant justices was extended and systematized. In 1170 a major inquiry into local administration, the Inquest of Sheriffs, was held, and many sheriffs were dismissed.
There were important changes to the military system. In 1166 the tenants in chief commandment to disclose the number of knights enfeoffed on their lands so that Henry could take proper financial advantage of changes that had taken place since his grandfather’s days. Scutage (tax which dismissed of military service) was an important source of funds, and Henry preferred scutage to service because mercenaries were more efficient than feudal contingents. In the Assize of Arms of 1181 Henry determined the arms and equipment appropriate to every free man, based on his income from land. This measure, which could be seen as a revival of the principles of the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, was intended to provide for a local militia, which could be used against invasion, rebellion, or for peacekeeping.
“Henry attempted to restore the close relationship between Church and State that had existed under the Norman kings. His first move was the appointment in 1162 of Thomas Becket as archbishop of Canterbury. Henry assumed that Becket, who had served efficiently as chancellor since 1155 and been a close companion to him, would continue to do so as archbishop. Becket, however, disappointed him. Once appointed archbishop, he became a militant defender of Church against royal encroachment and a champion of the papal ideology of ecclesiastical supremacy over the lay world. The struggle between Henry and Becket reached a crisis at the Council of Clarendon in 1164. In the constitution of Clarendon Henry tried to set down in writing the ancient customs of the land. The most controversial issue proved to be that of jurisdiction over “criminous clerks” (clerics who had committed crimes); the king demanded that such men should , after trial in church courts, be sent for punishment in royal courts.” (3)
“Becket initially accepted the Constitution but would not set his seal to it. Shortly thereafter, however, he suspended himself from office for the sin of yielding to the royal will in the matter. Although he failed to obtain full papal support at this stage, Alexander III ultimately came to his aid over the Constitutions. Later in 1164 Becket was charged with peculation of royal funds when chancellor. After Becket had taken flight for France, the king confiscated the revenues of his province, exiled his friends, and confiscated their revenues. In 1170 Henry had his eldest son crowned king by the archbishop of York, not Canterbury, as was traditional. Becket, in exile, appealed to Rome and excommunicated the clergy who had taken part in the ceremony. A reconciliation between Becket and Henry at the end of the same year settled none of the points at issue.” (4) When Becket returned to England, he took further measures against the clergy who had taken part in the coronation. In Normandy the enraged king, hearing the news, burst out with the fateful words that incited four of his knights to take ship for England and murder the archbishop of Canterbury Cathedral.
Almost overnight the martyred Thomas became a saint in the eyes of the people. Henry repudiated responsibility for the murder and reconciled himself with the church. But despite various royal promises to abolish customs injurious to the church, royal control of the church was little affected. Henceforth criminous clerks were to be tried in church courts, save for offenses against the forest laws. Disputes over ecclesiastical patronage and church lands that were held on the same terms as lay estates were, however, to come under royal jurisdiction. Finally Henry did penance at Canterbury, allowing the monks to scourge him. But with Becket out of the way, it proved possible to negotiate most of the points at issue between church and state. The martyred archbishop, however, was to prove a potent example for future prelates.
Rebellion of Henry’s sons and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Henry’s sons, urged on by their mother and by a coalition of Henry’s enemies, raised a rebellion throughout his domains in 1173. King William I the Lion of Scotland joined the rebel coalition and invaded the north of England. Lack of cooperation among the rebels, however, enabled Henry to defeat them one at a time with a mercenary army. The Scottish king was taken prisoner at Alnwick. Queen Eleanor was retired to polite imprisonment for the rest of Henry’s life. The king’s sons and the baronial rebels were treated with leniency, but many baronial castles were destroyed following the rising. “A brief period of amity between Henry and Louis of France followed, and the years between 1175 and 1182 marked the zenith of Henry’s prestige and power.” (5) In 1183 the younger Henry again tried to organize opposition to his father, but he died in June of the year. Henry spent the last years of his life locked in combat with the new French king, Philip II Augustus, with whom his son Richard had entered into an alliance. Even his youngest son, John, deserted him in the end. In 1189 Henry died a broken man, disappointed and defeated by his sons and by the French king.
Henry II was succeeded by his son Richard I, nicknamed the Lion Heart. Richard was born in 1157, and spent much of his youth in his mother’s court at Poitiers. “Richard, a renowned and skillful warrior, was manly interested in the Crusade to recover Jerusalem and in the struggle to maintain his French holdings against Philip Augustus.” (6) He spent only about six mouths in England during his reign. “During his frequent absences he left a committee in charge of the realm. The chancellor William Longchamp, bishop of Ely, dominated the early part of the reign until forced into exile by baronial rebellion in 1191. Walter of Coutances, archbishop of Rouen, succeeded Longchamp, but the most important and abled of Richard’s ministers was Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury, justicial from 1193 to 1198, and chancellor from 1199 to 1205. With the king's mother , Eleanor, he put down a revolt by Richard’s brother John in 1193 with strong and effective measures. But when Richard returned from abroad, he forgave John and promised him the succession.” (7)
“This reign saw some important innovations in taxation and military organization. Warfare was expensive, and in addition Richard was captured on his return from the Crusade by Leopold V of Austria and held for a high ransom of 150 000 marks. Various methods of raising money were tried: an aid or scutage; tax on plow lands; a general tax of a fourth of revenues and chattels (this was a development of the so-called Saladin Tithe raised earlier for the Crusade); and a seizure of the wool crop of Cistercian and Gilbertine houses. The ransom, although never paid in full, caused Richard’s government to become highly unpopular.” (8) Richard also faced some unwillingness on the part of his English subjects to serve in France. A plan to raise a force of 300 knights who would serve for a whole year met with opposition led by the bishops of Lincoln and Salisbury. Richard was, however, remarkably successful in mastering the resources, financial and human, of his kingdom in support of his wars. It can also be argued that his demands on England weakened that realm unduly and that Richard left his successor a very difficult legacy.
Richard, mortally wounded at a siege in France in 1199, was succeeded by his brother John, one of the most detested of English kings. John was born on Christmas Eve 1167, Henry II’s youngest son. John’s reign was characterized by failure. Yet, while he must bear a heavy responsibility for his misfortunes, it is only fair to recognize that he inherited the resentment that had built up against his brother and father. Also while his reign ended in disaster, some of his financial and military measures anticipated positive development in Edward I’s reign.
Loss of French possessions.
“John had nothing like the military ability or reputation of his brother. He could win a battle in a fit of energy, only to lose his advantage in a spell of indolence. After repudiating his first wife, Isabella of Gloucestor, John married the fiancée of Hugh IX the Brown of the Lusignan family, one of his vassals in Poitou. For this offense he was summoned to answer to Philip II , his feudal ovelord for his holdings in France. When John refused to attend , his land in France were declared forfeit.” (9) In the subsequent war he succeeded in capturing his nephew Arthur of Brittany, whom many in Anjou and elsewhere regarded as Richard I’s rightful heir. Arthur died under mysterious and suspicious circumstances. But once the great castle of Chateau Gaillard, Richard I’s pride and joy, had fallen in March 1204, the collapse of Normandy followed swiftly. “By 1206 all that was left of the inheritance of the Norman kings was the Channel Islands. John, however, was determined to recover his losses.”(10)
Revolt of the barons and Magna Carta.
For 200 years of ruling of Norman kings the country was ruled over on such principles: King took money from barons, especially for wars. Those who refused to pay were arrested and kept in prison and they could not defend themselves. Their children or their relatives had to pay for them. The end of such situation came at reign of John Lackland. He was very unpopular with his barons. In 1215 John called on for his barons to fight for him in the war against Normandy and pay money for it. The barons, no longer trusting John refused to pay and there began a revolt. Barons gazed much to London and were joined by London merchants.
“On June 15, 1215 the rebellion barons met John at Rennemede on the Themes. The King was presented with a document known as the Articles of the Barons, on the basis of which Magna Carta was drawn up. Magna Carta became the symbol of political freedom. It promised two main things:
1. All “free man” protection of his officials
2. The right to afair and legal trial
It was the first official document when this principle was written down. It was very important for England. Magna Carta was always used by barons to protect themselves from a powerful king.” (11)
But we should say that Magna Carta gave no real freedom to the majority of people in England (only 1/3 of population were free men). Nobles did not allow John and his successors to forget this charter. Every king had to recognize the Magna Carta. This document was the beginning of limiting the prerogatives of crown and on the other hand by limiting king’s power Magna Carta restricted arbitrary action of barons towards the knights. Magna Carta marked a clear stage in the collapse of the English feudalism.
“After king’s signing the document barons established a committee of 24 barons to make sure that John kept his promise. This committee was a beginning of English Parliament.”(12)
From the very beginning Magna Carta was a failure, for it was no more than a stage in ineffective negotiations to prevent civil war. John was released by the pope from his obligations under it. The document was, however, reissued with some changes under John’s son, with papal approval. John himself died in October 1216, with the civil war still at an inconclusive stage.
“Summing up the events of the late 12th century and the early 13th century historians describe as “Plantagenet spring after a grim Norman winter”. The symbol of this spring is the century of new Gothic Style. One of the best example of Gothic architecture is Salisbury Cathedral. Also it is a century of forming Parliament. The century of growing literacy which is closely connected with 12th century cultural movement, which is called Renaissance. In England Renaissance was a revolution in thoughts, ideas and learning. In England there began grammar schools. But all of them taught Latin. In the end of the 12th century in England appeared two schools of higher learning – Oxford and Cambridge. By 1220 this universities became the intellectual leaders of the century.”(13)
Part II. The last Plantagenets
HENRY III (1216-1272 AD)
“Henry III was the first son of John and Isabella of Angouleme. Was born in 1207. At the age of nine when he was crowned, Henry’s early reign featured two regents: William the Marshall governed until his death in 1219, and Hugh de Burgh until Henry came to the throne in 1232. His education was provided by Peter des Roche, Bishop of Winchester. Henry III married Eleanor of Province in 1236, who bore him four sons and two daughters.” (14)
“Henry inherited a troubled kingdom: London and most of the southeast was in the hands of the French Dauphin Louis and the northern regions were under control of rebellious barons – only the midland and southwest were loyal to the boy king. The barons, however, soon sided with Henry (their quarrel was with his father, not him), and the old Marshall expelled the French Dauphin from English soil by 1217.” (15)
“Henry was a cultivated man, but a lousy politician. His court was inundated by Frenchmen and Italians who came at the behest of Eleanor, whose relations were handed important Church and state position. His father and uncle left him an impoverished kingdom. Henry financed costly fruitless wars with extortionate taxation. Inept diplomacy and failed war led Henry to sell his hereditary claims to all the Angevin possessions in France, but to save Gascony (which was held as a fief of the French crown) and Calais.”(16) “Henry’s failures incited hostilities among a group of barons led by his brother in law , Simon de Montfort. Henry was forced to agree to a wide ranging plan of reforms, the so called “Provisions of Oxford”. His later papal absolution from adhering to the Provisions prompted a baronial revolt in 1263, and Henry was summoned to the first Parliament, in 1265 – Parliament (from the French word “parleman” – meeting for discussion) was summoned with “Commons” represented in it – two knights from a shire and two merchants of a town and it turned out to have been a real beginning of the English parlamentarism.”(17) Here we should note, the main peculiarity of English Parliament, distinguishing it from most others: it was created as a means of opposition. Not to help the king, but to limit his power and control him.
Parliament insisted that a council be imposed on the king to advise on policy decisions. He was prone to the infamous Plantagenet temper, but could also be sensitive and quite pious – ecclesiastical architecture reached its apex in Henry’s reign.
The old king, after an extremely long reign of fifty-six years, died in 1272. He found no success in war, but opened up English culture to the cosmopolitanism of the continent. Although viewed as a failure as a politician, his reign defined the English monarchical position until the end of the fifteenth century: kingship limited by law – the repercussions of which influenced the English Civil War in the reign of Charles I, and extended into the nineteenth century queenship of Victoria.
Edward I, Longshanks (1272-1307)
Edward I, the oldest surviving son of Henry II and Eleanor of Provence, was born in 1239. He was nicknamed Longshanks due to his great height and stature. Edward married Eleanor of Castille in 1254, who bore him sixteen children ( seven of whom survived into adulthood) before her death in 1290. Edward reached a peace settlement with Philip IV of France that resulted in his marriage to the French king’s daughter Margaret, who bore him three more children.
“Edward I was a capable statesman, adding much to the institution initiated by Henry II. It 1295, his “Model Parliament” brought together representatives from the nobility, clergy, knights of the shires, and burgesses of the cities – the first gathering of Lords and Commons. Feudal revenues proved inadequate in financing the burgeoning royal courts and administrative institutions. Summoning national Parliament became the accepted forum of gaining revenue and conducting public business. Judicial reform included the expansion of such courts as the King’s Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer and the Chancery Court was established to give redress in circumstances where other courts provided on solution. Edward was pious, but resisted any increase of papal authority in England. Conservators of the Peace, the forerunners of Justices of the Peace, were also established as an institution.”(18)
Foreign policy, namely the unification of the island’s other nations, occupied much of Edward’s time. A major campaign to control Llywelyn ap Gruffydd of Wales began in 1277, and lasted until Liywelyn’s death in 1282. In 1301, the king’s eldest son was created Prince of Wales, a title still held by all mail heirs to the crown. Margaret, Maid of Norway and legitimate heir to the Scottish crown, died in 1290, leaving a disputed succession in Scotland. Edward was asked to arbitrate between thirteen different claimants. John Baliol, Edward’s first choice, was unpopular, his next choice, William Wallace, rebelled against England until his capture and execution in 1305. Robert Bruce seized the Scottish throne in 1306, later to become a source of consternation to Edward II.
Edward died en rout to yet another Scottish campaign in 1307. His character found accurate evaluation by Sir Richard Baker, in A Chronicle of the kings of England: “He had in him the two wisdoms, not often found in any, single. Both together, seldom or never: an ability of judgement in himself, and a readiness to hear the judgment of others. He was not easily provoked into passion, but once in passion , not easily appeared, as was seen by his dealing with the Scots; towards whom he showed at first patience, and at last severity. If he was censured for his many taxations, he may be justified by his well bestowing them; for never prince laid out his money to more honour of himself , or good of his kingdom.” (19)
Edward II the son of Eleanor of Castille and Edward I, was born in 1284. He married Isabella, daughter of Philip IV of France, in 1308. Eleanor bore him two sons and two daughters.
“Edward was as much of a failure as a king as his father was a success. He loved money and other rewards upon his mail favourites, raising the ire of the nobility. The most notable was Piers Gaveston, his homosexual lover. On the day of Edward’s marriageó to Isabella, Edward preferred the couch of Gaveston to that of his new wife. Gaveston was exiled and eventually murdered by Edward’s father for his licentious conduct with the king. Edward’s means of maintaining power was based on the noose and the block – 28 knights and barons were executed for rebelling against the decadent king.” (20)
Edward faired no better as a solder. The rebellions of the barons opened the way for Robert Bruce to grasp much of Scotland. Bruce’s victory over English forces at the battle of Bannockburn, in 1314, ensured Scottish independence until the union of England and Scotland in 1707.
In 1324 the war broke out with France, prompting Edward to sent Isabella and their son Edward (later became Edward III) to negotiate with her brother and French king, Charles IV. “Isabella fell into an open romance with Roger Mortimer, one of the Edward’s disaffected barons. The rebellious couple invaded England in 1327, capturing and imprisoning Edward. The king was deposed, replaced by his son, Edward III.”(21)
Edward II was murdered in September 1327 at Berkley castle, by a red-hot iron inserted through his sphincter into his bowels. Comparison of Edward I and Edward II was beautifully described by Sir Richard Baker, in reference to Edward I in A Chronicle of the Kings of England “His great unfortunate was in his greatest blessing, for four of his sons which he had by his Queen Eleanor, three of them died in his own lifetime, who were worthy to have outlived him, and the fourth outlived him, who was worthy never to have been born.” ( 22 ) A strong indictment of a weak king.” (23)
Edward III (1327-1377)
Edward III, the eldest son of Edward II and Isabella of France, was born in 1312. His youth was spent in his mother’s court , until he was crowned at the age of 14, in 1327. Edward was dominated by his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer, until 1330, wen Mortimer was executed and Isabella was exiled from court. Philippa of Hainault married Edward in 1328 and bore him many children.
The Hundred Years’ War occupied the largest part of Edward’s reign. It began in 1338-1453. The war was carried during the reign of 5 English kings. Edward III and Edward Baliol defeated David II of Scotland, and drove him into exile in 1333. The French cooperation with the Scots, French aggression in Gascony, and Edward’s claim to the throne of France (through his mother Isabella, who was the sister of the king; the Capetiance failed to produce a mail heir) led to the outbreak of War. “The sea battle of Sluys (1340) gave England control of the Channel, and battle at Crecy (1346), Calais (1347), and Poitiers (1356) demonstrated English supremacy on the land. Edward, the Black Prince and eldest son of Edward III, excelled during this first phase of the war.”(24)
Throughout 1348-1350 the epidemic of a plague so called “The Black Death” swept across England and northern Europe, removing as much as half the population. This plague reached every part of England. Few than one of ten who caught the plague could survive it. If in Europe 1/3 of population died within a century , in England 1/3 of population died during two years. The whole villages disappeared. This plague continued till it died out itself. English military strength weakened considerably after the plague, gradually lost so much ground that by 1375, Edward agreed to the Treaty of Bruges, which only left England Calais, Bordeaux, and Bayonne.
Domestically, England saw many changes during Edward’s reign. Parliament was divided into two Houses – Lords and Commons – and met regularly to finance the war. Treason was defined by statute for the first time (1352). In 1361 the office of Justice of the Peace was created. Philippa died in 1369 and the last years of Edward’s reign mirrored the first; he was once again dominated by a woman, his mistress, Alice Perrers. Alice preferred one of Edward’s other sons, John of Gaunt, over the Black Prince, which caused political conflict in Edward’s last years.
Edward the Black Prince died one year before his father. Rafael Holinshed intimated that Edward spent his last year in grief and remorse, believing the death of his son was a punishment for usurping his father’s crown. In Chronicles of England, Holinshed wrote: “But finally the thing that most grieved him, was the loss of that most noble gentleman, his dear son Prince Edward…. But this and other mishaps that chanced to him now in his old years, might seem to come to pass for a revenge of his disobedience showed to his in usurping against him….” (25)
There is one more point about Edward’s reign, concerning the English language. Edward had forbidden speaking French in his army, and by the end of the 14th century English once again began being used instead of French by ruling literate class.
Richard II (1377-99)
Richard II’s reign was fraught with crisis – economic , social, political, and constitutional. He was 10 years old when his grandfather died, and the first problem the country faced was having to deal with his monitoring. A “constitutional council” was set up to “govern the king and his kingdom”. Although John of Gaunt was still the dominant figure in the royal family, neither he no his brothers were included.
The peasant’s revolt.
“(1381) Financing the increasingly expensive and unsuccessful war with France was a major preoccupation. At the end of Edward III’s reign a new device, a poll tax of four pence a head, had been introduced. A similar but graduated tax followed in 1379, and in 1380 another set at one shilling a head was granted. It proved inequitable and impractical, and when the government tried to speed up collection in the spring of 1381 a popular rebellion – the Peasants’ Revolt – ensued. Although the pool tax was the spark that set it off, there were also deeper causes related to changes in the economy and to political developments.”(26) The government in practical, engendered hostility to the legal system by its policies of expanding the power of the justices of the peace at the expense of local and monorail courts. In addition, popular poor preachers spread subversive ideas with slogans such as : “When Adam delved and Eve span/ Who was then the gentleman?” (27) The Peasants’ revolt began in Essex and Kent. Widespread outbreaks occurred the southeast of England, taking the form of assault on tax collectors, attacks on landlords and their manor houses, destruction of documentary evidence of villein status, and attacks on lawyers. Attacks on religious houses, such as that at St. Albans, were particularly severe, perhaps because they had been among the most conservative of landlords in commuting labour services.
The men of Essex and Kent moved to London to attack the king’s councilors. Admitted to the city by sympathizers, they attacked John of Gaunt’s place of the Savoy as well as the Fleet prison. On June 14 the young king made them various promises at Mile End; on the same day they broke into the Tower and killed Sudbury, the chancellor, Hales, the treasure and other officials. On the next day Richard met the rebels again at Smithfield, and their main leader, Wat Tyler, presented their demands. But during the negotiations Tyler was attacked and slain by the mayor of London. The young king rode forward and reassured the rebels, asking them to follow him to Clerkenwell. This proved to be a turning point, and the rebels, their suppliers exhausted, began to make their way home. “Richard went back on his promises he had made saying, “Villeins you are and villeins you shall remain.”(28) In October Parliament confirmed the king’s revocation of charters but demanded amnesty save for a few special offenders.
“The events of the Peasants’ Revolt may have given Richard an exalted idea of his own powers and prerogative as a result of his success at Smithfield, but for the rebels the gains of the rising amounted to no more than the abolition of the poll taxes.”(29) Improvement in the social position of the peasantry did occur, but not so mach as a consequence of the revolt as of changes in the economy that would have occurred anyhow.
“Religious unrest was another subversive factor under Richard II. England had been virtually free from heresy until John Wycliffe, a priest and an Oxford scholar, began his career as a religious reformer with two treaties in 1375 – 76. He argued that the exercise of lordship depended on grace and that therefore, a sinful man had no right to authority. Priest had even the pope himself , Wycliffe went on to argue, might not necessarily be in state of grace and thus would lack authority. Such doctrines appealed to anticlerical sentiments and brought Wycliffe into direct conflict with the church hierarchy, although he received protection from John of Gaunt. The beginning of the Great Schism in 1378 gave Wycliffe fresh opportunities to attack the papacy, and in a treaties of 1379 on the Eucharist he openly denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. He was ordered before the church court at Lambeth in 1378. In 1380 his views were condemned by a commission of theologians at Oxford, and he was forced to leave the university. At Lutterworth he continued to write voluminously until his death.”(30)
Political struggles and Richard’s desposition.
Soon after putting down the Peasants’ Revolt, Richard began to build up a court party, partly in opposition to Gaunt. A crisis was precipitated in 1386 when the king asked Parliament for a grant to meet the French treat. Parliament responded by demanding the dismissal of the king’s favorites, but Richard insisted that he would not dismiss so much as a scullion in the kitchen at the request of Parliament. In the end he was forced by the impeachment of the chancellor, Michel de la Pole, to agree to the appointment of a reforming commission. Richard withdrew from London and went on a “gyration” of the country. He called his judges before him at Shrewsbury and asked them to pronounce the actions of Parliament illegal. An engagement at Radcot Bridge, at which Richard’s favorite, Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford was defeated settled the matter of ascendancy. In the Merciless Parliament of 1388 five lords accused the king’s friends of treason under an expansive definition of the crime.
“Richard was chastened, but he began to recover his authority as early as the autumn of 1388 at the Cambridge Parliament. Declaring himself to be of age in 1389, Richard anounced that he was taking over the government. He pardoned the Lords Appellant and ruled with some moderation until 1394, when his queen Ann of Bohemia, died.”(31) After putting down a rebellion in Ireland, he was , for a time, almost popular. He began to implement his personal policy once more and rebuilt a royal party with the help of a group of young nobles. He made a 28- years truce with France and married the French king’s seven-year-old daughter. He built up a household of faithful servants, including the notorious Sir John Bushy, Sir William Bagot, and Sir Henry Green. “He enlisted household troops and built a wide network of “king’s knight” in the counties, distributing to them his personal budge, the White Hart.”(32)
The first sign of renewed crisis emerged in January 1397, when complaints were put forward in Parliament and their author, Thomas Haxey, was adjudged a traitor. “Richard’s rule, based on fear rather then consent, became increasingly tyrannical.”(33) Three of the Lords Appellant of 1388 were arrested in July and tried in Parliament. The Earl of Arundel was executed and Warwick exiled. Gloucester, whose death was reported to Parliament, had probably been murdered. The act of the 1388 Parliament was repealed. Richard was granted the customs of revenues for life, and the power of parliament was delegated to a committee after the assembly was dissolved. Richard also built up a power base in Cheshire.
Events leading to Richard’s downfall followed quickly. The Duke of Norfolk and Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son, accused each other of treason and were banished, the former for life, the latter for 10 years. Hen Gaunt himself died early in 1399, Richard confiscated his estates instead of allowing his son to claim them. Richard seemingly secure, went off to Ireland. Henry, however landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire to claim, as he said, his father’s estate and the hereditary stewardship. The Percys, the chief lord of the north, welcomed him. Popular support was widespread, and when Richard returned from Ireland his cause was lost.
“The precise course of events is hard to reconstruct., in view of subsequent alteration to the records. A Parliament was called in Richard’s name, but before it was fully assembled at the end of September, its members were presented with Richard’s alleged abdication and Henry’s claim to the throne as legitimate descendant of Henry III as well as by right of conquest.”(34) Thirty-tree articles of deposition were set forth against Richard, and his abdication and deposition were duly accepted. Richard died at Pontefract Castle, either of self-starvation or by smothering. Thus ended the last attempt of a medieval king to exercise arbitrary power. “Whether or not Richard had been motivated by new theories about the nature of monarchy, as some have claimed, he had failed in the practical measures necessary to sustain his power. He had tried to rule through fear and mistrust in his final years, but he had neither gained sufficient support among the magnates by means of patronage nor created a popular basis of support in the shires and in 1399 Richard was disposed and he abdicated to theó favour of Henry Lancaster and so the dynasty of Plantagenets ended.”(35)
Summing up the events of Plantagenets rule and their role in the history of England, we should mark the following.
11th - 12th centuries (the first Plantagenets) were the years of constitutional progress and territorial expansion.
“The 13th century is described as a “Plantagenet spring after a grim Norman winter”. The symbol of this spring is the century of new Gothic Style. One of the best example of Gothic architecture is Salisbury Cathedral. Also it is a century of growing literacy which is closely connected with 12th century cultural movement, which is called Renaissance. In England Renaissance was a revolution in thoughts, ideas and learning, foundation of universities, the development of the Common Law and the Parliament, and emergence of English as the language of the nation.”(36)
The 14th century brought the disasters of the Hundred Years' War (1337 -–1453), the Peasants’ revolt (1381), the extermination of the population by the Black Death (1348 – 1349). Although the outbreak of the Black Death in 1348 dominated the economy of the 14th century, a member of adversities had already occurred in the preceding decades. Severe rains in 1315 and 1316 caused famine, which lead to the spread of disease. Animal epidemic in succeeding of currency in the 1330s. Economic expansion, which had been characteristic of the 13th century, had slowed to a halt. The Black Death, possibly a combination of bubonic and pneumonic plagues, carried off from one-third to one half of the population. In some respects it took time for its effects to become detrimental to the economy, but with subsequent outbreaks, as in 1361 and 1369, the population declined further, causing a severe labor shortage. By the 1370 wages had risen dramatically and prices of foodstuffs fallen. Hired laborers, being fewer, asked for higher wages and better food, and peasant tenants, also fewer, asked for better conditions of tenure when they took up land. Some landlords responded by trying to reassert labor services where they had been commuted. “ The Ordinance(1349) and Statute (1351) of Laborers tried to set maximum wages at the levels of the pre-Black Death years, but strict enforcement proved impossible. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was one result of the social tension caused by the adjustment needed after the epidemic. Great landlords saw their revenues fall as a result of the Black Death, although probably by only about 10 percent, whereas for the lower orders of society real wages rose sharply by the last quarter of the 14th century because of low grain prices and high wages.”(37)
Edward III ruined the major Italian banking companies in England by failing to repay loans early in the Hundred Years’ War. This provided opening for English Merchants, who were given monopolies of wool exports by the crown in return for their support. The most notable was William de la Pole of Hull, whose family rose to noble status. Heavy taxation of wool exports was one reason for the growth of the cloth industry and cloth exports in the 14th century. The wine trade from Gascony was also important. In contrast to the 13th century, no new towns were founded, but London is particular continued to prosper despite the ravage of plague.
“In cultural terms, a striking change in the 14th century was the increasing use of English. Although an attempt to make the use of English mandatory in the law courts failed because lawyers claimed that they could not plead accurately in the language, the vernacular began to creep into public documents and records. Henry of Lancaster even used English when he claimed the throne in 1399. Chaucer wrote in both French and English, but his important poetry is in the latter. The early 14th century was an impressive age for manuscript illumination in England, with the so-called East Anglian school, of which the celebrated Luttrell Psalter represents a late example. In ecclesiastical architecture the development of the Perpendicular style, largely in the second half of the 14th century, was particularly notable.”(38)
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