The House of Plantagenet derives its name from the sprig of ginster (planta ginestra) that Geoffrey of Anjou, Empress Matilda's second husband, used to wear on his helmet when he rode into battle.
Not the most devoted of husbands, Geoffrey had no interest in assisting his wife to the throne of England. He had battles aplenty closer to home.
But Geoffrey and Matilda's eldest son Henry was lured by the beckoning crown into joining the civil strife that ravaged England for twenty years.
And the Empress Matilda, one of the monarchs that England never had, nevertheless lived to see her son crowned as the first of the English monarchs from the House of Plantagenet.
King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, have long headed my list of fantasy dinner party guests. Temperamental and learned, by turns brutal and courtly, they built an empire stretching from Scotland to the Pyrenees. Henry restored order to his war-ravaged realm, and streamlined government. And for a time, he was the envy of Europe.
But the empire assembled with such speed, fell apart almost as rapidly and by the time Henry's youngest son John held the throne, most of Henry's continental assets were lost and the English barons became restive and keen to assert their rights.
John was forced by his barons to grant the Magna Carta, his son Henry III was held prisoner while Simon de Montfort established a parliament and it was not until Edward I came to rule, that England again had a strong central monarchy.
But a genius for administration and government is not hereditary and a crown is a glittering prize for anyone brave enough to reach for it. And so followed a period of revolts, unrests, wars and regicide - culminating in that blood bath of the late Middle Ages: the Wars of the Roses.
The turbulent Plantagenets ruled England for 330 years, longer than any other family. But their luck finally ran out at the Battle of Bosworth where Richard III, the last of the English monarchs from the House of Plantagenet, faced his maker.
|11164 - 1189||Henry II|
|1189 - 1199||Richard I (The Lionheart)|
|1199 - 1216||John|
|1216 - 1272||Henry III|
|1272 - 1307||Edward I|
|1307 - 1327||Edward II|
|1327 - 1377||Edward III|
|1377 - 1399||Richard II|
|1399 - 1413||Henry IV|
|1413 - 1422||Henry V|
|1422 - 1461||Henry VI|
|1461 - 1483||Edward IV|
|1483 - 1485||Richard III|
Return from the Plantagenet Kings of England to the English monarchs page to explore other periods of England's fascinating history.