The Plantagenets were a French family that assumed control of the English throne in 1133. Although the Plantagenets were not successful in gaining power in France, the English Plantagenet Kings ruled until 1485. The line comprised 14 monarchs, and fell into extinction at the hands of the Tudor Dynasty.
The house of Anjou, or Angevin Dynasty, as the family was called in their native France, was one of four main ruling families in Northern France. They are said to have been rowdy and some experts believe the male line had a history of insanity or mania. One Angevin count, Fulk III of Anjou, accused his wife of adultery and had her burned at the stake in her wedding gown. After the accession of William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne in 1066, the Anjou house lost most of its power. The province of Anjou was eventually taken by the French Crown in 1206.
In 1128, Matilda, the grand-daughter of the English king, married the Geoffery Plante Genest, Duke of Anjou. Through political wrangling, Matilda managed to get her son, Henry, in line for the English crown. In 1154, after defeating King Stephen of England in battle, the Plantagenets forced Stephen to name Henry as heir by signing the Treaty of Wallingford. Henry was crowned Henry II of England on 19 December 1154, beginning the Plantagenet reign over the country.
Henry II was succeeded by his third son, Richard the Lionhearted. Richard spent most of his youth in a battle for succession between his father and his older brothers. Eventually, after Henry’s defeat by Richard at the Battle of Ballans, Henry named Richard his heir. Richard’s throne passed to his younger brother John at his death. From John onwards, the throne passed from father to son for several generations.
At the end of the 14th century, the line splintered into two groups, the House of Lancaster and the House of York. The split was the result of a complex line of succession between the sons of King Edward III. Edward’s heir died of illness, and the King made his grandson, Richard II, his new heir. This infuriated Edward’s younger sons, the Duke of Lancaster and the Duke of York. Richard II was eventually captured, deposed and killed by Henry Bolingbroke, son of the Duke of Lancaster. Henry succeeded as Henry IV, continuing the rule of the family.
Experts are divided as to how to identify the line after the succession of Henry IV. Some still consider Henry and his descendants part of the Plantagenets, while others refer to the following monarchs as the Lancaster and York kings. Genetically, the line of Plantagenets continued until the defeat of Richard III in 1485. After this point, the Tudor Dynasty took the throne, ending the reign of the Plantagenets. The direct genetic line died out with the execution of Edward, Earl of Warwick in 1499 and Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, in 1541.
In their centuries-long rule, the Plantagenets oversaw many key events in British history. In 1215, King John signed the Magna Carta, guaranteeing protection from unlawful imprisonment to all citizens. The plague reached Britain in 1348, leaving 1.5 million people dead in the wake of the Black Death. Lancastrian King Henry V won the storied battle of Agincourt in 1415 against incredible odds, securing the recapture of British lands on the European continent. The rule of the Plantagenets was essential in forming the modern character of England, and has provided endless sources of material for books, plays and films throughout the ages.