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Brevity and Brexity: 
A Brief Look at English History

Written by Rick Archer
Last Update: February 2017


Rick Archer's Note: 

Due to my 2017 New Year's Resolution to become better known for my Brevity, the following is an extremely brief six chapter article about Merrye Old England... or, as I prefer to say... the Texas Renaissance Festival on the other side of the Pond.  

Thanks to Marla's upcoming 2017 cruise to the British Isles, I decided to learn more about my June destination.  

Last October, Marla and I visited Europe on our wonderful Greek Isles cruise. 

During our stay, we learned that Continental Europe is so mad at England over Brexit, they don't want to have anything to do with England anymore. 

In their minds, England doesn't belong in Europe.  Go jump in the Pond. 


Ireland and Scotland don't want England anymore either.  They never liked England to begin with and they still don't.  Both countries wish England would go away and leave them alone for good.  Do you blame them?   Of course not!

Keep in mind that Ireland and Scotland both voted to stay in the European Union.  Ireland and Scotland hold England responsible for the Brexit Fiasco.  Plain and simple, Brexit was England's fault entirely. 

Unlike Donald Trump who wants to make America Great again, Ireland and Scotland would prefer to take the 'Great' out of Great Britain and tell England where to put it.  I guess Scotland and Ireland aren't feeling very Greatful anymore. 

Understandably, England is feeling lonely and isolated.  She needs a friend.  As always whenever England is in trouble, the erstwhile Mother of America begins to look longingly in the direction of her former Colonies in North America.  Both the United States and Canada have responded with open arms, but the USA has been the more enthusiastic of the two.   And why is that?  Donald Trump.

Donald Trump wants to take Great from Great Britain and bring it over here to help make America Great again.   That has been part of his plan all along.  I am completely serious... feel free to tell this to any news channel and I have no doubt they will accept it as fact. 


I may be a hermit these days, but I still know stuff.  For one thing, I know that Texas is really big.  It is three times bigger than the United Kingdom. 

However, in the interests of humility, size isn't everything.  For example, Great Britain once ruled the world and Texas was once controlled by Mexico.  Some say it still is.  Build the Wall.

Speaking of Donald Trump, I am privy to inside reports that Donald... no stranger himself to Brexit-style elections... has invited England to forget about Europe and consider becoming part of North America instead.  

England is said to be very tempted, especially after Trump promised to unite the countries with a series of floating Trans-Atlantic golf courses known as 'Putting on the Pond.'  No sand traps, but I hear the water traps will be very deep.   

This is pure synchronicity.  By amazing coincidence, my dear wife Mystic Marla predicted closer ties between America and England when she decided to schedule her 2017 British Isles cruise.   Although I have never visited England, this place is close to my heart.  My family roots on both sides are about as English as they come.  I am part Welsh and mostly English. 

I have a question.  How many of you know where 'America' got its name? 

Believe it or not, the name can be traced back to Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian mapmaker and navigator who followed in the footsteps of Columbus. After drawing some of the early maps of the New World, his name became associated with the two continents. 


Sad to say, even though I am English from top to bottom by heritage, I confess I do not know much about English history.  Curious, I decided to start by figuring out where its name came from.   

Was 'Eng-land' named for some guy named Eng?  Alas, I was disappointed.  There was no one named Eng. 

The 'Britons' were to the island as North America's Indians were to the Spanish, French, and English.  The Britons were the first occupants of 'Britony' and 'Brittany'.   The Britons were there long before Christ.  The Britons were the people the Romans fought back in the days of the Roman Empire.  It was the Romans who named the island 'Britannia'.

During their 400 years of occupation, the Roman influence on England was profound.  In that time, the Romans built walls, cities, forts and roads.  They set the laws and the customs that people lived by.  The Romans brought a sense of order to a land that had only known chaos.  Prior to the Romans, Britain was a disparate set of peoples with no sense of national identity beyond that of their local tribe.  In the wake of the Roman occupation, every 'Briton' became aware of their 'Briton-ish (British)' identity.   In other words, 'everyone who belongs here is British and everyone who doesn't belong here is Roman'.  

The Romans did the island a real favor by civilizing the place somewhat.  Interestingly, the Romans did the same thing for Spain and France.  England, France, and Spain dominated Europe for centuries simply because the Romans had been there to organize things.  Oddly enough, Germany remained disorganized.  Did you know that Germany did not become a country until 1871?   Can you guess why it took them so long? 

I know the answer... Germany was the only major European area that the Romans were never able to conquer.  Consequently 'Germania' as the Romans called it remained divided into hundreds of small territories until late into the 19th Century.  Can you guess who began the German Unification? 

Napoleon.  Once Napoleon kicked the Catholic Church out of 'Germania' and confiscated most of its lands, Germany was finally able to begin unification.  I am not a big fan of warfare, but it obviously serves a purpose.  I find that both disturbing and fascinating. 

Speaking of warfare, the Romans left Britannia when they had to go back and defend Rome against those nasty German barbarians who were swarming all over Western Europe in the 4th century.


However, Rome would never be forgotten.

Every generation of British inhabitant that followed the Romans - be they Angles, Saxons, Normans, Danes, Vikings - would strive to be the next Romans.  Each was trying to regain the glory of that long-lost age when Britannia began the long road towards being a unified island.

The Angles and the Saxons were the Johnny-come-latelies.  They were part of the barbarian invasion of Europe that took out the Roman Empire.  The Angles and the Saxons were two separate tribes who occupied adjacent territory in Southern Denmark and Northern Germany. 

For a while, the two tribes were content to stay where they were.  However, in the 5th century, as more barbarians moved into their area, they decided to migrate.  There are theories that suggest the two tribes became aware of the vacuum created by the departure of the Romans and moved west to take advantage. 

The Angles and the Saxons carved out territory to call their own along the eastern and southern coast of Britannia.   Historically, the Anglo-Saxon period denotes the period in Britain between about 450 and 1066, the dates of their initial settlement all the way up to the Norman conquest.

The 'Angles' migrated from Schleswig-Holstein, an area on the northern border of Germany and the southern border of Denmark.   The Angles mostly settled in the easternmost part of the island.  This area became known as 'East Anglia'.  Just to the north was 'Northumbria', another Angle-dominated area.   The North Sea currents would typically take any westward-bound ship leaving Denmark directly to these two spots.   The word 'Land' comes from German.  As one might guess, the 'Land of the Angles' was eventually shortened to 'Angle-Land' and then to 'England.'

The 'Saxons' were a Germanic people who occupied the area in Schleswig-Holstein just south of the Angles.  Since they were used to occupying land south of the Angles, the Saxons settled on areas to the south of East Anglia in places near to rivers or the sea which could be easily reached by boat. The Saxons used a river known as the Thames to occupy the settlement known as 'Londonium' that had been abandoned by the Romans.


The Jutes did not play as prominent a role in English history as the better known Angles and Saxons. 

That is because the Jutes were so well-established in the geographically favorable spot where Denmark lies today that they felt less pressure to move. 

That said, some of their people migrated as well.  These travelers generally settled in an area known as Kent.



The Anglo-Saxons would eventually take control of most of Britain, although they never managed to conquer Scotland, Wales and Cornwall.  

The word 'Folk' comes from 'Volk', the German word for 'people'.  Think 'Volkswagen'.  As the Saxons moved into southeastern, southern, and central parts of the island, they gave German names to their regions.  

NORFOLK were the north folk.
SUFFOLK were the south folk. 
The ANGLE SAXONS settled in ESSEX, home of the east Saxons
SUSSEX were the south Saxons
WESSEX were the west Saxons.

There were so many of these Angles running the place that the island became known as ANGLIA, then ANGLE LAND, then ENGLAND.  

The stretch of water between England and France was used so often by the Angles that it came to be called the 'Channel of the Angles', later shortened to the ENGLISH CHANNEL. 

Although France used the same waters, the Angles... 'Anglish'... or English if you prefer... used these waters a lot more for an obvious reason.  The English were a seafaring people... or they would not have gotten to this island in the first place.


One might ask if the word 'Angel' and 'Angle' are related.   Apparently not.  'Angel' comes from the Latin word 'angelus' which comes from the Greek word 'angelos'.

This makes complete sense because the Angles were no Angels.  In fact, the Angles were a fierce, warlike people who would murder anyone who got in their way.  Sad to say, but the English were a cruel and brutal people from the very start.  Ask the Scots and the Irish if you doubt my words.  Or ask how many Indians were massacred by English colonialism in India and North America.  Of course, who am I to point fingers?  The Americans did the same thing to our own Indians.  And don't get me started on slavery.  America has its own black eye to deal with.

France would no doubt also agree with my assertion that the English were a rough bunch.  If ever there were two countries that did not get along very well, that would be England and France.  Oh my gosh, those two have been going at it for centuries.  Did you know that France and England are only 20 miles apart?   At a spot near Dover (England) and Calais (France), the distance is so short that people actually swim across the English Channel.  People with binoculars can actually watch someone swim the entire distance.

This proximity has led to many a battle between the two countries.  At one point France and England were at war with each other for over 100 years.  As a bit of history, The Hundred Years' War was a long struggle between England and France over who would succeed to the French throne.  The conflict lasted on and off from 1337 to 1453, so it might more accurately be called the '116 Years' War.'   But that's not a very catchy name, is it?   

As it turns out, English history is very interesting.  So I researched several of the highlights to include in this article.  However, before we begin, let's find out how much you know about English history. 

We will start with a fun question.  During the Hundred Years War, the most famous battle in English-French history was won by England due primarily to the Archers.  Can you name the battle?

Do you know who the Black Prince was?

Do you know what the Hundred Years War was all about?

Do you know want to know why 99% of all English have at least a drop of royal blood?

Why is the date 1066 important?

Who was the most over-rated King in English history? 

Can you name the most famous thief in English history?

Are you curious to know the answers?  If so, read on!

William the Conqueror and the 1066 Battle of Hastings

One of the reasons English history is so fascinating is that there was always so much drama surrounding the King.  There were certain periods when there was no clear successor to the throne.  Two, three, maybe even four people might have a legitimate claim to the throne.   Consequently there were plots, rebellions and assassination attempts galore.  There was always someone new scheming  to get rid of the current King and put someone else on the throne.  

the Battle of Hastings was a perfect example of the chaos that ensued every time an English King or Queen died.  The English loved war so much that transitions were basically an open invitation to renewed bloodshed.  Sort of like America today... just kidding.

So what was the Battle of Hastings all about?

King Edward the Confessor was childless.  His death in January 1066 set up a succession struggle between several claimants to his throne.  Harold was crowned king shortly after Edward's death, but faced multiple threats.  First came Tostig, his own brother who had been exiled.  Tostig persuaded Norwegian King Harald Hardrada to join him in the fight.  There were two battles in September 1066.  Tostig and Hardrada won the first round, but Harold won the rematch, killing both Tostig and Hardrada in the process. 


Now Harold had to face William of Normandy.   Normandy, of course, is where D-Day took place in 1944.  Normandy lies right across the English Channel 100 miles to the south of England. 

William wanted to be the next King of England.   William claimed that both Edward and Harold had promised him the throne, but English supporters of Harold challenged this.  Basically, William had no real claim to the throne, but that didn't matter.  As always, 'Might makes Right.'  

While William was building ships in Normandy, he also assembled an invasion force.  The fleet sailed 60 miles from the mouth of France's Somme River in October 1066 and landed on the English coast near Hastings, a town 50 miles southeast of London.

King Harold of England met William's army just north of the coastal town of Hastings.  The two sides were evenly matched.  Consequently the battle lasted all day from morning to sunset.

Early efforts of William's invaders to break the English battle lines had little effect, so the Normans tried a trick.  They pretended to flee in panic and led their pursuers into a trap.

Harold was one of the victims.  Legend says he was shot in the eye with an arrow.  His death near the end of the battle led to the retreat and subsequent defeat of his army.


A little known fact is that Harold's defeat at Hastings was attributed to his appalling lack of Archers.  Makes perfect sense to me.  Everybody knows how important Archers are. 

After a few cleanup skirmishes, William was crowned as the English king on Christmas Day 1066.  And there you have it... a Frenchman sat on the English throne.  The world had turned upside down.  

William spent his entire life dealing with the shame of being born a bastard.  Even to his death, there were whispers about his ignoble birth.  Rumor has it that even his eventual wife snubbed him over this issue.

When William asked for the hand of Matilda of Flanders, a granddaughter of France’s King Robert II, she demurred due to his illegitimacy. According to legend, the snubbed Duke tackled Matilda in the street, pulling her off her horse by her long braids. In any event, Matilda consented to marry him.  Matilda would go to bear her Conquering husband 10 children.  Maybe there is something to be said for the Tarzan approach.


The Anarchy, 1135-1154


The Anarchy was a lawless time in England more or less like America's Wild West.  No one was really in charge.  The problem began problem started 70 years earlier when William the Conqueror, a Frenchman of sorts (Viking bloodline, birth on French soil), became King of England following the Norman Conquest in 1066. 

The repercussions were profound as the invasion created an Anglo-Norman elite, i.e. French barons whose main interest was in France, but used their money and power to obtain territory in England.  In other words, England became something of a French colony.  These barons now had estates and holdings in France as well as in England. 

To understand medieval France and England, realize that 'Kings' in both countries had only limited power.  The barons all had smaller Kingdoms of their own complete with armies and castles.  Sometimes they obeyed the King, sometimes they didn't. 

The most powerful English barons typically lived back in France and visited England from time to time.  France itself was a loose collection of counties and smaller political units that were under only the minimal control of the French king.  In other words, England was very disorganized and France wasn't really all that much better. 

Therefore, the barons ran wild.  Like little piggies, these barons wanted to rule over as much land as possible no matter what the cost.  The easiest way to get land was to pick a fight.  

William II and Henry I were the sons of William the Conqueror who took over after his death.  They were called 'Kings', but really they were more like the biggest baron of all.  They called the shots, but rebellion was always a problem.   The Anarchy began when Henry I died suddenly.


Geoffrey Plantagenet and Empress Matilda


The story of The Anarchy begins with Empress Matilda. 

One of real problems with deciphering English history is that English Kings were unimaginative when naming their heirs.  There were eight Henrys.  There were eleven Edwards.   Henry and Edward and Edward and Henry.  On and on.  Good grief, there were more Edwards and Henrys than there are Star Wars episodes.  If it wasn't for Roman numerals, I don't know what the English would do.

Even the women got in the act.  William the Conqueror had four Matildas... his wife Matilda of Flanders, his daughter Waltzing Matilda, his daughter-in-law Matilda of Scotland, and his granddaughter Empress Matilda


Here is the funny thing.  For a long time there, I thought I was reading about the same woman.  After all, how many Matildas can there be in history?  Then I got suspicious when the stories didn't make any sense.  It took me 20 minutes of cross-checking to suddenly realize there were four of them!

Empress Matilda's father was Henry I, the youngest son of William the Conqueror.  Henry I suffered a terrible misfortune when his two sons drowned.  This took place when the White Ship sank on its way from France back to England.  Stripped of his two male heirs, Henry I broke tradition and specifically named his daughter Empress Matilda to be his successor.

So why was Matilda an Empress?  Matilda had once been married to a German king who was named ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.  This made her the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, an institution in continental Europe under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Pope.  However, her husband's death had sent Matilda back to England as a widow at 23. 

Matilda was eventually forced to marry Geoffrey Plantagenet, the Count of Anjou, a wealthy French landowner.  Matilda was very unhappy about this.  For starters, she was 25 and Geoffrey was only 13.  She had once been an Empress, now she was marrying down to a mere Count.  Boo hoo hoo. 

Matilda's father pointed out that this marriage would combine two of the most powerful Anglo-Franco families ... the Normans and the Plantagenets.  Henry I chose Geoffrey to sire his grandchildren because his lands were strategically placed on the Norman frontiers and he required the support of Geoffrey's father, his erstwhile enemy, Fulk of Anjou. He accordingly forced his highly reluctant daughter to marry the fifteen year old Geoffrey.

Matilda wasn't happy about it, but she got with the program and married Geoffrey.  The pair disliked each other from the outset of their union and neither was of a nature to pretend otherwise and so the scene was set for an extremely stormy marriage. They were, however, finally prevailed upon by the formidable Henry I to do their duty and produce an heir to England. They had three sons, Henry was the eldest of these and always the favourite of his adoring mother.

Eight years after her 1127 marriage to Geoffrey, things got interesting.  Matilda's father Henry fell ill and died suddenly in 1135.  This meant Matilda was now the heir to the English throne and the ruler of Normandy.  Unfortunately, the English barons who had vowed to support the accession of Matilda to the throne reneged.  Stephen of Blois was a well-known, popular figure among the barons of Anglo-Norman society.  He also had the advantage of being right across the English Channel when news of the king's death was spread.  Meanwhile Matilda was stuck in the center of France and unable to press her case in person. 

Stephen was attractive to the English barons for two reasons.  One, he was not only the direct grandson of Henry I, the king had always treated Stephen as a favorite.  Second, these men were not too keen on putting a woman on the throne.  The English Council acted like they were still stuck in the Dark Ages and denied Matilda the crown.  They stepped aside and allowed Stephen, Matilda's cousin, to seize the throne instead.  Matilda had been cheated of her crown.

Matilda was royally irritated.  It did not help that Matilda was haughty, disagreeable and ill-tempered by nature.  So naturally Matilda went to war against Stephen.  That's what everyone did back in those days.  It didn't do her much good.  She won a few battles, lost a few battles, then got frustrated and gave up.  The Anarchy was not going in her favor at all.  By the late 1140s the active phase of the civil war was over. In a huff, she returned to France and fumed.  Stalemate. 

Matilda was determined to have the last laugh.  As it turned out, Matilda had a strapping son at home.  Henry Plantagenet was her son by Geoffrey Plantagenet.  Born in 1133, he was three years old when his mother was cheated of her inheritance.  By age nine, Matilda had Henry fighting at her side.  However, they just couldn't seem to break though. 

Then someone new appeared.  Matilda would receive help from an unexpected source... a woman her husband had just had a fling with. 


Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou


Geoffrey Plantagenet was a powerful man who ruled over his ancestral domain of Anjou.  The House of Plantagenet had extensive land holdings in France. 

Through her birthright to William the Conqueror, Matilda also had extensive claims in Normandy which was neighbor to Anjou.  Count Geoffrey had little interest in England, but he was very interested in Normandy.  Geoffrey initiated a war to obtain the duchy of Normandy, but it was slow-going.

It became clear to Geoffrey that Stephen would need to be challenged in England in order to bring his own conflict to a successful conclusion.  So in 1139 Matilda invaded England. From the age of nine, their son Henry was repeatedly sent to England to be the male figurehead of the campaigns.  This made sense since Henry would become king if England could be conquered.

While his wife Matilda was off in England fighting Stephen, Geoffrey invaded Normandy on behalf of his wife.  The Norman barons initially opposed him, not through loyalty to King Stephen, who had only visited Normandy on but one occasion, but from hatred of their traditional enemy, Anjou. 

While Geoffrey was attempting to conquer Normandy, he was also forced to put down three rebellions in Anjou created by his younger brother.  The threat of rebellion not only slowed Geoffrey's conquest of Normandy, it is the main reason he could not intervene in England to aid his wife. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) appeared in the middle of Matilda's fight in England and Geoffrey's fight in Normandy and Anjou.  Life would never be the same. 

Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, is a determined woman who plots and schemes an astonishing path between two equally powerful men in twelfth century Europe This is a woman who can maneuver and manipulate to safeguard her own lands as effectively as any power-grasping lord. Eleanor is single-minded in her struggle to keep her inheritance intact, leading her to reject one husband and take another who will fulfill her desires.

Eleanor intends to reign as Queen and is prepared to bring scandal down upon herself in pursuit of her ultimate prize. Hers is a story of power, political intrigue, passion and love.  This restless queen will sweep across the 12th century, changing the face of Europe.

Eleanor's story is fascinating.  She was the daughter and heir of the imperious William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitiers.  Her father possessed the largest domains in northwest Europe, indeed larger than those held by the king of France, Louis VI from the House of Capet. When her father died in 1137, Eleanor, 15, came into her inheritance.  Complying with the dictates of a territorial agreement, she married Louis VII, heir to the French throne.  Barely a month after the wedding, King Louis VI died, thrusting Eleanor’s 16-year-old groom to the throne of France.

Eleanor found court life as queen of France stultifying. Her timid, sweet-tempered and devout husband exasperated her.  Formed during her childhood at the court in Poitiers where she was rarely disciplined and always admired, her strong ego impelled Eleanor to create a lofty royal vision for herself, one that did not encompass the subordinate role as queen of France.


After a decade of marriage to Louis, she was as beautiful and capricious as ever, but even more headstrong and domineering toward her husband.  From 1147 to 1149 Eleanor insisted on accompanying him during the Second Crusade.  Apparently the adventure carried a rude awakening... Crusading was no fun. 

According to Simon Schama, “Eleanor was dismayed to discover that crusading was an arduous, pious business. She quickly developed an unhealthily warm relationship with her uncle, the slightly impious Raymond of Poitiers.”  While her husband fought battles in the Holy Land, Eleanor spent her time in arms of Raymond in complete comfort for the duration of the crusade.  This understandably caused an estrangement.

Though at one time Louis had adored his wife, after 15 years of marriage he was willing to let her go for the sake of the Capetian royal line.  Eleanor had not borne him a son and heir, only two daughters.  Eleanor, on cue, illuminated her predicament, explaining that her husband’s infrequent visits to her bed accounted for the fruitlessness of their union. In the end, the marriage was annulled on the convenient grounds of consanguinity: Eleanor and Louis were too closely related for the church to tolerate.


As Duchess of Aquitaine, a massive duchy in southwestern France, Eleanor was the most eligible bride in Europe.  Men came calling.

Following the dissolution of her marriage, Eleanor regained possession of Aquitaine and Poitou. This wealth combined with her loveliness attracted suitors well before the annulment was final, one of whom was Henry of Anjou (a domain bordering Poitou), soon to be known as Plantagenet.

One of the men who came calling was Geoffrey of Anjou.  Most historians agree that Eleanor and Geoffrey were sexually intimate.  Historian Schama notes, “It was rumored that Geoffrey of Anjou had personally verified Eleanor’s appetite for passion before recommending her to his son.”

Now Henry, Geoffrey's son, came calling as well.  The 30-year-old Eleanor and 18-year-old Henry felt passionately attracted to one another.  Henry’s unsurpassed physical courage and keen political acumen resonated with Eleanor’s ambition for power.  Another attractive feature was that Henry, now the Duke of Normandy and Anjou, could very likely become the next King of England. 

Asked some years before to assess Henry’s chances of success of becoming King of England, St Bernard of Clairvaux said of Henry that ‘from the Devil he came, and to the Devil he will surely go’.  

It did not matter that Henry was reported to be the spawn of Devil.  That suited Eleanor's tastes just fine.  Not exactly a shrinking violet herself, Eleanor chose to be the Devil's consort.

Eight weeks after her annulment, Eleanor married Henry in 1152.  Instantly the marriage doubled the land holdings of Europe's new power couple.

Over in Paris, Eleanor's former husband Louis VII flipped out.  Louis not only considered the marriage an insult to him, he was also infuriated because Henry now possessed a much larger proportion of France than Louis did himself.


Henry Plantagenet becomes King


Strengthened by his 1152 marriage to Eleanor, Henry Plantagenet wasted no time going back after Stephen. Henry's mother Matilda was still seething over her cousin Stephen's theft of her crown.  Based on Matilda's strong claim to the English throne, Henry had a powerful claim of his own.  Indeed, his grandfather Henry I had once called him the future king of England. 

Under the reign of the usurper Stephen, for the previous twenty years the Anglo-Norman realm had suffered through a civil war fought out between the adherents of Stephen and those of Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda.  In this time, lawlessness prevailed.  It was every man for himself.  Northern England had been seized by the Scots. The Welsh had made substantial advances in the West.  England itself had been partitioned between warring baronial factions, each with its own competing and still unresolved claims to land, castles and local power. 

The fighting between Henry and Stephen continued, but no one could get the upper hand for long.  Finally, the two armies met at Wallingford to begin fighting the battle to end all battles.  Taking note that neither side had an advantage and that lots of men, barons included, were about to die, cooler heads prevailed.  The Anarchy had been going on for 20 years.  Enough was enough.  Since neither side's barons were keen to fight another pitched battle, the barons had an idea... why not ask the clergy to broker a peace? 

So, much to the annoyance of Henry and Stephen, the battle was postponed.  Stephen began to examine a negotiated peace, a process hastened by the sudden death of Eustace, his son and heir.  In the Treaty of Winchester, Stephen recognized Henry as his heir in exchange for peace.  Stephen conveniently died the following year in 1954.  Henry was King; Matilda was vindicated.


Henry II and the Plantagenet Dynasty

Ruling from 1154-1189, King Henry II would emerge as one of England’s, indeed as one of Europe’s, greatest kings.  The Plantagenet dynasty founded by Henry II would hold the English throne for three and a half centuries (1154-1485), starting with the 1154 accession of Henry II and lasting until 1485 when Richard III died.

King Henry III was the grandson of Henry II through King John.  Henry III had two sons... Edward I and Edmund Crouchback.  ANGEVIN KINGS

The House of Lancaster was a branch of the royal House of Plantagenet. The first house was created when Henry III created the Earldom of Lancaster—from which the house was named—for his second son Edmund Crouchback in 1267. 

Over time, the House of Lancaster subdivided into two wings.  The 1359 marriage of John of Gaunt from one wing of the House of Lancaster to Blanche from the other wing of the House Lancaster reunited the two wings.  Starting in 1399, the House of Lancaster would give birth to three future kings.

Meanwhile, King Edward III was the grandson of King Edward I.  As we shall see, Edward III was a pivotal figure in English history.

Edward III named John of Gaunt, one of his sons, the Duke of Lancaster

Edward III named Edmund, another other son, the Duke of York

Edward III had yet another son, Lionel, whose descendent Richard, Duke of York, would play a key role in English history. 

Are you following all this?  If you haven't already guessed, English history is very complicated.  So let me simplify things a bit.

The bottom line is that the Angevin kings... Henry II, Richard I, John I... were Plantagenets.  The Plantagenet kings... Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II... were Plantagenet kings.  The Lancaster kings... Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI... were Plantagenet kings.  The York kings... Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III... were Plantagenet kings.  The Tudor kings and Queen Elizabeth were Plantagenets as well.  

It all started with Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. 


Henry II and the Angevin Empire


The term 'Angevin' is a reference to the duchy of 'Anjou', birthplace of Henry II.

Thanks to a perfect storm of good luck, Henry came to rule over the most extensive collection of lands that had ever been gathered together under an English king.

From his father, Geoffrey, Henry succeeded to rule over Anjou, Maine and the Touraine: the counties of the Loire valley that had previously blocked Anglo-Norman ambitions in the South.

From his mother, Matilda, daughter and sole surviving legitimate child of the last Anglo-Norman King, Henry inherited his claim to rule as king in England and as duke in Normandy.

From his wife Eleanor, Henry found himself in possession of a vast estate in southwestern France, stretching from the Loire southwards through Poitou and Gascony to the frontiers of Spain.

This was an empire in all but name.  Henry's lands stretched from the Cheviots to the Pyrenees, and from Dublin in the west to the frontiers of Flanders and Burgundy in the east.  And this all just for starters.  Henry would acquire more lands throughout his reign. 


Henry II of Anjou was more French than he was English. His native tongue was French.  A brilliant soldier, he extended his French lands until he ruled most of France. With territory stretching from sea to shining sea, by the late 1170s, Henry ruled an estate that eclipsed anything that had been seen in France since the time of Charlemagne and in Britain since the fall of Rome. In its cultural and political sophistication, Henry’s dominion badly outshone the Capetian kings of France. Louise VII, struggling to maintain his rule over the immediate vicinity of Paris, could only look on in astonished but for the most part impotent amazement. Henry had set England on a path to becoming one of the world’s most dominant nations.

So was Henry II a happy guy? One can only wonder. Henry would prove to be a very controversial king.  Although he had succeeded in wresting control of England from the barons who had gotten too big for their britches, he quarreled with everyone under sun including his wife, his sons, the barons, Thomas Becket, and King Louis of France.

Henry quarreled a lot his wife.  By temperament Eleanor was just as fiery as Henry, and as determined to stake her own claims to rule.  Despite their turbulent marriage, they did find the time to produce eight children, mostly notably King Richard I the Lionhearted, the son who would succeed his father. 

Henry had one very bad habit.  He did not like to share his lands.  He did not share his inheritance with his brothers and he had trouble sharing his estates with his sons.  Naturally his sons turned rebellious.  And when they did, his wife took their side.  As a result, Henry’s domestic life was far from tranquil.  Henry lost his temper with Eleanor and had her imprisoned under house arrest for sixteen years.  She would not be freed until his death in 1189. 

Henry is remembered for his quarrel with Archbishop Thomas Becket.  After Becket's subsequent murder in Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December 1170, his sons turned against him, even his favorite son John.  Henry II spent all his later years fighting wars with his own sons.  Henry II died a bitter man, hated by practically every noble on either side of the English Channel.


The Legend of Eleanor Lives On


Eleanor was Queen of England for 44 years (1154–1189)Over the first thirteen years, she bore Henry eight children: five sons, three of whom would become kings; and three daughters.

However, over time Henry and Eleanor became estranged.  Henry imprisoned her in 1173 for supporting her son Henry's revolt against her husband.  In 1173, Eleanor’s son “Young Henry” fled to France.  He was apparently plotting against his father to seize the English throne.

Eleanor was rumored to be actively supporting her son’s plans against her estranged husband,.  She was arrested and imprisoned for treason. Once apprehended, she spent the next 16 years shuttling between various castles and strongholds in England.  She was constantly suspected of agitating against her husband’s interests.  Some even say she played a role in the death of Rosamund, Henry's favorite mistress.

Eleanor was not released until 6 July 1189, when Henry died and their son ascended the English throne as Richard I.


After Henry's death, Eleanor became a babysitter of sorts for her son Richard who went off to play in the Crusades..  Eleanor ruled the country as Regent in Richard’s name while he led the Third Crusade.

Eleanor lived to the remarkable age of 82.  She was able to see her youngest son John crowned king after Richard’s death and was employed by John as an envoy to France.  Eleanor would eventually retire as a nun to the abbey at Fontevraud, where she was buried upon her death in 1204.

Endowed with intelligence, creative energy and a remarkably long life, Eleanor of Aquitaine played a major role in the 12th century.  This was an impressive achievement given that medieval women were considered nothing more than chattel.  Her intelligence and enterprise served her well in the chaos of the time as she negotiated the unrelenting hostilities between Plantagenets and Capets, crusades and struggle between church and state.  In a ruthless era, Eleanor stood tall. 

Too bad her sons didn't inherit her cunning.  It had to be a terrible shame to see her sons, Richard the Lionheart and King John turn on their father and then later against each other.  Together they brought the Angevin dynasty to the edge of annihilation.


Who is the Most Over-Rated King in English History?

Let's start this question by playing the Name Game. 

My full name is 'Richard James Archer.'  English names hang like ornaments throughout my family tree.

'James' is my father's name.  James is the most common male first name in all of Britain.  James is a royal name associated with the Scottish house of Stewart.  James I of Scotland was the man who succeed Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.  King James was a patron of the arts as well as a talented ruler.

'Mary' is my mother's name.  Mary is the most common female first name in all of Britain.   The name Mary is sprinkled throughout English and Scottish history.  Bloody Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, William and Mary, and of course the beloved Queen Mary III.  Queen Mary and her husband King George V ruled during World War II.   Queen Mary was the mother of the current Queen Elizabeth. 

'William' is the fifth most common male English name.  William was the name of my grandfather and one of my uncles.  William is everywhere in English history.  For example, William the Conqueror.  Remember him?  William changed the history of the world thanks to his conquest of England in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.

'Richard' is a name of Germanic origin, derived from 'ROC' which means 'power' and 'HARD' which means 'hardy'.  That's me all right, Rock Hard Richard!  So let's see how the most famous Rock Hard English King of them all fared.  'Richard' has been the name of four different English Kings, two of whom were rotten, one of whom became Shakespeare's greatest villain and the fourth is considered the most overrated King in English history.   By the way, I was named for the over-rated one. 


King Richard the Lionheart


And that brings us to 'Richard I', better known as King Richard the Lionheart, the most famous Crusader of all! 

(Let us pause for the trumpets to blare!)

According to my mother, King Richard the Lionheart was the man I was named for.  I was very proud to be named after the illustrious English King. 

According to my father, our surname 'Archer' descended from Robin Hood and his Merry Men.  

Gullible little critter that I was, wow, here I was... part Richard the Lionhearted and part Robin Hood!!  

Alas, if only we could have stopped with the Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn as Robin and Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian. 

That was defining movie of my childhood.  3 Oscars!  Much acclaim! 


In the movie, Robin Hood becomes my hero.  He is depicted as a heroic outlaw folklore who, according to legend, is a highly skilled archer and swordsman.  Traditionally dressed in Lincoln green, he is portrayed as a champion of the downtrodden, "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor" with the help of his loyal band of Merry Men. 

He fights off the bad guys, keeping the Sheriff of Nottingham and evil Prince John at bay while noble Richard is away at the Crusades. 

Then Robin Hood comes to the rescue of King Richard when he returns.  There is a joke in Hollywood that King Richard had an amusing nickname... Richard of the Last Reel.  Film buffs love to make fun of the fact that Richard appears at the end of every Robin Hood film as the heroic, and supposedly victorious, crusader monarch returning to punish treacherous Prince John and the wicked Sherriff of Nottingham.

Action!  Adventure!  Courage!  Chivalry!  History!... well, not so much history.  To begin with, there are strong rumors that Richard did not even speak English.  In his whole reign, he spent no more than six months north of the Channel.  For that matter, imagine my pain when I discovered Robin Hood... the man who was the most famous Archer in English history... may not have actually existed.

The subject of ballads, books and films, Robin Hood has proven to be one of popular culture’s most enduring folk heroes. Over the course of 700 years, the outlaw from Nottinghamshire who robs from the rich to give to the poor has emerged as one of the most enduring folk heroes in popular culture.   But did a real Robin Hood inspire these classic tales?


What a shame it was I had to grow up and learn the truth that the greatest Archer of all time was probably a Hollywood sham

Robin Hood, Fact or Fiction? 

The History Channel suggests that Robin Hood may have existed.  In fact, research has turned up mentions of eight different outlaws calling themselves 'Robin Hood'.  The problem is that the first known mention took place in 1225.  'Richard of the Last Reel' died in 1189.  Whether Richard met the legendary outlaw Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, we do not know, but it seems kind of unlikely. 

Personally I like the idea of weaving legends together.  I think this is a great idea.  Davey Crockett can be Abe Lincoln's best friend.   Thomas Jefferson can suggest improvements to Obamacare.  Vladimir Putin can assassinate John F. Kennedy with a magic bullet controlled by hackers.  Donald Trump can grope Pocahontas.  Why let the truth get in the way of a great yarn??

Alas, when I learned Robin Hood was only a legend, I was fit to be tied.  Half of my gallant identity was gone.  Well, no matter, I still had Richard the Lionheart, brave Crusader, wonderful King.  Yeah, well, then I discovered that Richard the Lionheart was pretty much useless as a King.  During his ten years reign as King, Richard spent at most six months of it in England.  The rest of the time he gallivanted across Europe and the Middle East involved in the Crusades.  Richard won a bunch of battles, but he was unsuccessful in retaking Jerusalem from his nemesis Saladin, the Muslim warlord. 

Then Richard managed to get captured in Austria on his return home.  He spent nearly three years of his reign in captivity until the ransom was finally raised.  Once he was free, Richard returned for a couple of weeks, then left for France never even bothered to set foot in England again.  Richard spent his final years fighting battles to reclaim territory in Normandy.  

My loyalty to Richard was further shaken when I discovered he was either gay or bisexual.  Despite being married, Richard did not have a child.  Nor did he bother to return to his wife following the Crusades.  In addition, there is a curious historical quote involving King Philip II of France. 

Richard the Lionheart and Philip II of France “ate every day at the same table and from the same dish, and at night their beds did not separate them.”  Uh oh.  What could this mean??

However, historian Dr. John Gillingham discounted the idea that Richard was gay.

"The idea wasn’t even mooted until 1948 and it stems from an official record announcing that, as a symbol of unity between the two countries, the kings of France and England had slept the night in the same bed. It was an accepted political act, nothing sexual about it; just two politicians literally getting into bed together, a bit like a modern-day photo opportunity."

So what was the story on this kidnapping? 

I hate to say it, but Richard was not the nicest guy.  During the Crusades, Richard quarreled constantly among the French, German and English contingents.  Irritated, they all went home, leaving Richard to fight on alone.  After a year's stalemate, Richard made a truce with the famous Saracen ruler Saladin and decided to head home.  However, there was one problem.  Towards the end of his Crusade adventure, Richard was stuck with over three thousand Muslim prisoners.  Tired of feeding them and unable to ransom them, Richard had their throats slit. 

Richard's bad karma soon caught up to him. Bad weather drove him ashore near Venice.  Now he had to head home on foot.  Having insulted and alienated most of his Christian allies while on crusade against Saladin, Richard was unable to return to his kingdom in broad daylight.  He was caught sneaking in disguise through the territory of Leopold, Duke of Austria, one of the many enemies he had made in the Holy Land.  Leopold handed Richard over to the German emperor Henry VI, who ransomed him for the huge sum of 150,000 marks.

This was literally a King's Ransom.  The ransom asked was about 2 billion pounds in today’s money.  Its payment required 25 percent of each Englishman’s income for a year.

Interestingly, while Richard's ransom nearly bankrupted his country, he became famous and much-loved in the process.  How was this possible? 

Now we recall that Richard was the son of Europe's most famous mothers, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Eleanor just happened be in charge of running England while Richard was out of the country.  Queen Eleanor originated the enduring legend of ‘Good King Richard’ as a PR campaign by  to persuade the citizens of the Plantagenet empire to fork over the crippling ransom.

The raising of the ransom was a remarkable achievement.  Negotiations for Richard’s release took the best part of a year, and after strenuous diplomatic efforts by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, the payment of 100,000 marks – an enormous sum, perhaps twice the gross domestic product of the whole of England at the time – and the handing over of hostages, the King was released in early February 1194.

After his release, Richard briefly returned to England and was crowned for a second time.  One month later he went to Normandy, never to return.  His last five years were spent in intermittent warfare against Philip II, his alleged former boyfriend.

While besieging the castle of Châlus in central France he was fatally wounded and died on 6 April 1199. He was succeeded by his younger brother John.

John?  John who?  Surely not the same Prince John who was the villain in the Adventures of Robin Hood??

Yup, same guy.  After all those years spent scheming during Richard's absence, John ended up being the King after all.  And why was John made King?  Because the guy historian Dr. John Gillingham claimed was straight didn't bother to produce an heir!

So how did John turn out?  Not very well.  John has been termed 'the worst king in English history'.

Short and fat, John was jealous of his dashing brother Richard I whom he succeeded.  John was cruel, self-indulgent, selfish and avaricious.  The raising of punitive taxes united all the elements of society, clerical and lay, against him. The Pope excommunicated him and the English barons ganged on him.  On 15th June 1215 at Runnymede the barons compelled John to sign Magna Carta, the Great Charter, which reinstated the rights of all his subjects.  John died from over-eating.  He was in hiding at the time, a fugitive from all his enemies.  

Let's face it, when all was said and done, Richard the Lionheart didn't accomplish much.  Richard lived to the ripe old age of 42.  For ten of these years, 1189-1199, he theoretically ruled England...  History suggests Richard spent at most six months of his life in England.  So here are the facts:  Richard didn't win Jerusalem, he didn't produce an heir, he ignored his country, he nearly bankrupted it with his Crusades and his ransom, and stuck England with the worst ruler in history. 

And yet, if people in the streets of any European city today were asked to name one English king, many would probably answer ‘Richard the Lionheart’!!  How utterly crazy is that? 

Fortunately Richard had a good press agent... his Mom!  During his reign, all the people back in England heard nothing but good things about their missing Good King Richard.  Even today Richard retains a similar good fortune... or at least it did for a while.  Back in the early days of Hollywood, Richard was portrayed as a stud warrior, a defender of God, a mighty Crusader and a noble King.  

Richard's reputation definitely benefitted from appearing at the end of every one of a half-dozen Robin Hood movies.  Richard's modern-day legend was built on Robin Hood's modern-day legend and Robin Hood's legend was built on Richard's and if you ask anyone, they will tell you both men were real and both were great heroes.  That's Hollywood for you. 

Recently Hollywood has been less kind.  Revisionist history seems to have caught up with Richard.  His reputation has taken a few hits, notably in the movie 'Lion in Winter' where Richard can be seen frolicking in bed with Phillip of France.  So much for my role model.

Wikipedia sums Richard up as 'a bad son, a bad husband, a selfish ruler, and a vicious man.  During his ten years' reign, he was in England for no more than six months, and was totally absent for the last five years.'

And did Richard die a noble death?  Not exactly.  Richard died rather ingloriously from gangrene following a crossbow bolt wound in his shoulder.   Was Richard shot in battle?  No, Richard was walking along the walls of his castle without his armor on.  Some kid down below took a potshot and hit him.   Now that I think of it, an Archer killed King Richard.  No wonder I have identity issues... I am at war with myself.

For a kid who grew up worshipping Robin Hood and King Richard, history has not been kind to me.  I thought I was named for the finest King in English history only to realize I was named for the most over-rated one.  But you know, it could have been worse.  Think about all the poor little German boys named 'Adolf'.


The Hundred Years War, 1337-1453

The Hundred Years War was fought over ostensibly over the French Crown, but mostly it was an excuse for English thugs and bandits to raid helpless farmers and rape French girls.   It was definitely one of the most notable conflicts of the Middle Ages.  For 116 years, five generations of kings from two rival dynasties fought to control the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe. 

If you ever wonder why the English hate the French, think back to William the Conqueror who imposed his French way of doing things onto England.  However, that resentment pales in comparison to the French point of view.  If you ever wonder why French hate the English, start with William the Conqueror and then follow the dots until you get to the Hundred Years War.  Virtually every English king since William the Conqueror brought havoc and misery to France for centuries.

William the Conqueror was from Normandy, France.  Thanks to him, there was a succession of English Kings with deep French ties that made them feel entitled to seek the French crown as well as the English crown.  That is what the Hundred Years War was all about. 

The Romantics like to point out that armies of knights and archers battled for King and Country on the field of glory.  What utter nonsense.  'Chivalry' may have the code word of the day, but little decency was shown.  At the end of many battles, helpless prisoners were murdered in cold blood because the victors didn't feel like feeding them.  Unless a guy was worth some money in ransom, it was easier just to slit his throat at the end of the day.  One time the English captured John II, the King of France, in the 1356 Battle of Poitiers.  The English set the ransom price so high that the French had no choice but to tell the English to go ahead keep him. 

According to Stephen Clarke, author of 1000 Years of Annoying the French, the Hundred Years War was basically used by the English as an excuse to inflict 116 years of terror on French civilians.  This terror was conducted by out-of-control English bandits who claimed to defend their king's rights.  The truth was they were actually hard at work enriching themselves and having fun massacring as many helpless peasants as they could. 

As Clarke pointed out, for more than a century, no town in the northern part of France was safe from siege and plunder.  Peasants could not work in their fields without posting lookouts on hilltops, church belfries, or up in trees.  If a dust cloud was sighted, the farmers would throw down their tools and run for their lives.  They knew that any man caught would either be held to ransom if he was rich or put to death.  Was the death swift according to the prevailing sense of chivalry?  Are you out your mind?  Chivalry?  Absolutely not.  Each man was tortured hideously until he revealed where his meager savings were hidden and where his wife and daughters were hiding.  Then the English would plunder the money and rape the women.  This was basically 100 years of Genocide.  Adding insult to injury, the Black Plague took place and removed another 25% of the French population. 

There's an old saying, 'Won the battle, but lost the war.'  In the French case, the saying should go, 'Lost all the Battles, but won the war'.  Although it is true that the French eventually expelled the English in 1453, the cost to France was beyond horrible.  In addition to one humiliating defeat after another in the early stages of the war, the French saw their people slaughtered, their towns destroyed, and their countryside ravaged.  The cost in human suffering was inestimable.  600 years have passed, but the memory is still there.

So what caused this brutal holocaust?  Don't worry, I will be brief, you can always count on that.


Henry II's successor was his son Richard I.  Like his father, Richard was 99% French.  He was born to French parents and was raised in France.  We remember that King Richard the Lionheart spent all of six months in England out of ten years of his reign.  When he wasn't off Crusading or being ransomed, he spent the bulk of his time in France trying to extend his French holdings.  In other words, one of the most famous kings in English history was 95% French and 1% English.

Sorry to say, Richard was a bust and so was John, 'the worst king in English history'.  Henry III, John's son, wasn't much better.

Edward I, also known as Edward Longshanks, was perhaps the most successful of the medieval monarchs. His reign marked a high point of cooperation between crown and community.  However, we remember Edward the best as the villain of Braveheart, the tragic movie about Scotland's William Wallace.

Edward II was a waste of time.  Edward was a weak and incompetent king who spent most of his time with his gay lovers.  However, he did marry and produced four children.  The eldest son, Edward III, would go down in history.

Edward III was a significant king in English history.  By my count, Edward was responsible for 150 years of war, 16 children, and untold amounts of misery.


Edward III 

Edward III ruled for 50 years, (1327-1377), one of the longest reigns of any European monarch.  The sixth English King after the renowned Henry II, Edward was at heart a warrior.  Edward III transformed the Kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe.  His long reign of fifty years was the second longest in medieval England.  Edward oversaw vital developments in legislation and government, in particular the evolution of the English parliament

Edward III was crowned at age fourteen after his weird father was deposed by his mother, Isabella of France, and her lover Roger Mortimer.  At age seventeen, Edward led a successful coup against Mortimer, the de facto ruler of the country, and began his personal reign.  After a successful campaign in Scotland, he turned his attention to France. 

Edward declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1337. 

However, when his claim was denied, he decided to attack France and press his claim. This started he Hundred Years' War.  Edward's claim on the French throne was based on his descent from King Philip IV of France, through his French mother Isabella.  His marriage to French princess Philippa further reinforced his claim. 

They always say make love, not war.  Well, Edward did both.  Philippa and Edward had thirteen children, including five sons who lived into adulthood.  The rivalry of those numerous descendants would one day bring about the long-running and bloody dynastic wars known as the War of the Roses


As it turns out, Edward had a famous mistress.  Alice Perrers (1348–1400) was a royal mistress whose lover and patron was King Edward III of England. She met him originally in her capacity as a lady-in-waiting to Edward's consort, Philippa of Hainault.   Alice Perrers was despised by many and was accused of taking advantage of the far older king with her opportunistic character, youth, and beauty.  Meanwhile, this mistress went on to become the wealthiest woman in the land. 

As we shall see, History is just as fascinated by the women surrounding the Kings as the Kings themselves.  Anne O'Brien is a former history teacher in England who turned to historical fiction.  Let's see what she has to say about Alice Perrers:

One marriage. Three people. Proud king. Loving wife. Infamous mistress. 1362.

Philippa of Hainault selects a young orphan from a convent. Alice Perrers, a girl born with nothing but ambition. The Queen has a role waiting for her at court.

‘I have lifted you from nothing Alice. Now you repay me.’  Led down the corridors of the royal palace, the young virgin is secretly delivered to King Edward III – to perform the wifely duties of which ailing Philippa is no longer capable. Power has a price, and Alice Perrers will pay it. Mistress to the King. Confidante of the Queen. Whore to the court.

Her fate is double edged; loved by the majesties, ostracized by her peers. Alice must balance her future with care as her star begins to rise – the despised concubine is not untouchable. Politics and pillow talk are dangerous bedfellows.

The fading great King wants her in his bed. Her enemies want her banished. One mistake and Alice will face a threat worse than any malicious whispers of the past.


After his wife Philippa died, Edward had three illegitimate children by his mistress Alice Perrers.  This brings our total to at least 16 children.  There might be more, but who has the patience?  I found a website that drew a very unusual statement about Edward:

Conclusion: there is an extremely high probability that a modern English person with predominantly English ancestry descends from Edward III, at a very minimum over 99%, and more likely very close to 100%. The number of descendants of Edward III must therefore include nearly all of the population of England, and probably much of the populations of the rest of the UK and Eire, as well as many millions in the USA, former British colonies and Europe, so 100 million seems a conservative estimate. Documenting one's own descent from Edward III is, however, another matter!

There are two other footnotes to the reign of Edward III.

First, England lost 33% of its population due to the Black Plague. 

Second, France lost 33% of its population to Edward's son, the infamous Black Prince.  No, France didn't really lose that many, but it sure seemed that way. 


The Lineage of Edward III


I have discovered the hard way that any American who undertakes the task of sorting out English genealogy and ancestry is an idiot.  There are some remarkable stories to be told, but unless I explain the complicated politics, the upcoming stories will not make much sense.  Therefore, after much frustration, I have concluded that at least a superficial understanding of what King Edward III did would help explain the complex story behind the remarkable events soon to unfold.

All four of Edward III's sons contributed directly to English history. 

Edward III named John of Gaunt, one of his sons, to become the Duke of Lancaster

Edward III named Edmund, another other son, to become the Duke of York

Edward III had yet another son, Lionel, whose descendent Richard, Duke of York, would play a key role in English history. 

Edward III's son Edward, also known as the Black Prince, would see his son Richard II succeed Edward III as king. 

Now that Edward III's four boys have split off into different Houses, both Houses had an equal right to promote one of their members to the English throne.  This splitting would lead to brutal competition starting three generations down the line. 


Edward, The Black Prince


The most hated man in France was the Black Prince.  Sorry to say, but the French got the worst of it during the Hundred Year's War because all the battles took place on French soil.  The Black Prince was quite a warrior.  Like father, like son. 

Although the Black Prince was the eldest son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Edward of Woodstock (1330 –1376) never became king.  He died one year before his father's death after fighting a prolonged ten-year battle with a mysterious, debilitating diseaseDue to his premature death, the throne passed instead to his son Richard II, a minor, upon the death of the Black Prince's father Edward III. 

Edward of Woodstock was an exceptional military leader.   His victories over the French at the Battle of Crécy and the Battle of Poitiers against superior numbers during the Hundred Years War made him very popular in England. 

Unfortunately, Edward was not a man of mercy. In fact, he was the Black Prince of Destruction who laid neverending waste to France during the Hundred Years War.   

Although this was considered the Age of Chivalry, Edward never got the email.  Edward had a well-deserved reputation for cruelty.  He earned his title based on his habit of burning the fields of his French enemies, laying waste to the towns that he conquered, and executing thousands of helpless, unarmed French prisoners after his battles. 

He was despised by the French and admired by the English.  Whatever your point of view, there can be no doubt that Edward was a brute.  Hence the name 'Black Prince'.  The only favor Edward ever did the French was to die young, thereby putting one of England's worst rulers on the throne. 


John of Gaunt, House of Lancaster #1 and House of Lancaster #2

Good old King Edward III... remember him?

Edward III was the king who started that awful Hundred Years War and also found time to reproduce at a prolific rate. 

Edward's third male child by his wife Philippa was known as John of Gaunt

John of Gaunt founded not one, but two major wings on the House of Lancaster family tree. 

One wing was founded with Blanche of Lancaster, his first wife. 

The second wing was founded with Katherine Swynford, his mistress of 30 years. 

Both women were quite remarkable.


John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

King Edward noticed that Blanche of Lancaster, daughter of Henry Grosmont, head of the original wing of Lancaster, was not only filthy rich, she was available.

So John of Gaunt married Blanche of Lancaster in 1359.  She was 14 at the time.  Since John was a Plantagenet and the Lancasters were also Plantagenets, I suppose they were cousins of a sort. 

Blanche possessed considerable land holdings.  After John combined the estates King Edward gave him plus Blanche's estate, John of Gaunt was now the richest man in England after his father King Edward III.

Blanche was remarkable... marrying at age 14, she had seven children in eight years.  Then suddenly she took ill from complications following the birth of her seventh child.  Blanche died in 1368 at age 22. 

One of Blanche's children was Henry Bolingbroke, destined to become the first Lancaster King, Henry IV.

After Blanche's death, John had pretensions of ruling a Kingdom.  He was too far removed from the Crown of England to expect advancement, so he married Constance of Castille, Spain, in 1371.  John of Gaunt huffed and puffed for the next 23 years or so, but the Spanish Kingdom gig never worked out.  Constance died in 1394 still married to John.  It would be interesting to know what Constance thought of her marriage.  However, for the sake of Brevity, I will do my best to look away.  On the other hand, John's next love affair was more than I could resist.


Katherine Swynford,
The Scandalous Duchess


Widow Lady Katherine Swynford presents herself for a role in the household of merciless royal prince John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, hoping to end her destitution.

But the Duke’s scandalous proposition leaves her life of pious integrity reeling... Seduced by the glare of royal adoration, Katherine becomes John’s mistress.

She will leave behind everything she has stood for to play second fiddle to his young wife and ruthless ambition.  She will live in the shadows of the most powerful man in England in the hope of a love greater than propriety.

But soon the court whispers – whore, harlot, vile temptress – reach the ears of not just John’s bride but his most dangerous political enemies.

As the Plantagenet prince is accused of bringing England to its knees, who better to blame than shameless she-devil Katherine Swynford?

Dragged from the shadows, Katherine must answer for her sins.


Katherine Swynford was a commoner who came to the household of John of Gaunt as governess to his daughters Philippa of Lancaster and Elizabeth of Lancaster. 

After the death of his wife Blanche, John made Katherine Swynford his mistress.  She bore him four children in the years between 1371 and 1379.  They were supposedly born in John’s castle in Champagne, France, and given the name of the castle as their surname; Beaufort.  However it seems just as likely that they were named after the lordship of Beaufort, which had one belonged to Gaunt and to which he still laid claim.

Katherine remained John's mistress for 30 years during his marriage to Constance.  How she put up with this situation is anyone's guess. 

That said, for you hopeless romantics, I will share one tidbit... John finally married Katherine in 1396 and made her the Duchess of Lancaster.  He then asked King Richard II to legitimize their four children. 

The House of Beaufort had begun.  It is interesting to note that a descendant of Katherine's previously illegitimate son John Beaufort would on day produce a King of England. 


Richard II

Richard II followed Edward III. 

Richard was not the son of Edward III, but rather the son of the Black Prince.  Richard II was 10 when his controversial father died of a mysterious ailment in 1377.  No doubt the French were thrilled to see this brutal man bite the dust. 



In a move that would have far-reaching consequences, Richard II bypassed three able-bodied sons for succession to the crown. 

By the laws of primogeniture, this ten year old boy, Richard II, succeeded to the throne ahead of Edward's three surviving sons

This skipping of an entire generation left lingering claims to the throne among their various offspring, particularly among the Lancasters, descended from Edwards third son, John of Gaunt, and among the Yorks, descended from the second son Lionel and the fourth son Edmund.


Richard spent the majority of his early years wrestling to keep control of one peasant revolt after another.  We haven't spoken much about the English peasants, but they had a rough life.  At that time, half of England was owned by a network of 200 related Anglo-Norman families (and the rest was owned by the crown and the church).  In the centuries since the Norman Conquest, followers of William the Conqueror and his successors married noble Anglo-Saxon women to form a new French-speaking aristocracy. Their wealth and even their food were supplied by the toil of their native Anglo-Saxon serfs, few of whom rose to greatness.

Traces of the racial and class divisions of this time still exist in modern English. For the live animals herded, tended, milked and slaughtered by the natives we still use their Anglo-Saxon names like sheep, calf, cow and swine. For the cooked meat on the table, which only the French-speaking overlords were allowed to eat, we use the French equivalents: mutton, veal, beef and pork.

More cruelly still, the poor natives were not allowed to hunt wild animals for food in the forests, or even gather winter fuel there. Some modern place names tell this story:  Cannock Chase in Staffordshire is so named because ‘chase’ comes from the French word ‘chasse’ meaning ‘hunt’.  It was originally enclosed land, where the game was reserved for the exclusive pleasure of the overlords.  A peasant defying the “forest laws for the protection of vert and venison” risked a long term in prison – or even death.  The legend of Robin Hood was so enticing simply because this folk hero brought forest justice to a land that knew little justice for the lower classes.  So when an idiot like Richard Lionheart goes and gets kidnapped, the smart thing to do would have been to say keep him.  Instead the peasants were forced to fork over 25% of their earnings to pay Richard's ransom.  The English peasants were not a happy people.  This probably explains why they were eager to go plunder their counterparts in France during the Hundred Year's War.

When Richard was 36, he tried to put an end to the Hundred Years War by negotiating a permanent peace with France.  A proposal put forward in 1393 would have greatly expanded the territory of Aquitaine possessed by the English crown. However, the plan failed because it included a requirement that the English king pay homage to the King of France – a condition that proved unacceptable to the English public.  Instead, in 1396, a truce was agreed to, a truce which was supposed to last 28 years.  It lasted 19 years. 

Richard II was extravagant, unjust and faithless.  The sudden death of his wife Anne of Bohemia left Richard mentally unhinged.  He turned vindictive in 1397 and began taking cruel revenge on political opponents, many of whom were executed or exiled.  The next two years have been described by historians as Richard's Reign of Tyranny. 


Henry IV

Unfortunately for Richard II, one of the men he picked on had the means to fight back.  In 1399, Richard II disinherited Henry Bolingbroke.  Determined to regain his estate, Henry, returned from exile and deposed Richard

Richard picked on the wrong enemy.  Henry was not only his direct cousin, he was the son of John of Gaunt, the second wealthiest man in the kingdom.  It was a family feud, Plantagenet versus Plantagenet.  

John of Gaunt's eldest son and heir, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, had been exiled for ten years by King Richard II in 1398 as resolution to a dispute between Henry and Thomas de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. 

When John of Gaunt died in 1399, his estates and titles were declared forfeit to the crown.  King Richard II saw fit to do this because he had named Henry a traitor and changed his sentence to exile for life. Henry Bolingbroke returned from exile to reclaim his inheritance and depose Richard. 

Henry invaded England in June 1399 with a small force that quickly grew in numbers due to Richard II's unpopularity.  Claiming initially that his only goal was to reclaim his lost estate, it soon became clear that Henry intended to claim the throne for himself. 


Meeting little resistance, Bolingbroke deposed Richard and had himself crowned as King Henry IV (1399-1413).

Richard II died in captivity in February 1400; he is thought to have been starved to death in Pontefract Castle.  From what the history books say, he deserved it.

Henry's ascension to the throne marked a changing of the guard.  His father, John of Gaunt, was the third son of Edward III.  John of Gaunt enjoyed a position of considerable political influence during much of the reign of Henry's cousin Richard II.  Henry's mother Blanche was heiress to the considerable Lancaster estates.  Thus Henry IV became the first King of England from the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets.  Significantly, Henry was the first King of England since the Norman Conquest whose mother tongue was English rather than French. 

Although England finally had an English king, Henry did not enjoy a particularly auspicious reign. He spent most of his 13 years defending himself against plots, rebellions and assassination attempts.  Henry died exhausted, probably of leprosy, at the age of 45.

Although Henry IV did not accomplish much on his own other than fend off all the attackers, his son Henry V would become one of England's most famous rulers. 


Problem of Succession

Henry IV had stepped out of line.  Literally. 

The heir of the royal estate according to common law was Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, who descended from the daughter of Edward III's third son, Lionel of Antwerp.  Basically, Edmund Mortimer had been cheated out of the throne.

Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt, was Edward's fourth son.  In other works, Bolingbroke had broken the line of succession and opened a can of worms. 

Henry thus had to overcome the superior claim of the Mortimers in order to maintain his inheritance.  At the time, the problem was solved by everyone looking the other way and coming up with legal goobledygook to explain why it was okay after all.


Basically, Henry Bolingbroke had opened a can of worms.  If it was okay for him to 'step out of line', then it was okay for all his royal cousins to do the same at a later date.

This difficulty compounded when the Mortimer claim was merged with the Yorkist claim in the person of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York.  The Duke of York was the heir-general of Edward III, and the heir presumptive (due to agnatic descent) of Henry's grandson Henry VI.  We will come back to this shortly.


Henry V


Henry V was extremely pious and serious.  He was also a skillful soldier.  Henry honed his military skills by helping to put down the many rebellions launched against his father.  Henry was quite a fighter.  The boy had already been knighted when aged just 12.

Ascending to the throne in 1413, Henry pleased his nobles by renewing the Hundred Year's War with France in 1415.  More than likely, Henry V spotted an opening.  France was in complete disorder.  The French king, Charles VI of France, was prone to mental illness; at times he thought he was made of glass.  Furthermore, his eldest surviving son was an unpromising prospect.  Seeing that France was leaderless, Henry V decided to strike. 

Henry V didn't need an excuse.  He simply revived the old dynastic claim to the throne of France that had been earlier pursued by Edward III of England. 

Henry's campaign was at best a borderline success.  He laid siege to the port of Harfleur, modern day Le Havre.  During the long siege, Henry lost 33% of his forces to dysentery.  Ravaged by disease, Henry decided to fold his tents and head back to England. 

Meanwhile, the French had other ideas.  




So how about the Archers?  Many Englishmen were known by their occupations in Old England.  Here is a simple list of occupations that turned into easily recognizable names:

Archer, Baker, Brewer, Butcher, Butler, Carpenter, Carter, Clark, Cooper, Cook, Dyer, Farmer, Faulkner, Field, Fisher, Fuller, Gardener, Glover, Head, Hunt, Hunter, Judge, Knight, Mason, Miller, Page, Parker, Potter, Sawyer, Slater, Smith, Taylor, Thatcher, Turner, Weaver, Wood, Wright.

These names are all gentle reminders that many Americans can trace their lineage back to England and its surrounding areas. 

Many of the English got their names from their occupations.  As one might gather, since I am an 'Archer', my family traces its roots back to the glory days of the Archers during the 'Hundred Years War' between England and France.  

Of course, I am very proud of my Archer name.  The Archers not only won the famous battle of Agincourt on French soil in 1415, they did so on my birthday!


The 1415 Battle of
Agincourt was the most famous battle during the long series of warfare between England and France known as the Hundred Years War.   What makes the battle so remarkable was that the army of Henry V was apparently outnumbered 5 to 1.  But somehow the English managed to win Not only that, Henry was said to have only lost about 400 men. 

Many accounts suggest it was 30,000 French against 6,000 English.   So how on earth did the English beat an army five times larger and incur so few losses in the process?

Well, the Mystics will say Fate and the Realistics will say the English benefitted from several factors, one being considerable luck. 

Seriously, the French had no business losing this battle.  They didn't even have to fight!!  They could have won just by sitting still and forcing the outnumbered English to do the attacking... in which case the larger French army would have enjoyed a serious advantage.

The English invasion of France by King Henry V was cut short by a serious outbreak of dysentery.   Henry had already lost one-third of his army to disease and was limping to Calais, an English Channel port from which his pitiful army could sail home.   The army was low on provisions and exhausted from a previous battle at Harfleur (modern day Le Havre).

The French pulled an impressive trick on the English.  In order to reach Calais, the English had to cross the Somme River in northern France.   Heading north along the French coastline, the English were met by a small French army on the northern side of the Somme River.  The English army moved inland in search of a safe spot to cross the river swollen by seasonal rains.   The small French army shadowed the English every step of the way to prevent it from crossing.   This maneuver forced the English to detour nearly one hundred miles inland before it could find a place to cross.  The detour changed a 120 mile trip to Calais into a 260 mile trip.  In the process, the detour delayed the English reaching Calais by two weeks.

During this two week delay, the French used the extra time to assemble the largest army in history.   The word spread throughout France... head to Calais and take place in the greatest English arse kicking in French history.  Everyone wanted a piece of the action. 

The English were just 30 miles from Calais when it crossed a hill.  Surprise!  There in front of them stood an army of 30,000 men.  This army stretched as far as the eye could see. 

Devastated from dysentery, low on provisions, exhausted after a three-week march, the English army had a huge problem... the French were in no hurry to fight.  All the French had to do was sit there for a week, drink wine and let the English starve to death.


King Henry V had no choice.  He had to attack.  

So how did the English win?   Rain, vain, terrain.

The overnight 'rain' was a huge help.  It turned the battlefield into a mud pit.   The field had recently been ploughed and the upturned dirt became a quagmire.  Now the heavily armored French were at a considerable disadvantage because their heavy armor made them immobile in the muck

The 'terrain' was a gentle slope with the English on the high ground.  On either side of the field were thick forests.   This helped the English because now the French were unable to flank them.  In addition, the vast majority of the French forces were stuck at the back and unable to join the fight.

Henry used a narrow front channeled by woodland to give his heavily outnumbered force a chance.  All the English had to do was keep the front line of the French at bay while the countless thousands of Frenchmen behind the lines twiddled their thumbs. 

Even better, the English archers went into the woods where they could attack the French using the cover of the trees. 


As for 'vain', the English left themselves completely vulnerable for an entire hour, but the French just sat and watched.  They were so certain of victory that they passed on this delicious window of opportunity. 

Every archer was told to carry a giant wooden stake with a point on the end to plant in the ground.  These stakes were to serve as a defensive barrier to slow down the French horses.

The English were in a terrible position.  They had no choice but to attack or starve.  The problem was that the French army was out of arrow range.  In order to fight, first they had to move the archers closer.  Henry's decision to move forward meant the archers had dig up their stakes, move them 200 yards forward, then re-plant them. 

Surely the French were amused.  It was a preposterous sight to see the English dig up their stakes, move them forward, and then replant them.  The entire time, the archers were vulnerable to attack by the mighty French cavalry.  The French cavalry force could have devastated the English line if it had attacked while they moved their stakes.  Instead they did nothing while the English came closer.  


French arrogance cost them a surefire triumph.   When Henry originally decided to attack France, he had been right about one thing... the French seriously lacked leadership.  Their generals did not seem to have a clue on this day. 

Now that the English archers were within striking distance, they let loose an initial volley of arrows.   The initial deluge of arrows was so thick legend has it that the sun disappeared. 

This enraged the French who decided to charge.  That was exactly what Henry wanted them to do.   Now the English could fight a defensive battle.  The first line of French knights attacked only to be repulsed by the English longbowmen.  

The French armor was sufficient to protect many of the French from the arrows, but the horses were another story.  Every time a horse went down, so did the man riding it.  Once a knight hit the dirt with his heavy armor, he got stuck in the thick mud.  

The dead horses now served as a defensive wall for the English, but the French showed great determination by trudging forward.


Several days of torrential rains had turned the recently tilled ground at Agincourt into a soggy morass. Already weighed down by their heavy metal armor, the French knights were forced to slip and slide their way toward the English line, often sinking down to their knees in mud. The French attack slowed to a crawl and became a prelude to a slaughter in the mud.

The French had become sitting ducks.  Many died right where they fell off their horse.  They were caught in a human crush and were either trampled or suffocated to death after they fell into the mire.  Can you imagine?  The water was so deep in places that a fallen Frenchman might get his visor stuck underwater and drown. 

Those lucky enough to survive the slog arrived at the enemy position exhausted and disorganized. Since most of the English weren’t wearing armor, they were able to pounce on the weary Frenchmen and inflict devastating casualties.


The English archers put down their bows and used their poleaxes to kill the immobilized French knights who were stuck in the mud thanks to to their heavy armor.   The more mobile English simply raised the visors of their enemy and stuck a knife in their eye.  

The French viewed the day with mounting horror.  After seeing their first line repulsed, the second line of French now attacked

They too were beaten back, their charge bogged down by the mud on the field and the defensive wall of dead Frenchmen.  

Late in the day, a third line moved to engage but lost heart as they crossed the field covered with French dead.  Seeing the futility, they retreated without giving fight. 

The battle was over.



One of the remarkable features of Agincourt was Henry V fighting front and center throughout the battle.  The man possessed considerable courage.

It has been written that a band of 18 French knights under the banner of the Lord of Croy met before the battle and vowed to kill Henry V and knock his crown from his head.  

Their efforts were unsuccessful.  One member did manage to strike Henry’s helmeted head with an axe and chip off a piece of his crown, but that was only blow landed all day.

The entire group of 18 died in their effort.

The blow wasn’t the only brush with death the King had while fighting on the front lines.  When his younger brother Humphrey was wounded in the groin, Henry is said to have kept a group of French attackers at bay until Humphrey could be carried to safety.

Richard the Lionheart may have had the reputation, but Henry V was the real deal. The word 'hero' was coined for guys like him. 

Henry was left with control of the battlefield and a decisive victory.  The resulting massacre left between 6,000 and 10,000 French troops dead. The English only lost a few hundred men.  


In 1599 Shakespeare wrote Henry V, including the immortal St. Crispin’s Day “band of brothers” speech by which the king best remembered.

“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

This battle is still considered one of England's finest hours.



Next Chapter:  War of the Roses I



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