In 1153, Stephen of Blois agreed to name his rival’s son heir apparent. The English king spent his reign fighting challenges from the future Henry II and his mother the Empress Matilda. Stephen died shortly thereafter leaving the throne to Matilda’s progeny. Henry II and the House of Anjou assumed the throne in December 1154. In the 12th and 13th century, the family ruled from Ireland to France. At the same time, the House of Anjou reigned in England for six decades. King John’s failures led to a challenge from Louis the Lion of France. John’s death ended the threat as well as the House of Anjou’s English rule. The Plantagenet Dynasty emerged in 1216 to supplant King John’s family and rule for nearly two centuries.
Henry II (1154-1189)
Empress Matilda negotiated the English throne for her son. He assumed power upon Stephen of Blois’ death. As Henry II, he expanded his empire into Ireland, Wales, and France. In 1173, he brushed aside a revolt led by his own son. Despite the martial success, Henry II’s legacy intertwined with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The king finagled the position for his friend Thomas Becket. However, Becket proved too independent for Henry. The archbishop defended the church’s rights against royal encroachment. The pair grew estranged to the point where Henry’s courtiers felt emboldened to assassinate Becket. The assassination undercut royal authority and independence in relation to the Vatican.
Henry the young king (1170-1183)
Henry II hoped to secure succession when he named his son, Henry, co-ruler. He was anointed “the Young King” to differentiate father and son. Three years after his ascension, the son threw a tantrum over perceived slights, lack of power, and money. He launched a failed rebellion, but secured increased funding in the settlement. While Henry the Young King overspent, his brother Richard asserted himself and emerged as a rival. The Young King rebelled against his father once more with Richard siding with Henry II. In 1183, Henry the Young King died after contracting dysentery. Richard the Lionheart assumed his place as heir apparent.
Richard the lionheart (1189-1199)
Richard I, and not Henry the Young King, succeeded Henry II in 1189. Richard evolved into the standard by which medieval knights were measured. He emerged as a strong military leader at the age of 16. Later, he led the Third Crusade to the Holy Land, defeated the great Saladin on multiple occasions, but failed to recapture Jerusalem. As a result of his adventures, Richard spent less than a year of his reign in England. The kingdom served as a base to fund his armies. While abroad, his brother, John, revolted against Richard. When the true king returned, John submitted, and Richard forgave his brother in true chivalric fashion. Then, Richard the Lionheart returned to war where he died from friendly fire.
Richard’s death left John the English kingship. John’s inability to govern destroyed the Anjou Dynasty. He tried to replicate the military successes of Henry II and Richard I, but failed miserably. The English Empire in France collapsed, the nobles grew restive, the King fought with the Pope, and John raised taxes. Pope Innocent II excommunicated John forcing the king to grovel for forgiveness. After another military defeat, the nobles revolted against their monarch. In 1215, the barons forced John to sign the Magna Carta undermining royal authority, providing a check against monarchical power, and guaranteeing rights to the nobility. By 1216, another round of civil wars raged when John developed dysentery. Like Henry the Young King, it killed him. 800 years later, John remains one of history’s great villains.
Louis the lion (disputed)
The English nobles despised King John to the point that they invited Louis VIII of France to take the throne. In 1216, the nobles declared Louis the new king. However, he was never crowned, enjoyed a coronation, or received papal sanction. When John died from dysentery, the nobles that supported his invasion transferred their allegiance to Henry Plantagenet (Henry III). All of a sudden, Louis the Lion was a foreign invader as opposed to a welcomed liberator. The French monarch refused to surrender his claim until the pope intervened. He surrendered his claim in return for 10,000 marks and amnesty for his supporters.