The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events

Khalid Elhassan - June 23, 2018

From the Devil we sprang, and to the Devil we shall return” – king Richard the Lionheart, referring to his Plantagenet family.

Many contemporaries thought there was something demonic about England’s Plantagenet Dynasty (1154 – 1485), who named themselves after the planta geneste, or common broom, and went at everything full tilt. They were known for their manic energies, and a seeming inability to just sit still. They revolutionized and remade England. They dominated the British Isles by conquering Wales, cowing Scotland, and subduing Ireland. They created an empire stretching from Ireland to the Spanish border, and devastated France in the Hundred Years War. Europe proving too small, the Plantagenets exported their manic energies to the Middle East, where they wreaked havoc during the Crusades.

They were also known for their fierce intra-familial rivalries, which doomed and brought their dynasty to a dramatic end. Where others tried to take them down, and failed, the Plantagenets proved quite capable of taking themselves down. As with everything else they did, they approached the task of self-destruction by going at each other full tilt.

Following are ten historic snapshots of the rise and fall of the Plantagenet Dynasty.

Prelude: The Norman Conquest of Anglo-Saxon England

The Plantagenet era was preceded by the Norman conquest of England, which was triggered in 1066 when Anglo-Saxon England’s king Edward the Confessor died childless. A powerful Anglo-Saxon lord, Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, was then crowned as king. Harold’s title was disputed, however, by his younger brother, Tostig, and by Duke William of Normandy. The latter was related to Edward the Confessor, and claimed that he had been promised the English throne upon Edward’s death.

King Harold gathered his forces in readiness for a seaborne invasion from Normandy by Duke William, but contrary winds kept the Normans on the other side of the English Channel. It would be Harold’s brother, Tostig, who would strike first. Allied with the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada, Tostig landed with a largely Scandinavian army near York, in northern England.

Harold, who had been waiting in southern England for an invasion from Normandy, led a forced march north to meet his brother and the Norwegian king. In a hard fought battle at Stamford Bridge on September 25th, 1066, Harold won a decisive victory in which Tostig and Harald Hardrada were killed. The invading army had arrived in 300 ships. Only 24 were needed to carry the survivors back to Norway.

Two days later, the Channel winds finally changed, allowing Duke William to finally land his army in southern England. Harold was forced to assemble his weary troops, and retracing his steps, he led them on another forced march back to the south of England. He gathered reinforcements along the way as he rushed to meet the new invasion.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
Battle of Hastings. Weapons and Warfare

At the Battle of Hastings on October 14th, 1066, the Anglo-Saxons formed a shield wall atop a ridge. The battle began with mounted charges by Norman knights, which were beaten back. However, a pair of feigned retreats drew many of Harold’s men from their battle lines into disastrous pursuits, that ended with the pursuers getting surrounded and destroyed. That thinned the Anglo-Saxon lines, and by late afternoon, Harold was hard pressed, when he was killed by a random arrow striking him in the eye. The leaderless Anglo-Saxons fought until dusk, then broke and scattered.

William then took London and crowned himself king William I, with momentous consequences. Centuries of Anglo Saxon independence came to an end, to be replaced by Norman rule. For generations, England had been oriented towards the Germanic world from whence the Anglo-Saxons came, and after the Viking Era began, to the North Sea and Scandinavia. William and the Normans began to reorient England towards France, the Western European mainstream, and the Mediterranean world. The Plantagenets would complete that reorientation.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
Sinking of the White Ship. Wikimedia

A Drunk Boating Accident Set the Stage For the Plantagenet Era

In November of 1120, after a diplomatic visit to France, a fleet was assembled to transport England’s king Henry I and his court across the English Channel back home. The king’s 17 year old son and heir, William Adelin, made plans to cross in the English navy’s pride, a vessel known as the White Ship. The prince and his youthful companions turned the affair into a wild party, and delayed the crossing while they got roaring drunk on shore with the ship’s crew.

Then the prince and his intoxicated entourage, numbering about 300 people, boarded the White Ship to make a nighttime crossing. The inebriated prince and his friends challenged their ship’s captain and crew to make a race of it and catch and bypass king Henry’s ship, which had sailed hours earlier, before it reached England. The White Ship’s Captain and crew were confident of their ship’s speed, and accepted the challenge.

Rowing furiously, fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, and cheered on by the drunk prince and his friends, the equally drunk crew set a good pace. However, in their intoxicated state, the crew failed to keep a good lookout, and rowed into a hazardous stretch, where they struck a partially submerged rock. The White Ship was holed and quickly sank, and hundreds drowned, including the prince.

William was his royal father’s only legitimate male issue, and his early death led to a succession crisis. King Henry failed to sire another son, and so sought to designate his daughter, Matilda, as his heir. His barons reluctantly agreed, but after Henry’s death in 1135, most barons backed his nephew, Stephen of Blois, when he claimed and seized the crown as the eldest male royal relative. Stephen’s claim was challenged by Matilda, and the duo plunged England into nearly two decades of civil war and chaos that came to be known as The Anarchy.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
Henry II. The Famous People

Henry II, the Greatest Plantagenet and the Dynasty’s Founder

The bitter civil war between king Stephen and his predecessor’s daughter, Matilda, saw numerous ups and downs, and devastated England. It finally came to a negotiated end in 1153, after king Stephen agreed to designate Matilda’s son, Henry Plantagenet, as his heir. The latter ascended the throne as Henry II, following Stephen’s death in 1154, and founded the Plantagenet Dynasty which ruled England for centuries.

Henry II (1133 – 1189) was probably England’s most transformative king, and his reign, from 1153 to 1189, saw the laying of some basic foundations that shaped England ever since. He was born to Matilda, daughter of England’s king Henry I, and Geoffrey the Fair, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. Henry became ruler of Anjou and Normandy following his father’s death in 1151. The following year, he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, Europe’s greatest heiress, and added her duchy to his holding. When he succeeded to the English throne in 1154, he became Europe’s greatest monarch, ruling what came to be known as the Angevin Empire, whose territories stretched from the Scottish border to the Spanish Pyrenees.

Henry saw the delivery of justice as a king’s key function, and revolutionized England by reorganizing its legal system, with the help of his chancellor, Thomas Becket. Henry eventually fell out with Becket when the latter objected to the king’s efforts to curb the power and privileges of the clergy. It ended with Becket’s murder, but while king and chancellor had still been on good terms, they transformed England.

Henry laid the foundations for the English common law system that shaped England, and through it the US and the rest of the Anglophone world. The Assize of Clarendon in 1166 established basic criminal justice procedures, courts, and prisons to hold those awaiting trial. Henry expanded the role of the royal courts by granting them the power to settle disputes that used to be handled by alternative systems, such as ecclesiastical courts. In so doing, he imposed judicial uniformity throughout England. That uniformity was furthered by his Eyre system of circuit courts, in which royal judges traveled all around England to adjudicate criminal and civil cases. He also expanded the role of juries, and codified English law. His courts gave fast and clear verdicts, enriched the treasury, and extended royal influence and control.

Henry’s legal system provided a degree of stability and predictability that was rare in the medieval world, and rarer still as subsequent jurists and future governments strengthened and solidified it. Much of Britain’s future success as a trading, industrial, and imperial giant, rested upon the foundations laid by Henry II’s 12th century legal reforms. English – later British – entrepreneurs, secure in their property and trusting their legal system, could conduct business with a confidence that gave them an edge over foreign competitors operating in less secure and stable investment environment. The future British Empire, built on commerce, owed much to Henry.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that Henry II did all that against the backdrop of a tumultuous reign in which he had to repeatedly go to war against his own family, setting a pattern of Plantagenet intra-familial rivalry. Henry’s wife and children kept raising armed rebellions against him, and he spent much of his reign fighting his own Plantagenet brood, going to war against family members in 1173, 1181, and 1184. Henry commissioned a painting depicting him as an eagle with three of its young tearing it apart with their beaks and talons, while a fourth hangs back, waiting for an opportunity to pluck out its parent’s eyes. He died in 1189 of a broken heart upon learning that his youngest and favorite child, the hitherto loyal and obedient John (of Robin Hood and Magna Carta fame), had finally betrayed him and joined his brothers in yet another war against their father. John had been the fourth eaglet, patiently waiting on the sidelines in the painting.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
The barons forcing king John I to sign the Magna Carta. 50-50 Parliament

The Plantagenet Era Saw the First Checks on Royal Authority, and the Birth of Parliament

The rule of law and the earliest stirrings of what we view as civil rights occurred during the Plantagenet era – often against the opposition of Plantagenet monarchs, or only with their lukewarm and reluctant acquiescence. Henry II took the first step by reforming the legal system and establishing the rule of law in England. The next step, taken during the reign of his son John I, was to establish the principle that the king’s power is not absolute, but is limited by law and custom.

John I (1166 – 1216), the baddie in Robin Hood stories, was king from 1199 until his death, and his reign was a disaster. Before him, his father and elder brother, Richard the Lionheart, had cobbled together and defended territories stretching from Ireland to the Spanish border – the Angevin Empire. John lost the Duchy of Normandy to the French king, resulting in the collapse of that once-mighty empire.

On top of that, he got into a dispute with Pope Innocent III, that led to John’s excommunication in 1209. Between the preceding, his high handed treatment of English nobles, and high taxes, John’s barons finally had enough of his misrule, and rose up in rebellion. In 1215, the barons forced the king to sign the Magna Carta Libertatum (“The Great Charter of Liberty”). The document promised protections from illegal imprisonment, and curbed the king’s powers in a variety of ways. It applied to the barons, not to commoners, but its core principles of due process and limiting the king’s absolute authority by law were the first steps towards civil rights.

The next step on the march towards liberty was Parliament. It began as a royal consultative body, but gradually grew in power over the centuries until it came to wield absolute power, reducing monarchs to figureheads. As with the Magna Carta, it began with tensions between the king and his barons – in this case king Henry III, and barons led by Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester.

The tensions finally erupted into the Second Baronial Revolt, which defeated and captured king Henry and his son, Prince Edward, in 1264. De Montfort then called England’s first Parliament, to which cities and boroughs sent representatives. Although the uprising was eventually crushed, and de Montfort killed in battle, the concept of a Parliament took hold. Plantagenet kings found that body useful as an instrument for raising taxes, in exchange for allowing Parliament’s representatives to air concerns and grievances, little dreaming that it would someday become the true power in the realm.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
Effigy of Edward II. Medieval Histories

The Tragedy of Edward II, the Least Respected Plantagenet

Plantagenet kings always had to contend with powerful nobles, who might challenge their royal authority at any time. One such was Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March (1287 – 1330), a powerful aristocrat who fell out with king Edward II over the king’s maladministration and corrupt royal favorites. Mortimer led a baronial revolt, but was defeated in 1322 and captured. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, but escaped and fled to France.

King Edward II (1284 – 1327) was a poor monarch, but what damaged his authority the most was the perception that was a homosexual, and an effeminate one at that. That was a problem in Edward’s England, a kingdom ruled by a macho warrior caste. Edward often promoted his male lovers to positions of power, only for those lovers to abuse those powers, to the disgust of the king’s subjects. His latest lover, Hugh Despenser, fit that pattern.

Edward made things worse by publicly fawning upon Hugh, which humiliated and alienated Edward’s queen, Isabella. Roger Mortimer took advantage of that, and while Isabella was on a diplomatic mission to France in 1325, he met and seduced her, and made her his mistress. In 1326, the couple invaded England, executed Hugh Despenser and his relatives, and deposed Edward II. They replaced the king with his 14 year old son, who was crowned as Edward III, with Mortimer as regent.

Reports of plots to rescue the deposed king reached Mortimer’s ears, so he had the former monarch relocated to a more secure site. As news of fresh plots to free Edward kept surfacing during the spring and summer of 1327, he was repeatedly shuttled between various locations. The fear that one of those schemes might finally succeed eventually decided Mortimer on a permanent solution: to put Edward II beyond rescue, by killing him.

In order to avoid leaving marks of murder on the body, and contemptuous of Edward’s perceived effeminacy, the killers held him down, and inserted a red hot poker up his behind to burn his bowels from the inside. Another version has it that a tube was first inserted in his rectum, then a red hot metal bolt was dropped down the tube into his bowels. Either way, it was a gruesome way to go, and Edward II’s dying screams were reportedly heard for miles. Mortimer retained power as regent until 1330, when Edward III decided he was old enough to rule on his own, seized Mortimer, and had him executed.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
Geoffrey Chaucer. Shakespeare Study Guide

The Plantagenet Era Saw the Transition From Anglo-Saxon to English

Now welcome, somer, with they sonne softe,
That hast this wintres wedres overshake,
And driven away the longe nyghtes blake!
Chaucer – excerpt from The Parliament of Birds

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 1400) wrote The Canterbury Tales, and was the greatest English poet before Shakespeare. He legitimized the literary use of English vernacular at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin. As a result, Chaucer is widely regarded as The Father of the English Language. His works were highly eclectic, with topics running the gamut from fart jokes to spiritual union with God. However, his writings consistently reflected a pervasive humor, even when they explored serious philosophical questions.

Chaucer was born into a wealthy family, and attended school at Saint Paul’s cathedral, where he was influenced by the writings of Virgil and Ovid. His father secured him a position as a royal page – a stepping stone to knighthood and future advancement. In his teens, Chaucer took part in the opening of the Hundred Years’ War, was captured, and ransomed by the king for a considerable sum. As an adult, he pursued a career as a courtier, civil servant, and diplomat.

Chaucer’s first major poem, written in the early 1370s, was The Book of the Duchess, an elegy to the deceased wife of John of Gaunt, son of king Edward III and father of future king Henry IV. It earned Chaucer a comfortable annuity from the powerful widower. Most of his major accomplishments were penned between 1374 and 1386, when he was comptroller of London. It was a job that afforded him plenty of free time, in which he wrote major works such as Parliament of Birds and The Legend of Good Women. It was during this period that he began his signature work, The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer became the towering literary figure of his day, and after his death in 1400, he was the first to be buried at what would eventually become known as “Poets’ Corner” in Westminster Abbey. There, English literary luminaries such as Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, and Thomas Hardy joined him over the succeeding centuries.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
Wat Tyler’s death in the English Peasants’ Revolt. Luminarium

The Plantagenet Era Saw Massive Popular Uprisings

By medieval standards, England was one of the more stable realms in Europe during the first two centuries of Plantagenet rule. There were occasional bouts of political violence amongst the elites, but they tended to be short lived and relatively small scale, causing correspondingly little disruption, all things considered. The Black Death, which arrived in 1348 and killed between a third and a half of England’s population, changed that.

The depopulation led to a severe labor shortage. That allowed surviving workers to negotiate higher wages and better working conditions, particularly from landowners desperate to have their fields tilled. So the landowners and employers got the government to enact the Statute of Laborers in 1351, fixing wages at pre Black Death rates. Understandably, that did not sit well with the peasants and laborers.

Their discontent came to a boil in 1381, when an unpopular poll tax was enacted. That May, officials attempting to collect the tax in Essex were violently resisted. Resistance spread, catching the government of the then 14 year old king Richard II by surprise with its vehemence and speed. Rebels seized and burned court and tax records, emptied the jails, and visited vigilante justice upon unpopular landlords and employers who fell into their hands.

They demanded an end to serfdom, a lowering of taxes, and the dismissal of unpopular officials and judges, and marched on London. On June 13th, 1381, a Kentish contingent led by a Wat Tyler entered the city, massacred foreigners, destroyed the palace of an unpopular uncle of the king, and seized the Tower of London. The king’s chancellor and his treasurer, deemed responsible for the introduction of the hated poll tax, were captured and beheaded.

The teenaged king agreed to meet Wat Tyler and his contingent on the outskirts of London to hear their demands, but Wat Tyler was treacherously killed at the meeting. The young king then claimed that he would be the rebels’ leader, and promising reforms and agreeing to their demands, convinced them to disperse. As soon as sufficient military force was available, however, the king reneged, and the peasants were brutally suppressed. When a peasant delegation reminded the king of his promises, he contemptuously dismissed them, sneering “Villeins ye are, and villeins ye shall remain!

Two generations later, England erupted into another popular uprising, triggered by high taxes and a recent hike in the cost of living. That came on the heels of a recent loss of most English territory in France, due to a disastrous royal marriage negotiation to wed England’s hapless and mentally feeble king Henry VI to a French princess. The preceding, combined with widespread corruption and abuse of power by royal advisors and officials, brought things to a boil. In 1450 Jack Cade, an Irishman residing in Kent, England, organized and led a rebellion of peasants and small proprietors. The rebellion gathered steam, and soon became a major popular revolt that shook England and terrorized its government and ruling caste.

The rebels issued a manifesto listing their grievances, in which they demanded the removal of several royal ministers. They also demanded the recall of the king’s cousin, Richard, Duke of York, from Ireland, where he was a virtual exile. A royal army was sent to crush the rebellion, only to get crushed by the rebels in Kent. The rebels then marched on London, and captured it on July 3rd, 1450. They also captured the hated royal treasurer, James Fiennes, Lord Saye and Sele, whom they blamed for most of their grievances. After a summary trial, Sele was convicted, sentenced to death, and executed.

However, Cade failed to maintain discipline among his followers, and many of them began looting London. The lawlessness led Londoners to turn on the rebels, and expel them from the city after a battle at London Bridge, July 6th, 1450. Officials then convinced most rebels to disperse by issuing royal pardons. With his host melting away, Cade fled, but was tracked down a week later. After a brief skirmish with his pursuers, he was wounded and captured. He was to be taken to London, but died of his wounds en route.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
Richard II. Luminarium

Rival Branches of the Plantagenets Wiped the Dynasty Out in Fratricidal Wars

Cade’s Rebellion was symptomatic of a general collapse of royal authority, fueled by rivalries between different branches of the Plantagenets, that would ultimately spell the dynasty’s doom. The Plantagenets had been prone to fighting each other since the dynasty’s founding – Henry II, the dynasty’s founder spent much of his reign warring against his wife and sons. The dynasty survived those earlier travails, but it would not survive another bout of intra-dynastic bloodletting, that began in the 14th century.

It was triggered by the tyrannical rule of king Richard II, last seen in the previous entry, suppressing the Peasants’ Rebellion with no small dose of nastiness. From a nasty teenager, Richard grew into a nasty customer as an adult, and he proceeded to surround himself with corrupt officials, and rule in an arbitrary and capricious manner. That led to an uprising by many lords, including some of the king’s Plantagenet relatives, who seized power.

In 1386, the rebels formed a committee known as the Lords Appellant, which governed the realm and reduced Richard to a figurehead. A Parliament, which became known as the “Merciless Parliament”, was called. It impeached several of the king’s favorites, confiscated their property, and ordered their execution. Richard bided his time, and slowly rebuilt his power. Then in 1397, he struck back, reasserted his authority, and executed the most prominent Lords Appellant.

One of Richard’s opponents had Henry Bolingbroke, Richard’s cousin and the son of his uncle, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. John of Gaunt had supported Richard and helped him regain power, and acted as intermediary between the king and his opponents, including Gaunt’s own son. However, John of Gaunt died in 1399, and Richard decided to settle scores with his son. So he disinherited Henry Bolingbroke, declared him a traitor, and banished him for life.

Bolingbroke did not stay in exile for long, however. He returned a few months later, raised a rebellion, and proceeded to defeat and depose his cousin. Richard II was captured, and quietly murdered. Henry Bolingbroke had himself crowned as Henry IV, and founded the Lancastrian branch of the Plantagenets. The Lancastrians would rule England until the crown was disputed by the Yorkists – Plantagenets descended from John of Gaunt’s younger brother Edmund, Duke of York – in the Wars of the Roses.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
George, Duke of Clarence, getting drowned in wine. Alcohol Justice

The Wars of the Roses, the Kingmaker, And Deadly Brotherly Rivalry

Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (1428 – 1471), was one of the most powerful nobleman of his era, and a capable military commander during the Wars of the Roses between the Yorkist and Lancastrian branches of the Plantagenet family. He began the conflict on the Yorkist side, but then switched his support to the Lancastrians, and his role in deposing two kings earned him the epithet “Warwick the Kingmaker”.

The Wars of the Roses began when Richard, Duke of York, supported by the Nevilles, attempted to seize the crown from his cousin, the mentally incapacitated king Henry VI. However, the Duke of York and Warwick’s father were slain in battle, and the struggle passed on to the next generation of Yorkists, including Warwick and the Duke of York’s son, Edward.

Warwick was instrumental in securing victory for the Yorkists, who crushed the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in 1461. Henry VI was deposed and imprisoned, and his place was taken by the slain Duke of York’s son, now crowned as Edward IV. The new king was a great warrior, but was uninterested in government, so Warwick governed the realm on his behalf.

The relationship soured because of Edward’s impulsive marriage to a commoner. That ruined years of painstaking negotiations by Warwick for a treaty between England and France, which was to have been sealed by Edward’s marriage to a French princess. Things came to a head in 1470 when Warwick, aided by king Edward’s younger brother, George, First Duke of Clarence – who had married Warwick’s daughter and thus became his son-in-law – deposed Edward. The Yorkist king was forced to flee England, while the deposed Lancastrian Henry VI was released from imprisonment, dusted off, and restored to the English throne.

Warwick’s triumph was short lived, however: Edward returned to England in 1471, and raised a counter rebellion. At a critical moment, Warwick was betrayed by his son in law, George, Duke of Clarence, who had a change of heart and defected back to his brother, Edward. The two sides met in the Battle of Barnet in April of 1471, a Lancastrian defeat in which the Kingmaker was killed.

Another and final Yorkist victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury the following month confirmed Edward IV’s restoration to the throne. The unfortunate Henry VI was quietly murdered to eliminate the possibility of further trouble from Lancastrian loyalists. And to be thorough, Henry VI’s only son, the teenaged Henry of Lancaster, was also killed.

As to the wishy-washy George, Duke of Clarence, he continued to demonstrate his ingratitude to his elder brother. Understandably, that irked Edward IV, who had made his younger brother a duke in the first place, then made him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at age of 13, only to see his generosity get repaid with multiple conspiracies. When the Duke of Clarence was caught conspiring once again, an exasperated Edward finally had enough.

The king imprisoned his younger brother in the Tower of London, and tried him for treason, personally conducting the prosecution before Parliament. George was convicted, attainted, and sentenced to death. On February 18th, 1478, the Duke of Clarence was executed by getting dunked into a big barrel of Malmsey wine, and forcibly held under until he was drowned.

The Bloody History of the Plantagenet Dynasty in 10 Events
Richard III’s final charge at the Battle of Bosworth. Steam Community

The Plantagenet Era Was Ended in a Single Afternoon By an Act of Betrayal

The Plantagenet era ended on the afternoon of August 22nd, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth, due to one of history’s most momentous betrayals. The traitor was Thomas Stanley, First Earl of Derby (1435 – 1504), a powerful peer who ran his extensive landholdings in northwest England as if they were an independent realm. Accordingly, his support was sought by both the Lancastrian and Yorkist branches of the Plantagenet dynasty during the Wars of Roses.

The Yorkist King Edward IV died in 1483, having named his brother Richard regent during the minority of Edward’s 12 year old son and successor, Edward V, and guardian of the child king and his younger brother. However, Richard declared his brother’s sons illegitimate, and imprisoned his nephews in the Tower of London, where they disappeared and were likely murdered. He then had himself crowned as king Richard III.

The new king was challenged by Henry Tudor, the last viable male descendant of the competing Lancastrian line, who landed in England in 1485, after years of exile. Richard gathered his forces, which included a large contingent commanded by Thomas Stanley, a major Yorkist loyalist and supporter, and marched out to meet his challenger.

Stanley was conflicted: his family had been Lancastrians, but he himself had defected to the Yorkists. He was handsomely rewarded by the Yorkists for that betrayal with lands and estates, and appointments to powerful government positions. So he was deeply indebted to the Yorkists. However, he also happened to be married to Henry Tudor’s mother, so he was the Lancastrian challenger’s stepfather.

That stuck Stanley between the rock of loyalty, and the hard place of peace at home. So he decided to play both sides, and secretly contacted his stepson to explore defection. However, king Richard got wind of that, and seized Stanley’s son as a hostage for his father’s good behavior, and insurance against treachery. He then ordered Stanley to join the Yorkist army with his contingent, which the earl reluctantly did.

Richard III and Henry Tudor met at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22nd, 1485, but Stanley was still undecided. So he kept his contingent to one side of field, while waiting to see which side looked like a winner. Richard sent Stanley a message, threatening to execute his son unless he immediately attacked the Lancastrians, but the earl coolly replied: “Sire, I have other sons“.

A livid Richard ordered Stanley’s son executed, but the order was not immediately carried out, and before long it was too late. As the afternoon wore on, Stanley made up his mind that king Richard was losing the battle, so he ordered an attack – against Richard and the Yorkist forces. That decisively tipped the scales in favor of Henry Tudor, and against Richard III, who launched a desperate attack seeking to reach and cut down his rival, only to get cut down himself.

After Richard’s death, Stanley found his fallen crown in some bushes, and personally placed it on the head of Henry Tudor, henceforth Henry VII. Stanley’s stepson and new king of England brought the Plantagenet dynasty to an end after centuries of rule and replaced it with his own Tudor dynasty. As to Stanley, treachery paid, and he was handsomely rewarded by his son-in-law for his betrayal of Richard.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

British Library, The – Magna Carta, an Introduction

Encyclopedia Britannica – Henry II, King of England

Encyclopedia Britannica – Magna Carta: History, Summary, & Importance

Historic UK – The Battle of Hastings, 1066

History Vault – The Mystery of Edward II’s Death

Jones, Dan – The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (2014)

Luminarium – The Peasants’ Revolt, 1381

Maddicott, J.R. – Simon de Montfort (1966)

Spartacus Educational – King Richard II

ThoughtCo – Wars of the Roses: An Overview

Unofficial Royalty – The Sinking of the White Ship, and How it Affected the English Succession

Wikipedia – George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence