25 March 2011

Anarchy and early Plantagenets

Returning to David Starkey's book Crown and Country and my history mug.
The first post on this topic can be found here.

Henry I's son was drowned in the sinking of the White Ship (not to be confused with the magical Arthurian Green Ship, which probably didn't exist) leaving the succession unclear. This is never a good thing.

A dysfunctional family
The events of King Stephen's rule are dramatised in Pillars of the Earth, which I suspect may not be 100% historically accurate.
Stephen succeeded his uncle and spent most of his reign fighting his cousin Empress Matilda, who said she was her father's true heir. This civil war was known as the Anarchy, and England was split with different regions recognising different rulers. Matilda was almost crowned after a victory, which led to Stephen being held captive. However she upset the people of London by suggesting they should pay taxes and the like, so she had to go.* Stephen kept England but had to accept Matilda's son Henry as his heir.
The mug makes it look like they didn't get on.

Henry II
As his mother wished Henry inherited England from Stephen. He also inherited various parts of France from both of his parents, so once he'd expanded his territories he was an incredibly powerful ruler. His main flaw (besides having a truly terrible relationship with his sons) was angry rages. Courtiers knew not to pay any attention to him during these episodes when he was liable to say almost anything - well they normally didn't pay any attention. It seems that 'turbulent priest' business was simply an unfortunate oversight.
I don't know why he's vaulting a table on the mug, leapfrog was not mentioned by Starkey.
As Kate Beaton shows Thomas Becket and Henry II were actually great mates before the archbishopric came between them. So sad.
She's also drawn this excellent Plantagenet Family Portrait.

Richard I
Richard and two of his brothers -egged on by their mother- fought against their father. Henry II tried to split the empire between his 4 sons, which just led them to fight amongst themselves. Two died, leaving Richard as King. Richard spent about six months in England and the rest of his reign crusading, fighting over his other territories in France, and being held hostage. He is fondly remembered, probably because everyone hated his brother so much.

Historians say John was good at record keeping, which is nice for them but isn't necessarily a good quality in a king. In fact John appears to have been weak, paranoid, and widely disliked, especially among his barons. After the Robin Hood stuff he's most famous for signing the Magna Carta -on the mug he's looking at it in dismay. It's an important historical document that was signed by a ruler who didn't have the political capital to do otherwise.
I have seen his final resting place several times as he's buried in my hometown.

* Matilda was never actually crowned Queen but she was preparing for her coronation before she made herself truly unpopular by suggesting a tax hike. She was in charge for a few months (and technically ruled parts of the country for years), far longer than Lady Jane Grey, making her effectively the first female ruler of England. So how come she isn't on the mug (or most king lists), when Jane is? Possibly it's because she had her opponent locked in a castle, that's considered cheating.

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