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27 Jul

Kingdom of England (13th – 15th c.)

John’s attempt to evade the provisions of the Great Charter resulted in a civil war known as the First Barons’ War (1215-1217) which ended with accession of his minor son Henry III (1216-1272) to the English throne. He reissued the Great Charter but the need of additional financial sources forced him to accept the Provisions of Oxford which greatly limited the monarchical power in 1258. Henry later renounced the Provisions of Oxford and provoked a civil war known as the Second Barons’ War (1264-1267). The royal forces were defeated by the baronial forces led by Simon de Montfort in the Battle of Lewes in 1264, while Henry III and his heir to the throne Prince Edward were taken captive. De Montfort became de factoruler of England and summoned the first directly-elected parliament in Medieval Europe. However, he was killed in the battle against Prince Edward one year later. Simon’s followers continued the struggle until 1267 when King Henry III restored his authority.

A portrait of Henry III of England by unknown artist, 17th century

Henry III

Henry III was succeeded by his son Edward I (1272-1307) who was at the time of his father’s death on the Ninth Crusade. He returned to England in 1274 when he was crowned. Edward’s reign is notable for his conquest of Wales in 1282 and for his attempt to conquer Scotland. However, the majority of historians agree that the legal and constitutional development during Edward’s reign was of greater significance than his military achievements. He played an important role in defining the English common law and he is often referred as Edward the Lawgiver or the English Justinian. Edward’s inner politics was also marked by the formation of the Parliament which began to meet regularly during his reign. His successor Edward II (1307-1327) did not pursue his father’s policy and did not had the capacity to govern. In 1311, the barons forced him to accept the appointment of a committee of 21 lords ordainers which limited the king’s power over finances and appointments, while the Scots decisively defeated the English forces at Bannockburn in 1314 and restored their independence. Edward II was forced to abdicate and was most likely murdered at Berkley Castle in 1327.

Edward II was succeeded by his son Edward III (1327-1377) who was a minor at his accession to the throne. The regency was held by his mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, Earl of March until 1330 when Edward killed Mortimer and forced his mother to retire. His rule was characterized by the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War which started favorable for England. The English forces won all the major battles but the English advance was halted by the outbreak of the Black Death that swept over western Europe in 1348-1349. Warfare was renewed in 1369 but it was marked by the French victory in the Battle of La Rochelle in 1372.

The enthusiasm for the war waned and Edward’s successor Richard II (1377-1399) had to face general unrest reaching its height with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was provoked by the new tax poll of 1380 to finance the Hundred Years’ War. Richard II managed to suppress the revolt by promising the abolishment of serfdom and further reforms. However, he forgot about his promise after he reestablished order although serfdom in England began to decline and practically disappeared by 1450.

Painting of Henry IV of England by unknown artist, 16th century

Painting of Henry IV of England by unknown artist, 16th century

Richard’s despotic rule brought him into conflict with the barons. Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford took advantage of Richard’s absence in Ireland and general dissatisfaction with his rule, and forced him to abdicate in 1399. Henry of Bolingbroke was crowned as Henry IV (1377-1413) and founded the Lancastrian dynasty. His reign was characterized by the persecution of the Lollards, followers of John Wycliffe which also marked the reign of his successor Henry V (1413-1422). The latter renewed the claim to the French throne resulting in renewal of the war against France. The English forces severely defeated the French in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, while Henry V conquered much of Normandy and concluded formal alliance with the Duchy of Burgundy that had taken Paris. In 1420, Henry V forced Charles VI of France to sign the Treaty of Troyes according to which Henry would marry Charles’ daughter Catherine and would be recognized as heir to the French throne after Charles’ death. However, both Charles VI and Henry V died in 1422.

Henry VI (1422-1461) was an infant at the time of his accession to the throne, while the French recognized the son of Charles VI, Charles VII as king of France. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester became the regent of the Kingdom and protector to Henry VI, while John, Duke of Bedford continued the war against France. However, the French forces led by Joan of Arc lifted the Siege of Orleans in 1429 and the English were forced to withdraw from the continent by 1453. At the same time occurred struggles between the barons for the influence over Henry VI leading to the outbreak of a civil war known as the Wars of the Roses that started almost immediately after the end of the Hundred Years’ War.

A portrait of Edward IV of England

Edward IV

Henry VI became insane shortly before the birth of his son Edward in 1453 and Richard, Duke of York was declared protector of the realm. Henry VI reestablished his authority two years later and excluded Richard from the royal council provoking a struggle over the throne between the House of Lancaster (red rose) and the House of York (white rose). In 1461, the English crown was assumed by Edward IV of York (1461-1483) with help of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick but the civil war continued. The alliance between Edward and Earl of Warwick had fallen apart and Warwick liberated Henry VI and restored him to the throne in 1470. Edward was forced to flee but he returned to England one year later, and defeated and killed Warwick and nearly all the remaining Lancastrian leaders. The Lancastrian line virtually extinguished after the assassination of Henry VI in 1471 and the only rival left was Henry Tudor who was living in exile. The English throne was seized by Richard, Duke of Gloucester (1483-1485) upon Edward’s death and probably had both sons of Edward IV murdered. Richard’s unpopularity reached its lowest point and greatly contributed to his downfall. He was defeated and killed by Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 due to desertion and switching sides of his key allies. Henry Tudor ascended to the English throne as Henry VII (1485-1509) and founded the Tudor dynasty which ruled England until 1603.

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