These are my notes from reading Churchill’s “History of English Speaking Peoples” and other histories of “Brettaniai” as the Greek merchant and explorer Pytheas named the island when he landed in 325 BC. I will be coming back to this page to fill in the gaps and flush out my learning, but for now I am tracing bloodlines…
Emma Queen of England (985 – 1052)
The history of the English-speaking peoples (the Anglo-Saxons) on the island of Britain is often told as the story of bloodlines mixing, and among other things, of marriages designed to bring peace to warring kingdoms. In that regard it is fitting to begin that story with the woman who sits at the very nexus of it.
Daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, Emma is the first to bring the Norman bloodline to the crown of England. She is also the second. Emma was in fact twice the Queen of England. Her first husband was a high-born Saxon and her second a high-born Viking – both were kings of England. Her second husband’s father had taken her first husband’s crown. The Saxons and the Vikings were, after all, at war. A war which her first marriage was supposed to end.
Emma is also mother to two kings of England. Two of her stepsons would become king, as would her great-nephew, William the Conquerer, Duke of Normandy. Her Norman blood is mixed with Saxon blood and Viking blood through her children. Emma sits at the crossroads of Norman, Saxon, and Viking rule.
Her first husband was an English king named Aethelred who was descended from the first Saxon king of England, Alfred the Great. Alfred is known for his great victory against the Viking siege of the English island in the 9th century. But in Aethelred’s time the Viking raids had returned and Aethelred had married the daughter of the Duke of Normandy with the hopes of bringing an end to the Viking raids.
Emma’s second husband was named Canute. He was the Viking son of Sweyn Forkbeard, who took the throne from Aethelred in 1013 (likely in retaliation of his sister’s murder in a massacre ordered by Aethelred against the Danes in 1002).
After Forkbeard’s death in 1014, Aethelred returned to the crown (the Vikings ruled England for but one year). He had to sign a pact with the noblemen of England agreeing to bring reforms and to forgive all that had been said and done against him in his previous reign. (This is the first time a pact is recorded between a king of England and his subjects – the first of a thread that will weave its way through the history of England, and America).
The Danish raids of the Vikings continued under the rule of Sweyn Forkbeard’s son, Canute, who defeated Aethelred’s son, Edmund Ironside, who had actually rebelled against his father before reuniting with him before his death. He became king in 1016. He married Emma, Aethelred’s widow, and conquered most of England. He is the one who famously could not rule the waves and testified to the limits of the power of kings.
Henry I had a mother named Matilda. He had a wife who changed her name from Edith to Matilda and he named his daughter Matilda. Tracing the story of these three Matilda’s will further illustrate how the the story of England is the story of bloodlines mixing between the Normans, Saxons, and Vikings.
Henry I’s mother, Matilda of Flanders, daughter of the Count of Flanders, was married to William the Conquerer (William the bastard), who becomes the first Norman king of England. Legend says Matilda originally refused his proposal, considering herself too high-born for a bastard. But this bastard fathered a Norman dynasty that changed England forever, supplanting the Saxon bloodline which had ruled England for nearly 500 years and would itself last nearly 100 years.
Edith, wife of Henry I, known as Matilda of Scotland and Queen Matilda, was the daughter of the sister of Edgar the Aethling, the uncrowned king of England after King Harold and was related to Edmund Ironside of the House of Wessex. She therefore carried the line of Anglo Saxon blood. This is a significant detail. The families of the Normans were descended from Vikings (like the Danes) and their bloodlines continue to mix with the Saxon blood which has ruled the lands of England since the fall of Rome.
Henry I and Queen Matilda in turn had a daughter named Matilda. While she was still a child, she was betrothed to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor of the Salian dynasty of the four German Kings, also known as the Frankish dynasty. The Emperor died, ending the Salian dynasty, when “Empress Matilda” (Henry’s daughter) was 22 and still childless.
Henry I of England subsequently had his daughter, Matilda, married to the Count of Anjou (an enemy of England) for diplomatic reasons. This became a controversy after her brother, William Aethling (or Adelin) tragically died at sea, and Anjou, enemy of England, is now married to the heir in succession to the throne, Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry.
When Henry I falls ill and dies in 1135, Stephen, Matilda’s cousin, immediately seizes the throne despite having sworn not one but two oaths to Henry agreeing to accept Matilda as ruler after he died. Stephen’s rule is troubled and he soon loses control of the barons who begin minting their own coins. This is the first and last time a king of England loses control of the coin.
In 1137 Matilda takes seige of Western England and civil war breaks out. England is divided East and West. In 1141 Matilda defeats her cousin at the Battle of Lincoln and imprisons him. She arrives in London to be crowned, “Lady of the English” but she refuses the noblemen’s requests to halve their taxes. Matilda flees London as civil war returns to England. Stephen is released from prison and restored to the crown.
For the first time in thier history, the people had a say in who was allowed to be king of England.
In 1147, Matilda and her first son returned to England with an invasion force, but she failed. Henry was enboldened, however. He was only 14 but he was convinced of his mother’s right to rule, and so his own.
Stephen dies in 1154. He is the last in the line of the Norman kings to rule in England; the last of the dynasty that began when his grandfather, William the Conquerer, defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Empress Matilda’s son becomes King Henry II. The Saxon blood had returned to the crown. This new dynasty born of Henry II, the Plantagenet dynasty, will last 300 years.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the high Middle Ages. She was married twice, to enemy kings; first to the King of France, then to Henry II, King of England. She produced many children, including Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) and his brother John, both of whom would become king.
Eleanor’s husband, Henry II was one of the most powerful, charismatic of the English kings. Born in Anjou, Henry is only half English but rules Anjou, Normandy, Aquitain (France), and England all at the same time. During this period, the barons tried to grab power by building “illegal castles” and setting up baronial states which Henry ordered destroyed, establishing his dominance. Henry II is known for his legal innovations and for bringing his lands together under a “common law.”
Henry has 4 sons and in 1169 decides to divide his lands among them. His son, Henry gets England, Normandy and Anjou; Richard gets Aquitain; Jeffery gets Brittany; John is just a baby and gets nothing. However, Henry plans to conquer Ireland; a gift to give to his youngest. This division of his land was disastrous, only whetting his sons’ appetite for power; the seeds of discord and war.
This period is also a time of clashes with the Catholic Church over the authority of courts, taxes, lands, appointments of bishops, and so on. So Henry II sends his best and most loyal friend, Thomas Beckett, to Rome to become Archbishop of Cantebury to influence Rome and the Pope in the kings favor. But having given himself to a higher power, Thomas Beckett’s loyalty goes to the Catholic Church instead, shocking Henry. Thomas Beckett disputes his friend Henry over whether bishops are to be subject to the king’s laws and courts. The disputes came to a sharp point regarding clergy who had committed secular crimes. Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Cantebury was protective of his flock and would not hand over a bishop charged with rape to be tried in the king’s court, maintaining the only the Catholic Church could try clergy.
In January of 1164, Henry passed the Constitutions of Clarendon, composed of 16 articles restricting ecclesiastical privileges and curbing the power of the Church courts and Papal authority in England, which had been extended under the weak rule of Stephen.
In December of 1170 Thomas Beckett excommunicated three bishops who were loyal to Henry over the Church. Enraged, the king publicly cursed his court for allowing Beckett to continue to thwart him. Taking the king’s word as a veiled order, four of the king’s knights went to Canterbury to arrest Beckett during a Mass. Refusing to be interrupted, Beckett proceeded with the Mass and the four knights hacked him to death in front of the altar. Henry plunged into a deep grief. Outrage quickly spreads. People begin to claim the Henry II, King of England is worse even than Nero; worse even than Judas. In 1173 Henry’s own sons lead a rebellion against him.
Henry responds by walking barefoot to the shrine of Thomas Beckett and submits himself to a public scourging by the clergy. He lay prostrate all day and night before the shrine of his best friend, Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury. The next morning news spread that the rebellion had been thwarted.
Henry II dies in Anjou in 1189 after fighting against his sons who had allied with his enemy, the King of France.
After Henry’s death, Richard the Lionheart rules for 10 years, almost entirely from Jerusalem while fighting in the Crusades. He died on his way home. John, the youngest of Henry’s sons was not a mighty warrior. He was paranoid and obsessive, however, and as a result he focused on the administration of government and record keeping. His high level of documentation resulted in more and more taxes. Soon John loses the loyalty of his people and loses a third of his land to the king of France, Phillip Augustus.
By 1204 John had lost Normandy, Brittany, Maine, Anjou, and Toraine, holding only Aquitaine, his mother’s domain; Eleanor’s homeland. John struggles with Pope Innocent III who placed England under an interdict whereby Masses and sacraments were stopped. Pope Innocent III also deposes John and offers England to Phillip. John conceded everything to the Pope in order to keep the crown, paying Rome compensation for everything John’s army had seized from the Church after the interdict. Plus, John acknowledges the Pope as his overlord and offers to pay an annual cash tribute to Rome.
The Pope now has ultimate authority over England, which is leased out to the crown. John is humiliated as king and man. In 1214 he attempts to re-conquer his lands in France but loses in battle with Phillip. The people of England and especially the barons are enraged. They develop a list of demands to deliver to the king. In 1215 they meet the king in a field called Runnymeade. (This is re-enacted in the movie, “Robin Hood” with Russel Crowe)
John signs the Magna Carta which lays out the rights and duties of king and people. In rough outline these rights and duties are established as:
1) The church in England shall be free from royal interference.
2) The king’s rights are limited.
3) The people’s rights are expanded.
Once again in the history of England we see the English people, mostly barons and noblemen, playing a role in determining the nature of their rule.
John quickly appeals to Pope Innocent III to have Magna Carta declared null and void. Open war breaks out between the barons and King John. The barons even invite Louis, son of the King of France, to take the crown and rule them. For the first time since the earliest days of Saxon kings men had decided to be ruled by a foreign, hopefully disinterested power. Louis invades and seizes most of southern England, including London. John dies suddenly in 1216. His son, 9 years old, is quickly crowned. The barons surround the boy as his regents, hoping to raise and influence their king. Henry III is crowned and Magna Carta is re-issued by the baron regents.
Henry III is the builder of West Minster Abbey – the most ambitious building project Europe had ever seen. Henry III is influenced by French culture and royal style. The friction between the barons and the crown returns. Under the leadership of Simon de Montfort the barons conspire to develop a new constitution in Oxford, known as the Provisions of Oxford, which redefines the nature of the monarchy, making the king in name only, subject to parliament. The King of England was now a puppet, a mere figurehead. In 1258 the barons ruled at last.
In the following years the country became more and more polarized and Henry and his son, Prince Edward fought back. In 1262 Henry received a Papal bull exempting him from his oath and both sides began to raise armies. Civil war, known as the Second Baron’s War, breaks out. In May of 1264 Henry and his son Edward are defeated and captured.
In 1265, parliament expands to a wider class of the community, including shopkeepers and other community leaders. 15 months later Henry and his son Edward escape prison and regain control. Edward is crowned king, Simon de Montfort’s grave is defaced, but the ideas of parliament had taken root and it would be would be Simon de Montfort’s legacy that would be decisive in the future history of England.
Hammer of the Scots
Edward I saw the results of a weak king, his father John. He never forgot the lesson of the rebel barons and aligns himself with the common man, as against their baron overlords and promises “equal justice” to all his subjects. The memory of his father’s defeats made him wary of competing powers and he demands submission from the prince of Wales. After three refusals Edward declares war on Wales in 1273. He charges the prince with treason, the new high crime.
Edward also desired the king of Scotland to be subjected under his sovereignty and of the courts of England. When Edward calls the king of Scotland to an English court of justice at Westminster Abbey the Scots are provoked into rebellion. Edward sieges Edinburg and Scotland falls. Edward subsequently removes the stone of destiny upon which the Scottish kings had been crowned for 400 years. It would remain in English possesion in Westminster for the next 700 years.
In the movie Braveheart, it is Edward that William Wallace opposes, and some say that the legend of Robin Hood is actually based on William Wallace. Edward calls on parliament to get permission to levy taxes for his Scottish invasion. To get their support he promises to re-issue Magna Carta. Edward is buried at Westminster where it is written on his tomb, “Hammer of the Scots.”
The Murdered King
Edward II was very different from his father. He did not care for princely things, but liked rowing and common livelihoods. He was very conciliatory and agreed to rule with the consent of the nobles. But he had an open homosexual relationship that upset the nobles. They sent the king’s lover away in exile and eventually had him killed and it was known that the king could not save the one he loved most.
The Scots take advantage of a weak king in England, defeating him in battle and further damaging his reputation. Rumors began to spread that Edward II was not really the king’s son. In further embarrassment Edward’s wife, Isabella, flees to France with her lover, Mortimer. Isabella and Mortimor return to invade England with French soldiers in 1326. Isabella lands in England and claims the crown for her son, Edward III. To depose Edward II, Isabella and Mortimer accuse him of a series of high crimes against England. The king of England is imprisoned and murdered. To hide the murder, they inserted a hollow tube into his rear and ran a searing hot poker into his bowels. This was his final punishment for being a homosexual. English citizens had killed their king.
Of did they? There is a rumor of Edward II escaping prison by swapping places with a guard who was killed in his place. A letter with Edward’s seal appeared after his death fueling rumors that he escaped and lived his days in hiding.
Isabella of France
Isabella was daughter, wife, mother, sister and ersatz murderer of kings. Daughter of Philip IV. Wife of Edward II. Mother of Edward III. Sister to three Kings of France.
The Chivalrous King
Edward III had four sons: Edward, known as the Black Prince; John of Gaunt, Lionel, and Edmond. In time it would be the lineage of these sons that would war with each other in the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487).
Edward III’s first son, the Black Prince, was a mighty and beloved warrior. When the Black Prince died, his young son took the thrown and became King Richard II, who was eventually deposed by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt.
Edward III personified the values and virtues of the age. He was an excellent gamesman, great at the joust, a warrior king besting the best of his knights. But he was not an authoritarian. He was a family man, charming and affable while sporting, brave and most of all, popular. Edward III works with the nobles as was his pleasure and his duty. He tries to restore the order of Christian chivalry and strives to be another Arthur.
War was the highest sport of the day and it was a political necessity; the English loved their king only insomuch as he was victorious in war. In this Edward III did not disappoint. A master of the long bow, he conquers Scotland at the age of 21.
When Edward III’s uncle, Charles IV of France, dies in 1328, Edward III is the closes male heir to the crown of France. Isabella was closer to the crown as sister to Charles IV, but women could not take the crown at this time in France. Instead, Phillip VI, cousin to the dead king, became the new King of France.
The question of legal succession to the crown would come to a head in the start of the Hundred Years War roughly ten years later (1337), which is in essence a quarrel between two monarchs of the same family, something we will see again 100 years later during the Wars of the Roses, which is basically a family feud between the heirs of Edward III.
Parliament finances Edward III’s wars with France, always negotiating victories along the way. As Edward III is victorious his people share in the plunder and nationalism begins to have a heightened significance in the politics of England. These wars are very successful in some ways and actually remake England. Dominant, with abundant plenitude, wars now become supported only if they serve the “national interest.”
This was also the time of the Plague. The Hundred Years War is not one continuous battle but a period of several wars (usually divided into three periods). In the end, the English long bows will ultimately lose to the French cannons.
This family feud between the monarchs eventually took their toll on the people. Taxes were going up and the plague had killed half the population, a loss that would take 200 years to recover. Labor was scarce and the heavy taxes that this war created to fund itself ultimately lead to the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381.
The Peasants Revolt (1381)
Richard II, son of the Black Prince, was ten years old when he was crowed and only 14 when the greatest rebellion in English history broke out.
[This revolt was a turning point in this history of the English speaking peoples. It would lead to the demise of the feudal system in England and the rise of a stronger labor market. This would be very important for the development of inclusive economic policies that would ultimately arise from English Civil War (1642-1651) and the Glorious Revolution (1688) and the Industrial Revolution in the centuries to come. Because of this event, English history would track a different course than Spain and France following the discovery of the new world and the trade that followed. Whereas in France and Spain the riches of this Atlantic trade would accrue to the monarchs who had retained their market monopolies, in England much more of the wealth would fall to private adventurers and entrepreneurs. The Glorious Revolution had limited the power of the king and executive and relocated to Parliament the power to determine economic institutions. It was the foundation for creating a pluralistic society and from it came the world’s first set of inclusive political institutions. All of this was made possible because of what the peasants in England had won in the aftermath of the Plague.]
In the city of York armed rebels had driven out the mayor in a protest over the level of taxes imposed by the royal court. Parliament responded with another tax, three times worse than the last, which fell hardest on the poor. Tax collectors refused to collect in the poor districts for fear of being killed.
The men of Essex were the first to refuse to pay. On May 30, 1381 a royal official was attacked and driven off. The rioters occupied Canterbury and released all the prisoners in the archbishop’s prison. One of these men was John Ball, who became a rebel leader and preacher, influenced by the Lollard teachings of Wycliffe.
The rebellion spread. Riots erupted all over England. Some 30,000 men were on the march to London. The king had retreated to the Tower for safety. All over England the manors of the lords were pillaged and the inhabitants killed. Prisons were opened, lawyers and judges were seized tax records were burned. The residence of John of Gaunt, the leading nobleman and regent of the king, was burned down. The young king watched from the Tower.
This was the result of war and plague. Similar revolts were happening on the continent. The count of Flanders had been chased from court; waves of riots and bloodshed were unleashed in Paris and the surrounding countryside; the political structure of the city of Florence was destroyed.
Then, in a great show of leadership the 14 year old King Richard II mounted his horse and with the mayor of London, rode out from the Tower to meet the rebels in person. While he negotiated with them other rebels had entered the Tower, capturing the archbishop of Canterbury and other officials. They were all beheaded.
But Richard II had shown an ability to lead. He placated the mobs at Miles End with a charter of emancipation, meeting the serf’s demands for freedom. However, once the rebellion had subsided he famously recanted, claiming he had been extorted by violence. “You wretches,” he said to them after the revolt had been put down, “are detestable both on land and on sea. You seek equality with the lords, but you are unworthy to live. Give this message to your fellows: rustics you are, and rustics you will always be. You will remain in bondage, not as before, but incomparably harsher. For as long as we live we will strive to suppress you, and your misery will be an example to posterity.”
In some areas the punishments were harsh. The leaders of the rebellion were beheaded. John Ball was hanged, drawn and quartered. In other areas the authorities were more lenient, not wishing to inflame a dangerous situation.
The revolt is called the peasants revolt, but records show that the participants were generally leaders in of village life; they were the bailiffs, constables and jurors in their neighborhoods. Far from opportunistic rebels, these were men with real grievances. After the Black Death lords were beginning to offer workers higher wages to compete for scarce labor. In response, the government implemented the Statute of Laborers which made it illegal for serfs to negotiate for higher wages or to leave the land they belonged to. The law had become become a tyranny.
The protests were also a response to the unpopular foreign wars, which they had to pay for. It was the first and last popular rebellion in England’s history. Over the next decade wages began to grow and life expectancy rose. The young king had passed a test of fire. He was 15 years old, but he was big and handsome with blonde hair and stood over six feet tall.
Eventually he married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor who died from the plague 12 years later.
The Twice Deposed King
Richard was distrustful of his uncles, John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock and his hereditary advisors, fearing their designs on the throne. He surrounded himself with his own advisors and household favorites, granting lands and favors lavishly while denying as much to old guard. Tensions were rising and the power struggle escalated. When Richard II was 21 years old, a parliament was held and Richard agreed to have his household investigated and administered by a commission which was issued for one year. During this time the lords dismissed and imprisoned and replaced various servants, chancellors and bishops. Richard was enraged and sought advice from the judges who told him he could punish as traitors any member of Parliament who attempted to curb his power. A tense confrontation ensued in which the Lords deposed the king for several days. Unable to agree upon his successor they reinstated the young king.
The Lords called another parliament to deal with their remaining enemies. The judges were the first to be targeted. The Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Robert Tresilian was tried and condemned to death and his judicial colleagues were exiled. Tresilian fled for sanctuary in Westminster Abbey but was dragged out and carried off. A mob carved images of the devil on his body, cut his throat and hung his corpse on the gallows. Seven more of the king’s followers were executed.
The financial and judicial reform that the Commons had hoped for did not arrive, despite the removal of the king’s “evil” counselors. The Lords were divided and pursued their own interests to the detriment of the Commons. Finances did not improve and violence increased. The king responded by mediating between the Lords and the Commons. He re-imagined himself and re-asserted himself as the sole source of justice, order, and authority. He had three Lords arrested, including his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock who was later killed. These were the men who had deposed him. Then he called a parliament and claimed the full plenitude of his power.
…to be continued