From the very beginning Magna Carta was a failure, for it was no more than a stage in ineffective negotiations to prevent civil war. John was released by the pope from his obligations under it. The document was, however, reissued with some changes under Johns son, with papal approval. John himself died in October 1216, with the civil war still at an inconclusive stage.
“Summing up the events of the late 12th century and the early 13th century historians describe as “Plantagenet spring after a grim Norman winter”. The symbol of this spring is the century of new Gothic Style. One of the best example of Gothic architecture is Salisbury Cathedral. Also it is a century of forming Parliament. The century of growing literacy which is closely connected with 12th century cultural movement, which is called Renaissance. In England Renaissance was a revolution in thoughts, ideas and learning. In England there began grammar schools. But all of them taught Latin. In the end of the 12th century in England appeared two schools of higher learning Oxford and Cambridge. By 1220 this universities became the intellectual leaders of the century.”(13)
Part II. The last Plantagenets
HENRY III (1216-1272 AD)
“Henry III was the first son of John and Isabella of Angouleme. Was born in 1207. At the age of nine when he was crowned, Henrys early reign featured two regents: William the Marshall governed until his death in 1219, and Hugh de Burgh until Henry came to the throne in 1232. His education was provided by Peter des Roche, Bishop of Winchester. Henry III married Eleanor of Province in 1236, who bore him four sons and two daughters.” (14)
“Henry inherited a troubled kingdom: London and most of the southeast was in the hands of the French Dauphin Louis and the northern regions were under control of rebellious barons only the midland and southwest were loyal to the boy king. The barons, however, soon sided with Henry (their quarrel was with his father, not him), and the old Marshall expelled the French Dauphin from English soil by 1217.” (15)
“Henry was a cultivated man, but a lousy politician. His court was inundated by Frenchmen and Italians who came at the behest of Eleanor, whose relations were handed important Church and state position. His father and uncle left him an impoverished kingdom. Henry financed costly fruitless wars with extortionate taxation. Inept diplomacy and failed war led Henry to sell his hereditary claims to all the Angevin possessions in France, but to save Gascony (which was held as a fief of the French crown) and Calais.”(16) “Henrys failures incited hostilities among a group of barons led by his brother in law , Simon de Montfort. Henry was forced to agree to a wide ranging plan of reforms, the so called “Provisions of Oxford”. His later papal absolution from adhering to the Provisions prompted a baronial revolt in 1263, and Henry was summoned to the first Parliament, in 1265 Parliament (from the French word “parleman” meeting for discussion) was summoned with “Commons” represented in it two knights from a shire and two merchants of a town and it turned out to have been a real beginning of the English parlamentarism.”(17) Here we should note, the main peculiarity of English Parliament, distinguishing it from most others: it was created as a means of opposition. Not to help the king, but to limit his power and control him.
Parliament insisted that a council be imposed on the king to advise on policy decisions. He was prone to the infamous Plantagenet temper, but could also be sensitive and quite pious ecclesiastical architecture reached its apex in Henrys reign.
The old king, after an extremely long reign of fifty-six years, died in 1272. He found no success in war, but opened up English culture to the cosmopolitanism of the continent. Although viewed as a failure as a politician, his reign defined the English monarchical position until the end of the fifteenth century: kingship limited by law the repercussions of which influenced the English Civil War in the reign of Charles I, and extended into the nineteenth century queenship of Victoria.
Edward I, Longshanks (1272-1307)
Edward I, the oldest surviving son of Henry II and Eleanor of Provence, was born in 1239. He was nicknamed Longshanks due to his great height and stature. Edward married Eleanor of Castille in 1254, who bore him sixteen children ( seven of whom survived into adulthood) before her death in 1290. Edward reached a peace settlement with Philip IV of France that resulted in his marriage to the French kings daughter Margaret, who bore him three more children.
“Edward I was a capable statesman, adding much to the institution initiated by Henry II. It 1295, his “Model Parliament” brought together representatives from the nobility, clergy, knights of the shires, and burgesses of the cities the first gathering of Lords and Commons. Feudal revenues proved inadequate in financing the burgeoning royal courts and administrative institutions. Summoning national Parliament became the accepted forum of gaining revenue and conducting public business. Judicial reform included the expansion of such courts as the Kings Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer and the Chancery Court was established to give redress in circumstances where other courts provided on solution. Edward was pious, but resisted any increase of papal authority in England. Conservators of the Peace, the forerunners of Justices of the Peace, were also established as an institution.”(18)
Foreign policy, namely the unification of the islands other nations, occupied much of Edwards time. A major campaign to control Llywelyn ap Gruffydd of Wales began in 1277, and lasted until Liywelyns death in 1282. In 1301, the kings eldest son was created Prince of Wales, a title still held by all mail heirs to the crown. Margaret, Maid of Norway and legitimate heir to the Scottish crown, died in 1290, leaving a disputed succession in Scotland. Edward was asked to arbitrate between thirteen different claimants. John Baliol, Edwards first choice, was unpopular, his next choice, William Wallace, rebelled against England until his capture and execution in 1305. Robert Bruce seized the Scottish throne in 1306, later to become a source of consternation to Edward II.
Edward died en rout to yet another Scottish campaign in 1307. His character found accurate evaluation by Sir Richard Baker, in A Chronicle of the kings of England: “He had in him the two wisdoms, not often found in any, single. Both together, seldom or never: an ability of judgement in himself, and a readiness to hear the judgment of others. He was not easily provoked into passion, but once in passion , not easily appeared, as was seen by his dealing with the Scots; towards whom he showed at first patience, and at last severity. If he was censured for his many taxations, he may be justified by his well bestowing them; for never prince laid out his money to more honour of himself , or good of his kingdom.” (19)
Edward II (1307-1327 AD)
Edward II the son of Eleanor of Castille and Edward I, was born in 1284. He married Isabella, daughter of Philip IV of France, in 1308. Eleanor bore him two sons and two daughters.
“Edward was as much of a failure as a king as his father was a success. He loved money and other rewards upon his mail favourites, raising the ire of the nobility. The most notable was Piers Gaveston, his homosexual lover. On the day of Edwards marriageу to Isabella, Edward preferred the couch of Gaveston to that of his new wife. Gaveston was exiled and eventually murdered by Edwards father for his licentious conduct with the king. Edwards means of maintaining power was based on the noose and the block 28 knights and barons were executed for rebelling against the decadent king.” (20)
Edward faired no better as a solder. The rebellions of the barons opened the way for Robert Bruce to grasp much of Scotland. Bruces victory over English forces at the battle of Bannockburn, in 1314, ensured Scottish independence until the union of England and Scotland in 1707.
In 1324 the war broke out with France, prompting Edward to sent Isabella and their son Edward (later became Edward III) to negotiate with her brother and French king, Charles IV. “Isabella fell into an open romance with Roger Mortimer, one of the Edwards disaffected barons. The rebellious couple invaded England in 1327, capturing and imprisoning Edward. The king was deposed, replaced by his son, Edward III.”(21)
Edward II was murdered in September 1327 at Berkley castle, by a red-hot iron inserted through his sphincter into his bowels. Comparison of Edward I and Edward II was beautifully described by Sir Richard Baker, in reference to Edward I in A Chronicle of the Kings of England “His great unfortunate was in his greatest blessing, for four of his sons which he had by his Queen Eleanor, three of them died in his own lifetime, who were worthy to have outlived him, and the fourth outlived him, who was worthy never to have been born.” ( 22 ) A strong indictment of a weak king.” (23)