525 years ago today a battle was fought on Redmore Plain near Market Bosworth. Few details of this battle are actually known. Its exact location remains a point of controversy and archeological evidence suggests a site a full two miles from the location preferred by tradition.
One thing is certain. At the end of the day, Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England was dead and his rival, an untried 28-year-old Welshman, was king. Though it would be another ten years before Henry VII’s throne was truly secure, August 22, 1485 unquestionably marks the end of the Plantagenet rule in England.
But who were the Plantagenets?
Rulers of England from 1154 to 1485, the Plantagenets descended from the Empress Matilda and her husband Geoffrey of Anjou. The first Plantagenet king was their son Henry II, the last was Richard III. Between them were 12 kings, beginning with the Angivans and including the cadet branches of Lancaster and York.
The family we call Plantagenet has been one of the most engaging and enigmatic of the British Monarchy. It includes the ambitious Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons Richard the Lionheart and John “Lackland”; Henry V, the hero of Agincourt and his son, the pious but mad Henry VI. And finally, the mercurial Edward IV and his brother the maligned Richard III.
The Hundred Years War and Wars of the Roses, resulted in the death of many members of the family and in the consolidation of their territory. In 1154, the Henry II, the first Plantagenet king effectively controlled most of modern day Brittan and France. By 1485, the family ruled the British isles but had lost the majority of its holdings on the European mainland, maintaining a foothold only in Calais.
Plantagenet kings supported a growing system of education. Eton college was established during this period. Numerous colleges were added to the universities at Oxford and Cambridge and the Penistone Grammar School was chartered.
Though aptly described by Bacon as “a race much dipped in their own blood” during more than 330 years of Plantagenet rule England was transformed. The precursors of English institutions like trial by jury and parliament evolved as Plantagenet kings sought to resolve conflicts with the nobility. The subsequent kings of England would always be subject to at least some rule of law.
Uniquely English art and culture was supported by the Plantagenet kings who were the patrons of Geoffrey Chaucer, the first significant British writer and of William Caxton, the first English printer. Salisbury Cathedral was built during the Plantagenet era and both Westminster Abbey and York Minster were remodeled during the period in the Gothic style.
Perhaps most significantly, the first games of creag (an early form of cricket) were played in Plantagenet England and bans on the playing of “violent ball games” (precursors of modern football or soccer) were instituted but widely ignored.
Thus the Plantagenets still have a significant influence on the daily lives of modern Englishmen.