Medieval monarchy timeline: from the Norman Conquest to the Tudors
Nicholas Vincent traces the tumultuous history of Britain's medieval monarchs, from the arrival of the Normans in 1066 to the battle of Bosworth...
William of Normandy’s invasion places a powerful warlord on the English throne, laying the foundations for a cross-Channel Anglo-Norman ‘empire’.
Stephen of Blois, nephew of Henry I, claims title as King of England, usurping a throne previously promised to Henry’s daughter Empress Matilda. Twenty years of civil war known as the Anarchy follow, ending with the Treaty of Winchester confirming Matilda’s son, Henry, as Stephen’s heir to the English crown.
Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, is murdered in his own cathedral church. The killing exposes underlying tensions between church and state. Henry II’s son, also Henry (‘the Young King’), is crowned as associate king – an act that doesn’t prevent him, two years later, from launching a rebellion against his own father together with two brothers and his mother, Henry’s queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Philip Augustus becomes king of France. During his 43-year reign Philip paves the streets of Paris, encourages scholarship and the arts, builds the first royal residence on the site of the Louvre, and confirms Paris as the intellectual powerhouse of Europe.
Having conquered Cyprus, Richard ‘the Lionheart’, Henry II’s son and successor, arrives in the Holy Land. He comes within a hair’s breadth of recapturing Jerusalem, but on his journey home from crusade is imprisoned and ransomed in Germany, provoking a crisis in English public finances.
Philip Augustus, in part through his own skill and in part through the failings of his Plantagenet rivals, conquers Normandy from Richard’s brother and successor, King John. The Anglo-Norman connection established since 1066 is violently severed.
The battle of Las Navas de Tolosa is won by the Christian kings of Spain in a great victory over the Islamic rulers of Al-Andalus – a significant pointer to the future Christian reconquest of Spain and a rare instance of co-operation between the rival Christian rulers of Castile, Aragon, Navarre and Portugal.
Magna Carta is negotiated at Runnymede – a settlement bringing to an end the civil war between John and his barons that broke out after victories won by Philip of France had plunged England into chaos. Though short-lived as a peace treaty, in legal and political terms Magna Carta survives. In theory, at least, English kingship is henceforth placed under the rule of law.
Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II – ruler of Sicily and Germany, and considered a severe threat to the papacy – is deposed by the pope. His deposition, followed in 1250 by his death, plunges both Italy and Germany into crisis, paving the way for Charles of Anjou, brother of French King Louis IX, to seize the Sicilian throne.
In the midst of civil war against the English King Henry III, Simon de Montfort summons a ‘Parliament’. Though by no means the first public assembly summoned to debate taxation or policy, Montfort’s Parliament was the first to include representatives from counties and boroughs. This was to remain the norm for the English House of Commons through to the 19th century and beyond.
The French garrison of Palermo is massacred in the so-called Sicilian Vespers. The outcome is a Mediterranean diplomatic revolution, its effects spreading from Spain to Byzantium. While the French struggle to maintain their hold over Naples, the kings of Aragon seize Sicily and the Balearic islands. The scene is set for centuries of Franco-Spanish rivalry to dominate the Italian peninsula.
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Margaret, ‘Maid of Norway’ and claimant to the throne of Scotland, dies – opening the way for Edward I of England to manipulate the succession to the Scottish throne. Having conquered Wales, Edward now attempts the same in Scotland. One of the claimants, Robert Bruce, is provoked into rebellion and in 1306 is crowned king of Scots.
King Edward II of England is deposed and murdered following disastrous campaigns in Scotland and a descent into a tyranny by the king’s favourites. In France the death of Charles IV the following year leads to the succession of the house of Valois excluding all female claimants, including Isabella, Edward’s widow. This sows the seeds of the Hundred Years’ War as Isabella’s son Edward III and his successors claim to rule as kings in both England and France.
Edward the ‘Black Prince’, son of Edward III, defeats King John II of France in the battle of Poitiers – widely assumed to seal victory for the English in the Hundred Years’ War. In the meantime, and in the aftermath of the Black Death, much of western France is laid waste.
The Peasant’s Revolt breaks out across much of southern England. The mob kills the archbishop of Canterbury and threatens London with looting. The revolt ends when rebel leader Wat Tyler is killed following an unsuccessful interview with the young Richard II at Smithfield.
Christian forces led by the rulers of Hungary and Wallachia (Romania), commanded by Sigismund, future Holy Roman Emperor, are defeated at Nicopolis in Bulgaria. Effectively the last gasp of medieval crusading, this loss leaves the Balkans as an Ottoman enclave for the next 500 years.
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Richard II is deposed by his barons, having descended into tyranny. His cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke of the house of Lancaster, takes the English throne as Henry IV, ushering in a century of rebellion and civil war between members of the house of Lancaster and their rivals, most notably their cousins of the house of York.
Owain Glyndŵr is proclaimed Prince of Wales, sparking a decade-long uprising against the rule of Henry IV.
The forces of Henry V triumph at the battle of Agincourt, in many ways the greatest of all English victories in France. Followed by Henry’s conquest of Normandy, this brings the English king to within a whisker of seizing the French throne.
Henry V dies. The throne passes to his infant son, Henry VI, and a group of incompetent or outmanoeuvred guardians. In 1431 Henry VI is crowned in Paris amid much empty pomp. French recovery had rapidly gathered momentum, earlier led by the heroic visionary Joan of Arc.
Malcontents led by Jack Cade camp at Blackheath on the outskirts of London. Though rapidly dispersed, their rebellion exposes the weakness of Henry VI’s administration and a wider crisis in English government.
The battle of Castillon in Gascony seals French victory in the Hundred Years’ War. In France, only Calais remains as an outpost of English rule until that, too, is lost in 1558. In the east, Constantinople falls to the Ottoman empire, marking the definitive end of the eastern Roman empire after nearly 1,000 years.
At the battle of St Albans, the first clash of the Wars of the Roses, an army commanded by Richard, Duke of York defeats Henry VI and his Lancastrian allies. Richard seizes power as protector and from the resulting chaos one of the bloodiest conflicts in English political history evolves. It remains unresolved for decades despite the deposition of Henry VI in 1461 and again a decade later.
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Spain is united through the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. By encouraging exploration and conquest in America they and, by marrying into the imperial Habsburg dynasty, their descendants become the richest and most dynamic force in European politics.
Nicholas Vincent is professor of medieval history at the University of East Anglia
This article was first published in BBC History Magazine's 'Medieval Kings and Queens' bookazine and in the February 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine