Thursday, 22 August 2013

The man who chased crowns

On Sunday we got a small scale version of it as The White Queen drew to an end on BBC One but today is the actual anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth and the fall of the House of Plantagenet after three centuries controlling England.  And while it was two women who really established the Plantagenet power base in England, the origins of the dynasty lie with an uber ambitious man from northern France who refused to settle for being a mere consort himself and in the process won himself a crown and deprived a queen regnant of her power.

The broom plant, chosen by a man called Geoffrey as his personal symbol in the early 12th century, and which gave its name to one of the most famous royal houses in European history
(photo Calibas)

The name Plantagenet was a nickname for a boy who finally fulfilled his father's ambitions of marrying into royalty.  The boy was Geoffrey who was the eldest son and heir of Fulk V, Count of Anjou.  Fulk was born around 1089 and not long afterwards his mother, Bertrade, dumped his dad to marry the king of France.  Fulk became count of Anjou on his father's death in 1109 and for several years built up his power base.  But around 1118 he decided he wanted a little bit more than a nice life as a semi powerful lord.  Fulk, like his mother before him, started chasing crowns.

Fulk's mother, Bertrade, left his father to marry the king of France.  Their wedding went ahead despite both having spouses still living but Bertrade became Queen of France

The throne of France was off limits as several of the princes and princesses of that court were Fulk's half siblings.  But England was looking like an increasingly powerful kingdom with the Normans well established following the Conquest of 1066.  And handily for Fulk, the current king had a son who needed a wife and Fulk had a daughter who needed a husband.  The marriage treaty concluded with Henry I of England also had the advantage of annoying the French king and Henry's heir, William, married Matilda of Anjou in June 1119.  The eight year old girl was one step away from becoming queen.
William Adelin, Duke of Normandy, married Matilda of Anjou in 1119 with both their fathers hoping they would form a dynasty that would rule England for many years
But William was dead within 18 months of the marriage, drowned in The White Ship disaster of 1120.  Henry I had no other legitimate male heir and Fulk's dreams of a crown were in tatters.  But when Henry refused to return Matilda's dowry, the count of Anjou spied another chance to make one of his children a monarch.  Another daughter, Sybilla, was wed to another William.  This one, known as Clito, was the only legitimate son of Robert who just happened to be William the Conqueror's eldest son and who was made Duke of Normandy on the conqueror's death while little brother William got the throne of England.  Robert was bad with money and had mortgaged his duchy to his brother when said brother died leaving Bob in the middle of Europe looking for a rich bride to help buy back Normandy.  And meanwhile, the littlest brother of all, Henry, snatched the throne of England.  But Robert never gave up trying to be king and he and WIlliam Clito kept pressing their claim.  The marriage to Sybilla made a powerful ally for them in their fight for the throne.
Henry I outplayed his big brother, Robert, to claim the throne of England
But Henry was too big a fish to fall for that one and applied to the Pope to have the marriage annulled.  A few years later the king and the count came together once more - Henry at this point was pretty desperate to secure the succession and the only option left was his daughter, Matilda.  She was the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor and in 1127 she married Fulk's eldest son, Geoffrey, and that's where the flowers come in.
A later imagining of the Empress Matilda who had been left a childless widow at the age of 23 when her first husband, the Holy Roman Emperor, died

Geoffrey liked to wear a sprig of yellow broom in his hat - it's also known as planta genista.  And that's how he came to be known, as Geoffrey Plantagenista.  Had Geoffrey not had a fondness for flowers of the yellow variety his royal descendants would most likely be called Angevins.  But that sprig of yellow made a lasting impression on English history.  Geoffrey liked yellow flowers but apparently wasn't quite as fond of his wife but they did their duty and produced three sons.  And the eldest became Henry II in 1154 in an agreement that ended the war that had begun when Matilda tried to claim her father's throne but found the nobles less than willing to serve a woman.
Fulk, represented here at his second marriage, finally got one of his children into a royal family when his son and heir, Geoffrey, married the daughter of Henry I of England
By then, Fulk was dead but he had been buried as a king.  Not long after he saw his son marry royalty, he himself got the chance of becoming a consort.  In 1127 he was contacted by another king who was desperate for an heir for his kingdom.  Baldwin II of Jerusalem also found himself with just one legitimate heir and a woman, too.  But unlike Henry I, he named his daughter, Melisende, as his heiress but wanted a rich, powerful husband for her to make the throne safe.  And the ideal husband needed to be a military expert too to protect the kingdom.  Fulk had long experience crusading, bags of cash and lots of influence.  And he liked nothing more than a bit of royal prestige.  And once he was wed to Melisende he began to demand he be joint monarch, not consort.  He ascended as king but the couple tussled over power but were reconciled at the time of his death in a hunting accident in 1143.  Their two sons both ruled as kings of Jerusalem with the youngest, Almaric, founding a dynasty there.  Meanwhile, Geoffrey's eldest son, Henry, took the throne of England and founded his own dynasty there - one which would last until August 22nd 1485 and the fall of Richard III, last of the Plantagenet kings.

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