Even though modern political correctness and deliberate revisionism might sometimes regard a pride in our nations past as a highly negative and backward looking attitude to take, it is still sometimes hard to believe that less than a hundred years ago, the relatively small collection of islands that now form the modern United Kingdom were once at the centre of a global Empire that extended its reach throughout much of the known world. Reportedly the largest Empire that has ever existed throughout human history, at its height the British Empire was reported to have ruled over some four hundred and fifty millions subjects, a quarter of the world’s opulation at the beginning of the 20th century and controlled an estimated thirteen million square miles of territory, around 25% of the world’s total land surface.
However, within half a century of having reached the absolute zenith of its power, much of its power and prestige, along with virtually all of its larger overseas possessions were gone and the vast British Empire, which had evolved and been fought over for well over four hundred years, began to pass into a collective memory. Perhaps even more sadly, over the past sixty years, even these national recollections and celebrations of Britain’s glorious past have been almost entirely expunged from British national life for fear of being seen as racist, imperialistic or undemocratic, such is the overwhelming desire for our United Kingdom to be seen as a multi-cultural, egalitarian and forward looking modern state. Even though Britain’s great and expansive Empire has long since been consigned to the history books, even today it continues to divide opinion, with some critics accusing it of being the root cause of modern day Africa’s political malaise, founders of the world’s first infamous concentration camp systems and the world’s first major exploiter of other nations and of the earths vast natural resources.
Clearly though, such criticisms are almost always seen from an entirely modern perspective, they take little account of how the world was, many decades or even centuries ago and should therefore always be treated with a great deal of scepticism, or even disdain. Applying 21st century values, opinions and explanations to events which took place between the 16th and 19th centuries is patently absurd, given that the religious, military, political and cultural imperatives of those particular times were probably informed by prevailing late medieval values, more than they were by our more modern and educated ones. Additionally, it also seems to be a common and deliberate mistake, to link the indigenous peoples of Britain to the wider and much larger Empire that was in and of itself an entirely political and economic union, a creation which had little in common with lives, traditions, values and customs of the native populations of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Although the Roman’s knew our islands as their province of Britannia, earlier Greek explorers were thought to have known them as “Albus”, meaning “White”, a name that was said to have derived from the sight of the white cliffs of Dover, which early mariners may well have seen as they approached Britain from the south by sea. This early Greek name is also speculated to be the origins for the later and occasionally used name “Albion”, which has often been associated with both the English and British nation. According to modern day geneticists, the very earliest inhabitants of Britain were the hunter gatherers and settlers who originated from both the Iberian Peninsula and from the Basque region of Europe, both of whom were thought to have been trapped by the eventual rise in sea levels that separated Britain from continental Europe, creating what we now call the English Channel and Irish Sea.
The Celtic influences that were native to England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland are thought to have their earliest roots within the Iberian and French regions, although over centuries these had been added to and supplemented by the languages and cultures of other migrants groups, such as the Picts, Gaels and numerous others, who eventually evolved into the pre-Roman native tribes of Britain such as the Ordovices, Silures, Brigantes and the Deceangli, the tribesmen who populated various regions of Britain in the centuries prior to the Roman arrival. In fact, throughout its long history, Britain was thought to have been occupied by an almost endless succession of foreign migrants, most of who arrived here in relatively small numbers, along with those who participated in the three major military invasions of the country, all of which have helped to shape the language, culture, character and traditions of Britain and its native peoples. The first of the military invaders were the Roman’s, who conquered much of southern Britain and Wales during the First Century AD and who through their northern defensive walls, helped to create and define the northern boundaries of Roman Britain, at the same time helping to mark the boundaries of the countries that would later become England and Scotland. During the Roman occupation of Britain, much of England, Wales and Southern Scotland were known to have come under legionary control, whilst Northern Scotland and Ireland remained outside of the Roman sphere of influence, allowing them to retain many of their original Celtic traditions, languages and customs.
By the 5th and 6th centuries and with the professional legions having been withdrawn to Europe, post Roman Britain subsequently found itself at the mercy of raiding bands from Ireland, Scandinavia and Europe, forcing Romano-British leaders to call on continental Anglo Saxons for military aid in helping to defend their national borders. However, either through sheer opportunism, or in revenge for being cheated out of their agreed reward, the Anglo Saxons mercenaries, including the Angles, Jutes and Saxons, began their own invasion of Britain, driving many of the native Briton’s westward to Cornwall, Wales, Cumbria and back into continental Europe, most notably into the region of France, now known as modern day Brittany. Over time the native peoples of southern post-Roman Britain were thought to have either been driven out, or simply absorbed by the new Anglo Saxon society that had taken over significant parts of the country, later developing into the seven petty kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex and Kent. Although these seven kingdoms, or Heptarchy, were said to have existed as individual realms for an extended period of time, towards the end of the 8th century those that were located on the eastern side of Britain eventually fell victim to the Viking people, Scandinavian raiders and settlers who established their own separate state in Britain, which became known as the Danelaw.
With Britain divided, by the end of the 9th century the remaining western Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Britain, including the largely independent British kingdom of Wales had been unified under the Lordship of King Alfred of Wessex who had managed to stem the Viking tide. However, it was thought to be his royal successors, including Edward the Elder, Athelstan, Edmund, Eadred and finally Edgar who finally managed to bring much of southern Britain back under Anglo Saxon control and helped to create the unified kingdom that would eventually become known as “Angle-land”, which later became England. During these turbulent centuries, the Brythonic language of the native British people was thought to have been largely replaced by that of the Anglo Saxons, save for enclaves such as Wales and Cornwall, where elements of the ancient British tongue were thought to have survived. Elsewhere, Viking names and expressions were thought to have entered into everyday use and they too were eventually absorbed into what commonly became known as Old English, a native tongue for the newly formed kingdom of England.
In the last quarter of the 10th century and right through to the first half of the 11th century England once again found itself under sustained attack by Scandinavian leaders, who sought to exploit the weakness of the Anglo Saxon ruler Aethelred and usurp him from the English throne. Although there were later attempts to restore an Anglo Saxon ruler to the English throne in the form of Aethelred’s son Edmund Ironside, his early death prevented a return to Anglo-Saxon rule, leaving the Crown to fall into the possession of the Norwegian ruler King Canute, who then went on to reign over a European Empire consisting of England, Norway and Denmark. However, on his death, the Crown of England was temporarily passed to his sons, but in 1042 it was subsequently reclaimed by the Anglo Saxon leader Edward the Confessor, whose later refusal or inability to produce a legitimate heir, as well as his own political manoeuvrings eventually led to the third and final military invasion of mainland Britain shortly after his death in 1066.
Following Edward the Confessor’s death, there were thought to be at least three main contenders for the English throne, Harold Godwinsson of Wessex, Harald III of Norway and Duke William of Normandy, all of whom claimed to be the legitimate heir of the late Anglo Saxon monarch. Initially Harold Godwinsson was reported to have ascended the English throne with the approval of the Witan, the council of Anglo Saxon advisors and noblemen, whose support was vital to any potential monarch, although almost immediately Harald III of Norway was said to have brought a Scandinavian army to England, in order to pursue his own claim through force of arms. In September 1066 Harald III landed in the north east of the country with an estimated force of around fifteen thousand men, including Earl Tostig, Harold Godwinsson’s estranged brother and having assembled their army, set out to pursue Harald’s claim to the English Crown. In the meantime however, the Anglo Saxon monarch, King Harold II, or Harold Godwinsson was said to have been informed about the Norwegian threat and having mustered his own army set out to meet and defeat the foreign invaders, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, which was fought on the 25th September 1066.
Unfortunately for Harold II of England, despite having secured his kingdom from this Scandinavian threat, a far more serious danger to his Crown was said to have landed in England just three days after the Battle of Stamford Bridge had been fought. On 28th September 1066, a large Norman army led by the ruthless Duke of Normandy, who was often referred to as William the Bastard, because of his reported illegitimacy, landed at Pevensey in England, to pursue his own claim on Edward the Confessor’s English throne. Although Harold Godwinson and the remnants of his victorious army were thought to be still recovering from their earlier battle with Harald Hardrada, having been informed about the new threat to the country they were left with little option but to undertake a forced march across the country, in order to confront this new foreign danger. Unfortunately, whilst Harold and his exhausted troops were marching to meet them, Duke William was said to have been busily preparing his position on the English coast and off-loading one of his greatest weapons, the specially trained warhorse.
In the two weeks that it was said to have taken for King Harold II and his army to travel from Yorkshire to East Sussex, via London, the Norman forces of Duke William were said to have been busy raiding and terrorising the local countryside, as well as preparing themselves for the battle that lay ahead. When the two armies finally did meet on the 14th October 1066, it was reported that they were fairly evenly matched, despite the fact that Harold’s troops had already fought one major battle and then been forced to travel down the country at speed, in order to face yet another military opponent. According to some historians, both Norman and English armies were thought to have numbered around ten thousand men, although there are also suggestions that Duke William’s force was actually about twice that figure. Either way however, later reports indicated that as the battle raged, the balance of power swung precariously between the two armies, with neither able to deliver a single decisive blow against the other. In fact, it was only when the Norman forces began to turn away from the shield wall of their enemy that the indiscipline of the English troops began to show, breaking their own defensive lines in order to pursue their fleeing enemy. It was at this point and as an act of sheer desperation that Duke William was reported to have ordered his archers to fire over the shields of Harold’s troops, an action that resulted in the English monarch being struck in the eye by one of the flying missiles and finally turning the battle in Duke William’s favour. Although the warhorses of the Norman army were undoubtedly a contributing factor during the confrontation, it was only when the English shield wall began to fragment and collapse that horse and rider could become more effective, helping to drive the English ranks further apart, as the Norman knights pressed home their advantage with lance and sword.
With Harold Godwinsson dead and no other native Anglo Saxon leader to replace him, Duke William’s victory was said to have been complete and within a short time the English troops had either been scattered or killed. Initially the Norman Lord was said to have waited close to the site of the battle, in the expectation that the English nobility would come and willingly submit to his rule, but having waited for nearly two weeks eventually realised that the English nobles were not so easily inclined to grant him their submission, leaving him with little choice but to march on London. However, even this relatively straightforward task was thought to have been problematic for him, as sporadic attacks by Anglo Saxon forces on his columns and outbreaks of sickness spreading through the ranks of his soldiers, required Duke William to halt and bring in fresh recruits from the continent in order to reinforce his army. Eventually however, the “Conqueror” and his army did reach London and did receive the reluctant submission of England’s Anglo Saxon aristocracy, being crowned as King of England on 25th December 1066. Interestingly however, despite having received the submissions of the great and the good of England, William and his Norman forces were still required to spend the next five years having to suppress numerous native rebellions that were said to have occurred throughout much of his new English kingdom.
Although Anglo Saxon England is often reported to have been a highly uncivilised place, a country wracked by petty internal disputes and dissent, with little local government and a marked lack of centralised control, not all historians share this view of the Anglo Saxon period. It has been suggested that in fact, both church and state exercised considerable administrative control and legal authority over most parts of the country, with local Anglo Saxon Earls and noblemen being charged with the security of their own particular regions, whilst centrally appointed administrators were made responsible for the collection of taxes, duties and debts. Even common men were thought to have fared well under the feudal Anglo Saxon system, with extensive lands granted to those men who were prepared to help defend the country from all of its potential enemies, both foreign and domestic. For those that were willing and able to work, the prospect of improving their own personal situation and providing for their families was thought to have been aided by the fact that most Anglo Saxon noblemen and large landowners of the age, actively encouraged widespread land use, simply because of the benefits it brought, not only to the national treasury, but also to the individual nobleman’s own personal coffers.
Rather than William’s subsequent victory at Hastings being the result of a failure of Anglo Saxon England at a local or regional level, it was undoubtedly the actions of the monarch, Edward the Confessor and his nobles that brought about its almost inevitable downfall. Although Edward was reportedly a well respected and fairly able monarch, it was thought to be his own personal prevarication over the subject of his royal successor, nominating Earl Harold Godwinsson on the one hand and William, the Duke of Normandy, on the other, which ultimately caused the confusion and dissent over who exactly was Edward’s legitimate heir. On his death in 1066, the question of the royal succession was further complicated by the royal claims of the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada, who believed that he too had a legitimate claim to the English throne, a claim he was more than happy to pursue through force of arms. With no large standing Anglo Saxon army to call upon, Harold Godwinsson, later Harold II, was forced to rally his troops, before setting out to confront Hardrada at Stamford Bridge.
However, having defeated this Norwegian threat to his kingdom and without the benefit of having large numbers of reserve troops to call upon, the new Anglo Saxon monarch was then forced to march halfway down the country to confront Duke William’s invasion force, which had landed at Pevensey. Most contemporary reports of the conflict at Hastings have suggested that the battle itself was an extremely close fought affair, one that might have gone either way, but was ultimately decided by the death of Harold Godwinsson and which was brought about by the flight of a single Norman arrow or crossbow bolt. Rather than reflecting a failure of Anglo Saxon England itself, the events of 1066 were said to be simply the results of bad luck, poor planning and poor personal judgement on the part of those that had been charged with the protection of their kingdom.
For Duke William’s part, his own claim to the English throne, which has often been thought to be spurious at best, was said to have been accompanied by four significant pieces of good fortune, which ultimately helped him to secure the Crown of England. Firstly, his invasion fleet faced no opposition from the fledgling English navy, which had reportedly been withdrawn in order to re-supply its limited number of ships, thereby allowing the Norman fleet to reach its destination relatively unmolested. Secondly, the absence of a standing English army, which might have otherwise opposed Duke William’s forces, not only allowed the Norman landing at Pevensey, but also permitted William to prepare both his men and defences in readiness for the later arrival of King Harold’s forces which were rushing southward to meet them. The third and most pivotal piece of good fortune that attached itself to the Norman leader’s campaign was the unidentified stray arrow or bolt that somehow found its way through Harold’s personal defences during the battle, hitting him in such a way as to bring an end to both his life and his short reign. The fourth and final piece of good fortune that presented itself to the Norman Duke, immediately after the Battle of Hastings, was the almost complete absence of a replacement Anglo Saxon leader who might otherwise have stood against his invasion force, but as no such person came forward, instead it was left to a generally leaderless Anglo Saxon nobility to make their peace with the Norman leader as best as they could.
As a result of William’s successful conquest of England, so the borders of his new kingdom became more defined, with vast areas of both Scotland and Wales initially lying beyond day-to-day Norman control, save for occasional military campaigns around the periphery of these two native states. However, unlike the earlier Anglo Saxon conquerors of England, who came to settle the country, the Norman’s who arrived with Duke William had little interest in simply settling there, or indeed adopting its native peoples culture, language, customs and traditions. Instead, most of the continental knights and noblemen who had accompanied William to England were solely interested in acquiring whatever wealth, lands, titles and possessions that might be earned in return for their military support.
It has been reported that in the twenty years, from Hastings in 1066, to the compiling of William’s great Domesday Book in 1086, virtually all of the lands, titles and possessions which had been previously held by the Anglo Saxon population, had been seized and given over to members of the new Norman administration, or their attendant followers. In order to ensure that the largely subjugated English population remained compliant to their will, almost immediately the Norman aristocracy started to build the many hundreds of castles that continue to stand as a lasting memorial to this particularly bloody phase of England’s early history. Even the Anglo Saxon’s earlier religious houses did not escape the Norman’s attention, although perhaps these changes are often seen in a more positive manner, with countless early Churches, Abbeys and Monasteries demolished, to make way for the far larger and much more grandiose buildings that continue to grace the English countryside even today. Often rebuilt on the orders of individual noblemen who hoped to save their immortal souls, even here new changes were introduced, with the earlier Anglo Saxon clergy often being summarily replaced by new foreign orders and appointees who were more acceptable to the tastes and practices of the new Norman elite.
Although largely untouched by the initial invasion of the Norman’s, the northern kingdom of Scotland almost inevitably became embroiled in the conflict, largely because the country became a safe haven for large numbers of Anglo Saxon refugees, who despite being driven out of England, remained determined to carry on the fight against the continental invaders. One of most notable of these Anglo Saxon lords was said to be Edgar (the) Aethling, the last surviving male heir from the House of Wessex, who despite being proclaimed King of England, by some of his supporters, was never formally recognised or indeed crowned as such. Fleeing to the independent Scottish Court of King Malcolm III, along with his family and entourage, Edgar quickly formed an alliance with the Scottish king, who not only agreed to offer support to the ousted Anglo Saxon leader, but also took Edgar’s sister, Margaret, as his wife, in order to further cement the alliance between the two families.
Despite having suppressed much of southern England within a relatively short space of time, Duke William’s forces were thought to have faced much stiffer resistance in the north of the country, where the descendants of much earlier Scandinavian settlers were said to have lived. These people refused to simply submit to the rule of the Norman invaders and supported by fighters from countries like Norway, Denmark and from Scotland, they were said to have played a significant role in helping English resistance to the Norman’s, much of which was said to have been centred round the former Viking capital at York. However, William’s response to their resistance was thought to have been both swift and brutal, gathering his forces and travelling northward, he and his heavily armoured troops were said to have systematically destroyed everything and everyone that stood against him, in a bitter campaign that later became known as the “Harrying of the North”. People, shelter, crops and animals were all decimated by the advancing ranks of Norman troops, with no quarter offered or indeed being given, until at last they reached the gates of York itself. Even when the city surrendered itself to him, he was said to have remained merciless and was reported to have burnt much of the city to the ground, even ordering that it’s ancient religious Minster should be destroyed, as an example to those that might consider standing against him in the future.
Recognising that Scotland was being employed as a safe haven by many of his political and military opponents, in 1072 William was said to have launched an invasion of the northern kingdom, forcing its ruler, Malcolm III, to recognise him as his overlord, which the Scottish monarch eventually did. However, despite having offered his submission to King William I of England, Malcolm was said to have continued to allow his lands to be used as a base for the dispossessed Anglo Saxon rebels, who were raiding along both kingdoms shared border, including the ousted Anglo Saxon leader Edgar Aethling. Perhaps realising the futility of Edgar’s continuing campaigns against the Normans, in 1074 Malcolm was said to have persuaded his new brother-in-law to finally make peace with William, bringing an end to the ongoing troubles. Although Edgar was thought to have effectively resigned his historic claims to the English throne by publicly submitting to William’s authority, for which he was said to have received scant reward, the Anglo Saxon leader would continue to be a central character in the history of the Scottish Court for many years to come.
Further conflict broke out between the neighbouring kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1093, when fighting erupted between Duke William’s successor, William II of England and King Malcolm III of Scotland, during which the Scottish monarch was said to have died. Malcolm’s brother, Domnall, was said to have temporarily ascended the Scottish throne following the king’s death, but he was then reported to have been usurped by William II of England’s choice for Scottish king, Duncan, a son of Malcolm’s first marriage.
However, unfortunately for Duncan he was reported to have been murdered and Domnall was restored to the throne, only to be usurped for a second time, by Edgar, the eldest son of Margaret and Malcolm, who finally ascended the Scottish throne in 1097. When Edgar died in 1107, he in turn was succeeded by his younger brother, Alexander, who ruled until 1124, when he was too was succeeded by a younger sibling, David, the youngest of Malcolm and Margaret’s four sons. It was said to be this fourth son, King David I of Scotland, who essentially secured an independent Scottish nation through his willingness to embrace the political changes introduced by the Norman’s and by inviting a number of highly influential Norman knights and noblemen to settle within his kingdom, which helped to guarantee his own position on the Scottish throne. It was also said to be during David’s reign that many of the Scottish Isles, which had previously been under Norwegian ownership and therefore outside of immediate Scottish control, were finally brought under King David’s authority, creating the unified Kingdom of Scotland that would remain largely independent of England right through to the beginning of the 18th century.
The Old English language, which was thought to be largely a product of the Anglo Saxons, once again began to evolve and develop, with new Norman French words being absorbed into the English vocabulary, although within the Royal Court itself, only Norman French was said to have been used in daily conversation. According to some historians, much of the English language that is both written and spoken today originates from the generations immediately following the Norman Conquest of England, when common French words were introduced and subsequently amalgamated into the earlier English tongue, accounting in part for the sometimes confusing, but extremely rich language that is so widely used throughout the world today. However, Two of the greatest changes that the Norman’s introduced to England, were thought to be the Domesday Book, derived from the Day of Judgement, and perhaps more importantly, the relocating of Norman power from England to William’s home region of Normandy in France.
Although nominally a vassal of the French Royal Court, Duke William was said to have been such an important military and political figure in Western Europe that his lordship of England was considered to be of secondary importance, to the role that he played within the wider continent itself. Because of this, the new King of England was reported to have spent little time in his new kingdom, leaving much of its security and administration to the various noblemen and court officials that he himself had appointed to take care of such matters. One of his greatest legacies, the Domesday Book, which was thought to have been compiled purely for the assessment of royal taxes, was reported to have been completed in 1086 and even today is generally regarded as one of the most important historic documents relating to England’s early history. Likewise, the international link which was made between England and the French region of Normandy would remain as a lasting testimony to Duke William’s early reign, with both territories later becoming part of the much larger Angevin Empire of Henry II.
Prior to 1169, the only links between England and Ireland were thought to have been almost entirely commercial or cultural, with both countries early settlers having only extremely tenuous contacts with one another, an entirely separate and divisive relationship caused in part by the existence of a vast and seemingly impenetrable expanse of water that lay between them, which is commonly known as the Irish Sea. Although occasional contacts were made between the two neighbouring territories, these were thought to be highly uncommon affairs, brought about by exceptional seamanship, blind curiosity or as a result of entirely accidental landings on one another’s coastlines. Even though each of the three early invasion forces that had conquered Britain, later creating England, Scotland and Wales, undoubtedly knew about the island of Ireland, or Hibernia, neither the Romans, nor the Anglo Saxons had thought them worth the effort of invasion. It was only the Vikings who were thought to have considered the rugged, windswept lands of Ireland, worthy of invasion and settlement and only then to the west of the country, which not only offered them safe anchorage, but perhaps more importantly, easy access to the much richer settlements and more important trade routes that lay to the west of England and Wales.
However, Norman England’s attitude to Ireland was said to have fundamentally changed in 1169, when a group of Cambro-Norman mercenaries arrived in Ireland with the express purpose of creating their own private fiefdoms within what appeared to be a completely unexploited and largely unprotected lands. Reportedly invited by a native Irish Chieftain called MacMurrow, who had previously been dispossessed of his own native kingdom, a relatively small, but extremely well armed Norman force, under the command of Richard de Clare, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, who was commonly known as “Strongbow” landed in Ireland and quickly overcame the local Irish defenders, who had little knowledge of, or defences to, Norman armour and their highly trained warhorses. As in Wales, Ireland at that time was said to have been largely composed of numerous petty kingdoms which were ruled over by disparate local chieftains, who spent much of their time fighting and squabbling with one another and were therefore unable, or unwilling, to launch a coordinated attack against the well armed and highly mobile Norman forces, including Welsh archers, who had come into their midst.
Faced by this highly professional Norman force, even the usually martial Viking and Danish settlers who had established themselves along the east coast of Ireland, in places like Dublin, Waterford and Wexford, found themselves unable to resist the invaders. Within a matter of months, De Clare and his allies had not only taken control of these cities, but had also restored MacMurrow to his lands, for which De Clare was said to have received the chieftain’s daughter in marriage and been nominated as the Irish leader’s legitimate heir. Concerned and outraged by these events, the other native Irish leaders were said to have attacked the newly acquired Norman territories, in a determined effort to recover their rights, but were subsequently repulsed by De Clare and his troops, who just about managed to defeat the united Irish tribesmen.
At the same time, back in England, Henry II was reported to have become increasingly concerned over the state of affairs in Ireland, believing that its invasion and colonisation by De Clare and his followers might eventually represent a threat to his own royal position, a threat that he was not prepared to risk. Despite having initially given his permission for the Earl of Pembroke to intervene on behalf of MacMurrow, possibly believing that the venture would accomplish little, by 1171 Henry was said to have been so concerned that he ordered all of his Norman knights in Ireland to return to England by Easter of that year. Unfortunately for De Clare, securing his new Irish possessions had unexpectedly delayed his departure from Ireland, causing him to miss the royal deadline and incur the English monarch’s wrath. Stripping the Earl of Pembroke of his new titles, Henry II subsequently sailed for Ireland with his own English army, dispossessed many of those Normans knights who had seized lands there and put his own appointees in their place. Naming himself as Lord of all Ireland and having established his own authority over much of the country, Henry returned to England having spent some six months in his new kingdom, although many of his knights and nobles would subsequently have to return to Ireland, to help suppress a series of revolts and rebellions that would mark much of the period, including De Clare, who was said to have recovered the County of Kildare, only to die fighting there in 1174.
According to some historic sources, the 12th century Norman Conquest of Ireland represented the very first English colonisation of what was essentially a foreign country, preceding the later colonisation and settlement of Ireland by English forces by some three hundred years. It has also been suggested that the Norman’s deliberately misrepresented the case for their invasion of Ireland, claiming that the native people there were little better than savages, who were not only uncivilised pagans, but also practiced cannibalism. However, it is worth noting that such blatant public propaganda was not unusual, given that the Roman’s had used similar tales to justify their own military invasion of Britain in the 1st century AD. Regardless of such considerations however, the invasion of 1174 inexorably drew the kingdom of Ireland into the Norman sphere of influence and established that country as a fundamental part of the many conflicts and confrontations that would dramatically affect the development of the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh nations for the following six hundred years.
It was thought to be during the thirty five year reign of Henry II that England once more became a monarchical kingdom, with day-to-day power being taken back from the Barons, Earls and Churchmen who had previously held control of the country; and put back into the hands of the king and his council. It henceforth remained a sovereign state until around 1194 when it temporarily became a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire, following the capture of the English monarch, Richard the Lionheart, who was returning home from the Crusades. Richard’s royal successor, King John, was thought to be both an unfortunate and unpopular ruler of England, who not only lost many of his country’s possessions in France, but so antagonised his nobles and subjects that he was finally forced to sign the Magna Carta, which limited his personal powers and authority, at Runnymede in 1215.
King John’s son and successor Henry III ascended the English throne when he was only nine-years-old and as a consequence the kingdom was largely administered by his guardians and a number of England’s leading noblemen. Unfortunately for the young king many of his more influential court advisors were reported to have French sympathies, which caused a great deal of unrest amongst members of the English nobility, resulting in Henry’s reign being marked by internal unrest and fractiousness within both England and the neighbouring principality of Wales. Throughout much of his rule Henry was reported to be at odds with the rulers of France, the native Princes of Wales as well as a number of England’s leading Barons, including Simon de Montford, the 6th Earl of Leicester, who led a rebellion against Henry and his son Prince Edward; and very nearly managed to steal the English throne from them. Fortunately for King Henry, his son and successor, later Edward I, managed to escape his captors, rally his supporters and together with his father later defeated De Montford and his allies at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.
King Edward I succeeded his father Henry III to the English throne in 1272 and began a period of consolidation for the English Crown, beginning with a widespread reorganisation of the country’s administrative, political, financial and legal systems, which resulted in many new statutes and regulations being introduced by the astute young monarch. First and foremost however, Edward was a military leader, as well as being a skilled politician and what he could not achieve through bluff and bravado, he was quite happy to achieve through military force. Although he is commonly referred to as the “Hammer of the Scots” he was far less successful against that particular kingdom than he was against the native Princes of North Wales. A significant part of the principality was already subject to the will of the English Marcher Lords who had held power from the time of the Norman Conquest, but much of the north remained under the control of the native Princes of Gwynedd. During the Baron’s War, which was led by Simon De Montford and his allies, these Welsh rulers were reported to have supported the rebels and despite De Montford’s defeat at the hands of Henry III and Edward, they still refused to accept the sovereignty of the English Crown.
Finally and perhaps in frustration, in around 1276 Edward was said to have deliberately engineered a conflict with the Welsh Prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, ostensibly over the Welsh Prince’s intention to marry Eleanor de Montford, the daughter of the rebellious Simon, who had very nearly managed to usurp Edward and his father from the English throne. Although Edward was reported to have assembled a massive army to invade North Wales, in actual fact there was no major confrontation between the two sides, as Llywelyn and his supporters quickly realised that they had little choice but to accept the English king’s demand for homage, for fear of having their homelands destroyed by the impatient Plantagenet king. Under the terms of the resulting Treaty of Aberconwy, signed in 1276, Llywelyn retained his lands in Gwynedd, along with his title of Prince of Wales, but lost many of the possessions that lay outside of his native lands, thereby reducing his power and influence in the region.
For the next six years Edward was reported to have imposed English Law within much of Wales and introduced significant numbers of English colonists and supporters to the principality, much to the alarm of the native population. This simmering unrest was said to have been exploited by the Welsh Prince Dafydd ap Gruffudd, brother of Llewellyn, who was said to have been unhappy with the settlement he had received as a result of the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1276. Before long this general unrest had erupted into a full-blown rebellion, which was soon joined by Llewellyn and a number of other Welsh leaders, who initially enjoyed some degree of military success against the resident English colonies and settlements. Once again Edward was reported to have assembled his English army to confront the rebellious Welsh leaders, although this time he was said to have little intention of simply reaching an amicable settlement with them, but was instead determined to conquer Wales once and for all and bring the erstwhile principality completely under his authority.
Even though the native Welsh forces were said to have enjoyed the occasional success against English commanders on the ground, many of their actions were said to have been primarily aimed against the numerous and sometimes isolated English towns that were located either within Wales itself or on the border of the two countries. The Welsh rebellion was fatally undermined though, on the 11th December 1282, when Prince Llewellyn was lured into a trap by a member of his entourage and was killed at the Battle of Orewin Bridge. Although his brother Prince Dafydd subsequently took over as the leader of the rebellion, it has been suggested that was not as capable as his sibling and was eventually captured by Edward’s forces in June of the following year and executed as a traitor later in the year. In 1284 Edward introduced the Statute of Rhuddlan, whereby the principality was formally incorporated into England, bringing with it English laws and administration, along with an increasing level of English colonisation and construction of Edward’s “ring of steel”, the series of English held castles that were used to keep any future rebellions in check. These greatest of these English fortresses, built at Harlech, Beaumaris, Conwy and Caernarfon continue to stand today as a reminder of Edward’s military policies and his utter determination to crush the independence of the native Welsh people and to finally bring them under the control of the English Crown.
To the north of Edward’s English kingdom, Scotland remained an entirely separate nation, ruled over by the Scottish monarch Alexander III, who was said to have paid homage to Edward, but only for those English lands he held with the approval of the Plantagenet king. Accordingly, Edward was reported to have had made no direct claims on Scotland up until 1290, when the legitimate heir to the Scottish throne, Princess Margaret, who was known as the Maid of Norway, died on her way to her new kingdom. Reportedly three-years-old at the time of her death, she was said to be the daughter of Alexander’s own daughter Margaret who was married to King Eric II of Norway. From a purely English perspective, young Margaret’s death ended any hopes of a planned marriage between King Edward’s own son, Edward of Caernarfon, the new Prince of Wales and the later Edward II, who had been promised to the ill-fated Princess Margaret, effectively creating a union between the royal houses of England and Scotland.
Even though in normal circumstances Edward I would have had no further involvement in the Scottish succession, with the most obvious royal heiress now dead, a significant number of potential contenders now pressed their claims to the crown of Scotland and requested that Edward arbitrate the matter. Eager to renew the possibility of English sovereignty over Scotland, which would have been the case, had Edward of Caernarfon actually married the young Princess Margaret, Edward agreed to settle the matter of the Scottish succession, provided that the new monarch was happy to recognise Edward’s feudal lordship over them. The various Scottish lords and many of the contenders for the Scottish throne were unable to give such an undertaking to the English monarch, but given that Edward was the nominated arbiter on the matter of the royal succession, they rather foolishly passed control of the entire kingdom to him, until such time as he made his final decision on which of the possible candidates should actually succeed to the Scottish throne.
Although a large number of contenders were thought to have declared themselves as the legitimate heir to the Crown of Scotland, in reality only two of them, Robert Bruce and John Balliol could make any real claim to that high office. After lengthy investigations and consideration, in November 1292 Edward finally made his decision in favour of Balliol, although the actual reasons for his final choice are still a matter of debate even today. It remains a significant factor that even after Edward had made his decision and Balliol was publicly declared as the legitimate heir, the English monarch constantly interfered in what should have been purely Scottish affairs and even saw fit to hear appeals on cases which had already been judged by the Scottish Court of Guardians who had governed the country so well during the royal absence. Not only did this cause a great deal of antagonism amongst the Scottish nobility, but also helped to undermine the position and authority of the new Scottish monarch John Balliol.
Despite Balliol being crowned as King of Scotland at Scone on 30th November 1292, St Andrew’s Day, right from the outset he was thought to have been little more than a vassal of King Edward I, who was reported to have taken every opportunity to both exploit and humiliate the new Scottish king, perhaps suggesting why Balliol had become Edward’s choice of candidate for the Scottish throne in the first place. Finally in July 1295, a large number of Scotland’s leading noblemen, frustrated and angered by Balliol’s apparent inability to cope with Edward, usurped the remaining power of the beleaguered Scottish king and created a new Panel of Guardians, which consisted of twelve of the country’s wisest and most able lords, who were willing and able to resist the growing demands of the English monarch. When Edward demanded Scottish troops for his military campaigns against France, his request was ignored and in clear defiance of the English king, the new Scottish Council signed an accord with Edward’s French enemies, creating what would become the “Auld Alliance”, a relationship that would bring Scotland into armed conflict with England on a fairly regular basis over the coming centuries.
As if to reinforce their own resistance to his perceived sovereignty, Scottish forces were said to have raided the English border town of Carlisle, which resulted in King Edward attacking Berwick in a particularly bloody fashion. At the subsequent Battle of Dunbar, Edward’s army effectively crushed their Scottish opponents and then went on to confiscate the Stone of Destiny, the coronation stone of Scotland and had it transported to Westminster in London. The ill-fated John Balliol was quickly deposed by Edward and taken as a prisoner to the Tower of London, where his family’s coat of arms and regal insignia were physically torn from his tunic, creating the rather cruel nickname “Toom Tabard”, an epithet that often brought howls of derision amongst Edward’s closest allies, as they related to one another, how easily they had conquered and humiliated the Scots. Unfortunately for Edward and his courtiers, later events in Scotland would ultimately prove just how badly misplaced his early optimism had been, as some of Scotland’s ablest warriors would eventually come to the forefront of Scottish history and prove once and for all that Edward’s almost pre-planned conquest of Scotland was not going to be that easy, or indeed, something that would be achieved in his own lifetime.
By the end of 1296 and following the Battle of Dunbar, much of southern Scotland was thought to be under English control, although significant parts of the country, particularly in the northern areas were said to have remained largely outside of Edward’s immediate influence. Unlike those Scottish lords who had chosen to swear fealty to the English Crown, in return for lands, titles and other royal favours, other noblemen such as William Wallace chose to fight the annexation of their country, conducting raids against English troops and foreign interests that they believed were gradually overtaking their native lands. Having achieved such a decisive victory at Dunbar, Edward was said to have regarded rebellious Scotsmen like Wallace, more as an inconvenience, rather than as a serious threat to his military stranglehold of Scotland.
However, on the 11th September 1297, a relatively small Scottish army, under the command of William Wallace, Andrew Moray and others, met and defeated a much larger English force under the command of John de Warenne and Hugh de Cressingham at Stirling Bridge. The defeat of the English force was said to have initially shocked Edward, who was otherwise occupied in France, but ever the militarist he immediately began to plan for a second much larger campaign against the Scottish lords.
On the 22nd July 1298 the two armies were said to have finally met one another at the Battle of Falkirk and although Edward’s forces won the day, ultimately he failed to crush his adversaries, which resulted in Wallace and his allies returning in the following year to recapture Stirling Castle. Although there were no further major military engagements between Edward and his Scottish opponents, the next six or seven years were said to have been marked by occasional raids against English interests on both sides of the border, which were also accompanied by a gradual erosion of the nationalist support that William Wallace and his allies had initially enjoyed in 1297. By 1304 most of those nobles who had earlier lent their support to the Scottish cause, had come to terms with Edward and now pledged their loyalty to him, often in return for new lands and titles, or simply to preserve their own family’s holdings. In 1305, the Scottish nationalist cause was further damaged by the capture of Wallace, who was said to have been betrayed by a fellow countryman and subsequently handed over to the English authorities, who transported him back to London where he was later publicly hung, drawn and quartered.
Following Wallace’s death and with most of the Scottish nobility either bribed or threatened into compliance, King Edward once again left the government of Scotland in the hands of specially appointed Englishmen and a number of collaborative Scottish noblemen. Sadly for Edward however, his long hoped for settlement proved to be short-lived, as in February 1306, Robert Bruce, grandson of the royal claimant in 1290, unexpectedly seized the Scottish throne and had himself crowned King of Scotland in March 1306. As well as being a highly astute politician, Bruce was also a skilled military leader and a pragmatist, this latter trait testified to by the fact that he chose to secure his family’s holdings, rather than risk them in support of earlier rebellions, such as those led by William Wallace. However, once he had made the decision to break with King Edward, he eventually managed to rally the various clans of Scotland to his cause and free his kingdom from English control.
Fortunately for Bruce, on 7th July 1307 King Edward reportedly died of dysentery as he made his way north to oversee the military campaigns being waged against his new Scottish adversary. Although Edward’s body was taken south to London for burial, his son and heir, Edward II, was said to have remained in Scotland to continue the military campaign against Robert Bruce. Unfortunately for England, Edward II was nothing like the military leader that his father had been and having spent a matter of weeks conducting fairly fruitless operations against the Scots, he later turned south and travelled back to London, where he was crowned as the new King of England on the 25th February 1308.
Under the generally ineffective leadership of their new monarch, Edward II, English holdings and interests in Scotland were eventually and inextricably lost, as the much more militaristic Scottish leader Robert Bruce regained complete control of his country, leading his forces to a great victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Unlike his father, Edward II was not thought to be a great military leader, politician, lawmaker, or administrator, but rather preferred to spend much of his time communing with his favourite courtiers, or indulging in more mundane pursuits, rather than the jousting, hunting, archery and swordplay that might have been expected of a soldier king. In fact his reign was said to have been marked by a series of long running political conflicts brought about by his own inability to control the English nobility, many of whom readily exploited his inherent weaknesses, along with those who feared for the country’s future because of them. Within the English Court itself, a number of England’s leading nobles were said to have regarded Piers Gaveston, the King’s long standing personal companion, as a major threat to their own interests and so arranged for his capture and murder, although Edward was thought to have replaced him soon afterwards, with yet another male companion, a young man called Hugh Despencer.
Surprisingly perhaps, Edward’s stuttering and rather uneventful reign was said to have been brought to an end, not by a jealous male rival for his throne, but by his Queen, Isabella, who was reported to have returned from her French homelands accompanied by both her lover, Roger Mortimer and a military force with which to usurp her ineffectual husband. Although a relatively small army to begin with, it quickly attracted support from the largely disenchanted English nobility, who were keen to see an end to Edward’s reign. Recognising the impending threat, the King was thought to have fled the capital, leaving his new companion Despencer to face the wrath of Isabella and her army, who quickly had the unfortunate royal attendant tried and executed for his numerous wrongdoings. Before long, Edward himself was in custody, charged with breaking his Coronation Oath and committing other wrongs and was ordered to be held in Gloucestershire pending his trial. Unfortunately for the ill-fated monarch, there appears to have been little intention of putting him on public trial, as he was reportedly murdered whilst in custody, presumably on the orders of Isabella and Mortimer, or possibly by one of the many English noblemen who Edward had previously offended.
With the fairly disastrous nineteen year reign of Edward II brought to a sudden end, his son and heir, Edward of Windsor, later Edward III, succeeded to the throne of England and began a fifty year reign that would see him regarded as one of the most effective and successful monarch’s ever to sit on the English throne. Crowned King of England on 1st February 1327 when he was only fourteen years old, initially his new kingdom was governed by his mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer as joint Regents, although in reality, Mortimer was said to have taken over the role as de-facto ruler of England. On the 24th January 1328, fifteen year old Edward was married to Philippa of Hainault at York Minster and in June 1330 produced a male heir, much to the consternation of Mortimer, who believed that his position as Regent was likely to become less and less tenable as the young Edward neared his majority. Mortimer was said to have grown rich and powerful through his Regency, acquiring lands and titles at the expense of other English noblemen and as a result was disliked and even despised by many within the English Court.
Mortimer was also said to have made a personal enemy of the young Edward III, not only by deliberately and regularly undermining the authority of the young King, but also because of his part in the earlier death of Edward II, actions that would not be forgotten, or indeed forgiven by the seventeen year old Edward III. In October 1330, supporters of the young monarch were reported to have entered the inner precincts of Nottingham Castle, where Mortimer and the by now pregnant Isabella were staying, broke into Mortimer’s bedchamber, arrested him in the name of the king and took him away to the Tower of London. Charged with assuming royal authority over England, Mortimer was stripped of all of his lands and titles, before being sentenced to death by Edward, who refused all please for mercy from both Mortimer and Isabella. Within a month of the royal command, Mortimer was dead and Isabella was reportedly confined to Castle Rising in Norfolk, where she was said to have miscarried her unborn child. With this threat to his throne removed and the death of his father avenged, King Edward III now set about restoring the fortunes of his English kingdom to their former glories, as they had been during the time of his grandfather, Edward I.
Even though he had undoubtedly inherited many of his grandfather’s better qualities, the young Edward III also shared a highly combative and aggressive approach to the subject of Scotland and ultimately suffered a similar fate to that of his ancestor, fighting a series of expensive battles that ultimately achieved very little and gave him few territorial gains. Ever since the death of Edward I, the Scottish kingdom had largely been restored and expanded during the reign of Robert Bruce, later Robert I of Scotland, who upon his death in 1329 had been succeeded by his young son, David II of Scotland, who now found his own royal lands under threat from the demands of an English king. During the Regency of Roger Mortimer and Isabella, the two countries had signed the Treaty of Northampton, settling the earlier territorial disputes between the two countries, but this agreement had subsequently been repudiated by Edward III, inevitably leading to further conflicts between the two neighbouring states.
Initially Edward’s English forces had enjoyed some military success against the Scots, recovering the town of Berwick and beating a Scottish army at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. Edward was even thought to have attempted to repeat his grandfather’s plan of placing a member of the Balliol family back on the Scottish throne, in return for extensive land grants in the south of Scotland, although many of these gains and proposals were ultimately reversed as the supporters of King David II began to gain ground over the Balliol party and its English supporters. Despite the large numbers of English troops being employed in Scotland, by 1337 much of the country was back in Scottish hands, save for a number of heavily fortified positions at Edinburgh and Stirling. Perhaps recognising, as his grandfather had, the near futility of trying to conquer Scotland completely, by the beginning of 1339, Edward III was said to have changed his priorities in Scotland, from one of total conquest, to simply consolidating what few gains he had actually made up until that time.
Although Scotland remained an important target for Edward, he was not blind to the fact that France represented an equal prize for and danger to his English kingdom. The fact that Scotland and France were historic allies, under the terms of the “Auld Alliance”, meant that England faced potential enemies on two distinct fronts, one to the north and one to the south. As well as offering political and logistical support to David II of Scotland, who was being quartered in the French Court, the French monarch, Philip VI, was also thought to have authorised a number of attacks on several towns along the English south coast and had already confiscated English possessions on the French side of the Channel. However, rather than trying to reach an accommodation with the French King, Edward was said to have challenged Philip’s right of succession to the French Crown, claiming that he himself was the rightful heir and even went as far as to incorporate the French royal symbol, the Fleur de Lys, into his personal coat of arms.
In the series of battles and conflicts that were fought against the French, which together became more commonly known as the Hundred Years War, Edward was said to have made a number of military alliances with individual French Princes and Noblemen, who all had their own reasons for opposing Philip VI. Despite such foreign coalitions however, Edward III was reported to have made few territorial gains through his military adventures, although he was said to have caused a great deal of unsettlement, both within his own royal court and within the English economy. As a result, in 1340, he was said to have returned to England to carry out a complete reorganisation of his royal administration, bringing some sort of order to the country, but singularly failing to solve the financial problems affecting his treasury, which caused him to default on the enormous loans that he was thought to have owed to a number of his most important investors.
By 1346 Edward was reported to be back in continental Europe, this time accompanied by an army of some fifteen thousand men and more determined than ever to pursue his claim against the French monarch Philip VI. Landing in Normandy, his forces quickly overcame the town of Caen and in August of the same year met and defeated a large French army at the Battle of Crecy, before moving on to besiege the port of Calais, which finally surrendered to him some 12 months later, in August 1347. Meanwhile back in England, an English force under the command of William Zouche, the Archbishop of York, was said to have resumed the military conflict with Scotland, meeting and defeating a Scottish army, which was led by King David II of Scotland, who had returned from the French Court, at the Battle of Neville’s Cross and during which the Scottish monarch was taken prisoner. The unfortunate King David II would remain a prisoner of his English neighbour for the next decade, only being released in 1357 after a large ransom was agreed with the Scottish nobility, though in reality, very little of this money was paid because of the perilous condition of the national treasury. The restored Scottish monarch was to continue his rule until 1371, but without producing a natural heir of his own and on his death was succeeded by his nephew, who later became Robert II of Scotland.
Following Edward’s capture of Calais in 1347, the Black Death had swept across Europe, decimating the populations of most nation states and bringing an end to most of the military campaigns on the continent, including those of the English king Edward III. According to most estimates, the Black Death was thought to have reduced Europe’s population by between 30% and 50%, with the resulting shortage of manpower leading to greater demands on the native workforces and as a result higher wages. The height of the plague was said to be between 1348 and 1350 with most cities, towns and villages around Europe feeling the effects from the contagion. However, once the blight had passed most of the conflicts and territorial disagreements between the competing states of Europe began once again and King Edward’s eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, was reported to have won a great victory over the French army at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, where the English Prince not only defeated a much larger enemy force, but also captured the French monarch, King John II.
More English victories followed, but despite this, Edward III seemed unable to achieve an outright military victory that would give him the French Crown. Finally, in 1360 King Edward III decided to reach a political agreement with the French Court, under the terms of which, he would renounce all claims to the French Throne, but would receive full sovereignty over those French lands that were already in his possession. This period was thought to have been the height of Edward’s reign, with English military power unchallenged in Europe, the French king in his possession and with Edward proclaimed as master of great swathes of France’s continental territories.
Unfortunately, his dominance failed to last, as first, a number of his most trusted military lieutenants and advisors died, as did the French monarch King John II, who had remained in English custody since 1356. Edward’s second son, Lionel of Antwerp unsuccessfully tried to suppress the Anglo Irish lords of Ireland and Edward’s youngest son, John of Gaunt, was heavily defeated by the new French monarch, Charles V, who by 1375 had recovered virtually all of the French territories that had previously been lost to the English, save for the coastal towns of Calais, Bordeaux and Bayonne. Back in England, both Edward and his eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, were reported to have been indisposed during the period, leaving John of Gaunt in nominal control of the country, a highly divisive figure who would later play a fairly significant role in the government of England. During the following year, Edward the Black Prince, who was King Edward’s legitimate successor, was reported to have died on 6th June 1376 and was followed to his grave some four months later by his father King Edward III, who was said to have passed away as the result of a stroke on the 21st June 1377.
Upon his death Edward III was succeeded by his grandson Richard II, the son of Edward the Black Prince and an individual who would later prove to be as divisive and as unpopular as his great grandfather, Edward II had been. Significantly, young Richard would also be the second member of his family line who would suffer the pain and humiliation of being deposed by his fellow countrymen, only this time at the hand of his first cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of Lancaster, who would later ascend the throne as Henry IV.
The reigns of Edward I and his grandson Edward III are thought to mark the clear divide between the Norman England of William the Conqueror, who regarded England simply as an adjunct to his European territories, from the independent nation state that would later play such a significant role in the development of Western Europe. Under the two Edwards, England, the English language and a distinct English identity began to emerge from the shadow of the great Franco-Norman dynasties that had dominated the country for the previous two centuries. Both men are thought to have been similar in their demeanour and in their interests, skilled soldiers who were politically adept, capable of great cruelty, but also of great generosity. Each of them was said to have been feared and respected by their subjects, although neither was thought to have craved popularity directly, but simply chose to follow their own instincts in helping to secure their kingdom for their immediate heirs.
Both Edward I and his grandson were reported to have been instrumental in helping to frame some of the earliest aspects of English Law, particularly those aspects relating to criminal and property matters, helped to create and reform England’s fledgling Parliamentary system and introduced some of the country’s first national taxes. Both men also appear to have shared a common desire to bring all of Britain under their personal control, an objective that was only partially completed by Edward I, following his conquest of Wales at the end of the 13th century. Although it has been suggested that Edward I may well have been driven by a personal desire to replicate the long since disappeared Roman province of Britannia, with himself as some sort of Emperor, to many historians this seems highly unlikely. It is thought to be much more probable that ongoing border disputes between England and Scotland over territory, along with the “Auld Alliance” made between the Scottish and French Courts, may well have posed such a serious threat to the English Crown that both Edward I and his grandson Edward III felt compelled to deal with in the most direct way possible.
Just as Edward III was thought to have shared many of the more positive attributes of his grandfather, Edward I, so his own grandson, Richard II, the son of the late Edward, the Black Prince, shared very few. Ascending the English throne in 1377 at only ten years of age and therefore in his minority, he was said to have been guided and counselled by a group of the kingdoms most able noblemen, who were all keen to avoid the young monarch falling under the influence of a single individual. His uncle, John of Gaunt, the youngest son of Edward III might well have been appointed Regent, but he was thought to be such a divisive figure within the English Court that a Council was appointed instead, although Gaunt remained a highly influential figure regardless.
It was during these early years of Richard’s reign that England was rocked by a generally large civil uprising, the Peasants Revolt, which had resulted from the introduction of three Poll Taxes between 1377 and 1381 that were intended to pay for a number of largely unsuccessful English military campaigns in Europe. Although the taxes themselves were thought to have precipitated the rebellion, the root cause was said to be the widespread restriction on labour that had been introduced after the Black Death swept across Europe between 1348 and 1350, effectively creating a form of slavery that was abhorrent to most poorly paid agricultural workers.
Beginning in Kent and Essex, where tax collectors were said to have been driven out of various towns, large numbers of protestors were said to have congregated together, creating two entirely different gatherings in the two counties, both of which began to move inexorably towards London. During May and June of 1381 these two disparate groups were reported to have begun merging in the capital, much to the consternation of the young king and his council, who had few regular forces with which to resist the crowd, should it choose to attack the royal palaces. Throughout the city, many buildings, particularly those associated with the government and unpopular public figures, such as John of Gaunt, were reportedly attacked and destroyed by the increasingly angry mobs. Perhaps motivated by a belief in his own invulnerability or venerated status, the young Richard II was said to have ridden out with a group of noblemen, along with William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London, to meet one of the leaders of the revolt, Wat Tyler, at Smithfield.
Unfortunately, this meeting did not go well and Tyler was reportedly struck down, first by William Walworth and then by one of the king’s royal supporters. Fortunately for Richard, these events were said to have occurred a little way from the main body of the rebellious crowd, so that Richard was able to convince them that all was well and that Tyler would meet them later in the day. Promising that all their demands would be met and asking that they reassemble at St John’s Field, Richard watched as the crowd began to disperse and then ordered his men to arrest the remaining ringleaders of the rebellion. With the leadership of the revolt in custody, most of the rebels simply drifted back to their villages and homes, whilst their former leaders, including John Ball and Jack Straw were either imprisoned or executed. Confident that there would no further reoccurrence of these events, Richard II simply withdrew all of the promises that he had made and the much hated labour restrictions remained in place.
Following the revolt and for the remainder of his minority, Richard was said to have become increasingly dependent on a relatively small group of personal advisors, most of whom were deeply suspect in the eyes of England’s established noblemen. These concerns were undoubtedly reinforced after 1385, when the young monarch achieved his majority and began appointing “outsiders” and “lesser people” to positions of authority within the English Court, as well as trying to make peace with England’s historic enemy, France. Although he was thought to have pursued a number of traditionally masculine activities, such as jousting and hunting, Richard II was not a soldier, in the same way that his father, grandfather and great grandfather had been, as he lacked the martial acuity and comradeship that they had possessed in abundance. In 1385 Richard was said to have led a largely inconclusive campaign into Scotland, but returned to England having never even engaged the Scottish forces in battle, a fact that further undermined his military credentials, especially as his kingdom was still threatened by the possibility of a French invasion.
In the following year and with the threat of a French attack still hanging over the country, Richard’s Chancellor, Michael de la Pole, a favoured royal appointee who was deeply resented by the established aristocracy, requested significant tax increases, in order to pay for the defence of the country. However, the English Parliament, no doubt influenced by a number of the traditional Earls refused to consider any such request until De la Pole was dismissed from his post, a demand that the young monarch was initially reluctant to meet. Although he initially refused to be dictated to, when faced with the possibility of his own deposition, Richard was said to have eventually complied with the noble’s demand and dismissed his unpopular Chancellor.
Having been forced to bow to the will of his Parliament and a number of England’s leading Earls, Richard was said to have remained unhappy about the outcome of the dispute and set out to bolster his own personal support in the country, in the event that such a situation should happen again. He was said to have appointed another of his court favourites, Robert de Vere, as Justice of Chester and began to recruit troops there, most notably Cheshire archers, who would later form part of the monarch’s personal bodyguard. When he returned to London, Richard was reported to have found the Earls of Warwick, Arundel and Gloucester waiting for him, with charges of treason against De la Pole and a number of the kings other appointees, who they demanded should be tried for their crimes. However, rather than simply comply with their demands, Richard was reported to have deliberately prevaricated over the matter, giving his ally, De Vere, time to travel from Cheshire with military support, although De Vere and his forces were subsequently intercepted at Radcot Bridge in Oxfordshire by troops led by Henry Bolingbroke, the Earl of Derby and the eldest son of Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt.
Realising that he had no choice but to accede to the Earls demands, simply because he had such little military support of his own in the country, Richard was subsequently forced to pass death sentences on a number of his favourite courtiers, even though most of them had already fled the country and so were sentenced in their absence. By 1388 most of Richard’s unpopular inner circle had been removed from court and although the young king was said to have been particularly outraged at this challenge to his personal authority, he was thought to have been patient enough to wait and wreak his revenge on those that offended him. For much of the next decade Richard was said to have ruled the country in a generally harmonious manner, apparently putting past differences between him and his Earls behind him, even though they disagreed with his policy of trying to make peace with the French Court.
In 1394 Richard had even led a military campaign to Ireland, in support of the Anglo-Irish lords who were finding themselves under increasing pressure from the native Irish chieftains there. Travelling with a force of some eight thousand men, the English king was thought to have managed to achieve some measure of success in Ireland, receiving the submissions of a number of leading Irish lords and refortifying some of the Anglo-Irish settlements that were said to have been under threat. Having seemingly consolidated his position in Ireland, even though this ultimately proved to be a temporary situation; and having convinced himself that his authority in England was now absolute, in 1397 Richard began to wreak his revenge against those noblemen who he believed had treated him so badly in 1388. Announcing that there was a plot to overthrow him, Richard was said to have ordered the arrests of Gloucester, Warwick and Arundel and in June 1397 put Arundel on trial, after which the unfortunate nobleman was executed. Gloucester was reportedly killed on Richard’s orders in the port of Calais and the Earl of Warwick was reported to have been found guilty of the trumped up charges, but was simply exiled from England, along with a number of other royal opponents. Having cleared his court of any opposition, Richard was then reported to have moved his attention to the wider country, removing those retainers who were reportedly loyal to the historic Earls and replacing them with people that were entirely dependent on him for their new lands, titles and position.
Unfortunately for Richard, the one great political figure who still posed a threat to him was his uncle, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and the youngest son of Edward III, who had his own legitimate claim to the English Crown and therefore represented one of the most powerful family’s in the country. However, rather than confront his uncle directly, Richard was said to have used a disagreement within the Royal Court, between John of Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke and the Duke of Norfolk to exile his cousin from the country, essentially removing Bolingbroke as a potential rival for the English throne. Although he was initially exiled for ten years, when John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster died in February 1399, King Richard was said to have exiled Bolingbroke for life, in an attempt to remove the family from the line of succession forever.
Unfortunately for Richard, on hearing of his father’s death, Henry Bolingbroke was thought to have requested permission from the French Court to return to England in order to pursue his claim to his family’s inheritance. As a result, in June 1399 and accompanied by a small military entourage, Bolingbroke was reported to have landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire where he was met by Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy, regarded by many as the most able and chivalrous English knight of the age, who had come to fear and question the tyranny of Richard II. Having received Bolingbroke’s oath that he only wished to regain his family’s lands and titles, but would make no claim to the throne itself, Percy agreed to support the newly returned nobleman and together they made their way to London to rally further support against the king. King Richard himself was reported to have been away in Ireland at the time of Bolingbroke’s return, so few of his supporters were present at court as Bolingbroke and Percy entered London, although many of those that were, very quickly transferred their allegiance to the newly arrived Duke of Lancaster, who they regarded as an entirely legitimate replacement for the increasingly unpopular Richard II.
When Richard did finally return from Ireland in July 1399, he was thought to have been met at Conwy in North Wales by Henry Percy, who advised him of his cousins return and the demands that he was making. Perhaps recognising the hopelessness of his situation, Richard subsequently agreed to meet with Bolingbroke at Flint Castle in August 1399, where the two cousins had their first meeting together. According to some reports, the exiled Duke of Lancaster made it plain to Richard that his situation was hopeless and that he had little support amongst the nobility, leaving the hapless monarch with little choice but to surrender his crown to his most immediate and legitimate heir, Henry Bolingbroke. Initially transported to Chester Castle as a prisoner, King Richard was later transported to the Tower of London, then later on to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire. Although removing the deposed monarch from the Tower of London was said to have been to prevent royalist sympathisers from freeing him, there is also a suggestion that the ill-fated Richard was placed in an isolated location, where it was impossible for his supporters to determine his fate. Even though there was a reported plot to murder Bolingbroke and restore Richard, by those that the deposed king had promoted, ultimately any such schemes came to nothing, as he was said to have been starved to death at Pontefract Castle sometime around February 1400.
Despite his earlier insistence that he had no desire to claim the Crown of England, Henry Bolingbroke did eventually ascend the English throne on 13th October 1399, even though he was not the most legitimate royal heir that might have held that position. Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March, was thought to have been the next legitimate candidate for the role, being the eldest son of King Edward III’s second son, Lionel of Antwerp. However, by cleverly manipulating the rules of succession, Bolingbroke was said to have finally managed to convince the Royal Court that he was the legitimate successor to Richard and was therefore crowned as Henry IV of England. The chivalrous knight, Henry Percy, would ultimately regret the support that he had initially shown to Bolingbroke, as he discovered far too late that the Lancastrian leader had always intended to usurp King Richard II, despite the oath to the contrary he had given to Percy at Ravenspur in June 1399.
In later years, Percy would come to oppose the rule of Henry IV and in 1403 was said to have met his death fighting the usurper king at the Battle of Shrewsbury, an encounter that was said to have been watched by the future Henry V, the son of Henry Bolingbroke, who would later try and atone for his fathers underhanded actions by having the earthly remains of Richard II transferred from the relative obscurity of Kings Langley and reburied at Westminster Abbey, to lie alongside his late queen, Anne of Bohemia. For the next fourteen years of his reign, Henry IV was said to have been a generally unlucky and unsuccessful monarch, suffering from persistent physical ailments, constantly refuting claims that his predecessor Richard II was still alive; and dealing with occasional plots against both himself and his family’s claims to the English throne. Although there were only two significant rebellions during his reign, both of these only failed thanks largely to the abilities of his oldest son and heir, Henry of Monmouth, who later ascended the throne as King Henry V. It was Bolingbroke’s son and successor, who was the next significant monarch to govern England, even though his own reign was a comparatively short on, lasting just over nine years.
Reported to have been born around 1387 at Monmouth Castle in South East Wales, the young Prince Henry was said to have been a highly gifted soldier who learned much of his military craft from the likes of knights, such as Henry “Hotspur” Percy and the other leading noblemen of the age. When his father, Henry Bolingbroke, was exiled by King Richard II in 1398, the young Henry of Monmouth was reportedly taken into the king’s care and even accompanied the monarch on one of his many campaigns to Ireland. Like his paternal ancestors he was first and foremost a soldier and was said to have honed his military skills under the tutelage of knights like Percy, who were often called upon to defend England’s northern borders from occasional Scottish incursions. According to some reports the two young knights were said to have been friends, although in later years their friendship was said to have become increasingly fraught, especially after Henry Bolingbroke’s deposition of his cousin, Richard II, from the throne of England in 1399.
It has been suggested that the young Henry of Monmouth rode with Percy to Chester in 1403, in the hope of persuading his friend not to rebel against the king, Henry IV, but failed to prevent the almost inevitable battle that took place at Shrewsbury on 21st July 1403. Prior to the military engagement Prince Henry was said to have returned to his father’s side and along with his personal entourage, formed part of the king’s army that faced Percy’s rebel force across a field of peas, just outside the Shropshire market town. With both sides seemingly irreconcilable in their differences and numbering around the same amounts of men, by the late morning of that day, battle was said to have been joined by the two armies.
According to some contemporary reports from the time, initially Percy’s forces were thought to have gained the upper hand over the king’s forces, largely through the use of Percy’s highly skilled Cheshire archers, whose arrows were reported to have decimated the royal ranks and caused a number of the King’s troops to flee. However, just as victory seemed to be within the rebel army’s grasp, their leader Henry “Hotspur” Percy was reportedly struck down by an arrow fired by one of the king’s archers, killing the rebel knight instantly. With their charismatic young leader dead, the rebel force were thought to have quickly fragmented, allowing Henry IV to claim victory and secure the English throne for himself and his son. Even during the battle itself, Bolingbroke was said to have been extremely lucky, as his heir, Henry of Monmouth was said to have been struck in the head by an arrow fired by one of Percy’s archers, but fortunately, the king’s surgeon was able to withdraw the projectile and save the young prince’s life.
Ultimately, the Battle of Shrewsbury was thought to have been won and lost through a combination of both good fortune and sheer bad luck which affected both sides on that historic day. Bolingbroke, Henry IV, was fortunate in that the arrow that hit his son in the temple did not prove to be immediately fatal and that he had a skilled surgeon that was able to save his royal heir. He was also said to have been fortunate in surviving a charge by Henry Percy, which was directed at his royal standard and that resulted in a number of the king’s immediate entourage being killed or wounded. On the other side, Henry Percy and his supporters suffered nothing but poor fortune on the day, a fact that resulted in their almost inevitable defeat. The rebels had hoped to have the military support of the Welsh leader, Owain Glyndwr and his troops at the Battle of Shrewsbury, but through a lack of communication by both sides Glyndwr failed to arrive in time for the conflict. Percy’s own personal character also proved to be a significant factor on the day, as his own bravado once again got the better of him, resulting in him launching a head-on attack against Bolingbroke and his royal entourage, which in normal circumstances might easily have cost him his life. However, it was thought to be the rather foolish act of lifting his visor, to better see where his enemy was located, which would prove to be his undoing, as a stray arrow found its way through this gap in his personal protection and instantly ended his life and the rebellion that he was leading.
The Welsh leader Owain Glyndwr, despite being an opponent of Henry IV, was said to have failed to join Percy at Shrewsbury, principally because he was unaware of Hotspur’s plans for the battle and was already engaged in military operations against the king’s forces in Wales. The descendant of native Welsh lords from the border region of Wales, during his formative years Owain was reported to have been well schooled and was later sent for training in London, before being employed in the military service of the English King, Richard II. Seeing limited service with the monarch in France and Scotland, Glyndwr was later knighted by the king before becoming a squire to Henry Bolingbroke, although he was eventually to become involved in a political dispute with another Marcher Lord and fell somewhat out of favour at the English court.
Initially retiring to his estates in Wales, the emerging royal conflict between Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke drew him back into political life, especially when the border county of Cheshire chose to support Richard II in the dispute for the English Crown. The usurper Bolingbroke was said to have stationed himself at Chester Castle whilst awaiting the return of King Richard from Ireland and whilst there was reported to have executed one of Richard’s main supporters in the county, Sir Piers Legh. This nobleman’s death was said to have caused such uproar in and around the border fortress at Chester that Glyndwr was either persuaded, or was simply proclaimed as Prince of Wales by a number of his supporters, immediately putting him at odds with the new king in waiting, Henry Bolingbroke, his former employer. Military confrontations between Owain’s supporters and those loyal to Bolingbroke were said to have intensified during 1400 and by the following year, much of North and Central Wales was reported to be under the native Welsh leader’s control.
Glyndwr’s later military ally and the then Constable of Wales, Henry “Hotspur” Percy, was appointed by Bolingbroke, by then King Henry IV, to bring order to those part of Wales that were outside of the Crown’s immediate control. As a result, Hotspur was thought to have promised an amnesty to all of those involved in the rebellion, save for the leadership, which included Owain Glyndwr, Rhys ap Tudor and his brother, Gwilym ap Tudor, both of whom were thought to be ancestors of the later King Henry VII of England. Despite the offer of royal pardons however, the rebellion continued and between 1401 and 1402 the Welsh forces were reported to have achieved a number of military successes over their English adversaries, including the capture of Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March, a legitimate claimant to the English throne. For their part, the English authorities, rather than trying to find a solution to the rebellion, simply made matters worse, by passing anti-Welsh legislation, which simply drove even more Welshmen into Glyndwr’s camp.
By 1403 it was reported that many hundreds of Welsh born students, workmen and soldiers were simply abandoning their posts in England, in order to join Glyndwr’s cause, a concern that was added to by news that French troops might well be brought into Wales to help strengthen the anti-English movement, as was said to have been the case in Scotland. The situation was thought to have become much more serious for the English monarch, Henry IV, in 1404, when Glyndwr gathered his Welsh Court at Harlech Castle and ordered that a Parliament be held at Machynlleth in Mid Wales, where he was formally crowned as Prince of Wales. Announcing an independent Welsh nation, with its own Parliament, Glyndwr was reported to have called for a return to traditional Welsh society, where historic laws, customs and traditions would be restored to the people of Wales.
Thousands of the great and the good of Wales were said to have flocked to his banner and the new Welsh leader was even said to have set out a new vision for both England and Wales, which would have seen the borders of the Welsh homelands extended and England divided between the Mortimer and Percy families. Despite this particular vision being largely unfulfilled, Glyndwr’s rebellion against the English Crown continued to cause problems for King Henry IV and his court, especially during 1405 when a formal treaty was made and signed between the kingdoms of Wales and France. Later that same year a French military force was reported to have landed at Milford Haven in Wales and subsequently marched through large parts of Herefordshire and into Worcestershire, before being checked by English troops just a few miles outside of Worcester. However, rather than the two sides engaging one another, both military forces were reported to have remained apart for well over a week, before withdrawing from the area. This rather curious confrontation was thought to have been the result of negotiations that were taking place between the English and French Courts, with both sides agreeing to withdraw troops from highly sensitive areas of one another’s territories.
Despite the best efforts of Glyndwr and his allies, to generate more support from England’s traditional enemies, including the French, Scots and the Irish, little aid was forthcoming, save for individual privateers, suppliers and militarists who tried to personally benefit from the ongoing dispute. The rebellion was said to have been further undermined by a change of approach by the English Crown, which chose to employ the strategy of a tactical blockade on Wales, rather than an out-and-out military assault. Although the Isle of Anglesey was taken by force, elsewhere the English chose to starve their Welsh opponents of supplies, by employing a number of those English built castles still in their possession to isolate individual areas of Wales and prevent their local populations from transferring much needed foodstuffs and arms from place to another.
Even though this proved to be a much more drawn out strategy from an English perspective, it was thought to have been effective nonetheless and by 1410 most of the former Welsh strongholds were said to have submitted to English demands, as the architect of the plan, Prince Henry of Monmouth, assumed that they would. For his part, Owain Glyndwr, the last formally recognised Prince of Wales, was thought to have continued to evade capture by the English, even though many of his most important supporters, including Edmund Mortimer, were either caught or killed by the English forces of Henry IV. According to some reports, the last time that Glyndwr was seen alive, was at Brecon in Mid Wales around 1412, when he ransomed one of Henry’s leading Welsh supporters, but after that time no definitive sighting of the Welsh leader was ever made.
In the following year, 1413, King Henry IV died and was succeeded to the English throne by his son, Henry of Monmouth, who was subsequently crowned as Henry V. Despite the lives and money that the Welsh rebellion had cost, the new English monarch was reported to have been very forgiving to those that had participated in the revolt, offering pardons and granting freedom to many of his former adversaries. As for Glyndwr however, following his completely unexplained disappearance, his name was thought to have been largely forgotten over the next four centuries, except amongst those nationalist groups that continued to celebrate Welsh traditionalism. However, during the 19th century, the name, life and achievements of this medieval Welsh patriot began to be openly celebrated by the wider Welsh public; and today he is generally regarded as the father of Welsh nationalism, with street names, parks and public spaces all recalling his life and achievements.
Because of his father’s failing health, the young Henry V was said to have been given nominal control of the kingdom around 1410, some three years before he was officially crowned as King of England and along with his uncles, Thomas and Henry Beaufort, was already implementing royal policy well before that date. Officially crowned on 20th March 1413, Henry already had many of his own policies in place, by the time he ascended the throne, although not all of them were thought to be the same as his late father’s, who was said to have bitterly opposed a number of his young son’s proposed changes.
Keen to correct some of the wrong’s that he believed his father had committed during his reign, the young King Henry V was said to have ordered the body of Richard II be re-interred where it properly belonged, in Westminster Abbey, to lie alongside the body of his queen, Anne of Bohemia. Henry also tried, where possible to reinstate the lands, titles and estates of those noblemen who had been wrongly dispossessed by his father and even took under his personal protection, Edmund, the young son of Roger Mortimer, the 4th Earl of March, who had died during the Welsh rebellion. Even though he was thought to be an extremely generous and forgiving king, for those who chose to oppose or threaten his rule, he was said to have been merciless, as was proved to be the case in 1414, when he ordered the burning of a nobleman who he deemed to be dangerous to England.
He was also thought to be the first English monarch to order that all government business should be conducted in English, as opposed to the Anglo-French or Latin, which might have been usual in previous years. Not only did he insist that English be used within government, but was also thought to be the first monarch to use English for his own personal correspondence, the first time this had happened in the three centuries, since William the Conqueror had first invaded the country. For most of his relatively short reign, England itself was said to have been settled, with no major outbreaks of violence or rebellion and the whole country, including Wales, seemingly at peace for the first time in many years.
Like many of his royal predecessors, Henry continued to assert his rights over the French throne, a claim undoubtedly strengthened by the fact that the French monarch of the time, Charles VI, was reportedly prone to regular outbreaks of mental instability and his heir was regarded to be generally ineffective. To pursue his longstanding claims to the French throne, in 1415 Henry V was reported to have crossed the English Channel and besieged, then captured the French fortress at Harfleur in September of that same year. He was then thought to have moved his army across the country to capture the port of Calais, but as they travelled across the French countryside, they were said to have been intercepted by a large French force, just outside the village of Agincourt on the 25th October 1415.
Heavy rains, coupled with the local ground conditions, were said to have turned the local fields into quagmires, which proved to be death-traps for the ranks of heavily laden French knights and troops that attacked the English force. Accompanied by significant numbers of more lightly equipped English and Welsh archers, Henry was said to have used these men to decimate the ranks of French soldiers and horsemen who were increasingly slowed by the soft muddy ground.
Those who were not struck down by the showers of English longbow arrows were said to have been hacked to death by the English men-at-arms, who attacked them from every quarter and offered no mercy to their struggling French adversaries. Henry’s reported order to his own troops to offer “no mercy” to their French opponents was thought to have been both highly unusual and surprisingly cruel, given the prevailing military etiquette of medieval warfare, which would have been common practice at that particular time. Usually, those knights or fighting men who asked for quarter would be granted mercy by their opponent and either imprisoned or held for ransom, especially those noblemen who were thought to have extensive estates or wealthy families that would pay handsomely for their safe return. However, in this specific instance, Henry was reported to have ordered that no prisoners were taken, simply because their subsequent care and security might and would have represented a direct threat to his own army’s safety. Although his order may well have been based on such concerns, it has also been suggested that Henry’s orders and actions were also intended to send a message to his French adversary, Charles VI that he would be both merciless and unremitting in his pursuit of the French Crown.
Having defeated the French forces so decisively at Agincourt, Henry was then reported to have spent some considerable time consolidating his gains, replenishing his supplies and renewing his depleted and exhausted army. However, these plans were said to have been threatened and interrupted by the arrival of a Franco-Genoese naval fleet in the Channel, which threatened, not only to cut off his lines of supply and communication to England, but could also be used to land French troops to the rear of his forces, essentially trapping him between two enemy armies. In 1416, this is exactly what happened, when a Franco-Genoese fleet was said to have landed French troops close to the recently captured fortress at Harfleur, where they quickly began besieging the English garrison there. In response to this, Henry was reported to have sent his brother back to England to raise an English fleet that could disperse the Franco-Genoese naval threat. Having returned home to England, within a relatively short time, Henry’s brother, John of Lancaster, was said to have mustered and provisioned a sizeable English fleet, which then set sail in August 1416 and within 48 hours had met and dispersed the Franco-Genoese navy, allowing the English garrison at Harfleur to be relieved and Henry’s supply lines to be secured once again.
Following his emphatic victory over the French, Henry and his army were said to have remained encamped in France for nearly two years, patiently preparing for their next great military expedition, the conquest of France itself. Beginning in 1417, Henry’s English army slowly but surely brought much of the French countryside, along with its major towns and cities under their direct control. Where outright surrender was not offered by the local populations, the English army would attempt to starve the French communities into submission, sometimes using tactics that further blackened the name and reputation of the young Henry V.
The city of Rouen for instance, the historic capital of the Normandy region, which lay along the route of the River Seine, was said to have been besieged by Henry and his army during 1418, after the local authorities refused to surrender the city to the English monarch. As the days, weeks and months passed, conditions within the city were said to have become increasingly desperate, to the point where the French authorities in Rouen took the decision to expel all of the women and children, in the belief that the English troops would allow them safe passage through their siege lines. Surprisingly, Henry was said to have refused to allow the starving refugees to pass through his lines, whilst at the same time, the French defenders would not allow them back into the city.
In a scene that recalled the earlier tragedy of the Battle of Alesia, which was fought between the native leader Vercingetorix and Julius Caesar, both sides were thought to have waited for the other to change their minds, but neither relented and as a result, all of the entirely innocent women and children were said to have perished of starvation and disease. Even though such incidents were later used to taint the reputation of the English monarch, it has also been suggested that both sides at Rouen were deserving of criticism, by choosing to employ completely innocent non-combatants as pawns in the ongoing war of nerves that were a feature of such medieval siege warfare.
It has also been reported that Henry was determined to inflict his revenge on the peoples of Rouen, who had not only hung captured English prisoners from the walls of the city, but who had called for his excommunication from the church. Clearly though, such matters appear to be trifling, when laid against the indifference shown by both the English king and the French authorities towards the starving and dying inhabitants of Rouen, which should also be considered in relation to Henry’s previous orders at Agincourt, where no mercy was offered or indeed shown to enemy troops.
Whatever Henry’s personal reasoning for his military tactics however, by January 1419, the city of Rouen was reported to have finally fallen to the English troops who had been besieging it; and Henry was finally able to exact his full revenge on those who had refused to yield to him. By August of the same year, his forces were reported to be outside the walls of the French capital, Paris, where a number of its leading citizens and noblemen were thought to have thrown themselves on the English king’s mercy. After a period of negotiation, they were said to have agreed to recognise Henry as the legitimate heir to the French throne and appointed him as Regent of France, settling the matter further, by arranging for Henry to marry the French King’s daughter, Catherine of Valois.
With his long demanded entitlements finally granted to him and with much of France seemingly under English control, Henry eventually returned to England towards the end of 1420, although he was thought to have spent little time there, being compelled to return to France some six months later, to begin what would be his final military campaign there. Reportedly crossing the English Channel once again in June 1421, to help suppress a French rebellion that was centred on the historic walled French town of Meaux, located just outside of Paris, Henry called for the local authorities to submit to him, but they were said to have refused his calls outright, leaving him with little option but to mount a blockade of the town.
Having besieged the heavily fortified town for some months, outbreaks of dysentery and smallpox were said to have regularly swept through the English ranks, although this did not prevent the siege from being imposed, or indeed proving successful. Unfortunately, Henry himself was said to have become the most notable victim of the dysentery epidemic and was reported to have died from the disease on the 31st August 1422 at the Chateau de Vincennes just outside Paris.
The body of the still comparatively young thirty five -year-old king was subsequently returned to England and later interred at Westminster Abbey in November 1422. During his brief marriage to his French queen, Catherine of Valois, the royal couple had only one son, Henry, who would later ascend the English throne as King Henry VI. During his brief but glorious reign, Henry V was thought to have turned England from a divided and uncertain nation state, into one of the most feared and unified in all of Western Europe, protected and promoted by some of the most effective troops of the age, the English Longbow archers. Although he had undoubtedly achieved his own longed for goal of successfully restoring his family’s claim to the throne of France, he was never formally crowned as King of these new possessions; and it was his son Henry VI who finally received the French Crown in December 1431. Unfortunately, for all that Henry V had done to unite his English kingdom and restore the English Crown’s rights over France; much of this would be undone by the weakness of his successor Henry VI, as well as the rise of the iconic French heroine Joan of Arc, whose life and death would inspire her nation to rise up against enforced English rule.
The infant Henry VI was only nine months of age when his father died in France, an event that was said to have been followed two months later by the death of his maternal grandfather, Charles VI, the king of France, thereby creating the young English prince as the potential monarch of that European kingdom too. As his mother, Catherine of Valois was French; she was said to have been treated with enormous suspicion by members of the English Court, who immediately appointed a council to govern the country, naming Henry V’s brother, John of Lancaster as senior Regent in France, whilst another brother, Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, was put in nominal charge of English affairs. Matters were thought to have become much more complicated later one, when Catherine began an intimate relationship with the Welsh nobleman, Owen Tudor, by whom she had two sons, Edmund and Jasper, who automatically became half-brothers to the English king Henry VI. In recognition of their noble births, both of these two brothers were subsequently granted the title of Earl, through which one of them, Edmund, would later see his own son, Henry Tudor, ascend to the English throne as Henry VII.
Henry VI was reported to have assumed control of his English kingdom in 1437 and like others before him quickly surrounded himself with a small number of favoured nobles, often to the exclusion of some of the more influential and experienced aristocrats who had helped guide the kingdom during his minority. In the fifteen years since his father’s death, his most trusted advisor in France, his uncle John of Lancaster, was reported to have died and French forces had been dramatically inspired by their young Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc, who had helped to stifle English expansionist ambitions there. Under the influence of his less traditional advisors, King Henry VI was reported to have preferred a peaceful settlement with France, as opposed to those who were advising him to impose a purely military solution.
English ambitions there and Henry’s rule of the foreign country were being challenged by the increasingly powerful Valois family, ancestors of Henry’s mother, Catherine, who considered themselves to have a greater legitimacy to the throne of France than the English monarch Henry VI did. In order to resolve the conflict between the two sides, a marriage was arranged between Henry and Margaret of Anjou, the niece of the Valois king, Charles VII, although the union itself in 1445 was said to have been highly unpopular amongst much of the English aristocracy generally.
As part of the marriage agreement made between the two royal houses, Henry was said to have relinquished the English held regions of Maine and Anjou to the Valois king, but did so without confirming this to his opponents in England. However, when the English aristocracy discovered the truth, a number of England’s leading noblemen, including the Dukes of Gloucester and York, were said to have been absolutely outraged, but were unable to do little about it. Recognising their vehement opposition to his actions, King Henry was said to have ordered the arrest of Gloucester, who subsequently died during his captivity and sent the Duke of York into virtual isolation in Ireland, hoping no doubt that their removal would end any further hostility towards the Crown.
Unfortunately for Henry, the next few years of his reign were said to have been constantly dogged by allegations of corruption, uncertainty and unfairness, along with increasing losses of English interests and territories in France, all of which helped to erode confidence amongst the aristocracy that Henry would come to rely on in future years. In common with a number of his other royal appointments, Henry was said to have chosen his favourite noblemen to hold important posts, rather than those best qualified for doing the job itself. Two in particular, the Dukes of Suffolk and Somerset both proved to be disastrous for Henry, with Suffolk arranging his marriage to Margaret of Anjou and Somerset leading the English forces in France, only to suffer one military reverse after another.
Eventually and no doubt under pressure from his Parliament, Henry was finally forced to remove the Duke of Suffolk and exiled him from the kingdom, although the unfortunate aristocrat ultimately failed to find a safe haven elsewhere, as he was reportedly murdered as he made the Channel crossing to France. Somerset proved to be equally unlucky for the English king, as from the date of his appointment in 1449, leading English military forces in France, he was said to have lost virtually all of the territories that Henry V and his armies had struggled so hard to win. At one point he was even said to have managed to lose French territories which had been held by England since the reign of Henry II, some two hundred and fifty years earlier, leaving Henry VI with only the port of Calais to call his own.
By 1452 many within the English nobility were said to have been seeking alternatives to the highly erratic and unfortunate Henry VI, with Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York, who had been sent to govern Ireland, seen as the most legitimate replacement to the hapless Henry. Persuaded to return to England by a number of the country’s leading nobles, Richard was thought to be a highly popular choice amongst the British people and quickly rallied significant numbers to his cause, although initially they chose little more than to demand the arrest of the largely incapable Somerset and the settlement of other outstanding grievances. However, despite his widespread unpopularity, Henry still managed to garner sufficient support to protect his throne and though initially inclined to grant the unhappy noblemen’s requests, interference by his wife, Margaret of Anjou, caused Henry to quickly withdraw his agreement, a decision that was no doubt swayed by the announcement that his French queen was pregnant.
Although in the short term it seemed that Henry had weathered the political storm, the news that the English held region of Bordeaux had finally fallen into French hands in 1453, was said to have crushed what remaining good sense the inept English monarch had retained. On hearing the news he was reported to have slipped into a mental malaise that would continue to affect him for the foreseeable future, even while his throne was being stolen away from him. His maternal grandfather, the French king, Charles VI, was said to have suffered similarly dark episodes throughout much of his own life, so many historians believe that Henry’s mental infirmity originated from that specific side of the royal bloodline. Unfortunately, his indisposition was also thought to have been marked by a period of particularly significant political intrigue, with his closest rival and potential heir, Richard Plantagenet, receiving the support of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, who was reported to be one of the richest and most influential noblemen of his age and who subsequently became known as the “Kingmaker”.
By the time that Henry was thought to have recovered his senses at the end of 1454, much of the power within the kingdom had already begun to move away from Henry and towards the Duke of York, who was first suggested as a Regent, but then later as king in his own right. A younger son of King Edward III, Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York, was to play a pivotal role in forcing the deposition of his relative Henry VI from the throne of England, in the series of Yorkist Lancastrian conflicts that raged between 1454 and 1461.
Although Henry VI was largely absent from many of these military conflicts due to his recurring bouts of mental illness, Richard was said to have been opposed by the highly militaristic Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, who was determined to retain her husband’s place on the throne of England. It had always been intended that Richard himself would succeed Henry to the English Crown, but the death of his oldest son, Edmund, followed by his own early demise, meant that it was his second son, Edward of York, who would eventually ascend the English throne as Edward IV in 1461. Unfortunately for Edward and his followers, they were reported to have failed to secure Henry and Margaret, who both subsequently escaped to Scotland where they found a safe haven and a base from where they could continue to fight the Lancastrian cause.
Margaret particularly was said to have made use of those northern and Welsh noblemen that were still sympathetic to her cause, although her husband, Henry, was reportedly captured by Edward’s forces in 1465 and transported to the Tower of London where he was held until 1470. In the intervening period, Edward IV and his main supporter, the Earl of Warwick, were reported to have had a severe disagreement with one another, allowing Margaret and her own supporters to strike a deal with the disgruntled Earl. Warwick subsequently lent his considerable military support to Henry’s cause and having joined with Margaret to defeat the Yorkist forces of Edward IV, put the largely incapable Henry VI back on the throne of England in October of 1470.
Sadly, the years of mental illness and the strains of being imprisoned were thought to have left Henry as a mere shell and it was thought to be Warwick and Margaret who ruled in the king’s place. However, their hold on power was thought to have been relatively short-lived as their military forces were later defeated by the ousted Edward IV at the Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471, during which the Earl of Warwick and Henry’s son, Edward of Westminster, were both reportedly killed. The victorious Edward IV then simply resumed his position as King of England, ordering that his rival, Henry VI, should once again be imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died in May 1471. It has been suggested that Henry may well have died of melancholy, having been informed about the death of his son, Edward of Westminster, at the Battle of Tewkesbury some two or three weeks before. However, most reports seem to suggest that Henry VI was in fact murdered on the orders of Edward IV, in order to prevent any further Lancastrian claims on the English Crown.
The military conflict between the two royal houses of York and Lancaster for the throne of England, which became more commonly known as the “War of the Roses”, was a civil war that not only divided the English nobility, but also the general population of England and Wales as well. Under the sometimes chaotic reign of Henry VI, England was said to have become a much more unsettled kingdom, simply because of the monarch’s poor choice of royal appointees, as well as his later and regular bouts of mental incapacity.
Edward IV on the other hand was thought to be a much more stable individual, a skilled soldier, administrator, politician and businessman, for most of England’s native population he would always have been the preferred choice for king, which he eventually became for the second and final time in April 1471. Having secured his throne, in 1475 Edward was reported to have declared war on France, although he quickly came to terms with his French adversaries after they agreed to pay him an annual royalty, on the understanding that he avoided becoming involved in the day-to-day running of the country. He was also said to have involved himself in Scottish politics, by backing Alexander Stewart, the younger brother of the Scottish monarch James III, in his claim for the Crown of Scotland.
Edward was reported to have despatched his brother Richard, the Earl of Gloucester, along with an English army, to Scotland in 1482, where they quickly captured the city of Edinburgh and the Scottish monarch, James. Unfortunately for Stewart, his whole position was entirely dependent on him receiving the continued support of Edward IV, who had not only demanded lordship over Scotland, but also significant territories in the south of the country.
Stewart also needed national support within Scotland itself, primarily from the great nobles of that country, who, by tradition could be extremely reluctant to change their allegiances. Although Stewart’s position was generally secure while Gloucester remained in Scotland, the English Earl was said to have returned to England in early 1483, before Stewart’s political negotiations had been fully completed. Richard of Gloucester’s return was thought to have been caused by King Edward’s sudden illness, which resulted in most of England’s leading nobles making their way to the English capital, anxious to ensure that the country remained calm and that any possible succession, should that become necessary, was carried out as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Unfortunately for Alexander Stewart, the impending royal crisis in England was immediately followed by resurgent support for the Scottish monarch, James III, who was now able to fully contest his younger brother’s claims, by force of arms if necessary.
With the tide of events now flowing against him, Stewart soon found his position in Scotland becoming increasingly untenable and after Edward’s unexpected death in April 1483, any lingering hopes that he might have held, of retaining the Scottish Crown were very quickly undone, once and for all. For the English too, Edward’s initially successful foray into Scottish affairs had suffered a similar fate to those that had gone before, where initial English success had very quickly been undone by other unforeseen factors, although the one success they did gain from the whole affair was thought to be the ownership of Berwick, the border town, which the two neighbouring countries had fought over for centuries.
Back in England, the death of Edward IV was thought to have been deeply mourned by a large section of the population, who regarded his comparatively short second reign as a highly successful and peaceful period for the English people. Although supporters of the largely extinct Lancastrian cause, in the north of the country, undoubtedly celebrated his early demise, the possibility of him being succeeded by his 12-year-old son, as Edward V, held out the hope that these earlier national wounds might be healed once and for all by the ascension of an entirely innocent boy king, who might promise much for the future of England.
Unfortunately for the young Prince, who would and should have ben king, along with his younger brother, their futures were not determined by any right of succession, but by the machinations of their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, the late king’s brother, who had secretly determined that it would be him that would sit on the throne of England, in place of the young prince who he had sworn to advise and protect.
Richard was the youngest son of Richard Plantagenet, the 3rd Duke of York, the nobleman who had hoped to replace King Henry VI as monarch, but who along with his eldest son, Edmund, had been killed at the Battle of Wakefield, one of the many conflicts fought during the War of the Roses. When Richard Plantagenet’s second son took the English Crown as Edward IV, his younger brother, Richard of Gloucester was subsequently created the Earl of Gloucester and granted extensive lands and titles in northern England, where he maintained control of the country for and on behalf of the king.
Throughout his brother’s reign, including those periods when Edward IV was temporarily exiled from England, Richard was said to have remained loyal to his older sibling, even when the two brothers had had to flee to Burgundy, to escape the wrath of Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou. Once Edward IV had been permanently restored to the English throne in 1475, Richard was said to have remained entirely faithful to him, showing no sign that he was unhappy with or opposed to Edward’s right to hold the English Crown. However, upon his brother’s death, Richard’s loyalty to Edward’s legitimate successor, the twelve-year-old Prince Edward, was thought to have quickly evaporated and those that publicly supported the young prince’s claim were either isolated or arrested and subsequently executed on trumped up charges, brought by Richard. Appointed by the late King Edward IV as the two young princes Lord Protector, Richard almost immediately accommodated Edward V and later his younger brother, the Prince Richard, the nine-year-old Duke of York, in the Tower of London, ostensibly because of the supposed threats that were being made against their lives.
With the young princes effectively isolated and under his own personal control, Richard was said to have initiated a widespread public propaganda exercise, which suggested that Edward’s marriage to his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, mother of the two young princes, was invalid and therefore Prince Edward and his brother, Richard, were not legitimate heirs to the English Crown. Further evidence was produced, suggesting that Edward had bigamously married Elizabeth, despite already being married to a Lady Eleanor Butler, who was still alive, at the time of his marriage to the prince’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville.
As a result of this highly questionable campaign and other rather spurious evidence, the two princes, who were still being held in the Tower of London, were excluded from the right of succession and Richard himself became the legitimate heir to his late brother. Shortly after his coronation as Richard III of England at Westminster Abbey on 6th July 1483, the two royal princes were reported to have mysteriously disappeared from the Tower of London, although most sources suggest that being of no further use to their conniving uncle, they were both killed and their bodies disposed of.
Described and thought of by many, as a deeply religious and pious individual, Richard III’s subsequent reign as King of England was said to have been marked by significant royal endowments to a number of important religious and secular centres, including York Minster and two major Cambridge universities. However, despite such good deeds, Richard was said to have been distrusted and even despised by large sections of the population, most notably by those who had been attached to the old Lancastrian cause and who had now been joined by those Yorkist supporters of Edward IV that considered Richard III to be little more than a murderous usurper.
Regardless of such simmering discontent however, those who were opposed to Richard appeared to have no ready made alternative to rally around, as the House of Lancaster was thought to have been largely extinguished following the death of Edward of Westminster, Henry VI’s son, at the Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471 and both royal families were instinctively divided by tradition anyway. That situation had begun to change however in 1483, when the young Henry Tudor was reported to have made a pledge in Rennes Cathedral to marry Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of the King Edward IV, thereby uniting the two major political factions, which had previously divided the kingdom.
This personal oath was thought to be acknowledging the generally known fact that the two, by now supposedly illegitimate, sons of Edward IV, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London, were in fact dead by December of that same year. Tudor was formally recognised as a descendant of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois, the former queen of Henry V and was also related by blood to the Dukes of Lancaster, through to John of Gaunt, the youngest son of King Edward III. The English Parliament had legitimised the children of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois as early as 1452, so along with his accepted ties to the House of Lancaster, Henry Tudor was and became the most legitimate royal challenger to King Richard III and therefore an acceptable candidate for those who were opposed to Richard’s continuing rule.
Henry Tudor’s popularity in northern England was said to have been further strengthened by his Welsh heritage, with much of the principality being instinctively sympathetic to the long since suppressed Lancastrian cause, which had largely been stalled since the death of Henry VI in the Tower of London. Although some claims of Henry’s lineage were undoubtedly exaggerated by his supporters, his obvious Welsh heritage was said to have helped him gain much support amongst the local population there and gave him a relatively safe haven from which to launch his military campaign against Richard III.
Having received significant financial and military support from a number of disparate sources, including the French, the Scots, the Woodville family and many others, Henry was reported to have landed at Pembrokeshire in Wales and quickly rallied a large number of troops to his standard, including men from Lancashire and Wales. With this force behind him, Henry began his journey into England, where he hoped to meet Richard III in battle and deprive him of his throne. Despite being aware of this new threat to his throne, Richard was said to have been confident about defeating Henry Tudor and his relatively small force of rebels and foreign mercenaries. He quickly raised his own royal army, half as big again as Tudor’s force and set out to meet his adversary, which he finally did at Ambion Hill, just outside the village of Market Bosworth on 22nd August 1485. As both sides faced one another, Richard was said to have been convinced that his much larger force would easily overcome Tudor’s relatively small mixed army, although he was completely unaware that there was dissention within his own ranks that would prove to be pivotal to the outcome of the battle. As fighting broke out, a number of Richard’s allies, including Thomas Stanley, the 1st of Earl of Derby, along with his younger brother Sir William Stanley and Henry Percy, the 4th Earl of Northumberland all deserted Richard’s ranks, either by switching sides completely, or by simply refusing to fight against Henry Tudor’s forces.
According to most contemporary reports of the ensuing Battle of Bosworth, the loss of his allies significantly weakened Richard’s military position, reducing his numerical superiority quite dramatically and giving his enemies a morale raising advantage over his own army. Despite this however, Richard was said to have charged almost recklessly into the fray, striking out at anyone that stood before him and attempting to identify and defeat Henry Tudor himself, in order that his death might discourage the rebel force and force them to yield.
Unfortunately for the English monarch, it was said to have been him who ultimately succumbed to his enemies attack, being struck down in the heat of battle and thereby granting victory to his royal adversary, Henry Tudor. Richard’s death at Bosworth was notable for several reasons, the first being that the outcome of the battle essentially brought and end to the English War of the Roses, the series of conflicts that had been fought between the great houses of Lancaster and York and which were only subsequently united by the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. Secondly, Richard III became the last reigning English monarch to die on an English battlefield, joining the Anglo Saxon king Harold II and Richard I as the only three English monarchs to have ended their lives in that particular fashion. Thirdly, with Richard’s death the Plantagenet dynasty that had ruled over England for well over three hundred years and been represented by some fifteen different rulers was said to have come to a rather unfortunate and less than glorious end.
Reported to have been founded by Geoffrey of Anjou in the 12th century, the Angevin dynasty was the foundation of both the House of Lancaster and the House of York, both of which would inevitably become such bitter rivals for the English Crown in later centuries. Although the Plantagenet claim was said to have died with Richard III at Bosworth in 1485, he was thought to have been survived by a nephew, Edward, the Earl of Warwick until 1499 when he too passed away, although an illegitimate line of the family were also thought to have continued through the later Beaufort family. Finally and most importantly, Richard’s passing was also notable, in that it facilitated the dawn of a new noble dynasty, one that would come to dominate England for the next century or more, the Tudor’s. It was said to be the ascension of this particular English royal family, along with their notable heirs, who would finally begin the process of developing England’s naval, military and commercial interests, into some of the most formidable that the world would ever see.
Marrying Elizabeth of York at Westminster on 18th January 1486, Henry Tudor was reported to have ordered the creation of a new crest or symbol for the newly conjoined houses of Lancaster and York, the “Tudor Rose”, a merger of the two historic symbols, which had once signified division, but now illustrated the unity of the two great families. In order to further strengthen his own hold on the throne, Henry VII, as Tudor would become, introduced legislation to limit the military power of England’s great Baron’s, restricting their authority and opportunity to recruit personal retainers, effectively preventing them from amassing private armies that might pose a threat to his own position in the future.
He also made sure to settle amicably with any potential enemies, pardoning those that were prepared to offer him their loyalty and submission, including those surviving members of the Plantagenet family who might have been used as a focus for any future insurrection against him. Although his subsequent reign was thought to have been marked by occasional outbreaks of revolution, only two of these were said to have represented a potential threat to his rule and both of were quickly suppressed by the king.
The first of these potential challenges was said to have occurred in 1487, when a commoner, Lambert Simnel, was publicly proclaimed as the Earl of Warwick, supposedly a legitimate grandson of the former king, Edward IV. In fact, the young man in question, Simnel, was simply being exploited by Richard III’s closest heir, who Henry had previously created the Earl of Lincoln. The matter was said to have come to a head on 16th June 1487 at the Battle of Stoke, when Henry’s English army faced a largely Yorkist rebel force under the Earl of Lincoln, who was subsequently killed during the battle, essentially bringing the revolt to an immediate end. The young man at the centre of the dispute, Lambert Simnel, was said to have been captured by Henry’s forces, but rather than punishing the generally inept imposter, the Tudor king was said to have arranged for him to be employed in the royal kitchens, where he could be cared for, for the remainder of his life.
The second more serious challenge to Henry Tudor’s throne was said to have occurred in 1490, when a young Fleming called Perkin Warbeck publicly claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the Duke of York, the youngest son of King Edward IV, who had previously been imprisoned in the Tower of London by his uncle, Richard III. Although the young prince was assumed to have died in the Tower, along with his older brother, the missing Edward V, the fact that their deaths could not be completely confirmed, meant that such a claim might well be treated seriously. Having announced his supposed identity in 1490, the young pretender was reported to have sailed for Ireland, in the hope that he might gain some material support there, although his arrival and subsequent claims were thought to have met with little interest amongst the local population and he was forced to sail back to Europe having achieved very little.
However, his royal claims later came to the attention of the French Court and more importantly to Margaret of Burgundy, a sister of the late Edward IV, who perhaps for her own reasons decided to officially recognise Warbeck as the real Richard of Shrewsbury, thereby giving the imposter a significant degree of legitimacy. With Margaret’s connivance, the young pretender was then thought to have spent many months being escorted around and introduced to a number of Europe’s leading noblemen, presumably in the hope that they might choose to support him in his claim to the English throne.
Warbeck was said to have attempted his first visit to England in 1495, when a relatively small foreign expedition was landed in Kent, but was immediately intercepted and routed by English forces, even before the pretender himself had managed to step ashore, leaving a significant number of his foreign troops lying dead on the English coastline. Retiring to Ireland once again, Warbeck was thought to have sought aid there and was said to have been offered some support by the Earl of Desmond, who was already in dispute with Henry VII and therefore happy to help the imposter in his royalist campaign. With Desmond’s help, Warbeck was reported to have temporarily laid siege to the English held port city of Waterford in the southeast of Ireland, but meeting stiff resistance from the military garrison there, he was said to have quickly retired from the area and travelled across the Irish Sea to Scotland and the court of James IV.
Accepting that Warbeck might well be a legitimate heir to the English Crown, James was thought to have welcomed the young pretender and even permitted him to marry his cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon, who was related to James I of Scotland and to other members of the English Beaufort family. However, having attempted a brief military foray into England, which met with little success, James IV was said to have quickly lost interest in the pretender, who clearly had very little support within England itself. Forced to leave Scotland, Warbeck then made his way back to Ireland, but even there he was thought to have found little interest in his cause and within a week or so was being hounded out of Ireland, hotly pursued by an English fleet, which had been ordered to capture him and bring him back to England.
Fortunately for Warbeck he managed to reach the safety of Europe before being captured by the English ships and was thought to have spent the next months trying to garner further support amongst sympathisers in the various Royal Houses there. By September of 1497, he was reported to be ready to try yet another landing in England, this time in Cornwall, where he hoped to find support amongst the disaffected inhabitants of that region who had already rebelled against Henry VII some weeks earlier and been brutally suppressed as a result.
This time his reception in England was thought to have been far more welcoming and having gathered a sizeable rebel army about him was ceremonially proclaimed as Richard IV by his new supporters before they began the march towards London. Unfortunately for those who had chosen to support his cause, as soon as Warbeck was informed that an English force, under the command of Lord Daubeney, was marching to intercept him, the young pretender was said to have lost his nerve completely and unceremoniously abandoned his supporters, leaving them to face the king’s troops, whilst he made good his escape. Unfortunately for Warbeck, he was subsequently captured by English troops at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire and transported back to London to be held in the Tower, while his now largely leaderless army were forced to surrender to Henry VII, who ordered a number of the ringleaders executed and many other participants fined.
Having been held in the Tower of London, along with Edward, Earl of Warwick, the genuine nephew of Richard III, the royal pretender, Perkin Warbeck, was said to have successfully escaped custody, along with his fellow inmate, during 1499, although both men were quickly recovered and placed back into captivity. Warbeck was thought to have been thoroughly interrogated by the English authorities regarding his claims to the throne of England and it was said to be under this rigorous questioning that he admitted his true identity, of being the son of a French official and his wife, rather than being any sort of English royal heir. As a result of this subsequent confession, which essentially amounted to high treason, the rather foolish imposter was reported to have been dragged on a hurdle from the Tower of London to the public gallows at Tyburn, on 23rd November 1499. Having arrived at his place of execution, Warbeck was permitted to read out a statement, admitting his wrongdoings to the watching crowd, before being hung by the neck, bringing an end to his public claim to be Richard of Westminster, one of the Prince’s in the Tower.
Despite such occasionally serious challenges to his Crown and the fact that he had won the throne through direct military action, Henry VII was thought to be, first and foremost, an administrator and a politician, a man who much preferred to secure his kingdom’s future prosperity through peaceful alliances, rather than fighting highly expensive wars. England’s traditional enemy, France, was reported to have been extremely helpful to Henry in his claim to the English throne, so he was not therefore easily inclined to resurrect old antagonisms between the two nations. However, neither was he discouraged from using the threat of military force in order to achieve a better settlement for England in negotiations between the two countries, which he was said to have done in November 1492, when he sent a token military contingent into Brittany, simply to compel the French Court to conclude a formal peace treaty with him.
Although King Henry VII clearly recognised the value of this early form of “gunboat diplomacy” to try and enforce settlements on the other party, so too he saw the need for a strong English navy that could be employed to protect his nations vitally important commercial trading routes. It was Henry who was said to have authorised and financed the construction of England’s first shipbuilding dry dock at Portsmouth in 1495, reportedly the first of its kind anywhere in Europe and the oldest surviving dock of its type in the world. In conjunction with his desire to improve England’s maritime strength, the Tudor monarch was also reported to have authorised a number of highly speculative and generally risky naval expeditions, all of which were designed to expand the English Crown’s knowledge of and influence over lands beyond its own national borders. Employing highly skilled foreign navigators, such as John Cabot and others, Henry VII was reported to have granted royal charters to a variety of English merchant adventurer companies, all of whom were keen to explore and exploit the unknown lands that lay to both the east and west.
The emergence of English overseas exploration and commercialism aside, much of Henry’s reign was reported to have been marked by the consolidation of his own family’s position in relation to England’s throne, as well as neutralising many of the political, economic and judicial problems that had beset most of his predecessors. As well as reducing the personal and military power of England’s great aristocratic families, by appointing Justices of the Peace in every Shire and ensuring that national legislation was employed to curb excessive practices, Henry was also thought to have brought both uniformity and oversight to every corner of his kingdom. In addition to such locally based instruments of control, the Tudor monarch was also reported to have also established the Star Chamber, a national court composed of Privy Councillors and Judges who would preside over matters relating to both Civil and Criminal matters that had been laid against the great and the good of England, who might in normal circumstance have avoided being tried by local courts. It was said to have been held in secret and although it did not call witnesses in person, it was said to have received all of the evidence in writing and handed out sentences that could not be appealed. Regarded more as an inquisition than as a Court of Law, the Star Chamber later evolved into an instrument of terror, rather than simply being a judicial tool, but nonetheless was thought to have done much to help reduce the historic authority of those noblemen who believed themselves to be above the law.
In other areas Henry was thought to have been equally astute, especially in matters relating to foreign policy and relations, which continued to be a cause of concern for English monarchs for many decades to come. Eager to cement an ongoing and equitable relationship with the Scottish monarchy, in 1502 Henry was said to have arranged the marriage of his daughter Margaret to King James IV of Scotland, an alliance that would physically unite the Crowns of England and Scotland in the person of James Stuart at the beginning of the 17th century.
Henry was also thought to have agreed a series of treaties with the newly emerging Spanish kingdom in 1489, arranging for his eldest son, Arthur Tudor, to marry the Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, who also later became the wife of Arthur’s younger brother Henry, later Henry VIII. Although such skilfully arranged marriages and alliances were thought to have helped reduce international tensions within Europe, more importantly they were said to have brought great financial benefit to England’s developing economy and particularly to Henry’s royal treasury, allowing the Tudor king to amass a personal fortune, which could only have been dreamt about by his royal predecessors.
The only major setback for the king in the later years of his reign was the unexpected death of his eldest son, Arthur Tudor, who died suddenly at Ludlow Castle in 1502, leaving his younger brother Henry, the Duke of York as his heir apparent. Arthur’s death was also thought to have threatened the alliance between England and Spain, and as Arthur’s young widow, Catherine of Aragon remained the most suitable and obvious match, King Henry VII was still keen to unite the two royal houses through a union with his surviving son, Prince Henry, later Henry VIII.
Unfortunately, the match initially seemed to be unlikely, until the king subsequently acquired a papal dispensation that permitted the marriage, although the couple were not thought to have actually married until after Henry VII’s death in 1509. When he did finally pass away at Richmond Palace on the 21st April 1509, Henry Tudor was succeeded by his surviving son Henry VIII, whose later marital activities would help to undo many of the alliances that his father had built, but who would ultimately play his own significant role in the development and expansion of the English nation and the later British Empire.
In the fifteen hundred years that had passed since the death of Christ, the lands that had once been called Albion, had evolved into three separate and distinct nations, England, Scotland and Wales, which in turn had unavoidably been linked to the land of Hibernia, the island of Ireland. The native peoples of these four disparate lands had variously been subjected to instances of fire, flood, famine, drought, disease, military conflict and foreign invasion, as well as seeing their languages, cultures, traditions and heritage inexorably altered by the passage of time, the settlement of foreign migrants and the invention of new technologies. Beginning with their prehistoric ancestors, each of them had evolved into a sovereign nation state, which had been forged through natural events, human conflict and by the imagination and sheer will of individual men.
Although Ireland and Wales had partially fallen under the control of English authority, by the time of Henry VII’s death in 1509, the history and character of its native peoples remained unchanged; and it was these unique attributes, along with those of the English and the Scots, which would later be harnessed to create the uniquely “British” identity that would go on to spread its influence throughout much of the known and the as yet undiscovered world.