Medieval Britain: The Plantagenets

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13284

The Plantagenet family ruled England for over 300 years! The nobles fought over the throne, and the peasants revolted. Listen to some songs, learn all about chivalry, and make your own coat of arms!


World, World Cultures

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Can you name all the monarchs of England, starting with William the Conqueror?

No? Here's a little song to help you out!

Horrible Histories - The Monarchs Song | Horrible Songs:

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The Plantagenets ruled England from 1154 to 1485. This family's reign is also called the House of Anjou because they were from Anjou, France.

Plantagenet is not really their name but a nickname. Historians think the nickname came from a plant that Henry II's father, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, wore in his hat!


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You're not going to learn about all of them in this lesson. (Whew, right?)

You'll meet some of the more interesting kings and focus on the important events that happened during the Middle Ages in England.

Henry II

Henry, because of his marriage to a French woman, had a large empire, including much land in France.

map of France, 1154

Image by Reigen, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

Henry brought about changes in the law, like setting up courts in each shire and establishing trial by jury.

Henry II is famous for a bad thing he did (although he may not have meant to do it). He appointed his friend, Thomas Becket, as Archbishop to help him deal with problems with the Church, thinking Thomas would let him do whatever he wanted.

However, Thomas took his job seriously and defended the Church's rights. In a moment of anger, Henry shouted, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?!" Some of his knights took him at his word.

Watch a portion of The London History Show: Thomas Becket, from J. Draper, to learn more about their tragic friendship:

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"Good" King Richard, the Lionhearted

King Richard I

  • How did Richard earn the name Lionhearted?
  • And why is Richard considered one of England's great kings even though he spent most of his time away from it and once said that he would sell London if he could find a buyer?

There is one answer to both of those questions, and it was sung in the video at the beginning of this lesson. King Richard was "always spoiling for a fight!"

Richard spent most of his time on Crusades, which were battles that Christian kingdoms fought to regain control of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land from the Muslims. He was very brave in battle, and so he was considered a hero.

"Bad" King John

King John

Unlike his brother Richard, King John was considered one of the worst of the English kings.

In the Disney version of Robin Hood, there's a song about King John. Watch Little John sing Phony King of England in this video from worcesterjonny:

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Well, John wasn't really a phony king, but he was very much disliked. This quick video from FutureLearn answers Why was King John so unpopular?

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Here are a few reasons the barons turned against John:

  • high taxes
  • severe punishments
  • unkindness to his own family
  • he had lost a lot of the land he had inherited

The barons turned against him and forced him to sign a document to limit his powers. The document is called the Magna Carta (The Great Charter in Latin).

Afterward, he tried to ignore the agreement and fought battles with the barons across England. The Barons then asked King Louis of France to come and be their king.

The following video segment tells the story from there and explains why the kings who came after John had to reaffirm their allegiance to the Magna Carta.

The Story of Magna Carta from GuyFoxTV:

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"Boy King" Henry III

King Henry III

Henry III became king at 9 years old!

He was very religious and devoted to St. Edward the Confessor, the Anglo-Saxon king. He rebuilt Westminster Abbey as a Gothic church, like the great churches of French kings.

Westminster Abbey in London

The abbey also became the place of coronation and burial for English kings. But this cost a lot of money.

Henry III was also determined to expand his empire. He made a foolish choice in buying Sicily (an island off of Italy), and this bankrupted the empire.

He also filled the court with relatives and gave them lands and castles, so the barons were not too happy with him. They confronted him and insisted he take back those lands.

The barons and the king came to an agreement to share power. It was called the Provisions of Oxford. This changed how England was governed, allowing assemblies of barons and bishops to share power with the king.

This was the origin of Parliament, which is the British law-making body. Later, the common people were also granted representation in Parliament.

Edward III

Edward III

Edward turned Windsor castle into a palace. He loved royal displays of pomp and established court rituals. He insisted that people call him "Your Highness" and bow to him.

He also started the Hundred Years' War with France by trying to become king of France as well as England.

Edward made English the official language of the courts and parliament (up until then it had been French!). This helped establish the English identity.

Edward III was very devoted to the idea of chivalry.

  • What does that mean?

Watch Chivalry in the Middle Ages, from Getty Museum, to learn:

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Richard II

Richard II

Richard II is known for the Peasant Revolt of 1381, led by a man named Wat Tyler, that occurred during his reign.

For an overview, watch Peasants Revolt | 3 Minute History from Jabzy:

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Henry V

Henry V

Henry fought his first battle at age 14 and was the first English king who knew how to read and write English easily.

Henry V is one of the most well-known English kings because Shakespeare wrote a famous play about him. Watch the clip below from a movie based on this play, where Henry V delivers his inspiring speech before the Battle of Agincourt.

Henry V (7/10) Movie CLIP - Saint Crispin's Day (1989) HD from Movieclips:

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  • Makes you want to charge into battle, doesn't it?

Now, head over to the Got It? section, where you'll see how much you can remember about the Plantagenet kings and then get to interview one of them!

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