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When Count Henry of Anjou and his formidable wife Eleanor of Aquitaine became king and queen of England, they amassed an empire stretching 1,000 miles from the Pyrenees to the Scottish border, including half of France. Henry’s grandmother Empress (of Germany) Mathilda had taught him that ruling is like venery: show the hawk the reward, but take it away at the last moment, to keep the bird eager to please. To sons and vassals alike, Henry promised everything but gave nothing, keeping the three adult princes hating him and the other siblings all their lives.
Plantagenet Princes traces the lives and infamous webs of mistrust and intrigue among them. What sons they were! Henry (b. 1155), ‘the Young king’ was entitled to succeed his father, yet was a rich playboy who died crippled by debt before his thirtieth birthday, after living the life of a robber baron. Richard (b. 1157), ‘the Lionheart’ was lord of his mother’s duchy of Aquitaine and became, thanks to her, England’s most popular king despite bankrupting the Empire twice in his disastrous 10-year reign. Geoffrey (b. 1158), count of Brittany, was the cleverest, but was trampled to death by horses aged 32 in a pointless mêlée at Paris, leaving his wife Constance to act as regent for their son Arthur in a long power struggle between Philip Augustus, king of France, and the Plantagenets. The runt of the litter, John (b. 1166) was nicknamed Lackland, since no inheritance was initially promised him. He proved the longest-lived by far, dying at the age of fifty after signing Magna Carta, losing the key duchy of Normandy and most of the other continental possessions – also murdering his nephew Arthur, imprisoning Arthur’s sister for life and waging war against his barons, continued by Henry III.
The Plantagenet line continued with Richard of Cornwall, Edward I conquering Wales, gay Edward II, Edward III, Edward the Black Prince and Richard II, who died in prison while his usurper sat on the throne.