Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

From William the Red to John Lackland

Historical Note

WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR left Normandy to his eldest living son Robert, and England to his second son, William. The Norman barons, who held land in fief in both countries, strove to put the easy-going Robert upon the throne of England; but William was supported by the English, who thus practically adopted the line of Norman kings. At the death of William II, the Norman barons again attempted to make Robert their king, in place of his brother Henry, and again were successfully opposed by the English people. Henry I (1100—1135) was born in England, talked English, married Matilda, or Maud, daughter of the English Queen of Scotland; and, of more weight than even this in winning the regard and allegiance of his subjects, he gave them a charter, showing their rights and binding himself to respect them. His son was lost in the wreck of the White Ship, and Henry left the crown to his daughter Maud. It was seized, however, by his nephew, Stephen of Blois; and civil war and anarchy followed.

Henry II (1154-1189), the first of the Plantagenet kings, put down the robber barons and instituted important reforms in favor of the people. His attempt to reduce the power of the Church led to a bitter but indecisive conflict with Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church party. Henry reigned supreme over England and the greater part of France; Scotland, Ireland, and Wales recognized his authority, but the hearts of his children he could not rule. One after another his sons revolted against him. In 1189, he was defeated by his two youngest, Richard and John, in alliance with Philip of France, and died soon after, broken-hearted. His successor, Richard the Lionhearted, spent nearly all of his reign on a crusade and in fighting the French. He was succeeded in 1199 by John Lackland, the youngest son of Henry II. The reign of King John was marked by a tyranny so oppressive that the nobles at last joined in armed revolt, and in 1215 forced the king to sign the Magna Charta, a written acknowledgment of the rights of the people.

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