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Normans and Plantagenets
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William I had won a huge gamble, and England was his prize. His followers scooped the rewards, taking over lands from defeated and dispossessed English nobles. William prescribed a government on England that in some ways went further than anything to be found in Normandy. The common people were still able to invoke customary laws, but in great matters such as landholding, taxation and military organization, the Normans imposed their own system.

Normans and Plantagenets


The Conqueror left three sons to share his legacy. The eldest, Robert, was given Normandy but lost it to a wilier brother. His middle son, William, nicknamed Rufus (from his ruddy complexion), inherited England but then died in myste¬rious circumstances, leaving the youngest son Henry in possession of the entire family estate. Henry married a descendant of Alfred the Great, a marriage with obvious dynastic overtones, but to his grief lost his only legiti¬mate son in a shipwreck.

This left his daughter Matilda to contest the throne with her cousin Stephen, and their tussle brought the Norman dynasty to a rather confused end. On Stephen’s death in 1154, the Crown passed to Matilda’s son, Henry.

Henry II was first of the Plantagenets, a name inspired by the sprig of broom (planta genista) worn by Henry’s father, Geoffrey of Anjou. And from Anjou comes the dynasty’s alterna¬tive name of Angevin. The Plantagenet empire - England, Wales, Ireland, Normandy, Anjou, Brittany and Aquitaine - surpassed any ruled by previous English kings and for the next 300 years kings of England would struggle to keep it.

Regal tower and royal prison
The name ‘Tower of London has long been used for the fortress and palace founded by William the Conqueror. Here royal lords and ladies have relaxed or been confined, and some have taken the final walk to execution.

Normans and Plantagenets





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