Having been in negotiations with his uncle, Henry I, to succeed him to the English throne, Stephen of Blois did not take kindly to Henry’s daughter, Matilda, being named as the King’s heir. He mounted an invasion and seized the crown for himself, triggering a civil war and a period known as “the Anarchy”.
Matilda’s son Henry invaded England in his turn, but neither side had the stomach for a prolonged battle. When Stephen’s eldest son died suddenly, Stephen agreed a treaty with Henry, gifting him the succession in return for peace.
5. Henry II
The first of the Plantagenet kings, Henry II had been involved in his mother Matilda’s attempts to seize the throne from Stephen from a young age. His reign was marked by changes to the legal system which formed the basis of today’s English Common Law.
In 1152 he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose marriage to Louis VII of France had been annulled. The couple had eight children, and Henry struggled to provide lands and power for all of them. Tensions over the succession culminated in rebellion, with Henry’s son Richard opposing the King supported by Philip II of France. Defeated, Henry II retreated to Anjou where he died.
6. Richard I
Better known as Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a great warrior, Richard I ruled England from 1189 to his death a decade later.
Although his childhood was spent in England, after taking the throne he spent the majority of his adult life in the French region of Aquitaine, the homeland of his mother. He took part in the Crusades and conducted several foreign wars, with England apparently serving merely to provide resources for his armies. He died in 1199 as a result of a wound from a crossbow, leaving no legitimate heirs.
The youngest son of Henry II, John became his father’s favourite by not involving himself in his elder brothers’ rebellion. He was a contender for the throne on his father’s death, but Richard prevailed and John had to await his brother’s death in 1199 to take the crown.
Like so many other English monarchs, John’s reign was marked by a series of conflicts with France and by skirmishes with rebellious barons. The latter resulted in the famous peace treaty of 1215, the Magna Carta – but neither side complied with its conditions. Civil war followed and John died of dysentery in 1216 whilst on campaign in the east of England.