Plantagenet, House of

   The name “Plantagenet” has been used by historians since the seventeenth century to refer to the English royal family that descended from Henry II (r. 1154–1189) and that in the fifteenth century split into the contending royal houses of LANCASTER and YORK. The word originated as a nickname for Henry II’s father, Geoffrey le Bel, Count of Anjou. Although the exact meaning of the name is unknown, it was suggested in the nineteenth century that it derived from Geoffrey’s habit of wearing a sprig of broom (Planta genista) in his helm or cap. Other less widely accepted explanations claim that Geoffrey had a fondness for hunting among the broom or that Geoffrey planted broom as cover to improve his hunting. The name Plantagenet was never used by Henry II or his successors or applied to them by contemporaries; it was first adopted as a surname in the late 1440s by Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, head of the Yorkist branch of the royal family. Then heir presumptive to a childless HENRY VI, third king of the Lancastrian branch of the family, York probably assumed the name to emphasize his direct descent from Henry II and so illustrate the superiority of his claim to the Crown over that of his political rival, Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset. The duke was head of the BEAUFORT FAMILY, a junior branch of the Lancastrian line. From 1189, succession in the line of Henry II had occurred with little difficulty, the Crown passing smoothly from father to son or brother to brother.However, in 1399, the deposition of Richard II (r. 1377–1399) and his replacement by his cousin Henry IV (r. 1399–1413), formerly duke of Lancaster, bypassed the legal line of succession. The Lancastrian usurpation disinherited Richard II’s heir, Edmund Mortimer, the eight-year-old earl of March (1391–1425), the great-grandson of Richard’s eldest uncle, Lionel, duke of Clarence (1338–1368). Henry IV was the son of a younger uncle, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (1340–1399). In the 1440s, York could claim descent from two uncles of Richard II—through his Mortimer mother from Clarence and through his (Plantagenet) father from Edmund, duke of York (1341–1402). While York’s direct descent in the paternal line was clearly inferior to the Lancastrian claim because it derived from a younger uncle, the superiority of his Mortimer claim from an elder uncle was open to question because it descended to him through a woman. In 1460, when the dangerous possibilities of civil war persuaded York to press his claim, he used his Mortimer ancestry to petition for the Crown by right of succession. With this act, he transformed the political struggles of the 1450s into the WARS OF THE ROSES, a dynastic civil war between two branches of the house of Plantagenet.
   See also Richard II, Deposition of; other entries under Plantagenet
   Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A.,“The Crown and the Royal Family in Later Medieval England,” in Ralph A. Griffiths and James Sherborne, eds., Kings and Nobles in the Later Middle Ages (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), pp. 15–26; Harvey, John, The Plantagenets, 3d ed. (London: Severn House, 1976);Weir, Alison, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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