The Plantagenets




Course details: The Plantagenet dynasty ruled for almost four hundred years, responsible for planting England firmly on the map of Christendom as one of the most powerful countries in Western Europe. Plantagenet Kings and Queens were merciless, bloody minded and even went to war against their family to gain power.

Despite a history packed with war, murder and intrigue, the Plantagenets are often overlooked as an English dynasty, yet we still celebrate, take pride in and adhere to the architecture, literature and law they are responsible for. How did the Plantagenets influence the making of Britain? Who were the real people wearing the crown? And can we always believe the stories written about them?

This course will take a narrative dive into the world of the Plantagenets, investigating war, betrayal, chivalry and revolution. It will offer a macro history of the Plantagenets but also suggest approaches to questioning the evidence for the many bloody and beguiling rumours about them. Finally, this course will consider how the Plantagenet dynasty influenced the nation and the basic principles of government and tradition that still exist to this day.

Delivery: The course will be delivered by a series of 4 pre-recorded video lectures, and separate live group Q&As with the course tutor via a video conferencing platform. Participants will also receive course notes. Links and details will be sent to participants a few days before the course begins. Lectures will be released at 7pm (GMT) each Thursday and will be available to view for a month and half. The live Q&A will take place at 8pm (GMT) each Thursday of the course, beginning 7th March 2024. It will be recorded and made available to view afterwards.

Accessibility: All lectures will have closed captions. The live Q&As will have live captioning. If you have any additional access requirements, please get in touch via

Please make a note of the email address you use to sign up: All email correspondence relating to the course will be sent to the the email address you used to sign up to the course. If you are unsure which email you used then please check this ahead of time to avoid any confusion. It is always worth checking your spam folder before contacting the course administrator.

Course Breakdown

Lecture 1 – Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty: Who were the Plantagenets?
The first part of this lecture will be an introduction to the Plantagenet dynasty, exploring how, in the medieval period, powerful families in England and France were interconnected, creating dynasties that rose and fell in the political game of thrones of Western Europe. Through the disaster of the White Ship, England was plunged into a war of succession known as the Anarchy, but gave rise to the conquering Plantagenets. This lecture will introduce the first Plantagenet king and queen of England, the European power-couple, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and how, together — and apart — they forged the beginning of a bloody royal dynasty. Finally, we will explore how the Plantagenets forged their own empire in Europe, one that would plant England at the centre of European politics as a super-power.

Lecture 2 – From Majesty to Magna Carta
With the death of Henry II, the heir to the throne was Richard I, otherwise known as Richard the Lionheart. However, Richard spent almost no time in England and left soon after his coronation to go on crusade. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine was appointed regent in his place. The first part of this lecture will focus on Eleanor’s leadership of England and how she defended the throne in her son’s absence, particularly against her scheming youngest son, John. King John is famously known as the worst king in history and we’ll unpack why and how his rule resulted in Magna Carta. We’ll detail King John’s final months and the loss of his treasure in the Wash, and examine the impact of the Magna Carta into the modern day. Where John was terrible King there was hope for his son, Henry. In the final part of this lecture, we will cover how Henry III shaped England as a pious and passive king known as, rex Christianissimus — a ‘most Christian King’. How successful was his model of kingship? We will cover areas of his reign that contributed to our understanding of monarchy, taking his shaping of Westminster Abbey as a case study of Plantagenet rulership.

Lecture 3- The Edwards: The Hammer of the Scots and the Lament of Edward II
Edward I and Edward II – How were they such different rulers? This lecture will explore the character of Edward I and how his status as a ‘warrior king’ made him so effective as a ruler, in a manner that could not be more different to his father. We will examine in particular the end of his reign and the collapse into war with Scotland, a war that pervaded into the reign of his son, Edward II and how that impacted England. Following the death of Edward I, we will look at Edward II and what made his reign disastrous? From Bannockburn to Boroughbridge, this part of this lecture will look at the political war that unravelled with Edward II, what was his relationship with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser and how did his Queen Isabella finally overthrew his regime. We will also ask, it is really true that he was murdered with a poker?

Lecture 4- The Last Plantagenets: Chivalry and Revolution
This lecture will cover the second part of the fourteenth century from the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War in 1337. What was it that made Edward III attempt to conquer France and what did warfare look like in this period? This part of the lecture will cover how Edward III used propaganda to make war on France a national incentive by reinvigorating Englishness through the cult of Arthur and Saint George. We will question what chivalry meant in relation to war and cover scandals around the king, with the alleged rape of the countess of Salisbury as a case study, asking questions about chivalry, courtly love and consent in the fourteenth century. The second part of the lecture will focus on Richard II and the revolutionary moments during his reign such as the Peasants’ Revolt, the emergence and growing cult around the religious reformer John Wycliffe and how Richard II, in making the same mistakes as his ancestor Edward II, was finally deposed.

Your tutor: Helen Carr is an award nominated historian specialising in English medieval history. Described by Dan Jones as ‘one of the most exciting voices in narrative history’, Helen has built her career in making medieval history exciting and accessible whilst rooted in scholarship.

Helen is the author of the Sunday Times best-selling, The Red Prince: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, one of the Sunday Times best books of 2021 and shortlisted for the prestigious Elizabeth Longford Prize. She is also the co-author and editor of What is History, Now? with Suzannah Lipscomb. Helen’s next book, a new history of the fourteenth century and the last Plantagenets, will be published by Hutchinson Heinemann (Penguin Random House) in 2025.

Helen writes a monthly column for BBC History Magazine and contributes to the TLS, The Spectator, Unherd and The New Statesman. She has been a royal historian for CNN, NBC, Sky and CityTV and is an elected fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

If you have any queries about the course, please do not contact the tutors direct. Instead, contact where we will be happy to advise.