The House of Plantagenet (// plan-TAJ-ə-nət) was a royal dynasty that came to prominence in the High Middle Ages and lasted until the end of the Late Middle Ages. Within that period, some historians identify four distinct Royal Houses: Angevins, Plantagenet, Lancaster and York.
The Plantagenet name for the dynasty dates from the 15th century and comes from a 12th-century nickname of Geoffrey. A common retrospective view is that Geoffrey V of Anjou founded the dynasty through his marriage to Matilda, the daughter of Henry I of England. From the accession of their son, Henry II, via the Treaty of Winchester that ended decades of civil war, a long line of 14 Plantagenet kings ruled England, until Richard III's death in 1485 (at the Battle of Bosworth). Henry II accumulated a vast and complex feudal holding with his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, which extended from the Pyrenees to Ireland and the border of Scotland, that was later called the Angevin Empire.
The Plantagenets transformed England from a realm ruled from abroad, into one of a deeply engaged and mature kingdom, although not necessarily always intentionally. Winston Churchill, the twentieth-century British prime minister, articulated this in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples; "[w]hen the long tally is added, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns". From Magna Carta onward, the role of kingship transformed under the Plantagenet—driven by weakness to make compromises that constrained their power in return for financial and military support. The king changed from being the most powerful man in the country with the prerogative of judgement, feudal tribute and warfare into a polity where the king's duties to his realm, in addition to the realm's duties to the king, were defined, underpinned by a sophisticated justice system. Success for the Plantagenets required martial prowess, and many were renowned warrior leaders. Conflict with the French, Scots, Welsh and Irish was to help shape a distinct national identity and re-established the use of English. They also provided England with significant buildings such as Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle and the Welsh Castles.
No royal dynasty was as successful in passing the crown to a succeeding generation as the Plantagenets from 1189 to 1377. In 1399 the splintering of the dynasty into competing cadet branches, the House of York and House of Lancaster, combined with economic and social tumult led to internecine strife later named the Wars of the Roses. Conclusive defeat in and the burden of taxes supporting the Hundred Years' War had devastated the English economy and broke confidence in the status quo. Several popular revolts demanded greater rights and freedoms for the general population. Destitute soldiery returned from France had turned to crime to survive, while feudalism declined into bastard feudalism, where the nobility acquired private armies used to pursue personal feuds and defy the Plantagenet government. These events culminated in 1485 with the death of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Many historians consider this as marking the end of Plantagenet power and the Middle Ages in England as the succeeding Tudors were able to resolve these problems by centralising royal power. This enabled the stability necessary for an English Renaissance and the development of Early modern Britain.