PLANTAGENET, a surname conveniently, but unhistorically, applied to the royal line descended from the union of Geoffrey, count of Anjou, with the empress Maud, who are now styled by historians the Angevin house. It was, historically, only a personal nickname of Geoffrey, as was " Beauclerc " of his father-in-law (Henry I.) and " Curtmantel " of his son (Henry II.), and was derived from his wearing in his cap a sprig of the broom (genet) plant, "which in early summer makes the open country of Anjou and Maine a blaze of living gold." When the fashion of personal nicknames passed away, the members of the royal house were usually named from their birthplace, as Thomas " of Brotherton," Thomas "of Woodstock," Edmund " of Woodstock," Edmund " of Langley," Lionel " of Antwerp," and so forth. But Edward I. and his younger brother, the founder of the house of Lancaster, had still nicknames respectively, as " Longshanks " and " Crouchback." In the later days of the dynasty the surname of Beaufort was adopted by the legitimated issue of John of Gaunt by Katherine Swynford, but that of Plantagenet was bestowed on Arthur, natural son of Edward IV., who was created Viscount L'Isle. It appears, however, to have been adopted as a surname by Richard duke of York (fatherof Edward IV.) sometwelve years before hisdeath.
At the death of Geoffrey's grandson, Richard I., the succession was in doubt, John's elder brother Geoffrey having left, by the heiress of Brittany, a son and a daughter. But at that epoch the law of inheritance was in such a case unsettled, and their right was not clear. Arthur's fate is well known, and Eleanor, the daughter, was kept captive till her death in 1241. John's younger son Richard, king of the Romans, left a son Edmund, earl of Cornwall, with whom his line ended; his elder son Henry III. left two sons, of whom the younger was created earl of Lancaster and was grandfather of Henry, earl of Lancaster, whose heiress married John of Gaunt (i.e. Ghent). Edward I., the elder son, was grandfather of Edward III., the marriages of whose numerous children greatly affected English history. Edward his heir, the " Black Prince," left an only son, who succeeded his grandfather as Richard II., on whose death (1399) this line became extinct. Lionel, the next surviving brother of the Black Prince, left an only child Philippa, who married the earl of March, in whose heirs was the right to the succession. But John of Gaunt, the next brother, who had married the heiress of Lancaster and had been created duke of Lancaster in consequence, refounded the Lancastrian line, which obtained the throne in the person of his only son by her, Henry IV., on the deposition of Richard II., to the exclusion of the infant earl of March. His next brother, Edmund of Langley,who was created duke of York (1385), founded the Yorkist line, and was father, by a daughter and co-heiress of Pedro the Cruel, king of Castile, of two sons, Edward, second duke, who was slain at Agincourt, and Richard, earl of Cambridge, who by marrying the granddaughter and eventual heiress of Lionel's daughter Philippa, brought the right to the succession into the house of York.
Between their son and Henry VI. (grandson of Henry IV.) and Edward and Henry, sons and heirs of these rivals, was fought out the dynastic struggle known as " the Wars of the Roses," which proved fatal to several members of both houses. Richard, the son of Richard and Anne Mortimer, became third duke of York (1425), and was made protector of the realm 1454-1455, being finally declared heir to the throne on the triumph of his side in 1460; but he was slain at the battle of Wakefield (Dec. 31, 1460). Of his four sons, Edward, the eldest, became king as Edward IV. within three months of his death; Edmund, the second, was slain with his father at Wakefield; George, the third, duke of Clarence, was put to death in 1478; and Richard, the fourth, duke of Gloucester, became king as Richard III. in 1483 and was slain on Bosworth Field in 1485. King Edward IV. 's two surviving sons, Edward and Richard (the princes in the Tower), had been mysteriously put to death in 1483, so that the only male descendant of the house of York, and indeed of the whole Plantagenet race, was the duke of Clarence's son Edward, earl of Warwick (grandson of " the Kingmaker"), who was imprisoned by Richard III. (his father's younger brother) in 1483, and finally executed on Tower Hill, under Henry VII., in 1499.
Of the house of Lancaster, the only son of Henry VI. was slain after the battle of Tewkesbury (1471), while Edmund (Beaufort) duke of Somerset, a grandson of John of Gaunt, was slain at the first battle of St Albans (1455), and all his three sons were slain or beheaded. On the death of Henry VI. and his son in 1471, so complete was the extinction of their line that its representation vested in the heirs of the two daughters of John of Gaunt by the heiress of Lancaster, viz. Philippa queen of Portugal and Elizabeth countess of Huntingdon. But by his second wife, the heiress of Castile, John had left an only daughter, wife of Henry III., king of Castile and Leon, who also left descendants, and from his third but ambiguous union sprang the house of Beaufort, whose doubtful claims to his heirship passed with his great-granddaughter Margaret, by her husband Edmund Tudor, to their son Henry VII. Although Henry was careful to claim the crown in his own right (1485), he soon fortified that claim by marrying Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward IV. and rightful heiress to the throne. The marriage of their eldest daughter Margaret to James IV. of Scotland in 1503 resulted in the accession of James VI. of Scotland, a century later, as next heir to the throne (see STEWART).
Although no other dynasty has reigned so long over England since the Norman Conquest, the whole legitimate male issue of Count Geoffrey Plantagenet is clearly proved to have become extinct in 1499. Of its illegitimate descendants the house of Cornwall was founded by Richard, a natural son of Richard, king of the Romans and earl of Cornwall, who was ancestor of Lord Cornewall of Fanhope, temp. Henry VI., of the Cornewalls, " barons of Burford," and other families; but the principal house is that which was founded, at a later date, by Sir Charles Somerset, natural son of Henry (Beaufort) duke of Somerset (beheaded 1464), who was created earl of Worcester in 1513, and whose descendant Henry, marquess and earl of Worcester, obtained the dukedom of Beaufort in 1682. From him descend the ducal house, who bear the ancient arms of France and England, quarterly, within a bordure. (J. H. R.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)