England in the Late Middle Ages

England in the Late Middle Ages concerns the history of England during the Late Middle Ages, from the thirteenth century, the end of the Angevins, and the accession of Henry III – considered by many to mark the start of the Plantagenet dynasty – until the accession to the throne of the Tudor dynasty in 1485, which is often taken as the most convenient marker for the end of the Middle Ages and the start of the English Renaissance and early modern Britain.

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers & William Caxton presenting the first printed book in English to Edward IV

At the accession of Henry III only a remnant of English holdings remained in Gascony, for which English kings had to pay homage to the French, and the barons were in revolt. Royal authority was restored by his son who inherited the throne in 1272 as Edward I. He reorganized his possessions, and gained control of Wales and most of Scotland. His son Edward II was defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and lost control of Scotland. He was eventually deposed in a coup and from 1330 his son Edward III took control of the kingdom. Disputes over the status of Gascony led Edward III to lay claim to the French throne, resulting in the Hundred Years' War, in which the English enjoyed success, before a French resurgence during the reign of Edward III's grandson Richard II.

The fourteenth century saw the Great Famine and the Black Death, catastrophic events that killed around half of England's population, throwing the economy into chaos and undermining the old political order. With a shortage of farm labour, much of England's arable land was converted to pasture, mainly for sheep. Social unrest followed in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

Richard was deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke in 1399, who as Henry IV founded the House of Lancaster and reopened the war with France. His son Henry V won a decisive victory at Agincourt in 1415, reconquered Normandy and ensured that his infant son Henry VI would inherit both English and French crowns after his unexpected death in 1421. However, the French enjoyed another resurgence and by 1453 the English had lost almost all their French holdings. Henry VI proved a weak king and was eventually deposed in the Wars of the Roses, with Edward IV taking the throne as the first ruling member of the House of York. After his death and the taking of the throne by his brother as Richard III, an invasion led by Henry Tudor and his victory in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field marked the end of the Plantagenet dynasty.

English government went through periods of reform and decay, with the Parliament of England emerging as an important part of the administration. Women had an important economic role, and noblewomen exercised power on their estates in their husbands' absence. The English began to see themselves as superior to their neighbours in the British Isles and regional identities continued to be significant. New reformed monastic orders and preaching orders reached England from the twelfth century, pilgrimage became highly popular and Lollardy emerged as a major heresy from the later fourteenth century. The Little Ice Age had a significant impact on agriculture and living conditions. Economic growth began to falter at the end of the thirteenth century, owing to a combination of overpopulation, land shortages and depleted soils. Technology and science was driven in part by the Greek and Islamic thinking that reached England from the twelfth century. In warfare, mercenaries were increasingly employed and adequate supplies of ready cash became essential for the success of campaigns. By the time of Edward III, armies were smaller, but the troops were better equipped and uniformed. Medieval England produced art in the form of paintings, carvings, books, fabrics and many functional but beautiful objects. Literature was produced in Latin and French. From the reign of Richard II there was an upsurge in the use of Middle English in poetry. Music and singing were important and were used in religious ceremonies, court occasions and to accompany theatrical works. During the twelfth century the style of Norman architecture became more ornate, with pointed arches derived from France, termed Early English Gothic.