English Kings exploit the Matter of Britain
During his long reign King Henry III the son of King John encouraged the mytho-dynamics of “The Matter of Britain” in his partially successful attempt to restore the majesty and authority of the English monarchy after the disastrous wars between the sons of Henry II and the ignominious reign of King John. Edward III who also reigned for fifty years, made extensive use of Arthurian myths of chivalry and loyalty to curb the rebellious nobles urged on by his mother and her lover Mortimer who had dethroned and murdered his unfortunate father, Edward II. He made Windsor Castle a centre of pageants and tournaments modelled on the Matter of Britain and established the Order of the Garter as the ultimate honour for a select few. The new king installed the “original” Round Table at Winchester which probably included himself as King Arthur surrounded by seats for the leading nobles, none of whom were to be pre-eminent and would take the rules of chivalry as their guide. Edward decisively defeated the French at Crecy and Poitiers. For obvious reasons Edward did not make use of Chretien’s subversion of the myth especially after his mother’s seduction by Mortimer.
Edward was moving away from dependence on the Church whose headquarters were in Rome and began the process of making the English monarch into a magical being, rather than modelling himself on the Holy Roman Emperor who was the Political Servant of God’s Servant on earth. The original Greek Orthodox Emperor and Patriarchal church leaders had been “written out of history” by the Papal propagandists in the “False Donation of Constantine”.
Edward’s son, Richard II went even further, in fact too far, and created a magnificent web of aesthetic magic around the English Monarchy but he was an unpopular and incompetent ruler and neglected to guard his back against the noble families he had alienated. Bolingbroke his cousin, a Lancastrian, usurped the throne to become Henry IV and had to spend much of his long reign defending his crown against many rivals.
His son, Henry V, began the reconquest of the lands in Europe lost to the French earlier during the wars between the sons of both Henry II and Louis VII instigated by their mother. Through his decisive defeat of the French at Agincourt he was able to make good his claim to the French throne and became the heir apparent. Unfortunately his early death meant the end of his dream of uniting England and France. His son came to the throne as a baby as Henry VI of England and France, but when he grew up was often incapable of rational thought and was obsessed with building the school at Eton. He became almost comatose for many years then suddenly recovered. During this time the squabbles between the rival Plantagenet houses of Lancaster and York led to outbreaks of civil war known as the Wars of the Roses. These brought great misery and weakened the credibility of the landed aristocracy.
The Yorkist Edward IV had become king during Henry VI’s period of incompetence, but had to return the crown on the latter’s recovery. On Henry’s death the war between the rivals broke out again. The Yorkists won at the battle of Tewkesbury and Edward IV became king again. After a few years he died and was briefly succeeded by his young son as Edward V. His brother Richard was appointed Regent but put his twelve year old nephew into the Tower of London before he could be officially crowned. He died there mysteriously after being legally disinherited. His uncle was crowned as Richard III but ruled only a few months before being defeated and killed in battle.