Queen Matilda of England
The rebellion of Stephen of Blois
Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine
When Stephen died, in 1154, Matilda’s son Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine took over England (and Normandy, and Aquitaine which belonged to Eleanor, so altogether it was about half of modern France as well).
With the help of his mother Matilda, Henry was a strong king. While Matilda ran Normandy, Henry organized England, as well as fighting against the French, and later against Eleanor, who led a rebellion against Henry to try to get control of Aquitaine for herself.
In Henry’s arguments with the Church about whether the Church or the king was to be more powerful, Matilda tried to keep the peace. But after Matilda died in 1167, when she was 65 years old, the fighting got worse. In 1170, Henry’s men murdered Thomas a Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, in his own church.
Richard the Lionhearted
Henry and Eleanor had four sons: Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John. Henry, the oldest, died (of dysentery) before his father, and so when Henry died Richard became king of England. One of his first acts was to encourage violence against Jewish citizens in England. Richard went on the Third Crusade, which was not very successful.
While he was away, Richard left his youngest brother John in charge of England (because Geoffrey had also died, possibly in a tournament). John had to collect a lot of tax money from the English people to pay for the Crusade.
And then the Holy Roman Emperor captured Richard the Lionhearted in Germany! He held Richard hostage. So John and Eleanor had to raise a huge amount of ransom money with more taxes, largely from taxing monasteries. That’s how John became very unpopular, at least with the land-owners and church officials who were paying the taxes.
Robin Hood stories
In the Robin Hood stories, King John is the bad king who oppresses the poor and chases Robin Hood, and King Richard is the good king who comes back from his travels and pardons Robin Hood. Robin Hood probably never really existed. And the taxes really fell not on the poor but on richer people who had money. But the kings were real.
Learn by doing: hold a tournament
More about King John and the Magna Carta