The history of England before the Stuarts is traced to one house we call the Plantagenets. This is a name derived from its male ancestor, Geoffery of Anjou, who went by the name Geoffery Plantagenet. Geoffery married Matilde, empress of England, Normady, and all the holdings belonging to the family of William the Conqueror. After the reigns of William, William Rufus, and Matilde’s father Henry I, the Norman lords found themselves in a bit of a family feud between Matilde and her cousin Stephen. Matilde won out, and her son, Henry II became the first Plantagenet king to sit on the throne of England.
Dan Jones writes a loose, breezy history of this enigmatic house that gave us Richard the Lionheart, tales of Robin Hood, a bastardized Welsh legend about a king named Arthur, the Magna Carta, and, upon its collapse in 1399, the War of the Roses. What’s interesting is that, until the time of Edward I (aka Longshanks of Braveheart fame), the kings of England spoke French. England was considered the backwater of their holdings. Henry II, Richard, and King John considered Normandy to be the heart of their empire. And yet the Hundred Years War arose when the Plantagenets disputed the French throne with the Capets. Which means Mick Jagger got it wrong. They did not fight for decades for the gods they made. They fought over who ruled France.
Ironically, the Plantagenets began speaking English in this time, appropriating the Welsh legend of Arthur to bolster their authority. The family proved to be as contentious and violent as the house that spawned it. Several successive generations found sons rebelling against fathers. By 1399, the insane King Richard II found himself dethroned (and eventually murdered) in favor of his cousin Henry, the Duke of Lancaster. Upon Henry’s accession, England became a prize to be fought over by the houses of Lancaster and York, ending with the Lancaster branch of Tudor in the War of the Roses.
So now you know where half of Shakespeare’s source material came from.