Until 1204 the Plantagenets ruled about a third of modern France, which meant that Henry II and Richard I were effectively absentees from their kingdom – so they tended not to interfere with baronial business. The costs of defending a Plantagenet empire reaching from Scotland to the Pyrenees meant that English government was set up to extract money from the realm as efficiently as possible. It also meant exploiting what we call the king’s feudal prerogatives.

These were payments that the king claimed the right to demand from his barons when they inherited estates and titles, or when he wanted to raise an army, and so on. Richard I’s involvement in the Third Crusade, after which he was taken prisoner and held for ransom, cost perhaps £200,000: roughly the equivalent of 10 years’ national income.

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He had a legalistic mind and grasp of the machinery of government that amounted almost to genius, but he was also a second-rate and unlucky military leader and an eminently dislikable man.

In 1203-04, John lost the Plantagenet lands in Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Touraine.

(In the UK today the equivalent cost might be £6.5tn: Richard’s crusade would be like England paying for the entire recent war in Afghanistan twice in three years.) And that was only one expense.

There were equally massive wars in France, rebellions to put down and the ordinary cost of government.

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