Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Henry II King of England

Henry II King of England Curtmantle King of England was born about March 25, 1133 in Le Mans and died July 6, 1189 in Chinon. His 5th marriage was May 18, 1152 to in Bordeaux, France to Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine who was born 1122 in Bordeaux, France and died April 1, 1204 in Fonrevraud. She is the daughter of Duke William X of Aquitaine.

As the first of the Plantagenet or Angevin kings of England, Henry came to the throne bringing large inherited lands from his parents and wife, which propelled England to a position of greater dominance and power in Europe than it would have at any other time in the Middle Ages. Henry's empire, stretching from Scotland, to northern Spain, included his wife's lands of Aquitaine in south-west France, his father's dominions of Anjou, Maine and Touraine and his mother's inheritance of Normandy. Coming to the throne following a long and immensely disruptive civil war in England between King Stephen and Henry's mother Matilda, Henry was fortunate to find the English barons exhausted by the fighting and prepared to submit to some measure of control under his unifying rule. Very much a major international figure on the European stage, Henry was a strong and able ruler, as well as being an immensely energetic and active leader. Said by contemporaries to never be seated except to eat or when on horseback, he had an inordinate love of sport and hunting, but remained a successful soldier, and cunning, if sometimes ruthlessly unscrupulous politician. Ever a man of contrasts, Henry combined genuinely strong religious feelings, with immoral behavior and occasionally arbitrary justice, and mixed apparently great humor and affability with occasional outbursts of furious rage. Though dominant over his European contemporaries, he was unable to control his own family, alienating first his wife through his unfaithfulness with numerous mistresses, and then his sons, by his willingness to use them to further his own political ends, and clear favoritism of the youngest, John. In time this would lead to them siding with his external enemies against him.

On his accession to the throne, he quickly installed his close friend and constant companion Thomas Becket as his chancellor, and began curbing the excesses of the English barons during the recent civil war, notably by tearing down or confiscating over 70 castles and strongholds that had been illegally built to protect the individual interests of various nobles during the years of unrest. He also sought to weaken the church, which had grown in power considerably during Stephen's reign, and in particular to end the growth in power of the church courts. These had been gradually insisting on trying ever greater numbers of cases which were clearly civil, and not the purely religious crimes they had been set up to originally decide on. Since they were not directly answerable to the king, they were seen as a major challenge to the authority of a monarch who had spent much of his reign reforming the legal system. In addition, the church courts insisted that they alone could try priests and bishops, and notoriously gave out lenient punishments for even the most severe crimes, something that was clearly unacceptable to the king.

After the death of Archbishop Theobald, one of the founders of much of the new canon law, in 1161, Henry realized he had his best chance to counter the strength of the church by appointing his chancellor and right-hand man Thomas Becket as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. An ambitious and obstinate man, Becket had served Henry well as both diplomat, soldier and administrator since the start of the reign, and was clearly meant to bring the prize of the church's submission to royal authority. Becket, however, was a man of no half-measures, and just as he had thrown himself into the life of the palace with his fine clothes and love of hunting, he now became the intensely austere and religious cleric, and immediately supported the other bishops in their defense of church rights. After rejecting the king's attempts to finally crush the power of the church courts at the Council of Clarendon in 1164, Becket felt compelled to flee Henry's anger and go into voluntary exile for 6 years. During his absence Henry made changes to the bishops in England, bringing in men he felt would do his bidding, and in late 1170 felt strong enough to agree a truce with Becket and accept his old friend back into the country. Becket's lack of tact however in excommunicating all the newly appointed bishops as soon as he returned to England, sent the king into one of his frequent rages when he heard the news at somewhat drunken Christmas banquet at his military base in France. Henry's famous words, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?", were probably only said in the heat of the moment, but were taken up by four knights in the camp, and on 29th of December Becket was cut to pieces by them, in front of his own altar in the sanctuary of Canterbury Cathedral. The act outraged contemporaries, a cult quickly sprang up around Becket after miracles were reported at his tomb, the Archbishop was quickly made a saint, and Henry, fearing public disquiet, and presumably out of genuine remorse, allowed himself to be publicly scoured by the monks of Canterbury as penance. \par \tab Becket's martyrdom was to overshadow Henry's reign, but he faced trouble too from his sons who, egged on by his estranged wife Eleanor, rebelled against him in 1173, and again at the very end of his reign in 1188. Indeed Henry himself apparently believed that this was punishment on him for his part in Becket's murder, but it was largely due to his use of his children as political pawns, attempting through marriages to gain control of an ever larger kingdom. Meanwhile, Henry's own diplomacy and generalship expanded his control, as victories over the Irish, Scots and Welsh increased further the area over which he could claim to be overlord. The empire he had created was however disjointed and unwieldy, and much of his reign was spent countering the intrigues and threats of his Neighbor Louis VII of France. Under Louis' successor, Philip II, the most able French king of the Middle Ages, Henry's sons would gradually lose most of his domains on the European continent, despite their best efforts, and much English expense.

At home in England, Henry revitalized the legal system, introduced the system of circuit judges, and increased royal control over the local sheriffs and officials. The tax system was overhauled, as was the organization of the militia, and the royal administrative machine was expanded to a level not previously seen, while the king maintained a tight grip over the power of the barons.

Henry's final years were however a sad and miserable end for so influential a king. His heir and eldest surviving son Richard rebelled against him, worried by the king's clear favoritism of his youngest son John, and aligned himself with the French king. Suffering from illness, and learning of his beloved John's additional treachery against him, Henry eventually died of a fever, effectively out of power and fighting a losing war at the French castle of Chinon. Burial Fontevraud Abbey