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Henry II Plantagenet King of England

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Plantagenet Monarchs
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King Henry II Plantagenet son of Geoffrey and Matilda

Born the eldest son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, the count of Anjou and Empress Matilda in 1133. Henry II was the start of the short-lived Angevin Empire. From the early age of just 14, Henry was actively involved in his mother’s campaign to wrest control of the Anglo-Norman realm from King Stephen. His role was central in the establishment of the Angevin empire that he inherited from his father.

  • 1151 Geoffrey Plantagenet died and Henry II(not yet King) took over the rule of Anjou and Normandy.
  • 1152 he married Eleanor of Aquitaine and began to rule her duchy on her behalf. Rapidly becoming one of the richest prices in France and more powerful than Eleanor’s previous husband Louis VII.
  • 1153 Under pressure from Eleanor Stephen reluctantly acknowledged Henry as his heir after much negotiation which had also involved, Henry de Blois (grandson of William I) in these machinations.
  • 1154 On the death of Stephen, Henry became King of England as well, uniting the Angevin and English empires.
  • Henry II’s main focus was to expand his territory at the expense of his neighbours and he proceeded quite ruthlessly with pursuing these ambitions for the best part of 20 years, largely unopposed except for his conflict with his appointed Bishop of Cantebury Thomas Becket;
    • Took Northumbria from Malcom IV
    • Launched attacks on the Welsh and the Bretons
  • 1159 Invasion of Toulose had disappointing outcomes but it’s count was persuaded to pay homage to Henry.
  • 1171 he invaded Ireland and became largely acknowledged as Lord of Ireland by the local leaders and monarchs.
  • 1173-1174 The most serious setback was when his wife and sons rebelled against him. Hi s wife Eleanor and sons (Henry the Younger, Richard le Coeur de Lion, and John.)  From this event Henry is on the defensive holding on a best he could and refocusing his efforts on the home-front and internal affairs. This was the 1stgreat family quarrel when Henry the Younger, aggrieved at his lack of power rebelled He was joined by his brothers Richard and Geoffrey, and supported by several powerful English barons as well as the kings of France and Scotland. Queen Eleanor escaped from house arrest and tried to join him, but was intercepted en route.

The scale and complications of Henry’s acquisitive style  led Henry to start to set-up English monarchical administration using a clerical infrastructure. He needed for routine matters to be conducted without his direct day-to-day participation including matters of justice and finance. This led to the creation of the Common Law administered by a centralised judicial system.

  • Across all our history the creation of the Common Law is cited often perhaps of one of the greatest gifts and inventions that England has contributed to the world. The contemporary view of Henry and his Common Law was not as complimentary as that of more modern historians.
  • 1183 and 1188-89 there were 4 further rebellions by his own sons.
  • 1189 the Saladin Tithe was imposed in support of the 3rd crusade, a heavy and punitive tax.

By the end of his reign Henry II was an unpopular ruler, who whilst setting-up the legal system, had appointed corrupt officials and judges, oppressed the Church, represented by his persecution of Thomas Beckett and failure to support his distant relatives in Jerusalem other than by imposing a punitive tax and not going on the Crusade and finally continuing to fail to manage his rebelling and would be usurping sons.

The inevitable break came in 1189, when Richard and Philip ambushed Henry after a conference at La Ferté.

  • Unwell and sick unto death, Henry fled towards Anjou
  • The final blow was struck when he discovered that the rebels had been joined by his favoured youngest son, John.
  • He lapsed into a delirium during a peace conference at Ballan near Tours and died on 6th July 1189, aged 56.
  • Henry II was succeeded by his son Richard I with whom he had become reconciled and whilst the country was largely relieved by the death of Henry, there was a much bigger story just beginning for the Plantagenet line…

For more information about Henry II’s ancestors check here at this link

Series Navigation<< Richard II King 1377-1399Richard I Coeur de Lion Plantagenet King >>
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