, Research Paper
Henry II was born in 1133, the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet , Count of Anjou and Matilda, daughter of Henry I . He grew up in Anjou, but visited England as early as 1142 to defend his mother’s claim to the disputed throne of Stephen ; educated by famous scholars, he had a true love of reading and intellectual discussion. Geoffrey of Anjou died in September 1151, leaving Normandy and Anjou to Henry. Henry’s continental possessions more than doubled when he married Eleanor of Aquitane, ex-wife of King Louis VII of France. After a succession agreement between Stephen and Matilda in 1153, he was crowned Henry II in October 1154. Eleanor bore Henry five sons and three daughters between 1153 and 1167; the relationship between Henry, Eleanor and their sons Henry, Richard and John proved to be tumultuous and treacherous. The empire ruled by Henry and his sons was considerably larger than the lone English island – the French Angevin positions extended from Normandy southward to the Pyrennes, covering the counties of Brittany, Maine, Poitou, Touraine and Gascony, as well as Anjou, Aquitane and Normandy. Henry was extremely energetic and traveled quickly and extensively within the borders of his kingdom.
Henry revitalized the English Exchequer, issuing receipts for tax payments and keeping written accounts on rolled parchment. He replaced incompetent sheriffs, expanding the authority of royal courts, which brought more funds into his coffers. A body of common law emerged to replace feudal and county courts, which varied from place to place. Jury trials were initiated to end the old Germanic customary trials by ordeal or battle. Henry’s systematic approach to law provided a common basis for development of royal institutions throughout the entire realm.
The process of strengthening the royal courts, however, yielded an unexpected controversy. Church courts, instituted by William the Conqueror , became a safe haven for criminals of varying degree and ability, for one in fifty of the English population qualified as clerics. Henry wished to transfer such cases to the royal courts, as the only punishment open to the Church courts was demotion of the cleric. Thomas Beckett, Henry’s close friend and chancellor since 1155, was named Archbishop of Canterbury in June 1162. In an attempt to discredit claims that he was too closely tied to the king, he vehemently opposed the weakening of Church courts. Henry drove Beckett into exile from 1164-1170. When the Archbishop returned to England, he greatly angered Henry over his opposition to the coronation of Prince Henry. Exasperated, Henry publicly announced a half-hearted desire to be rid off Beckett – four ambitious knights took the king at his word and murdered Beckett in his own cathedral on December 29, 1170. Henry is perhaps best remembered for Beckett’s murder, but in fact, the realm was better off without the contentious Archbishop. Henry endured a rather limited storm of protest over the incident, but the real threat to his power came from within his family.
Henry’s sons – Henry the Young King, Richard, Geoffrey and John – were never satisfied with any of their father’s plans for dividing his lands and titles upon his death. The sons, at the encouragement (and sometimes the treatment) of their mother, rebelled against the king several times. Prince Henry, the only man ever to be crowned while his father still lived, wanted more than a royal title. Thus from 1193 to the end of his reign Henry was plagued by his rebellious sons, who always found a willing partner in Louis VII of France. The death of Henry the Young King in 1183 and Geoffrey in 1186, gave no respite from his children’s rebellion – Richard, with the assistance of Louis VII, attacked and defeated Henry, forcing him to accept a humiliating peace on July 4, 1189.
Henry II died two days later, on July 6, 1189. A few quotes from historic manuscripts shed a unique light on Henry, Eleanor and their sons.
From Sir Winston Churchill Kt, 1675 : “Henry II Plantagenet, the very first of that name and race, and the very greatest King that England ever knew, but withal the most unfortunate … his death being imputed to those only to whom himself had given life, his ungracious sons…”
From Sir Richard Baker, A Chronicle of the Kings of England : Concerning endowments of mind, he was of a spirit in the highest degree generous … His custom was to be always in action; for which cause, if he had no real wars, he would have feigned … To his children he was both indulgent and hard; for out of indulgence he caused his son henry to be crowned King in his own time; and out of hardness he caused his younger sons to rebel against him … He married Eleanor, daughter of William Duke of Guienne, late wife of Lewis the Seventh of France. Some say King Lewis carried her into the Holy Land, where she carried herself not very holy, but led a licentious life; and, which is the worst kind of licentiousness, in carnal familiarity with a Turk.”
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