The reign of Henry II

bullet In 1150, Henry became Duke of Normandy and in 1151, Duke of Anjou. In 1152 he married Eleanor of Aquitaine. This marriage brought with it extensive landholdings in central and southern France. [See map].

Eleanor of Aquitaine
(c. 1122-1204)

Eleanor had married Louis VII of France but the marriage had been annulled in 1151 after the birth of two daughters. Louis was unhappy with Eleanor's marriage to Henry, for Louis had hoped that Aquitaine would pass to his daughters, not into the control of Henry; by acquiring control of Eleanor's lands Henry II became a greater landholder in France than Louis himself.


Eleanor bore Henry five sons and three daughters. She also supported her sons when they rebelled against Henry in 1173.
Henry imprisoned Eleanor and began a relationship with Rosamond Clifford, "the Fair Rosamund." She died in 1177 - a fourteenth century chronicle (implausibly) accused Eleanor of arranging her poisoning.

J.W.Waterhouse's highly romanticized Victorian representation of the "Fair Rosamund"


bullet Henry was fortunate in the death soon after his accession of many of the earls who had supported Stephen. Stephen's younger son, William Count of Boulogne, died childless in 1159, and in 1153 the Scottish throne passed to a boy of twelve, Malcolm IV (1153-65). There was no dynastic rival nor any powerful leader of potential opposition to Henry.

The restoration of royal authority



Henry began his reign by crossing to France and subduing his rebellious brother, Geoffrey. Geoffrey died in 1158 and Henry's control of his French possessions remained firm.


In 1157, Henry forced Malcolm IV of Scotland to surrender control of Westmorland and Cumberland.

bullet Henry II ordered the destruction of many of the castles erected during Stephen's reign.

Scarborough Castle, the stronghold of the powerful Northern nobleman William of Aumale was captured by Henry in 1155, and rebuilt

bullet In 1158 and 1165, Henry mounted partially successful campaigns in Wales; he obliged the Welsh princes to do him homage, but was not able to destroy their effective independence.






With his hold on his inherited lands firm, Henry began to expand his territory. In 1155, he had been granted a license by Pope Hadrian/ Adrian IV (1154-1159) - the only English Pope in history.
[Hadrian's name before his elevation was Nicholas Breakspear. He was educated at the monastery of St. Albans, but then went to France and became Abbot of the Monastery of St. Rufus in Avignon. Nicholas got on badly with the monks, but impressed Pope Eugene III (1145-1153), who appointed him to high-profile diplomatic missions].


The Papal Bull Laudabiliter

"… You [Henry II] have indicated to us, dearest son in Christ that you desire to enter into the island of Ireland for the purpose of subjecting its people to the laws and of rooting out from it the weeds of vice, and that your are willing to pay a yearly tribute to blessed Peter of one penny from every house, and to preserve the rights of the churches of that land whole and unimpaired. We, therefore, seconding with due favor your pious and praiseworthy desire, and granting our generous assent to your petition, are well pleased to agree that, for the extension of the boundaries of the Church, for the restraint of vice, increase of the Christian religion, you may enter that island and perform there the things that have regard to the honour of God and the salvation of that land…".


bullet Henry II did not immediately act on his papal license to invade. In fact the first Normans - a small force under Robert FitzStephen and Maurice Prendergast - who landed in 1169 came at the invitation of Dermot (Diarmait) Mac Murchada, the ousted ruler of Leinster.
bullet In August 1170 they were joined by Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, known as "Strongbow." Richard had been deprived of the earldom of Pembroke by Henry II in 1154, because of his support for Stephen. Richard's forces promptly took the town of Wexford, and Richard married Dermot Mac Murchada's daughter, Aife. With her came a dowry of succession to the lordship of Leinster.

Enniscorthy Castle,
built in County Wexford c. 1205

bullet Henry II had no desire to see Strongbow establish an independent state in Ireland. He demanded that Richard accept his overlordship, and in October 1171 landed at Waterford with about 4,000 men.
bullet Henry obtained not only Strongbow's compliance but the submission of the main Irish secular and religious leaders. Henry left Rory O'Connor as High-King of Ireland and thereafter attempted to control the country through deputies.

Thomas Becket (1163-1170)


Henry's relationship with the Church was not always good. The greatest dispute was with Thomas Becket.


Becket (born c. 1118) was the son of a French merchant. Before his elevation to the Archbishopric, he had been Henry's friend, advisor and Chancellor (1155). As Chancellor he was an efficient ambassador, administrator and military logistician, but spent lavishly.


When Henry made Becket Archbishop in 1162, his loyal friend re-invented himself as an austere, clericalist papalist. He began to oppose Henry almost immediately: in particular, on the issue that clerics should be exempt from punishment by lay courts. Even Pope Alexander III (1159-81) felt that Becket's stand was extreme and intransigent.
In 1164, Henry demanded the acceptance of the Constitutions of Clarendon reestablishing control over churchmen that Henry I had enjoyed before Stephen's reign undermined royal authority.

Alexander III

Becket fled England and took refuge with the French king, Louis VII (1137-80).
Alexander III did his best to reach some accommodation with Henry II as he was already involved in a bitter dispute with Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

bullet Becket remained in exile from 1164 to 1170. After he returned to England, Becket showed himself no more willing to compromise than before, and Henry lost his temper entirely.

Legend has it that Henry on Christmas Day 1170, asked rhetorically "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest" and that four knights immediately set off for Canterbury and killed Becket in the Cathedral on 29th December. (In fact no contemporary source records Henry's precise words.)

bullet The death of Becket shocked everyone; his murderers were excommunicated, and Becket himself rapidly regarded as a martyr.

"Zelo justitiae fervidus, utrum autem plene secundum scientiam novit Deus"
[Becket burnt with zeal for justice, but whether sensibly, God only knows.]

(William of Newburgh)


bullet Alexander III canonized Becket (21 February 1173) but pardoned Henry, who did public penance for the murder in 1174.


Henry "the Young king"

bullet In 1170, Henry had had his eldest son crowned joint king. (The fact that he had the Archbishop of York perform this ceremony had added another element to the dispute with Becket, who insisted that only Archbishops of Canterbury could crown the king).
bullet Although supposedly co-ruler, Henry had little power and was angered by Henry II's decision to give his younger son John some castles in Anjou. In 1173, Henry tried to capitalize on the popular outrage at Becket's death by rebelling against his father.

Eleanor of Aquitaine encouraged Richard and Geoffrey to join the rebellion but was herself soon captured and imprisoned. Many barons in both England and Normandy joined the revolt, and they received support from Louis of France and William the Lion of Scotland (1143-1214).


William "the Lion" was so named for his flag - a red lion rampant - this became the Scottish Royal Standard, and included was alongside the arms of England and Ireland in the present British Royal Standard


bullet Henry went to France, while his justiciar, Richard of Lucy dealt with the English rebels. Louis VII's half-hearted support was soon withdrawn, and Henry's sons capitulated in September 1174.

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland'
(It was rebuilt and restored in the 14th and 16th  Centuries).

William the Lion laid siege to Alnwick castle but was captured and taken as a prisoner to Henry in France. In the Treaty of Falaise (1174), William recognized Henry II's overlordship and agreed to the garrisoning of several Scottish castles with English troops.

bullet Henry , the young King, died in 1183, but Richard survived and rebelled again and again. He and his father were at war when Henry died (1189).


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