Thursday, November 3, 2016


You may need to read this one a little at a time.  More from "Kings and Queens of England and Scotland".

HENRY II   Known as Fitz-Empress and nicknamed Curtmantel.

Succeeded as "King of the English, Duke of the Normans and Aquaitanians, and Count of the Angevins; 25th October, 1154 (having held Normandy since 1149) at the age of 21.  Ultimately undisputed overlord of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Second cousin of his predecessor Stephen, and great-grandson of William the Conqueror.

Married in 1152 Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine, then aged 30, immediately after her divorce from Louis VII, King of France, on the ground of consanquinity.

Children:  William, Henry, Matilda, RICHARD, Geoffrey, Philip, Eleanor, John, JOHN.

Mistresses:  His most serious attachment was to "Fair Rosamund', Rosamund Clifford. whose father had changed his surname from the formidable Norman style of Fitzponce.  She dies in 1176,

Bastards include William Earl of Salisbury, and Geoffrey Archbishop of York.

Died at Chinon 6th July, 1189, aged 56 having reigned 24 years.

Buried at Fontevrault.

Profile:  An impressively strong-looking man, strident in his speech; a short-haired red-head with grey eyes darting from a blotchy face, sporting a trimmed beard - all his predecessors since Edward the Confessor seem to have been clean-shaven, but beards were worn by English kings for the next two centuries.  Henry was a man who moved with immense speed, vaulting over tables instead of going round them.  His nickname "curtmanel" refers to the Angevin fashion of the short cloak which Henry introduced, supplanting the dusty ground-hugging cloaks which were then worn at the English Court.  The flick of the short mantle as Henry cleared a hurdle or swung round a corridor/corner is a visual indication of his brisk impact.

Henry is the first in a line of 14 hereditarily related kings, who did not refer to themselves as Plantagenets until the 300th anniversary of Henry's succession, when the strain was almost extinct.  Henry saw himself as an Angevin, son of the Count of Anjou whose emblem was the plante genet. the yellow flowering broom worn in his helmet-crest.  Anjou, which is best identified as the Loire Valley with all its magnificent castle, started as a small buffer-county (like Devon) between the Celts of Brittany and the Romanized Gauls.  A short time before Henry's birth at Le Mans, Anjou had incorporated Maine, which occupied a similar position with relation to Normandy as Anjou held against Brittany.  This had previously been an area of dispute between the Dukes of Normandy and the Kings of France (who then only directly ruled from Paris an inland territory round the Seine, with some claim to supervision over the foreign policy of Flanders, Champagne and Burgundy).  When Louis VII of France obtained his disastrously-sanctioned divorce (annulment) against Eleanor, the last Duchess of Aquitaine, and Eleanor promptly married Henry, their combined possessions in France alone exceeded by far the dominions of the titular King of France; and when Henry took over England he was king of countries stretching from the Cheviots to the Pyrenees and buttressed by the Atlantic Ocean for 1000 miles.  It was a domain that could accurately be called the Angevin Empire, and which was of more consequence at that time than any other state in Europe, including the Holy Roman (German) Empire.

On the death of Stephen, Henry was in Normandy, and according to the convention of the time he did not become king until his coronation in Westminster Abbey on 19th December 1154.  He immediately applied himself to the painstaking organisation of his new territory.  He had first to demonstrate that the king was truly sovereign, and that anarchy was ended, with a determined show of strength against the maverick barons, and with the demolition of a thousand unlicensed castles which had been built during the past troubles to intimidate the countryside.  Having established internal security, he promoted domestic and foreign trade.  Productivity, as measured by the national income meticulously recorded in a period of stable currency, doubled during the course of his reign.

To secure a tranquil business climate and its corollary of civil freedom, he revolutionised the administration of the law, presiding often over his own courts and sending his justices out on assize.  In effect he was in many cases offering his subjects the alternative of seeking "the King's Justice", which was manifestly fair, rather than the loaded local justice of many existing courts.  A knowledgeable lawyer himself, Henry built up the body of English Common Law (i.e., a system of common, impartial principles which carried more weight than local customs and superstitions which were still observed in the shire and manorial courts), and at the same time he began the development of the English jury system.

The fact that Henry, a foreigner from a southern civilisation, could shape an acceptable and understandable corpus of law peculiar to English ideas of liberty, and totally distinct from the Roman, institutional, law being developed within Europe. is one indication of his administrative genius.  Administration was his forte.  He developed a civil service which advanced the business economy of the nation, and introduced an efficient, if painful system of taxation, unashamedly using his travelling justices to collect his dues.  A part of the taxation was directed to defence purposes, the feudal landowners paying scutage towards a paid, ad hoc force of mercenaries (not a standing army), rather than binding themselves to attend with men-at-arms during states of emergency, and depart, according to their rights, before the emergency was over.

Henry's major failure was his attempt to curb the power of the ecclesiastical courts.  This was exemplified in his struggle with Thomas Becket.  Becket had been a wild playboy crony of the king until he became Archbishop of Canterbury, and then, in somewhat ostentatious conversion, his egotism developed with a fixation on the maintenance of dubious ecclesiastical privilege.  His unnecessary death proportionately clouded Henry's achievement and did little for God's justice.

Henry II had a tragic private life.  His cultured and vivacious queen, Eleanor, whom he had wooed with romantic rather than dynastic fervour and who gave him nine children after a late second marriage, degenerated into a foolish political intriguer, setting her sons against their father for apparently idle reasons.  A rebellion in 1173 by the eldest surviving son, Henry, was crushed, and Eleanor was placed under house arrest in Salisbury for 15 years.  When young Henry died, his brothers Richard and Geoffrey conspired with the King of France against their father.  The youngest brother, John, the spoiled favourite of the family, used his eye for the main chance to support his father until a month before his death, then joined Richard and King Philip Augustus of France, and this unnatural alliance defeated Henry in Battle.  King Henry died deserted, exhausted and broken by grief.  He was buried in his native countryside at Fontrevault Abbey on the Loire.

I feel Henry II did a lot of good for England and it is sad that his sons, obviously egged on by their mother, tried to destroy him and, obviously. they finally did.


  1. As usual, a most interesting post about English history and the kings who made it. Thank you!

    1. I am so pleased you are continuing to enjoy our jog through English history.

  2. Hari OM
    Well, he certainly set the country on a course of cohesion previously lacking... interesting he wasn't buried here though. Another informative memory jogger Mimisie! YAM xx

    1. I enjoyed learning about this royal and I guess with him actually being a foreigner it would be normal for him to be buried outside England.
      I am glad you are enjoying these as much as I am. xx

  3. "immediately after her divorce from Louis VII, King of France, on the ground of consanquinity."

    Ok, so I had to look that word up. I am glad it was unfamiliar to me! They had to divorce because they found out they were related... ugh.

    1. It's good sometimes to come across a word with which you are unfamiliar with. I'd not heard it before but guessed what it meant. Perhaps they were first cousins or even closer as back then I'm not sure everyone knew to whom they were related.