Because most of the family of Henry II are incredibly interesting, colourful, argumentative and prone to rebel or imprison each other AND encourage other folk to act likewise it is necessary to mention dates a lot more than usual otherwise everyone will get confused.
Henry was born 5th March 1133 son of the Geoffrey and Matilda (see previous Chapter 21). In his early years he learnt the family businesses of conquering and claiming thrones. In the latter he was instructed by his mother who as we will have read had quite a bit of experience in the matter, so much so that even though she had fought King Stephen (the Affable- see previous Chapter 21), she convinced Stephen, Henry should be king because his grandfather (Henry’s not Stephen’s- do keep up) had been. Stephen agreed, and Henry being young was so excited and naturally impatient on the matter kept coming over to England to see if Stephen (The Not So Affable) had died. To while away the time and ensure his credentials were impeccable in 1151 he married Eleanor who had once been queen of France (she had divorced Louis on the ground of he being Louis; he on the grounds of she being Eleanor), but more importantly she was ‘of Aquitaine’, which as anyone in those days knew meant more than being a queen of France
As noted earlier Stephen (The Affable) had died of Matildas upon the 25th October 1154, thus upon the 19th December 1154 Henry became king.
Such was his vigour, and drive that he didn’t care he was but an II and set to organising England and also planned to invent the United Kingdom; he being king of course. This went as follows:
At the time Wales was almost organised into the South being ruled by Rhys Ap Gruffyd and the north by Owain ap Gruffudd. Rhys was an easy-going sort who only massacred those who were a real threat. Henry took a liking to him, told him to pay no attention to the army Henry had brought along (kings have to do these things don’t they), but due to all the documents signed by various kings, princes etc it seemed he Henry was obliged to rule Wales. Rhys who had taken a liking to Henry more than any of the welsh nobility, agreed and it was decided he could be Prince of The Welsh. Owain ap Gruffudd disagreed. He ruled Gwneydd of the Northern bit and came from a llong (sic- welsh joke) and famous line who had gone to a lot of trouble to ensure he could be Prince of Wales, which sounded a lot more important than Prince of the Welsh, as the former inferred entitlement to the land too. Thus Henry with the help of Owain’s brother Cadwaladr (who had been denied his gruntles by Owain) was obliged to invade North Wales in 1157. Owain defeated Henry by cleverly fighting well and Henry judging that half a Wales was better than none retreated, safe in knowledge that Owain would have trouble with relatives. In actual fact he died of Archbishops in 1170, but was so popular the local clergy said that his excommunication didn’t count as it wasn’t written in Welsh.
This topic was partially covered in the previous Chapter. However it should be noted that the situation was somewhat confusing for Henry as some Irish had asked him to invade to protect them from more Anglo-Normans who had invaded earlier. Henry consulted with some Irish and The Pope (see previous Chapter) and thus invaded officially in 1171 (having sorted out some welsh rebels in Pembroke who didn’t want Rhys, he being from South-East Wales- it’s a welsh thing).All seemed to go well, what with the magnificently named Rory O’Connor being installed as High King while agreeing Henry was even higher, but anglo-normans kept on invading. Henry was very distracted by other things and made his son John Lord of Ireland to sort it out. He didn’t.
He didn’t invade Scotland as David I had mostly died and Malcolm IV ruled. Scots administration was very poor at the time as he was recorded as being Malcolm the Maiden. He wanted so hard to be well thought of by Henry that he followed him all over the place even to France Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Normandy, Aquitaine etc, Eventually to get him out of his hair Henry knighted him, but then Malcolm died young of rebellions in 1165 it thus it was a bit of a waste of time. After Malcolm came William (The Lion) who wanted Northumbria officially even though the scots had kept it unofficially for some time. William was also known as the rough and was very bold. To ensure his reputation he helped organise the Great Revolt of 1173-74 claiming Scotland was now independent. As far as Henry’s Court was concerned, in the first place the scots had been doing what they pleased all along BUT not wishing to appear pedantic and since all of Henry’s family were seeing William’s side of things went along with the business. Although very gallant William was captured and was obliged to see Henry’s side of things. He thus had to restrict himself to being rough and bold in Scotland and having many ‘natural’ children, just to ensure there would be many claimants, false or otherwise to the scots throne It also kept the scots so cross that the everyone else tended not to invade them, much.
Henry II – The Administrator
Naturally Henry also spent time involved in the affairs of Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Normandy, Aquitaine etc, and also being rude to the king of France, whoever it was. However he found time to attend to matters in his realm, as follows:
Henry was very interested in the Law. As with other Norman kings he thought it was less fuss and a bit cheaper to make someone guilty or even better illegal than raising an army against them. By the time he took over the throne things were in a bit of a mess, lots of people who had had land stolen during the Stephen and Matilda’s struggle wanted the land back and both the church and the civil courts were quite overwhelmed; only when lawyers assembled did you hear the cry ‘Merry England’; eventually Henry was obliged to rely on a military man General Eyre to take charge. This move enabled Henry to prove that all criminals were committing crimes against him and he should have their property
Church and Religion.
It wasn’t so much that Henry objected to the Church; but he did like it to keep to its own business. This was ironically problematic since the Church was also insisting that kings should stick to their own business. Thus both sides got into fearful arguments over whose business was whose and why. There were rare instances of agreement, such as the persecution of hapless minorities, the burning of heretics and the invasion of Ireland (the Irish strongly objecting to being associated with the either of the other two groups).
Henry’s main problem was with Thomas who was a Beckett. He had been Henry’s chancellor and BFF, so when Theobald of Bec The Annoying (by Henry’s standards) Archbishop of Canterbury died in 1161, Henry thought making Thomas the next Archbishop would be a safe move. Unfortunately, Thomas took the job very seriously and so didn’t agree with Henry who claimed that clergy could be arrested by him or his officials if they did something wrong. Thomas said only the church could arrest them. Henry thought this a benefice too far and said so. At this stage, Thomas responded by excommunicating people. Henry responded by trying to do things legally, but then the two got into an argument over whether to use the Church or Civil courts. Henry was so angry with Thomas that he wouldn’t let him do the usual traditional thing of fleeing to France. Thomas managed to and excommunicated some more people on the way. While in France he wrote letters and excommunicated so many people that Henry was obliged to reconcile with Thomas. (Henry was having family problems and needed all the help he could get.) Reconciliation was achieved in 1170, though not before Thomas had excommunicated three more people who happened to be on Henry’s extended staff. Their apparent crime being to crown Henry’s son as a Young King without asking Beckett. Henry, with some justification it must be said, was so angry that he roared out something in Norman-French fortunately for future generations of teachers this has passed into history as the more acceptable ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?’. This was overheard by four knights. Now knights of that era were not taught to think, the skills of charging into the opposition of stabbing, hacking, gouging and pummelling being considered more applicable to their calling. Thus seeing things from their rather limited viewpoint these knights rode henceforth, tried to arrest Thomas but since he was being difficult did for them the next best easiest and slew(ed) him.
This naturally caused fearful fuss. The Pope made Thomas a Saint and Henry was obliged to wear cheap shirts and be hit by members of the Church without being allowed to hit back. Monks hid Beckett’s body, so the tourist trade in pilgrimage flourished as people went in all directions. The four knights were also obliged to wear cheap shirts, and be lectured by the Pope, but after that were allowed to go to the so-called Holy Land where they could slaughter as many Jews, Muslims and Christians who weren’t doing it right as they liked. So they got off quite well.
The Great Revolt of 1173-74
At the outset it must be said that as revolts were going on all the time it could only be because Henry was so incredibly ‘Henry’ that any revolt against him must have had to be ‘Great’. Anyway the origins were thus.
Henry decided his son Henry (The Young) should be made officially heir to the throne, as in those days being the oldest son didn’t mean buttons to being a claimant when old man died. Henry (the Young) being a typically surly ungrateful young sprog was soon moaning that he didn’t get enough king-ish things to do. Henry (The II) told him to wait, or if he wanted something to do with his time go and sort out a revolt, incursion, dispute (they were all the same thing in those days) in Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Normandy, Aquitaine etc or be rude to whoever was the King of France. Henry (The Young- Ungrateful Little Jerk) appeared to do this, but actually went to plot with his mother (Eleanor- of Aquitaine) and his brothers Richard (The Loud) and Geoffrey (The not talked about very much); all of whom were fed-up with Henry (The II) being henry-ish and saying everything and everyone was his. Also involved were William I of Scotland who being as loud as Richard saw in kindred spirit, a bunch of nobles from Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Normandy, Aquitaine etc, and the King of France Louis VII who in addition to feeling that folk should pay attention to him was father-in-law to Henry (The Young- Mummy’s Boy) and wanted to take Henry (The II and more interesting) down a peg or II.
Although armies invaded from Scotland Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Normandy, Aquitaine etc, Henry (The II and easily more capable) defeated everyone, captured the important ones and (naturally) slew the common folk who rebelled. Henry (The Young King-like he deserved it) said he was sorry and annoyingly everyone was in a hurry to say what a nice lad he was and it was his advisors who were to blame. He was thus pardoned and appeared to settle down to a life of tournaments and adultery. In 1183 without any advisors he tried to rebel again, went about it the wrong way by pillaging monasteries and died of campaigning, his mother’s attempts to get him made a saint caused much ironic merriment in the Church.
Henry II- a conclusion
By his efforts Henry II had made not only his family, but other folk very memorable; but Richard (the Big Mouth) was not content with just being a memorable son and rose in rebellion in 1188 by saying if he couldn’t be king of England then he preferred to be ruled by the new king of France who was a Phillip. Henry was shocked by this and although went on campaigning against Richard; it was just not the same and Henry died of campaigning and families on 6 July 1189.
Much to literary historians’ puzzlement Shakespeare never wrote a play about him.
In the following chapters we shall exam why members of his family were so memorable.