1902 Encyclopedia > Henry II, King of England

Henry II, King of England
(1133-1189)




HENRY II. (1133-1189), king of England, son of Geoffrey, count of Anjou, and Matilda, daughter of Henry I., was born at Le Mans, March 5, 1133. He was left in France during the first part of his mother's struggle with Stephen, but was sent over to England in 1141. There he remained four years, in the charge of his uncle, Robert of Gloucester. In 1147 he took a more active part in the war, but was not successful. He now sought the aid of David, king of Scotland, and was knighted by him (1149), but nothing came of the alliance with that prince. On his return to Normandy (1151), Louis VII. conferred the duchy upon him, and later in the year he became, by his father's death, count of Anjou, In 1152 he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, and added Poitou and Guienne to his dominions. He again went to England in 1153, and the great position he had won on the' Continent turned the scale in his favour. After a short struggle Stephen consented to negotiate. By the treaty of Winchester (November 7, 1153) it was settled, among other things, that Stephen should reign un-disturbed during the rest of his life, and that Henry should succeed him. A year later Stephen died, and Henry took quiet possession of the throne. He was crowned on December 19, 1154, and at once issued a charter of liberties, in which he confirmed the charter of Henry I.

His reign falls into three main periods. During the first Henry was occupied in restoring and maintaining order. The second is that of the quarrel with Becket. The third is for the most part a period of rebellion and trouble, the consequences of that quarrel. Henry's first business w~as to fulfil the promises made in the treaty of Winchester, and to undo the work of his predecessor. Several of Stephen's earldoms were abolished, new sheriffs were appointed, the adulterine castles destroyed, the royal domains recovered. In this task the king met with little serious opposition, and his presence generally sufficed to ensure success. In 1156 Henry was able to go to France, where his brother Geoffrey was causing trouble by his claims on Anjou. He had to subdue him by force of arms, after which he allowed him to be chosen count of Nantes. He then exacted homage from his Continental vassals, and himself did homage to Louis VII, At Easter 1157 he returned to England, to complete the restoration of order there. Those of the great barons who had not yet given up their castles had now to do so, and the king of Scotland surrendered the three northern counties. An unsuccessful expedition to Wales followed. In 1158, on his brother Geoffrey's death, Henry secured his inheritance. At the same time he betrothed his second son Henry (the eldest, William, being dead) to Margaret, daughter of Louis. Next year he made an attack upon Toulouse, which he claimed in right of his wife, but after some successes retired, owing to the opposition of the French king. In a peace made soon after, he retained Cahors, but gave up his claim to the rest of the county. Hostilities between him and Louis were, however, more or less continuous during this time, in spite of the efforts of Alexander III. In January 1163 Henry returned to England after five years' absence, and his quarrel with Becket immediately began.

Becket had been consecrated archbishop of Canterbury in June 1162. He at once resigned his temporal offices, and demanded the restitution of lands alienated from his see. At a council at Woodstock he refused to pay the tax of two shillings per hide demanded by the king. A little later the struggle was removed to still more dangerous ground. Becket refused his consent to the king's proposal for settling the dispute between the temporal and spiritual courts. Up(*L this Henry asked him and the bishops whether they would abide by the ancient customs of the realm. So vague a question met with an evasive answer. The bishops would only consent "saving their order." However, at the council of Clarendon (January 1164) the disputed customs were drawn up in the form of sixteen constitutions, and after considerable hesitation accepted by Becket. He nevertheless got absolution from the pope, who refused to confirm the constitutions. Henry now attacked Becket with a series of charges connected with his chancellor-ship, the result of which the latter evaded by leaving England. Henry took possession of the see, and expelled Becket's friends and relations. The greater part of the next five years he spent abroad. During this time he was occupied in maintaining order among his unruly vassals, checking the intrigues of Louis, and negotiating with the pope. He also obtained possession of Brittany for his son Geoffrey, and betrothed Bichard to Alice, daughter of Louis. With the object of securing the succession he had his son Henry crowned by the archbishop of York at Westminster (June 1170). The young king's wife was not crowned with him. Louis, taking this as an insult, invaded Normandy, and only made peace with Henry on condition that he would restore Becket to favour. A meeting between the king and the archbishop ended in a compro-mise, and the latter returned to England. His first step was to suspend the archbishop of York and other bishops who had taken part in the coronation of the young king, and Henry, on hearing of this, uttered the angry words that led to Becket's murder. The pope was, however, in too critical a position to quarrel seriously with Henry. Nego-tiations between them ended in a meeting with the legates at Avranches (1172), in which Henry received absolution, and promised to abolish all the bad customs introduced during his reign. He had employed the interval in making an expedition to Ireland, and appropriating the conquests made by Strongbow a few years before.





The ecclesiastical quarrel seemed to have died away, but its consequences were felt in the great rebellion of 1173. A confederacy was organized by the French king, the count of Flanders, the king of Scotland, and Henry's sons, with the object of placing the young Henry on his father's throne. The first campaign was indecisive, but on the whole favour-able to the king. In view of a general attack which was to be made next year, Henry crossed over to England and did penance at Becket's tomb. Fortunately his justiciar, De Lucy, captured the Scotch king at Alnwick, and the rebellion in England was speedily put clown. William the Lion was forced to buy his release by doing homage to Henry; the other confederates made peace; and Henry was left stronger than ever. He at once proceeded to secure his position by further legislative enactments, and hence-forward he had no trouble in England. But he was involved in constant difficulties with his sons and with the French king, owing to the mutual jealousies of the former and the intrigues of the latter, to which Henry's partiality for his youngest son John and his refusal to allow the marriage of Richard with Alice gave rise. A war between the brothers in 1183 was brought to an end by the death of the young Henry in the same year. The feud broke out again in 1184, and continued at intervals, in spite of the death of Geoffrey in 1186, to the end of the reign. At length Henry's apparent intention to name John as his successor forced Richard to ally himself with Philip II., and in the war that followed Henry was beaten at all points. He was forced to make a disgraceful peace, the terms of which, together with the discovery that John was among his enemies, broke his heart. He died at Chinon, July 6, 1189, and was buried at Fontevraucl.

Henry's legislative activity, which was great and constant, deserves special notice. His aim was the consolidation of royal power by means of a centralized system of justice and administration. The Constitutions of Clarendon were an essential part of this scheme, designed to bring the clergy, as well as other classes of the nation, under the rule of law, and to prevent an ecclesiastical " imperium in imperio." Other enactments, as the Assize of Clarendon (1166), were intended to perfect the judicial system and to supersede the baronial by the royal courts. The system of recognition by jury took the place of trial by battle. The grand jury-was organized for the presentment of criminals for trial. The jury system was further employed for the inquiry into the conduct of the sheriffs (1170), and for the assessment of the Saladin tithe (1188). The circuits of the justices itinerant were, after repeated experiments, brought to some-thing like perfection, and a high court of justice formed out of the Curia Regis, which was the origin of the Court of King's Bench. By the commutation of feudal service for scutage, and by the Assize of Arms (1181), which revived the national militia, Henry made himself independent of the baronage, and formed that alliance between king and people which was the surest basis of his power. Whatever may be said against his private character, the wisdom and steadiness with which he pursued these aims, and the permanence of the mark that he left upon the constitution, secure him the title of a great king.

Original authorities.—William of Newbury, Historia Rerum Anglicarum; Ralph de Dieeto, Imagines Historiarum; Gervase of Canterbury, Chronica, &c.; Chronicle of Benedict of Peterborough (so called); Roger of Hoveden, Annates Anglixc; Jordan Fantosme, Histoire de la Guerre, &c.; Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hiber-nioe, Itinerarium Cambrioe, &c.; Ralph Glanvill, Tractatus de Legibus, &c; Walter Map, De Nugis Gurialium, &c.; Letters and Lives of Becket (ed. Giles); RobertduMont, Chronica; Dialogusde Scaccario; the Pipe-Rolls.

Modem Authorities.—Stubbs, Prefaces to Benedict of Peter- borough and Roger of Hoveden; Robertson's Life of Becket; Eyton's Itinerary of Henry II. (G. W. P.)







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