Henry II ‘Curtmantle’ “King of England” PLANTAGENET (1133 – 1189)

47 Generations of Family History

Generation 27

King of England
Duke of Normandy
Duke of Aquitaine
Lord of Ireland

Facts

Name: Henry II, King of England

Birth: 5 March 1133

Place of Birth: Le Mans, France

Father: Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou
Mother: Empress Matilda

Spouse(s): Eleanor of Aquitaine (m. 1152)

Issue:
Geoffrey, Archbishop of York
William IX, Count of Poitiers
Henry the Young King
Matilda, Duchess of Saxony
Richard I, King of England
Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany
Eleanor, Queen of Castile
Joan, Queen of Sicily
John, King of England
Philip of England

Concubines:
#1: Alys ‘Alix’ “Countess of Blois” CAPET

Illegitimate Issue:
Child of England / Child of England / Child of England / Daughter d’Anjou

#2: Nest ‘of Wales’, ‘Nesta Bloet’

Illegitimate Issue:
Morgan “Provost of Beverley” “Bishop-Elect of Durham” of BEVERLEY

#3: Ikenai ‘a common prostitute’

#4: Alice de PORHOET

Illegitimate Issue:
Child of England / Matilda Abbess of Barking / Richard / Hugh of Wells, Bishop of Lincoln

#5: Ida “Countess of Norfolk” de TOENI

Illegitimate Issue:
Geoffrey “Archbishop of York” PLANTAGENET / William “3rd Earl of Salisbury” LONGESPÉE / Peter LONGESPÉE

#6: Rosamund ‘the Fair’ de CLIFFORD

#7: Rohese de CLARE

Coronation: 19 December 1154, Westminster Abbey

Reign: 19 December 1154 to 6 July 1189

Titles:
King of England
Count of Anjou
Count of Maine
Duke of Normandy
Duke of Aquitaine
Count of Nantes
Lord of Ireland

Died: 6 July 1189 (aged 56)

Place of Death: Chinon Castle, France

Heraldry: Arms of Plantagenet: Gules, three lions passant guardant or Plantagenet Coat of Arms

Plantagenet Coat of Arms

Plantagenet Coat of Arms Source: Wikipedia

My Family Connection: 26th great-grandfather

Biography

The great grandson of William the Conqueror, Henry II was the first of the great Plantagenet* dynasty which ruled England from 1154 to 1485.

* It is worth nothing that the family name “Plantagenet” was only truly adopted by 17th century historians. The name was used to describe the male line from Henry’s father Geoffrey who was nicknamed “Plantegenest”. The term probably derived from the Latin for the common broom (“Plante Genest”) of which Geoffrey liked to wear a sprig in his helmet.

Described as one of England’s greatest kings [1], the reign of Henry II was notable for the vast collection of lands he came to rule, his contribution to the development of English law and some significant crises which perhaps overshadow his achievements but give rise to a wonderfully rich life story and chapter in British history.

Establishment of empire

The Victorians took great interest in the reign of Henry II. The immense collection of estates he gathered, which included the British Isles, Ireland and vast parts of France, were considered an early forerunner to the 19th-century British empire.

Whether Henry’s lands can be considered an “empire” has been the subject of debate. Certainly this was no imperial realm. The kingdom was more the result of a happy dynastic coincidence than a deliberate colonisation. But perhaps it was a prototype of English aspirations to conquer the world.

Henry was born in Le Mans in France on 5 March 1133. He was the eldest child of the Empress Matilda and her second husband, Geoffrey the Fair, Count of Anjou.

Henry’s mother was the daughter of Henry I, King of England and Duke of Normandy, from where the family’s claim to the English throne came.

Stephen of Blois, nephew of Henry I, had been declared king upon his uncle’s death, a situation which gave rise to a prolonged period of civil war. Once peace broke out, Stephen conveniently died having begrudgingly declared the younger Henry as his heir.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Henry had already married Eleanor, the beautiful Duchess of Aquitaine, when he arrived in England to claim the throne. Eleanor had recently divorced from Louis VII of France. The marriage made Henry the future ruler of more territory in France than the king of France himself and was an ingenious match-up.

Eleanor was 11 years older than Henry and it was rumoured the pair had been lovers prior to her divorce. It was also suggested she had been romantically involved with Henry’s father [2]. If Eleanor had lived today, she would surely have been the subject of countless movies and magazine covers.

Both were fiery characters and their union produced 10 children. However, they quickly tired of each other and the king’s adulterous nature intensified the rift. It is said that when Henry tried to introduce one of his illegitimate children into the royal nursery (the product of a dalliance with a prostitute), Eleanor was furious.

Henry and the Law

Henry was an energetic and resourceful king. Once crowned, he set about reforming the English judicial system with gusto. This was also a zeal borne by practicality. The monarchy needed to restore control over the post-civil war landscape and with continued threats to its security, the crown sought new ways to raise income through standardised systems of fines and penalties.

Often credited as the “father of English common law”, to be entirely accurate the laws which developed from Henry’s reign were a mash of continental feudal systems – “Anglo-Norman” perhaps [3]. Henry was, after all, a French prince.

Henry and the Church

Henry was a fiery man and a king who took pride in his ability to instil fear [1]. This would become one of the most frequently noted features of those from the Plantagenet lineage – that and the red hair.

A seven-year dispute with the church which culminated in the murder of Thomas Becket is perhaps the episode by which Henry is best remembered. Bemoaning the meddlesome archbishop of Canterbury, out loud and in public, some of the king’s followers set out to arrest Becket only for the king’s former friend and ally to end up slain upon the high altar of Canterbury Cathedral.

As disastrous PR episodes go, this one ranks at the very peak of bad press in the history of the British monarchy. Perhaps in a bid to manage the fallout, Henry took to donning sackcloth and ashes and starved himself for three days upon hearing the news [4].

Sometimes in the course of history, the tragic demise of a public figure can transform them into a venerated figure in death. And so his murder proved for the otherwise unremarkable, if irritating Becket. No sooner had his brains spilt upon the cathedral’s floor than he was immediately hailed as a martyr, canonised in 1173, and his shrine became famous throughout Christendom.

Henry and his revolting sons

Capitalising on the hostile propaganda which raged throughout Europe in the fallout from the Becket affair, Eleanor and her three eldest sons plotted against Henry and joined forces with the kings of France and Scotland and many of the feisty barons of England.

Despite their formidable resource, the “Great Revolt” didn’t really amount to much and within a year, the king’s wife and children were imprisoned and forced to beg for forgiveness. While the sons were slowly pardoned, Eleanor never was, and she remained a prisoner until after Henry had died.

Perhaps in a bid to spite his wife, Henry increasingly flaunted his fling with Rosamund Clifford, the daughter of a Welsh lord. The king went so far as to publicly recognise his relationship with the “Rose of the World” a year after the rebellion was quashed. The beautiful Rosamund would become the subject of legend and folk story.

After reasserting his control over both the country and the Church, Henry was able to force through further reforms and his achievements, while sometimes subtle, were notable. Perhaps his biggest failing was messing around with the inheritances of his sons who continued to rebel against him.

Henry died in July 1189, still warring with his son Richard who would become the Lionheart. The reign and dynasty of Henry II, first of the Plantagenets, had an enormous impact on how European history would play out for the next several centuries. For that reason alone, Henry II is one of England’s greatest monarchs.


Sources:

[1] Vincent, N. (2004). The Legacy of Henry Plantagenet | History Today. [online] Historytoday.com. Available at: https://www.historytoday.com/nicholas-vincent/legacy-henry-plantagenet[Accessed 20 Aug. 2018].

[2] Warren, W. L. (2000). Henry II (Yale ed.). New Haven, U.S.: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-08474-0.

[3] van Caenegem R. C. (2002). European Law in the Past and the Future: Unity and Diversity Over Two Millennia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521006484.

[4] Johnson, Ben. Thomas Becket, Murder in the Cathedral | Historic UK. [online]. Available at: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Thomas-Becket/ [Accessed 21 Aug. 2018]

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