Henry Plantagenet II (1132-1189)

Relation to me: 23rd Great-Grandfather

Henry Plantagenet was also known as Henry Curtmantle, later when his son is introduced, to decipher from the two, I will refer to our subject as Curtmantle and his son as Henry. Our subject Henry had ruled as Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Nantes, King of England and Lord of Ireland. He had also controlled Wales, Scotland and Brittany.

As the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou and Matilda, the daughter of King Henry I of England, Henry became actively involved in his mother’s efforts to claim the throne of England by the age of fourteen years old. The throne at this time was occupied by Stephen of Blois, but Henry was made the Duke of Normandy at the age of seventeen.

In 1151, Henry had inherited Anjou, and shortly after would marry Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose marriage to Louis VII of France had recently been annulled. A couple of years later, Stephen had agreed to a peace treaty after Henry’s military expedition to England. He would inherit the kingdom of England upon Stephen’s death a year later in 1154.

Henry was an energetic and, at times a ruthless ruler, that was driven by his desire to restore the lands and privileges of his royal grandfather, Henry I. During the early years of his reign, Henry restored the royal administration in England. He had re-established hegemony over Wales and gained full control over his lands in Anjou, Maine and Touraine. Henry’s desire to reform the relationship with the Church led to a conflict with his former friend, Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This controversy would last for most of the 1160s and would result in Becket’s murder in 1170.

He would also face another conflict soon after with Louis VII. The two rulers would fight what would be termed a “cold war” over several decades. Henry would expand his empire, often at Louis VII’s expense, taking control of Brittany and pushing east into Central France and then South into Toulouse. Despite numerous peace conferences and treaties, no lasting agreement would ever be reached.

By 1172, Henry had controlled England, large parts of Wales, the Eastern half of Ireland and the Western half of France. This area would later come to be known as the Angevin Empire. Henry and his wife Eleanor would have eight children together. As they had grown, tensions over their future inheritance of their father’s empire began to emerge. This was encouraged by Louis and his son King Philip II.

In 1173, Henry’s heir apparent, “Young Henry”, had rebelled in a protest. The younger was joined by his brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, and their mother, Eleanor. France, Scotland, Flanders and Boulogne would also ally themselves with the rebels. The Great Revolt was only defeated Curtmantle’s vigorous military action and talented local commanders. Many of the “new men” would be appointed for their loyalty and administrative skills.

Ten years later, young Henry and his brother Geoffrey would again revolt, which would result in young Henry’s death. The Norman invasion of Ireland would provide lands for Henry’s youngest son, John. However, Curtmantle would struggle to find ways to satisfy all of his sons’ desires for land and immediate power. Philip would successfully play on Richard’s fears of Curtmantle making John king.

A final rebellion would break out in 1189. Decisively defeated by Philip and Richard, and suffering from a bleeding ulcer, Curtmantle retreated to Chinon in Anjou, where he would die. Henry’s empire had quickly collapsed during the reign of his youngest son, John. Many of the changes that Henry had introduced during his long rule, however, had long-term consequences. His legal changes are generally considered to have laid a basis for English Common Law, while his intervention in Brittany, Wales and Scotland had shaped the development of their societies and governmental systems.

Historical interpretations of Henry’s reign have changed considerably over time. During the 18th century, scholars had argued that Henry was a driving force in the creation of the genuinely English monarchy and ultimately a unified Britain. During the Victorian expansion of the British Empire, historians were keenly interested in the formation of Henry’s own empire, but had also expressed concern over his private life and the treatment of Becket. As for the 20th century, historians have combined the British and French historical accounts of Henry, challenging earlier Anglo-centric interpretations of his reign.

Henry’s Early Life


Geoffrey Plantagenet


Henry was born in Le Mans, France on the 5th of March 1133 as the eldest child of Empress Matilda and her second husband, Geoffrey ‘The Fair’, Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. The French county of Anjou had been formed in the tenth century and Angevin rulers had attempted for several centuries to extend their influence and power across the country of France through careful marriages and political alliances. In theory, the county had answered to the French king, but the royal power over Anjou had weakened during the eleventh century and the county had become largely autonomous.

Empress Matilda, his mother, had first married the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. She


Matilda Beauclerc


was the eldest daughter of Henry I, King of England and the Duke of Normandy. She was born into a powerful ruling class of Normans, who had traditionally owned extensive estates in both England and Normandy. After her father’s death in 1135, the Empress had hoped to claim the English throne, instead her cousin Stephen of Blois was crowned as king and also recognized as the Duke of Normandy. This had resulted in a civil war between their rival supporters.

Geoffrey would take advantage of the confusion and attacked the Duchy of Normandy, but played no direct role in the English conflict. Leaving this to Matilda and her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, the war, termed The Anarchy by Victorian historians, would drag on and degenerated into a stalemate.

Henry had probably spent some of his earliest years in his mother’s household. He would accompany his mother to Normandy in the late 1130s. His later childhood, probably from the time he was seven, was spent in Anjou, where he would be educated by Peter of Saintes, a noted grammarian of the day. In late 1142, Geoffrey had chose to send the then nine year old Henry to Bristol. This was the center of the Angevin opposition to Stephen in the Southwest of England. He was accompanied by Robert of Gloucester. Although having children educated in a relatives’ household was a common thing among noblemen of the time, sending Henry to England had also been due to the political benefits, as Geoffrey was coming under criticism for refusing to join the war in England.

For nearly a year, Henry would live alongside Roger of Worcester, one of Robert’s sons. Henry was instructed by a Magister by the name Master Matthew. Robert’s household was known for its education and learning. Canons of St. Augustine’s in Bristol had also helped to educate Henry. He would remember the canons with much affection in his later years. From 1143 until 1144, Henry had returned to Anjou, resuming his education under William of Conches, another famous academic.

Three years later in 1147, Henry had again returned to England when he was fourteen years old. He would take his immediate household and a small number of mercenaries and left Normandy, landing in England and striking into Wiltshire. Despite having caused an initial considerable panic, Henry’s expedition had little success and he would find himself unable to return to Normandy. Neither his mother or his uncle was prepared to support him, implying that they had not approved of the expedition in the first place. Surprisingly, Henry would instead turn to King Stephen, who had paid outstanding wages and thereby allowed Henry to retire gracefully.

Stephen’s reasons for doing this are unclear. One potential explanation is his general courtesy to a member of his extended family. Another explanation is that he was thinking of how to end the war peacefully and had seen this as a way of building a relationship with Henry.

In 1149, Henry would intervene once again, starting what is often termed as the Henrician phase of the Civil War. This time, Henry had planned to form a northern alliance with King David I of Scotland, Henry’s great-uncle and Ranulf of Chester. Ranulf was a powerful regional leader who had controlled most of the Northwest of England. Under this alliance, Henry and Ranulf had agreed to attack York, probably with the help from the Scots. They would plan an attack that would disintegrate after Stephen had marched rapidly North to York. After this Henry would return to Normandy.

Henry’s Appearance and Personality

Chroniclers have said that Henry was quite good-looking, he had red hair, freckles, had a large head, was strong, short, and stocky built, and was bow-legged from riding. He also would often dress scruffily, not like his more reserved mother Matilda, nor as charming as his father Geoffrey. Henry was infamous for his piercing stare, bullying and bursts of temper. Occasionally, he would strongly refuse to speak at all, these outbursts may have been theatrical and for effect.

Henry was said to have understood a wide range of languages, including English, but spoke only Latin and French. In his youth he had enjoyed warfare, hunting and other adventurous pursuits. As the years went by he would put increasing energy into judicial and administrative affairs and had become more cautious. Throughout his life, Henry was energetic and frequently impulsive.

He also had a passionate desire to rebuild his control of territories that his grandfather, Henry I, had once governed. Henry may have been influenced by his mother in this regard, Matilda also had a strong sense of ancestral rights and privileges. Henry would take back territories, regained estates and re-established influence over smaller lords that had once provided what historian John Gillingham describes as a “protective ring” around his core territories. He was probably the first king of England to have used a heraldic design, a signet ring with either a leopard or a lion engraved on it. The design would be altered in later generations to form the royal seal of England.

The Early Reign of Henry from 1150-1162 and His Succession in Normandy and Anjou

By the late 1140s the active part of the Civil War was over, besides occasional outbreaks of fighting. Many of the barons were making individual peace agreements with one another, so as to secure their war gains. It increasingly appeared as though the English Church was considering promoting a peace treaty. In 1149, upon Louis VII’s return from the Second Crusade, he became concerned about the growth of Geoffrey’s power and the potential threat to his own possessions, especially if Henry could acquire the English crown.

In 1150, Geoffrey had made Henry the Duke of Normandy. Louis had responded by putting forward King Stephen’s son Eustace as the rightful heir to the dutchy and would launch a military campaign to remove Henry from the province. During August of 1151, Henry’s father had advised him to come to terms with Louis and peace was made between them after mediation by Bernard of Clairvaux. Under this settlement Henry had done homage to Louis for Normandy, accepting Louis as his feudal lord. He would then give the disputed land of Norman Vexin to Louis. In return, Louis would recognize him as the Duke.

During September of 1151, Geoffrey had died and Henry had postponed his plans to return to England, since he had first needed to ensure that his succession, particularly in Anjou, was secured. It was around this time that Henry had probably secretly planned his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was at the time still the wife of Louis and was the Duchess of Aquitaine. Aquitaine was a land in the south of France. Eleanor was considered to have been beautiful, lively and controversial, but she hadn’t borne Louis any sons, therefore, Louis had the marriage annulled.


Eleanor of Aquitaine


Henry would marry Eleanor just eight weeks later on the 18th of May. The marriage had instantly reignited Henry’s tensions with Louis. The marriage was considered an insult, being that it ran counter to feudal practice and had threatened the inheritance of Louis and Eleanor’s two daughters, who may have otherwise had claims to Aquitaine on Eleanor’s death. With his new lands, Henry would now possess a much larger proportion of France than what Louis did. Louis would organize a coalition against Henry that would include Stephen, Eustace, Henry the Count of Champagne and Robert the Count of Perche. His alliance would also be joined by Henry’s younger brother, Geoffrey, who had risen in revolt, claiming that Henry had dispossessed him of his inheritance.

Geoffrey of Anjou’s plans for inheritance of his lands had been ambiguous, making veracity of his son Geoffrey’s claims hard to assess. Contemporaneous accounts would suggest that he had left the main castles in Poitou to Geoffrey, implying that he may have intended for Henry to retain Normandy and Anjou and not Poitou. Fighting would immediately break out along the Normandy borders, where Henry of Champagne and Robert had captured the town of Neufmarche-sur-Epte. Louis’ forces would move to attack Aquitaine, Stephen would respond by placing Wallingford Castle under siege. Wallingford Castle was a key fortress that was loyal to Henry along the Thames Valley. The attack was possibly an attempt to force a successful end to the English conflict, while Henry was still fighting for his territories in France.

Henry would quickly move to respond. He avoided an open battle with Louis in Aquitaine, stabilizing the Norman border, and pillaged the area of Vexin. Henry then moved in to the South into Anjou against Geoffrey, capturing one of his main castles. Louis then fell ill and would withdraw from the campaign. Geoffrey was then forced to come to terms with Henry.

Henry Takes the English Throne

In response to Stephen’s siege, Henry had returned to England again at the start of 1153. He, along with a small army of mercenaries would brave the winter storms over the English Channel. The army was probably paid for with borrowed money. He was supported in the North and the East of England by forces of Ranulf of Chester and Hugh Bigod, of whom all had hopes of a military victory.

A short time before Easter in April of 1153, a delegation of senior English clergy had met with Henry and his advisers at Stockbridge. Details of their discussions are unclear, but it appears that the churchmen had emphasized that while they had supported Stephen as king, they had sought a peace negotiation. Henry would reaffirm that he would avoid English cathedrals and would not expect the bishops to attend his court either. This was in an attempt to draw Stephen’s forces away from Wallingford, so that he could besiege Stephen’s castle at Malmesbury. The King would respond by marching West with the army to relieve the castle. Henry had successfully evaded Stephen’s larger army along the River Avon, preventing Stephen from forcing a decisive battle.

In the face of an increase of wintry weather, the two men agreed to a temporary truce, leaving Henry to travel to the North through the Midlands, where the powerful Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, had announced his support for the cause. Henry was then free to turn his forces to the South against the besiegers at Wallingford. Despite only modest military successes, he and his allies now had control of the Southwest, the Midlands and much of the North of England. Meanwhile, Henry had been attempting to act the part of a legitimate king. He would have witnessed marriages and settlements, holding court in a regional fashion.

Over the following summer, Stephen would mass his troops to renew the siege of Wallingford Castle in a final attempt to take the stronghold. The fall of Wallingford appears to have been imminent. Henry had marched to the South to relieve the siege, arriving with a small army and placed Stephen’s besieging forces under siege themselves. Upon the news of this, Stephen had returned with a large army. The two sides would confront one another from across the River Thames at Wallingford in July. At this point in the war, the barons from both sides were eager to avoid an open battle. Therefore, members of the clergy would broker a truce, to the annoyance of both Henry and Stephen.

Henry and Stephen would have taken the opportunity to speak together in private about a potential end to the war. Conveniently for Henry, Stephen’s son Eustace had fallen ill and would die shortly after. This would have removed the most obvious other claimant to the throne. Stephen did have another son, William, who appeared unenthusiastic about making a plausible claim to the throne. Fighting would continue after Wallingford, but in a rather half-hearted fashion, while the English Church attempted to broker a permanent peace between the two sides.

In November the two leaders had ratified the terms of a permanent peace. Stephen had announced the Treaty of Winchester in Winchester Cathedral, recognizing Henry as his adopted son and successor, in return for Henry doing homage to him. Stephen also promised to listen to Henry’s advice, but had retained all of his royal powers. His remaining son, William would do homage to Henry and renounced his claim to the throne, in exchange for the promises of security of his lands; key royal castles would be held on Henry’s behalf by guarantors while Stephen would have access to Henry’s castles. The numerous foreign mercenaries would have been demolished and then sent home.


Winchester Cathedral


Both Henry and Stephen had sealed the treaty with a kiss of peace in the cathedral. Peace would remain but precariously. Stephen’s second son, William, remained a possible future rival to Henry. Rumors of a plot to assassinate Henry were circulating, possibly as a consequence to this, Henry chose to return to Normandy for a time. Stephen though would fall ill with a stomach disorder and would pass away on the 25th of October in 1154. This would have allowed Henry to inherit the throne, sooner than what had been expected.

Reconstructing the Royal Government

Upon landing in England on the 8th of December 1154, Henry had quickly taken an oath of loyalty from some of the barons. He was then crowned alongside Eleanor at Westminster on the 19th of December. The royal court was then gathered together in April of 1155, barons would swear fealty to the King and his sons.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey (photo by myself)


There were several potential rivals that would have still existed for Henry, including Stephen’s son William and Henry’s brothers Geoffrey and William. However, fortunately for Henry, they all would pass away in the next few years, leaving Henry’s position remarkably secure. Nonetheless, Henry would have inherited a difficult situation in England, as the kingdom had suffered extensively during the Civil War. In many parts of the country fighting had caused serious devastation, although some other areas would have remained largely unaffected.

Numerous “adulterine”, or unauthorized castles had been built as bases for the local lords. The royal forest law had also collapsed in large parts of the country and the king’s income had declined seriously and royal control over the mints had remained limited. Henry would present himself as the legitimate heir to Henry I and commenced rebuilding the kingdom in his image. Even though Stephen had tried to continue Henry I’s method of government during his reign, the younger Henry’s new government would characterize the nineteen years as a chaotic and troubled time. All of these problems would have resulted from Stephen’s usurpation of the throne.

Henry was also careful to show that, unlike his mother Matilda, he would listen to the advice and counsel of others. Various measures were immediately carried out even though Henry would spend six and a half years out of the first eight years of his reign in France. A lot of work had to be done from a distance and the process of demolishing the unauthorized castles from the war would also continue. Efforts were made to restore the system of royal justice and royal finances and Henry would also invest heavily in the construction and renovation of prestigious new royal buildings. The King of Scotland and local Welsh rulers had taken advantage of the long Civil War in England to seize disputed lands. Henry would set about to reverse this trend.

During 1157, Henry had pressured the young King Malcolm of Scotland to return the lands in the North of England that he had taken during the war. He promptly started to refortify the Northern frontier and to restore Anglo-Norman supremacy in Wales had proved harder. Henry had to fight two campaigns in the North and the South of Wales in 1157 and 1158 before the Welsh princes Owain Gwynedd and Rhys ap Gruffydd had submitted to his rule, and agreed to pre-Civil War borders.

France, Brittany, Toulouse and the Vexin

Henry would have a problematic relationship with Louis VII of France throughout the 1150s. The two had already previously clashed as we have seen before, over Henry’s succession to Normandy and the remarriage of Eleanor. The relationship between the two men would not be repaired. Louis would invariably attempt to take the moral high ground in respect to Henry, capitalizing on his reputation as a crusader and circulated rumors about his rival’s behavior and character. He had greater resources than Louis though, particularly after taking England. Louis was far less dynamic in resisting Angevin power than he had been earlier in his reign.

Disputes between the two would draw in other powers across the area. Including a dispute with Thierry, the County of Flanders, who had signed a military alliance with Henry, except with a clause that had prevented the count from being forced to fight against Louis, who was his feudal lord. Further South, Theobald V, the Count of Blois, who was an enemy of Louis would become another early ally of Henry. This would result in military tensions and frequent face-to-face meetings to attempt to resolve them. This led to historian Jean Dunbabin to liken the situation to a period of Cold War in the 20th century.

Upon Henry’s return to the continent from England, he would seek to secure his French lands and quash any potential rebellion. As a result, in 1154, Henry and Louis both agreed to a peace treaty. Henry had bought back the Vernon and Neuf-Marche from Louis. This treaty did appear to be shaky though and tensions still remained. In particular, Henry had not given homage to Louis for his French possessions. In an attempt to improve relations, Henry would meet with Louis in Paris and Mont-Saint-Michel in 1158. Henry would agree to betroth his eldest living son, the Younger Henry, to Louis’ daughter Margaret. The marriage deal would have involved Louis granting the disputed territory of the Vexin to Margaret upon her marriage to the Younger Henry. While this would have ultimately given Henry the lands that he had claimed, it also cunningly had implied that the Vexin was Louis’s to give away in the first place, in itself a political concession. For a short time, a permanent peace looked plausible between Henry and Louis.

Meanwhile, Henry had turned his attention to the Duchy of Brittany, which had neighbored its lands and was traditionally largely independent from the rest of France. Brittany also had its own language and culture. The Breton dukes would hold little power across most of the duchy, instead it was mostly controlled by the local lords.

In 1148, Duke Conan III had died and a Civil War broke out. Henry would claim to be the overlord of Brittany, on the basis that the duchy had owed its loyalty to Henry I. Curtmantle saw controlling the duchy both as a way of securing his other French territories and the potential inheritance for one of his sons. Initially, Henry’s strategy was to rule indirectly through proxies. Accordingly, Henry had supported Conan IV’s claims over most of the duchy, partly because Conan had strong English ties and was easily influenced. Conan’s uncle, Hoel, would continue to control the county of Nantes in the East until he was deposed in 1156 by Henry’s brother Geoffrey, possibly with Henry’s support. When Geoffrey had died in 1158, Conan tried to reclaim Nantes but was opposed by Henry who had annexed it for himself. Louis would take no action to intervene, as Henry steadily increased his power in Brittany.

Henry had hoped to take a similar approach to the remaining control of Toulouse in Southern France. Toulouse, while technically part of the Duchy of Aquitaine, had become more and more independent and was, by now, ruled by Count Raymond V, who had only a weak claim to the lands. While being encouraged by Eleanor, Henry had first allied himself with Raymond’s enemy, Raymond Berenguer of Barcelona. Henry would threaten to invade the area himself in 1159 to depose Raymond. Louis would marry his sister Constance to Raymond to try and secure his Southern frontiers, nonetheless, Henry would leave believing that he had the French king’s support for military intervention.

He had invaded Toulouse only to find that Louis was visiting Raymond in the city. He was not prepared to directly attack Louis, who was still his feudal lord and instead withdrew, settling himself by ravaging the surrounding county. He would seize castles and took the province of Quercy. The episode had proved to be a long-running point of dispute between the two kings. Chronicler William of Newburgh had called the ensuing conflict with Toulouse a “forty years’ war”.

In the aftermath, Louis had made an attempt to repair relations with Henry with an 1160 peace treaty. This had promised Henry the lands and rights of his grandfather, Henry I, reaffirmed the betrothal of young Henry and Margaret and the Vexin deal. It also involved the younger Henry giving homage to Louis, a way of reinforcing the young boy’s position as heir and Louis’ position as king. Almost immediately after the peace conference though, Louis had shifted his position considerably.

Louis wife, Constance, would die and he had remarried to a woman name Adele. Adele was the sister of the Count of Blois and Champagne. Louis also betrothed his two daughters, Marie and Alix to Theobald of Blois’ sons, Theobald and Henry. This would represent an aggressive containment strategy towards Henry, rather than the agreed rapprochement. It had caused Theobald to abandon his alliance with Henry. Henry would react angrily and the King would have the custody of both the younger Henry and Margaret.

During November, Henry bullied several papal legates into marrying the children, even though they were only five and three years old, promptly seizing the Vexin. Now it was Louis’ turn to be furious, as the move had clearly broke the spirit of the 1160 treaty, military tensions between the two leaders would immediately increase. Theobald had mobilized his forces along the border with Touraine. Henry would respond by attacking Chaumont in Blois in a surprise attack, successfully taking Theobald’s castle in a notable siege.

A second peace treaty would be made in 1162, overseen by Pope Alexander III. Despite this temporary halt in hostilities, Henry’s seizure of the Vexin had proved to be the second long-running dispute between him and the kings of France.

Henry’s Empire and Nature of Government

Henry had controlled more of France than any ruler since the Carolingians. These lands, along with his possessions in England, Wales, Scotland and most of Ireland had produced a vast domain that is often referred to by historians as the Angevin Empire. This empire had lacked a coherent structure or a central control. Instead, it had consisted of a loose, flexible network of family connections and lands. Different local customs had applied within each of Henry’s different territories, even though common principles underpinned some of these local variations.

Henry would travel constantly across the empire, producing what historian John Jolliffe has described as a “government of the roads and roadsides”. His travels would coincide with regional governmental reforms and other local administrative business, even though messengers had connected him to his possessions wherever he went. In Henry’s absence the lands were ruled by seneschals and justiciars. Beneath these people, local officials in each of the regions had carried on with the business of the government. Nonetheless, many of the functions of the government had centered on Henry himself and he was often surrounded by petitioners that would request decisions or favors.

From time to time, Henry’s royal court became a magnum concilium, a great council. These were at times used to take major decisions but the term was loosely applied whenever a large number of barons and bishops attended to the king. A great council was supposed to give advice to the king and give assent to royal decisions. Although it’s not clear how much freedom they actually had enjoyed to oppose Henry’s intentions. It appears as though Henry did consult with his court when he was making legislation. To what extent he then took their views into account is unclear. As a powerful ruler, Henry was able to provide either valuable patronage or impose devastating harm on his subjects by using his powers of patronage. Henry was very effective at finding and keeping competent officials, including those within the Church. In the 12th century this was a key part of the royal administration. Indeed royal patronage within the Church had provided an effective route to advancement under Henry and most of his preferred clerics had eventually became bishops and archbishops.

Henry was also known to show his “ira et malevolentia”, anger and ill-will, which was a term that had described his ability to punish or financially destroy particular barons or clergy. In England, Henry would initially rely on his father’s former advisers who he had brought with him from Normandy, and some of Henry I’s remaining officials, reinforced with some of Stephen’s senior nobility who had made their peace with Henry in 1153. During Curtmantle’s reign, like his grandfather, he increasingly promoted “new men”. These were minor nobles without independent wealth and lands into positions of authority in England. By the 1180s, this new class of royal administrators was predominant in England and was supported by various illegitimate members of Henry’s family.

In Normandy, the links connecting the two halves of the Anglo-Norman nobility had weakened during the first half of the 12th century and had continued to do so under Henry. Henry drew his close advisers from the ranks of the Norman bishops, and as in England, recruited many “new men” as Norman administrators. Few of the larger landowners in Normandy had benefited from the king’s patronage. Henry had frequently intervened with the Norman nobility through the arrangement of marriages or the treatment of inheritances. He would either use his authority as duke or his influence as King of England over their lands there.

Henry’s rule was also a harsh one. Across the rest of France, the local administration was less developed. Anjou was governed through the combination of officials known as prevots and seneschals, based along the Loire and in Western Touraine. However, Henry had few officials elsewhere in the region. In Aquitaine, the ducal authority had remained very limited, despite significantly increasing during Henry’s reign, largely due to Richard’s efforts in the late 1170s.

Henry’s Court and Family

The wealth that Henry had would allow him to maintain what probably was the largest curia regis, or royal court, in Europe. Henry’s court attracted a huge amount of attention from contemporary chroniclers. It had typically compromised of a number of major nobles and bishops, as well as knights, domestic servants, prostitutes, clerks, horses and hunting dogs.

Within the court were his officials, ministerials, his friends, amici, and the familiares regis. His familiares were particularly important to the operation of the king’s household and government, driving the government initiatives and filling the gaps between the official structures and the king. Henry had tried to maintain a sophisticated household that would combine hunting and drinking with cosmopolitan literary discussion and courtly values.

Nonetheless, he had a passion for hunting, of which his court would become famous for. Henry would have a number of preferred royal hunting lodges and apartments that spread across his lands. He also invested heavily in his royal castles, both for their practical utility as fortresses and as symbols of his royal power and prestige.

Henry’s court was relatively formal in its style and language, possibly because he was attempting to compensate for his own sudden rise to power and relatively humble origins as the son of a count. He had also opposed the holding of tournaments. This was probably because of the security risk that such gatherings of armed knights had posed in peacetime. The Angevin Empire and court was, as historian John Gillingham describes it, “a family firm”. Henry’s mother, Matilda had played an important role in his early life and exercised her influence for many years later. His relationship with his wife Eleanor was a complex one. He’d trusted her to manage England for several years after 1154 and he was later content for her to govern Aquitaine. Eleanor was believed to have influence over Henry during most of their marriage. Ultimately, however, the couple’s relationship had disintegrated, chroniclers and historians have speculated on what ultimately caused her to abandon Henry in order to support her older sons in the Great Revolt of 1173 through 1174. Probable explanations for this include Henry’s persistent interference in Aquitaine, his recognition of Raymond of Toulouse in 1173, or his harsh temper.

He would also have several long-term mistresses, including Annabel de Balliol and Rosamund Clifford. With his wife he would have eight legitimate children, five sons: William, the younger Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John; and three daughters: Matilda, Eleanor and Joan. He also had several illegitimate children, among the most prominent of these were Geoffrey, who would later be the Archbishop of York, and William, who later was the Earl of Salisbury. Henry would have been expected to provide for the future of his legitimate children, either through granting the sons land or by marrying his daughters well.

His family was divided by rivalries and violent hostilities, more so than many other royal families of the time. In particular the relatively cohesive French Capetians. Various suggestions have been made to explain his family’s bitter disputes, from their inherited family genetics to the failure for Henry and Eleanor’s parenting. Other theories focus on the personalities of Henry and his children. Historians such as Matthew Strickland have argued that Henry had made sensible attempts to manage the tensions within his family, and that, had the king died younger, the succession may have proven to have gone much smoother.

Henry’s Law

During Henry’s reign there were significant legal changes that were made, particularly in England and in Normandy. By he 12th century, England had many different ecclesiastical and civil law courts, with overlapping jurisdictions that resulted from interactions of diverse legal traditions.

Henry would greatly expand the role of the royal justice in England and produced a more coherent legal system. This would be summarized at the end of his reign in the Treatise of Glanvill, an early legal handbook. Despite these reforms it is uncertain if Henry had a grand vision for his new legal system and the reforms seem to have proceeded in a steady, pragmatic fashion. In most cases, Henry was probably not personally responsible for creating the new processes, but he was greatly interested in the law. He would see to the delivery of justice as one of the key tasks for a king and carefully appointing good administrators to conduct the reforms.

In the aftermath of the disorders of Stephen’s reign in England, there were many legal cases concerning the land to be resolved. Many religious houses had lost their land during the conflict, while in other cases owners and heirs had been dispossessed of their property by local barons. In some other cases the lands had since been sold or given to new owners. Henry would rely on traditional, local courts; such as the shire courts, hundred courts and, in particular, seignorial courts to deal with most of the cases, actually hearing only a few of them personally. This process was far from perfect and in many cases claimants were unable to pursue their cases effectively.

While interested in the law, during the first years of his reign, Henry was preoccupied with other political issues and even finding the King for a hearing could mean that one would have to travel across the English Channel and locate his peripatetic court. Nonetheless, Henry was prepared to take action so as to improve the existing procedures, intervening in cases which he had felt had been mishandled, and creating legislation to improve both ecclesiastical and civil court processes.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Normandy, Henry had delivered justice through courts that were run by his officials across the duchy and occasionally these cases made their way to the King. He also had operated an exchequer court at Caen that would hear cases relating to royal revenues and maintained a number of the king’s justices who were traveling across the duchy.

From 1159 until 1163, Henry had spent time in Normandy, conducting reforms of royal and church courts and some measures that would later be introduced in England and recorded as existing in Normandy as early as 1159. In 1163, Henry had returned to England once again, with the intent on reforming the role of the royal courts. He would crack down on crime, seized belongings of thieves and fugitives and traveling justices were dispatched to the North and the Midlands.

After 1166, Henry’s exchequer court in Westminster, which had previously only heard cases that were connected with royal revenues, started to take on wider civil cases on behalf of the king. Probably in 1176, reforms had continued and Henry would create the General Eyre. This would involve dispatching a group of royal justices to visit all of the counties in England over a given amount of time. They would have the authority to cover both civil and criminal cases. Local juries had been used in previous reigns on occasion, but Henry had made a much wider use of them. Juries were introduced in petty assizes around 1176, where they were used to establish the answers to particular pre-established questions. In the grand assizes from 1179, they were used to determine the guilt of a defendant. Other methods of trial would also continue to be used, including trial by combat and trial by ordeal.

In 1166, after the Assize of Clarendon, the royal justice was extended into new areas through the use of new forms of assizes, in particular the novel disseisin, mort d’ancestor, and dower unde nichil habet. These dealt with wrongful dispossession of land, inheritance rights and the rights of widows. In making these reforms, Henry had both challenged the traditional rights of barons in dispensing justice and also reinforced key feudal principles. However, over time, they greatly increased the royal power in England.

Relations with the Church

Curtmantle’s relationship with the Church had varied considerably across his lands and over time. As with other aspects of his rule, there was no attempt to form a common ecclesiastical policy. Generally, Henry’s policy was to push back on papal influence, and increase his own local authority.

The 12th century saw a reforming movement within the church, however, advocating greater autonomy from royal authority for the clergy and more influence for the papacy. This trend had already caused tensions in England, such as when King Stephen had forced Theobald of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury, into exile in 1152. There were also long-running concerns over the legal treatment of members of the clergy. By contrast with tensions in England, in Normandy Henry had occasional disagreements with the Church, but generally enjoyed very good relations with the Norman bishops. In Brittany, Henry had the support of the local church hierarchy and had rarely intervened in clerical matters, except on occasion, in order to cause difficulties for his rival Louis of France.

Further to the South however, the power of the dukes of Aquitaine over the local church was much less than in the North. Henry’s efforts to extend his influence over local appointments would create tensions. In 1159, during the disputed papal election, Henry, like Louis, supported Alexander III over his rival Victor IV.

Henry was not an especially pious king by medieval standards. In England, he had provided steady patronage to monastic houses, but established few new monasteries. He was also relatively conservative in determining which he did support, favoring those with established links to his family, such as Reading Abbey. In this regard, his religious tastes appear to have been influenced by his mother. In fact, before his ascension a number of religious charters had been issued in their joint names. Henry did found a number of religious hospitals in England and in France. After the death of Becket, Henry had built and endowed various monasteries in France, primarily so he could improve his popular image. Since travel by sea during this time was dangerous, he would also have taken full confession before setting sail and using auguries to determine the best time to travel. His movement may also have been planned to take advantage of saints’ days and other fortuitous occasions.

Economy and Finance

Henry had restored many of the old financial institutions of his grandfather Henry I and had undertaken further, long-lasting reforms of the way that the English currency was managed. One result was a long-term increase in supply of money within the economy, which would lead to a growth both in trade and inflation. Medieval rulers, such as Henry, had enjoyed various sources of income during the 12th century. Some of their income came from their private estates, which was known as demesne. Other income had come from imposing legal fines and arbitrary amercements. Henry, as others had as well, also collected taxes, which at the time were raised only intermittently. The kings could also raise funds by borrowing. Henry would do this far more than earlier English rulers had, initially through the moneylenders in Rouen, and later he would turn to Jewish and Flemish lenders. Ready cash was increasingly important to rulers at this time and would enable the use of mercenary forces and construction of stone castles. Both were vital to the success of military campaigns.

During 1154, Henry had inherited a difficult situation in England. Henry I, had established a system of royal finances that had depended on three key institutions. The first institution was the central royal treasury in London. This institute was supported by treasuries within key castles. The second was the exchequer, which would account for payments being made to the treasuries. The final was a team of royal officials known as “the chamber” that had followed the king’s travels. They spent money as it was necessary and also collected revenues along the way. The long time Civil War would cause considerable disruption to this system and some figures suggest that the royal income had fallen by 46% in the year 1129 to 1130 and again from 1155 until 1156.


Awbridge Silver Penny


A new coin, called the Awbridge silver penny, was issued in 1153, in an attempt to stabilize the English currency after the war. Less is known about how financial affairs were managed in Henry’s continental possessions, but a very similar system operated in Normandy and a comparable system had probably operated in both Anjou and Aquitaine.

Upon taking power, Henry had given high priority to the restoration of royal finances in England, reviving Henry I’s financial processes and attempting to improve the quality of royal accounting. The revenue from demesne had formed the bulk of Henry’s income in England, although taxes were used heavily in the first eleven years of his reign. Aided by capable Richard FitzNeal, Henry had also reformed the currency in 1158, putting his name on English coins for the first time and heavily reducing the number of moneyers licensed to produce the coins.

These measures were successful in improving his income, but on his return to England in the later 1160s, Henry would take further steps. New taxes were introduced and existing accounts were re-audited. The reforms of the legal system had brought in new streams of money from fines and amercements. A wholesale reform of coinage would occur in 1180, with royal officials taking direct control of the mints and passing the profits directly to the treasury. A new penny, known as the Short Cross, was introduced, and the number of


Short Cross Coin


mints were reduced substantially to just ten being across the country. Driven by these reforms, the royal revenues increased significantly. At the beginning of Henry’s reign, his average exchequer income was only around 18,000 pounds. After 1166 though, the average was around 22,000 pounds. One economic effect of these changes was a substantial increase in the amount of money in circulation in England. Post 1180, a significant, long-term increase in both inflation and trade would take place.

Henry’s Later Reign from 1162-1175 and Developments in France


Louis VII


There were some long-running tensions between Henry and Louis VII that continued during the 1160s. The French king was slowly becoming more vigorous in opposing Henry’s increasing power in Europe. During 1160, Louis would strengthen his alliances in central France with the Count of Champagne and Odo II, the Duke of Burgundy.

Three years later, the new Count of Flanders, Philip, who was concerned about Henry’s growing power, openly allied himself with the French king. Two years after this, 1165, Louis’ wife Adele would give birth to a male heir, Philip Augustus. This would make Louis more confident of his own position than he was for many years previous. As a result, the relations between Henry and Louis would deteriorate again in the mid-1600s. Meanwhile, Henry had started to alter his policy of indirect rule in Brittany and began to exert more direct control. Previous to this, in 1164, Henry intervened to seize the lands along the border of Brittany and Normandy.

In 1166, Louis invaded Brittany to punish the local barons. He would force Conan to abdicate as the duke and then he gave Brittany to his daughter Constance. She was handed over and betrothed to Henry’s son, Geoffrey. This arrangement was quite unusual in terms of medieval law, as Conan may have had sons who could have legitimately inherited the duchy.

Elsewhere in France, Henry would attempt to seize the Auvergne, much to the anger of King Louis. Further in the South, Henry would continue to apply pressure on Raymond of Toulouse. The King campaigned here personally in 1161 and then sent the Archbishop of Bordeaux against Raymond in 1164, encouraging Alfonso II of Aragon in his attacks. During 1165, Raymond would divorce Louis’ sister and then attempted to ally himself with Henry.

Two years later, the growing tension between Henry and Louis finally spilled over into open war, triggered by a trivial argument over how many destined for the Crusader states of the Levant should be collected. Louis would ally himself with the Welsh, Scots and Bretons, and the French king had attacked Normandy. Henry had responded by attacking Chaumont-sur-Epe, where Louis was keeping his main military arsenal. Henry would burn the town to the ground and thus forced Louis to abandon his allies and make a private truce. Curtmantle was then free to move against the rebel barons in Brittany, where feelings about his seizure of the duchy were still running high.

As the decade progressed, Henry increasingly wanted to resolve the question of the inheritance. He would decide that he would divide up his empire after his death, with young Henry receiving England and Normandy. His other son, Richard, would be given the Duchy of Aquitaine, and his third son, Geoffrey, would acquire Brittany. This would require the consent of Louis as the King of France though, and accordingly Henry and Louis held fresh peace talks among each other in 1169 at Montmirail. The conversation was wide ranging, culminating with Henry’s sons giving homage to Louis for their future inheritances in France and with Richard being betrothed to Louis’ daughter Alice.

If these arrangements had been followed up, the acts of homage could potentially have confirmed Louis’ position as king. While undermining the legitimacy of any rebellious barons with Henry’s territories and the potential for an alliance between them and Louis. In practice though, Louis perceived himself to have gained a temporary advantage, and immediately after the conference he started to encourage tensions between Henry’s sons. Meanwhile, Henry’s position in the South of France had continued to improve. By 1173, he had agreed to an alliance with Humbert, the Count of Savoy, which would betroth Henry’s son John and Humbert’s daughter Alicia. Henry’s daughter, Eleanor, was married to Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1170, enlisting an additional ally for Henry in the South. In February of 1173, Raymond would finally give in and publicly gave homage for Toulouse to Henry and his heirs.

The Thomas Becket Controversy


Thomas Becket


One of the major international events that surrounded Henry in the 1160s was the Becket controversy. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald of Bec had died in 1161, Henry would see an opportunity to reassert his rights over the church in England. Henry would appoint Thomas Becket, which was then his English Chancellor, to the position of Archbishop in 1162. He probably thought that Becket, in addition to being an old friend, would have been politically weakened within the Church because of his former role as the Chancellor. Therefore, he would have had to rely on Henry’s support.

Both Matilda and Eleanor appear to have had doubts about the appointment, but Henry continued with it anyhow. His plan didn’t have a desirable result though, as Becket promptly changed his lifestyle and abandoned his links to the King and portrayed himself as a staunch protector of the church’s rights.

Henry and Becket would quickly disagree over a number of issues, including Becket’s attempts to regain control of the lands that had belonged to the Archbishopric and his views on Henry’s taxation policies. The main source of the conflict though, concerned the treatment of the clergy who had committed secular crimes. Henry would argue that the legal custom in England had allowed the king to enforce justice over these clerics. Becket however, would maintain that only the church courts could try these cases.

In January of 1164, the matter would come to a head. Henry had forced, through an agreement to the Constitutions of Clarendon, under tremendous pressure, Becket to temporarily agree but had changed his position not long after. The legal argument was complex at the time and still remains contentious. The argument between the two men became both increasingly personal and international in nature. Henry was stubborn and bore grudges, Becket was vain, ambitious and overly political. Neither of the men had been willing to back down, and both would seek the support of Alexander III and other international leaders. They’d argue their positions in various forums across Europe.

In the same year, the situation would become worse, when Becket had fled to France to seek sanctuary with Henry’s enemy, Louis VII. Henry would harass Becket’s associates in that were still in England, and Becket would excommunicate religious and secular officials who had sided with the king. The pope had supported Becket’s case in principle, but needed Henry’s support in dealing with Frederick I, the Holy Roman Emperor, so he would repeatedly seek a negotiation. The Norman church would also intervene to try and assist Henry in finding a solution.

During 1169, Henry had decided to crown his son, the younger Henry, as King of England. This had required the acquiescence of Becket, since he was the Archbishop of Canterbury and traditionally the churchman with the right to conduct such a ceremony. Furthermore, the whole Becket matter was an increasing international embarrassment to Henry. He would begin to take a more conciliatory tone with Becket. The pope would authorize Becket to lay an interdict of England, which would force Henry back into negotiations.

The following July of 1170, would finally bring the men to an agreement. Becket would then return to England in early December. However, just when the dispute seemed to have been resolved, Becket would excommunicate another three of King Henry’s supporters. Henry was furious and infamously would announce:

“What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and promoted in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!”

In response, four knights would make their way secretly to Canterbury, apparently with the intent of confronting, and if necessary arresting Thomas Becket for breaking his agreement with the King. The Archbishop would refuse to be arrested by relatively low-born knights, so they hacked him to death on the 29th of December 1170.


Murder of Thomas Becket


This event, particularly in the front of an altar, had horrified Christian Europe. Although Becket hadn’t been popular when he was alive, in death he was declared a martyr by the local monks. Louis seized on the case, and despite the efforts by the Norman church to prevent the French church from taking action, a new interdict was announced on Henry’s possessions. He was focused on dealing with Ireland and took no action to arrest Becket’s killers, arguing that he was unable to do so. The pressure, internationally, on Henry would grow.

In May of 1172, Henry would negotiate a settlement with the papacy, in which the King would swear to go on crusade as well as effectively overturning the Constitutions of Clarendon. In the coming years, although he never had actually went on the crusade, Henry exploited the growing “cult of Becket” for his own ends.

Henry Invades Ireland

In the middle of the 12th century, Ireland was being ruled by a number of local kings. Although their authority was more limited than their counterparts in the rest of Western Europe, mainstream Europeans regarded the Irish as relatively barbarous and backward type people.

During 1160, King Diarmait Mac Murchada was deposed as the King of Leinster by the High King of Ireland, Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair. Diarmait would turn to Henry for assistance in the year 1167. Henry would allow for Diarmait to recruit mercenaries within his empire. Diarmait would put together a force of Anglo-Norman and Flemish mercenaries drawn from the Welsh Marches, including Richard de Clare. With his new supporters he would reclaim Leinster but then died not long after in 1171. De Clare then claimed Leinster for himself and the situation in Ireland would grow tense, the Anglo-Normans were heavily outnumbered.

Henry would take the opportunity to intervene personally in Ireland and took a large army into the South of Wales. He’d force the rebels, who had held the area since 1165, into submission prior to sailing from Pembroke and landing in Ireland in October of 1171. Some of the Irish lords would appeal to Henry to protect them from the Anglo-Norman invaders, while de Clare would offer to submit to Henry if he were allowed to retain his new possessions. Henry’s timing was influenced by several factors. He was encouraged by Pope Alexander, who saw this as an opportunity to establish papal authority over the Irish Church. A critical factor appears to have been Henry’s concern that his nobles in the Welsh marches would acquire independent territories of their own in Ireland, which was beyond the reach of his authority.

Henry’s intervention was successful, and both the Irish and the Anglo-Normans in the South and East of Ireland would accept his rule. He would undertake a wave of castle-building during his visit in 1171 to protect his new territories. The Anglo-Normans had superior military technologies compared to the Irish and castles had given them a significant advantage. Henry had hoped for a longer term political solution however, similar to his approach in Wales and Scotland.

He would agree to the Treaty of Windsor in 1175, under which Rory O’Connor would be recognized as the High King of Ireland, giving homage to Henry and maintaining stability on the ground on his behalf. This policy proved to be unsuccessful, as O’Connor was not able to exert sufficient influence and force in areas such as Munster. Henry would instead intervene more directly by establishing a system of local fiefs on his own, through a conference that would be held in Oxford in 1177.

The Great Revolt

Previous to the conference in Oxford, during 1173, Henry had faced the Great Revolt. His eldest sons and rebellious barons would cause an uprising and had the backing of France, Scotland and Flanders. A number of grievances had underpinned the revolt. The younger Henry was unhappy that, despite the title of King, in practice he made no real decisions and was kept chronically short of money by his father. He had also been very attached to Thomas Becket, who had been his former tutor. Henry may have held Curtmantle responsible for Becket’s death. Geoffrey had faced similar difficulties.

The Duke Conan of Brittany had passed away in 1171, but Geoffrey and Constance were still not married, leaving Geoffrey in limbo without his own lands. Richard was encouraged to join the revolt by Eleanor as well, whose relationship with Curtmantle, as previously described, had disintegrated. Meanwhile, the local barons were unhappy with Curtmantle’s rule and saw opportunities to recover traditional powers and influence by allying themselves with his sons. The final straw for everyone would come when Curtmantle decided to give his youngest son John three major castles that belonged to Henry, who first protested and then fled to Paris, followed by his brothers Richard and Geoffrey. Eleanor would attempt to join them but she was captured by Curtmantle’s forces in November.

The younger Henry would write to the pope and complained about his father’s behavior. He also started to acquire allies, including King William of Scotland and the Count of Boulogne, Flanders and Blois, all of whom were promised lands if the younger Henry had won. Major baronial revolts would break out in England, Brittany, Maine, Poitou and Angouleme. In Normandy, some of the border barons had risen up and, although the majority of the duchy had remained openly loyal, there appears to have been a wider undercurrent of discontent, only Anjou had proved relatively secure. Despite the size and scope of the crisis, Curtmantle had several advantages, including his control of a large number of powerful royal castles in strategic areas. He also had control of English ports throughout the war and his continuing popularity within the towns across his empire.

In May of 1173, Louis, who supported the younger Henry, and Henry himself had probed the defenses of the Vexin, the main route to the Norman capital of Rouen. The armies would invade from Flanders and Blois, attempting a pincer movement, while rebels from Brittany had invaded from the West. Curtmantle would secretly travel back to England to order an offensive on the rebels. Upon his return, a counter-attack was dispatched on Louis’ army, massacring many of them and pushing them back across the border. An army was then dispatched to drive back the Brittany rebels, whom Curtmantle then pursued, surprised and captured. He would offer to negotiate with his sons, but the discussions at Gisors had soon broken down.

Meanwhile, fighting in England proved evenly balanced until a royal army had defeated a superior force of rebel and Flemish reinforcements in September in the Battle of Fornham, near Fornham in East Anglia. Curtmantle would take advantage of this respite to crush the rebel strongholds in Touraine, securing the strategically important route through his empire.

In January of 1174, forces of young Henry and Louis attacked yet again, threatening to push through into Central Normandy. The attack would fail and fighting pursued while the winter weather set in. During the early part of 1174, Henry’s enemies had appeared to have tried to lure him back into England, allowing them to attack Normandy in his absence. As part of this plan, William of Scotland had attacked the South of England, supported by the Northern English rebels. Additional Scottish forces were sent into the Midlands, where the rebel barons were making good progress.

Henry had refused the bait and instead had focused on crushing the opposition in the Southwest of France. William’s campaign began to falter as the Scots had failed to take the key Northern royal castles, in part due to efforts of Henry’s illegitimate son, Geoffrey. In an attempt to reinvigorate the plan, Philip, the Count of Flanders, had announced his intention to invade England and sent an advance force into East Anglia. The prospective Flemish invasion had forced Curtmantle to return to England in the early part of July. Louis and Philip could now push overland into Eastern Normandy and reached Rouen.


Thomas Becket’s Tomb


Curtmantle would travel to Becket’s tomb in Canterbury, where he had announced that the rebellion was a divine punishment on him and then took appropriate penance. This had made a major difference in restoring his royal authority at a critical time in the conflict. Word had then reached Curtmantle that King William had been defeated and captured by the local forces at Alnwick, crushing and collapsing the rebel strongholds, and in August Curtmantle would return to Normandy. Louis was not able yet to take Rouen, and Curtmantle’s forces fell upon the French army just before the final French assault on the city started. They pushed back into France, Louis requested peace talks, which would bring an end to the conflict.

Henry’s Final Years from 1175 until 1189 and the Aftermath of the Great Revolt

In the aftermath of the Great Revolt, Henry would hold negotiations at Montlouis, offering a lenient peace on the basis of pre-war status quo. Curtmantle and his son Henry would swear not to take revenge on the others followers. Henry had agreed to the transfer of the disputed castles to John, but in exchange, Curtmantle agreed to give Henry two castles in Normandy along with 15,000 Angevin pounds.

Richard and Geoffrey were then granted half of the revenues from Aquitaine and Brittany respectively. Eleanor though, was kept under effective house arrest until the 1180s. The rebel barons were kept imprisoned for a short time and in some cases they were fined, then they were restored to their lands. The rebel castles in England and Aquitaine were destroyed. Curtmantle was not as generous when it came to William of Scotland. William was not released until he’d agreed to the Treaty of Falaise in December of 1174, under which he publicly gave homage to Curtmantle and surrendered five key Scottish castles to his men. Philip of Flanders would declare his neutrality towards Curtmantle, in return for which the King would agree to provide him with regular financial support.

Curtmantle had now appeared to his contemporaries to be stronger than he ever was. He was courted as an ally by many European leaders and asked to arbitrate over international disputes in Spain and Germany. He was nonetheless busy with resolving some of the weaknesses that he had believed had exacerbated the revolt. Henry set about extending royal justice in England to reassert his authority and spent time in Normandy shoring up support among the barons.

The King also made use of the growing Becket cult to increase his own prestige. He would use the power of the Saint to explain his victory in 1174, especially his success in capturing William. The peace agreement in 1174 hadn’t dealt with the long-running tensions between Curtmantle and Louis. These would resurface during the later 1170s.

The two kings would now start to compete for the control of Berry, a prosperous region of value to both men. Curtmantle had some rights to the Western part of Berry, but in 1176 he had announced an extraordinary claim that he’d agreed in 1169 to give Richard’s fiancee Alice the whole province as part of a marriage settlement. If Louis had accepted this, it would have implied that the Berry was elder Henry’s to give away in the first place, and also would have given him the right to occupy it on Richard’s behalf. To put additional pressure on Louis, Henry would mobilize his armies for war. The papacy would intervene though, and probably as Henry had planned, the two kings were encouraged to sign a non-aggression treaty in September of 1177. Under this treaty, they had promised to undertake a joint crusade.

The ownership of the Auvergne and parts of Berry were put to an arbitration panel, which had reported in favor of Curtmantle. Henry had followed up this success by purchasing La Marche from a local count. This expansion of Curtmantle’s empire once again threatened French security and quickly put the new peace at risk.

Family Tensions

In the late 1170s, Henry had focused on trying to create a stable system of government, increasingly ruling through his family. However, tensions over the succession arrangements were never far away. This would ultimately lead to a fresh revolt. Having quelled the left-over rebels from the Great Revolt, Richard was recognized by Curtmantle as the Duke of Aquitaine in 1179.

Two years later, Geoffrey would finally marry Constance and became the Duke of Brittany, by now most of Brittany had accepted Angevin rule. He was able to deal with the remaining disturbances on his own. John had spent the Great Revolt traveling along with his father and most observers had started to regard the prince as Henry’s favorite child. Henry began to grant John more lands, mostly at the expense of various nobles.

Back in 1177, Henry had made John the Lord of Ireland. Meanwhile his other son, Henry, had spent the end of the decade traveling through Europe. He would take part in tournaments and played only a passing role in either government or Henry and Richard’s military campaigns. The younger Henry had grown increasingly dissatisfied with his position and lack of power.

Five years later, 1182, young Henry reiterated his previous demands, he wanted to be granted lands too, such as the Duchy of Normandy, which would allow him to support himself and his household with dignity. Curtmantle refused, but had agreed to increase his allowance, but this wasn’t enough to calm young Henry. With trouble brewing, Curtmantle attempted to diffuse the situation by insisting that Richard and Geoffrey give homage to the younger Henry for their lands.

Richard didn’t believe that Henry had any claim over Aquitaine and had refused to give homage. When Curtmantle forced Richard to give homage, Henry angrily refused to accept it. Henry had formed an alliance with some of the disgruntled barons of the Aquitaine who were unhappy with Richard’s rule. Geoffrey would side with Henry, raising a mercenary army in Brittany to threaten Poitou.

During 1183, open war broke out and Henry and Richard led a joint campaign into Aquitaine. Before they could conclude it, young Henry had caught a fever and died. This had brought a sudden end to the rebellion. With his eldest son dead, Henry rearranged the plans for succession. Richard was to be made the King of England, except without any actual power until the death of his father. Geoffrey would have to retain Brittany, as he held it by marriage. Henry’s favorite son, John, would become the Duke of Aquitaine in place of Richard. However, Richard had refused to give it up and he was deeply attached to the area. Richard had had no desire to exchange this role for the meaningless one of being the junior King of England. His father was furious and had ordered John and Geoffrey to march to the South and retake the duchy by force.

By the end of 1184 the short war had ended in a stalemate and a tense family reconciliation at Westminster in England. Early the following year, Henry had finally got his way by bringing Eleanor to Normandy to instruct Richard to obey his father. At the same time, he had threatened to give Normandy, and possibly England, to Geoffrey. This had proved enough and Richard had finally handed over the ducal castles in Aquitaine to Henry.

Meanwhile, that same year, John had undertook an expedition to Ireland, which was not a success. Ireland had only recently been conquered by Anglo-Norman forces. Tensions were still ripe between Henry’s representatives, the new settlers and the existing inhabitants. John offended the local Irish rulers and also failed to make allies among the Anglo-Norman settlers, therefore he began to lose ground militarily against the Irish. Finally, within the year, he would return to England.

In 1186, Henry was about to return John to Ireland once again. When the news came that Geoffrey had died in a tournament at Paris. He would leave two young children behind. The event once again had changed the balance of power between Henry and his remaining sons.

Henry and Philip Augustus

Henry’s relationship with his two surviving heirs was fraught. For a long time, the king had great affection for his youngest son, John, he had shown little warmth towards Richard and indeed seems to have born him a grudge after their argument in 1184. The bickering and brewing tensions between Henry and Richard were cleverly exploited by the new French king, Philip Augustus.

Philip Augustus II

In 1180, Philip had come to power and quickly demonstrated that he could be an assertive, calculating and manipulative political leader. Initially, Henry and Philip had a good relationship, despite attempts to divide the two, they agreed to a joint alliance, even though this had cost the French King the support of Flanders and Champagne. Philip had thought Geoffrey to be a close friend and would have welcomed him as a successor to Henry. Upon the death of his friend however, the relationship between Henry and Philip had broken down. He would insist that Henry order Richard to withdraw from Toulouse, where he’d been sent with an army to apply new pressure on Philip’s uncle, Raymond.

Philip had threatened to invade Normandy if this did not happen. He also would reopen the question of the Vexin, which had formed part of Margaret’s dowry several years before. Henry had still occupied the area and now Philip was insisting that the King either complete the long agreed upon Richard and Alice marriage, or he return Margaret’s dowry. Philip would end up invading the Berry and Henry would mobilize a large army which would confront the French at Chateaurox before papal intervention brought a truce. During the negotiations though, Philip had suggested to Richard that he should ally with him against his father. This would mark the start of a new strategy to divide the father and son. Philip’s offer would coincide with a crisis in the Levant.

During 1187, Jerusalem had surrendered to Saladin and the call for a new crusade would sweep through Europe. Richard was enthusiastic about the idea and announced his intention to join the crusade. Henry and Philip Augustus announced their similar intentions at the beginning of 1188. Taxes started to be raised and plans were made for supplies and transport. Richard was keen to start his crusade, but had been forced to wait for Henry to make his arrangements. In the meantime, Richard had set about crushing some of his enemies in Aquitaine, before once again attacking the Count of Toulouse.

Richard’s campaign undermined the truce between Henry and Philip, and both sides again mobilized large forces in anticipation for war. This time, Henry would reject Philip’s offers of a short-term truce in hopes of convincing the French king to agree to a long-term peace deal, but Philip would refuse to consider Henry’s proposals. The furious Richard, however, believed that Henry was stalling for time and delaying the departure of the crusade.

Henry’s Death

The relationship between Henry and Richard had finally dissolved into violence a short time before Henry’s death. Philip held a peace conference in November of 1188, making a public offer of a generous long-term peace settlement with Henry. He would concede to his various territorial demands if Henry would finally marry Richard and Alice and also announce Richard as his recognized heir. Henry would refuse the proposal, whereupon, Richard himself spoke up, demanding to be recognized as his father’s successor.

Henry would remain silent and Richard then publicly changed sides at a conference and gave formal homage to Philip in front of the assembled nobles. The papacy would intervene once again, so as to try to produce a last-minute peace deal. This had resulted in a fresh conference at La Ferte-Bernard in 1189. By this time, Henry was suffering from a bleeding ulcer that would ultimately prove to be fatal. The discussion achieved little, even though Henry is alleged to have offered Philip that John, rather than Richard, could marry Alice, reflecting the rumors that were circulating over the summer that Henry was thinking of openly disinheriting Richard.

The conference would break up with a war appearing likely. However, Philip and Richard had launched a surprise attack immediately after, during what was conventionally a period of truce. Henry was caught by surprise at Le Mans but had made a forced march North to Alencon, from where he could escape into the safety of Normandy. Suddenly though, Henry had turned back South towards Anjou, against the advice of his officials. The weather was extremely hot at this time and the king was growing ill and he appears to have wanted to die peacefully in Anjou, rather than fight yet another campaign. Henry would evade enemy forces on his way South and collapsed in his castle at Chinon.

Philip and Richard were making good process, not just because it was now obvious that Henry was dying and Richard would be the next king, but the pair were also offering negotiations. They would meet at Ballan, where Henry, only just able to remain seated on his throne, had agreed to a complete surrender. He would do homage to Philip, gave up Alice to a guardian and she would marry Richard at the end of the coming crusade. Henry also offered to recognize Richard as his heir and he’d pay Philip compensation, giving Philip key castles as a guarantee.


Fontevraud Abbey


Henry was then carried back to Chinon on a litter, where he was informed that John had publicly sided with Richard in conflict. This desertion proved to have been the final shock. Henry would collapse into a fever, only coming to for a few moments during which he had given confession. On the 6th of July 1189, at the age of fifty-six, Henry passed away. He had wished to be interred at Grandmont Abbey in Limousin, but hot weather had made transporting his body impractical. He was instead buried at the nearby Fontevraud Abbey.

Henry’s Legacy

In the immediate aftermath of Henry’s death, Richard had successfully claimed his father’s lands. He would later leave on the Third Crusade, but had never married Alice as he had agreed to with Philip Augustus.

Eleanor was released from her house arrest and regained her control of Aquitaine, where she would rule on Richard’s behalf. Even though Henry’s empire didn’t survive long and had collapsed during the reign of his youngest son, John, when Philip captured all of the Angevin possessions in France, except for Gascony, this collapse had various causes. There were long-term changes in economic power, and growing cultural differences between England and Normandy, in particular, the fragile, familiar nature of Henry’s empire.

Henry was not a popular king, and few expressed very much grief on hearing the news of his death. In the 1190s, William of Newburgh would write and commented that:

“in his own time he was hated by almost everyone.”

He was also widely criticized by his own contemporaries, even within his own court. Many of the changes that Henry had introduced during his long rule however, had major long-term consequences. His legal changes are generally considered to have paved the way for the English Common Law, with the Exchequer Court being a forerunner of the later Common Bench at Westminster. Henry’s itinerant justices had also influenced his contemporaries’ legal reforms. Philip Augustus’ creation of itinerant bailli, for example, clearly drew on the Henrician model. Henry’s intervention in Brittany, Wales and Scotland also had a significant long-term impact on the development of their societies and governmental systems.


Henry and his reign have attracted historian’s attention for many years. During the 18th century, historian David Hume had argued that Henry’s reign was pivotal to the creation of a genuine English monarchy and, ultimately, it had unified Britain.

His role in the Becket controversy was considered relatively praiseworthy by Protestant historians at the time. While his disputes with French King, Louis, had also attracted a positive patriotic comment.

During the Victorian times, there was a fresh interest in personal morality of historical figures. Scholars would begin to express a greater concern over aspects of Henry’s behavior, including his role as a parent and husband. The king’s role in the death of Becket had also attracted particular criticism. The late Victorians, with their increasing access to documentary records from the time, would stress Henry’s contribution to the evolution of key English institutions, including the development of the law and exchequer.

William Stubbs’ analysis would lead Henry to be labeled as a “legislator king”. He said that Henry was responsible for major, long-lasting reforms in England. Influenced by contemporary growth of the British Empire, historians such as Kate Norgate would undertake detailed research into Henry’s continental possessions, and would create the term “the Angevin Empire” in the 1880s.

In the 20th century, historians had challenged many of these conclusions. During the 1950s, Jacques Boussard and John Jolliffe, among others, would examine the nature of Henry’s “empire”. French scholars in particular had analyzed the mechanics of how royal power had functioned during Henry’s time. Anglocentric aspects of many histories of Henry were challenged from the 1980s and on, with efforts made to bring together the British and French historical analysis of the time. More detailed studies of written records that had been left by Henry has cast doubt on some earlier interpretations. Robert Eyton’s ground breaking 1878 work that traced his itinerary through deductions from the pipe rolls. Although many more of Henry’s royal charters have been identified, the task of interpreting these records, the financial information in pipe rolls and the wider economic data from his reign is understood to be more challenging than what was once thought. There are significant gaps in the historical analysis of Henry that still remain, especially the nature of his rule in Anjou and the South of France.


The Graves of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine



3 thoughts on “Henry Plantagenet II (1132-1189)”

  1. Despite his long reign and involvement in both civil wars and foreign conflicts, Henry is best remembered here for the murder of Becket, in Canterbury. That has much to do with this 1964 film, starring Richard Burton as Becket.

    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I didn’t know a lot until now about Henry but I had heard of Thomas becket numerous times on TV shows as well as quite a bit when I was over there, and when I went to canterbury


  2. This is another well-written and highly informative piece, Christina! THANK YOU! I was eager to read this post as Henry II is my three-times great-grandfather; he is my 27th g-g through his daughter Eleanor of England, my 26th g-g through his son John Lackland, and my 25th g-g through his son William Longespée I.

    Liked by 1 person

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