Henry II

(Henry II of England, Henry Plantagenet )


Henry II was the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty that ruled England for over 300 years. He is credited with bringing a great deal of order and justice to his realm after nearly twenty years of Civil War, and laying a strong foundation in law and precedent for those monarchs who followed him. He quarreled with the church, but over matters of principle and procedure, rather than merely feuding over money and investiture issues. He restored peace and prosperity to the land and reined in the power of abusive nobles. Like William the Conqueror, he held all power in his own hands, and feuded with his sons who desired to obtain rights to their inheritance early. He also alienated his wife, who proved to be a difficult antagonist, and eventually had her imprisoned. In spite of all this, he was a popular monarch. His great attention to matters of justice and legal reform, and his efforts to reign in abuses by the nobles made him a hero to the common man, and made his throne secure from rebellions within or without the royal family.

Henry II
Before claiming the throne of England, Henry was already Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. At age nineteen he contracted a marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine largely to strengthen his position in his ongoing effort to retake the English crown. Shortly after he succeeded in obtaining the rights to the throne of England but still required several years to consolidate his power over rebellious and independent barons in the region. After securing his domain in both France and England, he took on the additional project of bringing Ireland under the English crown, and was supported in his effort to do this by the pope who sought to bring the still overly-independent Celtic church into tow. The Norman conquest of Ireland was not thorough, but it succeeded in establishing a permanent English presence that grew over time.

Soon after bringing all of Britain under his control Henry made a serious attempt at legal reform. Part of these reforms involved restrictions on church prerogatives, since it was Henry's intent to create a uniform legal system in his realm. He had recently installed his good friend Thomas a Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury and expected no trouble, but instead of doing Henry II's bidding he resisted him, and defended the rights of the church courts. The conflict caused Henry II much frustration and ended in the unintentional murder of Becket a few years later, for which Henry was held responsible.

On the domestic front, Henry and Eleanor produced eight children, but eventually parted ways. Eleanor took the side of her sons in their rebellions against their father, which occurred frequently during the last fifteen years of his reign. These rebellions caused Henry considerable anguish, and resulted in the death of two of his sons. The rebellions occurred mostly in his Henry's French domains, and when, on his death-bed he heard of the involvement of his son John, who he considered his one, faithful son, he was heart-broken.

Key events during the life of Henry Plantagenet:

Birth of Henry Plantagenet, grandson of Henry I by his daughter Matilda.
Death of Henry I
Matilda seeks to recover the throne from Stephen, but is repelled.
On death of his father, becomes Duke of Normandy and Anjou.
Marries Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Ascends to the throne of England on the death of Stephen.
  Campaigns in Wales, Scotland, and Northumbria to recover crown lands and recognition.
Thomas a Becket appointed archbishop of Canterbury.
Murder of Thomas a Becket.
Conquest of Ireland.
Rebellion in England against Henry by his sons is put down.
Death of Henry's eldest son, in a war against Richard.
Death of Henry II.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Richard's Early Life  in  Richard I  by  Jacob Abbott
Thomas Becket, The Chancellor  in  Stories from English History  by  Alfred J. Church
Henry the Second and His Sons  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Henry II., the First Plantagenet King  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Coming of the Normans  in  Ireland: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home

Image Links

Portrait of King Henry II
 in Richard I

Henry II. landing at Waterford
 in Ireland: Peeps at History

Short Biography
Matilda of England Daughter of Henry I. Fought her cousin Stephen for the throne. Her son Henry II won the crown.
Eleanor of Aquitaine Wife of Henry II, queen of Aquitaine. Led dramatic, adventurous life.
Richard I Son of Henry II. Spent almost his entire reign crusading and fighting in France.
John I Wicked king, murdered his nephew and usurped throne. Forced to sign the Magna Carta.
Thomas a Becket Appointed Archbishop by Henry II, but strove for an independent church. Martyred.
Prince Henry Eldest son of Henry II, who died in battle against his father.
Prince Geoffrey Third son of Henry II, who allied himself with Philip Augustus against Henry II.