Wednesday 28 February 2018

House of Plantagenet - Henry II of England

Henry II (5 March 1133 – 6 July 1189), also known as Henry Plantagenet, ruled as Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Nantes, King of England and Lord of Ireland. At various times, he also controlled Wales, Scotland and Brittany. He became actively involved by the age of 14 in his mother's efforts to claim the throne of England, then occupied by Stephen of Blois, and was made Duke of Normandy at 17.

Château de Chinon, France

Henry inherited Anjou in 1151 and shortly afterwards married Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose marriage to Louis VII of France had recently been annulled.  The marriage instantly reignited Henry's tensions with Louis: the marriage was considered an insult. With his new lands, Henry now possessed a much larger proportion of France than Louis. 

Louis VII of France

Louis VII organised a coalition against Henry, including Stephen, Eustace, Henry the Count of Champagne, and Robert the Count of Perche. Louis's alliance was joined by Henry's younger brother, Geoffrey, who rose in revolt, claiming that Henry had dispossessed him of his inheritance. But soon Louis fell ill and withdrew from the campaign, and Geoffrey was forced to come to terms with Henry.

Henry II of England

Stephen(then king of England) placed Wallingford Castle, a key fortress loyal to Henry along the Thames Valley in England, under siege. In response to Stephen's siege, Henry returned to England again at the start of 1153, braving winter storms with a small army of mercenaries. Henry was supported in the north and east of England by the forces of Ranulf of Chester and Hugh Bigod, and had hopes of a military victory.

Ruins of Wallingford Castle, England

To draw Stephen's forces away from Wallingford, Henry besieged Stephen's castle at Malmesbury, and the King responded by marching west with an army to relieve it. Over the next summer, Stephen massed troops to renew the siege of Wallingford Castle in a final attempt to take the stronghold. The fall of Wallingford appeared imminent and Henry marched south to relieve the siege, arriving with a small army and placing Stephen's besieging forces under siege themselves.

Stephan of England

In November Stephan of England and Henry ratified the terms of a permanent peace. Stephen announced the Treaty of Winchester in Winchester Cathedral: he recognised Henry as his adopted son and successor, in return for Henry doing homage to him. Stephen's remaining son, William, would do homage to Henry and renounce his claim to the throne. Stephen, however, fell ill with a stomach disorder and died on 25 October 1154, allowing Henry to inherit the throne rather sooner than had been expected.

Winchester Cathedral

On landing in England on 8 December 1154, Henry quickly took oaths of loyalty from some of the barons and was then crowned alongside Eleanor at Westminster on 19 December. The royal court was gathered in April 1155, where the barons swore fealty to the King and his sons. Henry presented himself as the legitimate heir to Henry I and commenced rebuilding the kingdom in his image.

Westminster Abbey

Henry had a problematic relationship with Louis VII of France throughout the 1150s. In 1154 Henry and Louis agreed a peace treaty, under which Henry bought back the Vernon and the Neuf-Marché from Louis. In an attempt to improve relations, Henry met with Louis at Paris and Mont-Saint-Michel in 1158, agreeing to betroth Henry's eldest living son, the Young Henry, to Louis's daughter Margaret.


Long-running tensions between Henry and Louis VII continued during the 1160s, the French king slowly becoming more vigorous in opposing Henry's increasing power in Europe. In 1160 Louis strengthened his alliances in central France with the Count of Champagne and Odo II, the Duke of Burgundy. In 1164 Henry intervened to seize lands along the border of Brittany and Normandy, and in 1166 invaded Brittany to punish the local barons.

Seal of Odo II, Duke of Burgundy

The growing tensions between Henry and Louis finally spilled over into open war in 1167, triggered by a trivial argument over how money destined for the Crusader states of the Levant should be collected. Louis allied himself with the Welsh, Scots and Bretons, and the French king attacked Normandy. Henry responded by attacking Chaumont-sur-Epte, where Louis kept his main military arsenal, burning the town to the ground and forcing Louis to abandon his allies and make a private truce.

Silver Penny of Henry II

Henry's daughter Eleanor was married to Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1170, enlisting an additional ally in the south. In February 1173, Raymond finally gave in and publicly gave homage for Toulouse to Henry and his heirs.

Modern Day Toulouse

In the 1160s King Diarmait Mac Murchada was deposed as King of Leinster by the High King of Ireland, Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair. Diarmait turned to Henry for assistance in 1167. With his new supporters, he reclaimed Leinster but died shortly afterwards in 1171. Henry took this opportunity to intervene personally in Ireland. He took a large army into south Wales, forcing the rebels who had held the area since 1165 into submission before sailing from Pembroke and landing in Ireland in October 1171.

Kilkenny Castle, Ireland

In 1175 Henry agreed to the Treaty of Windsor, under which Rory O'Connor would be recognised as the high king of Ireland, giving homage to Henry and maintaining stability on the ground on his behalf. This policy proved unsuccessful, as O'Connor was unable to exert sufficient influence and force in areas such as Munster: Henry instead intervened more directly, establishing a system of local fiefs of his own through a conference held in Oxford in 1177.

Kingdoms of Ireland in 1171, and arrow showing Henry's invasion

In 1173 Henry faced the Great Revolt, an uprising by his eldest sons and rebellious barons, supported by France, Scotland and Flanders. Young Henry was unhappy that, despite the title of king, in practice he made no real decisions and was kept chronically short of money by Henry of England. Meanwhile, local barons unhappy with Henry's rule saw opportunities to recover traditional powers and influence by allying themselves with his sons.

Henry the Young

In the aftermath of the Great Revolt, Henry held negotiations at Montlouis, offering a lenient peace on the basis of the pre-war status quo. Young Henry agreed to the transfer of the disputed castles to John, but in exchange the elder Henry agreed to give the younger Henry two castles in Normandy and 15,000 Angevin pounds; Henry's other sons Richard(later Richard I of England) and Geoffrey were granted half the revenues from Aquitaine and Brittany respectively.

13th-century representation of Richard and Philip Augustus

Young Henry formed an alliance with some of the disgruntled barons of the Aquitaine who were unhappy with Richard's rule, and Geoffrey sided with him, raising a mercenary army in Brittany to threaten Poitou. Open war broke out in 1183 and Henry and Richard led a joint campaign into Aquitaine: before they could conclude it, however, Young Henry caught a fever and died, bringing a sudden end to the rebellion.

Tomb and effigy of Henry in Rouen Cathedral

The relationship between Henry and Richard finally dissolved into violence shortly before Henry's death. The papacy intervened once again to try to produce a last-minute peace deal, resulting in a fresh conference at La Ferté-Bernard in 1189. By now Henry was suffering from a bleeding ulcer that would ultimately prove fatal.

La Ferté-Bernard

In the dispute between Henry and Richard, Henry evaded the enemy forces on his way south and collapsed in his castle at Chinon. Henry was carried back to Chinon on a litter, where he was informed that his son John had publicly sided with Richard in the conflict. Henry died on 6 July 1189, aged 56; the King had wished to be interred at Grandmont Abbey in the Limousin, but the hot weather made transporting his body impractical and he was instead buried at the nearby Fontevraud Abbey.

Fontevraud Abbey

In the immediate aftermath of Henry's death, Richard successfully claimed his father's lands; he later left on the Third Crusade, but never married Alice as he had agreed with Philip Augustus. His mother, Eleanor was released from house arrest and regained control of Aquitaine, where she ruled on Richard's behalf.

Tomb of Henry and Eleanor in Fontevraud Abbey

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