1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Henry II. of England

21291141911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 13 — Henry II. of EnglandHenry William Carless Davis

HENRY II. (1133–1189), king of England, son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou, by Matilda, daughter of Henry I., was born at Le Mans on the 25th of March 1133. He was brought to England during his mother’s conflict with Stephen (1142), and was placed under the charge of a tutor at Bristol. He returned to Normandy in 1146. He next appeared on English soil in 1149[1] when he came to court the help of Scotland and the English baronage against King Stephen. The second visit was of short duration. In 1150 he was invested with Normandy by his father, whose death in the next year made him also count of Anjou. In 1152 by a marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine, the divorced wife of the French king Louis VII., he acquired Poitou, Guienne and Gascony; but in doing so incurred the ill-will of his suzerain from which he suffered not a little in the future. Lastly in 1153 he was able, through the aid of the Church and his mother’s partisans, to extort from Stephen the recognition of his claim to the English succession; and this claim was asserted without opposition immediately after Stephen’s death (25th of October 1154). Matilda retired into seclusion, although she possessed, until her death (1167), great influence with her son.

The first years of the reign were largely spent in restoring the public peace and recovering for the crown the lands and prerogatives which Stephen had bartered away. Amongst the older partisans of the Angevin house the most influential were Archbishop Theobald, whose good will guaranteed to Henry the support of the Church, and Nigel, bishop of Ely, who presided at the exchequer. But Thomas Becket, archdeacon of Canterbury, a younger statesman whom Theobald had discovered and promoted, soon became all-powerful. Becket lent himself entirely to his master’s ambitions, which at this time centred round schemes of territorial aggrandizement. In 1155 Henry asked and obtained from Adrian IV. a licence to invade Ireland, which the king contemplated bestowing upon his brother, William of Anjou. This plan was dropped; but Malcolm of Scotland was forced to restore the northern counties which had been ceded to David; North Wales was invaded in 1157; and in 1159 Henry made an attempt, which was foiled by the intervention of Louis VII., to assert his wife’s claims upon Toulouse. After vainly invoking the aid of the emperor Frederick I., the young king came to terms with Louis (1160), whose daughter was betrothed to Henry’s namesake and heir. The peace proved unstable, and there was desultory skirmishing in 1161. The following year was chiefly spent in reforming the government of the continental provinces. In 1163 Henry returned to England, and almost immediately embarked on that quarrel with the Church which is the keynote to the middle period of the reign.

Henry had good cause to complain of the ecclesiastical courts, and had only awaited a convenient season to correct abuses which were admitted by all reasonable men. But he allowed the question to be complicated by personal issues. He was bitterly disappointed that Becket, on whom he bestowed the primacy, left vacant by the death of Theobald (1162), at once became the champion of clerical privilege; he and the archbishop were no longer on speaking terms when the Constitutions of Clarendon came up for debate. The king’s demands were not intrinsically irreconcilable with the canon law, and the papacy would probably have allowed them to take effect sub silentio, if Becket (q.v.) had not been goaded to extremity by persecution in the forms of law. After Becket’s flight (1164), the king put himself still further in the wrong by impounding the revenues of Canterbury and banishing at one stroke a number of the archbishop’s friends and connexions. He showed, however, considerable dexterity in playing off the emperor against Alexander III. and Louis VII., and contrived for five years, partly by these means, partly by insincere negotiations with Becket, to stave off a papal interdict upon his dominions. When, in July 1170, he was forced by Alexander’s threats to make terms with Becket, the king contrived that not a word should be said of the Constitutions. He undoubtedly hoped that in this matter he would have his way when Becket should be more in England and within his grasp. For the murder of Becket (Dec. 29, 1170) the king cannot be held responsible, though the deed was suggested by his impatient words. It was a misfortune to the royal cause; and Henry was compelled to purchase the papal absolution by a complete surrender on the question of criminous clerks (1172). When he heard of the murder he was panic-stricken; and his expedition to Ireland (1171), although so momentous for the future, was originally a mere pretext for placing himself beyond the reach of Alexander’s censures.

Becket’s fate, though it supplied an excuse, was certainly not the real cause of the troubles with his sons which disturbed the king’s later years (1173–1189). But Henry’s misfortunes were largely of his own making. Queen Eleanor, whom he alienated by his faithlessness, stirred up her sons to rebellion; and they had grievances enough to be easily persuaded. Henry was an affectionate but a suspicious and close-handed father. The titles which he bestowed on them carried little power, and served chiefly to denote the shares of the paternal inheritance which were to be theirs after his death. The excessive favour which he showed to John, his youngest-born, was another cause of heart-burning; and Louis, the old enemy, did his utmost to foment all discords. It must, however, be remembered in Henry’s favour, that the supporters of the princes, both in England and in the foreign provinces, were animated by resentment against the soundest features of the king’s administration; and that, in the rebellion of 1173, he received from the English commons such hearty support that any further attempt to raise a rebellion in England was considered hopeless. Henry, like his grandfather, gained in popularity with every year of his reign. In 1183 the death of Prince Henry, the heir-apparent, while engaged in a war against his brother Richard and their father, secured a short interval of peace. But in 1184 Geoffrey of Brittany and John combined with their father’s leave to make war upon Richard, now the heir-apparent. After Geoffrey’s death (1186) the feud between John and Richard drove the latter into an alliance with Philip Augustus of France. The ill-success of the old king in this war aggravated the disease from which he was suffering; and his heart was broken by the discovery that John, for whose sake he had alienated Richard, was in secret league with the victorious allies. Henry died at Chinon on the 6th of July 1189, and was buried at Fontevraud. By Eleanor of Aquitaine the king had five sons and three daughters. His eldest son, William, died young; his other sons, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John, are all mentioned above. His daughters were: Matilda (1156–1189), who became the wife of Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony; Eleanor (1162–1214), who married Alphonso III., king of Castile; and Joanna, who, after the death of William of Sicily in 1189, became the wife of Raymund VI., count of Toulouse, having previously accompanied her brother, Richard, to Palestine. He had also three illegitimate sons: Geoffrey, archbishop of York; Morgan; and William Longsword, earl of Salisbury.

Henry’s power impressed the imagination of his contemporaries, who credited him with aiming at the conquest of France and the acquisition of the imperial title. But his ambitions of conquest were comparatively moderate in his later years. He attempted to secure Maurienne and Savoy for John by a marriage-alliance, for which a treaty was signed in 1173. But the project failed through the death of the intended bride; nor did the marriage of his third daughter, the princess Joanna (1165–1199), with William II., king of Sicily (1177) lead to English intervention in Italian politics. Henry once declined an offer of the Empire, made by the opponents of Frederick Barbarossa; and he steadily supported the young Philip Augustus against the intrigues of French feudatories. The conquest of Ireland was carried out independently of his assistance, and perhaps against his wishes. He asserted his suzerainty over Scotland by the treaty of Falaise (1175), but not so stringently as to provoke Scottish hostility. This moderation was partly due to the embarrassments produced by the ecclesiastical question and the rebellions of the princes. But Henry, despite a violent and capricious temper, had a strong taste for the work of a legislator and administrator. He devoted infinite pains and thought to the reform of government both in England and Normandy. The legislation of his reign was probably in great part of his own contriving. His supervision of the law courts was close and jealous; he transacted a great amount of judicial business in his own person, even after he had formed a high court of justice which might sit without his personal presence. To these activities he devoted his scanty intervals of leisure. His government was stern; he over-rode the privileges of the baronage without regard to precedent; he persisted in keeping large districts under the arbitrary and vexatious jurisdiction of the forest-courts. But it is the general opinion of historians that he had a high sense of his responsibilities and a strong love of justice; despite the looseness of his personal morals, he commanded the affection and respect of Gilbert Foliot and Hugh of Lincoln, the most upright of the English bishops.

Original Authorities.—Henry’s laws are printed in W. Stubb’s Select Charters (Oxford, 1895). The chief chroniclers of his reign are William of Newburgh, Ralph de Diceto, the so-called Benedict of Peterborough, Roger of Hoveden, Robert de Torigni (or de Monte), Jordan Fantosme, Giraldus Cambrensis, Gervase of Canterbury; all printed in the Rolls Series. The biographies and letters contained in the 7 vols. of Materials for the History of Thomas Becket (ed. J. C. Robertson, Rolls Series, 1875–1885) are valuable for the early and middle part of the reign. For Irish affairs the Song of Dermot (ed. Orpen, Oxford, 1892), for the rebellions of the princes the metrical Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal (ed. Paul Meyer, 3 vols., Paris, 1891, &c.) are of importance. Henry’s legal and administrative reforms are illustrated by the Tractatus de legibus attributed to Ranulph Glanville, his chief justiciar (ed. G. Phillips, Berlin, 1828); by the Dialogus de scaccario of Richard fitz Nigel (Oxford, 1902); the Pipe Rolls, printed by J. Hunter for the Record Commission (1844) and by the Pipe-Roll Society (London, 1884, &c.) supply valuable details. The works of John of Salisbury (ed. Giles, 1848), Peter of Blois (ed. Migne), Walter Map (Camden Society, 1841, 1850) and the letters of Gilbert Foliot (ed. J. A. Giles, Oxford, 1845) are useful for the social and Church history of the reign.

Modern Authorities.—R. W. Eyton, Itinerary of Henry II. (London, 1878); W. Stubbs, Constitutional History, vol. i. (Oxford, 1893), Lectures on Medieval and Modern History (Oxford, 1886) and Early Plantagenets (London, 1876); the same author’s introduction to the Rolls editions of “Benedict,” Gervase, Diceto, Hoveden; Mrs J. R. Green, Henry II. (London, 1888); Miss K. Norgate, England under the Angevin Kings (2 vols., London, 1887); Sir J. H. Ramsay’s The Angevin Empire (London, 1893); H. W. C. Davis’s England under the Normans and Angevins (London, 1905); Sir F. Pollock and F. W. Maitland, History of English Law (2 vols., Cambridge, 1898); and F. Hardegen, Imperialpolitik König Heinrichs II. von England (Heidelberg, 1905).  (H. W. C. D.) 

  1. For a supposed visit in 1147, see J. H. Round in English Historical Review, v. 747.