Henry II of England (Henry Curtmantle)
Henry II (5 March 1133 – 6 July 1189), also known as Henry Curtmantle (French: Court-manteau), Henry FitzEmpress or Henry Plantagenet, ruled as Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Nantes, King of England (1154–89) and Lord of Ireland; at various times, he also controlled Wales, Scotland and Brittany. Henry was the son of Geoffrey of Anjou and Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England. 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. He inherited Anjou in 1151 and shortly afterwards married Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose marriage to Louis VII of France had recently been annulled. Stephen agreed to a peace treaty after Henry’s military expedition to England in 1153: Henry inherited the kingdom on Stephen’s death a year later.
Henry was an energetic and sometimes ruthless ruler, driven by a desire to restore the lands and privileges of his royal grandfather, Henry I. During the early years of the younger Henry’s reign he restored the royal administration in England, 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 conflict with his former friend Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This controversy lasted for much of the 1160s and resulted in Becket’s murder in 1170. Henry soon came into conflict with Louis VII and the two rulers fought what has been termed a “cold war” over several decades. Henry expanded his empire, often at Louis’ expense, taking Brittany and pushing east into central France and south into Toulouse; despite numerous peace conferences and treaties no lasting agreement was reached. By 1172, he controlled England, large parts of Wales, the eastern half of Ireland and the western half of France, an area that would later come to be called the Angevin Empire.
Henry and Eleanor had eight children. As they grew up, tensions over the future inheritance of the empire began to emerge, encouraged by Louis and his son King Philip II. In 1173 Henry’s heir apparent, “Young Henry”, rebelled in protest; he was joined by his brothers Richard and Geoffrey and by their mother, Eleanor. France, Scotland, Flanders and Boulogne allied themselves with the rebels. The Great Revolt was only defeated by his vigorous military action and talented local commanders, many of them “new men” appointed for their loyalty and administrative skills. Young Henry and Geoffrey revolted again in 1183, resulting in Young Henry’s death. The Norman invasion of Ireland provided lands for his youngest son John, but Henry struggled to find ways to satisfy all his sons’ desires for land and immediate power. Philip successfully played on Richard’s fears that Henry would make John king, and a final rebellion broke out in 1189. Decisively defeated by Philip and Richard and suffering from a bleeding ulcer, Henry retreated to Chinon in Anjou, where he died.
Henry’s empire quickly collapsed during the reign of his youngest son John. Many of the changes Henry introduced during his long rule, however, had long-term consequences. Henry’s legal changes are generally considered to have laid the basis for the English Common Law, while his intervention in Brittany, Wales and Scotland shaped the development of their societies and governmental systems. Historical interpretations of Henry’s reign have changed considerably over time. In the 18th century, scholars argued that Henry was a driving force in the creation of a 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 they also expressed concern over his private life and treatment of Becket. Late-20th-century historians have combined British and French historical accounts of Henry, challenging earlier Anglo-centric interpretations of his reign.
The relationship between Henry and Richard finally dissolved into violence shortly before Henry’s death. Philip held a peace conference in November 1188, making a public offer of a generous long-term peace settlement with Henry, conceding to his various territorial demands, if Henry would finally marry Richard and Alice and announce Richard as his recognised heir. Henry refused the proposal, whereupon Richard himself spoke up, demanding to be recognised as Henry’s successor. Henry remained silent and Richard then publicly changed sides at the conference and gave formal homage to Philip in front of the assembled nobles. 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. The discussions achieved little, although Henry is alleged to have offered Philip that John could marry Alice instead of Richard, reflecting the rumours circulating over the summer that Henry was considering openly disinheriting Richard. The conference broke up with war appearing likely, but Philip and Richard launched a surprise attack immediately afterwards during what was conventionally a period of truce.
Henry was caught by surprise at Le Mans but made a forced march north to Alençon, from where he could escape into the safety of Normandy. Suddenly, however, Henry turned back south towards Anjou, against the advice of his officials. The weather was extremely hot, the King was increasingly ill and he appears to have wanted to die peacefully in Anjou rather than fight yet another campaign. Henry evaded the enemy forces on his way south and collapsed in his castle at Chinon. Philip and Richard were making good progress, not least because it was now obvious that Henry was dying and that Richard would be the next king, and the pair offered negotiations. They met at Ballan, where Henry, only just able to remain seated on his horse, agreed to a complete surrender: he would do homage to Philip; he would give up Alice to a guardian and she would marry Richard at the end of the coming crusade; he would recognise Richard as his heir; he would pay Philip compensation, and key castles would be given to Philip as a guarantee.
Henry was carried back to Chinon on a litter, where he was informed that John had publicly sided with Richard in the conflict. This desertion proved the final shock and he finally collapsed into a fever, only coming to for a few moments during which he gave confession. 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.
- March, 05, 1133
- Le Mans, France
- July, 06, 1189
- Chinon Castle, France
- Fontevraud Abbey
- Fontevraud-l'Abbaye, France