Henry II Plantagenet: One Hundred-plus Facts and Stories

He lived from 1133 to 1189 and began his kingship in 1154. This post also looks into his grandfather Henry I, his uncle King Stephen, and Henry II’s wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. Includes four genealogical tables. Great for family research!

Corrected Nov 6, 2016 and updated Feb. 1, 2017.

Here are the abbreviations and other matters.

H1 = Henry I

H2 = Henry II

r. = ruled or reigned or became king

d.s.p. = descessit sine prole = deceased without issue

Bold font indicates direct lineage between us and them.

Angevin is another form of Anjou.

King Henry II

 

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine (onsite)

PLANTAGENET ANCESTRY

(Source and added 21 April 2017)

The above table gives a good overview of the entire Plantagenet family.

W. L. WARREN’S PEDIGREE TABLES

He was the “dean” of Plantagenet historians.

WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR AND HIS OFFSPRING

Wm Conqueror

Henry of Anjou will become Henry II when he is anointed king on December 19, 1154.

HENRY II AND HIS CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN

H2 & Kids

Not Shown: Henry’s illegitimate child William, future earl of Salisbury and nicknamed Longsword. We descend from him.

In the above table, we also descend from King John.

EXCURSUS 1: SCOTTISH KINGS AND HENRY II

H2 & Scott Kings

Yes, we descend from Scottish kings too.

EXCURSUS 2: KINGS OF JERUSALEM AND HENRY II

H2 and Jerusalem

THE FACTS AND STORIES

  1. H1 was the fourth son of William the conqueror.
  2. H1 married Queen Edith (Matilda) of Scotland.
  3. After William the conqueror’s death in 1087, H1 ruthlessly reunited England and Normandy.
  4. H1’s son and heir William the Aethling died in a shipwreck of the White Ship, which crashed into a rocky outcrop, because the crew was drunk and took sail at midnight.
  5. H1 tried to father another male heir, but Queen Matilda died 1118.
  6. H1 married a younger woman named Adeliza of Louvain in 1121.
  7. H1 had fathered 22 (or 21) illegitimate children, but could not manage to impregnate his young wife.
  8. H1 snatched the English crown after his brother Rufus died in 1100, supposedly from a hunting “accident,” struck by a stray arrow. Henry was on the excursion and took the crown three days later.
  9. H1 defeated another elder brother, Robert Curthose, at the battle of Tinchebrai in 1106 to seize control of Normandy.
  10. H1 kept Robert in prison in Cardiff castle for nearly three decades.
  11. He gave the English barons a charter of liberty, which guaranteed baronial rights and limited royal power.
  12. H1’s daughter Matilda married Henry V of the Holy Roman Empire (too many Henrys!).
  13. Matilda was now empress.
  14. She was used to the greatest of luxuries in eastern and south-central Europe and Germany, all the way to Tuscany in Italy.
  15. Henry V died without children with Matilda,
  16. Keeping the title Empress, Matilda returned home to her father H1, carrying her precious relic, the preserved hand of St. James. She had left when she was eight years young, and when she returned she spoke only German and grew up in the highly refined court of the Empire. The English didn’t take to her.
  17. H1 made his loyal barons swear allegiance to her, though a daughter succeeding to the throne had a weak precedence at that time, but still there was some precedence.
  18. To bolster H1’s daughter Matilda’s claim to the throne, he sought an alliance with the counts of Anjou, specifically Fulk V.
  19. Empress Matilda married Geoffrey count of Anjou, son of Fulk V, on June 17, 1128 in Le Mans, France. She was twenty-six and he was fifteen. The wedding was celebrated for three weeks and no one left without a gift.
  20. Geoffrey Count of Anjou liked to wear a sprig of bright yellow broom blossom (Planta genista in Latin) in his hair. This earned Geoffrey the nickname Plantagenet.
  21. A week before Geoffrey’s marriage his father Fulk V knighted him.
  22. But the counts of Anjou had a checkered family history. A legend said they were descended from Satan’s daughter Melusine, who had married an Angevin count of old (Angevin is another form of Anjou).
  23. Geoffrey’s grandfather Fulk III, the “Black,” was violent.
  24. Fulk III was said to have burned his first wife at the stake in her wedding dress because she allegedly committed adultery with a goatherd.
  25. Empress Matilda and Geoffrey didn’t get along and separated for the first years of their marriage. Doing their political duties, however, Matilda and Geoffrey got back together.
  26. On March 5, 1133 at Le Mans, Matilda gave birth to their first son Henry (later H2). His parents entrusted him to St. Julian.
  27. Henry could be called Henry FitzEmpress or “son of the empress.”
  28. As Henry grew up in Normandy, he was educated in the best area for training aristocratic boys to rule. He learned the way of knights and sports. Equally importantly, he was educated in books. His father liked knightly exercises, but they came second to reading. Young Henry had to study books.
  29. Though H1 was by now sixty-eight years old, he remained vigorous and strong and was about to go on a hunt in Normandy.
  30. During the night, however, H1 fell ill. H1 died on Sunday, December 1, 1135, after he confessed his sins, beat his breast and set aside his animosities. The corpse was brought to Rouen, France. H1’s entrails, brain and eyes were buried together there. Then the body was cut all over with knives and profusely covered with salt and wrapped in ox hides to cover the stench, a kind of “embalming.” However, the putrefying flesh was so decomposed and contaminated that it killed the man commissioned to chop off its head and take out the brain.
  31. H1’s “embalmed” body was taken to England and buried at Reading Abbey.
  32. His death and plans for his daughter Matilda’s succession caused political turmoil.
  33. Empress Matilda and Stephen competed for the crown.
  34. King Stephen was the grandson of William the Conqueror and son of William’s daughter Adela and Stephen Count of Blois, so he descends through a female.
  35. King Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne had Eustace count of Boulogne and William Earl of Surrey.
  36. Empress Matilda and Stephen fought in a civil war, although Stephen remained king. One day in the winter of 1141 the king besieged Matilda in the castle at Oxford. Would her husband Geoffrey rescue her? He was in Normandy. Young Henry would go with Earl Robert of Gloucester, the illegitimate son of Henry I. But there was no need. She escaped from the beleaguered castle by walking through Stephen’s lines in the dead of a snowy night. She made her way to Abingdon by foot and then to Wallingford on horseback. Bravery.
  37. In 1148 Matilda left England, as the country suffered badly from the civil war. Stephen was even captured for a short while, but managed to secure his release due to complicated alliances and a swap.
  38. In 1149 thirteen-year-old Henry, son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou, “invaded” England with an insignificant force of mercenaries. King Stephen laughed it off, bought off the mercenaries and sent them home. Henry returned—escaped—to France.
  39. Twelfth-century France was a patchwork of territories fought over by noblemen who were really warlords.
  40. Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Louis VII of France on July 25, 1137; she provided no male heir, but two daughters.
  41. Eleanor’s father-in-law Louis VI died seven days later, so she became Queen of France.
  42. However, the marriage was a mismatch: he was austere, like a monk, while she was resourceful and feisty and politically astute. The marriage was annulled on March 21, 1152, due to consanguinity (too closely related), but this was a standard excuse for divorce since everyone had already known of the family lines.
  43. In 1150 Geoffrey of Anjou invested his son Henry the duke of Normandy.
  44. Eleanor of Aquitaine made a perilous journey from Beaugency through the Loire Valley to Poitiers, the seat of the duchy’s power. The roads were filled with danger because the news of her divorce now widely known. Kidnappers were said to be chasing her. Theobald V count of Blois and Geoffrey, Henry’s younger brother wanted to capture her and force her into marriage. But her political skills told her that marriage was unavoidable, so she wrote to Henry and asked him to come immediately, to marry her. She slipped by her would-be abductors and reached Poitiers.
  45. On May 18, 1152 Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine, in a low-key ceremony, swift and discreet.
  46. This was a political disaster for Louis VII, since Henry now controlled Aquitaine, a prosperous region in southern, coastal France.
  47. Who was Eleanor? She was the daughter of the hereditary duke William X. As noted she had married Louis VII king of France and bore him two daughters Mary and Alice. Her fifth great-grandfather was Robert the Pious, king of France (r. 996-1031). Louis divorced her reluctantly because reports say he loved his dark-eyed beauty. Eight weeks after her divorce from Louis, she married Henry. It was a love match. .
  48. Eleanor became regent of England during her husband’s absence and when she was not in her duchy, Aquitaine.
  49. Back to the battle for the throne: King Stephen weakened, while Henry II
  50. Stephen arranged for a settlement: Henry II would become his heir.
  51. Eustace was furious and was prepared to fight for the Crown, but he fell ill and died.
  52. Stephen was heartbroken. His younger son William accepted a large landed settlement in compensation for abandoning any claim to the throne.
  53. On October 25, 1154, Stephen was taken ill and died.
  54. Henry was crowned king in Westminster Abbey on December 19, 1154, while Queen Eleanor was heavily pregnant. He was twenty-one years young. He would prove to be a great monarch over a vast territory that stretched from Scotland to the Pyrenees in southern France.
  55. H2 had reddish, freckled complexion, with large, round head and gray eyes that grew bloodshot in anger; a harsh, cracked voice; his neck thrust forward slightly from his shoulders; chest broad and square; arms strong and powerful; body stocky; tendency towards fatness, due to nature, not self-indulgence.
  56. A modern historian describes him as follows: “He was a big man, somewhat above average height, with broad shoulders, square chest, and a large, thrusting, leonine head. His legs were sturdy, his arms powerful, and no one, it was said, could match him in feats of strength and endurance. In anger his blue-grey eyes became fiery and bloodshot. His energy was overwhelming.”
  57. One contemporary chronicler writes: “He was addicted to hunting beyond measure: at crack of dawn he was off on horseback, traversing wastelands, penetrating forests and climbing the mountain tops, and so he passed his restless days. At evening on his return home he was rarely seen to sit down either before or after supper. And despite such tremendous exertions he would wear out the whole court by remaining on his feet.”
  58. Another chronicler writes: “with the king of England … it is school every day, constant conversation with the best scholars and discussion of intellectual problems.”
  59. H2 had an impish side. During a hard winter Henry and Thomas Becket were walking down a street in London. The king noticed an old man coming towards them, dressed in a thin and ragged coat. The king asked Becket if Becket thought it would be an act of charity to give him a thick warm cloak. Becket said it would and it was right that the king should attend to it. The king greeted the man warmly and asked if he would like a warm cloak. The man, not knowing the two men, thought it was a joke and didn’t think anything of it.
  60. To continue with the anecdote, the king said to Chancellor Becket that the chancellor should do the act of charity. Then the king pulled off the chancellor’s scarlet and gray cape and gave it to the man. A great commotion arose and the knights and great men of their retinue caught up with them to discover the cause of the strife. The king explained what had happened, and they all laughed loudly. The chancellor was distressed because he was reluctant to part with it, and the man walked off giving thanks to God for making him rich beyond expectation.
  61. H2 was competent in several languages, but he spoke only Latin and the French dialects.
  62. His court traveled around, but his family needed somewhere to live. The Palace of Westminster had deteriorated during the civil war, so they moved to the royal palace of Bermondsey on the opposite bank of the Thames, to the south of the City of London.
  63. H2 consolidated his power: he demolished illegal castles, King Stephen’s allies were turned out of their lands, and he sent the mercenaries packing.
  64. He appointed Thomas à Becket chancellor, the top administrative post in the government, in 1155, who became the king’s most trusted advisor.
  65. His brother Geoffrey rebelled, until the people of Nantes and lower Brittany elected him their count a year later. He died in 1158.
  66. In 1157 H2 took homage from Malcolm IV of Scotland who took land up north during the civil war but were given back in exchange for an earldom.
  67. That same year H2 led an army into Wales; two Welsh princes submitted.
  68. Henry crossed southern France to conquer Toulouse and take it from its ruler, Count Raymond V, but Toulouse was well fortified and located on the bend of a river; Henry failed in September.
  69. H2 farmed out his children to dynastic and political marriage. His daughter Matilda went to Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria. He married off his son Geoffrey to Constance, the only daughter of Conan IV, duke of Brittany; then H2 forced the old duke to abdicate, so H2 through his son could rule Brittany. He proposed his son Richard would hold Aquitaine and offered him to the daughter of King Louis of France, Alice. In 1176 H2’s youngest daughter, ten-year-old Joan, was sent to be married to King William II of Sicily. In 1177 fourteen-year-old Eleanor was married to Alfonso VIII, king of Castile.
  70. H2 had two illegitimate sons: Geoffrey, who became chancellor and bishop-elect of Lincoln; and William earl of Salisbury, nicknamed Longespée or Longsword. We descend from him.
  71. By the end of 1173-1176, Henry styled himself as follows: Henry II “by the grace of God, king of the English, duke of the Normans, duke of the Aquitainians, and count of the Angevins.”
  72. On June 2, 1161 Becket was ordained as priest and the next day he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury. H2 thought Becket would become a compliant archbishop, but he was wrong, becoming instead defender of the Church, not the enforcer of the Crown.
  73. H2 wanted to impose the sixteen points of the Constitution of Clarendon, which entailed the Crown would take over more control from the Church in spiritual matters, like handing over lawbreaking church clerks over to the state for bodily punishment or imposing on the church a limited appeal to the pope.
  74. Browbeaten by H2 in a conference of barons and other magnates, Becket signed it. He left for France to take refuge with the king of France.
  75. Years later, the king and Becket met and tried to reconcile in France, but failed. Becket intended to place England under papal interdict.
  76. In September 1167, H2’s mother Empress Matilda fell ill and died. She had proved the source of wise advice for the king, her son. In 1167 Eleanor, Henry’s wife, gave birth to a son who was named John. He was H2’s spoiled son.
  77. In July 1170 H2 raced across the channel and had his son Henry anointed king—king-designate—by the archbishop of York, in Westminster Abbey.
  78. Meanwhile, back to Becket, the disgraced archbishop was angry at the breach of privileges, returned to the Canterbury Cathedral, preached a sermon, and threatened to excommunicate everyone who had crossed him.
  79. From Normandy H2 heard about the Christmas Day sermon and exclaimed, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nurtured and promoted in my household who let their lord be treated with shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!” This is often incorrectly rendered: “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”
  80. Whatever the translation, on December 29, four knights heard the king’s exclamation and went up to Canterbury and tried to arrest Becket, who resisted. They chopped his head off with an axe and stomped on his brain.
  81. Arnulf bishop of Lisieux wrote about the king’s grief: “The king burst into loud lamentations and exchanged his royal robes for sackcloth and ashes, behaving more like a friend than the sovereign of the dead man. At times he fell into a stupor, after which he would again utter groans and cries louder and more bitter than before. For three whole days he remained shut up in his chamber and would neither take food nor admit anyone to comfort him, until it seemed from the excess of his grief that he had determined to contrive his own death” ….
  82. In August 1170 H2 fell ill with a fever and almost died. Young Henry ruled over England in his place, giving him a taste for power. In autumn of that year, H2 recovered and in gratitude went on a 300 mile pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Rocamadour, in Aquitaine to see the famous effigy of the Black Madonna.
  83. In October 1171, H2 landed in Ireland with a strong show of force to establish his rights and privileges, and Ireland submitted. He stripped lord Strongbow of his lands and regranted them as fiefs, under H2’s
  84. H2’s son Henry rebelled against his father, for the eighteen-year-old son had prestige, even anointed again as king by the bishop of Rouen, but nothing else.
  85. Fifteen-year-old Richard and fourteen-year-old Geoffrey joined in another rebellion, led by their mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. Why did she rebel? Her authority over her duchy was being undermined by the king. She needed the territory, however, for her favorite son, Richard. And some say Eleanor was jealous of his mistress Rosamund Clifford.
  86. Another explanation for her rebellion: She seemed to be sidelined in the king’s court; she wielded no substantial power, even though she was a duchess and queen in her own right—former queen of France, that is. H2 had a domineering personality, and so did she, but he eclipsed her. She would express her need for power through her sons.
  87. In August 1172 King Louis VII of France insisted on young Henry’s second coronation in Winchester Cathedral, with his wife Marguerite. It happened, but he was not anointed by Becket, for he was dead.
  88. The three rebellious sons took refuge in the French king’s arms, while Eleanor at the end of February left the duchy of Aquitaine to join her sons, fleeing to her ex-husband Louis VII. At nearly fifty she set out on horseback cross-country. She was in mortal danger. She dressed in male clothes. But she was recognized and put in prison at Chinon Castle.
  89. Civil war began in summer 1173, called the Great Revolt.
  90. Many believed that God rained down rebellion on his household because of Becket’s death, so in July 1174 H2 stood dressed as a pilgrim before Canterbury church, groaning and crying and signing. He prostrated himself before Becket’s tomb and prayed a long time. He swore he did not intend the archbishop’s death, but acknowledged his rash words caused it.
  91. H2’s show of penance scored a propaganda coup. Upshot is that he won victories in England and in August he was back in France, and the French king sued for peace. H2 granted his three rebellious sons lands and castles as sources of income, but no political power. Eleanor was placed under courteous “castle arrest” in England. Henry was generous after defeating the rebels.
  92. Throughout the 1170s and early 1180s H2 rebuilt castles and reformed English law.
  93. In 1176, he assigned Richard to subdue the rebel castles in Aquitaine and its neighbors. Henry was now the most powerful man in Europe.
  94. In February 1182, H2 announced that he made his will and demanded his four sons to support him.
  95. But in 1183 the younger Henry and Richard fought briefly for Aquitaine, but Henry got dysentery and died on June 11.
  96. Then Geoffrey died on August 19, from an injury during a knightly tournament. Only Richard, duke of Aquitaine, and John were left.
  97. H2 and French King Philip II (later called Philip Augustus) fought border skirmishes, with Richard allying himself with Philip. H2 begged his son to join him, but Richard refused. H2 held his base in Le Mans, and Richard and Philip, King of France, marched on it. To slow them down, Henry set fire to the suburbs, but the wind kicked up and blew it back to the town itself. Henry retreated to Chinon Castle.
  98. In January 1189 H2 fell into a lingering illness. Richard and Philip showed up demanding H2 ride out to meet them, being held up on his horse by his servants. H2 agreed to Philip’s terms: H2 surrender and confirmation of Richard as the heir in all lands on both sides of the Channel.
  99. H2 learned that John was allied with Philip, and H2 died from the shock. He is believed to have uttered these words in Richard’s ears: “God grant that I may not die until I have my revenge on you.”
  100. H2 died embittered and embattled, but not until he received communion, in a moment of clarity.
  101. Date of Death: July 6, 1189.
  102. He was buried at the abbey church of Fontevraud, near Chinon, France, between Anjou and the county of Poitou, the power base of the duchy of Aquitaine.
  103. He ruled thirty-four years and helped to forge a new “nation,” spanning the “federation” of the Angevin Empire.

Related Posts:

King John

Edward I Plantagenet

Eleanor of Aquitaine

William Longsword and Life in the Medieval Age and His American Descendants

Royal gateway ancestors of the Northeast

Royal gateway ancestors of the Middle Colonies

Royal gateway ancestors of Virginia

William Clopton and Our Royal Heritage (royal gateway ancestor)

SOURCES

Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).

Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (New York: 2014).

Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).

W. L. Warren, Henry II (Berkeley: University of California P, 1973).

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