Category Archives: Henry II

Henry’s Howlers (2) Diplomatic Disasters: Mayhem in Maine and Nonsense in Normandy: 1440-1450.

(1) Introduction

Just over 70 years ago next week, on 12th March 1942, General MacArthur, Commander of the US Armed Forces in the Pacific, was compelled to quit the Philippines in the face of the invading Japanese Armies. Arriving in South Australia a week later, General MacArthur declared: “I came through and I shall return.” General MacArthur fulfilled his pledge. Together with the US Armed Forces, MacArthur returned to the Philippines in October 1944. To crown his military achievement, MacArthur personally accepted the surrender of the Japanese Armed Forces in August 1945.

Going back in time over 700 years from 1945, King John was compelled to quit his territory of Normandy, in December 1203. King John’s inglorious departure from Normandy was mainly the result of the advance of French Armed Forces, led by King Philip II. John did try to return to Normandy ten years later; but in contrast to General MacArthur, King John’s attempted comeback ended in disaster at the battle of Bouvines. Normandy had been a vital component of the Anglo-Norman Régime for 150 years (1066 to 1214); reaching its height under Henry I and Henry II. After Bouvines (1214) the province passed under French control, where it was to remain for the next 200 years.

(2) Lancastrian Expansion in France 1415 to 1425

If the English did not return to Normandy under King John, they certainly did under the Lancastrian Monarch, King Henry V. In August 1415, King Henry V and his Anglo/Welsh Army invaded Normandy, winning a stunning victory over the French Armies two months later at the Battle of Agincourt. The seal was set on Henry V’s success by the Treaty of Troyes, in 1420. By this Treaty, King Henry V married Catherine of Valois (daughter of King Charles VI of France). By this Treaty, Henry’s heirs would be recognised as Kings of France. King Henry V was to die in August 1422; but by then he had an heir, as his son King Henry VI had been born in December 1421. Young King Henry was recognised as King of France, most notably in Normandy. English control in Normandy was further consolidated in August 1424 with the great English victory over the French Armies at the Battle of Verneuil (in eastern Normandy).

(3) Resurgence of the French Forces in France  1425 to1440.

England in the first half of the 15th Century was affected by economic recession and was also plagued (literally) by a falling population. John Hatcher and Mark Bailey estimate the population of England in the mid-fifteenth century at somewhere between 2.25 and 2.5 million, far below the peak of 6 million around 1300. [‘Modelling the Middle Ages’ (2001), pp29 and 31]. It was these economic and social constraints, rather than the intrepid determination of Jeanne d’Arc that meant that the English Armies could never hope to retain control of half of France.

The result was that the English Armies gradually gave ground in parts of France. In 1429, English Forces withdrew from Orléans (thereby ceding control in Central France). Six years later in 1435, the English military presence in France received a major setback. In the summer of 1435, by the Treaty of Arras, England’s ally, Burgundy defected to the French Forces. Just as bad, the Commander of the English Armies in France, the Duke of Bedford, died at the early age of 46, in September 1435.  The Duke of Bedford (brother of Henry V) had been the victor at Verneuil, so his loss was keenly felt. It was therefore no surprise that the English Armies lost Paris in 1436, following this military ‘double whammy’.

(4) Defence of Normandy 1440 to 1446

The retention of Normandy was perhaps the crucial factor in maintaining Lancastrian prestige. When Henry VI formally assumed royal powers in 1437, despite the fall of Paris the year before, there were still solid grounds for optimism about the English position in Normandy:-

  • The two stunning English victories of Agincourt (1415) and Verneuil (1424) had both occurred in Normandy, reinforcing English prestige in that province.
  • Groups of English soldiers had settled in Normandy, marrying local girls, and working farms. In 1432 (a few years before Henry VI’s assumption of power) a university was founded in Caen for the education of these settlers. It seemed as if an English community was taking root in Normandy, alongside the native Normans. There was of course some Norman resistance to this English immigration (even a riot in 1436); but overall, one feels that a genuine Anglo/Norman ‘multi-cultural’ society was developing in Normandy in these years.
  • By 1440, there were substantial garrisons in 45 towns in Normandy, with impressive fortifications for the major cities of Rouen, Caen and Alençon.
  • Between 1440 and 1446, Richard, Duke of York was the English Commander in Normandy. He generally followed a defensive military strategy; husbanding his resources, and avoiding major conflicts with the French, whilst at the same time trying to maintain English strength in Normandy. This sensible strategy helped maintain English authority in Normandy, though it was under pressure because of Henry VI’s blunders (see below).

Lancastrian Blunders in Normandy: 1443

In 1443, without even informing Richard of York, Henry VI authorised John Beaufort, newly created 1st Duke of Somerset, to lead an English military expedition to western Normandy and the Loire region. The Army earmarked for this ill-fated enterprise was a force of 4,250 soldiers (which Richard of York could have utilised).

Arriving in Cherbourg in August 1443, Somerset’s Army moved down the western border of Normandy, taking La Guerche, on the Normandy/Brittany border (a meaningless exercise). Even worse, for reasons that are still not entirely understood, Somerset then disbanded his force and simply returned to England (where he soon died). The whole enterprise had been farcical, and merely served to leave Richard of York disenchanted with Lancastrian Government.

(5) Defeat and Disaster in Normandy: 1446 to 1450.

Within four years, English authority in Normandy collapsed:-

  • In December 1446, Richard Duke of York’s command in Normandy was ended by King Henry VI. Richard himself made no protest, though significantly, his captains in Normandy did. Richard of York was replaced as English Lieutenant in Normandy by one Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset (brother of John Beaufort). Somerset’s appointment was a mistake. He seemed to follow his elder brother John in his military ineptitude. Edmund Beaufort dragged his feet in Normandy, though to be fair to him, by the time Somerset took up his commission in Normandy, irreparable damage had already been done to English control in Normandy by the disastrous English cession of Maine.
  • It is a truism of medieval government that the possession of the province of Maine was essential to English authority in Normandy. The reason is that Maine is adjacent to Normandy’s southern border. Maine therefore acted as a ‘Buffer Zone’, protecting southern Normandy from invasion. As Normandy’s northern frontier was the English Channel, this meant that Normandy’s defenders could concentrate on strengthening their western and, above all, their eastern, borders, against outside attack. This obvious military equation was understood by all medieval rulers. In 1096, King William II wanted to regain Normandy from his older brother, Duke Robert of Normandy. He therefore ‘leased’ Normandy from Duke Robert for £6,666 (thereby allowing Robert to participate in the 1st Crusade). However, to ensure he kept hold of his newly won Duchy, King William II made sure he took possession of Maine, which he achieved in the winter of 1096/1097. Just over one hundred years later, at the start of the 13th century, King Philip II of France was about to launch his final offensive against the English King John. In particular, Philip wanted to gain Normandy. King Philip of France invaded Normandy in the summer of 1203; but only after he had obtained Maine, in spring 1203.
  • It is therefore difficult to understand precisely why King Henry VI was so determined to surrender Maine to King Charles VII of France in the 1440s. He must have known that such a surrender would gravely threaten English possession of Normandy. Henry’s principal negotiator with Charles VII was the Earl of Suffolk. He, too, must have known the risk he was running when he secretly negotiated with the French as early as 1445. Maine was finally surrendered to the French in 1448, without any reciprocal gesture from the French. It is one of the worst acts of appeasement in British diplomatic history. Military retribution now swiftly followed the loss of Maine. In July 1449, King Charles VII declared war, and sent three armies into Normandy. It was no accident that one of these three invading armies entered Normandy from Maine, capturing several Norman towns, including, symbolically, Verneuil.
  • It was soon all over. A belated attempt was made by Henry VI in 1450 to retrieve something from the wreckage. An English Army under Sir Thomas Kyriell landed at Cherbourg, hoping to relieve the English community under Somerset in Caen. The enterprise was doomed. The French forces intercepted Kyriell’s Army ten miles short of Caen, at Formigny. There, the French Army overwhelmed Kyriell’s force, aided by their expert use of gunpowder artillery. Somerset himself surrendered on 24th June 1450 and was allowed to escape to the English garrison at Calais.

 

(6) To what extent was King Henry VI’s Lancastrian Government  responsible for the loss of Normandy?

Even allowing for the economic and social constraints  of recession and declining population, Henry VI should still take most of the blame for the disastrous loss of Normandy:-

(i) Henry’s decision to divide English military command in 1443 between Richard Duke of York and John Duke of Somerset was clearly a major error.

(ii) Henry’s decision to cede Maine (in conjunction with the Duke of Suffolk) was a blunder.

(7) How did the Lancastrian disaster over Normandy contribute to the later outbreak of the Wars of the Roses?

(i) In general, the devastating loss of Normandy greatly undermined public confidence King Henry VI’s Lancastrian Régime. In the February 1450 Session of Parliament, great concern was expressed by the Commons that ; “If war should occur, which God forbid, the country of Normandy is in no way sufficient in itself to offer resistance against the great might of the enemies.(My italics). [‘The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504’, (2012), page 55.] Parliament was clearly aware of the Lancastrian shortcomings in military planning. One therefore feels that the subsequent collapse of English authority in Normandy might well lead to disenchantment with Henry VI – the first pre-condition to outright opposition.

(ii) Richard Duke of York in particular had genuine grounds for grievance against the Lancastrians. He had defended English authority in Normandy for six years, and yet had been treated shabbily by Henry VI. He had not been informed about the abortive 1443 military enterprise in Normandy, and had been replaced by another Duke of Somerset as English Commander in 1446. One of the key conflicts in the later Wars of the Roses was the bitter vendetta between Richard of York and the Somersets. Perhaps that enmity has its origins in the English defence of Normandy in the 1440s.

(8) Conclusion.

The English monarchy never did return to claim authority in Normandy. To that extent, the loss of Normandy in 1450 was the final demise of the famous Anglo/Norman nation inaugurated by the Norman Conquest of 1066. The great English monarchs, King Henry I and King Henry II, would have been appalled at this fracturing of the Anglo/Norman state. In Shakespeare’s History Play, ‘The Third Part of King Henry VI’, Shakespeare seems to blame Henry for the losses in France.

In Act 1, Scene 1, of this play, Shakespeare has King Henry VI trying to defend his foreign policy before his English Magnates.

King Henry States: “I am the son of Henry the Fifth,

Who made the Dauphin and the French to stoop,

And seized upon their towns and provinces.”

This desperate plea earned a swift retort from the Earl of Warwick:

“Talk not of France, since thou hast lost it all.”

It is hard to disagree with Warwick’s  judgement.

Question

I am deliberately uploading my March’ Wars of the Roses Blog’ on 4th March, 2013. Why is the date, 4th March, so significant in the Wars of the Roses?

 

 

 

 

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A Surfeit of Lampreys: A Surfeit of Success: 12th Century England

Exactly 877 years ago today, on 1st December 1135, King Henry I died, allegedly from over indulging himself on lampreys (one of favourite meals). His ‘surfeit of lampreys’ caused an acute intestinal reaction (possibly food poisoning) that led to a speedy end. Death from such an outwardly ludicrous cause was a somewhat inglorious conclusion to an illustrious reign. This year, 2012, marks the centenary of the birth of Charles Dickens; and Henry’s premature death is the sort of ‘comical’ demise one associates with some of the characters penned by that celebrated 19th century author. Such a judgement might be a little harsh. Over the past year, I hope that my monthly Blogs on Henry I’s reign have demonstrated his great success as Ruler of England (and Normandy) between 1100 and 1135. Indeed, such were Henry I’s achievements that the monks of Peterborough Abbey declared on Henry’s death: “He was a good man, and people were in great awe of him. No one dared injure another in his time. He made peace for man and beast.” [EHD, Volume II, page 209] Such an assessment, coming from the compilers of The Anglo/Saxon Chronicle, is praise indeed.                                                                                                                                     Over the past two years, 2011 and 2012, my monthly Blogs have analysed the reigns of King Henry I (1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (1154 to 1189). In analysing these two distinguished monarchs, I have also, from time to time, inevitably touched on the reigns of Stephen, Richard I and John. That is, my blogs have in effect covered the whole of the 12th century, so I think it is thus very fitting for me to conclude this December 2012 Blog by analysing and assessing the twelfth century as a whole.

(A) The Achievements of 12th Century England

There were, of course, setbacks to progress in the 12th century, notably the breakdown of government in Stephen’s reign (1135 to 1154). The Third Crusade of 1189 to 1192, right at the end of the 12th century, also caused tension and problems. Yet, overall, the 12th century witnessed gains to English Society.

(1) Economic Growth.

The 12th century was a period of marked economic growth. There was investment in agriculture, transport, and general building. According to John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, the volume of currency in circulation in England  greatly increased in the 12th century; from roughly £25,000 to £37,500  around the time of King Henry I’s accession (1100), to about  £250,000 at the time of King John’s accession in 1199 [Hatcher & Bailey, ‘Modelling the Middle Ages’, OUP, (2001), page 138]. This increase in currency circulation probably reflected the increasing proliferation of markets in 12th century England. The population of England also doubled in the 12th century, from roughly 1.5 million in 1100 to about 3 million in 1200 (and these figures might be even higher). Nor did this population increase imply a lessening of GDP per head. In fact, according to Hatcher & Bailey, real GDP per head might well have increased in the 12th century [Hatcher & Bailey, page 159].

(2) General Social and Political Progress for Specific Groups

In a perhaps generalised way, the condition and status of certain groups in English Society did appear to improve in the 12th century; even if these improvements were not uniform throughout the century. For example, beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the rights of widows were increasingly protected throughout the 12th century. In fact, on one level, the 12th century was a period of political advance for women. Several notable female rulers played vital roles in 12th political life in England: Queen Edith Matilda, Matilda of Boulogne, The Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Jewish minority in Angevin England also seemed to prosper for most of the 12th century (with the obvious exception of the 1190 Pogroms). The Jewish population in Angevin England increased to a maximum total of 5,000 by 1200, and this population increase was accompanied by a geographical spread throughout England. Up to a point, positive central government activity by English Kings helped this Jewish expansion (see my September 2011 Blog for details).

(3) Development of English Common Law

This was the greatest single achievement of 12th century England.

Beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the 12th century saw a continual series of ground-breaking measures that collectively  established the Common Law in England (and Wales): one of the glories of European Civilisation:-

  • Leges Henrici Primi (1115) This measure designated serious crime, and enshrined the principle of Appeal. See my October 2012 Blog.
  • Assize of Clarendon (1166) This measure dealt with the criminal law, including the rights of the principal law officers. See my February 2011 Blog
  • Inquest of Sheriffs (1170) This measure enshrined the supremacy of the government over the law officers. See my March 2011 Blog.
  • Assizes of Novel Disseism & Mort d’Ancestor (c.1176) These were major innovations in civil law, dealing with rights of property. See my October 2011 Blog.
  • The General Eyre (1194) As part of the 1194 General Eyre (General Tour of Inspection by the King’s Justices), Justicar Hubert Walter ordered that, in each English shire, three knights and a clerk should act as ‘Keepers of the Pleas of the Crown’. This meant that they would be responsible for collecting and retaining evidence for criminal cases that would then be heard by the King’s Justices. This vital measure is the origin of the modern Coroner System. Note that the 12th century law officers (sheriffs) were not included as ‘Keepers of the Pleas’. Even now, our modern police force is not directly linked to the Coroner’s Court.

It is a remarkable record of legal progress, and the principles of 12th century Common Law still greatly influence English-speaking nations today: the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. Nor have I included all the 12th century Common Law Edicts. The Jury System was written into the above Assizes. A measure of the greatness of the English Legal System in the 12th century is to contrast it with the legal structure of early 19th century England (supposedly a more ‘civilised’ era). By 1800, the English Legal System had become so convoluted (if not corrupt), that a ridiculous total of 200 crimes carried the death penalty (many of them being trivial offences). In contrast, the 12th century saw the death penalty confined to about six offences (Pleas of the Crown).  The 18th Century still conjures up an image of refined gentility, with its classical architecture, polished manners, and baroque music; yet it was also the age of the notorious (and nefarious) ‘Black Act’ of 1723. That legally abominable Act of Parliament introduced the Death Penalty in Britain for over 50 criminal offences, many of them utterly trivial (such as destroying fish ponds while disguised). It goes without saying that such a legally bizarre measure as the 1723 Black Act, would have been inconceivable in the more civilised 12th century.

(B) Final Conclusion

I began this final Blog on King Henry I by suggesting that perhaps his strange demise had overtones of a Charles Dickens novel. In retrospect, I think that Anthony Trollope would be a more appropriate author, especially when viewing the 12th century as a whole.

In the ending of the final novel of his famous Barset Series (‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’); Anthony Trollope writes: “And now, if the reader will allow me to seize him affectionately by the arm, we will together take our last farewell of Barset.” To paraphrase that celebrated author, ‘We will together take our last farewell of 12th century England.’

Like Anthony Trollope’s Barset Novels, the 12th Century was filled with a host of distinguished dramatis personae:-

  • Renowned Fighting Monarchs, such as King Richard the Lionheart of England (reigned 1189 to 1199), and King William the Lion of Scotland (reigned 1165 to 1214).
  • Illustrious Female Rulers, such as Edith Matilda (Queen Consort of England 1100 to 1118) and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen Consort of France, 1137 to 1152 and Queen Consort of England, 1154 to 1189).
  • Exceptionally talented administrators, such as Justicar Bishop Roger of Salisbury (de facto Justicar c.1110 to c.1125) and Archbishop Hubert Walter (Chief Justicar of England, 1193 to 1198).
  • Leading Financiers, such as Aaron of Lincoln (lived from 1125 to 1186).
  • Profound Philosophers, such as Archbishop Anselm (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1093 to 1109). Anselm was the originator of the ontological argument for the existence of God.
  • Talented Welsh Princes, such as Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth. He was known as The Lord Rhys (Yr Argwydd Rhys). King Henry II made him Justicar of Deheubarth in 1171.
  • Gifted young persons whose lives were sadly (and prematurely) ended, such as Prince William the Adelin (lived from1103 to 1120). Prince William was Henry I’s son and heir; he tragically died in the White Ship Disaster of 1120.
  • Flawed Icons, such as Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury between 1162 and 1170).
  • Villains, such as Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who died in 1144. He was the original ‘robber baron’, who took advantage of the breakdown of law and order in King Stephen’s reign to ransack Cambridgeshire and the Fens in 1144. Towards the end of the 12th century, Richard Malebisse took advantage of the anti-Semitic hysteria generated by the Third Crusade to play the leading role in the massacre of the York Jewish Community in 1190.
  • Exceptionally talented monarchs, such as King Henry I (reigned 1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (reigned 1154 to 1189).The latter king is probably the greatest monarch ever to reign in England.

In the words of Anthony Trollope, “To them all I now say farewell” (except Geoffrey de Mandeville and Richard Malebisse); but it is certainly not a case of farewell to my Angevinman Blog! In 2013, I hope to take a chronological  leap of 250 years into the mid-fifteenth century. The delights of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ await me and, hopefully, my readers.

Have a Happy Advent and Christmas!

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A Tale of Two Cities: A Tale of Two Matildas

(1) The Empress Matilda and Matilda of Boulogne: Marriage and Children

(i) Just under 900 years ago today, on 17th June 1128, The Empress Matilda married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, in Le Mans, chief city in the province of Maine  (in northern France). The Empress Matilda was the daughter, and the only surviving legitimate heir, of King Henry I of England. Matilda’s title, “Empress” was derived from her first marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V. Matilda had been betrothed, and later married, to the Emperor Henry between 1114 and 1125. Henry had died in 1125, the royal couple having had no surviving children.

In contrast to her childless first marriage, Matilda’s second marriage to Count Geoffrey of Anjou was more fruitful. The Empress Matilda had three sons by her second husband:-

  • Henry, later Duke of Normandy and King of England. Born in the city of Le Mans, 5th March, 1133.
  • Geoffrey, later Count of Nantes. Born in 1134.
  • William, later Count of Poitou. Born in 1135.

(ii) Matilda of Boulogne was probably born in 1105, just three years after the Empress Matilda. Matilda’s own royal ancestry was astonishingly similar to the Empress. Like the Empress Matilda, Matilda of Boulogne was a grand-daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, and his Anglo/Saxon wife, Queen Margaret. Matilda of Boulogne and the Empress Matilda were therefore cousins; and their close kinship probably sharpened their later rivalry

Matilda’s sobriquet comes from her father, Eustace III, Count of Boulogne, who had married Mary of Scotland. In 1125, Matilda of Boulogne married Stephen, Count of Mortain. This marriage gave Matilda of Boulogne a link to the English monarchy, because Stephen was the nephew of King Henry I. Matilda and Stephen had several children, including two surviving sons: Eustace and William.

(2) The start of their rivalry

(i) After William the Atheling’s premature death in 1120 (see my November 2011 Blog), the Empress Matilda was Henry I’s only legitimate heir. However, her gender was against her, even though King Henry I had taken great steps to get his Tenants-in Chief to recognise the Empress Matilda as his successor.

When King Henry I died in December 1135, Stephen moved quickly. Displaying rare qualities of resolution, Stephen declared himself King of England. His monarchical ambitions were probably encouraged by his wife, Matilda of Boulogne. Matilda may well have lacked the merciless streak of Lady Macbeth; but she certainly shared that aristocratic diva’s ambition. Matilda’s reward was to be crowned Queen Consort of England, on 22nd March, 1136.

(ii) The Empress Matilda was equal to this challenge.

Displaying mature political insight, the Empress realised that the possession of Normandy would be the vital factor in thwarting Stephen, and furthering her own claims to the English Crown. In reaching this decision, Matilda was very much imitating her father; as it was Henry I’s great victory in 1106 in Normandy (Tinchebrai), which really consolidated his rule in England. The Empress delegated the conquest of Normandy to her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou. This decision was totally vindicated. By 1144, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, had effectively annexed Normandy (Rouen had been captured in January 1144). Geoffrey then arrogated to himself the title ‘Duke of Normandy’. Exhibiting adroit political judgement, in 1149 Matilda and Geoffrey transferred the title to their eldest son, Henry, then sixteen years old. As Duke of Normandy, Henry presented a formidable challenge to Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne, a challenge that ultimately they were unable to resist.

(3) Matilda of Boulogne and The Empress Matilda at odds in England: 1141

The struggle between these two formidable royal Amazons perhaps reached its zenith in 1141.

  • Leaving her husband to conquer Normandy, The Empress crossed the Channel to England in 1141, to take the fight directly to Stephen & Matilda of Boulogne. Landing in England, The Empress rallied the Angevin forces, aided by her half-brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester (a formidable warrior).
  • However, Matilda of Boulogne was not idle in support of her husband, King Stephen. Matilda called up troops from Boulogne, and besieged Dover Castle.
  • The struggle reached its climax in February 1141, in the important city of Lincoln. The forces of the Empress, commanded by Earl Robert, overwhelmed Stephen’s Army in Lincoln. Part of Stephen’s Army deserted him (especially the King’s cavalry). In the laconic phrasing of the contemporary chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon; ”so King Stephen was left alone with his infantry in the midst of the enemy.” [EHD, Volume II, page 33]. Like Shakespeare’s tragic king Macbeth, Stephen bravely fought on; however, in contrast to Macbeth, ”the king was taken prisoner.”
  • At least, King Stephen was still alive; but there was little else to encourage his supporters. Arriving in London, The Empress Matilda began to act as the de facto ruler of England. As befitted a monarch, the Empress began to issue writs and charters. One such charter, to William de Beauchamp, restored to him the shrievalty of Worcestershire. The Empress was sensibly trying to build up her power in Worcestershire, at a time when Waleran, Earl of Worcester, favoured Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne. The wording of this charter was particularly significant. It began: “Maud the Empress, daughter of King Henry, and Lady of the English, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justicars, sheriffs and all her liegemen, both French and English, of the whole of England.”[EHD, Vol II, page 468].  The very wording of this charter suggests that the Empress was already fairly confident of her success.
  • If so, the Empress’s confidence was misplaced. Faced with the daunting prospect of Stephen’s imprisonment, a lesser queen would almost certainly ‘have thrown in the royal towel’. Matilda of Boulogne was made of sterner stuff. Far from being demoralised, Stephen’s capture spurred Matilda to take up the royal cudgels on behalf of her failing husband. Henry of Huntingdon takes up the story: “The empress was recognised as ruler by the whole people of England except in Kent, where the Queen and William of Ypres continued to fight against the empress with all their might;”  (my italics)  [EHD, Vol II, page 334].  When the Empress Matilda’s forces tried to capitalise on their success by besieging Stephen’s brother, Bishop Henry of Blois, in Winchester, Queen Matilda of Boulogne and her forces raised the siege. Their military success was enhanced by the capture of Earl Robert of Gloucester, effectively the commander of the Empress’s Army. Matilda of Boulogne’s triumph led to the release of her husband King Stephen, in exchange for Earl Robert.

(4) The End of the Struggle: 1143 to 1153

The determination and resolution of the two Matildas ensured that the struggle would be protracted. At length, in 1148, the Empress Matilda recognised the existing stalemate, and returned to Normandy, to re-join her husband, Count Geoffrey. By then, the Empress’s banner was effectively being defended by her eldest son, Henry, Duke of Normandy. Even this dynamic Angevin champion found it hard going against the stubborn resistance of Queen Matilda of Boulogne (and King Stephen). Only after Queen Matilda’s death, just over 860 years ago, on 4th May 1152 (probably of fever), did Stephen’s royal curtain start to come down in the English monarchical theatre.

At least death spared Queen Matilda of Boulogne from witnessing the  demise of her elder son, Eustace in August 1153 (when he was only twenty-four years old). The death of his heir also knocked out any stuffing that  remained in King Stephen; and in November 1153, he reached a compromise with the Angevins in the Treaty of Winchester.

By this important Treaty, Stephen “established Henry, Duke of Normandy, as my successor to the Kingdom of England and have recognised him as my heir by hereditary right, and thus I have given and confirmed to him and his heirs the Kingdom of England.” As the political curtain finally came down on this ruinous English Civil war, the stage was set for the triumphs of the Angevin political theatre.

(5) Conclusions

  • On one level, the Empress Matilda had won ‘the Battle of the Two Matildas’. The Empress outlived Matilda of Boulogne by fifteen years. Dying on 10th September 1167, the Empress was to witness the great successes of her son Henry II’s reign.
  • However, Matilda of Boulogne had greatly prolonged Stephen’s reign, after the disaster of the battle of Lincoln. Though her son Eustace died early, at least her younger son, William, succeeded to the title of Count of Boulogne.
  • Both Matildas are linked to two cities: Le Mans & Boulogne. The Empress Matilda married in Le Mans (1128). Her eldest son and heir, King Henry II, was born there (1133). Finally, when he knew he was facing death, in 1189, King Henry II retired to Le Mans. King Stephen’s wife, Queen Matilda, was always associated with Boulogne. Her father, Eustace III, was Count of Boulogne. Her younger son William inherited his grandfather’s title in 1153. Even when he died, in 1159, the link with Boulogne was retained, as Queen Matilda’s daughter, Marie, became Countess of Boulogne in her own right.
  • Both the Empress Matilda, and Matilda of Boulogne, are justifiably part of the 12th Century pantheon of vigorously effective female governors (along with Queen Edith Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine). Such capable and successful female rulers were a key reason explaining the political and economic progress of that dynamic century.

(6) Postscript

As we have seen, the Empress Matilda confirmed William de Beauchamp as Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1141. Amazingly, he was still Sheriff of Worcestershire thirty years later. In 1170, in King Henry II’s ground breaking ‘Inquest of Sheriffs’, William de Beauchamp was still entered as Sheriff of Worcestershire [EHD, Vol II, page 470]. As far as I know, William de Beauchamp holds the record for the longest continual shrieval tenure In England. However, it seems that his tenure was too long, because it had evidently led him into corrupt practices. In 1170, King Henry II dismissed William de Beauchamp as Sheriff of Worcestershire. Perhaps the fact that Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda, had died three years earlier, in 1167, meant that Henry felt he could dismiss de Beauchamp when Henry returned from his four year sojourn in France in 1170.

(7) Questions

i) This Blog has been entitled ‘A tale of Two Cities’. What is the link with that title and the year 2012?

ii) Why can 2012 be described as ‘A Tale of Four Matildas’?

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April 6th 1110: King Henry I plays Checkers.

Friday 6th April 2012, is a very special day. It is the Festival of Good Friday, one of the holiest days in the Christian Calendar, and therefore a Bank Holiday. The fact that our financial institutions, even now, have to remain closed in the UK on this day is entirely appropriate, as it reflects the religious significance of Good Friday in our national life. Yet on another level, the closure of banks and other financial institutions today is also somewhat ironic, as Friday 6th April 2012 also marks the start of the new UK Financial Year (which will run from 6th April 2012 to 5th April 2013). Perhaps in Henry I’s reign, this anomaly would not have been so apparent; as in his reign the bishops also acted as financial administrators of the national finances.

So let us now go back just over 900 Years to the Court of King Henry I.

  • It is the year 1110. After his great victory over his elder brother Duke Robert at Tinchebrai (in 1106) Henry I had increasingly resided in Normandy. This was politically astute, as Henry’s power in England partly rested on his authority in Normandy. To govern England in his absence, Henry relied on his wife, Queen Edith Matilda. Queen Edith Matilda was an able ruler. She issued writs (in her own name) and attended meetings of the king’s council. Queen Edith Matilda was helped by an inner circle of advisors who regularly met in the Treasury. These advisors tended to be dominated by clerics, notably Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, Robert Bloet, Bishop of Lincoln and Richard, Bishop of London.
  • In 1110, Henry I had a pressing need to raise extra revenues (some things in government never change). The reason was that Henry had to provide a dowry for his daughter Matilda, who had been betrothed to the Emperor Henry V. Such a marriage alliance with the Emperor would further strengthen Henry’s power and authority. The result was the development of a vitally important department in English Government: The Exchequer. The institution of the Exchequer was to be one of the most significant developments in government occurring in the reign of King Henry I.

The Institution of the Exchequer c. 1110

The term ‘exchequer’ is derived from the chequered cloth that covered the table on which was conducted an audit of the sheriffs’ accounts, in the presence of Treasury advisors. Chief of these advisors was increasingly Bishop Roger of Salisbury, who progressively began to assume the status of Royal Justicar. The table itself was about three metres in length and about 1.5 metres in breadth. The cloth served as a huge abacus, and different squares and columns on the cloth represented different amounts of money.

Twice a year (Easter and Michaelmas), the sheriffs would present themselves at the Treasury, and hand over the moneys they had collected, such as tax receipts. When the sheriffs handed over their money, it was set out on the cloth alongside what they owed, and surpluses and deficits could then be calculated. It was a simple but an effective means of improving the government accounts.

Exchequer Storage: The Pipe Rolls.

As seen, twice yearly, the sheriffs made their payments to the Exchequer. These twice yearly financial transactions then had to be recorded on membranes as a permanent record. The membranes were then affixed to each other and rolled into a tight roll for storage. These rolls then resembled a pipe, so are called, oddly enough, ‘pipe rolls’. They were vital for efficient government, recording as they did payments made to the government, debts owed to the crown and disbursements made by royal officials. The first complete pipe roll is for the financial year 1129/1130, though they undoubtedly existed before that date. The device of the pipe roll was one of the greatest boons bequeathed by Henry I to later English medieval monarchs. The Pipe Rolls only became continuous in the reign of Henry I’s grandson, King Henry II, starting in 1155/56. They reflect the competence and expertise of that great monarch.

Early References to the Exchequer: c. 1110 to 1120

The first references to the Exchequer occur in the second decade of Henry I’s reign.

(1) Writ of Henry I in favour of  Holy Trinity, London.

“Henry, king of the English, to Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, and to the Barons of the Exchequer, greeting. Notice that I have ratified the gift which Queen Maud [Edith Matilda] gave and granted to the canons of Holy Trinity, to wit, 25 pounds.”

(2) Writ of Henry I in favour of the Abbot of Westminster.

“Henry, king of the English, to Richard, Bishop of London, greeting. I bid you do full right to the Abbot of Westminster concerning the men who forcibly, by night, broke into his church at Wenington. And unless you do it, my Barons of the Exchequer will cause it to be done in order that I may hear no further complaint about it for lack of right.”

Both these extracts are taken from English Historical Documents, edited by D. C. Douglas and G. W. Greenaway (1981) pages 520-521

The second extract is especially interesting, as it shows the Exchequer Barons acting in a legal capacity, besides showing that forcible entry, at night, was as much a problem in the early 12th century, as it is 900 years later in our own era. One can almost picture an exasperated Henry I telling the esteemed Bishop of London ‘to pull his episcopal finger out.’

{Wenington is now located in the London borough of Havering}

The Pipe Roll of the year 1129 to 1130.

The first surviving complete pipe roll, that of 1129/1130, reveals that at the end of the third decade of his reign, Henry I was financially very secure, partly reflecting the success of his innovation of the Exchequer. The Pipe Roll indicates that for the fiscal year 1129-1130, a grand total of £23,000 was paid over to the Exchequer. Of this total, £2,400 (i.e. 10%) was raised by direct taxation. This direct tax was the Geld, a land tax levied at 10% per hide of land (a hide was equivalent to about 30 acres).

Henry I’s financial strength was not followed by his successor, King Stephen (1135-1154). As a result of Stephen’s incompetence, royal income declined catastrophically during his reign, such that Henry II found himself with a minute annual income of £7,000 when he became king in 1154.

King Henry II and his councillors had to laboriously repair the national finances, by a combination of judicious borrowing and tallaging cities, boroughs and royal manors. Gradually, the national finances recovered under Henry II’s prudent measures. In the 1160s, the average annual government income rose to £16,700. In the 1170s, the average was £19,200. Only, in the final years of Henry II’s reign, after 1180, when the average annual income rose to £23,300 did royal income equal what it had been fifty years before in the final years of King Henry I’s reign. This is conclusive proof of Henry I’s brilliant management of the national finances; and it is his innovation of the Exchequer, together with the pipe rolls, that partly explains his great fiscal success.

Concluding Comments

In analysing 12th century financial policy, it is a case of ‘Like Grandfather: Like Grandson.’ King Henry I built up the national finances by a strategy of peace and stability in England, combined with innovations in fiscal management. His grandson, King Henry II, relied more on judicious borrowing from Flemings like William Cade and Jews like Aaron of Lincoln. These prudent loans were allied to sensible tallaging of the main English settlements – but it took a long time for Henry II’s financial measures to bear fruit. The main thing was, Henry II ‘stuck to his guns’ (or, rather, his swords and hauberks).

Question

Is there a moral here for the present government?

(Answers please to Number 11 Downing Street . . .)

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A Brace of Battles: Bremule (1119) and Bourgtheroulde (1124)

On your imaginary forces work. It is the 26th March 1124, exactly 888 years ago. The place is the small town of Bourgtheroulde, about ten miles southwest of  Rouen, the key city of Normandy.

A rebel force of about 40 knights, led by Waleran (Count of Meulan) schemed to consolidate their authority at Vatteville (roughly 20 miles due west of Rouen). Their strategy, if successful, would strike a blow against King Henry I’s power in Normandy. Yet, King Henry’s loyal Norman forces had not been idle. Their scouts had located Waleran’s rebel force, and so the Norman  loyalists prepared to intercept the rebels. One of the loyalist leaders was Odo Borleng, Castellan of Bernay (about 20 miles due south of Rouen). In contrast to Waleran, Odo Borleng was “only” a Knight of lesser nobility; but he displayed heroic leadership qualities. His loyalist force contained archers, mounted knights and foot soldiers. Odo himself dismounted and elected to fight on foot, thereby signifying to his forces that whatever the outcome of the impending battle, he would not flee. Odo’s heroic example heartened his men. In contrast, Waleran was too headstrong: he pitched in too early, leading his 40 knights against the loyalist archers. The result was disaster for the rebels. In just over half an hour the rebels were routed. Waleran and most of the other rebel knights were captured. Henry himself was not at the battle, he was then in Caen, where he received news of the defeat of his enemies.

Perhaps the battle at Bourgtheroulde was little more than a glorified skirmish; but its impact was profound. King Henry I had faced a serious threat to his authority from rebel forces between 1123 and 1124. The victory at Bourgtheroulde was decisive: it marked the end of the rebellion, and therefore confirmed Henry’s authority, both in Normandy, and in England.

Let us now press the re-wind Button and travel back five years to 1119

In August 1100, Henry had acceded to the throne of England in peculiar circumstances: his brother, King William II, had died in a hunting accident. Henry’s other brother, Robert, was Duke of Normandy. Henry had the political sagacity to realise that his newly won royal authority in England required him to reunite Normandy and England. He thus focussed all his energy on reuniting England with Normandy, which he achieved with his stunning military success at Tinchebrai in 1106; in the process, capturing Duke Robert. Even so, Henry still faced major challenges to his authority in Normandy. Henry may have eliminated the threat from Duke Robert; but Robert’s only legitimate son, William Clito, born in  1102, became increasingly the pivot of baronial opposition to Henry in Normandy. Even worse, King Louis VI of France, crowned two years after Tinchebrai, was determined to weaken Henry’s authority in Normandy. As Henry’s nominal overlord in France, Louis VI was a continual thorn in Henry’s side after 1108.

The Battle of Bremule, 20th August 1119

The tensions between Henry and Louis finally erupted in 1119, at the Battle of Bremule, fifteen miles south-east of Rouen. Pitched battles were rare in the Middle Ages, mainly because they were too much of a gamble. A monarch could lose everything in a battle (including his life). At stake in Bremeule was the prize of Normandy.

King Louis had assembled a force of 400 knights, including William Clito and William Crispin (whom Henry I had pardoned after Tinchebrai and again in 1113). King Louis’s force also included some important French magnates. In opposition, King Henry had assembled a force of 500 knights, including three of his sons: Richard and Robert (both illegitimate) and Henry’s heir, William the Atheling. Bremeule therefore saw a clash ‘of sons and heirs’. William Clito, son and heir of Duke Robert, had been born in October 1102. He was thus nearly seventeen years old when he fought at Bremeule. Henry’s heir, William the Atheling, sixteen years old when he fought at Bremeule, was therefore only a year younger than William Clito. The two heirs’ close proximity in age, added an undoubted sense of ‘needle’ to the battle.

Once again, the battle did not last very long, perhaps just over an hour. Once again, Henry’s opponents lost the initiative by pitching into Henry’s forces too recklessly, though there was a fierce struggle between both armies before Henry’s force finally won the day. In particular, William Crispin made a direct attack on King Henry I. Crispin struck a blow against Henry’s head (Henry having dismounted). The blow could have been fatal; but luckily for Henry, Crispin’s blow was deflected by his hauberk. Crispin was then immediately hacked to death by Henry’s bodyguard. Bremeule was a triumph for King Henry I. As just described, Henry himself led by example, being in the thick of the battle. Henry’s force also captured 140 French knights. Finally, Bremeule helped to consolidate Henry’s authority in Normandy, symbolised by the investing of William the Atheling with the Duchy of Normandy in 1120.

King Henry’s Treatment of his Captives.

A mark of a successful (and esteemed) medieval monarch was magnanimity towards the monarch’s former enemies. King Henry II certainly displayed such magnanimity towards his former enemies. For example, in 1175, Henry II restored the Earldom of Norfolk to Hugh Bigod, who had rebelled against Henry between 1173 and 1174. This was a particularly lenient gesture by Henry II, as Hugh Bigod was a ‘Serial Rebel’ – he had also rebelled against King Stephen in 1141. For good measure, Hugh Bigod had also rebelled against the Church, having being excommunicated by Archbishop Becket in 1169. In 1177, Henry II also restored the Earls of Leicester and Chester to their estates, both magnates having rebelled against him between 1173 and 1174.

King Henry I evidently bequeathed such monarchical benevolence to his grandson, King Henry II. Almost immediately after becoming king in 1100, Henry I had faced a formidable baronial rebellion led by William Warenne (Earl of Surrey). Henry therefore dispossessed Warenne of the Earldom; but, having asserted his royal authority, Henry then restored Warenne to the Earldom of Surrey two years later, in 1103. Such monarchical leniency had the effect of increasing baronial respect for Henry’s newly established regime. Henry displayed similar indulgence to his former enemies after the Battle of Bremeule. Henry chivalrously returned King Louis’s warhorse to the French King. This was a particularly altruistic act, because warhorses were very highly esteemed in Medieval Europe.

However, King Henry I drew the line at those captives who, having sworn personal loyalty him, then subsequently betrayed their oaths. Three such rebels had fought with Count Waleran at Bourgtheroulde. They were: Geoffrey of Tourville, Odard of Le Pin, and Luke of La Barre. Despite their treachery, King Henry I still showed mercy by not having the first two miscreants executed – though they were blinded. The third mutineer, Luke of La Barre, was different. He had compounded his disloyalty by singing obscene songs about Henry I. Perhaps Luke knew what his fatewould be, so he ended his own life in dramatic fashion, by beating his head against the stone wall of his prison cell, until he fell, dead.

The ultimate Fates of William the Atheling & Wiliam Clito

On one level, the Battle of Bremeule was a sort of Medieval Boxing Championship, with the winner receiving Normandy, rather than a Lonsdale Belt. Seen in this light, King Henry I’s son, William the Atheling, was clearly the victor, as he was invested with the Duchy of Normandy several months after Bremeule, in 1120. Yet in reality, neither of these youthful protagonists emerged victorious  at the Battle of Bremeule.

In November 1120, fairly soon after his investiture, William the Atheling, died tragically in the ‘White Ship’ Disaster. William was then only 17.5 years old (see my previous blog in November 2011). William Clito similarly had an untimely death. He died of a gangrenous wound sustained in battle, in July 1128. He was then 25 years. Neither William the Atheling nor William Clito left any legitimate heirs. Their premature deaths therefore  meant that the direct male line from William the Conqueror was now extinguished. The result was political and military upheaval in England after King Henry I’s death in 1135; but that is another story.

Concluding Comments

(1) As you will probably have gathered, I began this Blog with a quotation from Shakespeare. Which of his plays is the origin of this quotation?

(2) The rebels who were ambushed by Henry’s forces at Bourgtheroulde on 26th March 1124 actually began their incursion against Henry the previous night, 25th March 1124. For much of English History, 25th March was effectively New Year’s Day. When did England (and the rest of Britain) adopt 1st January as New Year’s Day?

(3) The battles of Bourgtheroulde and Bremeule were both located near to Rouen the chief city in Normandy. If the political link between England and Normandy had somehow survived the Middle Ages, then today Rouen would possibly have been as important as Paris. Think about it!

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Like Grandfather, Like Grandson: The Reigns of King Henry I and King Henry II

This year, my emphasis will shift from Henry II to Henry I.

Henry I is still a relatively unknown monarch, and certainly an under-valued one; yet in many respects, he was a very successful King of England. In fact, if one was to compare Henry I and Henry II in horse racing terms, then Henry II would only beat Henry I by a few lengths. To extend the racing metaphor, it was Henry I that effectively established the Angevin stable, which Henry II was then to raise to a pinnacle of achievement. Significantly, both monarchs were active on the ‘regal turf’ for exactly the same length of time: 35 years.

In other ways too, the reigns of Henry I and Henry II were remarkably similar.

  • The province of Anjou (in France) was vital to both monarchs. Henry II was the elder son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou; indeed, the very name of Henry II’s dynasty was derived from Anjou. However, it was in Henry I’s reign that the link between Anjou and the kings of England was forged. In 1128, Henry I knighted Geoffrey of Anjou. The alliance between Anjou and the England was then cemented a week afterwards by the marriage of Geoffrey of Anjou to Henry I’s daughter (and sole surviving legitimate heir), the Empress Matilda. The royal marriage was celebrated at Le Mans, where their son, the future King Henry II, was born in 1133.
  • The reigns of both Henry I and Henry II saw major developments in English Common Law. Last year, I analysed the key legal developments in Henry IIs reign: the Assizes of Clarendon and Northampton, the Assizes of Mort d’Ancestor and Novel Disseisin, and the Inquest of Sheriffs. Henry I’s reign saw similar advances in the development of English Common Law, especially in the provisions of Henry I’s Coronation Charter (1100), and in his ‘Leges Henrici Primi’ (1114-1118).
  •  Both Henry I and Henry II faced formidable challenges to their authority from rebellious tenants-in-chief. In 1101, Henry was opposed by William of Warenne (Earl of Surrey). In the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1173-1174, Henry II was opposed by the Earls of Chester and Leicester. The fact that both Henry I and Henry II were opposed by rebellious magnates is in itself not so surprising, as most medieval monarchs did face such opposition sometime in their reigns. What is different about Henry I and Henry II is that both these monarchs displayed magnanimity to their opponents. In 1102 (or 1103), Henry I restored William of Warenne to his earldom. Likewise, at the Council of Northampton, in January 1177, Henry II restored the Earls of Leicester and Chester to their estates. In displaying such magnanimity to former opponents, both Henry I and Henry II were showing their strength. In contrast, both King John and Stephen nursed grudges against their opponents, reflecting their weaker personalities.
  • Both Henry I and Henry II married strong-willed, effective queens. I have already analysed Henry II’s famous queen, Eleanor. Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II undoubtedly strengthened his new Angevin regime. Not only did Eleanor bring the important duchy of Aquitaine to Henry II’s growing Angevin Empire, but Eleanor was an effective ruler in her own right. Similarly, Henry I’s marriage to Queen Edith Matilda greatly strengthened his newly established regime in 1100. Edith Matilda, the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, represented the Anglo/Saxon dynasty, as she was a direct descendent of Edmund Ironside. Not only that, but Queen Edith Matilda effectively acted as Henry I’s regent when he was in Normandy. Queen Edith Matilda issued writs in her own name, heard petitions, and even tried law cases; her administrative skills greatly assisted Henry I’s government in England
  • Finally, both Henry I and Henry II had the great foresight to appreciate the crucial role Normandy played in strengthening their position as Kings of England. Henry I effectively reunited England with Normandy by his great military success at the battle of Tinchebrai in 1106, when he defeated the forces of his elder brother, Duke Robert. Similarly, perhaps the vital factor explaining Henry II’s survival in the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1173-1174 was his victory at the battle of Verneuil, in August 1173. In contrast, both King Stephen and King John were unsuccessful in regaining Normandy: this might explain their ultimate failure to defeat their rebellious tenants-in-chief.

I have concentrated on the similarities between Henry I and Henry II; but of course there were also differences, which will be analysed in my forthcoming blogs. Even so, I hope I have whetted my readers’ appetites for my 2012 historical dishes on King Henry I. In the meantime, should any of my Angevin supporters want to do some background work on King Henry I, I suggest they consult one (or perhaps both) of the following biographies:

“Henry I”, by Judith Green CUP, ISBN 978-0-521-74452-2

Henry I by C. Warren Hollister, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-09829-4

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Twilight of the Gods: The End of Henry II, King of England and Angevin Emperor 1154 to 1189

In the mid 1170s, King Henry II seemed to be at the height of his power. He had triumphed over his adversaries in the Great Revolt of 1173 to 1174. His legal reforms continued apace: between 1176 (the year of the Assize of Mort d’Ancestor) and his death in 1189, there were no fewer than eight judicial peregrinations of his justices in eyre. The generally effective Ranulf de Glanvill was appointed justicar in 1180.However, in reality, there were ominous portents in the 1180s, that were ultimately to threaten Henry’s authority.

  • Chief among these harbingers was the continued opposition of Henry’s sons, especially Richard. The death of two of Henry II’s sons in the 1180s, Henry the Younger (1183), and Geoffrey (1186), strengthened Richard’s position. Not only was he ruler of Aquitaine in his own right; but after 1183, he was Henry’s heir. Emboldened, Richard now demanded that Henry recognise him as heir to Normandy & Anjou, as well as heir to England. Fearing that Richard would become too powerful, Henry refused these demands. As in the father/son quarrels that preceded the Great Revolt of 1173 to 1174, Henry II was probably too rigid; but Richard then upped the stakes by allying with the King of France against his own father, Henry II.
  • Richard’s alliance with France represented a greater threat to Henry than the similar agreement of 1173/1174. The reason was that Henry’s enemy of 1173/1174, King Louis VII, had died in 1180. He had been succeeded as King of France by his fifteen-year-old son Philip Augustus. Philip was the superior of his father: he was intelligent, calculating, and in all ways a Machiavellian ruler, bent on the destruction of the Angevin Empire. Too late, Henry underestimated the power of this unholy alliance of Philip and Richard. In November 1188, Philip deliberately challenged Henry by recognising Richard as heir to the Angevin lands. In 1189, Richard & Philip launched a joint assault on Henry’s French lands, symbolically driving Henry from Le Mans (his birthplace) in May 1189. Worse was then to follow. Enfeebled by increasing poor health, Henry’s morale had been hit by the desertion of his erstwhile supporters (including his son John). In July 1189, Henry was forced to accept humiliating peace terms from Philip & Richard. By then, the strain of governing his Angevin dominions for 35 years finally took its toll. Henry retreated to Anjou, where he had grown up as a boy. He died at Chinon on July 6th 1189. A few days later the Gotterdammerung was completed when Henry’s corpse was ferried down the River Vienne for burial by the nuns at Fontevraud Abbey near Anjou. About twenty years later, his remains were joined there with the corpse of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine: hero and heroine at last re-united in death.

Contemporary assessments of King Henry II

It is reassuring to know that contemporary chroniclers tried to give a balanced assessment of Henry II, pointing out his vices as well as his virtues. However, what is impressive about contemporary opinion is their unanimous view on Henry II’s desires for peace. William of Newburgh writing in the mid 1190s after Henry’s death, stated that, “in his exalted position in the state he was most diligent in defending and promoting the peace of the realm.” Later on, William of Newburgh repeated his assertion of Henry’s desires for peace, “he abhorred bloodshed and the sacrifice of men’s lives.” Significantly, William of Newburgh’s views were echoed by a ‘foreign’ chronicler, Gerald of Wales, also writing in the mid 1190s. Gerald wrote, “Strenuous in warfare, he was very prudent in civil life. But always he dreaded the doubtful arbitrament of war, and with supreme wisdom, in accordance with the ancient comic poet, he essayed every method before resorting to arms.” If for no other reason, Henry II’s commitment to a general peace policy throughout the Angevin Empire would earn him our high regard.

Present –Day assessments of King Henry II.

  • I have deliberately selected today, Saturday 10th December 2011, for my final assessment of King Henry II. The reason is that exactly 75 years ago, on 10th December 1936, King Edward VII abdicated the British throne; essentially the result of his refusal to forego his relationship with Mrs. Simpson.  By so doing, King Edward VII gravely weakened the position of the monarchy in the UK. The contrast between Edward VII’s irresponsible attitude as monarch and King Henry II’s sense of duty as King is profound.
  • About ten years ago, in 2002, the BBC conducted a famous Poll of the ‘100 Greatest Britons’, voted for by the general public. Twelve ‘reigning’ monarchs/princes featured in the Top 100. Interestingly seven of these twelve monarchs were medieval kings or princes (over 50% of the total), they were: King Alfred the Great, Prince Owain Glyndwr, King Henry V, King Robert the Bruce, King Richard III, King Edward I, and, yes, King Henry II. Henry II may have only figured at Number 90; but it is still impressive that he made the Top 100 List at all. For too long, Henry’s reputation has been marred by the Becket affair (see my blog of 30th December 2010 – ‘Henry II and Archbishop Becket’). For too long, King Henry II has been a classic example of Mark Antony’s famous dictum: ‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.’ [Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2]
  • Perhaps the real worth of King Henry II is now becoming more appreciated by British people – even if Henry was beaten into 90th place by Britons such as  Johnny Rotten (87th – I like to think that Henry would have seen the amusing side to this vote).

Conclusion

I think that best summary of King Henry II is given by Professor David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History at Kings College, London, and author of the excellent study of medieval Britain: ‘The Struggle for Mastery’ (Penguin,2003). On page 244 of his book, Professor Carpenter summarises Henry II’s achievements as ruler: “Here also was a king with a real sense of care for his kingdom, who had restored its mutilated frontiers, recovered the rights of the crown, restored peace and order and built the common law.”

When listening to Wagner’s opera, ‘Gotterdammerung’, especially Siegfried’s ‘Rhine Journey’ and ‘Funeral March’, I see Henry II embodying the role of Siegfried. I hope you have found parts of this year’s blog absorbing. In 2012, I hope to analyse the reign of Henry II’s grandfather, King Henry I, who runs Henry II fairly close in the monarchical stakes.

We shall see.

In the meantime, enjoy the Christmas and New Year celebrations. In fact, why not follow medieval tradition, and celebrate the whole Twelve Nights of festivities!

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