Category Archives: King John

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.


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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Sibling Strife Part 2 : King William II and King Henry I: August 1100

The second part of my Trilogy on Henry I’s Accession and Retention of Power takes us back from July 1101 to August 1100. Picture the scene:-

  •  It is the afternoon of 2nd August 1100. King William II (the second son of King William the Conqueror) is out hunting in the New Forest, accompanied by several magnates. He is in his mid-forties, quite healthy (having survived serious illness in 1093). Towards the end of that August day, tragedy struck King William. Let a contemporary chronicler, the reliable William of Malmesbury, tell us what happened next:

“The sun was now setting, and the king drawing his bow let fly an arrow which slightly wounded a stag which passed before him. He ran in pursuit, keeping his gaze rigidly fixed on the quarry, and holding up his hand to shield his eyes from the sun’s rays. At that instant Walter {Tirel}, forming in his mind a project which seemed good to him, tried to transfix another stag which by chance came near him while the king’s attention was otherwise occupied. And thus it was that unknowingly, and without power to prevent it (oh, gracious God!), he pierced the king’s breast with a fatal arrow. “[EHD, Vol II, page 318].

  • At the time of his brother’s death, Henry was conveniently close by. He immediately galloped to nearby Winchester to get control of the important castle and the royal treasure. Henry was out to get the throne: this was his golden chance for power, while his elder brother (Duke Robert of Normandy) was still involved in the First Crusade. Possession of the important city of Winchester would clearly strengthen Henry’s claim to the English Crown. Having secured some baronial support for his monarchical coup d’état, Henry then continued his energetic pursuit of the Crown by quitting Winchester and, with a few baronial companions, riding post haste to London. It is possible that Henry covered the 70 miles to London in 24 hours (arriving in London on the evening of 4th August). And so it was that Henry was formally crowned King Henry I of England on the next day, 5th August 1100.
  • The speed of the political events, over the four day period 2nd to 5th August, was amazing: it fuels speculation that maybe there had existed a planned assassination attempt against King William II. Most historians dismiss this conspiracy theory. They see William II’s death as simply a tragic accident, caused by a series of chance events, such as the dazzling effect of the setting sun, William’s partial wounding of his quarry, and Tirel’s bow shot whilst William II was preoccupied. Such an interpretation is supported by William of Malmesbury’s own judgement that Tirel ‘unknowingly’ killed the king. However, Professor Judith Green, in her excellent recent biography of King Henry, considers that: “a conspiracy to murder Rufus involving Henry, Walter Tirel and the Clares {a powerful baronial family} is…… not out of the question.” {Henry I, by Judith Green (2009), p.40, CUP}. Walter Tirel’s later actions are certainly suspect. Describing Tirel’s reaction to King William’s hunting accident, William of Malmesbury dryly observed, “Walter immediately ran up, but finding the king senseless and speechless, he leapt quickly on his horse, and escaped at full gallop.” [EHD, Vol II, page 318]. It could be argued that Tirel’s flight was simply the result of fear. A possibly more convincing explanation is that Tirel made sure that William II really was dead, and having ascertained this fact, he immediately ensured his own escape.
  • Whether or not King William’s death in the New Forest was the result of accident or design, Henry would have to make some immediately important political gesture to shore up his new monarchical regime. It was therefore no accident that Henry’s Coronation on the 5th August (by Maurice, Bishop of London) was accompanied by King Henry I (as he now was) issuing his celebrated ‘Coronation Charter’. This Charter remains virtually unknown to today’s general public (unlike the 1215 ‘Magna Carta’). Yet King Henry I’s Coronation Charter of 5th August 1100 (exactly 912 years ago today) was a very important medieval document: so significant was Henry’s Coronation Charter, that it was re-issued by King Stephen in 1135 and King Henry II in 1154. It was even cited by Archbishop Stephen Langton in 1215 as a precedent for Magna Carta. Indeed, certain of its provisions (especially those dealing with women) are still relevant today.

King Henry I’s Coronation Charter, 5th August 1100.

As Professor Green and other historians have pointed out, many of the Charter’s Fourteen Points were not entirely new. [See Judith Green, ‘Henry I’, pages 45 to 49]. Even so, some of the specific details enshrined in the Coronation Charter were novel.

Clause 1By this Clause, Henry promised the Church that he would “neither sell or lease its property; nor on the death of an archbishop or a bishop or an abbot will I take anything from the demesne of the Church or from its vassals during the period which elapses before a successor is installed.”

Clause 2 concerned the succession of heirs to the estates of their fathers; and the inheritance tax (‘Relief’) they would have to pay to the Crown. Henry promised that such ‘reliefs’ would only be “Just and Lawful.”

Clause 3concerned both the marriage of aristocratic female heirs and the rights of widows. Regarding the childless widow of a tenant-in-chief, Henry stated that, “she shall have her dower and her marriage portion, and I will not give her in marriage unless she herself consents.”

Clause 4 further stipulated the rights of widows and their offspring: “If a widow survives with children under age, she shall have her dower and her marriage portion, so long as she keeps her body chaste; and I will not give her in marriage except with her consent. And the guardian of the land, and of the children, shall be either the widow or another of her relations, as may seem proper. And I order that my barons shall act likewise towards the sons and daughters and widows of their men.”

Clause 5gave a warning to counterfeiters of the coinage.

Clause 6 Henry promised to forego most of the debts owed to his late brother, King William II.

Clause 7 concerned intestate estates of the barons For those of Henry’s barons who died intestate, “his widow or his children or his relatives or one of his true men shall make such division {of the movable property} for the sake of his soul, as may seem best to them.”

Clauses 8 to 10dealt with various matters concerning the barons, such as the Law of the Forests.

Clause 11concerned the feudal obligations of the Knights (lesser tenants): “The knights, who in return for their estates perform military service equipped with a hauberk of mail, shall hold their demesne lands quit of all gelds {taxes} and all work.”

Clauses 12 to 14were general statements, including a pledge to keep the peace, and restore the law of the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor.

{See EHD, Vol II, pages 432 to 434 for full details of King Henry I’s Coronation  Charter}

Interpretation of King Henry I’s Coronation Charter: Cunning or Commendable?

The Charter was a mixture of both. On one level, Henry’s Coronation Charter was clearly an ingenious device to win support for his royalist coup d’état. In the words of the famous BBC character Baldrick, King Henry I ‘had a cunning plan’ to win support from those sections of English society whose support was vital to any monarch: the Church, Tenants-in-Chief, and the Knights. In this sense, the Charter was simply a Political Manifesto, intended to help Henry defeat his elder brother’s opposition to his accession to the English Throne. The reference to the Knights (Clause 11) is especially significant. By giving the knights the privilege of tax exemption, Henry I attested his faith in the military organisation of the ‘Feudal Levy’ (Servitium Debitum), by which Henry I could nominally count on 5,000 knights to aid him in a crisis.

However, what is also striking is the rights King Henry I accorded to women, especially widows (Clauses Three, Four, and Seven). Such repeated assertions of the rights of widows almost implies that the Coronation Charter was a ‘Medieval Feminist Proclamation’. In this sense, the Coronation Charter certainly was commendable, because there was little political reward for Henry in making such ‘suffragist’ declarations.


In promoting his Coronation Charter, Henry I had made a good start in rallying support. He made another politically astute move three months after the promulgation of the Coronation Charter, by marrying the Anglo-Saxon Princess, Edith Matilda, on 11th November 1100. Edith Matilda was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. By her mother, Edith Matilda was also the great grand-daughter of the Anglo-Saxon King, Edmund Ironside. By his marriage, Henry I probably also gained the backing of the Anglo-Saxon population In England, as well as the friendship of Scotland. Even so, would all these plus points help Henry I withstand the expected challenge to his Crown from his elder brother Duke Robert of Normandy?

Sibling strife was a potent factor affecting relations between Henry and Robert (and also William II). In acceding to the English throne in August 1100, Henry had thrown down the gauntlet to his brother Robert (perhaps literally)! Duke Robert picked up the gauntlet and invaded England in the summer of 1101. What happened next? See my July Blog for details!!!!


King Henry’s Coronation Charter of 5th August contained 14 Points. Which other important historical political charter also contained 14 Points? (Clue – think 20th century.)

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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).


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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Michaelmas or Rosh Hashanah? The Jewish Community in Angevin England: 1154 to 1216

Thursday 29th September  2011 marks a rare combination of two major religious festivals: it is both the Christian Feast-Day of Saint Michael and all Angels; and also the Jewish Festival of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). The Benedictus liturgy for Michaelmas Day goes as follows:-

“There was silence in heaven while the dragon waged war;

And Michael and his angels fought against him, and won the victory.”

Some medieval chroniclers, notably William of Newburgh, would doubtless identify ‘the dragon’ as the Jews of Angevin England, in his eyes constantly undermining the Church’s authority and influence among the people. In his generally favourable character assessment of King Henry II, William of Newburgh criticised Henry because he “gave undue encouragement”…. to …”that perfidious nation and enemy of Christians, the Jews.” [English Historical Documents, Volume II, page 402].

It would be a mistake to regard William of Newburgh’s anti-semitic views as being typical of the Angevin kings’ attitudes and policies towards their Jewish subjects in England. In fact, on the whole, the Angevin kings followed policies of enlightened self-interest towards the Jews of England, which in turn helped the Jewish Community of Angevin England to thrive and prosper between 1154 and 1216. Their successors were to be very different.

The Expansion of the Jewish Community in Angevin England (1154-1216).

  • As is well known, Jewish immigration into England began after the Norman Conquest, essentially as an off-shoot of the Rouen Community in Normandy: but it was a slow process, and by the 1140s, there still appeared to be no Jewish settlement in England outside of London. There then occurred a remarkable expansion of the Jewish Community in Angevin England, such that by about 1200, at the start of John’s reign, the Jewish population in Angevin England had increased to 5,000. Not only did the Jewish population increase appreciably, but it spread throughout England. Nonetheless, even at its height in 1200, the Jewish population constituted a mere 0.125% of the total population of Angevin England, then possibly as high as 4 million. This is far less than the percentages of main ethnic minorities in 21st century United Kingdom. The 2001 Census gives the following data for the main ethnic minorities in the UK:-

Indian background, 1,053,411 (1.8%);

Pakistani background, 747,285 (1.3%);

Afro/Caribbean background, 565,876 (1%).

  • In 1159, Henry II levied a tax (donum) on the English Jewish Community, which revealed that Jewish settlements in London still remained the main centre of the Jewish population in England; but that Jewish settlements had also spread to Eastern England (Cambridge, Thetford, Norwich and Lincoln). This geographical expansion of Jewish settlements continued apace In Angevin England during the next thirty-five years. In 1194, as one of his financial expedients to pay King Richard I’s enormous ransom, Chief Justicar Archbishop Hubert Walter levied a tax on the English Jewish Community, ‘The Capitula Iudeorum’. The receipt roll of Jewish contributions to this tax indicates the spread of the Jewish settlement in Angevin England between 1159 and 1194. Jewish settlements had spread northwards to York, southwards to Canterbury and Winchester, and westwards to Hereford and Exeter by the middle of Richard I’s reign; significantly linked to cathedral cities.
  • This expansion of English Jewry led to several notable English Jews emerging in Angevin England. Jurnet of Norwich and Aaron of Lincoln emerged as notable players on the English Political Stage in the second half of the 12th century: based on their extensive loans both to Henry II and his Tenants-in-Chief (lay and spiritual). At his death in 1186, Aaron of Lincoln was owed the fabulous sum of £15,000, by 430 persons. This colossal sum probably represented 7% of the entire total of currency in circulation at that time in Angevin England. It is no wonder that at his death, the Angevin monarchs had to set up a special division of the Exchequer just to manage it, naturally called ‘Aaron’s Exchequer.’ Bankers such as Aaron of Lincoln literally oiled the wheels of the Angevin economy: they were indispensible to it.

Why did the Jewish Community expand and prosper under the Angevin Kings?

  • The expansion of Jewish populations in Angevin England reflected the great economic expansion that occurred in England in the second half of the 12th century. This half-century, 1150-1200, saw investment in towns, roads and bridge-building. Two modern historians, John Hatcher & Mark Bailey, have estimated that at the start of King Henry I’s reign, the amount of currency in circulation in England was no more than between £25,000 and £35,000. Such was the extent of the 12th century economic boom, that a hundred years later, at the beginning of King John’s reign, this total had soared to £250,000. (Hatcher & Bailey: ’Modelling the Middle Ages’ [Oxford 2001], page 138). By default, Jews had to engage in money-lending, so such an expansion in the money supply would obviously have benefitted them.
  • It also seems to be the case that the Jewish Community also benefitted from the policies of the Angevin Kings. In 1177, King Henry II greatly helped the English Jews by granting permission for Jews to have a cemetery outside the walls of every city in England. Not only did this reform indicate a positive attitude towards the Jews; but was also of great practical help to English Jewry, as previously they had had to bury their dead only outside Cripplegate in London. From 1170 onwards, Jews gained increasing access to the royal courts. This culminated in an important judicial eyre at the end of Henry II’s reign, in 1188. The Pipe Rolls indicate that Jews were involved in litigation before the justices in eyre in at least seven counties, including Devon, Kent, and even Northumberland.
  • King Richard I continued his father’s positive approach to his Jewish subjects of England (and Normandy). In March 1190, shortly after his accession, he granted a Charter to the Jews. This charter granted certain rights to the Jews of England and Normandy. For example, Clause Six of this Charter specifically allowed Jews to “go whithersoever they will with all their chattels just like our own goods and let no one keep them or prevent them.” Even so, as the first clause stated, Richard’s Charter of 1190 was essentially only reaffirming rights of the Jews previously endorsed by Henry II: “Just as the Lord King Henry, our father, granted and by his Charter confirmed to the Jews of England and Normandy, namely to reside in our land freely and honourably.”
  • The phrase: ’freely and honourably’ has a fine ring to it. Of course, both Henry II and his son Richard I were mainly acting out of self-interest in granting such concessions to their Jewish subjects. For example, Henry II had increasingly used Jewish moneylenders to finance his government after abandoning the geld tax in 1161/62. But then, all governments partly act out of self-interest. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ best sums up the policies of the Angevin kings to their Jewish subjects: and there is nothing wrong with that.

Anti-Semitism in Angevin England :1154 to 1216.

  • Despite the generally progressive policies of the Angevin monarchs towards their Jewish subjects, anti-semitism certainly existed in England between 1154 and 1216. Up to a point, the existence of anti-semitism in Angevin England can be easily explained. As Professor Bartlett has stated: “It is perhaps not surprising that a small, exclusive and culturally distinctive group, deeply involved in money lending, would stir up hostility on the part of the majority community.” (‘England under the Norman and Angevin Kings,’ [Oxford 2000], page 354.) Xenophobia was not exclusively directed against Jews in Medieval England, as Italians were later to face persecution in England in the Wars of the Roses. Indeed, William of Newburgh’s anti-semitic diatribe probably mainly reflected his general ‘anti-foreigner’ prejudices. According to him, the Irish were: “uncivilised and barbarous in their habits” (EHD, Vol. II, page 367). The French were: “by nature both fierce and arrogant.”(EHD, Vol. II, page 373.). As for the Scots, William of Newburgh was unrestrained in his criticism. They were “savage and cruel” (EHD, Vol. II, page 371); they were “barbarians….to whom no food was too filthy to eat, even that fit only for dogs.” (EHD, Vol. II, page 377). Regarded in this context, perhaps William of Newburgh’s anti-Jewish bigotry can be better understood.
  • Even so, there were undoubtedly outbreaks of anti-semitism in Angevin England. Such outbreaks often took the form of lurid stories of Christians being kidnapped by the Jews for ritual sacrifice. Such dreadful outbursts occurred at Gloucester in 1168, at Bury St. Edmunds in 1181, and at Bristol in 1183. Such lurid fabrications fanned the flames of anti-semitism in Angevin England, and were a disgrace to any civilised country. Even so, such slanderous episodes must be seen against the background of a generally positive period for Angevin Jewry. In any case, the Angevin monarchs took great care to douse the flames of latent anti-semitism in England: it was, after all, in their interests to do so.
  • The real anti-semitic explosion in Angevin England occurred in the first few years of Richard I’s reign. In the early part of 1190, a firestorm of anti-Jewish pogroms swept through Eastern England: King’s Lynn, Norwich, Stamford and Lincoln – reaching its climax in York in March 1190.

The York Pogrom, 15th/16th March, 1190

  • Excavations of the medieval Jewish burial ground in York, undertaken in the 1980s, have revealed a fairly large Jewish population in York in the later 12th century of between 150 and 250 persons. This thriving community was led by two great financiers, Benedict and Josce, in addition to a well-known scholar, Rabbi Yomtob of Joigny. The York mob, made up of workmen, youths, knights and even clerics, went on the rampage and destroyed Jewish houses in the city on 15th March. The anti-Jewish mob had been whipped up into a mood of religious fervour because of the local preparations for the Third Crusade. This was bad enough; but worse was then to follow.
  • When the Jews of Lincoln and Stamford had been attacked, they had sought refuge in the local castles. The beleaguered Jews of York did the same, and sought refuge in the royal castle of York (Clifford’s Tower). The warden (castellan) of the castle was then absent. On his return, the beleaguered Jews, distrusting the warden’s integrity, refused to admit him to the castle. The warden therefore appealed to the Sheriff of Yorkshire, who called out the local militia of knights to attack the castle. It may well be at this stage that the sheriff was trying to restore law and order, but the mob joined the militia; and the sheriff was unable to discipline the mob, which now even brought up siege machines to storm the castle. Having neither sufficient food nor weapons, some of the Jews inside the castle now accepted self-martyrdom. They preferred to die at the hands of their friends and family, rather than trust to the good intentions of the mob. The rest accepted the besiegers’ offer of Christian baptism, and surrendered, whereupon, they too died; but this time at the hands of the mob. The York massacre was one of the worst atrocities in medieval England.


Why was there this firestorm of anti-semitism in Angevin England in 1190?


  • The Jewish persecutions of 1190 in Angevin England were wholly exceptional in their violence. Like the mob riots that similarly affected English cities in August 2011, they were inexcusable. However, in contrast to the riots of 2011 in England, the riots of 1190 were explicable.
  • The 1190 anti-semitic riots in Angevin England were at least partly the product of religious bigotry inflamed by the Third Crusade. This explosive situation was further fuelled by the government instability of the period September 1189 to June 1190.
  • After his consecration in September 1189, Richard I moved swiftly to join the Third Crusade (leaving England on 11th December 1189). Desperate to finance his participation in the Third Crusade, Richard appointed the wholly unsuitable Hugh de Puiset (Bishop of Durham) as co-justicar. Hugh de Puiset had bribed Richard to obtain the coveted post of co-justicar; but at least Richard also appointed William de Mandeville as the other co-justicar, who would presumably act as check on de Puiset. However, in November 1189, William de Mandedville died, leaving Hugh de Puiset as sole justicar. The result was predictable. Hugh de Puiset now clashed with the Chancellor, William Longchamps, leading to a decline in government efficiency; making it easy for latent anti-semitism to assert itself throughout the country. The final government blunder occurred in the spring of 1191, when both Hugh de Puiset and William Longchamps were in Normandy
  • Local anti-semitic bigots then exploited this instable political situation by fomenting anti-Jewish riots for their own ends (again, similar to the mob riots in England in August 2011). Chief among these bigots was a particularly odious creature, Richard Malebisse of York. His nefarious role in the York Pogrom of March 1190 was certainly influenced by the fact that he had had to borrow heavily from Aaron of Lincoln in 1182.

What was the response of Richard I’s Government to these pogroms?

If Richard’s misgovernment had been partly to blame for the wave of anti-Jewish riots, it took immediate restorative action to remedy the situation:-

  • In May 1190, Chancellor Longchamps arrived in York to try and restore order; which he did with varying levels of success. He imposed swingeing fines on the murderers, and even confiscated lands. Richard of Malebisse had his lands confiscated, but they were later restored to him (though he was then kept on a fairly tight leash by Richard’s government). The York Jewish Community revived.
  • In June 1190, Hugh de Puiset was dismissed as justicar, and William de Longchamps combined this role with his existing position of Chancellor. This expedient was not satisfactory, and real improvement did not occur till the appointment of Archbishop Hubert Walter as justicar in December 1193, a position he held till 1198. In 1194. The whole process of Jewish money lending in the provinces was reformed, to prevent the kind of destruction of records that had taken place in 1190. From now on, the contracting of loans and their repayment was to be confined to seven English towns, and their repayment was to be supervised by designated officials: two Christian, two Jewish, and a clerk of the central justices.

Decline of the English Jewish Community under King Henry III (1216 to 1272


  • In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council, convened by Pope Innocent III, ran to 71 canons. Two of these canons promulgated severely discriminatory measures against European Jews. Canon 67, referring to the “dishonesty of the Jews”, greatly restricted their money lending activities. Canon 68 was probably even harsher. It required Jews to wear distinctive dress in public, thereby establishing a virtual system of apartheid against the Jews.
  • In 1216, with the death of King John, the Angevin Empire had run its course. John’s successor, his son, King Henry III, began to implement anti-Jewish measures in England, building on the initiative of the Fourth Lateran Council.
  • In 1239, his government restricted the taking of interest for only six months, thereby severely curtailing Jewish financial activities (and therefore their livelihood). In the same year, Henry III effectively nullified Richard I’s 1190 Charter of the Jews by confining Jews in their existing place of residence for a year.
  • 1255 was a turning point in the government sanctioned anti-semitism in England. King Henry III personally ordered the execution of 19 Jews in Lincoln on the spurious charge of kidnap and crucifixion of a little Christian boy,
  • By the mid 13th century, government backed discrimination had clearly spiralled into persecution. Faced with this government sponsored anti-semitism, the English Jewish Community greatly declined. By the mid 13th century, the Jewish population in England had declined to between 3,000 and 5,000. By the beginning of King Edward I’s reign (Henry III’s heir), the Jewish population had declined still further to roughly 2,000. The stage had been set for the final expulsion of the English Jewish Community, which occurred in 1290 -a major loss to the English nation.


Seen in retrospect, Angevin England represented a period of progress and expansion for European Jews. If not exactly a ‘Golden Age’ for European Jewry; the Jews still thrived and prospered in England between 1154 and 1216. The Angevin Kings deserve credit for the parts they played in making this cultural blossoming possible. Self-interest may well have been the prime stimulus motivating Henry II, Richard I (and John). Even so, one likes to think that part of the motivation for their generally progressive policies towards their Jewish subjects was a genuine desire to advance the status of Jews throughout the Angevin Empire. The Angevin kings demonstrated that the religious cultures represented by the Festivals of both St. Michael and Rosh Hashanah could  profitably co-exist. In this way, as in others, the Angevin Empire was certainly a ‘Golden Age’ for England.

(If readers wish to learn more about the Jewish Community in Angevin England, I would always recommend the path-breaking work written over fifty years ago by H.G. Richardson: ’The English Jewry under Angevin Kings’, published by Methuen in 1960 – though unfortunately it can be hard to obtain, being out of print.)

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Does History repeat itself? The English victories at Verneuil (Normandy): August 1173 and August 1424.

In the two hundred years or so following the Battle of Hastings, set-piece battles were actually rare in England and France. This may have been the result of a laudable desire of the competing protagonists to settle their differences by negotiation rather than conflict. In this sense, the period from 1066 to c.1266 stands out as an impressive epoch of peace and moderation in Western Europe, particularly in contrast to the first half of the 20th century.

Another, more likely, reason was that battles were themselves too much of a gamble for the rival commanders. All could be lost within a few hours. There are several examples of decisive major battles between 1066 and c.1266:-

  • The Battle of Stamford Bridge, 25th September 1066. The Anglo-Saxon victory saw the death of King Harald Hardrada of Norway, and marked the virtual end of serious Viking invasions of England – though there were later Viking incursions in 1069/1070 and 1102.
  • The Battle of Hastings, 14th October 1066. The Norman victory saw the death of King Harold of England, and the establishment of a new Cross-Channel State, and with it, the Anglo/Norman Dynasty.
  • The Battle of Tinchebrai, 28th September 1106. The victory of King Henry I of England saw the restoration of the Anglo-Norman State, and the effective elimination of Duke Robert as a serious threat to Normandy.
  • The Battle of Lincoln, 2nd February 1141. King Stephen’s defeat greatly revived the Angevin cause in their conflict with Stephen.
  • The Battle of Alnwick, 13th July 1174. William the Lion’s Scottish invasion of Northern England was repulsed by Northern English forces, thereby greatly helping King Henry II defeat the Great Revolt of 1173/1174.
  • The Battle of Bouvines, 27th July 1214. The defeat of King John’s Allies caused the final end of the Anglo/Norman state, and precipitated the events leading to Magna Carta.
  • The Battle of Evesham, 4th August 1265. The defeat of Simon de Montfort’s forces signalled the revival of King Henry III’s monarchy, and, with it, the succession of the future King Edward I.

The decisive nature of these battles can be partly gauged from the personal fate of the losing commanders. Three of them actually lost their lives in battle:-Harald Hardrada, Harold of England, and Simon de Montfort. Three others went into captivity as a result of their defeat in battle: Duke Robert, King Stephen, and King William the Lion. The seventh ‘defeated protagonist’, King John, was neither killed nor imprisoned as a result of Bouvines; but that was obviously because he was not actually present on the battlefield! Even so, the defeat of his allies at Bouvines led to John’s de facto coercion by his barons, leading to his concessions at Runnymede a year later.

What, then, of King Henry II’s success at Verneuil (August 1173)?

  • In 1173, King Henry II faced a major challenge to his authority. Three of his sons rebelled against him: Henry the Younger, Richard and Geoffrey. They were motivated by a desire for more authority within the Angevin Empire; and, up to a point, Henry II was possibly too rigid in denying them any power. These sons were joined by rebel barons in England, such as Hugh, Earl of Chester, and Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. This revolt in itself was a major threat to Henry II’s power; but what turned a serious revolt into a major challenge was the adherence of two foreign monarchies to the rebels’ banner: King Louis VII of France, and King William I of Scotland (The Lion). Both these two monarchs were motivated by sheer opportunism: the desire to profit by Henry II’s apparent weakness to gain territory for themselves. King Louis VII wanted to weaken the Angevin Empire by gaining Normandy. King William I wanted to regain northern English counties he had had to relinquish to Henry shortly after the latter’s accession to the English Crown. Philip, Count of Flanders, also threw in his lot with Henry’s opponents.
  • A lesser monarch than Henry II would perhaps have quailed under this combined assault; but Henry II was made of sterner stuff. He rallied his loyal forces to destroy this serious threat to his power. We have already seen how Henry’s northern sheriffs rose to the challenge by defeating King William I at Alnwick. What, then, of King Louis VII of France?
  • In May 1173, Henry’s enemies launched their invasion of Normandy. Philip, Count of Flanders invaded Normandy from the north-east. King Louis VII then invaded central Normandy from the south-east, targeting the fortress-town of Verneuil. Their combined invasion was a pincer movement on the great prize: Rouen, capital of Normandy. If Rouen fell, then Normandy would probably be lost to Henry. This in turn would greatly diminish his authority as King of England.
  • Philip’s northern invasion had seemed successful; but his brother, Matthew, Count of Boulogne, had been mortally wounded in their advance. Losing heart, Philip of Flanders withdrew from the invasion. Showing great military acumen, Henry now exploited his adversaries’ weakness by taking the offensive against the invading forces of King Louis VII of France. What happened next is best told by a contemporary chronicler, William of Newburgh, regarded by historians as a generally reliable writer.
  • Once Henry had heard of Count Philip’s abandonment of his invasion, Henry II: “concentrated his mercenary forces, together with as many others as felt bound not to desert him in his hour of extreme need, he sent a message to the king of France, who had already wasted the greater part of the summer in besieging Verneuil, to this effect: that he should either raise the siege or shrink not from fighting a decisive battle [my italics] on a certain day.” (‘English Historical Documents’, Volume II, page 373). Knowing the potentially disastrous consequences of fighting a decisive battle, King Henry II was either courageous or simply reckless – probably both. As it was, King Louis VII of France solved Henry’s military quandary by imitating his ally, the Count of Flanders, and abandoning the siege of Verneuil. Whatever Louis’ reasons, it was not an heroic act, nor even a pious one.
  • Although no battle was actually fought at Verneuil between the rival forces of Henry II and Louis VII, the withdrawal of the French forces must be counted as a great military success for Henry II. Normandy was safe, and on 11th August 1174, Henry II entered Rouen in triumph, accompanied by his welsh supporters. In consequence, Henry II’s authority was greatly strengthened. As no battle was fought, it is not possible to precisely date Henry’s military success at Verneuil. Even so, the date of 9th August 1173 is as good as any, because it was on that date when King Henry’s army ascended the hills overlooking Verneuil. They could see that the citadel was still in loyal hands, and they might also have even seen the retreat of Louis’ army, as Henry ordered his forces to harry Louis’ rearguard.

Postscript: Does History repeat itself?

  • Almost exactly 250 years after King Henry II’s great military success at Verneuil, English forces were again desperately defending their occupation of their territories in France, including Normandy. After King Henry V’s decisive military victory at Agincourt, in October 1415, England had regained control of Normandy, lost centuries before by King John.
  • After the sudden death of King Henry V in 1422, a combined Franco-Scottish Army took the offensive against the English forces in France (as in 1173).  A preliminary English victory, at Cravant in Burgundy, on 31st July 1423, eased the English position; but the decisive battle would very likely be fought in Normandy, the lynch-pin of English territory in France in the 1420s (as in the 1170s).
  • The decisive conflict was not long in coming. On 17th August 1424,at Verneuil in Normandy, a combined Anglo/Norman Army, about 8,000 strong, faced a combined Franco/Scottish Army possibly twice as strong. The Anglo/Norman Army, ably commanded by John, Duke of Bedford (the late King Henry V’s brother), destroyed the Franco/Scottish Army. Though Anglo/Norman losses were high, at around 1,600 men, they were dwarfed by the 6,000 losses sustained by the French and Scots, the latter losing both their leaders, the Earls of Buchan and Douglas. As already mentioned, pitched battles in the Middle Ages could involve death for the rival commanders.
  • Even so, King Henry II would have applauded the significance of the Anglo/Norman success in 1424. It guaranteed the English retention of Normandy for the next 25 years, and even then, Normandy was only lost to the French by the incompetence of Henry V’s heir, King Henry VI. In the same way, Henry II’s success at Vereuil in August 1173, guaranteed the Angevin retention of Normandy for thirty-one years, till 1204 (possibly also due to the incompetence of the reigning English king). Perhaps therefore, History really does repeat itself!

Two questions for all my Angevin supporters . . .

  1. Which famous 19th century German philosopher is often credited with coining the proverb, ‘History repeats itself,’ and what caveat did he add?
  2. What is the nickname of King Louis VII of France?

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Anglo-Scottish Relations in the Angevin Empire: a model for the 21st Century

Yesterday was the 837th anniversary of the English defeat of the Scots in the Battle of Alnwick (Northumberland), 13th July 1174. In the summer of 1174, King  William I of Scotland threw in his lot with the other protagonists hostile to King Henry II in the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1173-1174. William’s allies included Henry II’s three elder sons, Louis VII of France and dissident English earls such as the Earls of Chester and Norfolk. In other words, William I’s invasion of northern England in 1174, was not simply an Anglo/Scottish conflict. The combined impact of this unholy alliance was to give Henry II a major challenge to his authority.

In May 1174, William’s Scottish Army invaded Cumbria, while William’s younger brother, David secured control of the Earldom of Huntingdon. To meet the challenge of William’s invasion, Robert of Estouteville, Sheriff of Northumberland and Yorkshire raised an army to combat the Scots. Interestingly, Robert was assisted by the former sheriffs of Northumberland (William de Vesci) and Yorkshire (Rannulf de Glanville). We know quite a lot about the Scots invasion because of the account of a contemporary chronicler, William of Newburgh. William of Newburgh wrote his chronicle in the 1190s, and is generally thought to be a reliable writer.

William of Newburgh relates how Robert of Estouteville, de Vesci and de Glanville acted promptly to raise a force to counteract the Scots invasion. Indeed, as the chronicler relates; ”the occasion was so urgent that they had no time to collect their infantry.” [English Historical Documents, Volume II, page 377]. Arriving at Alnwick under cover of mist, the English force espied the “King of Scots with a squadron of sixty horsemen” [ ibid, page 378]. Taken completely by surprise, the English force captured King William, on 13th July, 1174. With William’s capture, the remainder of the now leaderless Scots Army “were at first thunderstruck . . . and soon after, as if goaded by the Furies, they turned against each other with the sword.” [ibid, page 379]. The Scots invasion was over, and, a fortnight after the Battle of Alnwick, on 26th July 1174, King William I was delivered to King Henry at Northampton, King William’s legs being pinioned beneath his horse, to signify Henry’s triumph. The defeat of William’s invasion heralded the wider defeat of the Great Rebellion.                                                                                                                          Perhaps today this medieval Anglo-Scottish battle at Alnwick conjures up the apparently increasingly extreme  feelings of English/Scottish nationalism which seem increasingly common in 2011.  Increased intense sporting rivalry between England and Scotland, combined with  separatist political developments have seemingly  begun to engender a fervent patriotism (especially in Scotland), which threatens to undermine the shared heritage of both countries within the UK. Such zealous appeals to nationalism inevitably make spurious entreaties to History, in order to justify the misguided policies of political separation which are increasingly in evidence within the UK in 2011.

It might therefore be the case that modern-day nationalists could use the Anglo/Scottish conflict of 837 years ago in the north of England to glorify their ill-advised policies of political separation, on the ‘Braveheart’ model. In fact, Scotland did rather well within the Angevin Empire; and Anglo/Scottish co-operation was as much a feature of Anglo-Scottish relations in the Angevin Empire as conflict – if not more so. The key element governing relations between England and Scotland in the Angevin period between 1154 and 1216 was delimiting the Anglo-Scots border, within the Empire. The policies pursued by the Angevin kings towards Scotland differed. Henry II pursued policies which effectively amounted to favouring Scottish devolution within the Angevin Empire. In contrast, his successor, Richard, seemed to favour Scots independence. It is my contention that Henry’s policies of devolution were in reality more realistic for Scotland:-

  • In 1157, King Henry II and King Malcolm IV of Scotland agreed that all the English territory the Scots had obtained under King Stephen would be restored to England. It is true that this co-operation reflects some bullying by Henry, who was anxious for a foreign policy success to cement his recent accession to the English throne; but Malcolm was not humiliated, as he was granted his father’s old earldom of Huntingdon in England, as well as the territory of Tynedale in Northumberland.
  • In December 1174, after his abortive invasion of northern England, King William I of Scotland was released from custody, after agreeing to the Treaty of Falaise. By this treaty, Henry II took possession of the Scottish castles of Berwick, Edinburgh, Jedburgh, Roxburgh and Stirling. This may again at first sight seem like Henry bullying the Scots, rather than genuinely negotiating with them, but this would be a mistaken view. Henry was punishing William for his rebellion – he was making a political point, rather than trying to dominate Scotland. Henry believed that the Scots should rule themselves, within the Angevin Empire. Henry never garrisoned Stirling, and returned Edinburgh to William in 1186, after William had demonstrated his trustworthiness.

In contrast, Richard was prepared to countenance Scots independence. Soon after his accession, In December 1189, Richard and William signed the ‘Quit Claim of Canterbury’. This agreement ostensibly favoured Scots independence because, by abrogating the Treaty of Falaise, it effectively conceded Scots independence from the Angevin Empire. However, on second sight, it does not appear that Scotland benefitted unduly from the Quit claim. To begin with, William had to ‘buy’ Scots independence; for the not inconsiderable sum (for a poor country) of £6,666. In addition, Richard had certainly not abandoned designs on Scotland. Richard schemed to make Otto of Brunswick (his nephew) King of Scotland after William’s death. This would be achieved by getting Otto to marry Margaret, William’s daughter and heir. In fact, this scheme came to nothing; but only because in 1198, William had a son, the future Alexander II of Scotland.

King Alexander II imitated his father in October 1215 by invading northern England, at a time when the last Angevin monarch, John, was facing opposition from all sides. The invasion did Alexander no good, as John’s forces expelled the Scots from northern England in January 1216.


(1)  The final chapter in Anglo/Scottish relations was concluded by King Alexander II of Scotland, and King John’s son, King Henry III. In September 1237, the two monarchs signed The Treaty of York, by which King Alexander quitclaimed all his hereditary rights to the northern English counties of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland. That settled the Anglo-Scottish border dispute once and for all; but by then, the Angevin Empire had itself disintegrated. Scotland was by then gradually developing the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, which was in reality a euphemistic phrase masking Scotland’s increasing subservience to France. France effectively duped Scotland in the later Middle Ages, by using it as a pawn in its struggles with England. For all its support for France in the later medieval period, Scotland received hardly any tangible rewards.

(2)   It is my contention that Scotland really prospered within the Angevin Empire under King Henry II, under the latter monarch’s enlightened policy of effectively supporting Scottish devolution. Here, surely, is the parallel for Scotland to follow in the 21st century: a devolved Scotland, prospering within the UK, rather than following spurious independence outside of it, on the model of the medieval  ‘Auld Alliance’.


Filed under Angevins, Battles in Britain, British Constitution, British Kings and Queens, Conservative Party, Cumbria, Devolution, Henry II, History, King John, Labour Party, Lib-Dems, Medieval History, Military History, Northumberland, Politics, Scotland, Sheriffs