Biographies – Henry II

• Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine

Henry II, Curtmantle
Reign: 1154-1189
Birth: 25 March 1133, Le Mans
Death: 6 July 1189, Chinon
Burial: Fontevrault (Fontevraud) Abbey
Father: Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou
Mother: Matilda, The Empress
Marriage: 18 May 1152, Bordeaux, France – Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine
Children:
William
Henry, the Young King
Matilda (Maud)
Richard I, King of England
Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany
Eleanor
Joan
John, King of England

The first of the Angevin kings, Henry II became not only King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou and Maine, but also Lord of Brittany, Aquitaine, Poitou, and Guienne – basically all of western France from Normandy to Gascony and the Pyrenees. His restoration of order in England was swift. Firstly he had hundreds of unlicensed castles built in Stephen’s reign demolished. Then, instead of military service, he demanded money from the barons which enabled him to hire mercenaries responsible to himself alone. To keep order at home he raised a militia composed of all freemen and prescribed how they were to be armed.

Of lasting importance were Henry’s legal reforms. He transformed the Curia Regis into a regular court of trained officials and lawyers, dismissing most of the feudal sheriffs and replacing them with these men. Others were made into a special court of justice, the King’s Bench, and most important of all, he sent out travelling judges – Justices in Eyre – who carried a ‘common law’ into every Shire Court of the country. A national system of law and local government and a civil service were beginning to take shape. Elsewhere, Ireland was invaded for the first time and he was recognised, at least in name, as its King. Whether this was good for the Irish people is of course open to question.

In one thing Henry II failed. His Archbishop, Thomas Becket, opposed his attempt to bring clergy who had been convicted of crime in the church courts before the king’s court for sentencing. He also wished to ensure the peaceful transition of his eldest son Henry, the young king, who died in 1183 by having him crowned in his own lifetime. The ceremony was eventually performed by the Archbishop of York. As a result of this quarrel four knights, apparently overhearing Henry’s lament to be rid of his troublesome archbishop, murdered Becket in his cathedral. Becket quickly became a martyr, then a saint, while Henry was humiliated and made to do a public penance and submit to the Pope.

Over the years Henry’s family life became fraught with problems. He fell out with his wife and his sons, ambitious for their inheritance, rebelled in various combinations often at the urging of Eleanor. Overall however, Henry II was one of England’s most successful kings and it is to his credit that the English have been governed by English Common Law rather than by Roman. Henry died on 6th July 1189 in Chinon and was buried in Fontevrault Abbey.

Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine
Birth: c.1122, Bordeaux
Death: 1 April 1204, Fontevraud
Burial: Fontevrault (Fontevraud) Abbey
Father: Duke William X of Aquitaine
Mother: Aenor de Châtellerault
Marriage: (1) 1137 – Louis VII the Younger, King of France
Children from her first marriage:
Margaret of France
Alix of France

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, Queen of France, Duchess of Aquitaine, and Countess of Poitiers was one of the most powerful women of her time. After the annulment of her marriage to the French King Louis VII, Eleanor had the audacity to marry Henry of Anjou, some 11 years her junior, in 1152. Over the next thirteen years, she and Henry added five sons and three daughters to their family. In their later years the couple fell out with each other and Eleanor supported their sons in the various plots and rebellions against their father. Eventually Henry confined Eleanor from 1173 to 1183. From 1185 onwards she became more active in the ruling of Aquitaine. Eleanor died in April 1204 and was buried in Fontevrault Abbey.

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