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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Henry II of England


Henry was born in France at Le Mans on March 5, 1133 as the eldest child of Geoffrey the Fair, Count of Anjou, and the Empress Matilda, the eldest daughter of Henry I, King of England and Duke of Normandy.

Henry grew up in Anjou in northern France, where he  was educated by Peter of Saintes, a noted grammarian of the day.

In late 1142, Geoffrey decided to send the nine-year-old to Bristol, the centre of Angevin opposition to England's King Stephen. For about a year, Henry lived alongside Roger of Worcester, one of Robert's sons, and was instructed by a magister, Master Matthew; Robert's household was known for its education and learning.

Henry returned to Anjou either in 1143 or 1144, resuming his education under William of Conches, another famous academic. He developed a love of reading and intellectual discussion.

In his youth Henry enjoyed warfare, hunting and other adventurous pursuits


King Stephen died on October 25, 1154 after falling ill with a stomach disorder, allowing Henry to inherit the English throne. He was crowned at Westminster Abbey on December 19, 1154.

When Henry became king, his French lands stretched from the English Channel to the Pyrenees — covering ten times as much of the country as the French king possessed

A man of simple tastes, Henry disliked pomp and ceremony and the trappings of monarchy. He was as willing to mingle with peasants as with his courtiers.

Henry revitalized the English Exchequer issuing receipts for tax payments and keeping written accounts on rolled parchment.

Henry established the distance between his nose and his outstretched thumb as a unit of measurement, which became known as a yard.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was assassinated on December 29, 1170 at Canterbury Cathedral under the orders of Henry. The English king's penance for the murder of Becket was a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, where wearing sackcloth and ashes and barefoot, he was beaten with birch and twigs by eighty monks on the steps, made a large offering and remained in prayer at the late archbishop's tomb throughout the night.

Henry's penance for the murder of Becket took place at a time of great crisis with a number of simultaneous rebellions being fostered by his enemies in his territories. On the next day his enemy, the King of Scots, was captured at Alnwick.


Henry was thick set, short, broad shouldered, short necked, bow legged. He had reddish hair, fierce grey eyes and freckled skin.

Peter of Blois left a description of Henry II in 1177: "...the lord king has been red-haired so far, except that the coming of old age and gray hair has altered that color somewhat. His height is medium, so that neither does he appear great among the small, nor yet does he seem small among the great... curved legs, a horseman's shins, broad chest, and a boxer's arms all announce him as a man strong, agile and bold...

Henry was by nature an informal dresser, he preferred wearing riding clothes to his crown..

Henry's sobriquets included "Curt Mantle" because of the practical short cloaks he liked to wear.

He was called Plantagenet, from his habit of wearing a sprig of broom (Planta genista), in his cap inspired by the family badge. Henry thus became the first of the Plantagenet Kings.

Henry was by nature an informal dresser, he preferred wearing riding clothes to his crown.

Henry had a keen intellect and an especially  good memory for facts and trivia; he was a natural administrator.

A coarse man, passionate, energetic and at times violent, Henry indulged in outbursts of furious rage.


Henry married the beautiful, graceful, dark eyed, colorful Eleanor of Aquitaine (1121-1204) on May 18, 1152 in the Cathedral of Saint-André in Bordeaux. She was ten years older than the 19-year-old Henry.

Their wedding took place just two months after King Louis VII of France had divorced Eleanor as she failed to present him with any heirs.

14th-century representation of Henry and Eleanor Wiki Commons
Through his marriage to Eleanor, the daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine,  Henry acquired the province of Aquitaine in South West France. It stayed under English control for 300 years.

Henry and Eleanor had five sons and three daughters: William, who died in 1156, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, John, Matilda, Eleanor, and Joan.

Henry dominated Eleanor, they quarreled frequently and he took many mistresses. From 1167, the pair drifted apart.

Among Henry's mistresses was the legendary fair Rosamond. She was hidden away by him in a bower of a labyrinth in Woodstock, but the jealous Eleanor found her and she was forced to drink poison.

Henry II's attempt to divide his titles amongst his sons but keep the power associated with them provoked them into trying to take control of the lands assigned to them, supported by their mother. This amounted to treason, at least in Henry's eyes.

Henry the Young King died in 1183. A horse trampled to death another son, Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany (1158—1186). Henry's third son, Richard the Lionheart (1157—1199), with the assistance of Philip II Augustus of France, attacked and defeated Henry on July 4, 1189.


Henry had simple tastes in food and was a moderate drinker. On one occasion the monks at St Swithe's, Winchester, grovelled in the mud before Henry, as their Bishop had suppressed all but three of their customary courses. Henry replied that in his court he was content with three and so should the monks be.

Included in the Provence of Aquitaine, that Henry through his marriage to Eleanor was the Bordeaux area whose wine had become very popular in England.  The wine was imported in barrels before being decanted into jugs and needed to be used quickly as in those days there was no technique for properly sealing the containers. Even the wine drunk by the nobility was of poor quality and some of the more vintage ones were undrinkable. In one instance an aged wine served at Henry II's court was criticized for becoming so sour and mouldy that the noble drinkers were forced to close their eyes and clench their teeth, before attempting to consume the thick, greasy, stale, flat liquid.

During Henry's hunting expeditions he was known to spend hours at night wandering through unknown forests looking for a simple hut to stay in.

Henry owned a private zoo that included flocks of parrots and troupes of monkeys


The heartbroken Henry died on July 6, 1189, aged 56 at his castle at Chinon, in the Berry region of France, (Anjou) soon after signing a peace treaty with Richard. His dying words to his son and heir  was "God grant that I may not die until I have had a fitting revenge on you." His final words on hearing another son, John, was conspiring against him, having previously been the only son to support his father were, "Now let the world go as it will; I care for nothing more."

Henry lies entombed in Fontevraud Abbey (see below), near Chinon. He had wished to be interred at Grandmont Abbey in the Limousin, but the hot weather made transporting his body impractical and he was instead buried at the nearby Fontevraud Abbey.

Source Food for Thought by Ed Pearce

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