Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty Part 1 – Henry II – 27/11/2014


Henry II
Henry II

300 and more years they crushed all competition
Plantagenets = greatest dynasty of all time
Ambition, jealousy, hatred, revenge – forged England as a nation
Henry II 1154-1189
European superpower and betrayal within his own family
1153 England failing, Matilda lost to Stephen
Henry II was Matilda’s son, sails to England with an invasion force, crown rightfully his
Fiery temper, very ambitious
Within a year, Stephen dead and Henry crowned, but doesn’t speak English
Problems with barons raiding and looting – future depends on bringing barons to heel
Wigmore Castle – Hugh Mortimer last baron to hold out, Henry lays siege but doesn’t want to destroy
Mortimer folds and Henry gives him power

Formidable ally – Eleanor of Aquitaine is his wife, already have one son – political player in her own right
Plantagenet empire from Scotland to the Pyrenees – maintain control?
Use clerks to do his work, basis of the civil service, National Archives show basis of control

Eleanor of Aquitaine from the Hulton Archive
Eleanor of Aquitaine from the Hulton Archive

Control over every area – mastermind was Thomas Becket (chancellor) – very close
Threat because of Becket
Church beyond Henry’s control – 1 in 5 of the population a cleric, worst punishment was a fine for any wrongdoing including murder
1161 Henry appoints Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury – finds that god is a higher power than a king, resigns as chancellor and defies Henry
1170 six children, four sons
Becket in power for 7 years
Henry II has a young son crowned King of England (king-in-waiting)
Becket not involved and excommunicates all clerics who were involved
“What miserable traitors have I promoted … low born clerk”
Knights hear in this a direct order from Henry II – confront Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, argument where they try and drag Becket out

Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket

Becket resists so they kill him right there
Becket’s supporters were witnesses – what Henry II is remembered for
Words out of context but Henry still blamed
Fit to be a king? Vulnerable, damaging, humiliating, personal consequences
Own family turn on him
Eldest son bitter and power-hungry, ambitious, resentment
1172 only a small amount of money paid to the young king, eldest son has no revenue from lands as was traditional
Resentment goes further than just eldest son
Eleanor had returned to Aquitaine before Becket’s death with favourite son Richard
Aquitaine different
New cathedral with a glass window to sell the Plantagenet dynasty, featuring Henry, Eleanor and four sons
Henry’s men in control in Aquitaine – land not his, still hers
Unforgivable – Henry had mortgaged off part of Aquitaine, Richard and Eleanor angry
Ticking time bomb
Heart of French lands at Chignon (strategic importance)
Henry II announces giving central castle (Chignon) to younger son John – young king angry, father can’t see it

Henry the Young King in the British Library
Henry the Young King in the British Library

Father will never give him real power; eldest son wants to take father down
Obsession with control
1173 eldest son flees to France, to Louis VII, wants to seize father’s throne
Louis hates Henry, opposite ideas of kingship, Louis had been married to Eleanor, but she divorced him to marry Henry
More than spur of the moment – brothers and Eleanor also in on the plot
Eleanor flees to Paris but caught by Henry’s men and imprisoned
Scandal – doesn’t stop the betrayal
Attack Henry from all sides in France and England – gets support of barons in England, King of Scotland also bought
Spring 1174 full-on revolt sparked by family betrayal
Scottish king invaded, barons revolting, French support
King blames Becket, more than 10 years dead – trouble from bad to worse since his death
Henry II heads to Canterbury and walks streets barefoot – humiliation, begging god and Becket to forgive him, penance
One chance to win hearts and minds
Shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral crypt – commands monks to whip him more than 300 times – no guarantee
Next morning a messenger to say King of Scotland captured – Henry’s propaganda and god on his side
Miracle? Barons fold without a fight
Less than a month later returns to France to deal with family
Rebellious sons fold and capitulate
What to do with family?
Can’t forgive Eleanor who remains in captivity, still needs his sons so pacifies them with land, titles and wealth but still no real power
Blindness to faults will destroy him
1183 nine years after family rebellion Henry II’s eldest son dies of dysentery
Plans for legacy disrupted
Remaining sons compete – Richard eldest surviving son, John the favourite
Henry drags his heels, wants to keep Richard in control to stop him rebelling again – Philip II of France stirs up resentment

Richard II at Westminster Abbey mid-1390s
Richard II at Westminster Abbey mid-1390s

Richard demands to be named successor but Henry refuses
Richard goes to war and wins lands in France
Plantagenet heartland collapses
Total defeat 1189 Henry II rides to meet son Richard, demands money, lands and the succession
“God grant I may not die until I’ve had my revenge on you”
Henry II dies two days later
Richard and Eleanor lay beside him – never believed his sons could do as well, Richard and John prove him right
John not buried there as by time of his death burial place ruled over by the French

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