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Henry the Second

Henry the Second 1154-1189 and His Sons 1189-1216


In 1154, while Barbarossa was reigning in Germany, Henry II, one of England's greatest monarchs, came to the throne.

Henry was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet (Plan-tag'-e-net), Count of Anjou in France, and Matilda, daughter of King Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Count Geoffrey used to wear in his hat a sprig of the broom plant, which is called in Latin "planta genista." From this he adopted the name Plantagenet, and the kings who descended from him and ruled England for more than three hundred years are called the Plantagenets.


Henry II inherited a vast domain in France and managing this in

addition England kept him very busy. One who knew him well said,

"He never sits down; he is on his feet from morning till night."


His chief assistant in the management of public affairs was Thomas

Becket, whom he made chancellor of the kingdom. Becket was fond of

pomp and luxury, and lived in a more magnificent manner than even

the king himself.


The clergy had at this time become almost independent of the king.

To bring them under his authority Henry made Becket Archbishop of

Canterbury, thus putting him at the head of the Church in England.

The king expected that Becket would carry out all his wishes.


Becket, however, refused to do that which the king most desired

and a quarrel arose between them. At last, to escape the king's

anger, Becket fled to France and remained there for six years.


At the end of this time Henry invited him to come back to England.

Not long after, however, the old quarrel began again. One day

while Henry was sojourning in France, he cried out in a moment of

passion, while surrounded by a group of knights, "Is there no one

who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"


Four knights who heard him understood from this angry speech that

he desired the death of Becket, and they went to England to murder

the Archbishop. When they met Becket they first demanded that he

should do as the king wished, but he firmly refused. At dusk that

same day they entered Canterbury Cathedral, again seeking for him.

"Where is the traitor, Thomas Becket?" one of them cried.


Becket boldly answered, "Here am I--no traitor, but a priest of



As he finished speaking the knights rushed upon him and killed him.


The people of England were horrified by this brutal murder. Becket

was called a martyr and his tomb became a place of pious pilgrimage.

The Pope canonized him and for years he was the most venerated of

English saints.


King Henry was in Normandy when the murder occurred. He declared

that he had had nothing whatever to do with it and he punished the



But from this time Henry had many troubles. His own sons rebelled

against him, his barons were unfriendly, and conspiracies were

formed. Henry thought that God was punishing him for the murder

of Becket and so determined to do penance at the tomb of the saint.


For some distance before he reached Canterbury Cathedral where

Becket was buried he walked over the road with bare head and feet.

After his arrival he fasted and prayed a day and a night. The

next day he put scourges into the hands of the cathedral monks and

said, "Scourge me as I kneel at the tomb of the saint." The monks

did as he bade them and he patiently bore the pain.


Henry finally triumphed over his enemies and had some years of

peace, which he devoted to the good of England.


In the last year of his life, however, he had trouble again. The

king of France and Henry's son Richard took up arms against him.

Henry was defeated and was forced to grant what they wished. When

he saw a list of the barons who had joined the French king he

found among them the name of his favorite son John, and his heart

was broken. He died a few days later.






Henry's eldest surviving son, Richard, was crowned at Westminster

Abbey in 1190. He took the title of Richard I but is better known

as "Cúur de Lion" ("the lion-hearted"), a name which was given

him on account of his bravery. He had wonderful strength and his

brave deeds were talked about all over the land.


With such a man for their king, the English people became devoted

to chivalry, and on every field of battle brave men vied with another

in brave deeds. Knighthood was often the reward of valor. Then,

as now, knighthood was usually conferred upon a man by his king or

queen. A part of the ceremony consisted in the sovereign's touching

the kneeling subject's soldier with the flat of a sword and saying,

"Arise, Sir Knight." This was called "the accolade."


Richard did not stay long in England after his coronation. In 1191

he went with Philip of France on a Crusade.


The French and English Crusaders together numbered more than one

hundred thousand men. They sailed to the Holy Land and joined an

army of Christian soldiers encamped before the city of Acre. The

besiegers had despaired of taking the city but when reinforced they

gained fresh courage.


Cúur de Lion now performed deeds of valor which gave him fame

throughout Europe. He was the terror of the Saracens. In every

attack on Acre he led the Christians and when the city was captured

he planted his banner in triumph on its walls.


So great was the terror inspired everywhere in the Holy Land by

the name of Richard that Moslem mothers are said to have made their

children quiet by threatening to send for the English king.


Every night when the Crusaders encamped, the heralds blew their

trumpets, and cried three times, "Save the Holy Sepulchre!" And

the Crusaders knelt and said, "Amen!"


The great leader of the Saracens was Saladin. He was a model of

heroism and the two leaders, one the champion of the Christians and

the other the champion of the Mohammedans, vied with each other in

knightly deeds.


Just before one battle Richard rode down the Saracen line and

boldly called for any one to step forth and fight him alone. No

one responded to the challenge, for the most valiant of the Saracens

did not dare to meet the lion-hearted king.


After the capture of Acre Richard took Ascalon (As'-ca-lon). Then

he made a truce with Saladin, by which the Christians acquired the

right for three years to visit the Holy City without paying for

the privilege.






Richard now set out on his voyage home. He was wrecked, however, on

the Adriatic Sea near Trieste. To get to England he was obliged

to go through the lands of Leopold, duke of Austria, one of

his bitterest enemies. So he disguised himself as a poor pilgrim

returning from the Holy Land.


But he was recognized by a costly ring that he wore and was taken

prisoner at Vienna by Duke Leopold. His people in England anxiously

awaited his return, and when after a long time he did not appear

they were sadly distressed. There is a legend that a faithful

squire named Blondel went in search of him, as a wandering minstrel

traveled for months over central Europe, vainly seeking for news

of his master.


At last one day, while singing one of Richard's favorite songs near

the walls of the castle where the king was confined, he heard the

song repeated from a window. He recognized the voice of Richard.

From the window Richard told him to let the English people and

the people of Europe know where he was confined, and the minstrel

immediately went upon his mission.


Soon Europe was astounded to learn that brave Richard of England,

the great champion of Christendom, was imprisoned. The story

of Blondel is probably not true, but what is true is that England

offered to ransom Richard; that the Pope interceded for him; and

that finally it was agreed that he should be given up on the payment

of a very large sum of money. The English people quickly paid the

ransom and Richard was freed.


The king of France had little love for Richard, and Richard's own

brother John had less. Both were sorry that Cúur de Lion was at



John had taken charge of the kingdom during his brother's absence,

and hoped that Richard might pass the rest of his days in the prison

castle of Leopold.


As soon as Richard was released, the French king sent word to John,

"The devil is loose again." And a very disappointed man was John

when all England rang with rejoicing at Richard's return.


Upon the death of Richard, in 1199, Arthur, the son of his elder

brother Geoffrey, was the rightful heir to the throne. John,

however, seized the throne himself and cast Arthur into prison.

There is a legend that he ordered Arthur's eyes to be put out with

red hot irons. The jailor, however, was touched by the boy's prayer

for mercy and spared him. But Arthur was not to escape his uncle

long. It is said that one night the king took him out upon the

Seine in a little boat, murdered him and cast his body into the



Besides being a king of England, John was duke of Normandy, and

Philip, king of France, now summoned him to France to answer for

the crime of murdering Arthur. John would not answer the summons

and this gave the king of France an excuse for taking possession

of Normandy. He did so, and thus this great province was lost

forever to England. Nothing in France was left to John except

Aquitaine (A-qui-taine'), which had come to him through his mother.


John's government was unjust and tyrannical, and the bishops and

barons determined to preserve their rights and the rights of the

people. They met on a plain called Runnymeade, and there forced

John to sign the famous "Magna Carta" ("Great Charter").


Magna Carta is the most valuable charter ever granted by any sovereign

to his people. In it King John names all the rights which belong

to the citizens under a just government, and he promises that no

one of these rights shall ever be taken away from any subjects of

the English king. For violating this promise one English king lost

his life and another lost the American colonies.


Magna Carta was signed in 1215. A year after he signed it the king

died. His son, Henry III, succeeded him.


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