Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The birth of King Henry II

Today is the 880th anniversary of the birth of the future King Henry II at Le Mans in 1133. There is an illustrtaed online life of the King with useful notes and bibliography here.

King Henry II
The head of the effigy at Fontevrault Abbey


His parents were Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou and Matilda of England who had married in 1128. The marriage secured the southern border of Normandy and hopefully Matilda's position as heiress to her father King Henry I. The seizure of the English crown by her cousin King Stephen in 1135-6 led to almost two decades of civil war and conflict before King Henry II succeeded to the throne in the autumn of 1154 at the age of 21.

File:Parents of
 Henry II.jpg

Count Geoffrey of Anjou and the Empress Matilda
The depiction of the Count is from his enamel tomb cover from Le Mans, that of the Empress, who died in 1167, from the Gospels of Henry the Lion of 1175-88


The reign of the King is well known, and the article linked to above gives a good account. There is a good character study from the BBC website here, and there are some interesting miscellanea following the genealogical information given here.

Like his  Norman ancestors and his descendents as Kings he was a zealous defender of the royal authority - that is how his legal reforms or developments should be seen. As has been pointed out in that respect the nineteenth century tendency to see him as an almost Gladstonian figure is anachronistic - King Henry was a man of the twelfth century through and through. 

By combining his own paternal and maternal inheritance with that of his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, he created not only the so called Angevin Empire - and however he envisaged its future management after his own lifetime - but extended it with his grant and conquest of Ireland and assertion of overlordship of Scotland. Thereby he laid down, or re-emphasised, the dominant themes of English royal foreign policy for centuries to come.

An energetic man with the habit of dashing across his teritories he appears to have had little time ( in either sense) for the ceremonialof kingship, dispensing with the thrice yearly Crown-wearings of his ancestors for example. Given the absence of his successor King Richard I from England for most of his reign it was not until the time of King John and his son King Henry III that the country saw much of ceremonious ritual kingship.

There is plenty of evidence for the fact that King Henry II had a temper - most famously in the story of the death of St Thomas of Canterbury. The King's reputation may well have been one he encouraged - I suspect the more extreme stories, such as him whilst still in bed tearing up letters that angered him, followed by then ripping up the the coverlet and finally throwing himself on the floor and chewing the rushes were either stories deliberately circulated to create the appropriate impression or staged by the King for the same reason.


France in 1180



The effigies of King Henry II and QueenEleanor at Fontevrault


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always thought this was a very beautiful and comical effigy. You can see that the king is trying to rest and his wife is keeping him from doing that by reading.