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.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

King Henry II

825 years ago, on July 6th 1189, King Henry II died at the castle at Chinon.

There can be little doubt as to the importance of King Henry II to the history of England, of the British isles and to France, or of his continuing legacy. There is an online illustrated account of him here, which reflects the historiographical issues his reign poses.

Thomas K. Keefe's academic account of him from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can be read here

Of the various full-length biographies clearly the standard one is W.L.Warren's massive and magisterial biography in the Yale series on English Monarchs. It is a while since I ploughed my way through that, but it is a work full of detail and insights into the practice of medieval kingship.

Tombs of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in Fontevraud Abbey

The effigies of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor at Fontevrault Abbey


I have written beforehand of how moving it was for me in 1993 to actually stand and look at those so well-known effigies of the King and Queen, and of King Richard I and Queen Isabella, wife of King John, in the wondrous church at Fontevrault. An experience I will never forget. Here was the heartland of the Angevin empire - if indeed it was such a thing - strectching in the twelfth century south to the Pyrennes and far to the north to the overlordship of Scotland and the newly acquired Lordship of Ireland...

English: Effigy of Henry II of England in the ...

The head of the effigy of King Henry II


As a man and as a ruler the King was far more complex and subtle I think than the popular image of him, whether derived from chroniclers at the time or modern playwrights and actors - the King is a gift to all of them. That is why Warren's book, and the work of other academic historians on Henry FitzEmpress should be read.

Royal cortege, wall painting from the chapel of Sainte-Radegonde in Chinon.

The scene is usually interpreted to represent the departure of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine into captivity following the revolt of 1173. King Henry II  precedes Eleanor and Joan, their daughter. Richard the Lion Heart and Henry the Young King take up the rear. An alternative interpretation is that this may be a scene from the cycle of the legend of Radegonde (Queen and saint, died 587)  to whom Queen Eleanor was especially devoted. A third possibility is that it combines both themes, with the Angevins seen as reflecting the life of the Merovingian Queen.



Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

Fitting tribute to one of the greatest medieval rulers.

The recent research revealed that all the figures in the Radegonde mural are males (judging from their cloak clasps). The crowned figure which we thought represented Eleanor with all probability represents Henry the Young King.

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

Thank you for this - a very interstesting new angle on this fascinating painting

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

You are most welcome- I too found it most fascinating. There is still so much to discover. Recently, for instance, I have come across the image of the Young King I didn't know about. I cannot express how happy I was... like a child receiving a much-awaited Christmas present.

Warmest regards,


Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

I will post further about this in a few days - when I can find the time!