A Constitutional and Legal History of England

By Goldwin Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
Henry the Second: the making of order

TASKS OF GOVERNMENT

"NOTHING causes a prince to be so much esteemed," said Machiavelli, "as great enterprise and setting a rare example." Henry II ( 1154-1189) did both, and left an indelible mark on the history of many lands.

When Henry came to bring security and order to a weary and distracted kingdom in 1154 he was already a skilled politician, preferring the tools of diplomacy to those of force and war. He was twenty-one years old, scholarly, practical, efficient, with an essentially legal turn of mind. Moving with a shrewd and determined energy, Henry tolerated no slackness in others. Contemporaries wrote frequently in amazement of the vitality of "the king who never rested." With him all seemed to move upon an heroic scale. His fits of anger were apparently Hitlerian tempests of fury. His spells of sadness seemed to carry his spirit into almost psychopathic troughs of depression. The business of kingship was the absorbing passion of his restless being. He would be all that his grandfather Henry I had been, and more. He, too, would be an indefatigable "lion of justice."

As a result of mingled matrimonial diplomacies this able Henry held more territory in France than the king of France himself. The vast and hybrid lands of the Angevin Empire stretched from Scotland to the Pyrenees. Despite the fact that Henry II preferred to avoid wars much of' his reign was occupied with conflicts and skirmishes in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France. This book is not concerned with Henry's dramatic and usually profitable deeds in the turbulent lands beyond the borders of England. Our task is to examine what Henry did in his island kingdom and to see why those achievements made

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