Henry II (England)

Henry II (king of England)

Henry II, 1133–89, king of England (1154–89), son of Matilda, queen of England, and Geoffrey IV, count of Anjou. He was the founder of the Angevin, or Plantagenet, line in England and one of the ablest and most remarkable of the English kings.

Early Life

Henry's early attempts to recover the English throne, which he claimed through his mother, were unsuccessful. He was made duke of Normandy in 1150, and at Geoffrey's death (1151) inherited Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. His marriage (1152) to Eleanor of Aquitaine brought him Aquitaine, Poitou, and Auvergne. By an invasion of England in 1153, he finally forced King Stephen to acknowledge him as heir, and in 1154 Henry ascended the English throne.


Restoration of Royal Authority

Henry's vast Continental domains (he ruled about half the area of present-day France) were to occupy him for much of his reign, but his first objective was to restore order and royal authority to an England ravaged by civil war. He did this (by razing unlicensed castles, reclaiming royal castles and alienated crown lands, and appointing capable crown officials) so effectively that the country was free of major disorder until 1173.

Henry's desire to restore royal authority to the level of that in Henry I's reign brought him into conflict with Thomas à Becket, whom he had made (1162) archbishop of Canterbury. The quarrel, which focused largely on the jurisdiction of the church courts, came to a head when Henry issued (1164) the Constitutions of Clarendon, defining the relationship between church and state, and it ended (1170) in Becket's murder, for which Henry was indirectly responsible. The crime aroused such indignation that Henry had to make his peace with the papacy in the Compromise of Avranches (1172). But, though he made some concessions, most clauses of the Constitutions remained in force.

Henry's most significant achievement lay in his development of the structure of royal justice. With the aid of such competent jurists as Ranulf de Glanvill, he clearly established the superiority of the royal courts over private, feudal jurisdictions. His justices toured the country, administering a strengthened criminal law and a revised land law, based on the doctrine of seisin (possession). Procedural advances included the greatly extended use of writs and juries.

While these developments were taking place, Henry was also engaged in consolidating his possessions. He recovered (1157) the northern counties of England from Scotland and undertook (1171–72) an expedition to Ireland, where he temporarily consolidated the conquests already made by Richard de Clare, 2d earl of Pembroke. He was less successful in his attempts (1157 and 1165) to extend his authority in Wales. Henry also expanded his holdings in France, acquiring Vexin, Brittany, and Toulouse.

His Rebellious Sons

In 1169 the king distributed among his three oldest sons the titles to his possessions: Henry was to receive Normandy, Maine, and Anjou (he was also crowned king of England in 1170); Richard (later Richard I), Aquitaine; and Geoffrey, Brittany. They did not receive actual authority, however, and, encouraged in their discontent by their mother and supported by Louis VII of France, they rebelled against Henry in 1173–74. The rebellion collapsed, but the king's sons continued to conspire against him. Richard and the youngest son, John, in alliance with Philip II of France, were actually in the course of another rebellion in 1189 when their father died. Since the young Henry had died (1183), Henry II was succeeded by Richard.


See biographies by J. T. Appleby (1962), R. W. Barber (1964, repr. 1967), and W. L. Warren (1973); A. L. Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta (2d ed. 1955); F. Barlow, The Feudal Kingdom of England, 1042–1216 (2d rev. ed. 1962); J. E. A. Joliffe, Angevin Kingship (2d ed. 1963); T. K. Keefe, Feudal Assessments and the Political Community under Henry II and His Sons (1982).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Henry II (England): Selected full-text books and articles

From Alfred to Henry III, 871-1272 By Christopher Brooke Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1961
A Constitutional and Legal History of England By Goldwin Smith Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Henry the Second: The Making of Order" and Chap. 6 "Henry the Second: The Making of Law"
Eleanor of Aquitaine By Curtis Howe Walker; M. S. Nowicki University of North Carolina Press, 1950
Feudal Britain: The Completion of the Medieval Kingdoms, 1066-1314 By G. W. S. Barrow Edward Arnold, 1956
Librarian's tip: Part III "The Channel State"
The Governance of Mediaeval England from the Conquest to Magna Carta By H. G. Richardson; G. O. Sayles Edinburgh University Press, 1963
Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition By Harold J. Berman Harvard University Press, 1983
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "Becket Versus Henry II: The Competition of Concurrent Jurisdictions"
The Miracle of England: An Account of Her Rise to Pre-Eminence and Present Position By André Maurois; Hamish Miles Harper and Brothers, 1937
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Anarchy: Henry II: Thomas Becket" and Chap. 5 "Henry II as Administrator: Justice and Police"
Land, Law, and Lordship in Anglo-Norman England By John Hudson Clarendon Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "Henry II's Legal Reforms and the Development of Landlaw, 1066-1189"
Regalian Right in Medieval England By Margaret Howell University of London, Athlone Press, 1962
The World of the Middle Ages: A Reorientation of Medieval History By John L. Lamonte Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1949
Librarian's tip: Chap. 17 "The Anglo-Norman Empire: Henry II"
Angevin Kingship By J. E. A. Jolliffe A. & C. Black, 1955
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