Feudal Britain: The Completion of the Medieval Kingdoms, 1066-1314

By G. W. S. Barrow | Go to book overview

PART III: THE CHANNEL STATE

CHAPTER X
ENGLAND UNDER HENRY II, 1154-89

IN 1154, not for the last time in its history, the English nation rallied to the leadership of a young man who had come from oversea to claim his right. The force of Henry of Anjou's personality was recognised from the first. "All the people loved him, for he administered justice fairly and made peace.... No man dared to do other than good, for he was held in great awe", wrote the Peterborough chronicler not long after Henry's accession. He was then twenty-one years of age, not at all a personable figure, stockily built, of middling height, with a freckled face and a head of reddish fair hair on a neck which seemed to be set somewhat low on the shoulders. His bright blue-grey eyes became fierce and bloodshot when he was angry: his bad temper, a Norman trait, could at times be almost ungovernable. His strong physique bore him through a life of constant and often violent activity. In 1174, when directing the surrender of some rebels in Norfolk, Henry was given a severe kick on the thigh by the horse of a former Master of the English Templars, Osto of St. Omer. A weaker man might have been laid up by such an injury, but within a few days Henry was chasing the King of France out of Normandy. Three years later, the same injury brought on an illness that confined him to Winchester for some weeks; but again, as soon as he was able, he made the crossing to Normandy, and within a month or two was campaigning in Aquitaine. The management of his vast empire, with its two chief capitals, London and Rouen, separated by 200 miles of road and 100 miles of sea,1 imposed a heavy strain on the king and his court, to say nothing of the burden on the treasury. Much depended on ability to cross the sea speedily. The king's fast galley was kept at Southampton, clearly in constant readiness, and to the standard cost of its passage

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1
Measuring via Southampton or Portsmouth and Barfleur, by far the commonest route taken by Henry II.

-146-

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