Henry II

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Henry II,

1154-1189

Born:

5 March 1133, son of Matilda of England and Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, at LeMans, France

Crowned:

19 December 1154 at Westminster Abbey, London

Died:

6 July 1189 at Chinon Castle, France

Buried:

Fontevrault Abbey, France

Married:

18 May 1152 Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, at Poitiers, France

Succeeded by:

Richard I (son)

enry was England’s first Plantagenet king. His ascension to the throne ended twenty years of civil war, waged between his mother Matilda and Stephen, daughter and nephew of Henry I. Henry was intelligent, charismatic, robust, energetic, fiery-tempered (a contemporary described his eyes as shining like fire and flashing in fury when he was angered) — and overwhelming. At age nineteen he met his match, courting and marrying the extraordinary Eleanor of Aquitaine, the unhappy — and then divorced — wife of Louis VII of France. Henry and Eleanor would become the parents of five boys and three girls. Two, Richard and John, would in turn succeed Henry on the throne.

By age 21, Henry was Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Touraine, holder of his wife’s rich duchy of Aquitaine, and King of England.

Henry spent his reign and his considerable energy restoring law and order. He destroyed castles built by over-mighty barons, regulated the power of the church and laid the foundation for English Common Law. He was generous to the poor, a pillar of justice and an intellectual giant. He is, however, best known for his quarrel with, and murder of, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (later canonized), in 1170.

Henry’s last years were spent fighting sons Henry, Geoffrey and Richard. All were now young adults, fully as strong-minded and flamboyant as their parents, and anxious for power, which Henry would not relinquish. Encouraged by Eleanor, from whom Henry had become estranged, they rebelled in 1173-74. Henry eventually made peace with his sons (but only temporarily). He captured Eleanor and imprisoned her until his death some fifteen years later.

Two of Henry’s sons, young Henry and Geoffrey, predeceased him. Carrying on the struggle with Richard, Henry became ill. He lost heart and died upon learning that his trusted youngest son John had joined Richard in rebellion.

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