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When word reached Henry that Becket was hiring armed men to protect him he said “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” [History of Britain, Schama, pg 142] It was said in a moment of frustration and anger, and probably not given as command, but it was all the anti- Becket faction needed. Four knights set out to murder the Archbishop while he was at Vespers in Canterbury Cathedral. “Almost overnight Becket became a saint. Henry reconciled himself with the church.” [BBC.co.uk] He was genuinely grief-stricken over the loss of his former friend. He did penance at Beckett’s tomb and reversed the Constitution of Clarendon.
Henry had trust issues. Those extended to his family. Eleanor, 10 years Henry’s senior, was very much in love with him when they first married. She was a dutiful wife and bore him seven children, five of whom were boys. She traveled with him when she could. But he preferred to have Becket entertain visiting royalty — usually the Queen’s job — and he was a restless busy man who gave her titles but not power. She put up with it for 14 years before returning to Aquitaine to “assume personal control of the lands. Henry was left to his own affairs (of every sort) back in England.” [About.com]
Henry now had problems within his own family. His sons – Henry, Geoffrey, Richard and John – mistrusted each other and resented their father’s policy of dividing land among them. There were serious family disputes in 1173, 1181 and 1184. The king’s attempt to find an inheritance for John led to opposition from Richard and Philip II of France. Henry was forced to give way. [BBC.co.uk]
[James Goldman’s excellent play The Lion in Winter portrays a fictionalized Christmas between the imbittered royal family in 1183.]
Henry and Richard were at war in France when Henry took seriously ill. After so many years of refusing to name Richard his heir he was forced to do so at Ballan. He died on the 6th of July, 1189.
We saw The Lion in Winter at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia last summer. It was an amazing theatre and an awesome Shakespeare (and historical) experience. Click on the link and check them out.
- Monarch 101: Henry II (benwilliamsworld.wordpress.com)