Category Archives: American Shakespeare Center

Henry II 3.5.13 Thought of the Day — Part 2

English: Henry II and Thomas Becket

English: Henry II and Thomas Becket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Click here for PART ONE

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.” [] 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.


English: Henry II and his wife Eleonora

English: Henry II and his wife Eleonora (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.” []

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. []

[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.

Henry II & his children



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.

Henry II 3.5.13 Thought of the Day PART ONE

“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” — Henry II of England

James Keegan as King Henry in The Lion in Winter, 2012. Photo by Michael Bailey. James Keegan as Henry II in last summer's production of The Lion in Winter at the American Shakespeare Center.]

James Keegan as King Henry in The Lion in Winter, 2012. Photo by Michael Bailey. [At the American Shakespeare Center.]

Henry II of England was born on this day in Le Mans, France  in 1133. Today is the 880th anniversary of his birth.

Henry, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Nantes, Lord of Ireland, and  eventually King of England (1154–89)  was the oldest child of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey the Fair. Matilda was the eldest daughter of England’s Henry I who died unexpectedly in 1135 without naming an heir. She had a strong claim that her baby boy, a direct male descendant should be next in line for the throne, but her cousin Stephen, Count of Blois,  (aka Stephen the Usurper), got there  first. Matilda, aided by her half-brother Robert of Gloucester, raised an army and a 17 year civil war ensued.

Stephen and Henry discuss across the River Tha...

Stephen and Henry discuss across the River Thames how to settle the succession of the English throne. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Henry’s early years were spent in the Court of Anjou with his father, but beginning in 1142 the boy traveled to England to join the campaign.  The years he spent living in a Spartan manner followed him the rest of his life and Henry eschewed the opulence and soft pleasures of other monarchs.

1151, Henry became ruler of Normandy and Anjou, after the death of his father. In 1152, he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the greatest heiress in western Europe. In 1153, he crossed to England to pursue his claim to the throne, reaching an agreement that he would succeed Stephen on his death, which occurred in 1154. []

Henry and Becket

The next order of business was to restore peace and order in England. To do that Henry turned to Thomas Becket. Together they rid the country of the robber barons, disloyal knights and criminals who were lapping up the offal of 17 years of war. As a reward for a job well done (and to strengthen his own power over the church) Henry named Becket Archbishop of Canterbury when the old Archbishop died. The church hierarchy was stunned and dismayed, Becket was the King’s man. He wasn’t even a priest. He was ordained on June 2nd, 1162, and consecrated Archbishop on June 3rd. But Becket surprised everyone, especially Henry. He undertook a religious transformation, and where he had been loyal wholly to the King he was now loyal only to God.  He began to work to restore the powers of the  Archbishop and the Church, especially in matters of Law.

English: King Henry II and Thomas Archbishop Č...

English: King Henry II and Thomas Archbishop Česky: Jindřich II. a Thomas Beckett From the Liber Legum Antiquorum Regum, a 12th century work (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Henry thought the Law of the Land superseded the Law of the Church. Becket disagreed. Henry called and assembly of clergy to Clarendon Palace  in January 1164 where he demanded that Becket sign the Constitution of Clarendon which “established procedures of criminal justice, establishing courts and prisons for those awaiting trial. In addition, the assizes gave fast and clear verdicts, enriched the treasury and extended royal control.” []  In other words it gave Henry power over the church. After much heated debate Becket pledged an oath to the  idea of the Constitution, but he refused to sign. Henry was satisfied. But later when Becket refused to say mass until the oath was overturned. Henry was outraged and had the Archbishop put on trail for treason. Becket fled for exile in France. A  battle of wills ensued between two of Europe’s most stubborn men and neither Queen Elinor nor the Pope Alexander III could bring the parties together. Becket used the last most powerful arrow in his quiver. He tried to excommunicate Henry. Henry countered by threatening to arrest any one who supported Becket with treason. Becket’s support dwindled. He agreed to meet Henry in July of 1170. Becket accepted Henry’s legal supremacy in England. He was allowed to return to England. But he wasn’t willing to leave well enough alone.

Henry II with Thomas Becket, from a 13th-centu...

Henry II with Thomas Becket, from a 13th-century illuminated manuscript (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Click here for PART TWO

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