King Henry II

Henry II as depicted in Cassell's History of England 1902 Henry II was one of the most interesting and charismatic rulers in the history of the English monarchy. Incredibly, at the height of his powers, he ruled over most of the British Isles and also large areas of France and managed to hold his empire together by a combination of his strong personality and also his boundless energy. Although Henry has been described by some scholars as the greatest king that England has ever had, his reign was overshadowed by the grisly murder of his Chancellor and friend Thomas Becket and also the rebellion of his own family. Sadly, when Henry died at the end of his magnificent reign, he was the enemy of his wife and sons who had tried but failed to depose him. Right: Henry II as depicted in Cassell's History of England 1902

King Henry 2ndWhen Henry came to the throne at Christmas 1154, his was the first undisputed accession to the English throne since Harold II in 1066. His mother Matilda had plagued Stephen I's is reign with her own claims to the throne as the daughter of King Henry I but under the terms of an 1153 agreement between Stephen and Matilda which guaranteed the Crown, for Matilda's son, Henry was able to accede peacefully to the throne as there was no longer any appetite for a struggle against the king amongst the nobles and the people of England. For the next half a century, England would be a part of the largest empire in Western Europe and Henry's dominion stretched from the Scottish border all the way south to the Pyrenees.


Henry was a man with a very strong personality which of course would be needed to control such a vast empire. He was stockily built with piercing grey eyes and red hair. His generosity was well-known and he even employed a Templar to distribute one tenth of all the food brought to the royal court amongst the poorest subjects in his Kingdom. He apparantly also had a good sense of humour and was never upset at being the butt of a joke. Once, while he was sitting sulking and occupying himself with needlework, a courtier suggested that such behaviour was to be expected from a descendant of the bastard son of a tanner's daughter (this was a reference to to his great-grandfather William the Conqueror being the son of Herleva, daughter of Fulbert a tanner from the Norman town of Falaise). The king rocked with laughter and took the trouble to explain the joke to those who did not immediately grasp it. His memory was also said to be exceptional and he never failed to recognise a man he had seen once, nor to remember anything which might be of use. He did however of course have his faults – possibly the main one being that had a fiery temper and on occasions is said to have frothed at the mouth in fits of anger. In spite of this he was an attractive character being highly intelligent, literate and also an excellent linguist who could converse in the many languages of the territories which he ruled over. - King Henry II Part 2