Henry II (England)

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King Henry II of England, Lord of Ireland, around 1170

Henry II (English Henry II , originally Henry Plantagenet ; * March 5, 1133 in Le Mans , † July 6, 1189 in Chinon ) was Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine , Count of Anjou and King of England (1154-1189). At times he ruled Wales , Scotland , eastern Ireland and western France . He was the first of the Angevin kings, also known as the House of Plantagenet .

His nicknames were Curtmantle ("short coat", because of the short-cut cloaks he wore) and Fitz Empress (son of the empress). As the first British king, he called himself King of England , his predecessors were called King of the English (King of the English).


Duke of Normandy

Heinrich II. Was born on March 5, 1133 as the eldest son of Matilda , daughter of Heinrich I of England and widow of the German Emperor Heinrich V , and her second husband, Gottfried the Fair, Count of Anjou . Heinrich grew up in Anjou and first visited England in 1142 to support his mother's claim to the English throne. In 1149 he was knighted by his great uncle King David of Scotland. In 1150 he took over the Duchy of Normandy . Henry II spoke French , read Latin , understood Provençal and Italian , but could not speak English and spent little time in England.

Even before his accession to the throne in England, he ruled Normandy and Anjou on the European mainland . His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine on May 18, 1152 brought further lands into his possession, namely the region around Tours (the Touraine), Aquitaine and Gascony . Thus he was more powerful than his liege lord (for the continental areas), the King of France , with an empire, or rather a conglomerate of different lands and claims to rule, stretching from the Solway Firth (between Ireland and Scotland) almost to the Mediterranean Sea , and from the Somme stretched to the Pyrenees . After his accession to the throne in England, this structure meant, among other things, a reunification of the Norman and British parts of the English kingdom. In 1155 he was able to bring Brittany under his control through negotiations . One also speaks of the so-called Angevin Empire . No English king before him had a larger territory. However, no previous king was more involved in disputes on the continent and with the nobles in their own territory. Heinrich fought against the French King Louis VII , his wife's divorced husband, and his allies. Heinrich was in lively correspondence with the Emperor of Byzantium , Manuel I. Komnenus .

King of England

Heinrich only became active in England in the late phase of the civil war between his mother Mathilde and King Stephan . The Civil War, in which neither side could win, ended in 1153 with the Treaty of Wallingford . Stephan adopted Heinrich II and made him his successor. Stephan ruled until 1154. On the occasion of the birth of his first son Wilhelm, Heinrich returned to his wife in 1152. After Stephen's death, Henry II and Eleanor were crowned on December 19, 1154 in Westminster .

Heinrich immediately tried to defuse the disputes in which he was involved on the continent. He made peace with Louis VII in Rouen and recognized him as his liege lord. Heinrich's second oldest son, Heinrich the Younger , was betrothed to Margarete, Ludwig's daughter. Meanwhile, the war between Heinrich and his brother Gottfried for rule over Anjou continued on the Loire . After Heinrich's victory, Gottfried was resigned to the county of Nantes . An important part of the expansion south towards Toulouse was the 1159 siege of Nantes, which resulted in new battles with Louis VII. It was not until 1173 that the Count of Toulouse became Heinrichs feudal man.

In England, Heinrich initially pursued a policy of consolidation. During the rule of Stephen, the hegemony of the barons had grown so strong that the monarch hardly controlled the country. Heinrich saw it as the most urgent task to win this power back into his hands. Fortresses that were built without permission during Stephen's reign were razed.

Heinrich II built several palaces in his lands and gave his court master the power to settle civil disputes in the name of the crown. He increased the number of royal travel courts or Bancs du Roi , whose powers he expanded. He himself led the rule in his vast empire as a classic travel king, comparable to the German rulers. During his reign, the first legal book was written, which forms a basis for the common law , which is widespread in the Anglo-Saxon legal community today.

With the Assises of Clarendon (1166), the jury became the rule. Beginning with the time of the conquest of the British Isles by the Normans , the Anglo-Saxon trials with a jury were replaced by divine judgments and "law by combat" - the bet on battle (which was not abolished in England until 1819). This decision to reintroduce jury courts was one of Henry II's most important contributions to the legal history of England. Based on the Assise of Clarendon, he issued a police ordinance against robbers.

The backbone of the English financial administration, the feudal sheriffs belonging to the aristocratic class , replaced Henry II with "docile and well-supervised middle-class officials" and heightened the tax control described by his treasurer Richard Fitz Nigel in the Dialogue de l'Exchequier at the end of the reign. The army service of the aristocrats was replaced by higher taxes, especially on the servants' fiefs. When Heinrich's death in 1189, the extensive and externally so powerful empire was so financially exhausted by military and administrative expenses that it could only be continued through special taxes. According to reliable estimates, he had less money than his French rival Louis VII, who ruled over much more modest territory.

In 1181 the Fyrd Army, a drafted national army, was restructured and the feudal defense system changed. With the Forest Code of 1184, the monarch's exclusive hunting rights in extensive areas, which included forests, meadows, heaths, but also fields and villages, were specified and the rights of the barons were considerably restricted.

Campaigns against Wales and Ireland

In Wales , the Welsh princes were able to recapture numerous areas conquered by the Normans through an uprising after the death of Henry I and during the civil war . From 1157 Heinrich tried to recapture the lost territories through several campaigns and to restore English supremacy over the Welsh principalities.

In 1157, through a loss-making but successful campaign to North Wales, he forced Owain Gwynedd , the prince of Gwynedd and Rhys ap Gruffydd , the prince of Deheubarth to submit. In the summer of 1158 he forced Rhys ap Gruffydd to make another move to peace before he returned to France. However, fighting between Anglo-Normans and Welsh continued in Wales. After his return to England, Henry therefore again led an army to Deheubarth in 1163 and forced Rhys ap Gruffydd, Owain Gwynedd and other Welsh princes to pay homage on July 1, 1163 in Worcester . After this peace was broken in the following year, Heinrich planned a new campaign against the allied Welsh princes for 1165. Despite careful preparation, this campaign failed in the continuous summer rain in the Welsh mountains. Heinrich's army had to withdraw to England with heavy losses. The king blinded his Welsh hostages and sent them back to the Welsh princes before returning to France.

After the failure of Henry's last campaign, the Welsh princes recaptured large parts of the areas lost by the previous campaigns. This led some of the Anglo-Norman nobles of Wales to accept an offer from the Irish King Dermot MacMurrough to support him in his battles against his Irish opponents. In this fighting an army led by Richard Strongbow from 1169 could conquer parts of Eastern Ireland .

To demonstrate his authority over Strongbow and his supporters, Henry himself undertook a campaign to Ireland in 1171. He led his army through South Wales where he met Rhys ap Gruffydd, who had become the most powerful Welsh prince after the death of Owain Gwynedd. With the Welsh prince he made an agreement in which he recognized his rule over large parts of South West Wales and appointed him royal justiciar for South Wales. From then on, the king did not tolerate any further conquests by the Anglo- Norman Marcher Lords , in return Rhys ap Gruffydd stopped the Welsh from further attacks on Anglo-Norman territories. Despite some incidents, this peace in Wales lasted until Henry's death. Once in Ireland, Henry was able to quickly restore his supremacy over the Anglo-Norman nobles. He appointed Hugh de Lacy to royal Justiciar and thus consolidated the start of the English conquest of Ireland. In 1177 he named his youngest son Johann Lord of Ireland

Relations with the Roman-German Empire

In 1157, Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa sent legates to England to offer Henry II an alliance of friendship. In response, the English monarch sent envoys to the Reichstag in Würzburg in the autumn of the same year , who, in addition to a very splendid tent, brought a submissive reply with them as a gift, in which, in a diplomatically skilful manner, they expressed their willingness to continue amicable relations the friendship alliance proposed by the emperor was not entered into.

At the beginning of the schism in 1159/1160 Heinrich - unlike the English clergy - was rather half-heartedly on the side of Pope Alexander III. confessed. Heinrich knew how to keep in touch with the Staufer Kaiser. However, as his personal conflict with his previous Chancellor and current Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket , developed, his distance from the Pope grew. During stays at the English court in Rouen in 1161 and in the spring of 1165, the German Chancellor Rainald von Dassel succeeded in sealing the agreement in principle by means of a double marriage alliance: the two daughters of the English ruler, Eleonore and Mathilde, were to be married to the son of German emperor, Friedrich, and with whom after the annulment of the marriage with Clementia von Zähringen again unmarried Heinrich the lion are married. The marriage of the Guelph Duke was concluded on February 1, 1168 in Minden ; because of the early death of the Staufer son in 1169, the other did not come about.

In September 1168 a delegation consisting of Heinrich the Lion and his wife Mathilde, the former Imperial Chancellor and current Archbishop of Cologne Philipp I von Heinsberg and the current Chancellor and later Archbishop of Mainz, Christian von Buch, arrived at the English court in Rouen, who opposed a Swearing in of the English episcopate against Pope Alexander III. on his opponent Paschalis III. offered the English king arms aid against his French rival. However, because of the stubborn resistance of the English clergy, these negotiations failed.

After Heinrich the Lion had refused the required military aid to the German Emperor on his Italian campaigns in 1174 and 1176, Heinrich was summoned to court three times in vain , ostracized and finally the fiefs over the duchies of Saxony and Bavaria were withdrawn and reassigned by the Emperor Heinrich. The Welf Duke Heinrich, who was so powerful for a long time, submitted to the emperor in November 1181, but had to go into exile until 1185 . The English King Henry granted his son-in-law Henry the Lion and his daughter Mathilde a stay in England.

Conflict with Thomas Becket

Henry II of England and Thomas Becket
The assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket. Depiction from the Luttrell Psalter , around 1345

Developments in the legal system reduced the power of the ecclesiastical courts . The church fought against this process and further attempts by the king to exercise control over clergy. The main representative of the Church was Thomas Becket , Archbishop of Canterbury . Becket became advisor and Lord Chancellor of Henry on the recommendation of Theobald of Canterbury . Heinrich had appointed Becket archbishop in 1162 to avoid conflict. Becket and Heinrich had previously had different opinions about the Church and its rights. Heinrich tried to get Becket and his followers under control by forcing them by oath to submit to the "customs of the empire". It was and remained controversial what these customs should be, and the Church refused to submit to the king. After the Clarendon Court in January 1164, Becket left England to seek the support of Pope Alexander III. and to assure the King of France.

After the dispute between Heinrich and Becket was settled, Becket returned to England. But over the coronation of Henry's son there was another rift, since the ceremony was performed by the bishops of London, York and Salisbury, not as required by the archbishop of Canterbury, i.e. Becket himself. Becket then excommunicated the three bishops.

The king, who was seriously ill at the time, is said to have exclaimed on the hospital bed: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" (German: "Will no one free me from this rebellious priest?"). This is the common orally rumored version. The original quote, which can be found in the notes of the chronicler Edward Grim, reads: "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?" (German: "What miserable drones and traitors have I fed in my household who let their masters be treated with such shameful contempt by a priest who ran along?"). Four of Henry's knights interpreted the king's words as an invitation to kill Becket and moved to England, where they murdered Becket on December 29, 1170. The chronicler Edward Grim was an eyewitness to the murder and subsequently initiated a detailed investigation into the circumstances. Regardless of the king's actual guilt, his reputation throughout the empire was massively damaged.

At the instigation of Pope Alexander III. Heinrich had to repeal the Constitutions of Clarendon and on June 12, 1174 in Canterbury Cathedral underwent a humiliating flagellation (even if this was only indicated symbolically with light "blows") and then spent a whole night at the grave of Thomas Becket Pray on your knees. As a gift of atonement , he founded and endowed the Augustinian Canons Monastery of Waltham Abbey in an existing complex and had a new, large-scale abbey church built.

Thomas Becket was canonized a few years after his death on February 21, 1173 (feast day: December 29). This happened in particular on the intervention of the Duchess Mathilde, the wife of Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, with the Pope. Mathilde was a daughter of Henry II and with Thomas Becket she was a personal friend.

Struggle for succession

Another source of conflict arose when Heinrich set about dividing his vast empire among his sons in the 1160s. The oldest surviving son, Henry the Young King should receive the Anglo-Norman kingdom and Anjou, Richard the Lionheart Aquitaine and Gottfried the Brittany . For Johann Ohneland , the youngest, Savoy (by marriage), County Mortain and the conquered Irish territories remained. Henry the Younger was crowned king, but he never ruled mainland England as he died before his father.

This division initially only included the titles. Heinrich II was anxious to keep power in all areas in his own hands until his death. This procedure led to the rebellion of his sons in 1173 , which was supported by their mother Eleanor . Their goal was to take possession of the territories that were intended for them immediately. They hoped for help from the French king, influential French princes and William the Lion , King of Scotland. When the latter was captured in 1174, the uprising collapsed. In the Treaty of Falaise , the Scottish king had to recognize English supremacy. Heinrich II quickly took his sons back into his favor, but had Eleanor imprisoned. At the same time, he sought a divorce and recognized Rosamund Clifford as a mistress, with whom he had a relationship from 1165 (during one of his campaigns to Wales) until her death in 1176. He was later said to have had a relationship with Alix , the daughter of King Ludwig VII , who was already engaged to Heinrich's own son, Richard. These rumors were then brought up by Richard after his father's death to break off the engagement.

Tomb of Heinrich and Eleonora in Fontevrault

The peace with the sons did not last long. Soon they found themselves in rebellion again. The death of Heinrich the Younger in 1183 during a campaign against his father in the Limousin was followed by Gottfried's death: the Duke of Brittany was trampled by a horse in 1186.

Richard, first in line to the throne since the death of Henry the Younger, finally attacked his father in 1189 with the help of Philip II of France and in consultation with his brother Johann and defeated him. Heinrich, at this point already seriously ill, had to recognize Richard as the sole heir in the Agreement of Azay-le-Rideau on July 4, 1189 . He died two days later in Chinon Castle and was later buried in Fontevrault Monastery , near Chinon and Saumur in the Anjou region.

Richard was crowned King of England. While Richard was on the Third Crusade and then in captivity, Johann tried to usurp the throne. After Richard's death in 1199, he followed him. The claims of the children of Johann's older brother Gottfried, Arthur , Duke of Brittany, and Eleanor, were not taken into account.


Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine had five sons and three daughters:

  1. ∞ on February 13, 1177 William II of Sicily ,
  2. ∞ in October 1196 Raimond VI. Count of Toulouse.

Heinrich II is said to have had about ten other illegitimate children with at least four other women. Eleanor made sure that most of these children were raised at court. Some of these illegitimate children remained at court, the two most famous of which were:


  • The film drama The Lion in Winter, starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, explores the treacherous machinations for the reign of the throne of England.
  • A remake with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close was released in 2003.
  • Henry II and his sons, Richard the Lionheart and Johann Ohneland, were a subject on the BBC series The Devil's Crown .
  • The 1964 film Becket by Peter Glenville, which addresses Heinrich's conflict with Thomas Becket. There were older film adaptations of the Becket material as early as 1910 and 1923.
  • TS Eliot's verse drama Murder in the Cathedral , which deals with the conflict between Henry II and Thomas Becket , was filmed in 1951.
  • The historical film adaptation of "Heinrich II. Uprising against the King" by Stefano Milla from 2015 deals with Heinrich's conflict with his wife Eleonore and his sons in 1173.


  • In 1978 a book by Richard Barber appeared with the same name as the BBC series.
  • In the book The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follett embeds the history of the city of Kingsbridge in the historical background of the civil war between Stephan and Mathilda and the later takeover of Henry. The novel also describes the murder of Becket and the subsequent flagellation of the king for penance.
  • Conrad Ferdinand Meyer's novella The Saint also deals with the dispute between Heinrich II and Thomas Becket.
  • In the historical novel Job's Brothers by Rebecca Gablé , a subplot depicts how Henry II achieved the English crown politically and militarily.
  • Sharon Penman wrote several novels about Henry II and his sons, a. a. Time and Chance , Devil's Brood and Lionheart .
  • Ariana Franklin used Henry Plantagenet as one of the main characters in her novels with the dead reader ( The dead reader , The Devil Hood , The King and the dead reader and The Curse of the Dead reader ).
  • In 1995, The Queen and the Whore by Ellen Jones was released. There the marriage between Heinrich and Eleonore, as well as the relationship with one of his mistresses, was described in detail.


  • Martin Aurell : La cour Plantagenêt (1154–1204). Actes du Colloque tenu à Thouars du 30 avril au 2 may 1000 (= Civilization Médiévale. Volume 8). Université de Poitiers, Center national de la recherche scientifique, Center d'études supérieures de civilization médiévale, Poitiers 2000, ISBN 2-9514506-1-3 .
  • John Gillingham : The Angevin Empire. Arnold, London 1984, ISBN 0-7131-6249-X ( Foundations of medieval history ).
  • Christopher Harper-Bill, Nicholas Vincent (Eds.): Henry II. New interpretations. Boydell & Brewer, Suffolk 2007, ISBN 978-1-84615-553-6 .
  • Thomas Keelin Keefe: Feudal Assessments and the Political Community under Henry II and his Sons (= Publications of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Volume 19). University of California Press, Berkeley / CA et al. 1983, ISBN 0-520-04582-3 .
  • Wilfred L. Warren: Henry II. Eyre Methuen, London 1973, ISBN 0-413-25580-8 .
  • Ronny Baier:  Heinrich II. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 26, Bautz, Nordhausen 2006, ISBN 3-88309-354-8 , Sp. 656-686.

Web links

Commons : Henry II (England)  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Jacques Le Goff (Ed.): The High Middle Ages ( Fischer Weltgeschichte , Volume 11). Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-60011-1 , p. 118.
  2. Jacques Le Goff (Ed.): The High Middle Ages ( Fischer Weltgeschichte , Volume 11). Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-60011-1 , p. 117.
  3. Jacques Le Goff (Ed.): The High Middle Ages ( Fischer Weltgeschichte , Volume 11). Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-60011-1 , p. 117.
  4. Jacques Le Goff (Ed.): The High Middle Ages ( Fischer Weltgeschichte , Volume 11). Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-60011-1 , p. 117.
  5. Jacques Le Goff (Ed.): The High Middle Ages ( Fischer Weltgeschichte , Volume 11). Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-60011-1 , pp. 118 f.
  6. Jacques Le Goff (Ed.): The High Middle Ages ( Fischer Weltgeschichte , Volume 11). Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-60011-1 , p. 117.
  7. ^ Ferdinand Opll: Friedrich Barbarossa . Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 978-3-89678-665-4 , pp. 57, 285.
  8. ^ Ferdinand Opll: Friedrich Barbarossa . Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 978-3-89678-665-4 , pp. 90, 288.
  9. ^ Ferdinand Opll: Friedrich Barbarossa . Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 978-3-89678-665-4 , pp. 104, 289.
  10. ^ Friedemann needy: The Staufer . Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 978-3-89678-288-5 , p. 76.
  11. ^ [1] Report by Edward Grims
predecessor Office successor
Stephan King of England 1154–1189
Royal Arms of England (1154-1189) .svg
Richard the Lionheart
Gottfried Plantagenet Duke of Normandy
Richard the Lionheart
Louis (VII) of France
(de iure uxoris)
Duke of Aquitaine
(de iure uxoris )
Richard the Lionheart
Gottfried V. Count of Anjou
Richard the Lionheart