Monday, 8 February 2016

Queen Eleanor and the Young King. Part II (Guest Post)

Today I am delighted to welcome my friend Ulrik Kristiansen with the 2nd part of his brilliant Eleanor of Aquitaine/Henry the Young King series. Over to you, Ulrik...

This is the second part in my 4-part guest post series. I am thrilled to be allowed to do this, since you probably know by know how interested I am in the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine - and that includes the life of her eldest surviving son. I aim to do a new installment each month, but that has already been derailed due to, well, real life and such.

I had originally written a first draft which put much more emphasis on the possible interpretations of ‘Eleanor’s choice’ of William Marshal as tutor for the Young King, but as I sifted through the source material I discovered - again -that one should be very careful by making too much out of a few lines here and there, which is all we have!
So I leave you once again with a post which is as much about my speculations as it is about the few pieces of writing we have from the time that says anything about The Young King and his mother.
However, as a commenter reminded me last time: If these vague and tantalizing pieces of story from long ago did NOT allow us to speculate and ponder about how it really was for our favorite Medieval family, then perhaps there would be less fun in doing all this! :-)
Eleanor of Aquiatine. Tomb-effigy, Fontevraud Abbey. Photo courtesy of Adam Bishop (via Wikipedia)

PART TWO: A ‘vain and idle’ teenager?

“Charming, vain, idle spendthrift” ... these were W. L. Warren’s words to pin down the personality of the Young King, in Warren’s biography about the young man’s father, king Henry II. Yes, that’s how the Young King really was, according to Warren. The words were apparently for that author a fitting ‘headline’ for the entirety of the Young King’s 28-year life.
Frank McLynn in his Lionheart and Lackland (chap. 2) pumps up the volume considerably, describing the Young King as: “vain, shallow, irresponsible and impatient, a man who wanted the good things of life now and was unwilling to wait. A hedonist and wastrel, permanently in debt, he was prodigal, improvident, insouciant and foolish …  lazy, incompetent and empty-headed … bored by everything that did not involve adventure, pleasure or high excitement of all kinds.”
The merit of such bombastic assessments has been discussed already here, and commented on here, by Kasia - and found much wanting. So today I’d like to take the opportunity myself to share some thoughts about these kinds of  ‘headlines’ and how they may also have affected our view of The Young King’s early youth - specifically with regard to how his parents, and in particular Eleanor, may have viewed the Young King at the time.
Specifically, I’m going to speculate about the period during the Young King grew from a boy into his early teens (circa 1161-1170). And I shall start by looking at an example of how this period of his life has been portrayed - ever so briefly but poignantly - in historical fiction. So let’s zoom in on that key scene in the classic movie Becket (1964) - in which the Young King behaves like ... yes, like - surprise, surprise - an idle, shallow teenager.
In the scene, Henry II (masterly played by Peter O’Toole) chastises and humiliates his ‘no-good son’ in front of a crowd of guests. He is to be the heir, crowned in Henry II’s lifetime but doesn’t deserve it, as king Henry says. Old Henry only decides on the crowning in order to annoy Thomas Becket - and show the archbishop that he doesn’t decide who crowns kings. Queen Eleanor watches all of this drama in stunned silence (after being told by Henry bluntly to stay out of it). It is hard to say if Eleanor afterwards is most disgusted with Henry the old king or with her oldest son.
It is fiction, yes. There should be room to make Peter O’Toole shine, yes (Eleanor’s role in the movie is uncharacteristically sedate). But still … why chose THAT way of portraying parental relations between Henry II, Eleanor and the teenage Young King in fiction - if the choice has not already been colored by hindsight? - Hindsight about what happened between these parents and their sons - events all the way up to more than a decade after the Young King  was a young teen?
This hindsight, in the case of the Young King, has been promoted by historians, like Warren or McLynn, who appear to have zoomed in on the less-than-flattering stuff some chroniclers had to say about the adult Young King. (McLynn links his verbal broadside to the source of Adam of Eynsham’s Chronicle of Hugh of Lincoln. I haven’t checked how strong that link is!)
But if we believe for a moment in the less-than-flattering portraits as defining for the Young King, the question would be  … did Eleanor (and her king husband) see him that way, too? And from his early teens?
Er … no. I believe this idea says more about ourselves than about Henry the Young King.
In fact, I will contend that in the late 1160s and early 1170s, there is NO obvious reason to suspect that either Eleanor and Henry Sr. regarded their eldest boy - Henry Jr.  - as ANYTHING other than a normal young heir, full of potential.
No reason at all. And certainly no evidence.
          Henry the Young King. Tomb-effigy. Rouen Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Bugge
The trap of hindsight
So why does such interpretations seem to come too easily in movies and books? I have two suggestions:
  1. Much of what we think we can say about the relationship between Eleanor and young Henry (as with Eleanor and Richard) at a particular period in time must necessarily be distorted, if not by lack of sources and our own biases - then by hindsight. Remember, from our vantage point 900 years after we always have an overview of the whole of their lives - or think we have.

  2. Add to that the natural need for us all to fit people we know into roles in the stories we tell ourselves about how life is or should be. These are roles which are easy to understand, like ‘good-evil’, ‘idle-hardworking’, etc.  We are all guilty of it, myself included, but to various degrees.
But if we delve a little on the first factor - hindsight -  I will argue that the outcomes of the lives of Henry and Richard are prone to make us tend to see the whole story of their lives in two very, very different ways.
Consider the two outcomes:
  • Henry dies young, of illness, during another failed rebellion in 1183
  • Richard goes on to become king, crusader and legend
These two, vastly different outcomes simply have to shape our view about what must have happened before adulthood - e.g. when the boys were young teens.
‘The winner writes history’, it is often said. I think you can say the same about the survivors. Consider for example how you would have viewed Churchill if he died in 1935 and not in 1965? You would very well just remember him mostly for the Gallipoli-disaster - instead of remembering him in the light of his efforts during the Battle of Britain!
I’m not saying that a proper Churchill-bio doesn’t include all, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or that the upcoming Young King bio won’t take a broad view. A good bio is designed to do just that. But for the historical persons we don’t know that well, or don’t have the time to get to know that well, we are often left with our own superficial tendency to quickly categorize people, perhaps facilitated by a 20 min-documentary or brief but pointed passages in a book like Warren’s. These types of conclusions ‘nail it’ for us: “Charming, vain, idle, spendthrift” - and then that is the whole personality - the whole life! - of some person or other.
But often such superficial conclusions are framed by the dramatic timing of fate or coincidence.
What if, say, the dreaded arrow that killed him had hit Richard just AFTER he had slaughtered 3000 Muslim prisoners in 1191 and not several years later in 1199 - after he had also  survived unjust imprisonment and come home to kick Philip Augustus’ behind? What would be the legacy of the “Lionheart” then?!
So we should perhaps stop to pause for an extra beat ... whenever we feel ‘sure’ about what our favorite Angevin family’s parent-son relationships may have been like in its earliest meaningful stages ... that would in this case have been the time when the boys were no longer helpless infants but growing up and gradually becoming individuals in their own right.
I will argue that casting the Young King as anything else in 1168 or thereabouts but a young heir with much potential in the eyes of both Henry Sr. or  Eleanor is based on … next to nothing. Except hindsight.
This hindsight is again informed by the less than glorious outcome of The Young King’s young life, which makes it easier to think of him as just that ‘vain son’. (Richard also warred against his father, but survived to take over and create his legend.)
Indeed to make such an assessment of how his parents viewed The Young King’s early teenage years seems just as ill-thought through … like suggesting that Eleanor put her youngest son, John, away in a monastery, because she clairvoyantly suspected his future moral collapse or some such!
(Much has been made about Eleanor’s motherly responsibility for John turning out to be a ‘bad egg’, and much of it is far-fetched. You can read more about this in the relevant chapters of Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady.)
Sure, Eleanor (and Henry Sr.) likely had different ideas about their eldest son’s personality, his educational potential and his ultimate political ability - but as for Eleanor, it seems there is one priority she had for her son which resonates even today:
She pushed for a very special knight - William Marshal - to be selected to teach the Young King to become a warrior. And she got her wish.
Stained glass window of Thomas Becket, Henry the Young King's tutor in Canterbury Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The Queen’s choice
As a boy, Henry the Young King stayed - albeit shortly - in Thomas Becket’s household. This was normal for his age: When no longer infants, the royal children were usually relocated to another person’s household to learn stuff - various types of education. (And to reaffirm the family and/or political bonds between families of influence.) Surely this choice of Becket as tutor happened because Becket was, at the time, very close to Henry Sr. - as well a man of great position and influence already.
But when Henry got older and began to come into his teen years it was time for another kind of training - training in how to fight. Who would be the proper man to teach him that? As it happened, it appears that it was Henry’s mother, queen Eleanor, who was a driving force in making this particular choice. Most of you loyal readers presumably know the story well, but let’s recount shall we - because it would make a hell of a movie, and despite my criticism above I am certainly not opposed to historical fiction per se!
As a younger son of a minor nobleman, William Marshal (b. 1146 or 1147) had inherited no lands at all. About the age of  12 he was sent to be trained as a knight in the household of William de Tancarville, a cousin of his mother. He was then knighted in 1166 on campaign in Upper Normandy. Leaving the Tancarville household he served in the household of his mother's brother, Patrick, earl of Salisbury, and this is where his connection with Eleanor and the Young King truly starts.
For in 1168 Marshal accompanied the earl as part of a queen Eleanor’s escort. Earl Patrick, however, was killed in an ambush by the ever-rebellious Guy de Lusignan. William was injured but kept fighting furiously and, it turned out, long enough to allow Eleanor to escape. He was later ransomed by Eleanor, who had heard of his bravery. So the story goes.
Well, it may not have been only to save Eleanor that Marshal fought so valiantly in the famous ambush. As I have read it, Marshal fought first and foremost to save his uncle - and when Patrick was killed he fought on to avenge him. But both Marshal and his uncle were charged with protecting Eleanor, so maybe the motivations of why they fought with what level of ferocity can’t be clinically separated like that: You are on the side of the queen, yes, but when you see your uncle cut down on the field of battle - and you have a close relationship with him - well, then you are likely to fly into a frenzy, aren’t you?
At any rate, Eleanor escaped this ambush by the rebellious barons led by Lusignan. Marshal was taken prisoner and then Eleanor ransomed him. We should not forget that her motivation to do this was probably influenced by two important factors:
  1. For political reasons she obviously needed to show gratitude towards the family of Marshal and his uncle.
  2. Secondly, she may personally have wanted to grab the opportunity to show her husband that SHE had her own power and wealth to use as she pleased (e.g. for ransoms and other displays of generosity). Eleanor and Henry II were already becoming estranged at the time (1168 and onwards), she spending more and more of the year in Aquitaine and away from court, at least as I have read it.
However, when all of the above is taken into unglamorous consideration, Eleanor must also have been just good old-fashioned grateful that she escaped imprisonment or worse. From her crusading days she had some unpleasant memories of what it was like to be caught in enemy ambush (Battle of Mt. Cadmus, 1148), your fate and life hanging by a thread!
And most importantly, in the wake of that harrowing experience, it apparently dawned on Eleanor that William Marshal’s skill might make him a perfect tutor for her eldest son.  
From what it says in the famous poem about William Marshal - L'Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal - one of our chief sources, the old king gave the official permission for Marshal to become tutor two years later (1170).  Perhaps not surprising, for we must not forget that king Henry must have felt a debt to William’s father for losing an eye whilst helping Henry II’s mother, the Empress, escaping Winchester - during her war against king Stephen. More timely, William’s uncle, the deceased earl Patrick, had also been Henry II's staunch supporter. The king had even named him commander of his military forces in Aquitaine by 1163.
Behind the scenes, though, Eleanor was probably doing much to promote the choice of Marshal as tutor, although we can never know to what extent. That she was quite influential in this choice seems very likely, though, since Marshal - after his ransom - was asked to stay for two years (1168-70) at Eleanor’s court (Anderson, p. 83) - which only, infrequently, happened to coincide with the busy itinerant court of Henry II at that time.
William Marshal. Tomb-effigy. Temple Church, London. Photo courtesy of Kjetilbjornsrud (via Wikipedia)
That it was a tremendously important investment in the Young King’s future - to make Marshal his military tutor  - seems not to be in doubt, judging from the History of William Marshal. The importance of Marshal’s entry as tutor has been discussed in depth elsewhere on Kasia’s blog, so I will just leave you with a few quotes from the famous History of William Marshal-poem, as to the effects of Marshal’s tutelage:
The Young King’s reputation increased,
along with his eminence and the honour paid to him;
he also acquired the quality of valour.
Now that he had so many qualities,
he was reckoned to be the finest
of all the princes on earth,
be they pagan or Christian

The young King knew about the use of arms, as much
as any young nobleman could be expected to know.
The life of combat pleased him well,
which was very pleasing for his tutor

Elizabeth Anderson in her thesis puts these selected lines in perspective by cautioning that The History “was of course intended to flatter the Marshal, but even disregarding the flowery language and the pretty standard excessive claims of greatness for the Young King under the Marshal’s instruction, it cannot be ignored that he was clearly believed to be more than simply competent at the knightly skills as a trainee. The Marshal was the only man who could claim credit for that fact.” [Ulrik’s emphasis.]
Given what later happened, it is tempting for me to speculate that Eleanor, maybe from getting to know Marshal personally at court and/or seeing him interacting with her son, also had a sense that Marshal would become not only a great teacher but also a great friend and ally for the Young King.
But that would not only be pure speculation, it would also be based too much on hindsight :-)
Another story: About a proud succession ... and plans behind the scenes
Given all of the above, I propose another story then - about the teenage Young King and Eleanor (and Henry II), which to me seems more realistic. It could even be a scene in an exciting movie …
Henry proposes a toast  to celebrate his choice to crown his eldest son in his lifetime. He spares no praise. It is a public event, after all. Eleanor looks on in proud silence. Yes, they have had their arguments about the future of the heir - and how best to prepare him for it, but so far there is little doubt for young Henry’s mother that her son will be both a resourceful and loyal young heir to the realm. In the back of her mind, though, she is also secretly pleased and relieved that it seems that ‘her man’ - William Marshal - will be approved as military tutor. For she knows her husband well enough to sense that the praise and title king Henry talks about now … may not be followed up in the future by landholdings or real political power in equal measure! Oh, yes, she knows her husband very well … And should that ever be the cause of problems … it is good to know that not only that her son has an extremely able teacher in the arts of war, but he also has a teacher with whom she - Eleanor - feels a special reciprocal loyalty after a certain ambush and subsequent ransom ...
‘Proud and planning’ might be a new headline for such a scene, and it would be descriptive of the state of mind all three main participants in it - Eleanor, Henry II and young Henry. Each, however, would be proud and planning for their own reasons ... ! I am sure, however, that Peter O’Toole’s speech of praise for the coming King would still be a delight to hear in its perfect diction, even if the overall story about Young Henry and his parents, and what may happen between them, now has quite a different feel.
And, yes, with these concluding thoughts - I have cleverly foreshadowed my next installment in this series as well … :-)
Thus, in the upcoming post I will share with you more speculations on the most pivotal event in the relationship between queen Eleanor and her eldest son. An event, which, by all accounts, it seems they were responsible for together:
The Great Rebellion against king Henry II.

Thank you, Ulrik, for this thought-provoking and very interesting read. We are looking forward to Part 3 of the series.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

February News and Anniversaries

February could be called the month of Henry the Young King. Two days ago, for instance, we celebrated an important - at least from Henry's own perspective - anniversary. On 2 February 1169 the then fourteen- year-old Henry performed the duties of Senschal of France at his father-in-law's court for the first time. The postion had been previously held by Theobald of Blois*, but earlier in 1169, at the conference at Montmirail**, Louis VII of France (1120-1180) bestowed it upon the young Henry. Here's what Encyclopedia Britannica says about the office itself: 'Seneschal, French Sénéchal, in medieval and early modern France, a steward or principal administrator in a royal or noble household. As time went on, the office declined in importance and was often equivalent to that of a bailiff; the office and title persisted until the French Revolution.' More info here. Even if the position was only representative one, to Henry - at the time a youth twenty-six days shy of his fourteenth birthday - it would mean his first full and personal responsiblity, even if he was only to be in charge of feasting arrangements and attending his father-in-law's table. (Note from whom the first responsibilty came, not from Henry's father, who was to thwart power from him for many years to come, but from  King Louis, his father-in-law. You can read about Henry the Young King-Louis relations here).

Henry's tomb in Rouen Cathedral. Let us not forget that Henry was the first member of "royalty" buried there (and that the citizens of Rouen had almost gone to war against the citizens of Le Mans to acquire his body). Photo courtesy of Kasia Ścierańska

On 28 we will be celebrating Henry's birthday. I am going to prepare something special, although you will probably agree with me that this year Henry is going to receive his best birthday presents ever. Firstly, on 18 May his biography by Professor Matthew Strickland is out! Secondly, I am happy to report that my dear friend Kasia has been working on her MA thesis about... Yes! Henry is going to have a MA thesis on him in Polish!Wonderful, isn't it? Let's keep our fingers crossed for Kasia. It just so happens that she paid her respects to Henry in Rouen Cathedral last week and now is kindly sharing some lovely photos with us.

* Theobald of Blois (1130-1191), the younger brother of Henri I the Liberal of Champagne, was Henry the Young King's brother- in-law, the husband of Henry's half-sister Alix (1151-1197/98), the younger of Eleanor of Aquitaine's daughters by Louis VII. The funny thing is that Theobald, before marrying Alix, was planning to capture and marry Eleanor herself, after she had been divorced from Louis in 1152.  

**  On Epiphany Day 1169 Henry the Young King's father and Louis II of France held a conference at Montmirail, a town of Maine, near to the French frontier. Henry II’s three eldest sons were there, as well as Louis’s beloved Dieu-Donne [the God given]Philip [later Augustus]. According to the treaty the English princes were to hold respectively: the young Henry Normandy, Brittany, Anjou and Maine, Richard Poitou and Guienne, Geoffrey Brittany under his brother Henry. It was also agreed that Richard would marry Alais, Louis's second daughter by his late wife Constance of Castile. Alais was the young Henry's sister-in-law. The next day saw the young Henry and Richard doing homage to Louis, as well as the papal envoys, Simon, Prior of Mont Dieu, Bernard de Corilo, Monk of Granmont and Engelbert, Prior of Val St.Pierre, delivering to king Henry the papal letter of May, 1168, in which the Pope exhorted him to reconcile with Thomas Becket, the exiled Archbishop of Canterbury. The latter appeared before the gathering, throwing himself on the king's mercy at first, but later stubbornly insisting on "certain salvos about the dignity of his Church” and the "Honour of God” (Eyton, p.119). The negotiations broke off. King Henry left the meeting angry and king Louis, so far Becket's staunch supporter, became estranged from him for a few days.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Henry and Richard. "Two Princes Born Of The Same King, So Noble, And Yet So Different"

Between Poitiers and I'Ile Bouchard and Mirebeau and Loundun and Chinon someone has dared to build a fair castle at Clairvaux, in the midst of the plain. I should not wish the young King to know about it or see, for he would not find it to his liking; but I fear, so white is the stone, that he cannot fail to see it from Mathefelon.

Thus wrote Bertran de Born in 1182, the year preceeding the Young King's untimely death, and although geographically he might have been wrong, he was right that someone did dare to build a castle at Clairvaux in the lands nominally belonging to Henry the Young King. That "someone" was Henry's younger brother Richard, the then duke of Aquitaine. Quite opposite to what Bertran said, Richard's transgression must have been much to Henry's liking and the troubadour knew about it when composing the lines. At the time the brothers went beyond the point where amends could be made and rifts mended, but was it always so? Did they always resent each other? Are historians right, saying that Henry envied Richard and Richard despised Henry in return? In search for answers, I have tried to "dig" as deep as possible to take a closer look at what can be considered the pivotal moments in the brothers' story.

As we all know, Henry and Richard, about whom Gerald of Wales wrote that 'neither the present age, nor any former times, have seen two princes born of the same king, so noble, and yet so different' and 'different as were the habits and pursuits of the two brothers, sprung from the same stock and the same root, each has merited everlasting glory and endless fame', were the oldest surviving sons of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Unfortunately, due to gaps in the historical records, not much can be said about their earliest years. Henry was born on 28 February 1155 and Richard on 8 September 1157, meaning there was a two and a half year age gap between them. We know the name of Henry's first tutor, one Master Mainard and Richard's wetnurse, the famous Hodierna. Initially - and this can be judged by the patchy records - they both spent more time with their mother, although it was not what we understand by modern-day early upbringing. Doing what was expected of her, namely performing duties in the name of her absent husband, Eleanor did not spend most of her time with her children in a nursery. Due to his prolonged absences his children must have seen Henry II as a distant figure. When his eldest son,William, a few months shy of his third birthday, died in the spring of 1156, Henry was on the Continent. Four years later he was still so busy securing his domains there that Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury felt obliged to remind him of his young sons and daughter*. In a letter he urged the king to return, saying that 'even the most hard-hearted father could hardly bear to have them out of his sight for long'.


'King Henry, a most virtuous, generous and handsome youth, who retained for himself any number of virtuous knights from everywhere as household knights ...' vs. 'Richard, a most fierce knight, to whom his father (while still living) gave the duchy of Aquitaine for his possession". This is how Henry and Richard were described by Gilbert of Mons, the chancellor of Hainault who completed his Chronicle between 1195 - 1196, meaning that he was writing with the benefit of hindsight, but still who might have captured the essential difference between the two eldest surviving sons of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Historians tend to emphasize Henry the Young King's intense jealousy of Richard's martial skills and the fact that the latter could prove himself in a real war, whereas the former had only his "mock battles" to fight. Why should they think so? After all the brothers must have received the same formal education, which in case of royal and noble sons meant first and foremost learning how to ride a horse skillfully (this as soon as they could walk), how to ride with shield and lance and generally art of fighting on horseback. Recreation meant running, fencing, wrestling and throwing the javelin. In all this, if we are to believe Gerald of Wales, Henry was as accomplished as his younger brother. 'In arms he was like the thunderbolt winged by lightning, the only hope or fear of all. (...) When in arms and engaged in war, no sooner was the helmet on his head than he assumed a lofty air, and became impetuous, bold, and fiercer than any wild beast. His triumphs were often gained more by his valor than by fortune...' If we are to believe Gerald, both Henry and Richard were tall in stature and of commanding aspect and 'in courage and magnanimity they were nearly equal' **

If truth be told, Henry's "mock" battles were in fact dangerous encounters, fought "for real", in which the need to present their skills often got the better of the knights and their common sense (they did receive serious injuries or even got killed). And just like Richard,  Henry's "only desire, and the summit of his wishes" was 'to have the means and opportunity of employing his great velour, so that his martial genius might be fully displayed.' For where else could Henry prove himself if not on the tournament circuit, where the knights 'engage seriously in war games and occupy themselves in the image of war, in order to become more adept in military conflict" A young, vigorous man with no opportunity to spend his boundless energy elsewhere - especially if his father refused to share lands and power with him - via tournament could find a way to make a mark on the world he lived in. The only thing Henry could envy Richard then was the more independence the latter enjoyed in ruling his landsOf course Henry could not boast of deeds similar to those performed by his younger brother, who, already at the age of eighteen led a successful campaign against his rebellious vassals, pacifying larger part of his unruly duchy, and forcing the Basques and Navarrese to recognize his authority. This, however, does not mean that he was less skilled a warrior or an idle young man. As most of the young aristocrats of the 12th century, he believed that participating in tournaments made him a "man of account”. When he was forced to spend a year in England at his father's side, learning the bisuness of kingship, he did not try to hide his discontent. He was to say:

"It should be a source of much harm to me to stay idle for so long, and I am extremely vexed by it. I am no bird to be mewed up; a young man who does not travel around could never aspire to any worthwhile thing, and he should be regarded as of no account

Note what the Young King takes for "idle”. Perhaps it's the matter of views and attitude of the entire generation of the young aristocracy. As Professor Crouch points out: "Everyone who was anyone in the western aritocracies took to the fields of nothern France... It [taking part in tournaments] gave him [Henry] an international eminence unsurpassed by any European prince other than his cousin, Philip of Flanders. It was an eminence raised upon the regard of other princes and the adoration of the leaders of knightly opinion: those who travelled the tournament fields of Picardy and Flanders” (Tournament, p.23)

No, if there was any thing that Henry was to envy Richard, it could only be the afore mentioned greater independence. I think that John Gillingham comes very close to the truth, saying that: 'As the one who might one day step into his father's shoes he [Henry] was also the one who stood most in his father's shadow, Richard had Aquitaine; Geoffrey had Brittany; but it was the Old King, not the young one, who held Anjou, England and Normandy. Though in time Henry would succeed to a far greater inheritance than either brother, he did not posses the patience to wait' (pp. 88-89) and Ralph Turner in his biography of Henry's mother points out that the stormy relationship between Henry the Young King and his father is 'the classic example of reltions between medieval aristocratic fathers and their heirs. Among the noblility, an heir could not achieve full adult status or assume governing responsibilities as long as his father held onto the family lands; he was condemned to remain a "youth" for years past adolescence..." (p.206)

Now, let me take a closer look at what I consider the pivotal moments in Henry/Richard story...

The Great Revolt of 1173-74

I am not going to dwell on the war and discuss its phases step by step, just restrict myself to mentioning the facts being of crucial importance in my Henry/Richard search. In the revolt both Henry, aged 18, and Richard, aged 16 (not to mention Geoffrey, aged 15) were but the background figures overshadowed by Louis VII of France and Philip of Flanders, even if Henry had indeed triggered the war. The first phase of fighting which lasted from April to September 1173 ended with the conference at Gisors where the three princes met their father. The latter always willing to share money but no real power offered terms accordingly. His proposal was rejected and the fight continued. Some time in November the princes' mother, Queen Eleanor, disguised in male clothes, tried to make way from her domains to join her sons, but was caught (betrayed perhaps) and since then held captive. What did her sons do upon learning about her predicament? Their actions might well have been the cause of the later rift between them. Richard, who some time in the course of the war had been knighted by Louis VII and now considered himself a man full grown, left for Aquitaine to take charge over the rebel forces. In the meantime, the two sides of the conflict who at this point wanted to come to terms, could not come to an agreement because of him and the fact he was 'at this time in Poitou, besieging the castles and subjects of his father. In consequence of this, they again held another conference between them, upon the festival of St Michael, between Tours and Amboise, on which occasion they agreed to a truce on theses terms: that the said Richard, earl of Poitou, should be excluded from all benefit of the truce and that the king of France and the king of England , the son should give him no succour whatever. Upon these arrangements being made on either side, the king of England, the father, moved on his army into Poitou; on which Richard, earl of Poitou, his son, not daring to await his approach, fled from place to place. When he afterwards came to understand that the king of France and the king, his brother, had excluded him form the benefit of the truce, he was greately indignant thereat. (Howden, p.389). Just to look at the events from Richard's perspective, he had good reason to feel betrayed and perhaps despise his elder brother who, as Richard must have seen it, gave up their cause so easily and readily.

June 1176, Aquitaine

Perhaps not quite pivotal but much telling events occurred in Aquitaine in the spring of 1176, where Richard, now aged 19, was busy supressing the rebellion of some of his barons, Vulgrin of Angouleme and Aimar of Limoges, to name but the leading ones. After defeating Vulgrin's forces at the battle between St Maigrin and Bouteville, Richard met his elder brother Henry at Poitiers, where they held a council with the barons of Poitou together. Afterwards they marched to Angouleme and laid siege to Neuchatel, which they managed to take. "After its capture - Roger of Howden reports - the king, his [Richard's] brother was unwilling to prolong his stay with him [Richard], but listening to bad advice, took his departure". As a note - the chronicler's words seem somehow unclear to me - either he was unwilling or he listened to bad advice, for the two put together as in Howden's version, are more than mutually exclusive. In my view, J. Gillingham was right to observe that at the time Henry was a reluctant ally. Let us not forget that not two years passed since his "great'' revolt was effectively suppressed by his father and he had no other choice but to accompany his sire on his business trips across England. Before doing his father's bidding and coming to Richard's aid, he had been refused to take the Compostella road and he must have constantly felt his father's watchful eyes on his back wherever he went. And now he saw with his own eyes how much freedom Richard had in ruling his inheritance and dealing with his unruly barons, and how he could make decisions of his own. Roger Howden's account of the events described above may not only give some idea about Henry/Richard relationship at the time, but also of how sour the relationship between Henry and his father had gone by the summer of 1176 - and his description of what followed Henry's departure seems to confirm what I said. Shortly after leaving Richard behind for reasons unspecified, Henry found himself back in Poitiers, when he learned that his vice-chancellor Adam of Churchdown, the clerk of Geoffrey of Beverly, his chancellor, was reporting to Henry II on him (Adam considered Henry II his true lord). In this particular case, had he ever witnessed the events that followed, Gerald of Wales who lauded Henry's clemency, might have been really surprised at what Henry did. At first he intended to sentence Adam to death (!) and the vice-chancellor was tried for his life. It was only thanks to the intervention of bishop John of Poitiers that he was saved, although he did not avoid punishment. If we are to believe Howden, Henry caused Adam 'to be beaten with sticks, charging him with having disclosed his secret counsles to the king, his father; and after being thus beaten, he had him led naked through the streets of the city of Poitiers, while being still whipped, proclamation was made by the voice of the herald: "Thus does he deserve to be disgraced who revelas the secrets of his master". Whether Adam deserved the punishment or not is a matter of interpretation (Hodwen does not seem to condemn Henry's actions), but what I find most reveling about the whole incident is the fact that it reflects Henry's mood in the summer of 1176. His reaction tells us how wide the rift with his father still was and how difficult it would be to patch the things up in the future.

Claiming - as John Gillingham does - that Henry, unlike Richard, never had much stomach for serious campaigning is too much a generalisation - Ralph of Diceto states clearly that Henry did well in the 1181 campaign when he was dispatched to aid the young Philippe II of France, his brother-in-law, in the conflict with Philip of Flanders - Philippe was only 16 at the time, so it was his brother-in-law Henry the Young King who was commander-in -chief. If we are to believe the chronicler's words, he and the young Philippe leading the joint forces "inflicted severe losses on the Duke of Burgundy, the countess of Champagne, sister to both kings, and their accomplices, whose forces they again outnumbered". They forced the count to retreat. At this point we get a precious little nugget of information from the author: "The count feared to meet King Henry, son of the king of England, face to face and shut himself up in the castle of Crepy". Did Philip fear his opponent only because the latter outnumbered him or perhaps it was because they were close friends and companions on the tournament circuits? From Philip's perspective it must have been extremely difficult to meet his young relative and friend face to face. Perhaps sometimes Henry's personal charm and charisma prove to be more formidable weapon than Richard's ruthlesness, military skills and political acumen. 

The 1183 conflict

Author of The History of William Marshal gives us the description of what happened in the opening months of 1183: 'It so turned out that at Lent following, the three brothers quarreled and at that time the young King left his father in anger, as did his brother, Count Geoffrey, the lord of Brittany, for they were vexed and troubled by their brother, the Count of Poitiers, who, with the backing of their father, was making so bold as to wage war on the highest men in the land and treat them unjustly'. Yet one more time, just as in 1173, it was Henry II who triggered the war, which turned disastrous for the Young King who met his untimely end in the course of it. Had he given one of the three principalities (either England, or Normandy, or Anjou) to his eldest son, the latter would have no reason to accept the invitation to cooperation by Richard's barons. As we know the disgruntled Poitevan barons approached and “complained to the young King, and preferred to be on his side rather than that of that harsh master their liege lord, for they had done homage to him and they said that not for a moment longer would they remain bound to Count Richard of Poitiers, for he was doing them harm with full intent.” (The History of William Marshal). Henry's plotting was revealed shortly after Christmas 1182, when the court moved south from Caen. Henry II wanted both Richard and Geoffrey to do homage to their elder brother, which the latter did readily at Le Mans, but Richard refused. When he was finally persuaded by their father to agree and wanted to do the said homage, this time the young Henry refused to accept it. With his hands on the Holy Gospels he swore to maintain his fealty to his father, and always show him due honour and obedience. And revealed that, because Richard fortified the castle at Clairvoux, which was a part of his inheritance, he himself "entered into a compact with the barons of Aquiataine against his brother". Historians' interpretation is that he used Clairvaux as the pretext and justification for his actions. What they tend to ignore and disregard is the fact that if we were to look at it from purely political perspective, it was an imaginative scheme, and Henry was acting as politician at last, even if later, as time was to show, his indecesiveness took better of him and quite obviously he let himself be tormented by doubts and pangs of conscience. As it seems they concerned mostly his father rather than his younger brother, for as we know Henry II chose to support Richard against Henry and Geoffrey. But this needs to be stressed: in the conflict of 1183 Henry the Young King's motives were political not personal. It all became personal only when their father stepped in and appeared before the walls of Limoges. As for Richard, his inability to cope with the 1183 crisis was said to be the reason for Henry II's later doubts about appointing him his heir. 

Unfortunately, we can only speculate what might have happened had Henry the Young King survived the 1183 campaign. We can also say after Gerald of Wales:

O ye gods, if these illustrious brothers had been united by the ties of fraternal love, and had regarded their father with filial affection, if they had been bound together by the twofold cords of good-will and of nature, how great, how inestimable, how splendid and incomparable in the present age, would have been the glory of the father, and the triumphs of the sons? How worthy would have been their history, worthy of the genius of a Maro, to be given to memory? (...) To what a magnitude, and height, and strength the tree would have grown, if the branches had been naturally knit together, and had drawn their sap from the roots, is manifest from the premature decay and heavy fall of what was so precious.

* In 1160 these were Henry (b. 28 February 1155). Matilda (b. June 1156), Richard (b. 8 September 1157) and Geoffrey (b. 23 September 1158).

** Gerlad of Wales on differences between Henry and Richard:
They were both tall in stature, rather above the middle size, and of commanding aspect. In courage and magnanimity they were nearly equal; but in the character of their virtues there was a great disparity. One was admirable for gentleness and liberality, the other distinguished himself by his severity and firmness. The one had a commendable suavity, the other gravity. One was commended for his easy temper, the other for his determined spirit. One was remarkable for his clemency, the other for his justice. The vile and undeserving found their refuge in the one, their punishment from the other. One was the shield of bad men, the other the hammer to crush them. The one was bent on martial sports, the other on serious conflicts. The one bestowed his favours on foreigners, the other on his own people; the one on all the world, the other on the worthy only. The one's ambition magnanimously compassed the world; the other coveted, to good purpose, what was rightfully his own. 


Gerald of Wales, The Topography of Ireland. Translated by Thomas Forester. Revised and edited by Thomas Wright
Ralph of Diceto, Images of History in The Plantagenet Chronicles. Edited by Elizabeth Hallam

Gilbert of Mons, Chronicle of Hainaut. Translated by Laura Napran

The Annals of Roger de Hoveden. Translated by Henry T. Riley

The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born. Edited by William D. Paden, Tilde Sankovitch and Patricia H. Stablein

Gillingham, John. Richard the Lionheart. London, 1978

Crouch, David. Tournament. London and New York, 2005

Turner, Ralph. Eleanor of Aquitaine. New Haven and London, 2011.