Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Sumer Is Icumen In, Why Not Spend It With Sir Lancelot in Siedlęcin?

Henry the Young King must have considered himself lucky to be born into the world that witnessed such a flowering of literature. And although to V.H. Galbraith he was the least educated of Henry II and Eleanor's sons, there is a body of evidence suggesting that he did take pleasure in listening to and reading literary works. One we can be sure of, he lived long enough to become familiar with Chrétien de Troyes's Sir Lancelot du Lac. Whereas Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae was the first work in which he could read about King Arthur, Chrétien's Erec et Enide was the first romance in which he got the appearance of Arhur's most beloved knight, Sir Lancelot. It just so happened that Chrétien himself worked for Henry's elder half-sister Marie, the countess of Champagne, who took him under her wing, not only comissioning his works, but also supplying him with material [or plot] and interpretation. Henry must have heard about Lancelot first in the aforementioned  Erec et Enide completed c. 1170 and later in Le Chevalier de la charrette completed before 1181. 


Obviously, neither Henry, nor Marie, nor even Chrétien himself could have foreseen that Lancelot's fame was to reach as far as the Lower Silesia District [today Poland] where in the first half of the 14th century Henryk I Jaworski [Henry I of Jawor] had the walls of the Great Hall of his ducal tower in Siedlęcin painted with the scenes of the life of King Arthur's greatest knight. The curious thing is that today Siedlęcin is the only place in the world where you can still see the mural paintings depicting the legend of Sir Lancelot of the Lake preserved in situ.


Henry the Young King's loyal scribe does consider herself lucky as well, for two weeks ago she had a chance to pay a visit to Henryk I Jaworski's aforementioned tower and see the paintings for herself. She had no other choice but to come to the following conclusion: the paintings are the materpieces of the pictorial secular art of the period. They are alive with richly coloured figures both engaged in action and motionless. The main cycle of images show Sir Lancelot: the four "upper" scenes depict the court at Camelot, Queen Guinevere with her ladies in waiting, Guinevere kidnapped by Meleagant and Lancelot freeing the queen; the four scenes below represent Lancelot and his cousin Lionel, Lancelot sleeping underneath the apple tree, Lionel sleeping on guard, duel between Lancelot and Tarquyn and finally Lancelot and Sir Kay. 


Some of the drawings were never finished probably due to the death of Duke Henryk in the spring of 1346. These show duel between Lancelot and Sagramour and healing of Urry de Hongre. There are other images as well, but their theme is sacred rather than secular. These are, for example, the Holy City of Jerusalem or St Christopher, epitome of chivalry, patron saint of knights and example of a perfect vassal. Elaborate painted designs around one of the windows drew Henry the Young King's scribe attention and made her think that the author's talent was a marvel to behold. Speaking of which, one of the theories holds that whoever he was, the artist came to Świdnica and Jawor in the 1340s, with the wife of Duke Henryk's nephew, Agnes von Habsburg (1315-1392). Agnes was the daughter of Duke of Austria, Leopold I from the House of Habsburg, and Catherine of Savoy, which meant close ties with Switzerland.


In his works, art historian and leading expert in Siedlęcin Ducal Tower and European court culture, dr Jacek Witkowski, points out that there were close analogies between the Siedlęcin paintings and the ones existing around Zurich and Konstanz at the time. Of course the Swiss connections might have been established earlier which would mean that the murals were painted long before 1338. After all Henryk began his independent rule in the duchy in 1312 and one of the first things he did was the building of the tower in Siedlęcin [the then Rudgersdorf]. This tower is a rare surviving example and one of the best-preserved medieval residences of this type in Central Europe. It stands 22 metres high in a lovely spot of fresh green and the Bóbr River lazily winding its way through the surrounding meadows. 


Initially it was a standard defensive keep with its top crenelated. Thanks to dendrochronological research we were able to determine that the trees used for ceiling construction had been cut in 1313 and 1314, so 700 years ago! The roof that can be seen today is a later addition - dendrochronological research proved that the trees for its ceilings were cut down in 1575. A walk around the tower today, allows the visitors to evoke scenes from the past. Henry the Young King's scribe, for instance, pictured Duke Henryk with his retinue returning home from one of the military campaigns against his greatest opponent, King John the Blind of Bohemia, later known for his heroic death at the Battle at Crecy :-) 


Siedlęcin is really worth a visit. The paintings are breathtakingly beautiful and the tower itself exceptionally well-preserved. Still they need our support - in Poland, if truth be told, the monuments suffer the sad fate, especially in the Lower Silesia District, where there are so many of them. At present, the tower has a chance to win the title of the most interesting monument of the Lower Silesia District, which would mean a world to Sir Lancelot residing in it :-) Let's help and take a vote here. I am sure our liege lord, Henry the Young King, would approve :-)



Saturday, 4 July 2015

"The Young Monarch in Waiting". Thomas Asbridge on Henry the Young King

I am radiantly happy to announce that Henry the Young King is doing well. Not only was he portrayed from a new and refreshing perspective by Thomas Asbridge in his biography of William Marshal*, but also had a radio programme dedicated to him, with Dr Asbridge interviewed. Of course, I am looking forward to Professor Matthew Strickland's biography, which is going to be ""the first full length study for a century of the eldest son and principal heir of Henry II". Fingers crossed for its successful publication.


                                Photo of the book, Thomas Asbridge official website

As for the interview itself, I am not going to discuss it in detail - I leave it to you to listen and draw your own conclusions. Let me just mention a few things of crucial importance. People do tend to look back at Henry as....

Insignificant figure, a playboy on a tournament circuit

...but Thomas Asbridge probes deeper. Firstly, he tries to answer what kind of relationship Henry and William initially developed and how they spent their time. If we take them at face value, Dr Asbridge argues, they were doing nothing more but rushing around the tournament circuits of Northern France. Apparently, however, there was more to this and Henry and William also focused on things important such as political power and military might, something both David Crouch and Matthew Strickland had discussed in their works before. In the light of it, Henry's rebellions were not only the childlish tantrums as many historians tend to see them today, but serious plays for power. We can only speculate what would have happened had Henry survived the military campaign of 1183.

To keep them hungry, to keep them begging...

Of course the crucial issue was raised, namely why Henry, "technically a fully-fleshed king of England, because he underwent formal coronation twice", does not have a number of his own. According to Dr Asbridge, the answer is simple, Henry predeceased his father and always had been a young monarch in waiting. "Henry II was unwilling to give his son any real power or territory - over time the young king became increasingly anxious and impatient about it". And although Henry was called Henry III when he lived, his sudden death changed everything. I like the way Mr Asbridge explained what other hsitorians seem not to understand - they tend to call the Young King the rebellious son, second Absalom, idle and vain, whereas it was - if we are to look at it as Mr Asbridge does - simply a matter of how long king-father lived after having his son crowned. If he died relatively quickly afterwards, as for example Louis VII of France did, it was okay, he was praised for being wise and perspicacious enough to secure the throne for his heir and avoid succession crisis; if he, however, lived on for years as Henry's father did, the things might get complicated and, as we know in case of Henry, they did. Although - thank you Mr. Asbridge for mentiong it - there was a moment in this story when it seemed that Henry II's decision to have his son crowned when he himself was still alive might have turned out to be a work of a genius - two moths after his son's coronation Henry II fell seriously ill. His subjects thought he was going to die. In the light of it, the timing of young Henry's coronation seemed perfect. The daddy, however, recovered and was to live for another 19 years, outliving his eldest son and heir. Henry II's method to keep his ambitious sons at bay was to keep them hungry and begging. This was especially visible when the young king was concerned - the younger sons, Richard and Geoffrey, enjoyed more freedom in ruling their inheritance, Aquitaine and Brittany.

Additionally and most crucially, Mr Asbridge says, there was an internal pressure on figure like Henry the Young King and that came from his own household knights who expected him to support them and provide for them, to get rewards for their loyal service - and at the time rewards meant lands. Lands Henry did not possess. I do agree - some of them must have pressed him hard, urging to sort the things out with his father, the older king, which Henry tried to do repeatedly over years. I would go a step further: Henry's mesnie is one thing, the other is that even greater pressure, although of a different kind, came from his own father, who apparently had been waiting for the perfect moment to hand over the reins of government to his eldest son. I'm afraid that this very moment would never come, not as long as the old king lived. The pressure on royal heirs was always enormous - we are fully aware of that - but in case of Henry it must have been tremendous and often intolerable. Let us not forget that he had not meant to be king - had his elder brother William lived, Henry, the second in line, would have probably become the duke of Aquiatine. But three-year-old William passed away, leaving his parents distraught - after all in their he was the living proof that the House of Anjou had the God Almighty on their side. After William's death it all fell upon Henry, his father's great expectations mixed with fear of losing him as well. Henry II must have had two goals: to protect his heir and to make him a perfect king. Great pressure to bear.

But enough, the rest you will hear from Dr Asbridge himself. I hope he will succeed in convincing you that, here let me quote, "Henry the Young King deserves our recognition far more than he has generally achieved by most of the professional historians and certainly in popular imagination".



* Elizabeth Chadwick, who is an expert in William Marshal and his family, wrote a great blog post in which she discusses in detail different non fiction works on William. Thomas Asbridge's The Greatest Knight, the most recent addition, is one of them. I was happy to read that Ms Chadwick considers the portrayal of the Young King its greatest merit. I guess that despite all the errors Mr Asbridge made when it comes to William himself, I will read the book because of Henry :-)














Friday, 19 June 2015

Magna Carta, Birth at Paris and One Cold-Blooded Murder

Wonderful news to share! Henry the Young King Blog has reached 90,000 page views today. Thank you, dear readers! I promise to do my best to keep the posts coming. Now, a few words about June anniversaries. 

As we all know this year and this week in particular, Henry the Young King's youngest brother John or rather the document he so reluctantly put his seal to in 1215, takes centre stage. 800 years ago, on 15th June, the king was brought to Runnymede, about 20 miles west of London, to ratify Magna Carta, one of the most important documents in the history of the world. Of course, neither John nor his barons could know what their proceedings taken that day would mean to the development of modern democracy. I had occasion to see the place itself during my trip to England - nothing revealed what momentous event occured there in the dim and distant past. As we can read on the official website of The Magna Carta Trust, the Great Charter of Liberty not only "put limits on the power of the crown for the first time, but laid the foundations for modern freedom", becoming the basis for the U.S. Bill of Rights, the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the long run - we must agree - the "bad" King John wasn't that bad. There would be no Magna Carta without him and his flaws :-) Visit the Trust's website here to read fascinating articles published to commemorate the anniversary. 

                      
                         

Magna Carta's 800th anniversary certainly is an occasion to celebrate, but let us not forget about other important events. On 19 June 1177, for instance, the only child of Henry the Young King and Marguerite of France was born at Paris, at the court of its grandfather, Louis VII (1120-1180). It should have been an occasion for rejoicing, but instead the young parents were stricken with grief, for, according to the English sources, 'the young queen was delivered of a still-born son' (Howden). The French, however, claimed that the child lived long enough to be baptized and named William, and I assume they were right. After all the child was born in their realm. We can only speculate what course history might have taken had baby William survived. Certainly he would have been his father's pride and joy and future heir.

William was born and passed away 21 years after his paternal uncle and namesake, the eldest child of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, William (b. 17 August 1153), who died, aged three, in June 1156. The same month William's aunt, Henry II and Eleanor's eldest daughter, Matilda [future Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria], was born at London. These two events and Queen Eleanor's stay in England were illustrated in the Sheriffs of London's accounts at Michaelmas. The following entry can be found there: £40 for the Queen's corrody; £24 for corrody of Henry, the king's son, his sister and his aunt; and £7 for wine; and£6. 6s. for further corrody of the same persons, supplied by hand of Ralph of Hastings (Eyton).

c.1 June 1183. Leading a military campaign against his younger brother Richard, Henry the Young King with his routiers pillaged the shrine of St Amadour at Rocamadour, carrying a rich booty and the holy sword of Roland, 
Durendal. He did this in order to pay off his mercenaries.

1 June 1191. Death of Philip, count of Flanders, at the siege of Acre. Philip was an important person in Henry the Young King's life. Relative and fellow patron of the tournaments, together with his younger brother Matthew [of Boulogne] they were Henry's chief allies in the Great Revolt of 1173-74.

3 June 1162. Consecration of Henry's tutor, Thomas Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry had been placed in Becket's household sometime before or in 1162 only to be removed as a sign of his father's growing displeasure towards his former chancellor in October 1163.

5 June 1170. Prince Henry set off for the coast (probably Barfleur) from Caen to cross to England where he was to be crowned in Becket's absence. He was accompanied by Richard, Archdeacon of Poitiers (who had been sent to Caen to bring the prince) and the bishops of Bayeux and Seez. c.8 June one of Becket's partisans, named Amicus, wrote a letter to Becket, who was at Sens, informing him that the coronation was to take place on “Sunday next” and that the Pope's letters forbidding the coronation never reached the persons they were addressed to.

11 June 1183. Saturday. The feast day of St Barnabas the Apostle. 
Death of Henry the Young King, aged twenty-eight, at Martel.

14 June 1170. Coronation of Henry at Westminster Abbey by Roger of Pont-l'Eveque, the Archbishop of York. Since then the prince was to be called the Young King in order to distinguish him from his father. A day after Henry's coronation, on 15 June, William I of Scotland and his brother, David [Earl of Huntigdon], did homage to the young king.

17 June 1128. Wedding of Henry the Young King's paternal grandparents, Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou, later known as le Bel, at Le Mans.

18 June 1178. Sunday. Death of Martin, Prior of Vigeois, at Limoges. On the same day Geoffrey of Breuil succeeded to the priorate. Geoffrey's Chronicon Lemovicense was to become the main source describing Henry the Young King's death at Martel in June 1183.

29 June 1173. Philip, count of Flanders attacked Normandy and took the castle and town of Albemarle. Earl William of Albemarle surrendered also his other castles and was taken prisoner (Eyton). The Great Revolt began in earnest. 

c. 30 June 1182. The feast day of St Martial. Henry the Young King was at St Martial, Limoges, where he “was received with a procession, and he gave a pallium of silk woven with gold thread” (Itier). He might have attended mass celebrated by Theobald, abbot of Cluny. It was probably then when he met the discontented Poitevan barons, who asked him for help in waging war against their duke, Henry's younger brother, Richard [later Lionheart].

Lastly, let us not forget what sad loss Henry the Young King's great-great-nephew, King Edward II (1307-1327), suffered on 19 June 1312. On that day, his beloved Piers Gaveston - "Perrot" as he was called - was taken to the Blacklow Hill, on the earl of Lancaster's lands, and executed or rather murdered there in cold blood, his body and severed head left on the spot. My friend Anerje runs a blog dedicated to Piers here. Highly recommendable.
























Sunday, 14 June 2015

Much Ado About... Coronation

14 June 1170 saw a new king of England crowned at Westminster Abbey with all the pomp and ceremony of a royal coronation. Later the coronation was to be found illegal by many an important personages, but at the time nothing could spoil the day for fifteen-year-old Prince Henry who from now on would be called Henry the Young King to distinguish him from his father, Henry II of England. I wrote about the event itself and the commotion it caused here. Today, let me just remind that Henry (b. 28 February 1155) was not meant to be king. The crown was to go to his elder brother, William (b.17 August 1153). Unfortunately, William became seriously ill and died, aged three, the only child of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who failed to survive infancy. Upon his untimely passing, Henry, the second in line, became his father’s heir and from 1170 a co-king of England. Pity that only in name. Had his father been more  eager to share power and responsibilty with him, the history might have taken a different course. 



Speaking of which, I was delighted to come across a fascinating interview with Thomas Asbridge, historian and writer, known for both the BBC documentary (I had a small input in) and latest book on Henry's most loyal companion, William Marshal. The Tudor fans must forgive me, but I skipped the interview on Henry VIII and only listened to the one devoted to Henry the Young King. What I heard made me think that if not good, at least better times are coming for England's forgotten king. Find out what makes me think so here. Mr Asbridge mentions Professor Matthew Strickland's articles on Henry and the biography he is currently working on, so I guess he knows what he is talking about :-)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

St Barnabas' Day, 1183: Death of Henry the Young King

All those, who saw you, Bretons and Irishmen, Englishmen and Normans, Aquitainians and Gascons, should be sad… And Poitou suffers, and Maine, and Tours. As far as Compiegne let France weep without ceasing, and Flanders from Ghent as far as Wissant. Even the Germans weep!... When the Lorraines and the Brabancons go tourneying, they will mourn because they don’t see you! (Bertran de Born bemoaning the Young King's death)

832 years ago today, Henry, the young king of England, aged twenty-eight (born on 28 February 1155), died at Martel, Limousin. In the closing days of May he had contracted dysentery, called "bloody flux" and did not survive its merciless attack. Henry had been co-king of England since 1170, when his father, King Henry II, had him crowned at Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately the elder king was unwilling to share power and responsibilty with his eldest son and heir, thus pushing the latter to rebel against him first in 1173, then ten years later, in 1183. I am still working on a detailed account of Henry's 1183 campaign. It should be ready soon. In the meantime, let me re-post the tribute to the Young King I wrote two years ago to commemorate his untimely passing.


Saturday, 11 June 1183. Martel. The spring in the valley of the Dordogne lazily drifts into summer. A young man, with a sapphire ring fervently pressed to his lips, lies dying in the house of Etienne Fabri’s. He finds himself far from his family, among ‘quite barbarous people’ in Gascony, with only a few faithful companions at his side. That young man happens to be the King of England’s son and heir. Contemporary chroniclers refer to him either as Young Henry, Henry the Younger, the Young King or Henry III. He does not know that since he is destined to predecease his father, his name will vanish somewhere in a dim and distant… future, almost utterly lost to posterity.
                                                          
Ironically, it is Henry’s untimely passing - the best documented moment of his life - that he is mainly remembered for. Additionally, the actions surrounding his death serve as an invaluable source of information concerning the rituals performed at the twelfth-century deathbed. From his example we can learn a lot about medieval ways to ensure the soul's safe passage to heaven. Henry the Young King, ‘his life suddenly cut off like a thread’, died ‘in the flower of his youth’, aged twenty-eight, in the region called Turenne in Gascony, at Martel, on Saturday, the feast day of St Barnabas the Apostle. 

Let me take a closer look at the events preceding the Young King’s death on the 11th of June: In the opening months of 1183 Henry was busily occupied with wresting control of the Duchy of Aquitaine from his younger brother Richard. With Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, another younger brother, and an ardent support of Poitevan barons discontent with Richard’s iron rule, the Young King was desperate to win a portion of the family domains for himself. He stood in opposition not only to Richard, who at that time was facing a formidable French-Burgundian-Toulousain coalition backing up the Young King and his rebels, but also to his father king Henry II of England, who hastened to Richard’s rescue. It was the second time that Henry took up arms against his father, the King. The underlying cause of this revolt was the same as in 1173: he did not want to be a king only in name. In 1170 his father had him crowned a king-associate of England, but in reality, the Young King had no land of his own and no power to rule, the great number of his charters from that period being only either homologues or confirmations of his father’s charters, and his household consisting of the officials of his father’s choosing. In fact, his younger brothers, Richard, Duke of Aquitaine and Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany enjoyed more real power than he, the eldest one. Thus, in taking over Aquitaine, Richard’s maternal inheritance, the Young King saw his chance of gaining real authority and financial independence. With his mighty allies he might have achieved this very goal had he not contracted bloody flux (dysentery) and died on 11 June, aged 28, his passing stirring up the outpouring of universal grief as he was the only member of his family popular in his lifetime. Matthew Strickland in his ‘On the Instruction of a Prince: The Upbringing of Henry, the Young King’ makes an interesting observation, namely ‘while Richard I’s death provoked  the outpouring of grief for the loss of the champion of  Christendom, it is worth remembering that had it been Richard who had died in 1183, he would have left a reputation as a harsh, even tyrannical ruler, as much as that of a fine warrior’.

In a letter of consolation addressed to Queen Eleanor, the Young King’s mother, a royal official, Peter of Blois, expressed his conviction that Young Henry ‘was translated from shadows to light, from prison to kingdom, from mortality to life, from exile to fatherland’. The Young King himself, as he lay dying in Etienne Fabri’s Maison, was not so sure about his future whereabouts. Shortly before he fell ill he had not only betrayed his father, but he had also pillaged the most sacred shrines in Western France (St Martial near Limoges, Grandmont and St Amadour at Rocamadour) in order to pay off his mercenaries. Small wonder he was now trembling with fear at the very thought of facing his Maker. Taking into account the mechanisms working in the twelfth-century mind, he must have believed himself a condemned criminal, and his illness a divine punishment. For this reason he sought rescue in all possible ways of repentance. On 7 June, when it was already clear that he was not going to survive, he prostrated himself naked on the floor, and before the crucifix confessed his sins to Gerald, Bishop of Cahors. As death drew near he had a hair shirt put on him and asked to be dragged out of bed by a noose wound round his neck. ‘By this cord,’ he said, ‘do I deliver myself, an unworthy, culpable, and guilty sinner, unto you, the ministers of God, beseeching that our Lord Jesus Christ, who remitted his sins to the thief when confessing upon the cross, will, through your prayers, and through his ineffable mercy, have compassion upon my most wretched soul!’ According to his wishes, he was then placed on a bed of ashes on the floor, with stones under his head and his feet, ‘in the manner which St Martin prescribed for monks’. On 11 June, surrounded by churchmen, with Bernard, Bishop of Agen administering the last rites, he confessed again, first privately, then in public. There was one more thing troubling the Young King in the last hours of his life: some time before, he had taken the cross. Now regretting the lightness he had done it with, he committed his crusader’s cloak to William Marshal, asking his friend and most faithful companion to take it to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, in his stead. He also sent word to his father, begging him to come so that he could ask his forgiveness, but the king, suspecting another trap (earlier in the spring he narrowly escaped death while trying to negotiate with his sons), refused to come, instead sending a letter and a sapphire ring as a token of forgiveness. The Young King dictated a reply asking, in the words of the twenty-fifth Psalm (verse 7), ‘do not remember the sins and offences of my youth, but remember me in thy unfailing love’. Then in an equally poignant gesture, he kissed the ring and, furnished with the viaticum of the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord, he died.

Despite the offences of his youth, he died a good death, having gone to ‘extremes of self-abasement and penitence’ to atone for his sins. Thanks to the fact that the Young King ‘packed as much repentance into his deathbed as he could’, we can learn a lot about the rituals surrounding medieval passing. What happened after 11 June is enough for another story, for scarcely ever in history did a royal body encounter as many adventures after death as the body of Henry the Young King did on its way north from Martel to Rouen. I am going to discuss its ups and downs in another post. 


Sources:

The Annals of Roger de Hoveden, Vol. II translated by Henry T. Riley, Esq. London, 1853.

Ralph of Diceto Images of History, in the Plantagenet Chronicles, ed. by Dr. Elizabeth Hallam. London, 2002.

Roger of Wendover’s Flowers of History Vol. II translated by J. A. Giles

Strickland, Matthew. “On the Instruction of a Prince: the Upbringing of Henry, the Young King” in Henry II: New Interpretations. Ed. Christopher Harper-Bill and Nicholas Vincent. Woodbridge, 2007.

Crouch, David. William Marshal. Court Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219Harlow, 1990.

Evans, Michael. Death of Kings: Royal Death in Medieval EnglandLondon, 2007.

Crouch, David. “The Culture of Death in the Anglo-Norman World” in Anglo-Norman Political Culture and the 12th-century Renaissance Ed. by C. Warren Hollister. Woodbridge, 1997.

Gillingham, John. The Angevin EmpireLondon, 1984.



Saturday, 6 June 2015

7 June 1183: 'Have Compassion upon My Most Wretched Soul!’

In the opening months of 1183 Henry was busily occupied with wresting control of the Duchy of Aquitaine from his younger brother Richard. With Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, another younger brother, and an ardent support of Poitevan barons discontent with Richard’s iron rule, the Young King was desperate to win a portion of the family domains for himself. He stood in opposition not only to Richard, who at that time was facing a formidable French-Burgundian-Toulousain coalition backing up the Young King, but also to his father king Henry II of England, who hastened to Richard’s rescue. It was the second time that Henry took up arms against his father, the King. The underlying cause of this revolt was the same as in 1173: he did not want to be a king only in name. In 1170 his father had him crowned a king-associate of England, but in reality, the Young King had no land of his own and no power to rule, the great number of his charters from that period being only either homologues or confirmations of his father’s charters, and his household consisting of the officials of his father’s choosing. In fact, his younger brothers, Richard, Duke of Aquitaine and Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany enjoyed more real power than he, the eldest one. Thus, in taking over Aquitaine, Richard’s maternal inheritance, the Young King saw his chance of gaining real authority and financial independence. With his mighty allies he might have achieved this very goal had he not contracted bloody flux (dysentery). On 26 May, in the town of Uzerche, he suffered from - as it may seem - the first bout of illness, but he quickly came to himself. In fact he was well enough to pillage the shrine of St Amadour at Rocamadour. 

                                                          Rocamadour today (photo: Patrick Clenet)

Together with the booty he carried off a sword which was said to be Durendal, the weapon of the legendary hero, Roland. There were precious relics in its hilt: the tooth of St Peter, the blood of St Basil, hair of St Denis and a piece of the robe of the Blessed Virgin. As Emma Mason points out in "The Hero's Invincible Weapon: an Aspect of Angevin Propaganda”: 'If the Young King accepted that his booty was indeed the Durendal of Roland, then he would believe himself to be under the protection of these powerful relics. Perhaps perceiving himself as a hero-figure in his contest against his father, he might prize an object which would be widely recognized as an emotive symbol... In his looting of Rocamadour, the Young King was perhaps seeking not only material reinforcement, but also the means of projecting a charismatic image' (pp. 126-127). Looting itself certainly could not have helped him, but the sword of Roland could. Richard often employed the projection of a heroic image as a part of his military tactics. As it turned out, however, Durendal proved to be useless in protecting Henry against more dangerous foe, whose severe and full-scale attack launched from within proved fatal. Dysentery was the curse of the medieval warfare, wrecking havoc and taking its toll in the military camps. On Tuesday, the 7th of June, it was clear that the Young King was not going to survive. One can only try to imagine what scenes accompanied breaking of this sad news - Henry's household knights must have been utterly distraught. I completely disagree with the author Sharon Kay Penman, who in the King's Ransom - the novel about Henry's brother Richard I Couer de Lion - says that neither Henry II nor Henry the Young King inspired such loyalty from their men as Richard did. It is enough to read about their last hours to see they had a few absolutely loyal men with them.

                                        
                Maison Fabri, Martel, where Henry the Young King spent the last days of his life.

But back to the little town of Martel, Limousin, deep in the south of Aquitaine, where Henry just realised it was time to say "Farewell" and prepare himself to face the Maker. Taking into account the working of the twelfth-century mind, he must have believed himself a condemned criminal, and his illness a divine punishment, especially if he was the sole victim of the malady (I was unable to determine if there were others in Henry's household and troops who succumbed to it as well at the time). For this reason he sought rescue in all possible ways of repentance. After all, he had not only betrayed his father, but also pillaged the most sacred shrines in Western France (St Martial near Limoges, Grandmont and St Amadour at Rocamadour). To make amends and to show how he regretted, he prostrated himself naked on the floor, and before the crucifix confessed his sins to Gerald, Bishop of Cahors. As death drew near he had a hair shirt put on him and asked to be dragged out of bed by a noose wound round his neck. ‘By this cord,’ he was to say, ‘do I deliver myself, an unworthy, culpable, and guilty sinner, unto you, the ministers of God, beseeching that our Lord Jesus Christ, who remitted his sins to the thief when confessing upon the cross, will, through your prayers, and through his ineffable mercy, have compassion upon my most wretched soul!’ According to his wishes, he was then placed on a bed of ashes on the floor, with stones under his head and his feet, ‘in the manner which St Martin prescribed for monks’. He still had four days to live.


A detailed account of Henry's unfortunate campaign on 11 June.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

26 May 1183: Uzerche and Caen or the Sad End Is Nigh

As we know, in the spring of 1183 Henry the Young King was leading military campaign against his younger brother Richard [later Lionheart] and his father, Henry II, treading the path that was to be his last. On 26 May he was in the town of Uzerche, suffering from - as it may seem - the first bout of illness which was to kill him seventeen days later. He quickly came to himself, though, and joined forces with Hugh of Burgundy and Raymond V of Tolouse, his much-awaited allies. He could not have known that at the same time, far in the north, at Caen, the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of Bayeux, Evreux, Lisieux, Sees and Rochester, acting on his father’s orders, excommunicated all who “impeded the making of peace between the king and his sons”. All with the exception of the Young King. Although Henry himself avoided the severe punishment, he must have been in a poor mental and physical condition, as we can read in between the lines of Roger of Hoveden's account. 

Abbey church of St Peter and St Andrew at Uzerche (photo by Sjwells53, via Wikipedia)

Currently I am working on a longer post about Henry and his brother Geoffrey of Brittany's actions taken in the course of the afore-mentioned 1183 campaign. I am following the two of them into this terra indomita, Aquitaine, analysing their moves, step by step. I hope the post will be ready for the 7th of June, four days before the anniversary of Henry's untimely death. Using the occasion I would like to recommend a fascinating article by Professor John Gillingham, entitled "Events and Opinions: Norman & English Views on Aquitaine" in The World of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Literature and Society in Southern France between the Eleventh and  Thirteenth Centuries ed. by Marcus Bull and Catherine Leglu (The Boydell Press, 2005).  



There is one more recommendation to be made (although this author's posts need no advertising). At the Mortimer Society Conference Ms Elizabeth Chadwick gave a paper she is now sharing on her blog. The complex relationship between William Marshal and Henry's youngest brother King John is discussed in detail in it. Fascinating read. Henry and John's relationship is mentioned as well, so it is really worth reading.