In the Dark of December...

1 December 1135
After 35-year reign Henry the Young King’s paternal great-grandfather and namesake, Henry I of England died. His was an eventful reign marked by legal and administrative changes that assured prosperity and peace in both England and Normandy. To learn more about the circumstances of his death and of the king himself click here.

1 December 1170
Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, after an absence of six years, accompanied by his faithful followers returned to England. Hardly had they disembarked at Sandwich when the royal officials at the head of the armed troops stopped them and tried to seize the Archbishop. The latter was set free only after showing the king’s letter of safe conduct. On his way to Canterbury Thomas was met with the enthusiastic reception especially by the poor people of the realm, who already treated him as a saint. Perhaps he knew that his road back to Canterbury would also become his road to martyrdom.

1 December 1177
As Ralph of Diceto reports:
“On 1 December high wind came from the east, destroying woods and buildings.” (p. 152)

2 December 1156
According to Robert of Torigni, abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel, Henry the Young King’s elder brother, William, aged three, died on this day and was buried at Reading Abbey at the feet of his great-grandfather and the abbey’s founder, Henry I. Always reliable Robert, the royal family familiaris and eye witness to many important events this time seems to have made a mistake, for most chroniclers agree that the princeling died in the summer of 1156.


4 December 1214
King William I the Lion of Scotland died and was succeeded by his son, king Alexander II. One of the most vivid figures of the twelfth-century Britain he is best remembered for being the one-time ally of Henry the Young King. To learn more about William himself and his involvement in the Great Revolt of 1173-74 click here.

6 December 1183
On St. Nicholas’s Day Henry the Young King’s father, Henry II met with Philip of France at the peace conference between Gisors and Trie and did homage to him “for all his lands beyond the sea, whereas before this he had never been willing to do homage to him” (Howden, Vol.II, p.31). The two kings came to terms over the Young King’s widow, Marguerite’s dower, the Vexin, with Henry declaring himself “willing to compensate the Franks for its loss by endowing the young queen with £2750 in money of Anjou to be paid annually in Paris during her life”(Kelly, p.290) They also discussed the fate of Marguerite and Philip’s sister Alais, who had been betrothed to Richard and stayed with the Plantagenets for many years now. Henry promised that if she were not wedded to Richard, she should be married to John.

7 December 1154
Henry the Young King’s father, Henry Fitz Empress crossed in violent storm to England, landing at Sandwich the following day. Henry was staying in Normandy when the news of King Stephen’s death (25 October) reached him. He settled his continental affairs and only then embarked at Barfleur and sailed for the crown of England. He was accompanied by his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine and his two sons, William and Henry, although the latter one still safely hidden in his mother’s womb at the time.

8 December 1174
The treaty of Falaise/Valognes was signed shortly after the last fires of the Great Revolt on the continent were quenched by Henry II. In the aftermath of Alnwick, William I of Scotland, with his legs shackled beneath the belly of his horse,  had been taken to Newcastle, and then sent to Normandy. He had been kept prisoner at Falaise. To gain his release, William had no other choice but accept the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Falaise. The settlement with Henry II proved harsh. William was released on 11 December 1174, having promised to do homage for Scotland to Henry, give his brother David as a hostage and surrender the five main castles of Scotland: Edinburgh, Jedburgh, Roxburgh, Stirling and Berwick. “The Scottish Church was to be subject to the jurisdiction of that of England” and William’s nobles and clergy were to make their personal submissions to Henry. The king of England made it clear that he considered the question of Northumberland definitely closed. The treaty was confirmed on 10 August 1175 at York in a great ceremony. It was then when William and the Young King met again, both of them humiliated and downhearted. The former forced to ‘publicly performed homage and fealty to Henry II explicitly for his kingdom as well as his estates in England’, the latter involuntarily accompanying his father in his travels around England, reduced again to what he must have considered “house arrest”.

8/9 December 1170
A week after his return to England and to Canterbury, Thomas Becket set off for Winchester, by way of London, to pay respects to his one-time ward and new king, Young Henry. Knowing the latter’s love for horses, Thomas ‘brought with him three costly chargers, of wondrous speed, beautiful in form, high-stepping, their delicate flanks rippling as they walked, their housing worked with flowers in various colours, which he intended to give as a gift to his new lord.’ (William fitz Stephen in Meade, p.313-14) Shortly before he set off, Thomas sent Richard of Dover ahead to announce his arrival. When already in Winchester, Richard was met with a cool reception. The fifteen-year-old king’s guardians, officials and courtiers were mostly hostile to the Archbishop and took care to reduce the access to their young lord. Thus the archbishop managed to travel only as far as London when he was halted by a messenger from the Young King. Henry refused to meet his one-time tutor and forbade him to continue the progress. Thomas was to return to Canterbury immediately.

9 December 1165
King Malcolm IV “the Maiden” of Scotland died aged twenty-four and was succeeded by his younger brother William [I]. I have always been curious about the “real” Malcolm, not the “Maiden” one. The beginning of his reign was not a promising one. He was barely twelve when he inherited the throne after his grandfather’s death in 1153. David I left his grandson with the immediately renewed challenges to the ruling dynasty and soon after Malcolm’s coronation the rebellion broke out. In the west and in the heartland of Scotland there were disturbances not quelled until 1156. With peace finally secured at home, young Scottish king, together with his faithful barons and advisors looked anxiously to the south where the dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. In 1154 Henry Plantagenet ascended the throne and became Henry II of England. Ignoring the pledge given to Malcolm’s grandfather, Henry met young Scottish king in May 1157 at Chester and demanded the return of Cumbria and Northumbria- the counties that were to belong to the Kings of Scotland forever- to the English crown. The balance of power had shifted to Henry’s favour so Malcolm had no other choice but to accept the English suzerainty. He did homage as required, was granted the lordship of Huntington, and, in consequence, became Henry’s vassal. In 1159, in answer to Henry’s summons, he gathered the army that had required forty-five vessels to transport across the Channel and embarked for France. On 30 June 1159, in the course of Henry II’s Toulouse campaign, Malcolm, at the time aged nineteen, was knighted by Henry II at Perigueux. Six days earlier, he set off from Poitiers together with his younger brother William, and his Scottish troops to perform a vassal’s military obligations. As he was passing at the head of his impressive army, he must have noticed a four-year-old princeling clinging to his mother’s gown and bidding his father farewell. He must have been well aware of the fact that one day he would have to pay homage to the princeling just ad he had done to the princeling’s father, King Henry of England in 1157. After the campaign of 1159 proved a failure Malcolm, who, with all probability took part in Henry’s expedition against the advice of his leading nobles, returned to Scotland only to face their wrath. They were afraid that he might act against his kingly duties again and tried to seize him at Perth, but Malcolm defeated them and forced to submission. Immediately after he invaded Galloway, defeated its ruler, Fergus and had him made a canon of Holyrood Abbey. You have to agree that there’s no trace of a ‘Maiden’ in the Malcolm mentioned above. His behaviour stands in sharp contrast to the traditional image of David I’s successor as weak and effeminate. He was known for his military prowess and devotion to the ideal of Christian knighthood, although his personal celibacy was a fact.

11 December 1174
William I of Scotland was released from Falaise and allowed to return to his kingdom. See the above-mentioned Treaty of Falaise.

12 December 1212
Henry the Young King’s half-brother, Geoffrey, Archbishop of York died at Notre-Dame-du-Parc near Rouen. Little is known of Young Henry and Geoffrey’s relations save the fact that they stood on the opposite sides in 1173-74. Geoffrey played a prominent part in the suppression of his younger brothers’ Great Revolt in the north and midlands of England. Later, after the Young King’s untimely passing, Geoffrey, already Archbishop of York made a grant for his late brother’s soul. Although he was Henry II’s illegitimate son he stayed loyal to his father till the very end, his unwavering support making the dying Henry II comment that his legitimate sons- young Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John- were the “real bastards”. The old king also expressed a wish that the only son who had remained faithful to him should be either Archbishop of York or Bishop of Winchester, both sees being vacant at the time. Geoffrey inherited a lion’s share of the infamous Angevin temper and, in reality, had no inclination for a profession chosen for him by his father, and later his brother Richard, “…secular office in his father’s service…” having been his true vocation (Geoffrey had been his father’s chancellor). First the bishop-elect of Lincoln later appointed and consecrated Archbishop of York on 18 August 1191, was enthroned on 1 November the same year. As the archbishop, Geoffrey possessing “an impracticable self-will and an ungovernable temper”, became notorious for the quarrels with his canons and chapter. His dispute with his younger brother, King John over taxing church revenues for the royal treasury in 1207 ended up with Geoffrey’s escape and death in exile.

19 December 1154
Henry the Young King’s parents, Henry Fitz Empress and Eleanor of Aquitaine were crowned king and queen of England by Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey. Let me quote Henry of Huntigdon, who describes at length the events following King Stephen’s death: ‘… Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, with many nobles, dispatched messengers in all haste to their now lord the Duke of Normandy, intreating him to come over without delay, and receive the crown of England. Hindered, however, by contrary winds and a stormy sea, as well as other circumstances, it was not till six days before Christmas that, accompanied by his wife and brothers, with a retinue of great nobles and a strong force, he landed in the New Forest. England, therefore, was left for six weeks without a king, but by God’s providence was in perfest tranquility, the love or the fear of the expected king securing it. Upon the landing he [Henry] proceeded to London, and, ascending the throne of England was crowned and consecrated with becoming pomp and splendour, amidst universal rejoicing, which many mingled with tears of joy!’ (p.296-97).  What the chronicler does not mention is the fact that at the time of the coronation Eleanor was expecting her second child by Henry. The princeling would be born seventy-one days later, on 28 February 1155, would be given his father’s name and would go down in history as Henry the Young King.

22 December 1135
Twenty-one days after his uncle, Henry I of England died, Stephen of Blois was crowned and anointed king at Westminster, the act that forced Henry the Young King’s grandmother Matilda to declare war on her cousin in order to win back her rightful inheritance. The war that plunged England into the nineteen years of chaos and bloody struggle known as the Anarchy. This is how Henry of Huntingdon described the event: ‘… in all haste came Stephen, the youngest brother of Theobald count de Blois*, a resolute and audacious man, who disregarding his oath of fealty to King Henry’s daughter, tempted God by seizing the crown of England with the boldness and effrontery belonging to his character…’ (p.252) And in the similar vein, John of Marmoutier in his History of Duke Geoffrey: ‘… Stephen, the count of Mortain, the brother of Theobald II, count of Blois and Champagne, a nephew of the dead king [Henry I], was improperly elevated into the kingship and crowned king in England.’ (p.60)

23 December 1230
Henry the Young King’s sister-in-law, Berengaria of Navarre (born c.1164), queen of Richard I died at L’Epau Abbey near Le Mans and was buried there. She and her brother-in-law had probably never met, for he was long dead when Berengaria married Richard on 12 May 1191 at Limasol, Cyprus.

24 December 1167
Henry the Young King’s youngest brother John [Lackland] was probably born on this day at Oxford, although 27 December, the feast day of St John the Evangelist is also a probable date. The matter of John’s inheritance would later push the Young Henry into fighting over what he considered rightfully his and spark off the Great Revolt of 1173-74

25 December 1172
Ralph of Diceto again:
“On Christmas night, thunder was heard in Ireland and England and in all of France generally,
Sudden and dire, portending something great, new and unusual.” (p. 121) Could the 'great, new, and unusual' mean the Great Revolt that would break out the following spring?

29 December 1159
Before the celebrations of Christmas ended Henry the Young King’s mother, queen Eleanor left Falaise for England. Despite the bad weather she embarked on the royal boat Esnecca taking with her two eldest surviving children, Henry and Matilda.

29 December 1170
Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, one-time friend and chancellor of Henry II and Henry the Young King’s tutor was murdered in his own cathedral. I am going to discuss the circumstances of his death in a separate post on the day of his martyrdom.


The Chronicle of Henry of Huntigdon. Translated and edited by Thomas Forester. Internet Archive of Northeastern University Libraries.
History of Duke Geoffrey by John of Marmoutier in The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Dr Elizabeth Hallam. Greenwich Editions, 2002.
Images of History by Ralph of Diceto in The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Dr Elizabeth Hallam. Greenwich Editions, 2002.
The Annals of Roger de Hoveden Vol.II trans. by Henry T. Riley. Internet Archive of Northeastern University Libraries
The Angevin Empire by John Gillingham. Edward Arnold, 1984.
Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly. Vintage Books, 1950.
Eleanor of Aquitaine by Marion Meade. A Pheonix Press Paperback, 2002.
Archbishop Geoffrey Plantagenet and the Chapter of York by D.L.Douie. St. Anthony’s Press, 1960.
The Kings and Queens of Scotland by Richard Oram. Tempus, 2006.
Thomas Becket by Frank Barlow. Google Books.
Historical Dictionary of the British Monarchy by Kenneth J. Panton. Google Books.


  1. Isn't it interesting about what happened on 1 December in both 1177 and 1319? :) :) I love Ralph's comment about the thunder on Christmas Day! I hadn't realised that Eleanor was very pregnant with Henry when she and Henry II were crowned - fascinating!

  2. So Henry never got those horses? Pity, he should have kicked out his 'advisors' and received Thomas Beckett.

  3. Yes, Kathryn, Henry was definitely there, although incognito:-)

    Gabrielle, I'm afraid that throughout the time Henry grew rather indifferent to his one-time tutor (he stayed in Becket's household for a short period of time in 1162). Upon receiving the news of Thomas's death Henry was to remark: 'What a pity! But Thank God it was kept a secret from me and that no liege-man of mine was involved in it!' A little bit insensitive, I have to admit.

  4. Thomas probably was a man difficult to like, judging by the amount of enemies he made. It's still a pity Young Henry and Thomas grew so distanced, though.

  5. I do agree, Thomas must have been difficult to like, especially after becoming the archbishop. While still Henry II's chancellor he had been a perfect courtier and royal official with taste for splendour and grandeur, usually outshining his king, who, as you know, cared not a bit for expensive robes and the ceremonials of kingship (for which I love him so :-)).
    The splendor of Becket's household must have made a profound impression upon the Young Henry. His later displays of largesse and his own splendid household may have been a consequence of his stay in Becket’s tutelage. Although his maternal ancestors and their rich inheritance, and Eleanor herself must have been partly responsible as well :-)


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