‘By the Example of the Undutiful Absalom’. 5 March 1173
King Henry the king’s son, following wicked advice, turned away from his father; and leaving Argentan* by night, the servants of his father who looked after his needs knowing nothing about it, he went on 23 March via Mortagne, a castle of Theobald count of Perche, to his father-in-law, King Louis of France. That same night his father sleeping at
was woken and told of his son’s flight. (Diceto, Images
of History) Alencon
Under the Angevin Kings by Kate Norgate. Google Books. England
On 5 March 1173 (Eyton, Itinerary, p.171)** Henry the Young King, under cover of the dark (with all probability before daybreak), slipped past the castle guards and escaped from Chinon, where, on his father’s order, he was held- there is no other way to put it- under house arrest. Via Alencon (6 March), Argentan (7 March) and Mortagne (8 March) he went to seek help and support at his father-in-law’s court (then at Chartres), the action which marked the beginning of the Great Revolt of 1173-74, although ‘nearly three months passed before war actually broke out.’ (Norgate, p.136).
What we can see above is the image of Absalom, King David’s son, who leaves his father’s court to plot against him. ‘Absalom’ is the name which many chroniclers chose to use when describing Henry the Young King and his rebellion(s) against his father***. As it may seem, the comparison even more suiting when we take into account the Young King’s proverbial charm and good looks: ‘In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him’(2 Samuel 14:25). We all know how David’s undutiful son ended up. Young Henry was more lucky. He, at least, managed to survive. But it is all still ahead. Meanwhile let us focus on the events that pushed the Young Henry into taking up such a desperate step.
Some time before he quarreled with his father over his status of the co-king of
. He had been crowned king
in 1170, becoming also co-duke of England Normandy and
co-count of Anjou and , all empty titles as time was to show.
When his father kept refusing to share power and responsibility with his eldest
son, the youth kept growing restless and impatient. Maine
‘… When the Prince grew up to the age of manhood, he was impatient to obtain, with the oaths and name, the reality of the oath and name, and at least to reign jointly with his father; though he ought of right to rule alone, for, having been crowned, the reign of his father had, as it were, expired- at least it was so whispered to him by certain persons…’ (
The Young Henry asked for a territory in
Normandy, or Anjou, or where he could live
with his wife, Marguerite and rule independently. He was yet again refused. What
became the proverbial last straw, though happened in the opening months of
1173. Henry the Young King had been summoned to Maine by his father to take part in the
meeting with Humbert, Count of Maurienne at Montferrand-le-Fort on 2 February.
The conference had been held to discuss the marriage of Prince John, Henry the
Young King youngest brother and Humbert’s daughter, Alais. The Count had asked
about John’s share in Henry II’s domains. The King suggested the three castles:
Chinon, Mirebeau and Loudun as John’s dower, all situated in Auvergne , a county assigned to his eldest son.
Despite Henry the Young King’s loud protests and refusal to accept the terms
introduced by his father, the settlement had been reached. ‘… and from this
time it was that the king, the son, had been seeking pretexts and an
opportunity for withdrawing from his father. And he had now so entirely
revolted in feeling from obeying his wishes that he could not even converse
with him on any subject in a peaceable manner.’ (Howden, the Annals, Vol I,
To add injury to insult, according to Robert of Torigni the old king had dismissed several of the Young King’s intimates who seemed to be exerting a bad influence on him. In consequence, Hasculf de St Hilary and other young knights were forced to leave the Young King’s court (Norgate). In the aftermath of the events described above, young Henry’s situation had even worsened. He had been held under what we call today house arrest****. No wonder that the young man had used the first opportunity to escape and seek refuge at Louis VII's court, then at
He had been followed by his two younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey and
backed up by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Louis VII of France, William I
of Chartres Scotland, Counts of Flanders,
Boulogne and Blois,
as well as rebels in Poitou, Normandy
all became his allies. England
Diceto mentioned that the Young King was following wicked advice. The chronicler placed guilt with Hugh of Saint-Maur and Ralph de Foyes, uncle of Queen Eleanor. According to him while Henry II was away in
(1171-72) the aforesaid nobles, on Queen Eleanor’s advice ‘began to turn away from
his father the mind of the Young King, suggesting that it seemed incongruous to
be a king and not exercise the rule of the kingdom’. Ireland
Roger of Howden thought the guilt lied with ‘the king of
those of the earls and barons of England
who disliked his [Henry’s] father’. He mentioned the Young King’s visit to his
father-in-law’s court in the autumn of 1172 during which Louis advised his
son-in-law to demand a share of his father’s dominions. Not that he spared the
Young King himself. On the contrary, his was a harsh judgment: ‘Thus did the
king’s son lose both his feelings and his senses; he repulsed the innocent, persecuted
his father, usurped authority, seized upon a kingdom; he alone was the guilty
one, and yet a whole army conspired against his father, “so does the madness of
one mad make many mad”. Normandy
William of Newburgh put it briefly: ‘…and being thus encouraged and instigated against his father by the virulent exhortations of the French, he was not terrified from violating the great law of nature by the example of the undutiful Absalom’. And like Absalom he was defeated.
Henry’s escape from Chinon triggered a rebellion, but as it turned out too soon. The conspirators, lacking centralized commandership, were ill prepared and not ready to conduct a full-scale invasion. As time was to prove, Henry II emerged victorious against the formidable coalition with his wife imprisoned, his sons humiliated and his enemies all brought down to their knees.
Written by Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik
Written by Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik
* Here Diceto is wrong, both about the sites and the dates.
** 5 March was Henry II’s birthday.
As for Henry’s escape, the chronology of the events is in great confusion, Gesta Henrici and Ralph of Diceto both give different dates. Eyton follows J. Brompton and Bendictus Abbas.
*** Richard Barber entitled the whole chapter of his biography of Henry II Absalom. It is devoted, as you are right to guess to… Henry the Young King.
**** Eyton in his Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II discusses at length what happened in the closing days of February 1173. After Raymond V of Tolouse did homage to all three: Henry II, Henry the Young King and Richard at a court held at
on 25 February, he ‘coincidently revealed to King Henry that the Queen and Princes were forming a plot against him.’
(Eyton, p.171) Henry with a small escort took the young Henry with him to Limoges (under pretence
of a hunting-party, according to Geoffrey of Vigeois). Normandy
Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II by Robert William Eyton, 1878. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/courthouseholdit00eyto
Images of History by Ralph of Diceto in The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Dr Elizabeth Hallam.
Edition, 2002. Greenwich
The Annals of Roger of Howden.
Trans. by Henry T. Riley.
Internet Archive of Northeastern University Libraries Vol I.
The History of William of
. Internet Medieval Source Book, Newburgh . Fordham University
Henry II by W. L. Warren. Google Books.
The Angevin Empire by John Gillingham. Edward Arnold, 1984.
Henry Plantagenet by Richard Barber. The Boydell Press, 2001.