Henry, king of
died in the year of our lord England 1189, inthe month of July, on the sixth day of the month, within the octave of the Apostles Peter and Paul, in the nineteenth lunation, on the fifth day of the week, at Chinon. He was buried at Fontevrault in the abbey of the nuns who served God there. The day after his death, when he was borne to burial, he lay in state robed in royal splendour, wearing a gold crown on his head, gauntlets on his hands and a gold ring on his finger, holding the sceptre in his hand, with gold-braided shoes and spurs on his feet, girded with his sword, and his face uncovered.
From The Deeds of King Henry II in The Plantagenet Chronicles, ed. Dr.Elizabeth Hallam
Greenwich Edition, 2002, p.192
Henry the Young King’s father died in the midst of the war campaign against his elder surviving son, Richard. He was fifty-six at the time, the ruler of the greatest empire since Charlemagne, stretching from the Scottish border to the
his administrative skills, personal charisma, sense of humour and symptoms of ADHD,
he was one of the greatest medieval kings. And although his relations with his
sons were often-to put it gently- strained, my personal conviction is that they
too must have grudgingly admitted that he was an exceptional man (if not a
father). I am not going to dwell on Henry the king
today- this I leave to my friend Richard, who wrote a brilliant biographical note
on his blog- but rather focus on Henry the man. Let me quote my favourite
anecdote about Henry II which comes from Adam of Eynsham’s life of St Hugh of , who, in 1177,
was chosen by the king to be prior of his newly founded monastery at Witham.
Hugh was known for his ability to cope with his sovereign’s famous rages. As
bishop of Lincoln
he himself aroused Henry’s anger by excommunicating the king’s chief forester.
Here let me quote Adam: Lincoln
When the behaviour of the new bishop of
property at court, many people did their best to fan the already strong
indignation of the king against Hugh by poisoned words… In spite of his great
anger, the king behaved with restraint. He sent a summons to the bishop, and
when he knew that he was about to arrive, mounted his horse, and withdrew with
all his nobles, who were there in considerable numbers, to the neighbouring
He sat down in a pleasant spot and the earls and other barons formed a circle round him. These he commanded not to rise or great the bishop when he arrived. To make a long story short, they bishop came and greeted the king and the company, but no one returned the greeting. When he saw them sitting there silent and indifferent, he came up and put his hand lightly on the shoulder of the earl who was sitting next to the king, and made him give him his seat by the king. A heave silence ensued, and all of them waited for a long time.
Finally, the king raised his head and ordered one of the attendants to give him a needle and thread. Having received it, he began himself to put stitches into a bandage wound round an injured finger on his left hand. There was silence, whilst he did this for some time to avoid the embarrassment of doing nothing. Angry people are accustomed to behave in this way, since their rage had rendered them speechless and they cannot give vent to it. The bishop looked on and realized that this display of anger was for his benefit. He contemplated this conflict of human passions as t5hough from some lofty watchtower of inward reason. At last he turned to the king and said, ‘How you resemble your cousins at Falaise.’ This shaft, said lightly and in a low tone, pierced the king to the heart. He pressed his fingers together, and, dissolved in helpless laughter, rolled on the ground. For a long time he could not restrain his merriment. The people present who understood the gibe were absolutely amazed that a man in Hugh’s position had dared to make fun of so mighty a king at such a moment. They were not, however, able from refrain from smiling, and waited in suspense to hear the king’s reply. Most of them, however, not understanding the meaning of what Hugh had said, were absolutely at a loss to account for the king’s sudden change of attitude.
At last, the king became aware of their confusion and spoke thus ‘You cannot understand the way this barbarian has insulted us, so I will explain. The mother of our great-grandfather William, the Conqueror of this land, is reputed to have been of humble birth,a nd to have come from the important Norman town of
, which is celebrated for its
leatherwork. This giber saw me sewing my finger, and so complimented me on my
resemblance to my cousins at Falaise.’ Falaise
‘Now, tell me’, he said to the bishop, ‘my good friend, why without informing me have you thought fit to excommunicate my chief forester….’
From The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Elizabeth Hallam, pp.157-58