More Henry... Funny, Obscure, Hard to Believe. A Few Facts About Henry the Young King. Part II

I have decided to pluck from obscurity a few more interesting facts about the Young King. Enjoy the reading as much as I enjoyed the writing!

- Henry was first and foremost the champion and patron of the tournaments. And, although his own father, the king* and most of the contemporary chroniclers were unanimous in finding it his greatest sin, he won his fame rushing all over France and participating in virtually all possible meetings. As Professor Crouch underlines “… the career of Henry, the eldest son of King Henry II of England, cannot be understood unless you fully appreciate how he made the international tournament circuit his very own… [because] the tournament was not just an expensive amusement. Everyone who was anyone in the western aristocracies took to the fields of northern France…” (Tournament, p.21)

- Thanks to the History of William Marshal we know that in 1179 at the great tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne “there were fifteen flying their banners... and at least two hundred and more... who lived off the purse of the young King and were knights of his”. And as we read, he provided for them generously: “whoever raised his banner in the company of the young King, whoever was under his command, received twenty shillings a day for each man he had with him from the moment they left their own lands, whether they were on the move or in lodgings.” The author of the History wonders where all this wealth came from, drawing the following conclusion: “ can only say that God shared out to him the wealth placed at his disposal.” We know that the God was actually Henry's father, who provided for him from his own purse, but since Henry was William Marshal's liege lord, the author of the History keeps silent about the actual situation.

- Despite being the epitome of youth and generosity- or perhaps because of it- Henry was a perennial debtor**. Totally without resources, either in money or in land, depending entirely on Henry II's purse, not only did he pay staggering sums to keep his large retinue, “feeding them, arming them, providing them with horses, with gifts, with prizes” (Laura Ashe, “William Marshal. Lancelot and Arthur: Chivalry and Kingship”), but also have a taste for a lavish lifestyle. Here's what the author of The History of William Marshal says about Henry and his financial problems: 'It is true that the Young King, in castle and in town, led such a lavish life that, when it came to the end of his stay, creditors would appear, men who had supplied him with horses, garments, and victuals. This man is owed three pounds; this one a hundred and that one two hundred'... 'My lord has no cash with him, but you shall have it within a month'. Within a month probably meant 'when my lord king, the father will send the money'. For the time being there was no other option, but to flee the town or castle early in the morning before the creditors arrive.

- Henry the Young King certainly had a flair for romance, probably inherited from his (in)famous great-grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine (1071-1126). For what better way to trigger a rebellion than to escape from your father's castle under cover of night? This is exactly what the Young King did on 5 March 1173. Shortly before daybreak he got the castle guards at Chinon drunk, slipped past them and fled to his father-in-law's court. To learn the details click here.

- According to Robert of Torigni in 1171, when the young Henry held his first Christmas court in Normandy [at Bur-le-Roi], he came up with a brilliant idea to dismiss all those not named ‘William’ from one of the feasts, which still left him with 110 knights and barons, William being the commonest Norman name at the time (I can imagine Henry calling: “Non-Williams, out!”). Professor Crouch places the event in 1172 “one day in Normandy” (William Marshal, p.38)

- Like his father and brothers, Henry the Young King was an avid falconer. We do not know the names of his favourite birds- like in the case of Wiscard, the prize falcon of his father, or Gibbun, the pet gyrfalcon of his youngest brother, John, or Refuse and Blakeman, the gyrfalcons of John's son, Henry III- but we do know that in 1170-71 he had eight mews built for his birds at Salisbury Castle, meaning his own falconry establishment. When he crossed from England to the Continent, his hawks and falcons would follow, under the solocitous care of their keepers. In June 1181, for instance, when his father returned to England and the Young King himself stayed in France, the former sent sparrowhawks to him.

- On his deathbed Henry performed the impressive penance. Shortly before contracting bloody flux, he had not only betrayed his father, but also pillaged the most sacred shrines in Western France *** in order to pay off his mercenaries. He must have believed his illness to be a divine punishment, for he sought rescue in all possible ways of repentance. He prostrated himself naked on the floor, and before the crucifix confessed his sins. Then 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!’ Then, according to his wishes, he was 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. He committed his crusader’s cloak to William Marshal, asking him to take it to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which Marshal later did. He also sent word to his father, begging him to come so that he could ask his forgiveness, but the king, suspecting another trap****, refused, sending a letter and a sapphire ring as a token of his good will. The Young King dictated a reply asking, in the words of the twenty-fifth Psalm do not remember the sins and offences of my youth, but remember me in thy unfailing love’.Then he kissed the ring and, furnished with the viaticum of the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord, he died.

- Because of the afore-mentioned penance, there were voices opting for Henry's canonization. One Thomas de Agnellis, in his sermon, claimed that, on its way from Martel to Rouen, the late king’s body became the focus for many miracles. The rumors of Henry’s sainthood began to circulate. The monasteries pillaged by him shortly before his death suddenly forgotten, it was the impressive repentance that mattered now. Impressive repentance and a leprous man, and a woman suffering from hemorrhages miraculously cured by touching the bier, the lights in the sky above the monastery of St-Savin on an overnight stop, and one more “display of celestial pyrotechnics” four miles before the city of Le Mans, where “ a light was seen in the sky in the shape of a cross, and a beam of light shone down upon the bier”. At Sées, the royal body cured two children, one suffering from dropsy, the other blind from birth and not able to move his arms and legs. The miracles highly similar, if not identical to those performed by Christ himself. On reaching the capital of Normandy, the body went through careful examination, which showed that after forty days of wandering in the sweltering heat of French summer, it stayed incorrupt. One more effectual proof of young Henry’s sanctity. Unfortunately, or quite fortunately, Thomas de Agnellis’s ‘Sermo de morte et sepultura Henrici Regis Junioris’ was ignored and did not help Henry the Young King become St Henry the Young King.

* Henry II banned the tournaments in England

** Partially his father's fault, for the elder Henry repeatedly refused to pass any territory to his eldest son, crowned and anointed king, so that the latter could rule independantly and provide for himself from his own resources.

*** These were: St Martial near Limoges, Grandmont and St Amadour at Rocamadour)

**** Earlier in the spring he narrowly escaped death while trying to negotiate with his sons)


  1. Can't imagine any of Henry II's sons being canonised! Reading of his penance, sounds quite poignant, especially as he was so ill.

  2. St Henry the Young King?! Yikes!!! ;o)

  3. But sounds great, you have to agree, Both of you :-)

  4. I too find the scene unbearably poignant, not to say heart-breaking, Anerje. Disregarding the fact that Ms Penman is a Yorksist, you may try to read her Angevin trilogy, especially Devil's Brood. Her Young King is a perfect creation, with all his charm and whimsical nature, generosity and air of charisma, and weak political judgement :-) You would love him.

    1. Based on the above should I assume you're a Lancastrian? ;o)

      And I second the vote of confidence on Penman's version of the Young King! Definitely a wonder to behold! :o)

    2. Polish thinking, writing in English :-). Now, as I'm reading my comment it may sound as if I were, but no! I'm a Yorksist at heart. But we, I mean my friend Anerje (who is a Lancastrian) and I, get on well together, which is great! And I highly value our Internet friendship :-)

  5. Kasia, there are so many books I want to read - it's just finding the time. Another one to add to my list. And yes, I value our internet friendship as well :)

  6. I love this blog entry.....some of it very amusing. Can't you just see Henry getting the guards drunk so he can escape. Cheeky fellow! He must have been great fun to be around & it would have been hard to resist such a magnetic personality (unless you were Henry II). His death scene in DB is heart-wrenching....."the golden boy more beautiful than a fallen angel, able to ensnare hearts with such dangerous ease" says it all. And until I read Tournament, I had no idea of the importance of the circuit. Somehow I can't picture myself imploring St Henry the Young King to intercede for me.

  7. That would be Joan above.

  8. Joan, I knew the author of the comment from the very first sentence :-) I too couldn't pray to St Henry the Young King :-)

    I didn't realize the cultural value of the tournament either. Fortunately, thanks to Professor Crouch's impressive work the new facts about this important 12th- century social phenomenon have come to light.


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