Henry and Richard. "Two Princes Born Of The Same King, So Noble, And Yet So Different"

Between Poitiers and I'Ile Bouchard and Mirebeau and Loundun and Chinon someone has dared to build a fair castle at Clairvaux, in the midst of the plain. I should not wish the young King to know about it or see, for he would not find it to his liking; but I fear, so white is the stone, that he cannot fail to see it from Mathefelon.

Thus wrote Bertran de Born in 1182, the year preceeding the Young King's untimely death, and although geographically he might have been wrong, he was right that someone did dare to build a castle at Clairvaux in the lands nominally belonging to Henry the Young King. That "someone" was Henry's younger brother Richard, the then duke of Aquitaine. Quite opposite to what Bertran said, Richard's transgression must have been much to Henry's liking and the troubadour knew about it when composing the lines. At the time the brothers went beyond the point where amends could be made and rifts mended, but was it always so? Did they always resent each other? Are historians right, saying that Henry envied Richard and Richard despised Henry in return? In search for answers, I have tried to "dig" as deep as possible to take a closer look at what can be considered the pivotal moments in the brothers' story.

As we all know, Henry and Richard, about whom Gerald of Wales wrote that 'neither the present age, nor any former times, have seen two princes born of the same king, so noble, and yet so different' and 'different as were the habits and pursuits of the two brothers, sprung from the same stock and the same root, each has merited everlasting glory and endless fame', were the oldest surviving sons of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Unfortunately, due to gaps in the historical records, not much can be said about their earliest years. Henry was born on 28 February 1155 and Richard on 8 September 1157, meaning there was a two and a half year age gap between them. We know the name of Henry's first tutor, one Master Mainard and Richard's wetnurse, the famous Hodierna. Initially - and this can be judged by the patchy records - they both spent more time with their mother, although it was not what we understand by modern-day early upbringing. Doing what was expected of her, namely performing duties in the name of her absent husband, Eleanor did not spend most of her time with her children in a nursery. Due to his prolonged absences his children must have seen Henry II as a distant figure. When his eldest son,William, a few months shy of his third birthday, died in the spring of 1156, Henry was on the Continent. Four years later he was still so busy securing his domains there that Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury felt obliged to remind him of his young sons and daughter*. In a letter he urged the king to return, saying that 'even the most hard-hearted father could hardly bear to have them out of his sight for long'.


'King Henry, a most virtuous, generous and handsome youth, who retained for himself any number of virtuous knights from everywhere as household knights ...' vs. 'Richard, a most fierce knight, to whom his father (while still living) gave the duchy of Aquitaine for his possession". This is how Henry and Richard were described by Gilbert of Mons, the chancellor of Hainault who completed his Chronicle between 1195 - 1196, meaning that he was writing with the benefit of hindsight, but still who might have captured the essential difference between the two eldest surviving sons of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Historians tend to emphasize Henry the Young King's intense jealousy of Richard's martial skills and the fact that the latter could prove himself in a real war, whereas the former had only his "mock battles" to fight. Why should they think so? After all the brothers must have received the same formal education, which in case of royal and noble sons meant first and foremost learning how to ride a horse skillfully (this as soon as they could walk), how to ride with shield and lance and generally art of fighting on horseback. Recreation meant running, fencing, wrestling and throwing the javelin. In all this, if we are to believe Gerald of Wales, Henry was as accomplished as his younger brother. 'In arms he was like the thunderbolt winged by lightning, the only hope or fear of all. (...) When in arms and engaged in war, no sooner was the helmet on his head than he assumed a lofty air, and became impetuous, bold, and fiercer than any wild beast. His triumphs were often gained more by his valor than by fortune...' If we are to believe Gerald, both Henry and Richard were tall in stature and of commanding aspect and 'in courage and magnanimity they were nearly equal' **

If truth be told, Henry's "mock" battles were in fact dangerous encounters, fought "for real", in which the need to present their skills often got the better of the knights and their common sense (they did receive serious injuries or even got killed). And just like Richard,  Henry's "only desire, and the summit of his wishes" was 'to have the means and opportunity of employing his great velour, so that his martial genius might be fully displayed.' For where else could Henry prove himself if not on the tournament circuit, where the knights 'engage seriously in war games and occupy themselves in the image of war, in order to become more adept in military conflict" A young, vigorous man with no opportunity to spend his boundless energy elsewhere - especially if his father refused to share lands and power with him - via tournament could find a way to make a mark on the world he lived in. The only thing Henry could envy Richard then was the more independence the latter enjoyed in ruling his landsOf course Henry could not boast of deeds similar to those performed by his younger brother, who, already at the age of eighteen led a successful campaign against his rebellious vassals, pacifying larger part of his unruly duchy, and forcing the Basques and Navarrese to recognize his authority. This, however, does not mean that he was less skilled a warrior or an idle young man. As most of the young aristocrats of the 12th century, he believed that participating in tournaments made him a "man of account”. When he was forced to spend a year in England at his father's side, learning the bisuness of kingship, he did not try to hide his discontent. He was to say:

"It should be a source of much harm to me to stay idle for so long, and I am extremely vexed by it. I am no bird to be mewed up; a young man who does not travel around could never aspire to any worthwhile thing, and he should be regarded as of no account

Note what the Young King takes for "idle”. Perhaps it's the matter of views and attitude of the entire generation of the young aristocracy. As Professor Crouch points out: "Everyone who was anyone in the western aritocracies took to the fields of nothern France... It [taking part in tournaments] gave him [Henry] an international eminence unsurpassed by any European prince other than his cousin, Philip of Flanders. It was an eminence raised upon the regard of other princes and the adoration of the leaders of knightly opinion: those who travelled the tournament fields of Picardy and Flanders” (Tournament, p.23)

No, if there was any thing that Henry was to envy Richard, it could only be the afore mentioned greater independence. I think that John Gillingham comes very close to the truth, saying that: 'As the one who might one day step into his father's shoes he [Henry] was also the one who stood most in his father's shadow, Richard had Aquitaine; Geoffrey had Brittany; but it was the Old King, not the young one, who held Anjou, England and Normandy. Though in time Henry would succeed to a far greater inheritance than either brother, he did not posses the patience to wait' (pp. 88-89) and Ralph Turner in his biography of Henry's mother points out that the stormy relationship between Henry the Young King and his father is 'the classic example of reltions between medieval aristocratic fathers and their heirs. Among the noblility, an heir could not achieve full adult status or assume governing responsibilities as long as his father held onto the family lands; he was condemned to remain a "youth" for years past adolescence..." (p.206)

Now, let me take a closer look at what I consider the pivotal moments in Henry/Richard story...

The Great Revolt of 1173-74

I am not going to dwell on the war and discuss its phases step by step, just restrict myself to mentioning the facts being of crucial importance in my Henry/Richard search. In the revolt both Henry, aged 18, and Richard, aged 16 (not to mention Geoffrey, aged 15) were but the background figures overshadowed by Louis VII of France and Philip of Flanders, even if Henry had indeed triggered the war. The first phase of fighting which lasted from April to September 1173 ended with the conference at Gisors where the three princes met their father. The latter always willing to share money but no real power offered terms accordingly. His proposal was rejected and the fight continued. Some time in November the princes' mother, Queen Eleanor, disguised in male clothes, tried to make way from her domains to join her sons, but was caught (betrayed perhaps) and since then held captive. What did her sons do upon learning about her predicament? Their actions might well have been the cause of the later rift between them. Richard, who some time in the course of the war had been knighted by Louis VII and now considered himself a man full grown, left for Aquitaine to take charge over the rebel forces. In the meantime, the two sides of the conflict who at this point wanted to come to terms, could not come to an agreement because of him and the fact he was 'at this time in Poitou, besieging the castles and subjects of his father. In consequence of this, they again held another conference between them, upon the festival of St Michael, between Tours and Amboise, on which occasion they agreed to a truce on theses terms: that the said Richard, earl of Poitou, should be excluded from all benefit of the truce and that the king of France and the king of England , the son should give him no succour whatever. Upon these arrangements being made on either side, the king of England, the father, moved on his army into Poitou; on which Richard, earl of Poitou, his son, not daring to await his approach, fled from place to place. When he afterwards came to understand that the king of France and the king, his brother, had excluded him form the benefit of the truce, he was greately indignant thereat. (Howden, p.389). Just to look at the events from Richard's perspective, he had good reason to feel betrayed and perhaps despise his elder brother who, as Richard must have seen it, gave up their cause so easily and readily.

June 1176, Aquitaine

Perhaps not quite pivotal but much telling events occurred in Aquitaine in the spring of 1176, where Richard, now aged 19, was busy supressing the rebellion of some of his barons, Vulgrin of Angouleme and Aimar of Limoges, to name but the leading ones. After defeating Vulgrin's forces at the battle between St Maigrin and Bouteville, Richard met his elder brother Henry at Poitiers, where they held a council with the barons of Poitou together. Afterwards they marched to Angouleme and laid siege to Neuchatel, which they managed to take. "After its capture - Roger of Howden reports - the king, his [Richard's] brother was unwilling to prolong his stay with him [Richard], but listening to bad advice, took his departure". As a note - the chronicler's words seem somehow unclear to me - either he was unwilling or he listened to bad advice, for the two put together as in Howden's version, are more than mutually exclusive. In my view, J. Gillingham was right to observe that at the time Henry was a reluctant ally. Let us not forget that not two years passed since his "great'' revolt was effectively suppressed by his father and he had no other choice but to accompany his sire on his business trips across England. Before doing his father's bidding and coming to Richard's aid, he had been refused to take the Compostella road and he must have constantly felt his father's watchful eyes on his back wherever he went. And now he saw with his own eyes how much freedom Richard had in ruling his inheritance and dealing with his unruly barons, and how he could make decisions of his own. Roger Howden's account of the events described above may not only give some idea about Henry/Richard relationship at the time, but also of how sour the relationship between Henry and his father had gone by the summer of 1176 - and his description of what followed Henry's departure seems to confirm what I said. Shortly after leaving Richard behind for reasons unspecified, Henry found himself back in Poitiers, when he learned that his vice-chancellor Adam of Churchdown, the clerk of Geoffrey of Beverly, his chancellor, was reporting to Henry II on him (Adam considered Henry II his true lord). In this particular case, had he ever witnessed the events that followed, Gerald of Wales who lauded Henry's clemency, might have been really surprised at what Henry did. At first he intended to sentence Adam to death (!) and the vice-chancellor was tried for his life. It was only thanks to the intervention of bishop John of Poitiers that he was saved, although he did not avoid punishment. If we are to believe Howden, Henry caused Adam 'to be beaten with sticks, charging him with having disclosed his secret counsles to the king, his father; and after being thus beaten, he had him led naked through the streets of the city of Poitiers, while being still whipped, proclamation was made by the voice of the herald: "Thus does he deserve to be disgraced who revelas the secrets of his master". Whether Adam deserved the punishment or not is a matter of interpretation (Hodwen does not seem to condemn Henry's actions), but what I find most reveling about the whole incident is the fact that it reflects Henry's mood in the summer of 1176. His reaction tells us how wide the rift with his father still was and how difficult it would be to patch the things up in the future.

Claiming - as John Gillingham does - that Henry, unlike Richard, never had much stomach for serious campaigning is too much a generalisation - Ralph of Diceto states clearly that Henry did well in the 1181 campaign when he was dispatched to aid the young Philippe II of France, his brother-in-law, in the conflict with Philip of Flanders - Philippe was only 16 at the time, so it was his brother-in-law Henry the Young King who was commander-in -chief. If we are to believe the chronicler's words, he and the young Philippe leading the joint forces "inflicted severe losses on the Duke of Burgundy, the countess of Champagne, sister to both kings, and their accomplices, whose forces they again outnumbered". They forced the count to retreat. At this point we get a precious little nugget of information from the author: "The count feared to meet King Henry, son of the king of England, face to face and shut himself up in the castle of Crepy". Did Philip fear his opponent only because the latter outnumbered him or perhaps it was because they were close friends and companions on the tournament circuits? From Philip's perspective it must have been extremely difficult to meet his young relative and friend face to face. Perhaps sometimes Henry's personal charm and charisma prove to be more formidable weapon than Richard's ruthlesness, military skills and political acumen. 

The 1183 conflict

Author of The History of William Marshal gives us the description of what happened in the opening months of 1183: 'It so turned out that at Lent following, the three brothers quarreled and at that time the young King left his father in anger, as did his brother, Count Geoffrey, the lord of Brittany, for they were vexed and troubled by their brother, the Count of Poitiers, who, with the backing of their father, was making so bold as to wage war on the highest men in the land and treat them unjustly'. Yet one more time, just as in 1173, it was Henry II who triggered the war, which turned disastrous for the Young King who met his untimely end in the course of it. Had he given one of the three principalities (either England, or Normandy, or Anjou) to his eldest son, the latter would have no reason to accept the invitation to cooperation by Richard's barons. As we know the disgruntled Poitevan barons approached and “complained to the young King, and preferred to be on his side rather than that of that harsh master their liege lord, for they had done homage to him and they said that not for a moment longer would they remain bound to Count Richard of Poitiers, for he was doing them harm with full intent.” (The History of William Marshal). Henry's plotting was revealed shortly after Christmas 1182, when the court moved south from Caen. Henry II wanted both Richard and Geoffrey to do homage to their elder brother, which the latter did readily at Le Mans, but Richard refused. When he was finally persuaded by their father to agree and wanted to do the said homage, this time the young Henry refused to accept it. With his hands on the Holy Gospels he swore to maintain his fealty to his father, and always show him due honour and obedience. And revealed that, because Richard fortified the castle at Clairvoux, which was a part of his inheritance, he himself "entered into a compact with the barons of Aquiataine against his brother". Historians' interpretation is that he used Clairvaux as the pretext and justification for his actions. What they tend to ignore and disregard is the fact that if we were to look at it from purely political perspective, it was an imaginative scheme, and Henry was acting as politician at last, even if later, as time was to show, his indecesiveness took better of him and quite obviously he let himself be tormented by doubts and pangs of conscience. As it seems they concerned mostly his father rather than his younger brother, for as we know Henry II chose to support Richard against Henry and Geoffrey. But this needs to be stressed: in the conflict of 1183 Henry the Young King's motives were political not personal. It all became personal only when their father stepped in and appeared before the walls of Limoges. As for Richard, his inability to cope with the 1183 crisis was said to be the reason for Henry II's later doubts about appointing him his heir. 

Unfortunately, we can only speculate what might have happened had Henry the Young King survived the 1183 campaign. We can also say after Gerald of Wales:

O ye gods, if these illustrious brothers had been united by the ties of fraternal love, and had regarded their father with filial affection, if they had been bound together by the twofold cords of good-will and of nature, how great, how inestimable, how splendid and incomparable in the present age, would have been the glory of the father, and the triumphs of the sons? How worthy would have been their history, worthy of the genius of a Maro, to be given to memory? (...) To what a magnitude, and height, and strength the tree would have grown, if the branches had been naturally knit together, and had drawn their sap from the roots, is manifest from the premature decay and heavy fall of what was so precious.

* In 1160 these were Henry (b. 28 February 1155). Matilda (b. June 1156), Richard (b. 8 September 1157) and Geoffrey (b. 23 September 1158).

** Gerlad of Wales on differences between Henry and Richard:
They were both tall in stature, rather above the middle size, and of commanding aspect. In courage and magnanimity they were nearly equal; but in the character of their virtues there was a great disparity. One was admirable for gentleness and liberality, the other distinguished himself by his severity and firmness. The one had a commendable suavity, the other gravity. One was commended for his easy temper, the other for his determined spirit. One was remarkable for his clemency, the other for his justice. The vile and undeserving found their refuge in the one, their punishment from the other. One was the shield of bad men, the other the hammer to crush them. The one was bent on martial sports, the other on serious conflicts. The one bestowed his favours on foreigners, the other on his own people; the one on all the world, the other on the worthy only. The one's ambition magnanimously compassed the world; the other coveted, to good purpose, what was rightfully his own. 

Written by Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik


Gerald of Wales, The Topography of Ireland. Translated by Thomas Forester. Revised and edited by Thomas Wright
Ralph of Diceto, Images of History in The Plantagenet Chronicles. Edited by Elizabeth Hallam

Gilbert of Mons, Chronicle of Hainaut. Translated by Laura Napran

The Annals of Roger de Hoveden. Translated by Henry T. Riley

The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born. Edited by William D. Paden, Tilde Sankovitch and Patricia H. Stablein

Gillingham, John. Richard the Lionheart. London, 1978

Crouch, David. Tournament. London and New York, 2005

Turner, Ralph. Eleanor of Aquitaine. New Haven and London, 2011.


  1. Kasia, I always enjoy your spirited presentations in defense of Young Henry the rightful King of the first English empire. There are some very fine quotes in your essay. The stature of Young Henry and his conflict with his all-contolling father are epic. Henri Deux had zero sense of family ties as you cite in Gerald of Wales final appraisal. The diminishing of the future king with his fine French wife Marguerite was the act of a Midas. The incredible animosity and control of the father and the incarceration of the well-traveled mother assured that the necessary transfer of power to a family empire would never be achieved. Thank you for your worthy post.

    1. Thank you, Mark. I tried to use mainly primary sources. As for Henry II, I am not sure if "animosity" is the right word to describe his attitude towards his eldest son and heir. I'd rather say too high ezpectations and demands, and aiming at perfection - the higher expectations of the father the more incapable the young king must have seemed and always not ready enough to begin independent rule (even if it was to mean ruling but one of the principalities).

  2. Brilliant post, dear Kasia. Some very worthy points made. Shared on facebook. Have a lovely weekend. xx :)

    1. Thank you, dear Marsha :) I just thought I would share some of my thoughts on the two brothers.

  3. Hi Kasia, I've been really looking forward to this post. I've read it twice and will print it off to read again - I really like to 'digest' a good post. I agree with you that the only thing the Young King envied his brother for was his independence in ruling Aqutaine. He had nothing else to envy him for. He was the eldest brother and heir. As such, his father would want to protect him and not let him fight in unnecessary wars. Until I read the bio on William Marshal last year I had no idea of the extent of the violence of the tournaments the young King was so fond of - so he certainly wasn't cosset away. It would have made more sense for Henry II to let his son rule some of his lands - be it Anjou , Normandy or England. It would have prepared him for his role. How about starting the Young King off with Wales? It's often portrayed in fiction how Richard was his mother's favourite. How much truth is there in that? And would this have caused any jealousy? Obviously, Eleanor 's main concern was ensuring the survival of Aqutaine- so she sought to guide Richard, and this maybe has been interpreted as favouritism?

    1. Richard being Eleanor's favourite is an interesting matter indeed. I wonder if the said favouritism was caused by the fact that Richard, as the second oldest (surviving) son, from the very beginning was to inherit her duchy or was it the result of his personal qualities? Would it have been the same had Eleanor and Henry's firstborn, William, survived infancy - for if so, Henry would have been the second oldest and probably destined to inherit Aquitaine.

      As for Henry the Young King starting off with Wales - I do not think it was the land/princlipality that mattered - but the whole problem was rather about the older Henry's general attitude and idea of kingship, at least IMHO.

  4. I just wanted to add I agree on the quote about what greatness they could've achieved if only they were bonded together instead of apart. Each played a role in the disinagration of family ties.

    1. True, each played a role, but it was the father who pulled the strings in the family politics and dynamics, and the conflicts between his sons were the result of his blunders (for it often were blunders).

  5. Excellent and well presented post, Kasia! Lots of "food for thought."

    1. Thank you, Helena. I'm honoured. Lots of "what ifs" and "food for thought" indeed.

  6. Thank you Kasia for this wonderful post. So much food for thought indeed. Ending your essay with those 2 great quotes by Gerald of Wales adds the finishing touch. The first, a beautiful, soulful lament, says it all, doesn't it?

    Re favorites, I think we can only guess why parents often are instinctively drawn to one child over another. We can speculate but it's too complex to really know.


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