14 June 1170. Henry’s First Coronation
On 14 June 1170, Henry II had his son Henry [since then called the Young King] crowned king of England at Westminster, with Roger of Pont-l’Eveque, Archbishop of York performing the act instead of the exiled Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. Four English bishops assisted at the ceremony. These were Hugh of Durham, Gilbert of London, Jocelyn of Salisbury and Walter of Rochester. The Norman bishops present were Henry of Bayeux and Giles of Evreux. By crowning his eldest surviving son in his own lifetime Henry II followed the continental tradition, which had worked out for French and German kings. The king wanted to avoid future disputes over the succession. The coronation enraged Thomas Becket and renewed the long-lasting dispute over primacy between
and . The Archbishop of Canterbury reminded
that it was the traditional right of the archbishop of York Canterbury,
and not the archbishop of , to perform
coronations. In his turn, Archbishop Roger evoked Pope Gregory the Great’s
words “Let there be between the bishops of London and York distinction of
honour according to seniority of ordination”, and explained that in 1161 he
received a letter in which His Holiness, the Pope (Alexander III) permitted the
King of England to have his son, Henry crowned by any bishop of his choosing*.
Roger was well acquainted with Thomas: the two had been members of the
household of Archbishop Theobald of York , before
acquiring even more honourable positions. When Becket went to exile in 1164, it
was Roger who acted as the senior churchman in Canterbury , the situation which, on 14
June 1170, led him straight to Westminster Abbey and the young prince awaiting
to be crowned. (The act that he was to pay for dearly. The coronation was considered illegal and Roger and the
bishops who assisted him at the ceremony excommunicated). England
The coronation of the young Henry and grand banquet that followed**
But back to the young prince awaiting his “big day”. He awaited it in
under the care of Richard of Ilchester, his father’s official and trustworthy
man. When the latter received the king’s message, he took his ward across the Normandy Narrow Sea
Not much is known of the ceremony itself. This would have to wait till Henry’s
younger brother Richard’s coronation in 1189, since his crowning was the first to
be described in detail. One can only guess that Henry, like the 11th
and early 12th-century monarchs before him, wore the regal robes
that were deliberately priestly in character: the tunicle, the dalmatic and the
cope. The custom of burying the kings in their coronation robes and vestments (especially
those in which they had received unction) dates back to this period. Thirteen
years after his coronation, in 1183, the young king would be buried, as both Ralph
of Diceto and Matthew Paris noted, in the linen vestments in which he had been
anointed. Each monarch had his own personal regalia and the young Henry’s items
probably included: crown and sceptre and ceremonial swords. We do not know
whether he was invested with spurs. He was only fifteen at the time and did not
undergo his knighting ceremony yet (the pivotal moment in a knight’s life).
Furthermore the spurs seem a little bit later addition. What we do know is that
the Young Henry swore with both hands on the altar, on which lay the Gospels
and relics of the saints. His oath made him vow- in the light of the preceding events-
to maintain the liberty and the dignity of the Church. To stress the
sacrality of the ceremony, as Professor Matthew Strickland points out, the
Young Henry could have been anointed with oil of chrism rather than the usual
oil of catechumens. Roger of Wendover noted that "... his [Henry the Young
King] body, wrapped in the linen garments, which he wore anointed with the
chrism at his coronation, was carried to England ..." Rouen
Unfortunately, the coronation of 1170 proved to be a cardinal blunder on Henry II’s part. Not only was it done against the pope’s wishes- although it seems that the papal message forbidding the ceremony unless it was conducted by the archbishop of Canterbury (at that time Thomas Becket) was never delivered- but also worked in Becket’s advantage, giving him the chance to appear in the role of a poor prelate who had just suffered yet further insult through a tyrant ruler. At that time Thomas Becket had remained in exile on the Continent after he had fallen out with the King, the reason for their clash having been Henry II’s tries to curb the power of the Church. Furthermore the coronation enraged Louis VII of France, the younger Henry’s father-in-law since his daughter Marguerite, the younger Henry’s wife, for the reasons obscure, was not crowned with him. As a result of the cooperation of the pope and the king of
Henry and Thomas finally came to terms, with Henry willing to grant all that
was demanded of him in order to avoid his continental domains being laid under
interdict. The reconciliation took place on 22 July 1170 at Freteval. Thomas
Becket was promised a safe passage to France England
and return to .
Shortly before he crossed the Channel, the archbishop, doubtful of the king’s
good intentions, sent ahead the letters excommunicating the prelates who had
participated in the illegal coronation of the Young King, namely the archbishop
of Canterbury York and the bishops of London
The three men hurried to Salisbury
straight to the king’s Christmas court. On learning what happened Henry burst
out with one of his famous uncontrolled rages. ‘Will nobody rid me of this
low-born priest?!’ he was to shout. Four days later, on Tuesday, 29 December,
Thomas Becket was murdered in his own Cathedral by four Henry’s knights. It all
happened in the direct aftermath of the ceremony, but for the king, the
coronation would prove to be disastrous also in the long term. By making his
son a king only in name and retaining administrative power for himself, the
king would drive the ambitious youngster, resented his powerlessness, to
rebellion. Supported by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, by his brothers,
Richard Duke of Aquitaine and Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, by discontented
barons, and by much more powerful allies, namely kings of France and Scotland,
counts of Flanders, Boulogne, and Blois, the Young King would bring about the
greatest crisis of his father’s reign, the war that would become known as the
Great Revolt of 1173-74. Normandy
* In 1170, under pressure from the exiled Becket, the Pope withdrew his decision, but failed to inform Henry II about it. The two letters in which he informed the king that by the ancient custom ‘… coronation and anointing of the kings of the English belongs to the Archbishop of Canterbury’ did not arrive in time and Henry II had his son already crowned. The situation even more complex, for the Archbishop of York was specifically forbidden by the pope to perform the crowning ceremony.
** About the banquet the famous anecdote began to circulate. Henry II wanted to serve his son in person. He approached the dias carrying what was with all probablity the wild boar's head (the chief decoration of the high table, usual crowning of Christmas feasts and other festive dinners of the nobility) saying that not always a prince could be served by a king. His freshly crowned son replied that it was nothing unusual for the son of a count to serve the king. (I wish I could see the reactions of the present :-)).
Roger of Wendover’s Flowers of History Vol. II translated by J. A. Giles
Ralph of Diceto. Images of History. In The Plantagenet Chronicles, ed. Dr.Elizabeth Hallam
Edition, 2002. Greenwich
“Account of the Coronation of the Young King Henry (June 1170) by William fitz Stephen” in English Historical Documents Ed. by D. Douglas and G. W. Greenaway. Google Books.
Coronation. From the 8th to the 21st Century by Roy Strong. Harper Perennial, 2005.
“On the Instruction of a Prince: the Upbringing of Henry, the Young King” by Matthew Strickland in Henry II: New Interpretations. Ed. Christopher Harper-Bill and Nicholas Vincent.
Bishop and Chapter in Twelfth-Century
England by Everett U. Crosby. Google Books.
The Angevin Empire by John Gillingham. Edward Arnold, 1984.
Historical Dictionary of the British Monarchy by Kenneth J. Panton. Google Books.