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Death of Henry II. 6 July 1189

Henry, king of England died in the year of our lord 1189, in the 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 Pyrenees. With 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 Lincoln, 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:
When the behaviour of the new bishop of Lincoln became public 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 forest.

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 Falaise, 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.’

‘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


  1. It's also the anniversary of the death of Edward VI as well. What symptons of ADHD did Henry II possess?

    1. Anerje, Henry truly was hyperactive. He couldn't bear to be still and was unable to stay in the same place for long. He transacted his business usually standing up, walking backwards and forwards. Even during Mass- i love this one- he fidgeted and talked, scribbling notes, orders and messages. He spent great part of his time in a saddle, especially in the early years of his reign. He traveled at great speed, not caring of what he wore, what he ate and where he slept, and the members of his court suffered under this regime :-) I recommend Peter of Blois's writings. Being Henry's household clerk he gave a very vivid portrait of his lord.

  2. Henry II's death makes me sad :( He's such an endlessly fascinating man, so brilliant and so flawed.

    1. I cannot agree more, Kathryn! Thank you, for you have found the proper words to describe how I feel about Henry...

  3. Thanks Kasia for your explanation. In all seriousness, I'm a bit of an expert in ADHD - yes, really! So your comment caught my attention. I'm sure Henry was hyper-active, if nothing else.

  4. Some of my friends (non-facebook) don't understand me when I say this, but sometimes it takes a truly great man to exhibit great flaws... Poor Henry II! I do think he was truly great.
    At the risk of repeating myself: excellent article, Kasia:-)
    p.s. Nice to know that I share ADHD with a great king!!

  5. Thank you, Donna, for your lovely comment! I will insist that as a politician and ruler Henry did show great skill and acumen. Born to be king, I would say. Henry the family man, so as a father and husband is a quite different story.

    P.S. Congrats on sharing ADHD with such an extraordinary man :-D

  6. First let me thank you for a great column. I thoroughly enjoy it. As for the great lamentable King, I have an extraordinarily contrary view. My view is Eleanor of Aquitaine's. The forsaking of the children to forgo the empire she was certainly building with him, the murder of family friend Becket, and Henri's fooling around with his son's girlfriends - well for some reason no cares what Queen Eleanor thought. On some level she must have felt it divine justice that the power-mad king died alone.

  7. Thank you for your comment, Mr Beaulieu! In case you haven't noticed so far I'm on team Henry the Younger which, automatically, should put me in team Eleanor, but somehow left me admiring both of Henry's extraordinary parents. Of course, I do believe that Henry II should have shared power and responsibilty with his eldest surviving son. Unfortunately he didn't, which tore his family apart and led to two pointless wars. Sometimes I tell myself that he indirectly killed his beloved son, the young king.

  8. Do you truly believe Henry "fooled around" with his son's girlfriend? Personally I don't think he did.

    1. Friend Kasia, I do believe Henri fondled his son's betrothed, sisters, and girlfriends. He was a King who thumbed his nose at God, got away with murders, and knew no bounds. Henri bedded Rosamund at age 13 and made her part of his bevy. Not despicable for its time. After all, King Louis had Eleanor and his second wife Constance both at age 13. Ida de Tosney was one of the children's friends - the same age as Geoffrey. He had his eye on her and after the insurrection of 1173, made the 15 year old damisel his ward. He apparently had his way with wards - especially Alice of Brittany which caused a civil war and signaled the kidnapping of Eleanor. When Henri put the Queen in prison, he impregnated Ida and for some time pursued divorce to make Ida the new queen. I come from an American view and we find great fault in royalty. I really care for Eleanor, and like her have learned utter contempt for a husband who lived without a code.

    2. Mark, my "Mr Beaulieu" was not meant to sound mocking... I didn't know you then, so I thought it proper to use more formal language :-) How do we know Henry intended to replace Eleanor with Ida? Of course he wanted to anull his marriage, but I have never come across any mention that it was Ida he wanted to take for his wife...

  9. Kasia, I sensed no mockery. You always speak with respect, truth, and with great politeness. I appreciate that we are on the same team as Henry the Younger which, puts us with team Eleanor. You are Young Henry’s great ambassador, and I care for your column immensely. Rather than contend over the father’s brutality, I would rather keep your friendship. As for mistress Ida de Tosny, her role is tracked in old and new documents. Begin by looking up who was the mother of William Longspee.
    My closing thought is this. If you frame King Henri II with goodness, sympathy, and adulation, you diminish the actual struggle of a boy against a terrifying father. Poor Young Henry, England’s untested civil King.


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