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27 August 1172. Henry's Second Coronation

Henry the Young King and his wife, Marguerite, crossed the Narrow Sea and landed at Southampton with the purpose of their coronation (which was to be Henry’s second crowning) c. 24 August 1172. Rotrou, Archbishop of Rouen, Giles, Bishop of Evreux, and Roger, Bishop of Worcester accompanied them. At the time Henry II was in Brittany, while the cardinal legates, Theodine and Albert, who, on 21 May, at the Council of Avranches, absolved the king from the murder of Thomas Becket, were visiting the Norman abbeys.*

                                               Sea crossing in the Middle Ages

What do we know about the second coronation of Henry the Young King? In The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle I have come across the following entry: ‘In Madox’s “History of the Exchequer”it is recorded that 20l. was allowed to Aylward the King’s Chamberlain, to buy a robe for the young King at Winchester fair’ and that ‘Henry, the son of king Henry II, was crowned the second time with his wife at Winchester, on the 27th of August, and this robe seems to have been bought for the purpose at Gilles-hill fair”.

Yes! Young Henry was crowned twice. Not an unusual custom in the times he lived in. The turbulent twelfth century, especially on English soil, was the period when both anarchy and uncertainty ruled side by side. Struggles over succession had already begun between the sons of William the Bastard –better known as William the Conqueror (1066-1087)- and reached their climax during King Stephen’s reign (1135-1154). The latter’s clashes with his cousin, Empress Maud were to last until 1153 when Maud’s son [and young Henry’s father], Henry was recognized by Stephen as his rightful heir. With no written succession law at hand, it was crucial for the twelfth-century king to see himself firmly seated on the throne. Henry the Young King was not the first and not the last to have been crowned king twice. His paternal great-grandfather, Henry I had himself crowned by the nearest available bishop when his elder brother William Rufus died while hunting, the ceremonial he chose to undergo a second time when Archbishop Anselm returned from exile. Young Henry’s own parents, following their coronation at London (19 December 1154) were crowned again, first Henry II alone at Lincoln in 1158, and next at Easter of 1159 at Worcester, this time with Eleanor. The younger brother of Young Henry, Richard was crowned king, first after his father’s death in 1189, and then again in 1194 at Winchester on returning to his kingdom from German captivity, although this was more a crown-wearing than a coronation, as Professor John Gillingham points out in Richard the Lionheart.

Indeed, Henry the Young King was not the first and not the last to have been crowned king twice, but he was the first and the last king of England to have been crowned in his father’s lifetime. In this Henry’s father chose to follow the continental tradition, which had worked well for French and German kings. By crowning his eldest surviving son as a co-ruler of England, the king wanted to avoid future disputes over the succession. Young Henry's first coronation took place in the midst of the conflict between the two men who used to be friends, but then already were tearing the kingdom apart. These were Henry’s own father, the king and Henry’s former tutor, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, both of whom played important roles in the prince’s life. While he himself was waiting in Normandy, his father sent Richard of Ilchester [royal official and trustworthy man] to bring him from Caen to England. 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. At that time Thomas Becket had remained in exile on the Continent. The whole thing done against the Pope’s wishes and furthermore enraged Louis VII of France, since his daughter Marguerite, the younger Henry’s wife, for reasons that remain obscure was not crowned with her husband. To placate Louis VII and mend the rift between them, and because the first coronation of his son was considered invalid, Young Henry’s father, outdid himself in organizing the most elaborate and grand ceremony, that took place on 27 August 1172 at Winchester, with Rotrou, archbishop of Rouen officiating. The Princess’s father had expressed the wish that the excommunicated bishops who performed the coronation of his son-in-law in 1170 had been forbidden to participate.

Henry the Young King was crowned for a second time, together with his wife, Marguerite in the first town in England governed by a mayor, in the cathedral that witnessed the most crucial events in the history of the kingdom. This is how Roger of Howden described the event in his annals:
‘Rotrod, archbishop of Rouen, Gilles, bishop of Evreux, and Roger, bishop of Worcester crowned them [Henry and Marguerite] in the church of Saint Swithin, at Winchester, on the sixth day before the calends of September, being the Lord’s Day.’

I like to imagine that, just before entering the cathedral, seventeen-year-old Henry whispered to his fourteen-year-old spouse the story of his ancestor, William Rufus and how, after a hunting accident, his body was conveyed in a cart to St Swithun’s “the blood dripping from it all the way”, and how it was interred under the tower, which tower fell the next year. What I do not need to imagine is that contemporary historians, Roger of Howden and Gervase of Canterbury, considered the ceremony young Henry’s second coronation, although it was only Marguerite who was consecrated after the officiants placed the “diadema regni’ on her husband’s head.

What did this second ceremony mean for young Henry? Did it bring about any change in his status? Not really. It only rubbed salt into his wounds and made him realize even more clearly  the emptiness of his title. His father stubbornly refused to share power with him, either in England or on the Continent. Not a year passed since the August day at Winchester, when the Young King, ‘noble and gracious’, but ‘at a loss for something to do’ rebelled against his father. He was joined by his younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, and supported by his mother, Queen Eleanor, and kings of France and Scotland. The Great Revolt began.

* Henry II received his absolution after he and the Young King had sworn to the cardinals that they would abolish all the “unlawful customs established during his [Henry II] reign”.


 The Annals of Roger of Hoveden

Court, household, and itinerary of King Henry II by R.W.Eyton. Internet Archive

Franks, Burgundians, and Aquitanians and the Royal Coronation Ceremony in France by Elizabeth A. R. Brown

‘The cathedrals of Winchester, Lichfield, and Oxford’ in The Cathedral Antiquities, Vol III by John Britton

The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Elizabeth Hallam

Richard the Lionheart by John Gillingham

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly

The Gentleman’s Magazine and  Historical Chronicle Vol. 135 by Sylvanus Urban


  1. This is very interesting and one of the many "what ifs" of history is - what sort of king would Henry the Young King have been?
    Quite different from Richard I I'd assume!

  2. I do agree, Beata! He would have made absolutely different king. According to the historians he lacked any political talent and his rule (had he lived) would have been a disaster. In their assessment, however, they usually did/do not take into account his most formidable weapon- namely the proverbial charm. Gervase of Tilbury, Henry's chaplain, claimed he was "incapable of making an enemy" and Gerald of Wales, usually at his malicious best when writing about the Angevins, thought it miraculous that "almost all the world attached themselves to a man who was totally without resources, either in money or territory". He was the only member of the family popular in his lifetime. I think, but it's only my humble opinion, that had Henry lived (read: had Henry outlived his father) the so called Angevin Empire (it wasn't known under this name in the 12th/13th century) would have endured at least a little bit longer. Just think, Henry's charm + family ties... Even a ruler as ruthless as Henry's brother-in-law, Philip Augustus [John's nemesis] might not have resisted the combination. The scheme might have worked of course on the condition that Henry's son, William, would have survived and turned out to be as shrewd politician as his paternal grandfather, Henry II.

    Thank you, Beata for paying a visit to our blog. Most appreciated :-)

  3. I didn't know the young king was crowned twice. Wish I'd known that when I visited Winchester cathedral last year!

  4. Yes, Anerje, he was crowned twice for the reasons listed above! And still not counted as the king of England in his own right.

    Winchester is high on my "to be visited" list :-) It's like our Polish ancient capital, Gniezno. So much history involved...


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