A Few Facts About Henry the Young King

Henry the Young King was the only king of England crowned in his father’s lifetime. In this his father, Henry II followed the continental tradition. The Capetian rulers had their heirs crowned during their reign in order to avoid even a momentary interregnum and disorder. Louis VI, for instance, still active monarch, had his son, also Louis, anointed in Rheims cathedral already in 1131. It was not until 1137 that Louis began his independent rule and only upon his father’s death. The same Louis had his only son, Philip crowned in 1179, a year before he himself died. Today I would like to introduce a few facts about Henry the Young King everyone should know.

- Henry (b. 28 February 1155) was not meant to be a king. The crown was to be inherited by his elder brother, William (b.17 August 1153). Unfortunately, at the age of three, William became seriously ill and died, the only child of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who failed to reach maturity. Upon his untimely passing, Henry, the second in line, became his father’s heir.

- In his lifetime Henry was called “the Young King” to distinguish him from his father, king Henry II, but also  “Henry the Younger” (William of Newburgh) or “Henry III” (William of Newburgh, Gerald of Wales), his status as a crowned and anointed king being taken when he lived. In one of his sirventes [D'un sirventes no-m cal far loignor ganda], trying to win the Young King’s support for his cause, the famous bellicose troubadour, Bertran de Born mockingly called Henry “the King of Lesser [or Little- depending on translation] Land” in an attempt to stir the latter’s ambition.

- Henry’s family ties with the Capets were really complex. He had two elder half-sisters from his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine’s marriage to Louis VII. These were Marie (b.1145) and Alix (b.1151), who, upon their marriages became respectively the Countess of Champagne and the Countess of Blois. In 1160, upon Henry’s marriage to Marguerite, they became his sisters-in-law, since Marguerite was also Louis’s daughter, but from his second marriage [to Constance of Castile (d.1160)]. Henry’s brother-in–law, Philip (b.1165), Louis’s only son, was a half-brother of both, Henry’s half-sisters and Henry’s wife (and her younger sister, Alys (b.1160)).

- At the tender age of five Henry was already a married man. And it was not merely a betrothal, but already a wedding ceremony itself. He wedded his two-year-old bride, Marguerite on the 2nd of November 1160, at Newbourg, with the sanction of Henry of Pisa and William of Pavia, cardinal-priests and legates of the apostolic see. This was the unusually early age even in the times when purely political, arranged marriages were standard. Why Henry and Marguerite were married when, in chronicler’s words, “they were as yet but little children, crying in their cradle…”? The answer is simple. Henry’s father wanted to take possession of Marguerite’s dowry, the Norman Vexin, and keep a tight grip on it. And according to the marriage contract from 1158 this was only possible upon children’s wedding.

In 1173, Henry, aged eighteen, rebelled against his father. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine and his younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey supported the revolt. Henry, crowned and anointed king, had been repeatedly denied power and land by his father, but when the elder king decided to give three major castles in Anjou, the Young King’s territory, as part of marriage treaty between his son John and Alice, the daughter of Count Humbert of Maurienne, it was the proverbial final straw. The Young King protested and demanded at least part of his inheritance so that he could rule independently. When refused, he escaped from his father and headed straight to the French court, thus triggering what became known as the Great Revolt. Now his father had to treat him seriously, for the kings of France and Scotland, the counts of Flanders, Boulogne and Blois, as well as the rebels in England, Normandy, Brittany and Poitou, all became the Young King’s allies .
- When in the opening days of June 1183 Henry contracted bloody flux and by the 7th it was already clear that he was not going to survive, he committed his crusader’s cloak to William Marshal, asking his friend and most faithful companion to take it in his stead to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which the Marshal later did. Henry had taken the cross some time before and the fact that he had not treated it seriously enough, must have troubled him greatly.

- Henry died at Martel on 11 June 1183, aged twenty-eight and was buried twice. William Marshal and other members of his household took his body north to bury it at Rouen, according to Henry’s wish. When they stopped at Le Mans the bishop and the great men of Le Mans, acting in, what they probably considered their common interest and utterly disregarding the dying king’s will, seized the opportunity to acquire the relics. That is why when the body  “… was set down in the choir of the church of St Julien [they] rushed in, and with popular approval speedily buried it there”, next to the late king’s paternal grandfather, Geoffrey le Bel of Anjou. When the citizens of Rouen learned of those ignoble doings they fought tooth-and-nail to get the royal body back. They threatened to raze the city of Le Mans to the ground and, if necessary, carry off the body by force. All to grant their city its first royal burial and heighten its prestige. And they won. Mainly thanks to the old king’s intervention who ‘fearing bloodshed between the rival cities, made an order for the corpse to be given up’. The poor body was disinterred, and, upon reaching the Norman capital, buried peacefully near the high altar of the cathedral on 22 July 1183.

- 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: “...one 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. Very interesting post, seriously! ;o)

  2. But seriously, CrazyCris, I'm very happy you enjoyed reading it ;-) At present I'm working on the second part, also covering different facts about Henry. Thank you for dropping by.

  3. I seriously love this post! :) Really fascinating, Kasia, thank you. I love the complicated relationships - how many married couples in history have had half-sisters in common? :-)

  4. Exactly, Kathryn! Half-sisters, who were sisters-in-law at the same time :-)
    Louis VII's relationships were equally complicated. He married off Marie and Alix to Henry of Champaigne and Theobald of Blois, who were brothers, so they became his sons-in-law, and upon Constance of Castile's death in 1160, he married Henry and Theobald's sister, Adela, thus making them his brothers-in-law as well :-)

  5. Seriously, a very interesting post:>

  6. Too bad you completely missed out his lavish career as the "Father of knights" in the Tourney circuit of North France, which saw the rise of William Marshall, who would later rule in the stead of Henry TYK's nephew, Henry III, in his infancy and lead a final and successful counter attack to the invading French.

    1. Too bad you haven't taken a closer look at the remaining posts on my blog :-) which I hope you are going to remedy soon - I have discussed Henry's career as a patron and participant at least in a few separate posts :) Best regards.

    2. Here's the second part of the above post, which I happened to begin with the info about Henry's brilliant tournament career.

    3. http://henrytheyoungking.blogspot.com/2013/09/more-henry-funny-obscure-hard-to-believe.html

    4. And here's one of the separate posts I have mentioned: https://henrytheyoungking.blogspot.com/2015/01/all-those-who-saw-you-henry-young-king.html

    5. And here's a separate post on William Marshal (sorry, I always use the single "l" spelling as being closer to the spelling used in William's lifetime)final and successful counter attack to the invading French: https://henrytheyoungking.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-battle-of-lincoln-and-other-may.html

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. And just as a final note: IMHO, nobody starts a blog about a historical figure without having (at least)basic knowledge of him or her :) And the things you have mentioned in your comment are Henry the Young King basics :)

  7. A wonderful article, full of interesting detail. Thanks Kasia for carrying the torch.

  8. Kasia -- My name is Fletcher Crowe and I live in Gainesville, Florida, USA. One of the principal sources of information on the Young King's revolt of 1173-74 was Jordan Fantosme who wrote a rhyming history of the war. The true identity of this Jordan has been a great mystery, but after many years of research I've discovered that he was in fact Jordan de Sandford, the scion of a great noble Anglo-Norman family. I'd like to share my research with you. Write me at fletchercrowe@gmail.com. Cheers. Fletch

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