'An Act Without Example in this Kingdom': Samuel Daniel on Henry the Young King's Coronation

Two months have passed since my copy of Henry the Young King biography by Professor Matthew Strickland arrived and I think it is a high time to make my reflections and thoughts into a series of posts.

Since I did not realize that Samuel Daniel, poet and historian closely associated with the court of King James I of England and Queen Anne of Denmark, discussed Henry's life and career in his Collection of the History of England (1618) - deep gratitude towards Professor Strickland for bringing it to my attention - let me begin with Henry's reputation and how he was remembered and perceived back in the 17th century, for as it turns out,  he was not utterly forgotten at the time.
                                        Henry Frederick c. 1610 by Robert Peake the Elder (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Daniel's work dedicated to the royal couple, especially the part in which he reflected on the career of Henry II's eldest surviving son and heir, must have  - as Professor Strckland points out - revived memories of James I's eldest son and heir also named Henry, whose life was too, as the life of Henry the Young King, "cut short" and who died "in the flower of his youth", aged 18, in November 1612. He, like the Young King before him, met an untimely death, also through ilness. Courtly, charming and excelling in martial arts, his untimely passing caused a universal outpouring of grief, bringing to mind equally charming, equally courtly and, at the time of his death in the spring of 1183, equally mourned Henry the Young King. In 1618, when Daniel's work was published, memories of the promising young Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, must have been clear and painful and parralels between him and Henry the Young King all too striking (as they still seem today). With one notable exception - Henry Frederick had not been crowned king and he had never come into conflict with his father.

But now with what reservations this was done we are not particularly informed: whether there was an equal participation of rule, or only but of Title; and that the Father, notwithstanding this act, was to have the especial manage of the Government, and the Sonne, though a King, yet a sonne with limited power.

Let us focus on Samuel Daniel's reflections on the Young King, especially on the latter's controversial coronation. As you can remember Henry II's decision to have his eldest surviving son and heir crowned when he himself was still an active ruler (relatively young and enjoying good health) stirred up fierce controversy and fuelled the then and future conflicts*. Perhaps not directly, but it did cost Thomas Becket his life and thus was a harbinger of serious trouble for Henry II. Had the latter foreseen what additional far-reaching and devastating consequences it would arise, he would have reconsidered. Although, on the other hand, back in 1170, it could have turned out to be the ingenious strategy, for Henry II fell ill. The seriousness of the situation made him point in his will the freshly crowned Young King an official guardian of John, his youngest son. Had the father died, there would have been no disputes over who should take over the throne and smooth and peaceful succession would have been assured - as Henry II's intention was when he had come up with the idea of the young Henry's coronation. After all, associative kingship had worked for some of the continental rulers. It worked for Louis VI of France in 1137 and was to work for his son Louis VII in 1179, to provide examples from the closest "neighbourhood". Henry II had every right to hope that it would also work for him and his family. The memories of the disorder and chaos brought upon England by the civil war over succession between his mother and King Stephen must have been vivid in his mind. However, in his work Samuel Daniel apparently did not remember Henry II's bout of illness and how fragile peace could have proved to be twenty years after the time when 'Christ and his saints slept over England', for his opinion was, here let me quote: 'the King of England stood safe enough and was like to have his business runne in a strong and entire course', but by having his son crowned 'hee lays open a way both to disjoynt his own power and embroil his people open to division'. It was 'the love he bore his sone' and conviction that paying homages were not enough to assure peaceful succession that pushed him to carry out that perfect - as it must have seemed - scheme. Daniel also marvelled at how strange it was that 'a Parliament, an assembly od State, convoked for the same businesse, would in so wise times, consent to communicate the Crowne, and, and make the commonwealth a Monster of two heads'. And indeed, the period of time between 14 June 1170 and 11 June 1183 showed that the two heads, the older one and the younger one  could not reach agreement - the older one stubbornly and repeatedly refused to share power and lands with the younger one; the younger one stubbornly and repeatedly refused to be a king only in name and do the older one's bidding all the time. Mutual distrust, suspicion, ambition and greed for power fuelled the family conflict which was not going to be brought to a halt even by the untimely and sudden death of the younger Henry. Of course, we cannot disagree with Daniel, who observed that Henry's coronation had been 'an act without example in this Kingdome' and that 'this young King shewed shortly thereafter that a Crowne was no state to be made over in trust, and layd much griefe, and repentence, upon his father's forwardnesse', but, on the other hand, we are fully aware that Henry II's predicament was in a great measure his own doing. It was to be fully and conclusively proven after Henry the Young King's death. Henry II's strained relationship with his younger sons, however, is a subject for a separate post.

The quotes from Sameul Daniel's Collection of the History of England all come from Henry the Young King. 1155-1183 by M.Strickland

* When it comes to the validity and legality of Henry the Young King's coronation, Professor Strickland stresses that it was Thomas Becket's death that changed the contemporaries' opinion on it, turning it into an illegal and unlawful act. Before Thomas was butchered in his own cathedral and subsequently proclaimed a saint, 'contemporaries - including Thomas himself - were anxious to stress that the usurpation of Canterbury's prerogative in no way detracted from the legitimacy and sacrality of the Young King's regal status' (Strickland, p. 321).

Written by Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik


  1. Now I did know more about James 1st's son Henry than the Young King, but never thought of any comparison. I suppose we can conclude that if Henry II had never crowned his son, there would have been no problems - or would there? Many Kings had rebellious sons. Of course, we'll never know.

  2. Excellent commentary, Kassia. It is indeed important to remember that Henry had witnessed the horrors of civil war brought about because of a succession crisis. I think he had every reason to try an alternative solution. A pity it did not turn out as well as hoped.

  3. Kasia, so glad you are emerging from Strickland's book and giving us your thoughts. Interesting to contemplate the parallels with Henry Frederick. History glosses the actuality of the times, so I am adding a few notes of my research on the New King's coronation of 14 June 1170.

    First the human side. It is hard to believe that Young Henry himself did not aspire to have a true English coronation in Westminster Abbey with Marguerite at his side by the time-honored See of Canterbury, the way his father and mother were anointed in 1154. In fact, his dissatisfaction surfaced at the next day's feast, sharing Walter Map's observation that his father was merely a Duke serving the New King. No one of stature was invited to the hurried 1170 coronation conducted by the See of York. Poor Eleanor is called to Normandy twice by Henri for his scheme, yet in the same year, she has to make Richard a Count and travel with Eleanora all the way to the Spanish border for her betrothal.

    Second, the invalid coronation. The manufactured ceremony by the See of York and a handful of bishops created great anguish for Young Henry as it was invalidated by the Pope's legate who excommunicated the Archbishop of York and the chief clergy involved. The legate, of course, was Archbishop Thomas Becket who required that the ceremony be conducted from the See of Canterbury. His bloody murder months later, and the implication of the Archbishop of York in the matter (he protected the murderers in a castle of his diocese), put the entire coronation in purgatory for years.

    Thirdly is the humiliating wait of young Henry, who is a king in the eyes of his father. He lives in Winchester with his unrecognized wife unable to act as king. It is not until after King Henry comes out of Ireland and on 21 August 1172 that Princess Marguerite is anointed by a French Archbishop that Prince Henry's coronation was validated.

    In a longer view of history, Henri II tried what Henry VIII achieved, the submission of holy power to that of the king. Sadly, Henri created such distress playing his son as a pawn that he destroyed any hope of succession.

    I am looking forward to further stimulating insights stirred up by Professor Strickland's fine book.

  4. Thank you for your comments :) I discussed both the 1170 and 1172 ceremonies in my previous posts - perhaps I should have provided links to them in my latest post. I will remedy this :)

    Mark, the 1172 ceremony took place on the 27th not 21st of August 1172, if I am correct :) Yes, the storm the coronation unleashed must have taken its toll on the young and innocent (for at the time surely innocent he was) newly crowned king. I can imagine how agitated he must have been.

    I'm curious why you use "poor" when referring to Eleanor and the events of June 1170? Don't you think she was rather pleased on her son's behalf and shared her husband's conviction that the coronation would bring only good to their young dynasty?Or perhaps you mean how very busy she must have been. If that's the case, I'd rather say she was in her element having been given opportunity to take active part in the affairs of state plus see Richard invested with the ducal coronet and officially proclaimed the ruler of her duchy.
    The only time of Eleanor's life she was "poor" were the years she spent in the close confinement, the years of her enforced inactivity. At least in my view :) Thank you for all your insightful and thought-provoking comments.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. (UPDATE: PLEASE DELETE PRIOR SUBMISSION OF 1 October 2016 at 08:54)

      Kasia, thank you for the date check. Sunday August 27th, 1172 was Henry's second crowing and Margaret's anointing, checking the 'Court, Household, and Itinerary of King Henry II.' (I was using an old source). The shocker to me was that the crowning to validate the English King and Queen was conducted by French clergy.

      My apologies for using the term "poor Eleanor." The word busy, as you point out, works better. Eleanor was busy being called to Caen twice. Once to bring Margaret, after which she returned to Poitiers to make Richard a Count, and then hurrying back to Caen to manage the port situations and the possibility of Becket showing up, then she returns Poitiers to begin the long betrothal journey to the Spanish border that will end up with her and Henri meeting for a pilgrimage at Rocamadour.

      Was Eleanor happy for Young Henry's coronation? Yes and No. Yes for the reasons you mention, but No for other reasons. A solo coronation, the denial of Princess Margaret, and rites administered without the proper Archbishop cast a shadow on the whole thing. It certainly wasn't what she experience as a coronation. She had read the Pope's preliminary interdict against York, so this was going to be a mess.

      Let us pause for a moment. Eleanor had been through a similar situation when her sister Petronilla wanted to be married to the Seneschal of France. When the church opposed it, she and Louis had three bishops annul his former marriage and sanctify the marriage to overcome the will of Rome. The north of France seceded as the slighted divorcee's brother ruled it and France went into a civil war. (Remember Vitry). This entire affair resolved when the Pope died and a new one validated Petronilla's marriage. So fighting the church has always been in her blood, as was her father (finally poisoned by the church), and Henri.

      To make matters human, she sided with Henri but had positive experiences with Thomas. Together they rebuilt Westminster, Queenhythe, parts of London and Berkhamsted. Becket was a teacher, counselor, and especially in her case - Thomas commanded the regiment of 700 Aquitaine chevaliers that conquered Cahors and delivered Quercy to Aquitaine. This happens when Henri fails to take the capital, Toulouse. This was the first great upheaval between Henri and Thomas. My sense is that Eleanor was driven to assure Henri and Thomas make amends, and she knew the coronation was bad form.

      Looking to more of your Strickland-inspired insights. His book is most illuminating.

  5. Very interesting post, Kasia. I find it fascinating to read about the similarities between the 2 young Henrys. Henry II was very progressive in his decision to have his heir, the young Henry, crowned but why then did he not provide a logical follow-up? I wish we knew more about this disconnect. Am looking forward to more commentary from you on the bio, which already sounds fascinating.


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