Famous Men of the Middle Ages HTML version
Henry the Second and His Sons
Henry the Second, 1154-1189; His Sons, 1189-1216.
In 1154, while Barbarossa was reigning in Germany, Henry II, one of England's greatest
monarchs, came to the throne.
Henry was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet (Plan-tag'-e-net), Count of Anjou in France,
and Matilda, daughter of King Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror.
Count Geoffrey used to wear in his hat a sprig of the broom plant, which is called in
Latin "planta genista." From this he adopted the name Plantagenet, and the kings who
descended from him and ruled England for more than three hundred years are called the
Henry II inherited a vast domain in France and managing this in addition England kept
him very busy. One who knew him well said, "He never sits down; he is on his feet from
morning till night."
His chief assistant in the management of public affairs was Thomas Becket, whom he
made chancellor of the kingdom. Becket was fond of pomp and luxury, and lived in a
more magnificent manner than even the king himself.
The clergy had at this time become almost independent of the king. To bring them under
his authority Henry made Becket Archbishop of Canterbury, thus putting him at the head
of the Church in England. The king expected that Becket would carry out all his wishes.
Becket, however, refused to do that which the king most desired and a quarrel arose
between them. At last, to escape the king's anger, Becket fled to France and remained
there for six years.
At the end of this time Henry invited him to come back to England. Not long after,
however, the old quarrel began again. One day while Henry was sojourning in France, he
cried out in a moment of passion, while surrounded by a group of knights, "Is there no
one who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"
Four knights who heard him understood from this angry speech that he desired the death
of Becket, and they went to England to murder the Archbishop. When they met Becket
they first demanded that he should do as the king wished, but he firmly refused. At dusk
that same day they entered Canterbury Cathedral, again seeking for him. "Where is the
traitor, Thomas Becket?" one of them cried.
Becket boldly answered, "Here am I--no traitor, but a priest of god."
As he finished speaking the knights rushed upon him and killed him.