Young Folks' History of England HTML version

11. Henry II, Fitz-Empress, A.D. 1154-1189
Henry Fitz-Empress is counted as the first king of the Plantagenet family, also
called the House of Anjou. He was a very clever, brisk, spirited man, who
hardly ever sat down, but was always going from place to place, and who
would let no one disobey him. He kept everybody in order, pulled down
almost all the Castles that had been built in Stephen's time, and would not let
the barons ill-treat the people. Indeed, everyone had been so mixed up
together during the wars in Stephen's reign, that the grandchildren of the
Normans who had come over with William the Conqueror were now quite
English in their feelings. French was, however, chiefly spoken at court. The
king was really a Frenchman, and he married a French wife Eleanor, the lady
of Aquitaine, a great dukedom in the South of France; and, as Henry had
already Normandy and Anjou, he really was lord of nearly half France. He
ruled England well; but he was not a good man, for he cared for power and
pleasure more than for what was right; and sometimes he fell into such rages
that he would roll on the floor, and bite the rushes and sticks it was strewn
with. He made many laws. One was that, if a priest or monk was thought to
have committed any crime, he should be tried by the king's judge, instead of
the bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket, did not think it
right to consent to this law; and, though he and the king had once been great
friends, Henry was so angry with him that he was forced to leave England,
and take shelter with the King of France. Six years passed by, and the king
pretended to be reconciled to him, but still, when they met, would not give
him the kiss of peace. The archbishop knew that this showed that the king
still hated him; but his flock had been so long without a shepherd that he
thought it his duty to go back to them. Just after his return, he laid under
censure some persons who had given offence. They went and complained to
the king, and Henry exclaimed in passion, "Will no one rid me of this
turbulent priest?" Four of his knights who heard these words set forth to
Canterbury. The archbishop guessed why they were come; but he would not
flee again, and waited for them by the altar in the cathedral, not even letting
the doors be shut. There they slew him; and thither, in great grief at the
effect of his own words, the king came—three years later—to show his
penitence by entering barefoot, kneeling before Thomas's tomb, and causing
every priest or monk in turn to strike him with a rod. We should not exactly
call Thomas a martyr now, but he was thought so then, because he died for
upholding the privileges of the Church, and he was held to be a very great
While this dispute was going on, the Earl of Pembroke, called Strongbow, one
of Henry's nobles, had gone over to Ireland and obtained a little kingdom
there, which he professed to hold of Henry; and thus the Kings of England
became Lords of Ireland, though for a long time they only had the Province of
Leinster, and were always at war with the Irish around.