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Plantagenet Henry II King of England

Henry II (born 1133, ruled 1154-89). The grandson of Henry I was the first Plantagenet king of England. His mother was Matilda, daughter of Henry I. His father was Geoffrey of Anjou, whom Matilda married after the death of her first husband, Emperor Henry V. Geoffrey was called Plantagenet for his habit of wearing in his cap a sprig of the broom plant, which in Latin is called planta genista.
Henry II was born in Le Mans, France, in March 1133. During his mother's conflict with Stephen for the English throne he was brought to England. Stephen eventually recognized his claim, and Henry became king of England in 1154 after Stephen's death.

Henry II held England and Normandy by his mother' s right. From his father he inherited, as French fiefs, the important counties of Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. By his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose marriage with the French king Louis VII had been annulled, he acquired Poitou, Guyenne, and Gascony, so that he held most of the British Isles and about half of France.

Henry II reestablished law and order after the anarchy of Stephen's reign. He improved the military service by permitting the barons to pay "shield money, " or scutage, in place of serving in the army. With this he hired soldiers who would fight whenever and wherever he wished--an important means of maintaining control over the powerful nobles of the land.

His greatest work was the reform of the law courts. He brought the Curia Regis (King's Court) into every part of England by sending learned judges on circuit through the land to administer the "king's justice." Thus gradually one system of law took the place of the many local customs that had been in use. He also established the grand jury. Now accusations could be brought by a body of representatives of the community against evildoers who were so powerful that no single individual dared accuse them.

The petit jury, also called petty or trial jury, substituted the weighing of evidence and testimony by sworn men for the old superstitious trial by combat or by ordeal. (See also Jury System .) Henry even attempted to bring churchmen who committed crimes under the jurisdiction of the king's courts, but the scandal caused by the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the course of this quarrel forced him to give up this reform (see Becket ).

Henry's last years were embittered by the rebellion of his sons, aided by Philip Augustus of France and by their mother, the unscrupulous Eleanor. The king--old, sick, and discouraged--had to consent to the terms demanded of him. When he saw the name of John, his favorite son, among those of his enemies, he exclaimed, "Now let all things go as they will; I care no more for myself, nor for the world."

Two days later he died, muttering, "Shame, shame on a conquered king." He was succeeded by his son Richard (see Richard, Kings of England ). After Richard's death, in 1199, John came to the throne (see John of England ).

updated 26 July, 2007 Copyright© 1999 - 2007 by John R. Taylor


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