HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics
History of the English People - Book II England under Foreign Kings, 1071-1204
Henry the Second--1154-1189
by Green, John Richard (M.A.)

Henry Fitz-Empress The Great Scutage
Archbishop Thomas Legal Reforms
Murder of Thomas The Church and Literature
Gerald of Wales Romance
Walter de Map Invasion of Ireland
Revolt of the younger Henry      Later reforms
Henry's death  

Henry Fitz-Empress

Young as he was, and he had reached but his twenty-first year when he returned to England as its king, Henry mounted the throne with a purpose of government which his reign carried steadily out. His practical, serviceable frame suited the hardest worker of his time. There was something in his build and look, in the square stout form, the fiery face, the close-cropped hair, the prominent eyes, the bull neck, the coarse strong hands, the bowed legs, that marked out the keen, stirring, coarse-fibred man of business. "He never sits down," said one who observed him closely; "he is always on his legs from morning till night." Orderly in business, careless of appearance, sparing in diet, never resting or giving his servants rest, chatty, inquisitive, endowed with a singular charm of address and strength of memory, obstinate in love or hatred, a fair scholar, a great hunter, his general air that of a rough, passionate, busy man, Henry's personal character told directly on the character of his reign. His accession marks the period of amalgamation when neighbourhood and traffic and intermarriage drew Englishmen and Normans into a single people. A national feeling was thus springing up before which the barriers of the older feudalism were to be swept away. Henry had even less reverence for the feudal past than the men of his day: he was indeed utterly without the imagination and reverence which enable men to sympathize with any past at all. He had a practical man's impatience of the obstacles thrown in the way of his reforms by the older constitution of the realm, nor could he understand other men's reluctance to purchase undoubted improvements by the sacrifice of customs and traditions of bygone days. Without any theoretical hostility to the co-ordinate powers of the state, it seemed to him a perfectly reasonable and natural course to trample either baronage or Church under foot to gain his end of good government. He saw clearly that the remedy for such anarchy as England had endured under Stephen lay in the establishment of a kingly rule unembarrassed by any privileges of order or class, administered by royal servants, and in whose public administration the nobles acted simply as delegates of the sovereign. His work was to lie in the organization of judicial and administrative reforms which realized this idea. But of the currents of thought and feeling which were tending in the same direction he knew nothing. What he did for the moral and social impulses which were telling on men about him was simply to let them alone. Religion grew more and more identified with patriotism under the eyes of a king who whispered, and scribbled, and looked at picture-books during mass, who never confessed, and cursed God in wild frenzies of blasphemy. Great peoples formed themselves on both sides of the sea round a sovereign who bent the whole force of his mind to hold together an Empire which the growth of nationality must inevitably destroy. There is throughout a tragic grandeur in the irony of Henry's position, that of a Sforza of the fifteenth century set in the midst of the twelfth, building up by patience and policy and craft a dominion alien to the deepest sympathies of his age and fated to be swept away in the end by popular forces to whose existence his very cleverness and activity blinded him. But whether by the anti-national temper of his general system or by the administrative reforms of his English rule his policy did more than that of all his predecessors to prepare England for the unity and freedom which the fall of his house was to reveal.


The Great Scutage

He had been placed on the throne, as we have seen, by the Church. His first work was to repair the evils which England had endured till his accession by the restoration of the system of Henry the First; and it was with the aid and counsel of Theobald that the foreign marauders were driven from the realm, the new castles demolished in spite of the opposition of the baronage, the King's Court and Exchequer restored. Age and infirmity however warned the Primate to retire from the post of minister, and his power fell into the younger and more vigorous hands of Thomas Beket, who had long acted as his confidential adviser and was now made Chancellor. Thomas won the personal favour of the king. The two young men had, in Theobald's words, "but one heart and mind"; Henry jested in the Chancellor's hall, or tore his cloak from his shoulders in rough horse-play as they rode through the streets. He loaded his favourite with riches and honours, but there is no ground for thinking that Thomas in any degree influenced his system of rule. Henry's policy seems for good or evil to have been throughout his own. His work of reorganization went steadily on amidst troubles at home and abroad. Welsh outbreaks forced him in 1157 to lead an army over the border; and a crushing repulse showed that he was less skilful as a general than as a statesman. The next year saw him drawn across the Channel, where he was already master of a third of the present France. Anjou, Maine, and Touraine he had inherited from his father, Normandy from his mother, he governed Britanny through his brother, while the seven provinces of the South, Poitou, Saintonge, La Marche, Périgord, the Limousin, the Angoumois, and Gascony, belonged to his wife. As Duchess of Aquitaine Eleanor had claims on Toulouse, and these Henry prepared in 1159 to enforce by arms. But the campaign was turned to the profit of his reforms. He had already begun the work of bringing the baronage within the grasp of the law by sending judges from the Exchequer year after year to exact the royal dues and administer the king's justice even in castle and manor. He now attacked its military influence. Each man who held lands of a certain value was bound to furnish a knight for his lord's service; and the barons thus held a body of trained soldiers at their disposal. When Henry called his chief lords to serve in the war of Toulouse, he allowed the lower tenants to commute their service for sums payable to the royal treasury under the name of "scutage," or shield-money. The "Great Scutage" did much to disarm the baronage, while it enabled the king to hire foreign mercenaries for his service abroad. Again however he was luckless in war. King Lewis of France threw himself into Toulouse. Conscious of the ill-compacted nature of his wide dominion, Henry shrank from an open contest with his suzerain; he withdrew his forces, and the quarrel ended in 1160 by a formal alliance and the betrothal of his eldest son to the daughter of Lewis.


Archbishop Thomas

Henry returned to his English realm to regulate the relations of the State with the Church. These rested in the main on the system established by the Conqueror, and with that system Henry had no wish to meddle. But he was resolute that, baron or priest, all should be equal before the law; and he had no more mercy for clerical than for feudal immunities. The immunities of the clergy indeed were becoming a hindrance to public justice. The clerical order in the Middle Ages extended far beyond the priesthood; it included in Henry's day the whole of the professional and educated classes. It was subject to the jurisdiction of the Church courts alone; but bodily punishment could only be inflicted by officers of the lay courts, and so great had the jealousy between clergy and laity become that the bishops no longer sought civil aid but restricted themselves to the purely spiritual punishments of penance and deprivation of orders. Such penalties formed no effectual check upon crime, and while preserving the Church courts the king aimed at the delivery of convicted offenders to secular punishment. For the carrying out of these designs he sought an agent in Thomas the Chancellor. Thomas had now been his minister for eight years, and had fought bravely in the war against Toulouse at the head of the seven hundred knights who formed his household. But the king had other work for him than war. On Theobald's death he forced on the monks of Canterbury his election as Archbishop. But from the moment of his appointment in 1162 the dramatic temper of the new Primate flung its whole energy into the part he set himself to play. At the first intimation of Henry's purpose he pointed with a laugh to his gay court attire: "You are choosing a fine dress," he said, "to figure at the head of your Canterbury monks"; once monk and Archbishop he passed with a fevered earnestness from luxury to asceticism; and a visit to the Council of Tours in 1163, where the highest doctrines of ecclesiastical authority were sanctioned by Pope Alexander the Third, strengthened his purpose of struggling for the privileges of the Church. His change of attitude encouraged his old rivals at court to vex him with petty lawsuits, but no breach had come with the king till Henry proposed that clerical convicts should be punished by the civil power. Thomas refused; he would only consent that a clerk, once degraded, should for after offences suffer like a layman. Both parties appealed to the "customs" of the realm; and it was to state these "customs" that a court was held in 1164 at Clarendon near Salisbury.


Legal Reforms

The report presented by bishops and barons formed the Constitutions of Clarendon, a code which in the bulk of its provisions simply re-enacted the system of the Conqueror. Every election of bishop or abbot was to take place before royal officers, in the king's chapel, and with the king's assent. The prelate-elect was bound to do homage to the king for his lands before consecration, and to hold his lands as a barony from the king, subject to all feudal burthens of taxation and attendance in the King's Court. No bishop might leave the realm without the royal permission. No tenant in chief or royal servant might be excommunicated, or their land placed under interdict, but by the king's assent. What was new was the legislation respecting ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The King's Court was to decide whether a suit between clerk and layman, whose nature was disputed, belonged to the Church courts or the King's. A royal officer was to be present at all ecclesiastical proceedings in order to confine the Bishop's court within its own due limits, and a clerk convicted there passed at once under the civil jurisdiction. An appeal was left from the Archbishop's court to the King's Court for defect of justice, but none might appeal to the Papal court save with the king's leave. The privilege of sanctuary in churches and churchyards was repealed, so far as property and not persons was concerned. After a passionate refusal the Primate was at last brought to give his assent to these Constitutions, but the assent was soon retracted, and Henry's savage resentment threw the moral advantage of the position into his opponent's hands. Vexatious charges were brought against Thomas, and he was summoned to answer at a Council held in the autumn at Northampton. All urged him to submit; his very life was said to be in peril from the king's wrath. But in the presence of danger the courage of the man rose to its full height. Grasping his archiepiscopal cross he entered the royal court, forbade the nobles to condemn him, and appealed in the teeth of the Constitutions to the Papal See. Shouts of "Traitor!" followed him as he withdrew. The Primate turned fiercely at the word: "Were I a knight," he shouted back, "my sword should answer that foul taunt!" Once alone however, dread pressed more heavily; he fled in disguise at nightfall and reached France through Flanders.

Great as were the dangers it was to bring with it, the flight of Thomas left Henry free to carry on the reforms he had planned. In spite of denunciations from Primate and Pope, the Constitutions regulated from this time the relations of the Church with the State. Henry now turned to the actual organization of the realm. His reign, it has been truly said, "initiated the rule of law" as distinct from the despotism, whether personal or tempered by routine, of the Norman sovereigns. It was by successive "assizes" or codes issued with the sanction of the great councils of barons and prelates which he summoned year by year, that he perfected in a system of gradual reforms the administrative measures which Henry the First had begun. The fabric of our judicial legislation commences in 1166 with the Assize of Clarendon, the first object of which was to provide for the order of the realm by reviving the old English system of mutual security or frankpledge. No stranger might abide in any place save a borough and only there for a single night unless sureties were given for his good behaviour; and the list of such strangers was to be submitted to the itinerant justices. In the provisions of this assize for the repression of crime we find the origin of trial by jury, so often attributed to earlier times. Twelve lawful men of each hundred, with four from each township, were sworn to present those who were known or reputed as criminals within their district for trial by ordeal. The jurors were thus not merely witnesses, but sworn to act as judges also in determining the value of the charge, and it is this double character of Henry's jurors that has descended to our "grand jury," who still remain charged with the duty of presenting criminals for trial after examination of the witnesses against them. Two later steps brought the jury to its modern condition. Under Edward the First witnesses acquainted with the particular fact in question were added in each case to the general jury, and by the separation of these two classes of jurors at a later time the last became simply "witnesses" without any judicial power, while the first ceased to be witnesses at all and became our modern jurors, who are only judges of the testimony given. With this assize too a practice which had prevailed from the earliest English times, the practice of "compurgation," passed away. Under this system the accused could be acquitted of the charge by the voluntary oath of his neighbours and kinsmen; but this was abolished by the Assize of Clarendon, and for the fifty years which followed it his trial, after the investigation of the grand jury, was found solely in the ordeal or "judgement of God," where innocence was proved by the power of holding hot iron in the hand or by sinking when flung into the water, for swimming was a proof of guilt. It was the abolition of the whole system of ordeal by the Council of Lateran in 1216 which led the way to the establishment of what is called a "petty jury" for the final trial of prisoners.


Murder of Thomas

But Henry's work of reorganization had hardly begun when it was broken by the pressure of the strife with the Primate. For six years the contest raged bitterly; at Rome, at Paris, the agents of the two powers intrigued against each other. Henry stooped to acts of the meanest persecution in driving the Primate's kinsmen from England, and in confiscating the lands of their order till the monks of Pontigny should refuse Thomas a home; while Beket himself exhausted the patience of his friends by his violence and excommunications, as well as by the stubbornness with which he clung to the offensive clause "Saving the honour of my order," the addition of which to his consent would have practically neutralised the king's reforms. The Pope counselled mildness, the French king for a time withdrew his support, his own clerks gave way at last. "Come up," said one of them bitterly when his horse stumbled on the road, "saving the honour of the Church and my order." But neither warning nor desertion moved the resolution of the Primate. Henry, in dread of Papal excommunication, resolved in 1170 on the coronation of his son: and this office, which belonged to the see of Canterbury, he transferred to the Archbishop of York. But the Pope's hands were now freed by his successes in Italy, and the threat of an interdict forced the king to a show of submission. The Archbishop was allowed to return after a reconciliation with the king at Fréteval, and the Kentishmen flocked around him with uproarious welcome as he entered Canterbury. "This is England," said his clerks, as they saw the white headlands of the coast. "You will wish yourself elsewhere before fifty days are gone," said Thomas sadly, and his foreboding showed his appreciation of Henry's character. He was now in the royal power, and orders had already been issued in the younger Henry's name for his arrest when four knights from the King's Court, spurred to outrage by a passionate outburst of their master's wrath, crossed the sea, and on the 29th of December forced their way into the Archbishop's palace. After a stormy parley with him in his chamber they withdrew to arm. Thomas was hurried by his clerks into the cathedral, but as he reached the steps leading from the transept to the choir his pursuers burst in from the cloisters. "Where," cried Reginald Fitzurse in the dusk of the dimly-lighted minster, "where is the traitor, Thomas Beket?" The Primate turned resolutely back: "Here am I, no traitor, but a priest of God," he replied, and again descending the steps he placed himself with his back against a pillar and fronted his foes. All the bravery and violence of his old knightly life seemed to revive in Thomas as he tossed back the threats and demands of his assailants. "You are our prisoner," shouted Fitzurse, and the four knights seized him to drag him from the church. "Do not touch me, Reginald," cried the Primate, "pander that you are, you owe me fealty"; and availing himself of his personal strength he shook him roughly off. "Strike, strike," retorted Fitzurse, and blow after blow struck Thomas to the ground. A retainer of Ranulf de Broc with the point of his sword scattered the Primate's brains on the ground. "Let us be off," he cried triumphantly, "this traitor will never rise again."


The Church and Literature

The brutal murder was received with a thrill of horror throughout Christendom; miracles were wrought at the martyr's tomb; he was canonized, and became the most popular of English saints. The stately "martyrdom" which rose over his relics at Canterbury seemed to embody the triumph which his blood had won. But the contest had in fact revealed a new current of educated opinion which was to be more fatal to the Church than the reforms of the king. Throughout it Henry had been aided by a silent revolution which now began to part the purely literary class from the purely clerical. During the earlier ages of our history we have seen literature springing up in ecclesiastical schools, and protecting itself against the ignorance and violence of the time under ecclesiastical privileges. Almost all our writers from Bæda to the days of the Angevins are clergy or monks. The revival of letters which followed the Conquest was a purely ecclesiastical revival; the intellectual impulse which Bee had given to Normandy travelled across the Channel with the new Norman abbots who were established in the greater English monasteries; and writing-rooms or scriptoria, where the chief works of Latin literature, patristic or classical, were copied and illuminated, the lives of saints compiled, and entries noted in the monastic chronicle, formed from this time a part of every religious house of any importance. But the literature which found this religious shelter was not so much ecclesiastical as secular. Even the philosophical and devotional impulse given by Anselm produced no English work of theology or metaphysics. The literary revival which followed the Conquest took mainly the old historical form. At Durham Turgot and Simeon threw into Latin shape the national annals to the time of Henry the First with an especial regard to northern affairs, while the earlier events of Stephen's reign were noted down by two Priors of Hexham in the wild border-land between England and the Scots.

These however were the colourless jottings of mere annalists; it was in the Scriptorium of Canterbury, in Osbern's lives of the English saints or in Eadmer's record of the struggle of Anselm against the Red King and his successor, that we see the first indications of a distinctively English feeling telling on the new literature. The national impulse is yet more conspicuous in the two historians that followed. The war-songs of the English conquerors of Britain were preserved by Henry, an Archdeacon of Huntingdon, who wove them into annals compiled from Bæda, and the Chronicle; while William, the librarian of Malmesbury, as industriously collected the lighter ballads which embodied the popular traditions of the English kings. It is in William above all others that we see the new tendency of English literature. In himself, as in his work, he marks the fusion of the conquerors and the conquered, for he was of both English and Norman parentage and his sympathies were as divided as his blood. The form and style of his writings show the influence of those classical studies which were now reviving throughout Christendom. Monk as he is, William discards the older ecclesiastical models and the annalistic form. Events are grouped together with no strict reference to time, while the lively narrative flows rapidly and loosely along with constant breaks of digression over the general history of Europe and the Church. It is in this change of historic spirit that William takes his place as first of the more statesmanlike and philosophic school of historians who began to arise in direct connexion with the Court, and among whom the author of the chronicle which commonly bears the name of "Benedict of Peterborough" with his continuator Roger of Howden are the most conspicuous. Both held judicial offices under Henry the Second, and it is to their position at Court that they owe the fulness and accuracy of their information as to affairs at home and abroad, as well as their copious supply of official documents. What is noteworthy in these writers is the purely political temper with which they regard the conflict of Church and State in their time. But the English court had now become the centre of a distinctly secular literature. The treatise of Ranulf de Glanvill, a justiciar of Henry the Second, is the earliest work on English law, as that of the royal treasurer, Richard Fitz-Neal, on the Exchequer is the earliest on English government.


Gerald of Wales

Still more distinctly secular than these, though the work of a priest who claimed to be a bishop, are the writings of Gerald de Barri. Gerald is the father of our popular literature as he is the originator of the political and ecclesiastical pamphlet. Welsh blood (as his usual name of Giraldus Cambrensis implies) mixed with Norman in his veins, and something of the restless Celtic fire runs alike through his writings and his life. A busy scholar at Paris, a reforming Archdeacon in Wales, the wittiest of Court chaplains, the most troublesome of bishops, Gerald became the gayest and most amusing of all the authors of his time. In his hands the stately Latin tongue took the vivacity and picturesqueness of the jongleur's verse. Reared as he had been in classic studies, he threw pedantry contemptuously aside. "It is better to be dumb than not to be understood," is his characteristic apology for the novelty of his style: "new times require new fashions, and so I have thrown utterly aside the old and dry method of some authors and aimed at adopting the fashion of speech which is actually in vogue to-day." His tract on the conquest of Ireland and his account of Wales, which are in fact reports of two journeys undertaken in those countries with John and Archbishop Baldwin, illustrate his rapid faculty of careless observation, his audacity, and his good sense. They are just the sort of lively, dashing letters that we find in the correspondence of a modern journal. There is the same modern tone in his political pamphlets; his profusion of jests, his fund of anecdote, the aptness of his quotations, his natural shrewdness and critical acumen, the clearness and vivacity of his style, are backed by a fearlessness and impetuosity that made him a dangerous assailant even to such a ruler as Henry the Second. The invectives in which Gerald poured out his resentment against the Angevins are the cause of half the scandal about Henry and his sons which has found its way into history. His life was wasted in an ineffectual attempt to secure the see of St. David's, but his pungent pen played its part in rousing the nation to its later struggle with the Crown.



A tone of distinct hostility to the Church developed itself almost from the first among the singers of romance. Romance had long before taken root in the court of Henry the First, where under the patronage of Queen Maud the dreams of Arthur, so long cherished by the Celts of Britanny, and which had travelled to Wales in the train of the exile Rhys ap Tewdor, took shape in the History of the Britons by Geoffry of Monmouth. Myth, legend, tradition, the classical pedantry of the day, Welsh hopes of future triumph over the Saxon, the memories of the Crusades and of the world-wide dominion of Charles the Great, were mingled together by this daring fabulist in a work whose popularity became at once immense. Alfred of Beverley transferred Geoffry's inventions into the region of sober history, while two Norman _trouveurs_, Gaimar and Wace, translated them into French verse. So complete was the credence they obtained that Arthur's tomb at Glastonbury was visited by Henry the Second, while the child of his son Geoffry and of Constance of Britanny received the name of the Celtic hero. Out of Geoffry's creation grew little by little the poem of the Table Round. Britanny, which had mingled with the story of Arthur the older and more mysterious legend of the Enchanter Merlin, lent that of Lancelot to the wandering minstrels of the day, who moulded it as they wandered from hall to hall into the familiar tale of knighthood wrested from its loyalty by the love of woman. The stories of Tristram and Gawayne, at first as independent as that of Lancelot, were drawn with it into the whirlpool of Arthurian romance; and when the Church, jealous of the popularity of the legends of chivalry, invented as a counteracting influence the poem of the Sacred Dish, the San Graal which held the blood of the Cross invisible to all eyes but those of the pure in heart, the genius of a Court poet, Walter de Map, wove the rival legends together, sent Arthur and his knights wandering over sea and land in quest of the San Graal, and crowned the work by the figure of Sir Galahad, the type of ideal knighthood, without fear and without reproach.


Walter de Map

Walter stands before us as the representative of a sudden outburst of literary, social, and religious criticism which followed this growth of romance and the appearance of a freer historical tone in the court of the two Henries. Born on the Welsh border, a student at Paris, a favourite with the king, a royal chaplain, justiciary, and ambassador, his genius was as various as it was prolific. He is as much at his ease in sweeping together the chitchat of the time in his "Courtly Trifles" as in creating the character of Sir Galahad. But he only rose to his fullest strength when he turned from the fields of romance to that of Church reform and embodied the ecclesiastical abuses of his day in the figure of his "Bishop Goliath." The whole spirit of Henry and his Court in their struggle with Thomas is reflected and illustrated in the apocalypse and confession of this imaginary prelate. Picture after picture strips the veil from the corruption of the mediæval Church, its indolence, its thirst for gain, its secret immorality. The whole body of the clergy from Pope to hedge-priest is painted as busy in the chase for gain; what escapes the bishop is snapped up by the archdeacon, what escapes the archdeacon is nosed and hunted down by the dean, while a host of minor officials prowl hungrily around these greater marauders. Out of the crowd of figures which fills the canvas of the satirist, pluralist vicars, abbots "purple as their wines," monks feeding and chattering together like parrots in the refectory, rises the Philistine Bishop, light of purpose, void of conscience, lost in sensuality, drunken, unchaste, the Goliath who sums up the enormities of all, and against whose forehead this new David slings his sharp pebble of the brook.


Invasion of Ireland

It would be in the highest degree unjust to treat such invectives as sober history, or to judge the Church of the twelfth century by the taunts of Walter de Map. What writings such as his bring home to us is the upgrowth of a new literary class, not only standing apart from the Church but regarding it with a hardly disguised ill-will, and breaking down the unquestioning reverence with which men had till now regarded it by their sarcasm and abuse. The tone of intellectual contempt which begins with Walter de Map goes deepening on till it culminates in Chaucer and passes into the open revolt of the Lollard. But even in these early days we can hardly doubt that it gave Henry strength in his contest with the Church. So little indeed did he suffer from the murder of Archbishop Thomas that the years which follow it form the grandest portion of his reign. While Rome was threatening excommunication he added a new realm to his dominions. Ireland had long since fallen from the civilization and learning which its missionaries brought in the seventh century to the shores of Northumbria. Every element of improvement or progress which had been introduced into the island disappeared in the long and desperate struggle with the Danes. The coast-towns which the invaders founded, such as Dublin or Waterford, remained Danish, in blood and manners and at feud with the Celtic tribes around them, though sometimes forced by the fortunes of war to pay tribute and to accept the overlordship of the Irish kings. It was through these towns however that the intercourse with England which had ceased since the eighth century was to some extent renewed in the eleventh. Cut off from the Church of the island by national antipathy, the Danish coast-cities applied to the See of Canterbury for the ordination of their bishops, and acknowledged a right of spiritual supervision in Lanfranc and Anselm. The relations thus formed were drawn closer by a slave-trade between the two countries which the Conqueror and Bishop Wulfstan succeeded for a time in suppressing at Bristol but which appears to have quickly revived. In the twelfth century Ireland was full of Englishmen who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in spite of royal prohibitions and the spiritual menaces of the English Church. The slave-trade afforded a legitimate pretext for war, had a pretext been needed by the ambition of Henry the Second; and within a few months of that king's coronation John of Salisbury was despatched to obtain the Papal sanction for an invasion of the island. The enterprise, as it was laid before Pope Hadrian IV., took the colour of a crusade. The isolation of Ireland from the general body of Christendom, the absence of learning and civilization, the scandalous vices of its people, were alleged as the grounds of Henry's action. It was the general belief of the time that all islands fell under the jurisdiction of the Papal See, and it was as a possession of the Roman Church that Henry sought Hadrian's permission to enter Ireland. His aim was "to enlarge the bounds of the Church, to restrain the progress of vices, to correct the manners of its people and to plant virtue among them, and to increase the Christian religion." He engaged to "subject the people to laws, to extirpate vicious customs, to respect the rights of the native Churches, and to enforce the payment of Peter's pence" as a recognition of the overlordship of the Roman See. Hadrian by his bull approved the enterprise, as one prompted by "the ardour of faith and love of religion," and declared his will that the people of Ireland should receive Henry with all honour, and revere him as their lord.

The Papal bull was produced in a great council of the English baronage, but the opposition was strong enough to force on Henry a temporary abandonment of his designs, and twelve years passed before the scheme was brought to life again by the flight of Dermod, King of Leinster, to Henry's court. Dermod had been driven from his dominions in one of the endless civil wars which devastated the island; he now did homage for his kingdom to Henry, and returned to Ireland with promises of aid from the English knighthood. He was followed in 1168 by Robert FitzStephen, a son of the Constable of Cardigan, with a little band of a hundred and forty knights, sixty men-at-arms, and three or four hundred Welsh archers. Small as was the number of the adventurers, their horses and arms proved irresistible by the Irish kernes; a sally of the men of Wexford was avenged by the storm of their town; the Ossory clans were defeated with a terrible slaughter, and Dermod, seizing a head from the heap of trophies which his men piled at his feet, tore off in savage triumph its nose and lips with his teeth. The arrival of fresh forces heralded the coming of Richard of Clare, Earl of Pembroke and Striguil, a ruined baron later known by the nickname of Strongbow, and who in defiance of Henry's prohibition landed near Waterford with a force of fifteen hundred men as Dermod's mercenary. The city was at once stormed, and the united forces of the earl and king marched to the siege of Dublin. In spite of a relief attempted by the King of Connaught, who was recognized as overking of the island by the rest of the tribes, Dublin was taken by surprise; and the marriage of Richard with Eva, Dermod's daughter, left the Earl on the death of his father-in-law, which followed quickly on these successes, master of his kingdom of Leinster. The new lord had soon however to hurry back to England and appease the jealousy of Henry by the surrender of Dublin to the Crown, by doing homage for Leinster as an English lordship, and by accompanying the king in 1171 on a voyage to the new dominion which the adventurers had won.


Revolt of the younger Henry

Had fate suffered Henry to carry out his purpose, the conquest of Ireland would now have been accomplished. The King of Connaught indeed and the chiefs of Ulster refused him homage, but the rest of the Irish tribes owned his suzerainty; the bishops in synod at Cashel recognized him as their lord; and he was preparing to penetrate to the north and west, and to secure his conquest by a systematic erection of castles throughout the country, when the need of making terms with Rome, whose interdict threatened to avenge the murder of Archbishop Thomas, recalled him in the spring of 1172 to Normandy. Henry averted the threatened sentence by a show of submission. The judicial provisions in the Constitutions of Clarendon were in form annulled, and liberty of election was restored in the case of bishopricks and abbacies. In reality however the victory rested with the king. Throughout his reign ecclesiastical appointments remained practically in his hands, and the King's Court asserted its power over the spiritual jurisdiction of the bishops. But the strife with Thomas had roused into active life every element of danger which surrounded Henry, the envious dread of his neighbours, the disaffection of his own house, the disgust of the barons at the repeated blows which he levelled at their military and judicial power. The king's withdrawal of the office of sheriff from the great nobles of the shire to entrust it to the lawyers and courtiers who already furnished the staff of the royal judges quickened the resentment of the baronage into revolt. His wife Eleanor, now parted from Henry by a bitter hate, spurred her eldest son, whose coronation had given him the title of king, to demand possession of the English realm. On his father's refusal the boy sought refuge with Lewis of France, and his flight was the signal for a vast rising. France, Flanders, and Scotland joined in league against Henry; his younger sons, Richard and Geoffry, took up arms in Aquitaine, while the Earl of Leicester sailed from Flanders with an army of mercenaries to stir up England to revolt. The Earl's descent ended in a crushing defeat near St. Edmundsbury at the hands of the king's justiciars; but no sooner had the French king entered Normandy and invested Rouen than the revolt of the baronage burst into flame. The Scots crossed the border, Roger Mowbray rose in Yorkshire, Ferrars, Earl of Derby, in the midland shires, Hugh Bigod in the eastern counties, while a Flemish fleet prepared to support the insurrection by a descent upon the coast. The murder of Archbishop Thomas still hung round Henry's neck, and his first act in hurrying to England to meet these perils in 1174 was to prostrate himself before the shrine of the new martyr and to submit to a public scourging in expiation of his sin. But the penance was hardly wrought when all danger was dispelled by a series of triumphs. The King of Scotland, William the Lion, surprised by the English under cover of a mist, fell into the hands of Henry's minister, Ranulf de Glanvill, and at the retreat of the Scots the English rebels hastened to lay down their arms. With the army of mercenaries which he had brought over sea Henry was able to return to Normandy, to raise the siege of Rouen, and to reduce his sons to submission.


Later reforms

Through the next ten years Henry's power was at its height. The French king was cowed. The Scotch king bought his release in 1175 by owning Henry's suzerainty. The Scotch barons did homage, and English garrisons manned the strongest of the Scotch castles. In England itself church and baronage were alike at the king's mercy. Eleanor was imprisoned; and the younger Henry, though always troublesome, remained powerless to do harm. The king availed himself of this rest from outer foes to push forward his judicial and administrative organization. At the outset of his reign he had restored the King's Court and the occasional circuits of its justices; but the revolt was hardly over when in 1176 the Assize of Northampton rendered this institution permanent and regular by dividing the kingdom into six districts, to each of which three itinerant judges were assigned. The circuits thus marked out correspond roughly with those that still exist. The primary object of these circuits was financial; but the rendering of the king's justice went on side by side with the exaction of the king's dues, and this carrying of justice to every corner of the realm was made still more effective by the abolition of all feudal exemptions from the royal jurisdiction. The chief danger of the new system lay in the opportunities it afforded to judicial corruption; and so great were its abuses, that in 1178 Henry was forced to restrict for a while the number of justices to five, and to reserve appeals from their court to himself in council. The Court of Appeal which was thus created, that of the King in Council, gave birth as time went on to tribunal after tribunal. It is from it that the judicial powers now exercised by the Privy Council are derived, as well as the equitable jurisdiction of the Chancellor. In the next century it became the Great Council of the realm, and it is from this Great Council, in its two distinct capacities, that the Privy Council drew its legislative, and the House of Lords its judicial character. The Court of Star Chamber and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are later offshoots of Henry's Court of Appeal. From the judicial organization of the realm, he turned to its military organization, and in 1181 an Assize of Arms restored the national fyrd or militia to the place which it had lost at the Conquest. The substitution of scutage for military service had freed the crown from its dependence on the baronage and its feudal retainers; the Assize of Arms replaced this feudal organization by the older obligation of every freeman to serve in defence of the realm. Every knight was now bound to appear in coat of mail and with shield and lance, every freeholder with lance and hauberk, every burgess and poorer freeman with lance and helmet, at the king's call. The levy of an armed nation was thus placed wholly at the disposal of the Crown for purposes of defence.


Henry's death

A fresh revolt of the younger Henry with his brother Geoffry in 1183 hardly broke the current of Henry's success. The revolt ended with the young king's death, and in 1186 this was followed by the death of Geoffry. Richard, now his father's heir, remained busy in Aquitaine; and Henry was himself occupied with plans for the recovery of Jerusalem, which had been taken by Saladin in 1187. The "Saladin tithe," a tax levied on all goods and chattels, and memorable as the first English instance of taxation on personal property, was granted to the king at the opening of 1188 to support his intended Crusade. But the Crusade was hindered by strife which broke out between Richard and the new French king, Philip; and while Henry strove in vain to bring about peace, a suspicion that he purposed to make his youngest son, John, his heir drove Richard to Philip's side. His father, broken in health and spirits, negotiated fruitlessly through the winter, but with the spring of 1189 Richard and the French king suddenly appeared before Le Mans. Henry was driven in headlong flight from the town. Tradition tells how from a height where he halted to look back on the burning city, so dear to him as his birthplace, the king hurled his curse against God: "Since Thou hast taken from me the town I loved best, where I was born and bred, and where my father lies buried, I will have my revenge on Thee too--I will rob Thee of that thing Thou lovest most in me." If the words were uttered, they were the frenzied words of a dying man. Death drew Henry to the home of his race, but Tours fell as he lay at Saumur, and the hunted king was driven to beg mercy from his foes. They gave him the list of the conspirators against him: at its head was the name of one, his love for whom had brought with it the ruin that was crushing him, his youngest son, John. "Now," he said, as he turned his face to the wall, "let things go as they will--I care no more for myself or for the world." The end was come at last. Henry was borne to Chinon by the silvery waters of Vienne, and muttering, "Shame, shame on a conquered king," passed sullenly away.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works