Henry the Second, 1154-1189, and 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 Plantagenets.
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.
The people of England were horrified by this brutal murder. Becket was called a martyr and his tomb became a place of pious pilgrimage. The Pope canonized him and for years he was the most venerated of English saints.
King Henry was in Normandy when the murder occurred. He declared that he had had nothing whatever to do with it and he punished the murderers.
But from this time Henry had many troubles. His own sons rebelled against him, his barons were unfriendly, and conspiracies were formed. Henry thought that God was punishing him for the murder of Becket and so determined to do penance at the tomb of the saint.
For some distance before he reached Canterbury Cathedral where Becket was buried he walked over the road with bare head and feet. After his arrival he fasted and prayed a day and a night. The next day he put scourges into the hands of the cathedral monks and said, "Scourge me as I kneel at the tomb of the saint." The monks did as he bade them and he patiently bore the pain.
Henry finally triumphed over his enemies and had some years of peace, which he devoted to the good of England.
In the last year of his life, however, he had trouble again. The king of France and Henry's son Richard took up arms against him. Henry was defeated and was forced to grant what they wished. When he saw a list of the barons who had joined the French king he found among them the name of his favorite son John, and his heart was broken. He died a few days later.
Henry's eldest surviving son, Richard, was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1190. He took the title of Richard I but is better known as "Ceur de Lion" ("the lion-hearted"), a name which was given him on account of his bravery. He had wonderful strength and his brave deeds were talked about all over the land.
With such a man for their king, the English people became devoted to chivalry, and on every field of battle brave men vied with another in brave deeds. Knighthood was often the reward of valor. Then, as now, knighthood was usually conferred upon a man by his king or queen. A part of the ceremony consisted in the sovereign's touching the kneeling subject's soldier with the flat of a sword and saying, "Arise, Sir Knight." This was called "the accolade."
Richard did not stay long in England after his coronation. In 1191 he went with Philip of France on a Crusade.
The French and English Crusaders together numbered more than one hundred thousand men. They sailed to the Holy Land and joined an army of Christian soldiers encamped before the city of Acre. The besiegers had despaired of taking the city but when reinforced they gained fresh courage.
Ceur de Lion now performed deeds of valor which gave him fame throughout Europe. He was the terror of the Saracens. In every attack on Acre he led the Christians and when the city was captured he planted his banner in triumph on its walls.
So great was the terror inspired everywhere in the Holy Land by the name of Richard that Moslem mothers are said to have made their children quiet by threatening to send for the English king.
Every night when the Crusaders encamped, the heralds blew their trumpets, and cried three times, "Save the Holy Sepulchre!" And the Crusaders knelt and said, "Amen!"
The great leader of the Saracens was Saladin. He was a model of heroism and the two leaders, one the champion of the Christians and the other the champion of the Mohammedans, vied with each other in knightly deeds.