The new kingdom which Henry had added to his dominions in France might well seem to a man of less inexhaustible energy to make the task of government impossible. The imperial system of his dreams was as recklessly defiant of physical difficulties as it was heedless of all the sentiments of national tradition. In the two halves of his empire no common political interest and no common peril could arise; the histories of north and south were carried on apart, as completely as the histories of America and England when they were apparently united under one king, and were in fact utterly severed by the ocean which defined the limits of two worlds. England had little part or lot in the history of Europe. Foreign policy it had none; when its kings passed to Normandy, English chroniclers knew nothing of their doings or their wars. Some little trade was carried on with the nearest lands across the sea, - with Normandy, with Flanders, or with Scandinavia, - but the country was almost wholly agricultural. Feudal in its social structure, governed by tradition, with little movement of inner life or contact with the world about it, its people had remained jealous of strangers, and as yet distinguished from the nations of Europe by a strange immobility and want of sympathy with the intellectual and moral movements around them. Sometimes strangers visited its kings; sometimes English pilgrims made their way to Rome by a dangerous and troublesome journey. But even the connection with the Papacy was slight. A foreign legate had scarcely ever landed on its shores; hardly any appeals were carried to the Roman Curia; the Church managed its own business after a customary fashion which was in harmony with English traditions, which had grown up during centuries of undisturbed and separate life.

On the other side of the Channel Henry ruled over a straggling line of loosely compacted states equal in extent to almost half of the present France. His long line of ill-defended frontier brought him in contact with the lands of the Count of Flanders, one of the chief military powers of the day; with the kingdom of France, which, after two hundred years of insignificance, was beginning to assert its sway over the great feudal vassals, and preparing to build up a powerful monarchy; and with the Spanish kingdoms which were emerging from the first successful effort of the Christian states to throw back the power of the Moors. Normandy and Auvergne were separated only by a narrow belt of country from the Empire, which, under the greatest ruler and warrior of the age, Frederick Barbarossa, was extending its power over Burgundy, Provence, and Italy. His claims to the over-lordship of Toulouse gave Henry an interest in the affairs of the great Mediterranean power - the kingdom of Sicily; and his later attempts on the territories of the Count of Maurienne brought him into close connection with Italian politics. No ruler of his time was forced more directly than Henry into the range of such international politics as were possible in the then dim and inchoate state of European affairs. England, which in the mind of the Norman kings had taken the first place, fell into the second rank of interests with her Angevin rulers. Henry's thoughts and hopes and ambitions centred in his continental domains. Lord of Rouen, of Angers, of Bordeaux, master of the sea-coast from Flanders to the Pyrenees, he seemed to hold in his hand the feeble King of Paris and of Orleans, who was still without a son to inherit his dignities and lands. The balance of power, as of ability and military skill, lay on his side; and, long as the House of Anjou had been the bulwark of the French throne, it even seemed as if the time might come peaceably to mount it themselves. Looking from our own island at the work which Henry did, and seeing more clearly by the light of later events, we may almost forget the European ruler in the English king. But this was far from being the view of his own day. In the thirty-five years of his reign little more than thirteen years were spent in England and over twenty-one in France. Thrice only did he remain in the kingdom as much as two years at a time; for the most part his visits were but for a few months torn from the incessant tumult and toil of government abroad; and it was only after long years of battling against invincible forces that he at last recognized England as the main factor of his policy, and in great crises chose rather to act as an English king than as the creator of an empire.