In the last nine years of Henry's reign his work lay elsewhere than in his English kingdom. They were years spent in a passionate effort to hold together the unwieldy empire he had so laboriously built up. On the death of Louis in 1180 the peaceful and timid traditions of his reign were cast aside by the warlike Philip, who had from childhood cherished a violent hatred against Henry, and who was bent on the destruction of rival powers, and the triumph of the monarchy in France. Henry's absorbing care, on the other hand, was to prevent war; and during the next four years he constantly forced reconciliation on the warring princes of France. "All who loved peace rejoiced at his coming," the chroniclers constantly repeat. "He had faith in the Lord, that if he crossed over he could make peace." "As though always at his coming peace should certainly be made."

But in Britanny and in Aquitaine there was no peace. The sons whom he had set over his provinces had already revolted in 1173. In 1177 fresh troubles broke out, and from that time their history was one of unbroken revolt against their father and strife amongst themselves. "Dost thou not know," Geoffrey once answered a messenger of his father's, sent to urge him to peace, "that it is our proper nature, planted in us by inheritance from our ancestors, that none of us should love the other, but that ever brother should strive against brother, and son against father. I would not that thou shouldst deprive us of our hereditary right, nor vainly seek to rob us of our nature!" In 1182 Henry sought once more to define the authority of his sons, and to assert the unity of the Empire under his own supremacy by ordering Richard and Geoffrey to do homage to their brother for Aquitaine and Britanny. Richard's passionate refusal struck the first open blow at his father's imperial schemes, and war at once broke out. The nobles of Aquitaine, weary of the severe rule of Richard, had long plotted to set in his place his gentler brother Henry, and the young king, along with Geoffrey, lent himself openly to the conspiracy. In 1183 they called for help from Flanders, France, and Normandy, and a general revolt seemed on the point of breaking out, like that of ten years before. Henry II. was forced to march himself into Aquitaine. But in a war with his sons he was no longer the same man as when he fought with French king or rebel barons. His political sagacity and his passionate love of his children fought an unequal battle. Duped by every show of affection, he was at their mercy in intrigue. Twice peaceful embassies, which he sent to Henry and Geoffrey, were slain before their eyes without protest. As he himself talked with them they coolly saw one of their archers shoot at him and wound his horse. The younger Henry pretended to make peace with his father, sitting at meat with him, and eating out of the same dish, that Geoffrey might have time to ravage the land unhindered. Geoffrey successfully adopted the same device in order to plunder the churches of Limoges. The wretched strife was only closed at last by the death of the younger Henry in 1183.

His death, however, only opened new anxieties. Richard now claimed to take his brother's place as heir to the imperial dignity, while at the same time he exercised undivided lordship over an important state a position which the king had again and again refused to Henry. Geoffrey, whose over-lord the young king had been, sought to rule Britanny as a dependent of Philip, and his plots in Paris with the French king were only ended by his death in 1185. Philip, on his part, demanded, at the death of the young king, the restoration of Margaret's dowry, the Vexin and Gisors; when Geoffrey died he claimed to be formally recognized as suzerain of Britanny, and guardian of his infant; he demanded that Richard should do homage directly to him as sovereign lord of Aquitaine, and determined to assert his rights over the lands so long debated of Berri and Auvergne. For the last years of Henry's reign disputes raged round these points, and more than once war was only averted by the excitement which swept over Europe at the disastrous news from the Holy Land.