HENRY II. THE FIRST PLANTAGENET KING
 THE Plantagenet Kings of England begin with Henry II.,
who became King in the year 1153, and end with
Richard II. two hundred and forty-five years
later. The father of Henry II. was the first to
bear this name, and he received it because of his habit
of wearing a sprig of the "broom" plant (planta
genesta) in his cap.
Henry II. was already a brilliant and powerful ruler
when he became King of England. Later he gained
lordship over Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. At their
fullest extent, his dominions included most of the
British Isles, and about half of France. This made him
the most powerful monarch in all Europe.
 Henry's personal appearance was striking. He had broad
shoulders, a thick neck, a large round head, and a
ruddy complexion. He had great physical strength, and
was accustomed to riding long and hard. In one day he
could make a journey for which others took twice or
thrice as long. He surprised both friends and enemies
with his rapid movements.
No one worked harder than did King Henry, and
throughout his reign of thirty-five years his energy
Seal of Henry II
In addition, he had an orderly mind, which enabled him
to make a plan, and follow it out against all
obstacles. He was masterful, and forced men to follow
his will. Like all his family, Henry II. was
subject to terrible fits of anger, and dark stories
were told of a witch ancestress from whom came the
taint of blood which twisted into evil the strong
passions and high courage of his race. One who knew
"He is a lamb when in good humor; but he is a lion, or
worse than a lion, when he is seriously angry. But no
one is more gentle to the distressed, more affable to
the poor, more overbearing to the proud."
Henry II. began at once to restore order and to reform
the government. He systematized the collection of
taxes, and he replaced the bad money then in
circulation with new silver coins.
 He improved the military system in two ways. First,
those English barons who did not wish to follow him in
his wars in France were permitted to remain at home,
but were required to pay a tax called "scutage," or
shield money. With this money Henry hired foreign
soldiers, who would go where he wished and remain with
him as long as necessary. Thus the barons themselves
placed in the king's hands a means of keeping them in
order. In the second place, King Henry proclaimed a
law which required every free man to provide himself
with weapons and armor according to his means, and to
be ready to serve in the army when needed. The highest
class of common freemen were to have each a helmet, a
coat of mail, a shield, and a lance. These
improvements gave the King a stronger army, and made
him independent of the barons.
Henry's greatest work was in reforming the system of
law courts. He wished to establish one law for all
parts of England, and for all classes of people. There
were many courts, some held by the lords on their
estates, or manors, and some held by the sheriffs in
the shires; but there was no connection among them, and
the same kind of offense might be punished more
severely in one place than in another. To remedy this
evil, the King appointed learned judges, whose duty it
was to travel about the country and preside over each
shire court, at least once a year. All people then had
an opportunity to get justice from the King's own
officers; and because the King's justice was good, it
was preferred by the people.
A greater reform was that which made the methods by
which trials were conducted.
 The older models of trial depended largely upon
superstition, accident, or force. Since the coming of
the Normans, the most important form of trial was
"trial by battle," or the duel. The accuser threw down
his gauntlet, which was taken up by the person accused;
then the judge set a time and place for them to fight
the combat. This was really an appeal to the judgment
of God, for it was supposed that God would interfere to
protect the innocent and reveal the guilty.
Trial by Battle
Other forms of trial were the "ordeals." In the
"ordeal by fire" the accused person was required to
carry a piece of red-hot iron in his bare hand for a
distance of nine feet. His hand was then bandaged by
the priest, and if at the end of three days the wound
was "clean," he was declared innocent. In the "ordeal
by hot water" the hand was plunged into a kettle of
boiling water, and then bandaged. In the "ordeal by
cold water" the person accused was thrown into running
water, with his hands and feet tied together. If he
floated he was guilty; if he sank he was innocent, and
must be hauled out.
In none of these modes of trial was there any attempt
to find out the facts of the case, by hearing testimony
and weighing evidence. It was one of the great merits
of Henry II. that he brought into general use a
reasonable form of trial—that which developed
into our "trial by jury." This was first applied to
cases concerning land; but later (after 1217), when the
Church saw the folly and impiety of the ordeal, trial
by jury was used in criminal cases as well.
Another reform made by Henry II. grew into the "grand
jury," by which today a body of citizens inquires
 into crimes and makes "indictments" or accusations
against the criminals, so that they may be brought to
trial. In the olden days, when powerful protectors
sometimes shielded guilty persons, and no individual
dared come forward to accuse them, such an accusation,
in the name of the community, was necessary.
 By these judicial reforms, the administration of
justice was made surer, speedier, and more certain.
Jury trial also trained the people to take part in the
administration of the law, and so fitted them for those
larger privileges in the making of the law which were
to come to them later on.
In the early part of his reign, Henry's chief counselor
was Thomas Becket, his Chancellor, or chief secretary.
Becket had received the highest education of the time,
by study in the newly founded schools of Oxford, by
travel in Italy, and by service in the church. He was
known as a man of ability in public affairs. Henry
showered riches and favors upon his new Chancellor; and
Becket adopted a magnificent style of life, and rivaled
the King himself in the splendor of his robes and the
number of his servants. This did not displease Henry,
so long as Thomas in return rendered him good service.
All went well until the King wished to carry his
reforms into the church also. He wished especially to
place the members of the clergy under the control of
the state courts, so that a churchman who committed a
crime might be tried by the same law and suffer the
same penalties as other persons. As it was, a
churchman was tried in a Church court, and often
escaped with very light punishment. Henry saw the
evils of this system, and sought to secure a reform by
appointing his friend Becket to the highest position in
the English church. Thomas protested, saying:
"I warn you that, if such a thing should be, our
friendship would soon turn to bitter hate."
But, in spite of this warning, Henry carried out his
plan, and made Becket Archbishop of Canterbury.
Becket seemed to change his nature at once. He
 resigned his office of Chancellor, saying that he must
now give all his time to the Church. He continued to
wear splendid robes, but under them he wore horsehair
garments, and his great banquets to the nobles now
became feasts for the poor.
The King was determined to make his law supreme over
all persons in the kingdom, while the archbishop was
equally determined to keep the independence of the
Church. Thus a quarrel arose. Becket soon fled to
France, and there for seven years he kept appealing to
the Pope and to the King of France for help against
King Henry. At last a reconciliation was agreed to,
and Becket returned to England. But he soon showed
that he had forgotten and forgiven nothing. He
punished with the power of the Church all those who had
sided against him; even the Archbishop of York, the
second great churchman of
 England, was "excommunicated"—that is, cut off
from the fellowship of the Church—because he had,
in Becket's absence, performed some acts which, as
Becket claimed, only the Archbishop of Canterbury could
Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury
When news of these events reached Henry, in Normandy,
he was beside himself with rage.
"What a pack of cowards have I kept about me," he
cried, "that not one of them will avenge me against
this upstart priest."
Four knights who heard the King took him at his word.
They slipped across to England, where they found Becket
in his cathedral church at Canterbury.
"Where is the traitor? Where is the archbishop?" they
"Here am I," replied Thomas, "no traitor, but a priest
Angry words followed. The knights demanded that he
withdraw his excommunication, and Becket refused, with
bitter revelings. Thereupon, they struck him to the
ground, and slew him as he lay.
King Henry owed no thanks to his brutal knights for
their foul murder. Their deed shocked the whole of
Christendom, and did great injury to the King's cause.
The people looked upon Becket as a martyr, and for
centuries pilgrims streamed to Canterbury to visit
For a time Henry was glad to leave his kingdom. He
crossed over to Ireland, to receive the submission of
its warlike chiefs, and to avoid the Pope's legates.
When the first burst of indignation was over, Henry
made his peace with the Church. He swore that he was
innocent of any part in Becket's
 murder, and promised to recall his reforms concerning
the Church. Later he paid a visit to Canterbury, to do
penance for his sin. After walking barefoot, from the
city walls to the cathedral, he knelt at the tomb of
Saint Thomas, and prayed all night for forgiveness,
while the monks of the place passed by and smote with
rods his bared back.
Henry's need to be reconciled with the Church was
pressing. A great rebellion had broken out at this
time among his barons, both in England and in France,
because of the overthrow of their feudal privileges.
The Kings of France and Scotland, as well as Henry's
eldest son, joined in the attack; and even his Queen,
Eleanor of Aquitaine, tried to escape in man's clothing
to join the rebels.
In spite of this formidable array, the energy of the
king, the loyalty of his officials, and the favor of
the people enabled him to triumph. On the very day
that Henry left Canterbury, after performing his
penance at the tomb of Saint Thomas, the king of the
Scots was surprised and captured in the north of
England. The rebellion ended almost at once. During
the remaining fifteen years of his reign Henry was
master of his realm, and was able to carry through,
without further hindrance, his far-reaching reforms.
These fifteen years were the time of Henry's greatest
power, yet they brought him only bitterness of spirit,
for his wife and sons were turned against him. For ten
years his eldest son, Henry, seized every opportunity
to attack his father. Then, when this prince died, his
next son, Richard, acted in like manner. Warfare with
his sons, and constant watching for conspiracies,
changed the King's own character, and he became gloomy
 At last, in 1189, Richard formed a widespread
conspiracy, and with the aid of the King of France
suddenly seized some of his father's French
territories. Henry II. was now old and ill; he
was surrounded by enemies, and was taken by surprise.
He was forced to accept a humiliating treaty, and to
agree that Richard's allies might transfer their
allegiance from himself to Richard. A list was given
to him of those who were in the secret league with
Richard, and at its head he saw the name of his
youngest and favorite son, John.
"He cursed the day on which he was born," says a
chronicler, "and pronounced upon his sons the curse of
God and of himself, which he would never withdraw."
Sick at heart he took to his bed, and a few days later
died, muttering at the last these words:
"Shame, shame, on a conquered King."
Though Henry II. died in despair, his life was not
unsuccessful. He was indeed selfish, and harsh, and
often he was violent in his deeds. Yet his reign was a
great benefit to England, and he deserves to rank among
the greatest of her kings. He kept down the rebellious
nobles, restored order in the government, and
introduced reforms into the administration of justice;
and the benefits of his rule have continued to the
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