Facts about Henry II
King Henry II Biography
Henry II was an educated and able monarch during his reign, but he went down in history as the guy who had Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket murdered — creating a martyr and a saint.
From France, Henry II arrived in England to find he was the king of the mess Stephen had left behind. Henry had a knack for administration and is said to have put things right within the first few years of his reign.
Henry had a close relationship with Thomas Becket, his Lord Chancellor and his mentor (Becket was fifteen years his senior). He nominated Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. After Becket took the position, he resigned from governmental duties and sided with the Church in its battles with royal authority. Henry felt betrayed.
Henry forced Becket’s hand by issuing the Constitutions of Clarendon in 1164, an attempt to limit clerical jurisdiction and increase royal authority. Becket refused to sign, was charged with contempt of the king and fled England. He lived in exile for six years.
In 1170, Henry is said to have uttered words that were taken as an order to kill Becket. The Archbishop was murdered inside the church, forever brandishing Henry with a bad reputation and diminishing royal authority until the English Reformation.
Henry was young when he took the throne and controlled land all over Britain and France. His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152 increased his reach so that he was more than King of England upon taking the throne.
Later in life, he fought off rebellions from his sons, who were urged on by their mother, Eleanor. In 1188 Henry’s son Richard joined King Philip of France in battle against his father; Henry was forced into a treaty that included a pardon of Richard and his followers (among them, Henry’s favorite son, John).
Richard went on to take the throne on 3 September 1189 as Richard I.