Henry II, the first Plantagenet king of England, and his struggle with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket.
Henry II and Thomas a Becket
BY DAVID ROSS, EDITOR
Henry II (1154-89) was the son of Queen Maud and Geoffrey of Anjou. He took as his emblem the "sprig of broom" of the House of Anjou, which in the French of the day became "plant a genet", or Plantagenet. Henry was a good administrator, but he had a terrible temper, which would get him into trouble. He razed unlicensed castles that had sprung up during the anarchy of the civil war, and reclaimed many of the rights and powers of the crown that had laxed.
Becket's martyrdom did Canterbury Cathedral no harm at all. In a very short time miraculous cures began to be reported at his tomb. The old Cathedral burned down in 1174, and it was the growing popularity of Becket's shrine as a place of pilgrimage that paid for the rebuilding. Much of the magnificent Cathedral that we see today was built on the proceeds of gifts and the sale of "official souvenirs" at the shrine during the next few hundred years. Canterbury became one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in western Christendom.
Henry introduced several major reforms. Prior to 1166 trial by ordeal was a common way of determining guilt or innocence in criminal cases. Under this system, an accused person might have to pick up a red hot bar of iron, or pluck a stone out of a boiling cauldron. If their hand had begun to heal after three days they were considered to have God on their side, affirming their innocence. One has to wonder how many "not guilty" verdicts were rendered by this system! Henry replaced this rather painful system with a jury of 12 men. He also introduced the first personal property tax. At the same time he forced Wales to at least nominally acknowledge the sovereignty of the English crown.
The Devil's Brood
Henry was not so lucky in his family life. He was married to the forceful Eleanor of Aquitaine, and in their squabbling she turned his sons Richard, John, and Geoffrey against him. The "Devil's Brood" intrigued, fought,and rebelled against their father. In the end, the crown went to Richard while John "Lackland" received nothing. Geoffrey received even less; He died before his father.
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