Claim to the English throne
Matilda, Henry's mother, was heir to the English throne as she was the eldest daughter of Henry I, King of England. But Matilda's cousin Stephen had claimed the throne with some backing from the English Barons who were opposed to a female ruler. Matilda's attempts to reclaim the throne led to a damaging civil war in England but Matilda and Henry were victorious and in 1153 Stephen was forced to recognise Henry as heir to the throne. On Stephen's death in 1154 Henry became King of England as Henry II. Henry's empire now stretched from Scotland all the way down through England, Normandy, Anjou to Aquitaine, the heart of which was at Anjou, not England.
Henry's early years as king found him controlling the rebellious Barons who had used the chaos of the civil war to fortify their homes and illegally control their territories. The castles they built are now known as the 'adulterine castles'. In Scotland and Wales Henry stamped his authority and began the process of subduing Ireland. Henry was also responsible for bringing in new legal reforms including in 1166 the Assize of Clarendon which started the jury system.
Henry is most famous for his quarrels with his friend Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1164 Henry's Constitutions of Clarendon tried to bring the church into line with the state and one statement required that a member of the church should be tried in a state court and not in a church one. The rift between Henry and Becket forced the Archbishop to leave England. When in 1170 Becket returned to England an outburst of anger by Henry led to four knights murdering Becket at Canterbury. Although Henry was cleared of any direct involvement in the crime he did penance before the Cathedral Avrances in Normandy.
Henry and his sons also quarrelled which led to conflicts in England and abroad, including a rebellion by his Barons in 1173. Two of his sons were to become kings of England, Richard (the Lion Heart) and John.
Conflicts with Eleanor and his sons, helped by Philippe II of France continued until Henry died in 1189 at Chinon in France. Henry was succeeded by Richard, his third son.
This simplified family tree shows some of the more important descendents of Henry II
|Henry (II, King of England 1154-1189)|
|Eleanor (of Aquitaine)|
|Richard (I, King of England 1189-1199)|
|John (King of England 1199-1216)|
|Isabella (of Angouleme)|
|Henry (III, King of England 1216-1272)|
|Eleanor (of Provence)|
|Edward (I, King of England 1272-1307)|