Born on this day in 1133 was the baby boy who would become the first Plantagenet King of England. He was named Henry, after his grandfather.
His own father was Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, known as Plantagenet because of the sprig of a plant called planta genista that he liked to carry in his hat. His mother, Matilda, had become her father’s heir, when her brother William was killed in 1120 on the White Ship. The English were not keen on a female heir, but their king Henry I had ordered his nobles to swear allegiance to her during his lifetime.
Unfortunately after his death, the nobles had reneged on their promise and turned to Matilda’s cousin Stephen, to take the throne. Years of battles and wrangling over the inheritance would ensue, eventually leading to young Henry being named as Stephen’s heir.
He will forever be most famously remembered for the death of Thomas Beckett, even though he did not personally kill the man.
His tumultuous marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine was the stuff of legends. She first being married to his overlord, the King of France, divorcing him to marry Henry and later become Queen of England.
They had four sons who grew to adulthood, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John. Henry was declared as King during his father’s lifetime, maybe to prevent an argument over the succession as had happened with Henry’s mother. But young Henry wanted more power than his father wanted to give him, and he was eventually killed in an uprising against Henry II. Richard would become King upon the death of his father, and become known as ‘Lionheart’, though would spend very little time in England during his reign. Geoffrey would become Duke of Brittany through his marriage, from which he sired a son, Arthur, who was born after his death. John would follow his brother Richard to the throne, and go on to be remembered for his slaughter of his young nephew Arthur (to clear John’s path to the crown) and his reputation as a bad king, leading to Magna Carta.
Henry also had three daughters by his Queen, Matilda, who would become Duchess of Saxony, Eleanor, who would become Queen of Castille and Joan, who would become Queen of Sicilly.
His reign was not an easy one, he spent much of it fighting battles across france and England, even invading Ireland, to provide land for his favourite son, John.
My favourite story of Henry’s life is his affair with Rosamund Clifford. She is said to have been the love of his life. Tradition, or legend, says that he created a maze at his castle at Woodstock with a cottage for fair Rosamund hidden at the centre. He would visit her there, to hide his affair from his Queen.
She was said to have borne him children, though this has no evidence behind it. A legend that she was murdered by Eleanor is also purely fictional. She would die in a nunnery in 1176, traditionally said to have happened on the 6th July, the exact date that Henry II would die, 13 years later.
Perhaps one day I will write a story of fair Rosamund, giving up her future for the love of her life, to be holed up in a cottage amidst a maze, visited by him only occasionally, then to die in a nunnery, abandoned by lover and family. Yes there is definately a story in that……….