They called the young man “Henry the Young King” to distinguish him from his father, King Henry II. The elder Henry had followed the French custom of crowning his successor during his own lifetime. It was understandable, considering the 14 long years of anarchy in England that had led up to his ascension of the throne. It was also a decision that he may have come later to regret.
If you’ve ever seen The Lion in Winter, you’re probably aware that life in the Plantagenet household wasn’t exactly peaceful. Eleanor of Aquitaine had given her first royal husband, Louis VII of France, only two daughters, but her second marriage to Henry II of England had been particularly fruitful. The royal couple had produced eight children, and five of them were boys.
Henry Jr. was the second son, and had become his father’s heir when his older brother, William, had died at the age of two. By the time he was five, he was betrothed to Margaret of France, the two-year-old daughter of Louis VII (by a subsequent wife, of course.) Margaret’s dowry included the French territory of Vexin, which had been in dispute between Louis and Henry ever since Louis had acquired it from Henry Senior’s French father, the Duke of Anjou. It was probably the main reason that the marriage had been arranged, at least from the English point of view. Since Henry and Margaret were still children, Henry II sent his troops in immediately to seize the Vexin castles.
When young Henry was 15, his father had him crowned at Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of York. It was a function normally reserved for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was taken — and probably intended — as a slap in the face to Henry II’s old friend/enemy, Thomas Becket. When Louis of France heard of the coronation, he was outraged that his daughter had not been included.
Another coronation was arranged two years later, this time for both Young Henry and his bride, and took place at Winchester Cathedral on August 27, 1172. This time the Archbishop of Rouen officiated.
Once crowned and anointed, Henry the Young King was officially a king of the realm. The problem, from his point of view, was that he had no lands and no power. Unlike his younger brothers, he had little interest in the business of government, and his father was said to have been disappointed in his heir. On the other hand, Henry II was not one to delegate responsibility — or power — ever!
What young Henry was interested in, though, was the world of the tournament. It appears that he spent most of his adult life traveling from tournament to tournament, and achieved quite a bit of fame as a result. He was one of the best-known tournament contenders in Europe, and was said to have spent at least â’¤200 a day on his retinue.
Henry’s friend and mentor through his early days was William Marshal, a former tutor and his tournament team leader. Marshal was only seven years older than Henry, but was a seasoned knight. Once, Eleanor of Aquitaine had paid a ransom for him, because she had been impressed by tales of his bravery.
But the young man’s lack of power and lands still rankled, and in 1173, only a year after his second coronation, he rebelled. His own motive can be attributed to his dissatisfaction with his own position, but his followers had other issues. Young Henry’s brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, joined the cause, and their mother, as well. A civil war resulted, fueled in part by the nobles’ discontent over some of the senior Henry’s policies. It lasted just over a year, and Henry II almost lost his throne. The tide turned when Eleanor was captured, and young Henry surrendered.
In the resulting settlement, Henry settled additional monies on his son, which allowed him to pursue his tournaments to an even greater degree.
Things were fairly quiet for a while, and Young Henry even represented his father at some state occasions. By 1182, however, the Plantagenet brothers were fighting each other: Henry, Richard, and Geoffrey all wanted control of their father’s holdings in France. Philip Augustus (Louis VII’s son) was now king of France, and, naturally, he did what he could to keep things stirred up.
Then, suddenly, in June of 1183, it was all over. Young Henry had contracted dysentery. It was obvious that he was dying, and he begged his father to see him, but Henry thought it was a ruse, and would not go. Instead, Henry the elder sent a ring as a token of his forgiveness. Henry died with it in his hands.
The immediate conflict lost momentum with Henry the Young King’s death, but it was far from over. Geoffrey and John would fight Richard, Richard would fight the Saracens, and John would vie with Richard. But all that, as they say, is another story.
Sources: Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2011 Edition: The Ultimate Go-To Guide for Special Days, Weeks, and Months, Editors of Chase’s Calendar of Events; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_27; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_the_Young_King; http://www.archontology.org/nations/uk/england/king_england/henry_young.php; http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/262128/Henry-The-Young-King; http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk/families/marshal/williammarshal.shtml; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Marshal.