Moonday’s Heroic Hunk: King Henry II

This week we’ll feature the male half of one of my favorite heroic couples in history. Henry II was the son of the Empess Matilda. Matilda’s father (King Henry I of England) named her his heir but her cousin (Stephen) usurped the throne and reigned until his death in 1154—despite Matilda’s efforts.

Young Henry


Her son, Henry Plantagenet, was determined that England would be his (as if he didn’t have enough land to rule already). Born in 1133, Henry inherited the French possessions of Anjou, Normandy, Maine, and Gascony. But Henry wanted MORE!
At the age of 19, Henry met the 30-year-old Eleanor of Aquitaine who was Queen of France—it was lust at first sight. Eleanor had inherited the Duchy of Aquitaine and Gascony at her father’s death. King Louis the Fat of France (what a name!!), took advantage of his position as her guardian to marry her to his son Phillip which brought her rich lands directly under the French Crown—provided Phillip could provide a male heir. Two daughters and fifteen unhappy years later, Phillip and Eleanor had their marriage annulled. He kept the daughters. Eleanor got Aquitaine and Gascony and, two months after the annulment, 19-year-old Henry.     

Peter O'Toole as Henry


The wedding was “without the pomp or ceremony that befitted their rank.” Eight kids later, their stormy relationship disintegrated when Eleanor encouraged her children to rebel against their father in 1173. Eleanor remained under house arrest for fifteen years—but more on her next week.      

 When King Stephen died in 1154, Henry made his move. He was crowned King of England on Christmas Day. Contemporary sources state that Henry was strongly built, with a large, leonine head, freckled fiery face and red hair cut short. His eyes were grey and his voice was harsh and cracked. He would walk or ride until his attendants and courtiers were worn out and his feet and legs were covered with blisters and sores. Henry didn’t sit, unless riding a horse or eating.
Henry II established Magistrate Courts and trial by jury. He dressed casually and lived a frugal life. He distributed one tenth of all the food bought to the royal court amongst his poorest subjects. Henry had a sense of humor and indulged in needlework (Yes, needlework.) He also had a temper which unintentionally led to the death of his former friend Thomas Becket who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by some of Henry’s knights. (Henry ended up doing penance on his knees in ashes and sackcloth for that one.) 

O'Toole in Lion in Winter


Henry had numerous mistresses and illegitimate kids. He met his favorite, Rosamund Clifford (the Fair Rosamund)—the daughter of one of his Marcher lords, when she was 13 years old. When Louis VII, Eleanor’s ex-husband, sent his daughter Alys, to Henry’s court to marry Richard, Henry kept her for himself as his mistress.        

Henry's Tomb


 In his declining years, Henry was estranged from his legitimate children. When Henry died in 1189, only his illegitimate son, Geoffrey (the Archbishop of York) was at his side. His son, Richard the Lion Hearted, would succeed him and his younger,  favorite son John (the Lackland of Magna Carta fame) succeeded him. Next week, Eleanor’s story.      




7 Responses

  1. Another great post, Rita. All the intrigues of the courts are fun to read about.

  2. You can’t help but wonder about the psychological makeup of a man driven to the point of physical injury in his activities.

    And women were reduced to obedient sheep, with only the rare exception. Fascinating times to study but I wouldn’t have wanted to live then. I’d have been the one who never got to have a knife at dinner–I’d be too tempted to hide it in one of those wonderful flowing sleeves and later alter the state of a cheating husband’s physical being! LOL

    Nice, Rita! Can’t wait for Eleanor!

  3. Oh, this makes me want to go watch The Lion in Winter again ( for the umptieth time!) Love me some Plantagenet intrigue. They were even hotter than the Tudors, IMO — wish HBO would do a series on them.

  4. rita- thought you and runere would like this:

    I found it interesting

    • Love the story, sfcatty. Gladiators were slaves and were not usually ROman. York was a border fort/town with Scotland and the dreaded Picts–Hadrian’s and Antonine’s Walls . Since they are saying ROman, I would bet they are soldiers. As for bites/mauling, England at that time contained bears and wolves and wild boars. Can’t wait to see more info, esp DNA. THanks so much RitaVF

  5. Great post Rita, I had no idea Eleanor and Henry were that far apart in age. Usually, it was the other way around, the girl young and the man much older.

    I wonder how many other female members of aristrocracy of Europe were older ( a lot older) than their husbands. (not lovers, cause I understand there was a lot of playin’ around back then. )
    You did mention a post on cougars – didn’t you?

    • Thanks, Allison. Royal marriages were about politics/diplomacy–significant age differences were not uncommon. The 13th century German Emperor Frederic II Hohenstaufen (another of my favorites) was born in a square so everyone could see that his 40 year old mother was really his mother. His first wife that he married at 14 was a 25 year old widow, It was reported that they got along just fine. Go Figure! RitaVF

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