Mrs.J. R. Green.

Henry the Second online

. (page 2 of 15)
Online LibraryMrs.J. R. GreenHenry the Second → online text (page 2 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

France; Angevin and Norman had been parted for generations by traditional
feuds; the Breton was at war with both; to all England was "another
world" - strange in speech, in law, and in custom. And to all the
subjects of his heterogeneous empire Henry himself was a mere foreigner.
To Gascon or to Breton he was a man of hated race and alien speech, just
as much as he was to Scot or Welshman; he seemed a stranger alike to
Angevin and Norman, and to Englishmen he came as a ruler with foreign
tastes and foreign aims as well as a foreign tongue.

We see in descriptions of the time the strange rough figure of the new
king, "Henry Curtmantel," as he was nicknamed from the short Angevin
cape which hung on his shoulders, and marked him out oddly as a foreigner
amid the English and Norman knights, with their long fur-lined cloaks
hanging to the ground. The square stout form, the bull-neck and broad
shoulders, the powerful arms and coarse rough hands, the legs bowed
from incessant riding, showed a frame fashioned to an extraordinary
strength. His head was large and round; his hair red, close-cut for
fear of baldness; his fiery face much freckled; his voice harsh and
cracked. Those about him saw something "lion-like" in his face; his gray
eyes, clear and soft in his peaceful moments, shone like fire when he was
moved, and few men were brave enough to confront him when his face was
lighted up by rising wrath, and when his eyes rolled and became bloodshot
in a paroxysm of passion. His overpowering energy found an outlet in
violent physical exertion. "With an immoderate love of hunting he led
unquiet days," following the chase over waste and wood and mountain;
and when he came home at night he was never seen to sit down save for
supper, but wore out his court with walking or standing till after
nightfall, even when his own feet and legs were covered with sores
from incessant exertion. Bitter were the complaints of his courtiers
that there was never any moment of rest for himself or his servants;
in war time indeed, they grumbled, excessive toil was natural, but time
of peace was ill-consumed in continual vigils and labours and in
incessant travel - one day following another in merciless and intolerable
journeyings. Henry had inherited the qualities of the Angevin race - its
tenacity, its courage, its endurance, the sagacity that was without
impatience, and the craft that was never at fault. With the ruddy face
and unwieldy frame of the Normans other gifts had come to him; he had
their sense of strong government and their wisdom; he was laborious,
patient, industrious, politic. He never forgot a face he had once seen,
nor anything that he heard which he deemed worthy of remembering; where
he once loved he never turned to hate, and where he once hated he was
never brought to love. Sparing in diet, wasting little care on his
dress - perhaps the plainest in his court, - frugal, "so much as was lawful
to a prince," he was lavish in matters of State or in public affairs. A
great soldier and general, he was yet an earnest striver after peace,
hating to refer to the doubtful decision of battle that which might be
settled by any other means, and stirred always by a great pity, strange
in such an age and in such a man, for lives poured out in war. "He was
more tender to dead soldiers than to the living," says a chronicler
querulously; "and found far more sorrow in the loss of those who were
slain than comfort in the love of those who remained." His pitiful temper
was early shown in his determination to put down the barbarous treatment
of shipwrecked sailors. He abolished the traditions of the civil war
by forbidding plunder, and by a resolute fidelity to his plighted word. In
political craft he was matchless; in great perils none was gentler than
he, but when the danger was past none was harsher; and common talk hinted
that he was a willing breaker of his word, deeming that in the pressure
of difficulty it was easier to repent of word than deed, and to render
vain a saying than a fact. "His mother's teaching, as we have heard, was
this: That he should delay all the business of all men; that whatever
fell into his hands he should retain along while and enjoy the fruit of
it, and keep suspended in hope those who aspired to it; confirming her
sentences with this cruel parable, 'Glut a hawk with his quarry and he
will hunt no more; show it him and then draw it back and you will ever
keep him tractable and obedient.' She taught him also that he should be
frequently in his chamber, rarely in public; that he should give nothing
to any one upon any testimony but what he had seen and known; and many
other evil things of the same kind. We, indeed," adds this good hater of
Matilda, "confidently attributed to her teaching everything in which he
displeased us."

A king of those days, indeed, was not shielded from criticism. He lived
altogether in public, with scarcely a trace of etiquette or ceremony.
When a bishop of Lincoln kept Henry waiting for dinner while he performed
a service, the king's only remedy was to send messenger after messenger
to urge him to hurry in pity to the royal hunger. The first-comer seems
to have been able to go straight to his presence at any hour, whether in
hall or chapel or sleeping-chamber; and the king was soundly rated by
every one who had seen a vision, or desired a favour, or felt himself
aggrieved in any way, with a rude plainness of speech which made sorely
necessary his proverbial patience under such harangues. "Our king," says
Walter Map, "whose power all the world fears, ... does not presume to be
haughty, nor speak with a proud tongue, nor exalt himself over any man."
The feudal barons of medieval times had, indeed, few of the qualities
that made the courtiers of later days, and Henry, violent as he was,
could bear much rough counsel and plain reproof. No flatterer found favour
at his court. His special friends were men of learning or of saintly
life. Eager and eloquent in talk, his curiosity was boundless. He is said
to have known all languages from Gaul to the Jordan, though he only spoke
French and Latin. Very discreet in all business of the kingdom, and a
subtle finder out of legal puzzles, he had "knowledge of almost all
histories, and experience of all things ready to his hand." Henry was,
in fact, learned far beyond the learning of his day. "The king," wrote
Peter of Blois to the Archbishop of Palermo, "has always in his hands
bows and arrows, swords and hunting-spears, save when he is busy in
council or over his books. For as often as he can get breathing-time
amid his business cares, he occupies himself with private reading, or
takes pains in working out some knotty question among his clerks. Your
king is a good scholar, but ours is far better. I know the abilities and
accomplishments of both. You know that the King of Sicily was my pupil
for a year; you yourself taught him the element of verse-making and
literary composition; from me he had further and deeper lessons, but as
soon as I left the kingdom he threw away his books, and took to the
easy-going ways of the court. But with the King of England there is
school every day, constant conversation of the best scholars and
discussion of questions."

Behind all this amazing activity, however, lay the dark and terrible
side of Henry's character. All the violent contrasts and contradictions
of the age, which make it so hard to grasp, were gathered up in his
varied heritage; the half-savage nature which at that time we meet with
again and again united with first-class intellectual gifts; the fierce
defiance born of a time when every man had to look solely to his own
right hand for security of life and limb and earthly regard - a defiance
caught now and again in the grip of an overwhelming awe before the
portents of the invisible world; the sudden mad outbreaks of irresponsible
passion which still mark certain classes in our own day, but which then
swept over a violent and undisciplined society. Even to his own time, used
as it was to such strange contrasts, Henry was a puzzle. Men saw him
diligently attend mass every day, and restlessly busy himself during the
most solemn moments in scribbling, in drawing pictures, in talking to his
courtiers, in settling the affairs of State; or heard how he refused
confession till forced to it by terror in the last extremity of
sickness, and then turned it into a surprising ceremony of apology and
self-justification. At one time they saw him, conscience-smitten at the
warning of some seer of visions, sitting up through the night amid a
tumultuous crowd to avert the wrath of Heaven by hastily restoring rights
and dues which he was said to have unjustly taken, and when the dawning
light of day brought cooler counsel, swift to send the rest of his
murmuring suitors empty away; at another bowing panic-stricken in his
chapel before some sudden word of ominous prophecy; or as a pilgrim,
barefoot, with staff in hand; or kneeling through the night before a
shrine, with scourgings and fastings and tears. His steady sense of order,
justice, and government, broken as it was by fits of violent passion,
resumed its sway as soon as the storm was over; but the awful wrath which
would suddenly break forth, when the king's face changed, and he rolled on
the ground in a paroxysm of madness, seemed to have something of diabolic
origin. A story was told of a demon ancestress of the Angevin princes:
"From the devil they came, and to the devil they will go," said the grim
fatalism of the day.



The new kingdom which Henry had added to his dominions in France might
well seem to a man of less inexhaustible energy to make the task of
government impossible. The imperial system of his dreams was as recklessly
defiant of physical difficulties as it was heedless of all the sentiments
of national tradition. In the two halves of his empire no common political
interest and no common peril could arise; the histories of north and south
were carried on apart, as completely as the histories of America and
England when they were apparently united under one king, and were in fact
utterly severed by the ocean which defined the limits of two worlds.
England had little part or lot in the history of Europe. Foreign policy
it had none; when its kings passed to Normandy, English chroniclers
knew nothing of their doings or their wars. Some little trade was
carried on with the nearest lands across the sea, - with Normandy, with
Flanders, or with Scandinavia, - but the country was almost wholly
agricultural. Feudal in its social structure, governed by tradition, with
little movement of inner life or contact with the world about it, its
people had remained jealous of strangers, and as yet distinguished from
the nations of Europe by a strange immobility and want of sympathy with
the intellectual and moral movements around them. Sometimes strangers
visited its kings; sometimes English pilgrims made their way to Rome by a
dangerous and troublesome journey. But even the connection with the
Papacy was slight. A foreign legate had scarcely ever landed on its
shores; hardly any appeals were carried to the Roman Curia; the Church
managed its own business after a customary fashion which was in harmony
with English traditions, which had grown up during centuries of undisturbed
and separate life.

On the other side of the Channel Henry ruled over a straggling line of
loosely compacted states equal in extent to almost half of the present
France. His long line of ill-defended frontier brought him in contact
with the lands of the Count of Flanders, one of the chief military
powers of the day; with the kingdom of France, which, after two hundred
years of insignificance, was beginning to assert its sway over the great
feudal vassals, and preparing to build up a powerful monarchy; and with
the Spanish kingdoms which were emerging from the first successful
effort of the Christian states to throw back the power of the Moors.
Normandy and Auvergne were separated only by a narrow belt of country
from the Empire, which, under the greatest ruler and warrior of the age,
Frederick Barbarossa, was extending its power over Burgundy, Provence,
and Italy. His claims to the over-lordship of Toulouse gave Henry an
interest in the affairs of the great Mediterranean power - the kingdom of
Sicily; and his later attempts on the territories of the Count of
Maurienne brought him into close connection with Italian politics. No
ruler of his time was forced more directly than Henry into the range of
such international politics as were possible in the then dim and
inchoate state of European affairs. England, which in the mind of the
Norman kings had taken the first place, fell into the second rank of
interests with her Angevin rulers. Henry's thoughts and hopes and
ambitions centred in his continental domains. Lord of Rouen, of Angers,
of Bordeaux, master of the sea-coast from Flanders to the Pyrenees, he
seemed to hold in his hand the feeble King of Paris and of Orleans, who
was still without a son to inherit his dignities and lands. The balance
of power, as of ability and military skill, lay on his side; and, long
as the House of Anjou had been the bulwark of the French throne, it even
seemed as if the time might come peaceably to mount it themselves.
Looking from our own island at the work which Henry did, and seeing more
clearly by the light of later events, we may almost forget the European
ruler in the English king. But this was far from being the view of his
own day. In the thirty-five years of his reign little more than thirteen
years were spent in England and over twenty-one in France. Thrice only
did he remain in the kingdom as much as two years at a time; for the
most part his visits were but for a few months torn from the incessant
tumult and toil of government abroad; and it was only after long years
of battling against invincible forces that he at last recognized England
as the main factor of his policy, and in great crises chose rather to
act as an English king than as the creator of an empire.

The first year after Henry's coronation as King of England was spent in
securing his newly-won possession. On Christmas Day, 1154, he called
together the solemn assembly of prelates, barons, and wise men which had
not met for fifteen years. The royal state of the court was restored;
the great officers of the household returned to their posts. The Primate
was again set in the place he held from early English times as the chief
adviser of the crown. The nephew of Roger of Salisbury, Nigel, Bishop of
Ely, was restored to the post of treasurer from which Stephen had driven
him fifteen years before. Richard de Lucy and the Earl of Leicester were
made justiciars. One new man was appointed among these older officers.
Thomas, the son of Gilbert Becket, was born in Cheapside in 1117. His
father, a Norman merchant who had settled by the Thames, had prospered
in the world; he had been portreeve of London, the predecessor of the
modern mayor, and visitors of all kinds gathered at his house, - London
merchants and Norman nobles and learned clerks of Italy and Gaul His son
was first taught by the Augustinian canons of Merton Priory, afterwards
he attended schools in London, and at twenty was sent to Paris for a
year's study. After his return he served in a London office, and as
clerk to the sheriffs he was directly concerned during the time of the
civil war with the government of the city. It was during these years
that the Archbishop of Canterbury began to form his household into the
most famous school of learning in England, and some of his chaplains in
their visits to Cheapside had been struck by the brilliant talents of
the young clerk. At Theobald's request Thomas, then twenty-four years
old, entered the Primate's household, somewhat reluctantly it would
seem, for he had as yet shown little zeal either for religion or for
study. He was at once brought into the most brilliant circle of that
day. The chancellor and secretary was John of Salisbury, the pupil of
Abelard, the friend of St. Bernard and of Pope Adrian IV., the first
among English men of letters, in whom all the learning of the day was
summed up. With him were Roger of Pont l'Evêque, afterwards archbishop
of York; John of Canterbury, later archbishop of Lyons; Ralph of Sarr,
later dean of Reims; and a distinguished group of lesser men; but from
the time when Thomas entered the household "there was none dearer to the
archbishop than he." "Slight and pale, with dark hair, long nose, and
straightly-featured face, blithe of countenance, keen of thought,
winning and lovable in conversation, frank of speech, but slightly
stuttering in his talk," he had a singular gift of winning affection;
and even from his youth he was "a prudent son of the world." It was
Theobald who had first brought the Canon law to England, and Thomas at
once received his due training in it, being sent to Bologna to study
under Gratian, and then to Auxerre. He was very quickly employed in
important negotiations. When in 1152 Stephen sought to have his son
Eustace anointed king, Thomas was sent to Rome, and by his skilful plea
that the papal claims had not been duly recognized in Stephen's scheme
he induced the Pope to forbid the coronation. In his first political act
therefore he definitely took his place not only as an adherent of the
Angevin claim, but as a resolute asserter of papal and ecclesiastical
rights. At his return favours were poured out upon him. While in the
lowest grade of orders, not yet a deacon, various livings and prebends
fell to his lot. A fortnight before Stephen's death Theobald ordained
him deacon, and gave him the archdeaconry of Canterbury, the first place
in the English Church after the bishops and abbots; and he must have
taken part under the Primate in the work of governing the kingdom until
Henry's arrival. The archbishop was above all anxious to secure in the
councils of the new king the due influence not only of the Church, but
of the new school of the canon lawyers who were so profoundly modifying
the Church. He saw in Thomas the fittest instrument to carryout his
plans; and by his influence the archdeacon of Canterbury found himself,
a week after the coronation of Henry, the king's chancellor.

Thomas was now thirty-eight; Theobald, Nigel, and Leicester were all old
men, and the young king of twenty-two must have seemed a mere boy to his
new counsellors. The Empress had been left in Normandy to avoid the
revival of old quarrels. Hated in England for her proud contempt of the
burgher, her scorn of the churchman, her insolence to her adherents, she
won in Normandy a fairer fame, as "a woman of excellent disposition,
kind to all, bountiful in almsgiving, the friend of religion, of honest
life." The political activity of Queen Eleanor was brought to an abrupt
close by her marriage. In Henry she found a master very different from
Louis of France, and her enforced withdrawal from public affairs during
her husband's life contrasts strangely, not only with her former career,
but with the energy which, when the heavy yoke was taken off her neck,
she displayed as an old woman of nearly seventy during the reign of her
son. Henry, in fact, stood alone among his new people. No debt of
gratitude, no ties of friendship, bound the king to the lords whose aims
he had first learned to know at Wallingford. The great barons who
thronged round him in his court had all been rebels; the younger among
them had never known what order, government, or loyalty meant. The Church
was hesitating and timorous. To the people he was an utter stranger,
unable even to speak their tongue. But from the first Henry took his
place as absolute master and leader. "A strict regard to justice was
apparent in him, and at the very outset he bore the appearance of a
great prince."

The king at once put in force the scheme of reform which had been drawn
up the year before at Wallingford, and of which the provisions have
comedown to us in phrases drawn from the two sources which were most
familiar to the learned and the vulgar of that day, - the Bible, and the
prophecies of Merlin, the seer of King Arthur. The nobles were to give
up all illegal rights and estates which they had usurped. The castles
built by the warring barons were to be destroyed. The king was to bring
back husbandmen to the desolate fields, and to stock pastures and
forests and hillsides with cattle and deer and sheep. The clergy were
henceforth to live in quiet, not vexed by unaccustomed burdens. Sheriffs
were to be restored to the counties, who should do justice without
corruption, nor persecute any for malice; thieves and robbers were to be
hanged; the armed forces were to be disbanded; the knights were to beat
their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; the
hired Flemish soldiers were to turn from the camp to the plough, from
tents to workshops, there to render as servants the obedience they had
once demanded as masters. The work which Stephen had failed to do was
now swiftly accomplished. The Flemish mercenaries vanished "like
phantoms," or "like wax before the fire," and their leader, William of
Ypres, the lord of Kent, turned with weeping to a monastery in his own
land. The feudal lords were forced to give up such castles and lands as
they had wrongfully usurped; and the newly-created earls were deprived
of titles which they had wrung from King or Empress in the civil wars.

The great nobles of both parties made a last effort at resistance. In
the north the Count of Aumale ruled almost as king. He was of the House
of Champagne, son of that Count Stephen who had once been set up as
claimant to the English throne, and near kinsman both of Henry and of
Stephen. He now refused to give up Scarborough Castle; behind him lay
the armies of the Scot king, and if Aumale's rebellion were successful
the whole north must be lost. A rising on the Welsh border marked the
revival of the old danger of which Henry himself had had experience in
the castle of his uncle, Robert of Gloucester, when the Empress and
Robert, with his Welsh connections and alliances, had dominated the
whole of the south-west. Hugh Mortimer, lord of Wigmore, Cleobury, and
Bridgenorth, the most powerful lord on the Welsh border, and Roger, Earl
of Hereford and lord of Gloucester, and connected by his mother with the
royal house of Wales, prepared for war. Immediately after his crowning
Henry hurried to the north, accompanied by Theobald, and forced Aumale
to submission. The fear of him fell on the barons. Roger of Hereford
submitted, and the earldom of Hereford and city of Gloucester were placed
in Henry's hands. The whole force of the kingdom was called out against
Hugh Mortimer, and Bridgenorth, fortified fifty years before by Robert
of Belesme, was reduced in July. The next year William of Warenne, the
son of Stephen, gave up all his castles in England and Normandy, and the
power of the House of Blois in the realm was finally extinguished. Hugh
Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, was deprived of his fortresses, and the eastern
counties were thus secured as those of the north and west had been.

The borders of the kingdom were now safe; its worst elements of disorder
were suppressed; and the bishops and barons had taken an oath of
allegiance to his son William, and in case of William's death to the
infant Henry, born in February 1155. When Henry was called abroad in
January 1156, he could safely leave the kingdom for a year in the charge
of Queen Eleanor and of the justiciars. His return was marked by a new
triumph. The death of David and the succession of his grandson Malcolm, a
boy of twelve years old, gave opportunity for asserting his suzerainty
over Scotland, and freeing himself from his oath made in 1149 at Carlisle
to grant the land beyond the Tyne to David and his heirs for ever.
Malcolm was brought to do homage to him at Chester in June 1157, and
Northumberland and Cumberland passed into Henry's hands. Malcolm and his
successor William followed him in his wars and attended at his courts,
and whatever Henry's actual authority might be, in the eyes of his
English subjects at least he ruled to the farthest borders of Scotland.
He next turned to the settlement of Wales. The civil war had violently
interrupted the peaceful processes by which Henry I. sought to bring the
Welsh under English law. The princes of Wales had practically regained
their independence, while the Norman lords who had carved out estates for
themselves along its borders, indignant at Stephen's desertion of them,

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryMrs.J. R. GreenHenry the Second → online text (page 2 of 15)