Another who should have been king.

Actually, he was a king. Unlike the unfortunate Edward V, he was not counted in the numerical succession of England’s kings because he was crowned in his father’s lifetime and never actually ruled. I refer to the man known as Henry, the Young King.

Henry, the Young King
Henry, the Young King

Henry was born on 28th February 1155, to august parents: King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He married Marguerite of France, daughter of King Louis VII and his second wife, Constance of Castile. The bride was two years old. The groom had attained the ripe old age of five.

According to W.L. Warren, ‘he was gracious, benign, affable, courteous, the soul of liberality and generosity. Unfortunately he was also shallow, vain, careless, high-hoped, incompetent, improvident, and irresponsible.’

Coronation of Henry the Younger
Coronation of Henry the Younger

On 14th June 1170, for political reasons, he was crowned as an associate or junior king. He was not particularly interested in the business of government, preferring to spend his time in tournaments, at which he excelled. But he did want power, as did his younger brothers, Richard, who became Duke of Aquitaine and Geoffrey who became Duke of Brittany. Henry, whose patrimony would be England, Normandy and Anjou had no lands to rule because his father already ruled them. Henry the elder wasn’t about to hand over any part of his empire to a boy he he wouldn’t have trusted to oversee his kennels.

The two younger princes weren’t happy with their lot either. They complained their father kept them on a leading rein. In 1173, when Young Henry was eighteen, Richard fifteen and Geoffrey fourteen, their dissatisfaction came to a head. Louis of France stirred the pot. Add a handful of rebellious barons from most of  King Henry’s domains, a couple of ripe ingredients like King William of Scotland and Queen Eleanor herself, and pretty soon the pot bubbled over into war. Sons against their father.

King Henry squashed that lot and forgave his sons and most of those who had rebelled against him. But he never forgave his wife. She remained captive for the rest of his life. Nor were the sons chastened. The only time Old Henry got any peace from their war-mongering was when they made war on each other.

1183 found the Young King in Limoges among some of his brother Richard’s most discontented barons. When Henry II tried to enter he was met by a shower of arrows, one of which pierced his cloak.  Though Geoffrey came to the aid of his eldest brother, Young Henry was eventually forced to retire from Limoges – after robbing the townsfolk and plundering the shrine of St. Martial. When he later tried to return, the citizens threw stones at him. He wandered through southern Aquitaine, plundering shrines to pay his mercenaries, but with no particular military purpose.

At Martel he fell ill with dysentery and a fever and died on 11th June 1183. His father had been told of his illness and his pleas for forgiveness but, fearing another trick, he did not respond.

Three years later, Geoffrey was killed in a tournament. Richard, known as the Lionheart, became king after Henry II’s death.

Drawing from the recumbent statue in Rouen Cathedral.
Drawing from the recumbent statue in Rouen Cathedral.

Young Henry was buried in Rouen. Judging from his conduct toward father and siblings, his death spared England another king the like of Stephen or John.



W.L Warren: Henry II


Author: susanappleyardwriter

I am a writer and reader of historical fiction. In the eighties I had 2 books published traditionally and recently 2 books self-published. I live in Canada for half the year - the warm half - and Mexico for the other half.

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