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Re: Angevin History...

Poster: angela@ascc01.ascc.lucent.com (Angela K. Pincha-Neel - ASCC)

And now, for a Historical Break...

... concerning Henry II and Thomas Becket...

"Throughout the first years of Henry's reign, his attention was divided between
England and Anjou. <...> However, the most significant (and certainly most
famous) story of Henry's reign began in 1162. That year Archbishop Theobald of
Canterbury died. This very important clerical post was open for over a year,
when in June, 1162, Henry appointed Thomas Becket Archbishop of Canterbury.
Becket at the time was Chancellor and well respected, but a very good friend to
the King, maybe too much so, his critics claimed.

The world underestimated Thomas Becket. Fully aware of public opinion, Becket
decided he would be a good Archbishop, perhaps even a great one. Some
contemporaries claim he actually had a conversion. Whatever the reason, Becket
went out of his way to oppose the King. It did not take Henry long to regret
his decision. The issue that brought Henry and Becket to the brink of their
destinies was an oldone--what to do with a churchman that breaks the laws of
England. Like many layman, Henry wanted criminous clerks defrocked and tried by
a lay court. Becket, of course, felt clerics should be tried in ecclesiastical
courts. At Clarendon, Henry presented the bishops of England, led by Archbishop
Becket, with a statement of the King's customary rights over the church. Becket
argued for two days, but finally, with the bishops in tow, gave in. No sooner
was the ink dry, then Becket changed his mind. In desperation, Henry had Becket
arrested on false charges, found guilty, and forced to forfeit all estates. In
despair, Becket fled across the Channel.

For the next five years Becket remained in exile and Henry concentrated on
other matters. He conquered Brittainy and overhauled the English legal system.
(His reforms were revolutionary. The father of English common law, Henry made
innovations manifest today in the form of localized and complex government.)
But in 1170, Becket returned to England. Tales of his outrageous behavior and
continued opposition to the King wasted no time in finding their way to Henry
in Normandy. "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" Henry allegedly
shouted. True or not, Henry undoubtedly did mumble some words of frustration,
and in response four of Henry's knights went looking for Becket. They found him
at Canterbury Cathedral where Becket had gone to hear evening vespers. They
first struck him with the flat of a sword. According to William FitzStephen,
the warning, "Fly, you are a dead man," was shouted by one of the attackers,
but Becket resisted and was brutally murdered.

By all contemporary accounts, Henry appears to have been horrified by the
actions of his knights. <...> While Henry mourned, the rest of Christiandom was
outraged. Becket, canonized in record time, became a symbol of resistance
against oppressive authority. Henry dd penitence for his role in Becket's
death, appointed Thomas Becket but he ordered the Bishop of London to declare
in a sermon that he had not commanded Becket's death. After the storm died down
it became apparent that despite the scandal, Henry was at the height of his
power. The real threat would come from his family.

Henry was plagued with rebellious sons. Henry the Younger, the oldest son, was
actually crowned successor in 1169, but wanted more than just a title. Richard
and John felt left out all together, and spurred on by Eleanor, Henry's wife,
launched one plot after another. However, the Young King Henry died in 1183,
leaving Richard the oldest surviving son, poised for the succession. But
Henry's preference for John was obvious. Richard, pushed to the point of open
rebellion, joined with Philip II of France in an attempt to destroy the Angevin
empire and Henry. In July, 1189, with his health failing, Henry accepted a
humiliating peace. When given a list of names of those who had fought against
him, he was shocked to find John's name among them. He turned his face away and
according his his chroniclers said, "Enough; now let things go as they may; I
care no more for myself or for the world ... Shame, shame on a conquered king."
A month later Henry died. "

Biographical information from,"The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England",
ed. Antonia Frasier; "The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy",
ed. John Cannon and Ralph Griffiths

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