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Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2


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On his return to England, the younger king did not hesitate to demand that his father would resign to him either the throne of England or one of the two duchies of Normandy and Anjou. Henry advised him to have patience until the time when all these possessions would become his. The son quitted his father's presence in anger, and from that day, in the language of an old historian, no word of peace ever more passed between them.

Henry II., determined to watch the conduct of his rebellious heir, caused him to travel with him through the duchy of Aquitaine. When the court was at Limoges, Raymond, Earl of Toulouse, who had quarrelled with the King of France, came to offer his allegiance to Henry; and having done so, he warned him to look well to the proceedings of his wife and son, and to place the fortresses of Aquitaine and Poitou in a state of defence. The king profited by the warning, and without making his suspicions known, he contrived to visit the fortresses, and to assure himself of the fidelity of the commanders. On the return from their visit to Aquitaine, the king and his son stopped to sleep at the town of Chinon; and during the night young Henry quitted the place and fled to Alencon. A pursuit was instituted, but without success; and the young man reached Argenton, whence he escaped by night into the territories of the King of France.

On the news of this escape being brought to the old king, he displayed all the energy of former years, and, mounting on horseback, he proceeded along the frontier of Normandy, inspecting the defences, and preparing against attacks. Messengers, with a similar object, were also dispatched to the captains of the royal garrisons in Anjou, Aquitaine, and Brittany. Meanwhile the two princes, Richard and Geoffrey, followed their brother to the French court, and Queen Eleanor also endeavoured to make her escape, dressed in man's clothes. She was, however, taken prisoner by those sent in pursuit of her, and was placed in an imprisonment, in which she remained, with very slight intermission, during sixteen years. Henry now sent envoys to the French court, demanding his son, and also requiring to know the intentions of the King of France. The ambassadors were received in full court, in the presence of young Henry and his brothers. When, according to the usual form, they commenced their message by enumerating the titles of their royal master, they were interrupted by Louis, who declared that there was but one King of England - namely, the young prince now standing before them.

Young Henry was recognised by a general assembly of the barons and bishops of France as having the only lawful right to the English throne. Louis VII. made oath to this effect, and after him the brothers of Henry and the barons of the kingdom. A great seal was made with the arms of the King of England, in order that Henry might affix that sign of royalty to his documents of state.

His first acts were grants of land and estates to the barons of France and the enemies of his father who were willing to join the confederacy. Among these were William, King of Scotland, who was to receive the territories of Northumberland and Cumberland, conquered by his predecessors; Philip, Earl of Flanders, to whom was promised the earldom of Kent, and the castles of Dover and Rochester; and the Earl of Blois, who was to have Amboise, Chateau-Reynault, and five hundred pounds of silver from the revenues of Anjou. Other donations were made of a similar kind, and the young king sent messengers to Rome to obtain the sanction of the Pope. It is remarkable that he demanded the assistance of the papal see on the ground that he could not submit to see the murder of his foster-father, Thomas a Becket, remain unpunished, and the murderers still living in security and affluence. He also promised large concessions to the Church and an extension of its privileges. The court of Rome, however, accustomed to act with caution, was in no hurry to reply to this despatch, and waited the course of events.

Meanwhile the cause of the rebellious son was embraced by many powerful chiefs, even among the vassals of the English king. Not a few recalled former acts of arrogance or oppression for which the present occasion offered the prospect of vengeance; others, who were young in arms, and of turbulent and adventurous spirit, were easily induced to take up arms in favour of the gay young prince. In England the Earls of Leicester and Chester were the principal supporters of his cause.

Henry, who was then in Normandy, saw himself deserted by many of the lords of his court, and it is said that even the guards of the chamber, those who were entrusted with the care of his person and his life, went over to his enemies. In circumstances such as these, with dangers thickening around him, the indomitable character and powerful mind of the king were displayed to their full extent. He possessed in a high degree those political and military talents which were hereditary in the family of the Conqueror, and although the loss of his followers was to him a cause of the greatest grief and despair (Ciraldus Cambrensis), yet he preserved a calm and cheerful countenance, pursuing his usual amusements of hunting and hawking, and showing himself more than usually gay and affable towards those who came into his presence (Matthew Paris).

The king placed his chief reliance upon his command of money, with which he hired into his service a number of foreign mercenaries, including 20,000 Brabancons. He also exercised all the arts of diplomacy to detach the neighbouring princes from the cause of his son, and sent messengers to Rome, acknowledging himself as the Pope's vassal, and entreating his assistance. The terms used by the king in his letter, in which the kingdom of England was called the patrimony of St. Peter, probably tended in some degree to excite and justify those pretensions of the see of Rome, which in subsequent reigns produced such important results. The Pope admitted the justice of the king's claims in opposition to those of his son, and confirmed the sentences of excommunication which the Norman bishops of Henry had issued against the adherents of the princes. He also sent a special legate across the Alps, commissioned to arrange terms of peace; but before the messenger arrived, the war had already commenced on the frontier of Normandy.

Allusion has already been made to the animosities existing between the different races inhabiting the continental territories of Henry II. The rebellion of the princes fomented this national hatred, and opposing nations took part in the contest, and having once drawn the sword, were not easily induced to lay it aside. While the King of France and Henry the younger were marching an army into Normandy, Richard had gone to Poitou, where most of the barons entered the field in his cause. Geoffrey met with similar success among the people of Brittany, who, with their former readiness for revolt, entered into a confederation for the purpose of securing their own interests, while ostensibly supporting the cause of their duke. The old king thus found himself attacked at several points simultaneously, while the troops whom he had at command were chiefly the Brabancon mercenaries, who, though valiant men-at-arms, were in fact little better than banditti. With a division of these troops Henry opposed the advance of the King of France, and ultimately compelled him to make a rapid retreat. Another division, which had been sent into Brittany, met with equal success against the insurgents, and the adherents of the princes were defeated wherever they showed themselves. King Louis, who possessed little persistence of character, soon grew weary of this war, as he had done on former occasions, and advised the rebellious sons to seek a reconciliation with their father. Henry consented to a conference, and the two kings met in a wide plain near to Gisors, where there was a venerable elm, whose branches descended to the ground. In this spot, from time immemorial, all conferences had been held between the dukes of Normandy and the kings of France.

The conference was attended by the two princes, accompanied by the archbishops, bishops, and nobles of both countries. The king offered to his eldest son half of the royal revenues of England, with the same portion of the incomes of Normandy and Anjou. To the other princes he also offered estates and revenues. The King of France, however, was alarmed by these conciliatory proposals, and threw difficulties in the way of a pacification, encouraging the enemies of Henry to take measures for breaking off the negotiations. One of these men was Robert, Earl of Leicester, who insulted Henry with open abuse, and even laid his hand upon his sword, as though he would have violated the truce by slaying his sovereign. He was, however, forcibly restrained by those who surrounded him. The tumult which arose was followed by a renewal of hostilities: and a desultory war, in which no engagement of importance took place, was continued during the rest of the year.

Robert of Leicester had returned to England for the purpose of joining Hugh Bigod, a powerful noble who adhered to the cause of the princes. The Scots, who had begun to make forays upon the lands in their neighbourhood, were also assuming a dangerous attitude; but were repulsed by Richard de Lucy, the king's high justiciary, who burnt their town of Berwick, and drove them back with considerable slaughter. On his return to the south ho defeated the Earl of Leicester, and took him prisoner. The Saxon peasantry of England appear to have been entirely indifferent to these disputes, and, therefore, remained quiet. The people of Normandy, also, were generally faithful to their sovereign, and it was among the recent conquests of Henry - in the provinces of Poitou and Aquitaine, Maine and Anjou - that the rebellion gained ground. Two of the natural sons of the king, who were at that time in England, exerted themselves strenuously in the cause of their father, and one of these - Geoffrey, Bishop of Lincoln - distinguished himself by various successes against the insurgent barons.

Meanwhile, Richard, having fortified a number of castles of Poitou and Aquitaine, headed a general insurrection of the people of those provinces. Against him, in the year 1174, the king marched his Brabancon troops, having placed garrisons in Normandy to repel the attacks of the King of France. Henry took possession of the town of Saintes, and also of the fortress of Taillebourg, and in his return from Anjou, devastated the frontier of Poitou, destroying the growing crops as well as the dwellings of the people. On his arrival in Normandy he received news that his eldest son, with Philip, Earl of Flanders, had prepared a great armament, with which they were about to make a descent upon the English coast. The king, whose movements on such occasions were unsurpassed for rapidity and energy, immediately took horse, and proceeded to the nearest seaport. A storm was raging as he reached the coast, but Henry immediately embarked; carrying with him as prisoners his wife Eleanor, and Margaret, the wife of his eldest son, who had not succeeded in following her husband to the court of her father.

Henry landed at Southampton, whence he proceeded to Canterbury, for the purpose of undergoing that extraordinary penance, to which some allusion has already been made. It is related that he rode all night, without resting by the way, and that when, at the dawn of day, he came in sight of Canterbury cathedral, he immediately dismounted from his horse, threw from him his shoes and royal robes, and walked the rest of the way barefoot, along a stony road. On arriving at the cathedral, the king, accompanied by a great number of bishops, abbots, and monks, including all those of Canterbury, descended to the crypt in which the corpse of Thomas a Becket was laid. Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of London, addressed the people, and said: "Be it known to all who are here present, that Henry, King of England, invoking for his soul's salvation God and the holy martyrs, protests before you all that he never commanded nor desired the death of the saint; but, as it is possible that the murderers availed themselves of some words spoken imprudently, he implores his penance from the bishops now assembled, and is willing to submit his naked flesh to the discipline of the rods." (Matthew Paris).

The king knelt upon the stone of the tomb, and, stripping off part of his clothes, exposed his back to the scourge. Each of the bishops then took one of the whips with several lashes, used in the monasteries for penance, and each, in turn, struck the king several times on the shoulders, saying, "As Christ was scourged for our sins, so be thou for thine own." The rest of the monks present, to the number of about eighty, then took the whips, and it is said that many of these, who were of Saxon descent, gave their blows with vigour, so that the penance endured by the king was not merely nominal. The scourging did not end the acts of humiliation. Henry remained a day and a night prostrate before the tomb, during which time he took no food, and did not quit the place. The fatigue which he thus underwent brought on a fever, which confined him during several days to his chamber. The display of repentance, whether real or assumed, produced a reaction in the king's favour among the people, and he at once recovered the popularity he had lost. It happened that on the day when Henry was thus humbling himself before the tomb of Becket, one of his most powerful enemies had been taken prisoner. William the Lion, of Scotland, had made a hostile incursion into the lands of the English; and on the 12th of July, when he was amusing himself by tilting in a meadow with some of his nobles, he was surprised by Ranulph de Glanville, and captured, together with those who were with him. The English people, deeply imbued with the superstition of the time, attributed this success to the favour of the martyred archbishop, and they flocked to the standard of the king. Henry was not long in recovering his strength; and, taking the field once more, he advanced against the rebellious barons, who gave way and fled at the sound of his approach. Many of their castles were carried by storm, and many were surprised before the inmates had time to escape. So many prisoners were taken that, according to Giraldus Cambrensis, there were hardly cords enough to bind them, or prisons enough to hold them.

Having effectually repressed the revolt in England, Henry passed over with his army into Normandy. The inhabitants of Poiton and Brittany were not influenced by any veneration for St. Thomas a Bucket, nor by the humiliations endured by the king at his shrine; they were not disheartened by their first defeat, and they rose again in rebellion. Meanwhile the Earl of Flanders had resigned his project of invading England as soon as Henry's return thither, and the various successes which attended him, were made known. The earl turned his forces in another direction, and having been joined by Henry, the younger king, and by Louis of France, laid siege to the town of Rouen. The attacking forces had scarcely sat down before the place, when Henry, who had returned in haste to the Continent, appeared in the scene of action, and obtained possession of the stores of the French army. Louis and his allies made but a brief resistance, and in a few days raised the siege. Their numerous army retreated hastily before the forces of the English king, who pursued his advantage, and compelled his adversaries once more to come to terms. Louis was again the first to withdraw from the contest, and proposed a conference for arranging terms of peace, to which the princes Henry and Geoffrey reluctantly assented.

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Pictures for Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2

The Siege of Waterford
The Siege of Waterford >>>>
Spoon of the Twelfth Century
Spoon of the Twelfth Century >>>>
Meeting of Henry and Louis on the Plain near Gisors
Meeting of Henry and Louis on the Plain near Gisors >>>>
Penance of Henry
Penance of Henry >>>>
Effigy of Eleanor
Effigy of Eleanor >>>>
Richard Coeur de Lion
Richard Coeur de Lion >>>>
Richard Coeur-de-Lion beside the Dead Body of his Father
Richard Coeur-de-Lion beside the Dead Body of his Father >>>>

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