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Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 4


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Six years before the death of Geoffrey, Louis VII. of France had died, and the throne became occupied by his son, Philip II., a young and warlike prince. He it was who had welcomed Geoffrey to the French court, and who now invited his brother Richard to enjoy the same honours. The invitation was accepted, and a great friendship - which, however, was not destined to endure in after years - sprung up between the two princes. This state of things displeased Henry, who sent repeated messages to his son, desiring him to return to England. After various excuses and delays, Richard set out, apparently for that purpose; but on reaching Chinon, where one of the royal treasuries was placed, he carried off the contents by force. The money thus obtained was spent in fortifying castles in Aquitaine, whither he immediately proceeded. The people of that province, disgusted with the result of their previous rebellion, offered him no support, and after a short time he was compelled to return to his father. Henry, who had learnt to distrust the efficacy of the most solemn oaths, collected a great assembly of the clergy and the barons to bear witness to his son's new vows of good faith and duty.

In the following year (1187) the state of affairs in the Holy Land again attracted the attention of the princes of the west. Jerusalem, with its sacred treasures and relics, had again fallen into the hands of the Mahometans, who were headed by a young and warlike prince, Salah-ed-Deen, commonly called Saladin. The Christian conquerors of the Holy Land were suffering repeated defeats and misfortunes, and the Pope sent messages to the princes of Europe, calling upon them to arouse themselves, and take up arms in the cause of the cross. Henry of England at once responded to the call, and Philip having determined on a similar course of action, a conference was determined upon between the two kings for the purpose of arranging a permanent peace. The meeting took place as before, in the field beside the elm-tree, between Trie and Gisors. Several envoys of the Pope were present, among whom was the celebrated William, Archbishop of Tyre. The eloquence of this man is said to have tended greatly to the success of the negotiations. Suspending the settlement of their differences, the two kings swore to take up arms as brothers in the holy cause, and, in token of their pledge, each received from the archbishop a cross, which he attached to his dress, the cross of the King of England being white, and that of the King of France red.

Having held a council at Mans to deliberate upon the measures to be pursued for taking the field, Henry returned to England; and a similar council, composed of the barons of the whole kingdom, was held at Gidington, in Northamptonshire. The lords determined that a tenth of all the property in the kingdom should be levied to meet the expenses of the crusade. The men of landed property who accompanied the royal army were to receive the sum levied on their lands, to enable them to take the field, the impost upon the other parts of the country being applied to the use of the Crown. The sum of 70,000, which was raised by this means, proving insufficient, Henry extorted large sums of money from the Jews and the people of that unhappy race were compelled, by imprisonment and other severe measures, to yield up their hoards. One-fourth of their whole property was thus extorted from the Jews, and probably, in many cases, a much larger sum

Notwithstanding all these preparations, and the solemn oath of the two kings, the money thus obtained was not applied to the conquest of Jerusalem. A quarrel took place between Prince Richard and Raymond of St. Gilles, and the people of Aquitaine, once more roused to rebellion, profited by the dispute to form new leagues against the Plantagenet government. The King of France joined the insurgents, and attacked various castles and towns in the occupation of Henry. At length, after a profitless contest of several months, the two kings met once more under the old elm-tree, resolved to arrange a peace. No mockery of solemn engagements took place on this occasion, and Henry and Philip separated in anger, without having been able to come to an agreement. The young King of France, enraged at the failure of the conference, cut down the elm-tree, swearing by the saints that never more should a parley be held under it.

This latter revolt on the part of Richard, however unjustifiable it might be. was not without some pretext. According to an agreement, made in former years, between Henry II. and Louis VII., it had been determined that Richard should marry Alix, or Alice, King Louis's daughter, and the young princess was placed in the hands of Henry until she should arrive at a marriageable age. The war having broken out afresh, and the princes of England being separated from their father, the marriage was deferred, and it was currently reported that Henry had grown enamoured of her, and even that she had become his mistress. It is related that, at the time when his sons were at war against him, the king had determined to make Alice his wife, and that an attempt which he made to procure a divorce from the Queen Eleanor was to be attributed to this partiality. The court of Rome, however, rejected his entreaties and presents, and refused the application.

What degree of truth may have existed in these reports cannot now be determined, but it is certain that Henry detained the princess for a number of years, resisting the demands of Philip, and even the order of the Pope, that the marriage between her and Richard should take place. Another plea urged by Richard in justification of his rebellion, was his belief that his brother John was intended to succeed to the English throne. No circumstances, however, are related by the historians giving reasonable grounds for such an opinion. In November, a.d. 1188, another conference took place, and this time at Bonmoulins, in Normandy. Philip demanded that his sister should be immediately delivered up to her affianced husband, and that Richard should be declared heir to the English throne in the presence of all the barons of the two countries. Henry, remembering the events which had followed the recognition of the claims of his eldest son, refused to repeat an act which might be attended with similar disturbances. Richard, enraged at this refusal, turned from his father, and, placing his hands in those of the King of France, declared himself his vassal, and said that he committed the protection of his hereditary rights into his hands. Philip accepted his oath of fealty, and, in return, presented him with some towns conquered by the French troops from his father. Henry quitted the spot in violent agitation, and, mounting his horse, he rode to Saumur, there to make his preparations for continuing the war.

At the news of this new rupture, the Bretons, who had been quiet for two years, rose once more in revolt, and the men of Poitou declared for Richard so soon as they perceived him to be finally separated from his father. Many of the nobles and knights of Henry began to desert him, as they had done before, and the party of his son, supported by the King of France, increased in strength daily. On the other hand, the greater part of the Nor mans remained faithful to their sovereign, and the Pope granted Henry his assistance, causing sentence of excommunication to be declared against all the adherents of the rebellious son. But Henry was no longer young. The repeated vexations and misfortunes he had undergone - the wounds he had received from the disobedience of his children - at length produced their effect, and he resigned himself to sorrow, leaving to the legate of the Pope and to the priests the care of his defence. They sent repeated messages to Richard and to the King of France, whom they threatened with excommunication, and, at length, Philip was induced to consent to another conference, at which peace was to be arranged.

At this meeting, which took place in the year 1189, there were present, besides the two kings, Richard, John of Anagni, the cardinal-legate of the Pope, and the Archbishops of Canterbury, Rheims, Bourges, and Rouen. Philip proposed the same conditions as before, and Henry again rejected them, but offered to marry Alice to John, the only one of his sons who had remained obedient to him, proposing, at the same time, to make John heir to the continental dominions of the English Crown. Richard indignantly refused these terms, and the King of France having supported him in this opposition, John of Anagni declared that his mission was to place the whole of the territories of Philip under an interdict. The young king boldly defied the legate, and Richard even drew his sword against the Pope's envoy, and would have killed him on the spot but for the interposition of those who surrounded him.

Henry was compelled to relinquish these unavailing negotiations, and to summon his troops to take the field. The French king attacked his territories in Anjou, while the Poitevins and Bretons, headed by Richard, seized the royal towns and castles in the south. The old king, whom grief and failing health had left of all his former energy, was compelled once more to sue for peace, and offered to grant whatever terms might be demanded. Philip and Henry met, for the last time, in a plain between Tours and Azay-sur-Cher, Richard remaining at a distance, waiting the result of the interview. Philip demanded that the English king should give in his allegiance to him, and place himself at his mercy; that Alice should be committed to the care of persons appointed by Richard, until his return from the Holy Land, whither he intended to proceed immediately; that Henry should give his son the kiss of peace, in token of entire forgiveness of the past; and should pay to the King of France twenty thousand marks of silver, for the restitution of the provinces which he had conquered.

According to a contemporary historian, the two kings were talking together in the open field, when suddenly, although the sky was without a cloud, a loud clap of thunder was heard overhead, and a flash of lightning descended between them (Roger of Hovedon,). They immediately separated in affright, and when, after a short interval, they met again, a second clap, louder than the first, was heard almost on the instant. The conference was broken off, and Henry, whose weak state of health rendered aim liable to be seriously affected by any violent emotion, retired to his quarters, where the articles of the treaty reduced to writing were sent to him. Thus the historian would have us believe that Heaven itself interposed to pretend the dishonour of the English king, and his submission to the crown of France.

The envoys of Philip found the old king in bed, and while he lay there they began to read out to him the articles of the treaty. When they came to the part which referred to the persons engaged secretly or avowedly in the cause of Richard, the king desired to know their names, that he might at least learn who they were who had been his enemies. The first name read to him was that of his youngest son, John, whom he had so long believed to be loyal and dutiful. On hearing this name, the old man was seized with a violent agitation or convulsion of the whole frame. Raising himself half up, he exclaimed, "Is it, then, true that John, the joy of my heart, the son of my love, he whom I have cherished more than all the rest, and for love of whom I have brought upon myself these troubles, has also deserted me?" Then falling back on the bed, and turning his face to the wall, he said, in words of despair, "So be it, then; let everything go as it will. I care no more for myself, nor for the world!"

Feeling that he grew rapidly worse, Henry caused himself to be conveyed to Chinon, where he arrived in a dying state. In his last moments he was heard to utter maledictions on himself as a conquered king, and to curse also the sons he was leaving behind him. The bishops and lords who surrounded him exerted themselves in vain to induce him to retract these words, and he continued repeating them until death laid its finger on his lips (July 6, a.d. 1189).

No sooner had this great king breathed his last, than his servants and attendants, one and all, deserted his corpse, as had happened a century before to his ancestor, William the Conqueror. It is related that these hirelings stripped the body of their royal master of the very clothes which covered him, and carried off everything of value from the chamber. King Henry had desired to be buried at the abbey of Fontevrault, a few leagues to the south of Chinon; but it was not until after considerable delay that people could be found to wrap the body in a shroud, and convey it thither with horses. The corpse was lying in the great church of the abbey, waiting the time of sepulture, when Richard, who had received the news of his father's death, arrived at Fontevrault. Entering the church, lie commanded the face of the dead king to be uncovered, that he might look upon it for the last time. The features were still contracted, and bore upon them the impress of prolonged agony. The son gazed upon the sight in silence, and with a sudden impulse, he knelt down for a few moments before the altar; then, rising up, he quitted the church, not to return. An old superstition of Scandinavia, which had descended alike to Normans and Saxons, was to the effect that the body of a murdered man would bleed in the presence of the murderer; and some of the chronicles relate that from the moment when Richard entered the church, until he had again passed the threshold, blood flowed without ceasing from the nostrils of the dead king. Thus it is evident that contemporary writers regarded the conduct of the sons as having accelerated, if not caused, the death of their father.

Henry II. died on the 6th of July, a.d. 1189, at the age of fifty-six, having reigned nearly thirty-five years. Of the king's personal character, very different estimates have been formed by different historians. Those who look at a many-sided character from their own narrow stand-point, will, necessarily, paint that side only which is presented to them, leaving the rest in shadow; and thus we find Henry II. described on the one hand as a man almost without blemish, and, on the other, as utterly destitute of public or private virtue. It appears probable that he had little abstract regard for the welfare of the people, but he was fully alive to his own interests, and he perceived those interests to be bound up in the national prosperity. He therefore laboured to promote the well-being of his subjects, as absolute monarchs, in later times, have done from, a similar motive. He was inordinately ambitious, and was heard to say, in moments of triumph, that the whole world was a portion little enough for a great man. He was skilled in the arts of diplomacy, and accustomed to use dissimulation and falsehood whenever an advantage was to be gained thereby.

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Pictures for Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 4

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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