The development of England into a united nation, with a strong
central government headed by the king, had received a setback
(движение назад) in the chaotic
reign of the previous king, Stephen. But the setback was not
so severe as it looked to people like the monks who wrote the
chronicles of the time. The system had not been destroyed. During
the reign of Henry II, law and government in England were restored
Monarchs are always interesting people - because they are monarchs.
Historians have been fascinated by the character of Queen Victoria,
but if she had been the daughter of a banker or a fishmonger
no one would have noticed her. In the Middle Ages, when monarchs
were far more powerful than they were in the 19th century, their
personalities and talents were more important. England today
might be a different place if Henry II had not reigned from
1154 to 1189.
Henry was about medium height, heavily built, with slight bow
legs from spending so much time on horseback. He had reddish
hair and a big freckled face, with grey eyes that grew bloodshot
and glowed when he was in a rage. Like all his family, he had
a fierce temper, and would roll on the floor, biting the rushes
that covered it. But normally he was a kind, even humble man,
and less cruel than most men of his time. His favourite sport
was hunting, and vigorous exercise helped prevent him growing
His energy was extraordinary. In a time when travel was difficult
he once went from Ireland, via England, to France – about 1300
kilometres including two sea crossings – in a month. He often
ate his meals standing up.
His energy was not only physical. He tackled all problems,
like changes in law and taxation or a new issue of coins, in
the same spirit. He knew four or five languages and he was so
widely recognized as a wise judge that two Spanish kings asked
him to decide a dispute between them. He might sometimes chatter
in church, but he would spend half the night puzzling out a
tricky legal case.
Henry's empire was so large that only a man of great ability
could have held it together. Yet his many responsibilities prevented
him becoming a dictator. He could not afford to use the royal
power too severely for fear of a rebellion.
No one thought of Henry's possessions as an empire. The Holy
Roman Emperor and the Pope were two figures who commanded some
authority in Europe beyond personal loyalties, but otherwise
everything depended on the bond between a man and his lord.
Henry's rights and powers were different in each of his possessions.
His lands in France were held from the king of France, and Henry
was therefore the vassal of Louis VII, just as the king of Scots,
who held estates in England, was a vassal of Henry along with
the English barons. That did not, of course, prevent Henry fighting
the French or the English fighting the Scots.
Henry's power was greatest in England, where his rule was most
successful. He made the barons pull down the castles they had
built during the reign of Stephen, and he regained the land
the Crown had lost since the death of Henry I. But his greatest
gift to England was his work in law and government.
Words like 'reform' and 'change' meant nothing to a medieval
ruler and Henry did not regard himself as the inventor of new
laws or the reformer of government. His intention was not to
change but to restore, and although that sometimes meant introducing
new laws, Henry always thought - or said - they were merely
the good laws of earlier times stated anew.
Печать Генриха II
The custom of sending travelling judges around the country
had begun in the reign of Henry I, if not earlier. Henry II
made it a permanent system, and it has lasted, with many changes,
to the present. Nor was the use of juries new. Juries of a kind
had been known in Anglo-Saxon England. They had been consulted
about local conditions for the Domesday Book, acting more like
witnesses than jurymen. But by the end of Henry II's reign,
it was becoming common for juries to be consulted in criminal
cases - to say if a man were innocent or guilty. Henry disliked
the old system of trial by ordeal: it was already going out
of fashion in France while he was a young man.
The centre of law and government was the king's court or household.
The court was to begin with a court of justice, where disputes
between subjects were settled. But it was also a kind of super-cabinet,
where all government action was decided, and a council of advisers,
attended by the king's chief vassals. Everything revolved around
the person of the king or, when he was abroad, around his appointed
deputy, always one of the greatest barons, who was called the
This system had some disadvantages, which grew worse as time
went by. The chief difficulty was not just that the king was
simply too busy, but that he was always on the move, carrying
the whole government with him. Gradually, separate departments
of the government were formed. At first they were still attached
to the royal household, but eventually they became separate
institutions with permanent headquarters. A great step forward
in this direction was taken when the Exchequer - the department
that dealt with government income (which made it, from the king's
point of view, the most important) - became established at Westminster.
The choice of headquarters for the Exchequer ensured that the
capital would be - where it still is - in the city of Westminster.
Henry II brought peace and order swiftly to England, but he
was not quite so successful in forcing the Scots and the Welsh
to accept English order.
Under King David I, Scotland had made great strides towards
becoming, like England, a unified nation with a strong central
government. David had been educated in England and when he became
king of Scots in 1124 he gave many Scottish estates and bishoprics
to Normans, men whom he had come to know in England. With their
assistance, he created an efficient state on the Anglo-Norman
pattern. But only in the Lowlands: the Celtic chiefs of the
Highlands paid little or no attention to the royal government.
David I died in 1153 (the year before Henry II inherited the
English crown) and he was succeeded by the fourteen-year-old
Malcolm IV, known as Malcolm the Maiden. Malcolm's short reign
was troubled, and the Scottish-held parts of Northumbria and
Cumbria were lost to the English; but with William the Lion
(1165-1224) the Scots again had a strong king. William served
in France with Henry II, but later turned against him, encouraged
by Henry's rebellious sons and by the French. (The 'auld alliance'
between France and Scotland can be dated from William's reign.)
He was defeated at Alnwick, captured by the English, and forced
to acknowledge Henry as his overlord; some Scottish castles
were manned by English troops.
Earl Robert de Mowbray's knights charge forth at the Battle
But what William failed to do by force he later gained with
cash. A large payment in gold to Richard I (Henry's son) secured
Scottish independence and regained the lost lands in Northumbria.
During the reign of Stephen the Welsh had run wild and captured
several English castles. Wales was not easily subdued, partly
because of its mountainous country and partly because of the
help the Welsh received from Ireland. Henry II fought several
quick campaigns in Wales without much success, and finally he
decided to leave matters to the Marcher lords. These semi-independent
princes were mostly Norman in origin, but they had intermarried
with Welsh princely families. One of them, known to history
as Strongbow, undertook the conquest of Ireland in 1169-70.
His success brought Henry II new territorial responsibilities
which he could well have done without.
Henry's last years were harassed. In 1180 Philip Augustus came
to the throne of France: he proved a tougher and more cunning
opponent than his father. Henry was faced with successive rebellions
in France in which his own sons played leading parts. Not only
was that a miserable experience for a father (though Henry had
not been the best of parents), it made the situation more dangerous:
a revolt supported by a royal prince always gathered more support.
Worn out and railing against God, Henry lost his eager energy.
As he lay sick, he was told that John, his favourite among his
surviving sons, had joined the rebels. He turned his face to
the wall, muttering, 'I care for nothing in the world now',
and died soon afterwards.
Richard Coeur de Lion on his way to Jerusalem
Richard I, who inherited the crown, was more of a French knight
than an English monarch. He gained a glorious reputation in
Europe as a Crusader in the East, where he defeated the great
Saladin and just failed to capture Jerusalem. He deserved his
nickname Coeur de Lion (Львиное Сердце),
'lion-hearted'. But during his ten-year reign he was only in
England for a few months and then mainly to raise money.