England’s greatest monarch?

Henry II – England’s unloved and uncelebrated, yet perhaps most magnificent, monarch.

Here are a dozen reasons to celebrate Henry and his achievements:

  1. He founded England’s most enduring royal dynasty, the Plantagenets, which ruled for over 300 years.
  2. Henry not only won the largest European empire since Charlemagne, but held it all over the course of his reign. His lands in France were ten times the size of the French king’s.
  3. He inherited a kingdom that was financially broke; but in only a short space of time, he refilled the Treasury coffers and returned England to financial stability.
  4. Passionate about the rule of law, Henry undertook a programme of unprecedented reform that resulted in much of what we know today as English Common Law.
  5. A prince of the twelfth century renaissance, he was a patron of the arts, a man of letters and placed England at the very centre of European culture.
  6. Henry was a respecter of talent from whatever its source; he placed men of low birth and even former enemies in his inner circle.
  7. He was unbelievably fleet of foot, able to march an army from one battlefront to another with such lightning speed that he became known as ‘King of the North Wind’.
  8. His armies were attacked by family and foes for two hard years on six fronts across England and France during the Great Revolt – yet by the end, he had vanquished them all.
  9. He was a loving father: in spite of repeated attempts by his sons to destroy him and capture his lands, he could not help forgiving them.
  10. Henry protected England’s Jewish communities – not a popular policy – and they thrived under his rule.
  11. In his later years, Henry’s perseverance and willingness to listen patiently to grievances earned him the reputation of Europe’s peacemaker.
  12. He could laugh at himself: in one episode, Henry turned his back on a courtier who had displeased him. The courtier made a humorous reference to the king’s origins. Another king might have taken grave offence – but Henry burst into laughter.

Find out more about Henry in Claudia Gold’s biography, King of the North Wind.