Henry II had seen at first hand the devastation that can be wrought when the succession was not clear. He had after all initially been denied his inheritance by ‘the usurper’ Stephen. So he wanted to make sure that nothing like that happened after his own death.
Henry had five sons, the eldest William, had died aged three so in 1170 the eldest son was Henry, with younger brothers Richard, Geoffrey, and John.
He decided at that time, to have his eldest son crowned so there could, after his death, be no argument. So Henry junior was duly crowned king, aged fifteen.
According to local reports, he was “tall but well proportioned, broad-shouldered with a long and elegant neck, pale and freckled skin, bright and wide blue eyes, and a thick mop of the reddish-gold hair”. He seems to have been an easygoing and pleasant lad, but some say he lacked political force.
However this could be a result of his main problem as king – Henry had no intention of giving away any of his power. What was the young king to do?
Three years later, having failed to find an answer, he rebelled against his father demanding that he be given either England, Normandy or Anjou.
He was supported in the rebellion by all his brothers and even his mother, Eleanor (who was subsequently imprisoned for the rest of Henry’s reign), and the rebellion was according to Warren, the most serious crisis of Henry’s reign (p117). However, Henry (the older Henry) did win in the end, although he agreed to pay an increased sum to Henry the younger.
Having failed to gain a kingdom to reign over, the Young King Henry turned instead to sport. A young but promising knight, William Marshall was appointed as his tutor and the two travelled together across northern and central France, winning renown and prize money. Indeed the Young King became quite a celebrity, as did William Marshall.
Things went badly though after 1182. He quarrelled with Marshall, who left him for a time, and then rebelled again against his father. However, the rebellion was cut short when he contracted dysentery and he died on the 7th June aged 28.
Not a real king?
Young King Henry is the only King (after the conquest) to be crowned in his father’s lifetime, although he never actually held any power. Not surprisingly, Henry II declined to crown one of his other son’s after the Young King’s death. No other monarch since then has, it seems, ever contemplated doing such a thing.
Because he never had any real power, Henry the younger is not counted in the list of Kings. The next King Henry – John’s son – was Henry III.
William Marshall, after redeeming a promise made to the Young King on his deathbed to take his crusader’s cloak to the Holy Land, joined Henry II who he served loyally until Henry’s death. We will be hearing more about William Marshall later …