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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

Henry II. (1154-1189)

Henry II. (1154-1189).

Henry II., the son of Matilda, was the first of the Plantagenets who misgoverned England with all their might for more than three hundred years—from 1154 to 1485. His one aim in life was to render the monarchy absolute, and except from the Church he encountered but little opposition. In Stephen's time Christ and His saints had gone to sleep," and during Henry's reign they can scarcely be said to have walked up. If he did not expressly order the brutal murder of Thomas a Becket, which sent a thrill of horror through Christendom, his words were, to say the least, highly am- page 27 biguous. His notions of religion were peculiar and original. When he did penance at à Becket's shrine, it was from no sentiment of remorse, but because he hoped to cajole the saint to use his influence to get him (Henry) out of certain troubles that then beset him.

For the sake of her large possessions in France, he married a notorious courtesan and divorcee. His own infidelities were unbounded. Among his mistresses was the fair Rosamond Clifford, of Woodstock labyrinth fame, whom the virtuous Queen Eleanor is said to have compelled to drink poison by holding a dagger to her throat.

Irishmen in particular have reason to execrate the memory of this king. To him they owe the beginning of their long protracted national agony. The occasion was befitting. One Irish chief or prince had made off with another chief's wife, and being brought to book for his misconduct by the over-King of Ireland, he posted off to do homage to Henry for his possessions. But years before this auspicious event Henry had concluded that Ireland "was commodious to him," and that it was desirable "to enlarge the bounds of the Church, to restrain the progress of vices, to correct the manners of the people, to plant virtue among them, and to increase the Christian religion! "The Pope had seen matters in the same light all the more clearly that Peter's pence was an uncertain quantity so far as Ireland was concerned. The result had been an annexational Papal bull in Henry's favour.

His last years were not cheerfully spent. His sons, Henry, Richard, and John all rose in arms against him. Eventually he was thoroughly beaten, and driven in headlong flight from his birthplace, Le Mans. As he beheld the flames of the city ascend, he bitterly cursed God. His end was not edifying. His last words were, "Woe is me! Shame be upon me, a conquered king, and may God's curse be upon the children who have stretched me here!" So much for the conqueror of Ireland.