Angevin Dynasty: A family at war I

On his legitimate children he lavished in their childhood more than a father’s affection, but in their more advanced years he looked askance at them after the manner of a stepfather; and although his sons were so renowned and illustrious he pursued his successors with a hatred which perhaps they deserved, but which none the less impaired his own happiness … Whether by some breach of the marriage tie or as a punishment for some crime of the parent, it befell that there was never true affection felt by the father towards his sons, nor by the sons towards their father, nor harmony between the brothers themselves.


It was nightfall at the palace of Westminster on 17 July 1174. The king was resting in his chambers, suffering from both physical and mental exhaustion. For over a year he had fought against a powerful coalition of enemies on the continent led by the king of France and the count of Flanders, brought together in an ultimate act of treachery by the machinations of his wife Eleanor and eldest son, Henry ‘the young king’, as they sought to overthrow him. Henry had finally been able to return to England ten days earlier, battling fierce gales to make landfall at Southampton. His presence was urgently needed to suppress an uprising amongst his most unruly barons, led by an old adversary, Hugh Bigod; Bigod’s grudge against Henry had been simmering away for nearly two decades. The king first dashed to Canterbury, where he made a public display of humility at the tomb of Thomas Becket, scourged with whips as penance for the role he had played in his former friend’s death. Now, weary from his long journey back to London, Henry had gone to his room, where a servant rubbed his sore feet as he dozed in bed.

Suddenly, the guards at the palace gate were disturbed by the arrival of a rider, with clothes stained with grime from a long journey. He reined in his horse and wearily dismounted, calling out that he was a messenger called Brien. Explaining that he had ridden hard for three days, barely stopping for food and drink, Brien demanded that he be brought before the king, insisting that he carried an urgent message and important news from the north. Uncertain what to do, the guards escorted him to the door of the room where Henry lay in slumber. The way was barred by the king’s chamberlain who, mindful of his master’s state of mind, prevented Brien from entering with the cry ‘Who are you there?’ Brien replied, ‘I am a messenger, sent by Lord Ranulph de Glanville in order to speak with the king, for great needs he has of it.’ ‘Let the business be till the morning.’ hissed the chamberlain, trying to stop the conversation from wakening Henry. However, the messenger would not be deterred. ‘By my faith! I will speak to him forthwith. My lord has in his heart sorrow and vexation, so let me enter, good chamberlain.’ The royal servant was not convinced, fearing his master’s wrath: ‘I should not dare to do it. The king is asleep; you must withdraw.’ However, the noise of the conversation had already disturbed Henry, who hollered angrily from inside the room, ‘Who is that, can you tell me?’ The chamberlain called back, ‘Sire, you shall know directly, it is a messenger from the north, very well you know him, a man of Ranulph de Glanvillle’s, his name is Brien.’ The king emerged from his room and, having been disturbed from his rest, was clearly not in the best of moods; and now he was further alarmed when he learned the identity of the messenger.

Ushered into the royal chamber, Brien was mindful that he was in the presence of the king, and offered a salute. Despite his tiredness, Henry was eager for news; he was well aware of the situation in the north of England where William the Lion, king of Scotland, had invaded shortly after Easter, supported by mercenary cavalry and infantry hired from Flanders. The invading forces had captured two royal fortresses at Brough and Appleby, before moving against Carlisle. The frightened citizens had provided assurances that they would surrender to the Scots if no relief came from Henry, allowing William to attack Prudhoe castle on the banks of the Tyne and ravage parts of Northumberland.

Henry’s principal supporters in the north had gathered together to repulse the invasion. The sheriff of Yorkshire, Robert de Stuteville, supported by Brien’s master Ranulph de Glanville, as well as local lords William de Vesci and Bernard de Balliol, mustered their forces and marched on Prudhoe, arriving on 12 July only to find that William had moved on to assault Alnwick castle. They held a conference at Newcastle to determine what to do next. Henry was unaware of the latest developments, and feared that the sudden arrival of the messenger heralded bad tidings. Growling with anger and pacing around his room, Henry began to bemoan those in whom he had placed his trust to defend the northern border – ‘Badly have they served me, so now may they be punished for it!’ However, the messenger interrupted the king: ‘Sire, hear me a little. Your barons of the north are right good people. The king of Scotland is taken and all his barons!’

The king could not believe this unexpected and wondrous news. ‘Do you speak the truth?’ Brien replied,

Yes sire, truly in the morning you will know it; the archbishop of York, a wise, learned man, will send you two private messengers; but I started first, who know the truth, I have hardly slept during the last four days, neither eaten nor drunk, so I am very hungry; but in your kindness, give me a reward for it!

Henry grasped the tired messenger by the shoulders and fixed him with a steely gaze. ‘If you have told me the truth, you are rich enough. Is the king of Scotland taken? Tell me the truth!’ Indignant that he was being doubted, Brien cried ‘Yes sire, by my faith! On a cross may I be crucified, or hanged by a rope, or burnt on a great pile, if tomorrow, before noon, all be not confirmed.’ ‘Then’, said the king, with a broad grin breaking out across his face, ‘God be thanked for it, and Saint Thomas the Martyr and all the saints of God!’

Brien was shown to suitable accommodation and given much-needed food, drink and rest at the king’s expense. Henry was too delighted to return to sleep, and roused his household knights to share the news that one of his great enemies had fallen into his hands. ‘Barons! Wake up. It has been a good night for you. Such a thing have I heard that will make you glad; the king of Scotland is taken! Just now the news came to me, when I ought to have been in bed!’ The knights were overjoyed, and cried, ‘Now thank the Lord God, now is the war ended, and your kingdom in peace!’ As Brien had promised, messengers from the archbishop of York duly arrived the next morning, carrying with them a more detailed account of what had happened.

After their conference at Newcastle – and despite opposition from some of their own number – the northern earls decided to press on towards Alnwick, and set out early the next morning, Saturday 13 July. They travelled at a remarkable speed, bearing in mind they were burdened by weight of arms, covering twenty-four miles in little over five hours. However, they were soon enveloped in a thick fog, which made them pause and reconsider their decision. As they moved forward slowly, the mist cleared and in front of them appeared the castle of Alnwick. To their great surprise, the king of the Scots and around sixty horsemen were on guard in a meadow outside the castle, ‘as if in complete security and fearing nothing less than an incursion of our men, while the hosts of the barbarians together with part of the cavalry were widely dispersed for purposes of plunder’, according to William of Newburgh. The Scots were momentarily confused, thinking some of their own number had returned. On realising that the banners were those of the enemy, William the Lion drew his forces around him and prepared for battle. However, the fight did not last long; the king’s horse was killed underneath him and he was thrown clear, only to be intercepted and captured. Most of his knights were slain or rounded up. The earls then made their way back to Newcastle the same day with their royal prisoner, and from there he was transferred to Richmond to be kept under close guard until he could be sent south to Henry. Brien was then dispatched to tell the king the good news.

In the bright light of a summer’s morning, Henry beamed with joy when he heard the fate that had befallen his enemy. Yet even as he relaxed in the knowledge of victory, he suddenly remembered his conversation with Brien the previous evening. ‘Last night I heard the news when I was very irritable; to him who brought it to me a reward shall be given.’ After a quick consultation with his exchequer staff working from their offices nearby, Henry ordered a small wooden tally stick to be struck. In the absence of a formal parchment charter prepared by his chancery staff, it noted the personal grant of land worth £10 a year from the grateful king to the messenger who came in the night.


The great war of 1173–4 marked Henry’s nadir as king, husband and father; yet also represented his greatest triumph, combining military genius with an ability to stay calm in the face of multiple outbreaks of revolt, successfully prioritising his actions when it looked as though all his territories would be swept away by an unprecedented alliance of enemies, and one false move could end in disaster. Although it took a few more months of campaigning after the capture of William of Scotland to restore peace to all his lands, Henry emerged from a period of unprecedented crisis more powerful than ever, yet mindful that he needed to find a workable solution to provide for the competing demands of his sons, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John. Angevin princes were not known to harbour warm family feelings towards one another, and sibling rivalry played a large part in the war against their father. However, at the heart of the dispute lay a festering resentment that Eleanor felt towards her husband – possibly fuelled by the knowledge that his love was reserved for his mistress Rosamund de Clifford, but principally by the fact that Henry had excluded her from any meaningful authority, aside from a few occasions when she was called upon to act as regent during his absence. For a woman who had virtually shared power with her first husband King Louis VII of France, even accompanying him on crusade to the Holy Land at the head of a contingent of soldiers from Aquitaine, this was an unbearable slight on her honour and dignity. The irony of the great rebellion that ripped Henry’s family apart was that for the first two decades of his reign he had devoted his energy to creating a system of governance that, by 1169, was publicly geared towards a division of territories between his sons. Indeed, in 1159 Henry compromised his relationship with Louis by undertaking a campaign in defence of his wife’s rights in Aquitaine; this was to be a watershed moment, after which an intermittent enmity existed between the kings of England and France that neither could ever quite overcome.

Henry’s approach to family is interesting, as he was guilty of abandoning fraternal loyalty for personal gain when he was younger. Once the initial subjugation of England was complete, the main problem facing Henry towards the end of 1155 was the discontent of his disgruntled brother Geoffrey, who continued to spread the story that their father had only granted Anjou to Henry temporarily until the English crown had been placed on his head. Geoffrey tried to exert pressure on the king of France in an attempt to wrest Anjou from Henry’s hands; after all, Louis was still smarting from Henry’s coup in marrying Eleanor, and was alarmed by the prospect of one man holding so many territories under his direct control, particularly as the riches of England could be used to bankroll Henry’s ambitions on the continent. Supporting Geoffrey’s cause would therefore be a natural way to destabilise Louis’s overmighty vassal. Yet to interfere in the Angevin succession would be a declaration of war and spark a conflict that he would probably lose. Therefore, when Henry returned to the continent in early 1156, having brought the English barons to heel far more quickly than anyone might have expected, Louis found it expedient to confirm Henry in all his continental possessions. The two kings met on 5 February 1156 on the border of Normandy, where Henry performed homage for Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine. Henry then sought out his brother a few days later – an awkward meeting that did not go well; Geoffrey withdrew in anger to his Angevin strongholds, spending money on fortifications in preparation for an armed struggle to regain what he felt was rightfully his. However, if Geoffrey expected to receive widespread support amongst the Angevin nobility, he was mistaken. By the summer, Henry had besieged and captured all Geoffrey’s castles and forced his brother to accept an annuity of £1,500, rather than trust him to remain in possession of land. Thus a pattern of behaviour was set that was to be played out in the relationships between Henry’s own sons.

Henry’s activities in the 1150s and 1160s give us the clearest sense of his vision for the way his lands would be governed, and family was a key motivating force behind his actions. ‘Empire’ is not the correct word to use to describe the way he perceived his territories – there was to be no centralised administration or ‘capital’ similar to Rome or Byzantium, let alone a single army, financial system, legal code or sense of common citizenship. Perhaps the best modern equivalent would be the British Commonwealth, a group of territories ruled by the same nominal head of state but with different internal systems of government.

Henry’s first task was to consolidate his position in each territory, as his authority varied from place to place. Having devoted a considerable amount of time creating a system in England that permitted his extended absence, Henry spent much of the early 1160s in Normandy imposing ‘direct rule’. During this period, Henry received regular updates from his trusted team of officials in England, and on occasion the co-justiciars would travel to Rouen to provide advice. It is likely that English silver flowed across the Channel as well, giving Henry additional financial security. It was much easier to enforce ducal custom and undertake reform if he was no longer reliant on maintaining the goodwill of local barons because he needed their cash.

At the same time, Henry tried to create a ring of vassal states around his core lands that recognised him as their overlord – Brittany would therefore be subservient to Normandy, likewise Maine to Anjou, Toulouse to Aquitaine, and within the British Isles, the rulers of Wales and Scotland would recognise the overlordship of England. It is perhaps no surprise that Henry’s early years were spent in ceaseless travel. Gerald of Wales and Walter Map told stories of a king who never stood still, his restless energy leading him to roam far and wide as he traversed a realm that stretched from the foothills of the Pyrenees in the south, to the borders of Scotland in the north – not quite in the same league as the lands that Charlemagne had brought together in the eighth century – but nevertheless an impressive range of territories that would test the administrative and military powers of a seasoned campaigner, let alone a young man in his early twenties with little previous experience of government. Indeed, Gerald was moved to compare Henry’s feats with another young general from antiquity, suggesting that ‘our Alexander of the West [you have] stretched out your arms from the Pyrenean mountains to the farthest and most western borders of the ocean. In these parts you have spread your triumphs as far as nature has spread her lands.’

This was grand rhetoric, but overlooked the fact that all the southernmost territory near the Pyrenees was only in Henry’s hands thanks to his marriage to Eleanor; an Angevin ruling in Gascony or Poitou was only slightly less unpalatable than direct rule from Paris had been when Eleanor was married to Louis. It was therefore prudent that Henry was joined by his wife in the autumn of 1156 to accompany him on a tour of Aquitaine, taking the opportunity to eject the viscount of Thouars, one of his brother Geoffrey’s supporters, from his lands in Poitou. This was a clear statement of intent with regards to the exercise of the ducal powers that he now claimed as his, as well as a reminder that Henry would not tolerate any further family insurrection against his rule.

Yet, by chance, the opportunity arose both to give Geoffrey a slightly more generous settlement, as well as extend the family’s influence in Brittany – an area over which Normandy had a hazy claim of lordship, with the genealogy of the Breton ducal family laced with both Norman and Angevin blood. The two principal seats of power were Rennes and Nantes, the ruler of the latter claiming the title of count; when the citizens deposed the unpopular incumbent, Hoel, in 1156, they appealed to Henry for assistance. Eager to extend Angevin power in the region, as well as secure access to an important seaport at the mouth of the river Loire, Henry agreed – on the condition that his brother Geoffrey was declared count instead. At the same time, one of Henry’s vassals, Earl Conan of Richmond, seized Rennes, further bolstering Angevin influence across the region.

When Henry returned to English politics in 1157, his attention shifted to the security of the northern border with Scotland. The old warhorse and staunch supporter of his mother’s cause, King David, had died in 1153 to be succeeded by his grandson Malcolm IV. Of particular concern to Henry was the previous grant of large swathes of northern England to David – the counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Northumberland, as well as claims to the earldom of Huntingdon; indeed, Henry had sworn to confirm these grants when David knighted him in 1149, should he ever gain the throne. Now the time had come to resolve the issue, and Malcolm was invited to a meeting with Henry in May, at which the king of England appeared in a display of military might. In no uncertain terms, Henry told his royal counterpart that he would not hand over the northern part of his realm – an early example of Henry’s growing reputation for ‘broken promises’ when political expediency required an alternative truth to be forged. Indeed, this tactic of gunboat diplomacy was one that Henry would deploy on many occasions, and it was effective; the king of the Scots ‘prudently considering that the king of England had the better of the argument by reason of his greater power’ agreed with Henry that the integrity of England should be preserved, and swore homage for Huntingdon alone as a vassal of the king of England.

Next, Henry turned to the west, and in July summoned a council to discuss taking military action against Owain, prince of Gwynedd – one of several Welsh leaders who had refused to acknowledge his authority. The campaign nearly ended in disaster, despite meticulous planning; Henry was caught in an ambush whilst proceeding through marshy yet heavily wooded terrain just outside Flint, and many of his barons were slain. Indeed, the king’s own standard-bearer, Henry of Essex, believed his master had also died, and in distress fled from the fighting – causing panic amongst the soldiers that nearly sparked a full-scale retreat. However, Henry had already escaped. He fought his way back to his men, rallied the troops and proceeded far more cautiously thereafter, sending scouts ahead and ensuring that paths were cleared in advance of the main army. Owain sued for peace, and Henry left garrisons behind – not only to check any Welsh incursions, but also to remind the traditionally powerful and semi-independent earldom of Chester that royal authority was now the supreme power in the area.

With England’s borders largely secured, Henry decided to tackle the loss of the strategically important Norman Vexin, which had been conceded to Louis VII by Henry’s father Geoffrey in return for legitimising the completion of his invasion of the duchy in 1144, and confirmed when Henry’s accession was negotiated in 1151. Whilst still in England, Henry opened negotiations with Louis to find a diplomatic route to recover this lost land – as key to his security in Normandy as the northern counties, recently wrested back from Malcolm, were to the English border. The result was a dynastic union in the form of the betrothal of Henry’s son, Henry the younger – not yet four years old – to Louis’s infant daughter, Margaret. Her dowry, and Henry’s prize, would be the return of the Norman Vexin once the ceremony had been performed at some future date. In the meantime, the lands would be entrusted to the care of the Knights Templar. The union of the two most powerful families in France was a major event in European politics. Louis’s continued failure to produce a son was beginning to a turn into a succession crisis that the Capetian royal house had not faced for several generations, and awakened the possibility that a male child of the proposed marriage might, one day, inherit all.

In contrast, Henry’s marriage to Eleanor had produced an abundance of children including many sons – the first arrival was William in 1153 (who died three years later), then Henry the younger born in 1155, his first daughter Matilda in 1156, Richard in 1157 and Geoffrey in 1158. After a gap of a few years, Eleanor followed in 1161 and finally John, born in 1166. This brood of offspring represented the makings of a powerful dynasty – plenty of sons to ensure the succession plus two daughters who could be used to secure important marriage alliances. Although the Angevins held vast swathes of land and a crown of their own, the Capetians held the royal title that mattered most in the growing rivalry between the two families – king of the Franks, and therefore the direct successor to Charlemagne. Not to be outdone, Henry was keen to underline the financial might of the new Angevin territorial bloc. In a show of one-upmanship, Henry’s chancellor, Becket, was dispatched to France in the summer of 1158 to conduct further negotiations for the betrothal of the young Henry and Margaret with a magnificent display of riches – a job perfectly suited to the peacock personality of the proud clerk turned royal administrator, who was still revelling in his new-found wealth and status.

No expense was spared in an attempt to impress the residents of Paris as Becket entered the capital of the Île de France, where the talks would take place – 250 footmen, a vast array of hunting dogs, eight wagons drawn by horses with monkeys on their backs, packhorses carrying silver and gold plate, all paraded through the streets. This was just the prelude to the chancellor’s own retinue of squires, mounted knights, falconers, and many of the young nobles who were being schooled in the chancellor’s household; indeed, the king’s own son, the young Henry, would start his education at the knee of Thomas Becket. ‘What a magnificent man the king of England must be if his chancellor travels in such state,’ commented the citizens of Paris in response to this glittering show of wealth – exactly Henry’s intention.

The king then crossed from England in August to set his seal on the alliance in person. However, the visit was tinged with sad news; Henry’s brother Geoffrey had died suddenly on 26 July 1158. Whilst this removed any lingering threat to Henry’s legitimacy as count of Anjou, it also meant his hold on the area was weakened – especially as Conan used the opportunity to take possession of Nantes after Geoffrey’s death, bringing all of Brittany under his control. Technically, Conan should have sought permission from Henry, as his overlord, before doing so; Henry had intended to claim Nantes as his own, as Geoffrey’s legal heir. To bolster his authority further, Henry secured the grant of the title ‘seneschal of France’ during the marriage negotiations with Louis in August. This was an honour dating back to Carolingian times and the equivalent of justiciar in England, but it gave Henry a mandate to bring Conan of Brittany to heel by whatever means necessary. With Norman forces ominously mustering on the border, Conan hurried to Avranches on 29 September 1158, ceded Nantes to Henry, and in return was confirmed as duke of Brittany.

Henry’s attention moved from his northernmost possessions to those in the extreme south. Possibly as a result of the time he had spent with his wife in Aquitaine in 1156, Henry decided to exert claims over Toulouse – a county that had, in Carolingian times, been part of the old Roman province of Aquitainia but by a quirk of fate had passed down the ‘wrong’ line of Eleanor’s family tree a few generations previously. Under the ruling St Gilles family, Toulouse was exercising a growing autonomy in the region, yet was of great strategic importance to Henry. Its ancient Roman roads controlled the trade routes on which Poitou was dependent for access to the Mediterranean ports. However, the diplomatic position was complicated. In 1154 Count Raymond V had married Constance, the sister of Louis VII, after he had struck up a close relationship with Louis during the Second Crusade. In early June 1159 Henry approached Louis and reminded him, in what must have been a somewhat awkward conversation for both men, that when Louis had been married to Eleanor he had exercised a claim over Toulouse as de facto duke of Aquitaine, even going to war in 1141 in an unsuccessful attempt to win the county by force. Henry now wished to revive this claim. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Louis refused to make a decision and the meeting broke up without conclusion. Henry therefore decided to flex his military muscles once more, having used bullyboy tactics to great effect against Malcolm and Conan, and assembled a grand coalition of knights and mercenaries. Malcolm of Scotland and barons from Brittany turned up at the muster at Poitiers, a visible acknowledgement that Henry was now their overlord, and Henry was able to secure the support of Count Raymond-Berengar of Barcelona – another powerful lord from the south.

The campaign started brightly. In late June, Henry’s army marched into Quercy and secured Cahors, the principal town in the region. On the road to Toulouse, Henry paused – hoping that Count Raymond would be sufficiently cowed by the overwhelming military presence on his land that he would submit without armed conflict. As king of France, Louis was left with little choice but to intervene in defence of one of his vassals, and held crisis talks with Henry. What transpired is unclear, but Henry seems to have taken away the impression that Louis was tacitly supportive of his campaign. Nothing could have been further from the truth; the king of France was clearly spooked by Henry’s show of force and outright aggression against a fellow vassal, and marched into Toulouse to organise its defence on the premise that he was protecting his sister. Placing himself in Henry’s way was a desperate measure, but an effective one. For a vassal to attack his lord was tantamount to treason; yet Henry could not simply abandon the campaign because he was acting in his wife’s interests. The chief ‘hawk’ amongst his advisors was Becket – possibly because the chancellor had invested heavily in the campaign, not only in advocating the appropriation of Toulouse in the first place, but also in generating sufficient cash to bankroll the expedition. Contemporary writers suggest that Becket was advocating the assault and capture of the city, and with it the king of France in person.

This was dangerous and inflammatory advice, and Henry sensibly chose to ignore it. Instead, throughout the remainder of the summer and early autumn his forces raided the area around Toulouse, capturing castles and destroying crops in the hope that the war of attrition would weaken the count. However, the slash and burn tactics failed and in September Henry’s army withdrew from the region, leaving Quercy in Becket’s hands where he adopted a ruthless policy of suppression. Henry returned to the north only to find that, in his absence, Louis’s brothers had undertaken raids into Normandy; in retaliation, Henry quickly mounted punitive strikes against the French royal demesne. When the dust finally settled with the onset of winter, a truce was agreed – but Henry had suffered real damage in terms of his relationship with Louis.

The Toulouse campaign was the act of an over-confident, over-powerful man and, unsurprisingly, alienated his liege lord – Louis had been shown a glimpse of the future if Henry was allowed to continue unchecked. Doubtless the words of Pepin the Short echoed through the ages to haunt Louis – ‘Who should be king, he who has the title, or he who has the power?’ – creating an alarming parallel between Henry’s relentless rise, and the overthrow of the Merovingian monarchy by the Carolingian mayors of the palace in the mid eighth century. To shore up his position, Louis decided to build alliances that might make Henry stop and think twice before embarking on a repeat military adventure in the south. Thus after Louis’s second wife, Constance, died in 1160, he arranged to marry Adela, sister to Theobald count of Blois and Henry count of Champagne. This was a major shift in the diplomatic landscape – alongside the count of Flanders, a formidable power bloc opposed to the Angevin conglomeration had been formed, with an extended front line along the eastern borders of Normandy, Maine and Touraine as well as a hostile coastline that blocked the quickest routes between England and the continent. Not for the first time, Henry used his family to claw back the political advantage. Days before Louis was due to marry Adela, Henry arranged for his young son Henry and Louis’s daughter Margaret to be wed on 2 November 1160, and seized control of the Norman Vexin in accordance with the alliance first agreed two years previously. More skirmishes broke out, mainly instigated by the house of Blois; but with all-out war looking increasingly likely in spring 1161 and both sides beginning to mobilise their troops along the border, the two kings stepped back from the brink and a peace treaty was arranged at Fréteval.


Thereafter, the 1160s became a power struggle between the two families and their allies, with flashpoints in areas where Louis’s plans for territorial expansion beyond the Île de France clashed with Henry’s exercise of dormant or lost rights – not just in the far south, but also in other border regions such as Auvergne and Berry. Although Henry was infuriated with the ongoing Becket affair in England, this was merely an irritating sideshow; for him, the main concern was a growing unrest amongst the various vassal states. Having spent three years putting English affairs in order and suppressing another Welsh revolt, he returned to the continent in March 1166 and would stay for the next four years. The situation had been changed by the birth of a male heir, Philip, to Louis on 22 August 1165, therefore renewing the hopes of the Capetian monarchy and dramatically reducing the importance of the marriage of Henry the younger and Margaret. Emboldened by the change in his dynastic fortunes, Louis began to encourage internal opposition to Henry within his lands, and took every opportunity to cause mischief – such as offering support to Becket in November 1166. In turn, Henry began to use his large family as diplomatic bargaining chips and took increasingly drastic action to shore up his position. Faced with growing discontent in Brittany, Henry marched into the duchy in force during the summer of 1166, deposed Duke Conan and betrothed his third son Geoffrey – aged seven – to Conan’s infant daughter, Constance; the Breton barons reluctantly paid homage to their new master in the autumn, but were not happy about the turn of events and discontented mutterings against Henry continued.

The more Henry turned the screw, the greater the opposition he produced. In particular, the situation worsened in Aquitaine, for several reasons. First, the various component territories within the duchy had never been fully integrated – Poitou and Gascony remained largely separate entities, with key counties opposed to Angevin rule. The duke’s authority was therefore similar to that of the king of France – nominal overlordship with few actual powers, making it very difficult for Henry to apply similar governmental practice in the south as he had in England and the north. Indeed, during 1167, the counts of Angoulême and La Marche offered to cede from Aquitanian authority altogether and hold allegiance directly from Louis, whilst the count of Auvergne appealed to the court of the French king rather than Henry’s ducal court – ironically mirroring the expansion of royal justice over local courts in England. Henry, however, did not appreciate being on the receiving end of such tactics and invaded in force in April 1167; but diversionary raids by Louis into Normandy dragged him back north, where a truce was eventually concluded in August. Further punitive raids against the mutinous Bretons were brought to a premature halt when news reached Henry that his mother, Matilda, had died on 10 September.

However, another reason for Henry’s problems in the south lay closer to home, as tensions within his family began to mount. Earlier in 1167 Henry contracted a marriage alliance between his daughter Matilda and Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria, one of the most powerful German princes in the Holy Roman Empire; the aim was to unsettle the Capet–Blois alliance, as well as exert pressure on Pope Alexander during the Becket dispute. Matilda remained with her mother Eleanor in England for most of the year until September, when it was time for them to leave for Normandy as part of the onwards journey to her new husband’s court. However, the departure of their eldest daughter effectively marked the end of Henry and Eleanor’s fifteen-year marriage. Eleanor returned to England and, in December, gathered up all her possessions and set sail for Argentan, where Henry held his Christmas court. We do not know how the conversation between them transpired, but by the end of it they had agreed to live apart; Eleanor headed home to Poitiers, escorted by an armed guard. Henry accompanied her on the road south as he sought to break the power of the rebellious Lusignan family, one of the key dynasties of the region who had long considered themselves to be semi-independent of the ruler of Aquitaine.

It is tempting to portray the split as acrimonious, with the cause of marital disharmony commonly attributed to Eleanor’s discovery that Henry was having an affair with Rosamund de Clifford, the daughter of one of his Worcestershire barons, Walter de Clifford. According to many accounts, Henry had become infatuated with ‘the fair Rosamund’ who was one of the most beautiful women of the age and built for her a labyrinth or ‘bower’ in the grounds of Woodstock, a favourite royal residence, where she could hide so that he could visit her in secret. It has even been suggested that Eleanor was forced to give birth to John at Beaumont palace, Oxfordshire, on Christmas Eve 1166 because Rosamund had taken up residence at Woodstock. As with all legends, once fact is untangled from the fiction, the reality is somewhat different. Henry did indeed have a relationship with Rosamund, but it is almost certain that he met her after Eleanor had left, at least no earlier than 1170 and possibly as late as 1173. It seems he did build a house for her near Woodstock named Everswell, constructed around a natural spring that fed a series of pools, and surrounded by elaborate courtyards. However, she was only one of many concubines in the years following Eleanor’s departure; Henry lived openly with her after the 1173–4 rebellion, not before.

The indiscretions of the king were fairly well known – tales of ‘nocturnal activities’ at the itinerant court were rife, whores were present and actively ‘managed’, and several liaisons with noble-born women were suspected, such as with the daughter of Breton magnate Eudo de Porhoet, who refused to serve Henry against Louis in 1168–9 because his daughter was ‘with child’. Henry’s first ‘natural’ son, Geoffrey, was born around the time of his marriage in 1152; Eleanor seems to have to have been sanguine about the situation to the point where Geoffrey was formally recognised and was appointed chancellor in 1181 and, under his half-brother King Richard, rose to become archbishop of York. Consequently, he attracted particular opprobrium from various clerical chroniclers on account of that fact that his mother, named Ykennai, was ‘a common harlot who stooped to all uncleanness’. Indeed, after Eleanor had moved back to Poitiers, she was informed of the birth of another royal bastard, William Longespee (the future earl of Salisbury) around 1170, whose mother was Ida de Tosny. Eleanor could hardly boast a squeaky-clean past herself, given the rumours that continued to circulate about her inappropriately close relationship with her uncle Raymond of Antioch, as well as stories that she had slept with Henry’s own father, Geoffrey – who pointedly advised his son to steer clear of her.

Instead, Eleanor’s decision to return home was fuelled by a much more powerful grievance that had been simmering away since the early days of their marriage, when it became clear that Henry’s preferred system of government did not require a powerful regent to act in his place. Prior to her wedding to Henry, and certainly in the early days before the disastrous crusade, Eleanor had enjoyed an exalted position at the French court, virtually acting as co-ruler with Louis. After her humiliation in the Holy Land and subsequent divorce, Eleanor doubtless thought her handsome young husband might be willing to restore her to a position of power. There is some evidence in the pipe rolls that demonstrate she was given English lands in Devon in her own right, thus securing an independent income; and Henry trusted her to authorise documents and royal expenditure with the use of her own seal during some of his absences on the continent during the 1150s. For example, the pipe roll for 1159 (covering the period when Henry was on the Toulouse campaign) shows that Eleanor used her seal to authorise the transfer of various funds for her children’s expenses, and seized the opportunity to purchase robes for herself worth £80 – a vast fortune in today’s money, at a conservative estimate around £60,000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given this extravagant spending, the main responsibility for royal government in England fell to the king’s trusted team – the justiciars, chancellor and exchequer officials – leaving Eleanor side-lined and virtually anonymous in the political chronicles, other than appearing as a footnote when she gave birth to yet another royal child.

Eleanor’s return home to Poitiers therefore allowed her an autonomy that she had not enjoyed since she was a girl growing up in her father’s Aquitainian court; the deployment of his wife as ruler of Aquitaine seems to have been part of Henry’s wider strategy to articulate clearly how his lands would be divided after his death. Initially, Henry left behind a military commander, Earl Patrick of Salisbury, to ‘assist’ with the government of the duchy; despite Henry’s attack on the Lusignan strongholds in early 1168, discontent with Angevin rule was still rife. Indeed, Eleanor’s return to Aquitaine nearly ended in disaster on 27 March 1168, when Geoffrey and Guy de Lusignan made a daring attempt to capture the duchess while she was out riding with a small party of courtiers. Luckily, a military escort that included Patrick and his nephew, a young knight called William Marshal, accompanied Eleanor as she travelled. Before the ambush could be fully sprung, Patrick scrambled Eleanor and her attendants to safety in a nearby castle; however, on trying to mount his horse to confront the assailants, he was run through with a lance and killed instantly. William Marshal fought furiously, but was eventually captured. On hearing of his valiant defence in her name, Eleanor paid a ransom for William’s release and supplied him with horses, arms, money and fine clothes. The reputation of one of the most notable knights throughout the middle ages was thus born.

Eleanor’s sojourn in Aquitaine is often linked to another legend – the creation of a ‘court of love’ at Poitiers, where in the warmer climes, and inspired by memories of her family’s colourful and romantic past, Eleanor encouraged an atmosphere that was markedly different to that of the itinerant household of her husband, or indeed the formalities of Louis’s court in Paris. In a passage written about her after the 1173–4 rebellion, it was claimed that, ‘Once tender and delicate, you enjoyed a royal freedom, you abounded with riches, young girls surrounded you playing the tambourine and the harp, singing pleasant songs. Indeed you enjoyed the sound of the organ, and you leaped to the beating of drums.’ Equally, Eleanor is said to have cultivated an atmosphere at court in which troubadours, poets and writers extolled the virtues of amorous behaviour, and encouraged the emergence of a romanticised code of chivalry that her knights would follow.

Sadly, the stories seem to have been an exaggeration. We know she was visited by Bernard de Ventadorn, a leading troubadour and ‘master singer’; and Arnaut Guilhem de Marsan accompanied her when she escorted her daughter, also named Eleanor, to the border of Spain for her marriage to Alfonso VIII of Castile. However, beyond the duty to provide young knights with instruction, a function that all courts performed, there is no evidence that Eleanor’s court was any more amorous than others, and certainly less so than that of her famous troubadour grandfather, William IX. Instead, Eleanor focused on the business of government, issuing writs, letters and charters under her own seal and travelling around the duchy – doubtless with growing dismay when she saw the impact of her husband’s brutal rule on ‘her’ lands.

Eleanor was able to exert a far greater influence over the upbringing of her children, especially her favourite, Richard, who accompanied her to Aquitaine when she left Henry. From the age of nine, these were formative years in Richard’s development and he soon grew to love the lands of the south. Eleanor used his time at her court to groom him for power as her preferred successor. In contrast, the young Henry and Geoffrey only visited briefly, whilst her other two children, Joan and John, remained in Fontevraud, where they were attached to the monastery for their education. Eleanor’s close relationship with her children was very different to that of their father as they grew older.

Angevin Dynasty: A family at war II

The root of family discord came, ironically, out of a peace conference held between Henry and Louis at Montmirail in February 1169, an attempt to end two years of increasing warfare along the extended border. As part of the entente, Henry clarified his plans for the division of his lands after his death. His eldest son would succeed him in England (with Scotland and Wales still viewed as client states), Normandy and Anjou; Geoffrey would continue as duke of Brittany, but would be required to pay homage to the young Henry, formally recognising that Brittany was a vassal state of Normandy; Richard was confirmed as Eleanor’s successor in Aquitaine and, as such, would hold the duchy directly from the king of France – recognising its independence from Henry’s other lands and strongly suggesting that Eleanor’s views had at least been taken into consideration. To confirm the arrangement, Louis’s daughter Alice was betrothed to Richard and entrusted to Henry’s safe keeping until such time as the marriage could be conducted. The French king agreed he would support Henry against his rebellious barons across the various territories in France, should the need arise. Aside from the sour taste left by Becket’s attention-seeking performance, the conference could have been a great success.

By clarifying plans for the succession, Henry merely created a rod for his own back. There were several unanswered questions, not least concerning the lack of provision for John – although probably apocryphal, the story that Henry nicknamed him ‘lack-land’ when he was born carried an unfortunate ring of truth about the situation in 1169. When Henry fell seriously ill in 1170 and feared death, he made his will, confirming the arrangements made at Montmirail but granting John the county of Mortain in Normandy and entrusting him to the custody of the young Henry, until John was of age to take possession. Matters were made worse when Louis resumed his support for Becket and, increasingly distrustful of Henry, continued to stir up trouble where possible in his lands once more. This included a new tactic, whereby Louis reached out to Henry’s sons on the grounds that they would one day be vassals of the French crown. It was against this background, and the increasing diplomatic tension caused by the escalation of the dispute with Becket and the pope, that Henry decided to follow Carolingian tradition and crown the young Henry during his own lifetime. Once again, Eleanor was involved in the decision to proceed and subsequent planning of the ceremony. Indeed, she travelled north to Normandy and was entrusted with a special mission: to prevent Becket or any of his representatives from crossing to England in an attempt to disrupt or even prevent the ceremony from taking place.

Aside from the queen and the archbishop of Canterbury, there was another notable absentee – young Henry’s wife, Margaret, was not invited and thus could not be jointly crowned with her husband, despite the fact that £26 – tens of thousands in today’s money – had been spent on robes for her and her household as part of the coronation preparations. This was almost certainly a deliberate snub and well-aimed insult towards her father Louis, which had the desired effect of enraging the Capetian king. Yet, despite the diplomatic storm clouds and wrangling over the guest list, the occasion was still solemn and magnificent. The pipe rolls provide evidence of great expenditure on the ceremony, which was conducted at Westminster Abbey. The king authorised the purchase of rich clothes for the courtiers and linen vestments for the new king, with all arrangements placed in the hands of his trusted household administrator Edward Blount. The young Henry’s regalia consisted of a crown, sceptre and ceremonial swords; at the age of fifteen, he had not yet been knighted so would not have had spurs. Nevertheless, he cut a striking figure – ‘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’.

In the presence of the archbishop of York, gripping the altar with both hands, the young Henry swore on the Gospels and holy relics that he would uphold the liberty and dignity of the church. He was then anointed with oil of chrism and proclaimed king, with many chroniclers thereafter naming him Henry III. A lavish banquet, with newly gilded plates, was then held in the palace, and the old king honoured his son by serving food to him in person, rather than by a servant. Perhaps it was meant as a jocular exchange, fuelled by a healthy intake of wine, but when Henry commented that it was not always a prince could be served by a king, his son replied that it was nothing unusual for the son of a count to serve the king – a grave insult to his father’s dignity and an early sign of the discontent to come. Henry certainly refused to grant the young king any lands in his new kingdom, or involve him in the machinery of government at all.

Henry’s mood on his return to the continent was thunderous, if accounts of an argument with Roger, bishop of Worcester, are anything to go by. The bishop was a known supporter of Becket, and Eleanor, with the assistance of the seneschal of Normandy, had prevented him from sailing to England for the coronation. However, he was also ‘family’ – the son of Henry’s half-uncle, Earl Robert of Gloucester, and his absence was noted by the king who confronted him angrily when they met a few weeks later outside Falaise in Normandy:

‘What a traitor you have proved to be’, he said, ‘I sent you a personal invitation to my son’s coronation, and told you when it would be; but you did not come. You can have no regard for me, or my son’s honour. I’ll see that you lose the revenues of your see for this. You are not your father’s son. To think that we were both taught by him the essentials of good behaviour.’

‘That is fine, coming from you’, replied Bishop Roger:

What do you care that my father, Earl Robert, fought for you sixteen years against King Stephen, and even suffered imprisonment on your behalf. Little good has it done my elder brother. The earldom of Gloucester was worth a thousand knights until you cut it down to two hundred and forty. And as for my younger brother – you have reduced him to such penury that he has had to take service with the Knights Hospitaller. That’s how you treat your kinsmen and friends. That is what people receive for serving you. Take my revenues if you will; although I should have thought you might have been satisfied with those of the archbishop and the vacant bishoprics and abbeys – surely that’s enough on your conscience.

One of Henry’s household then took it upon himself to criticise the bishop, but the king turned on him instead, crying:

Do you think, you rascal, that if I say what I choose to my bishop and kinsman, either you or any other man may dishonour him with your tongue or threaten him? I can hardly keep my hands from your eyes; neither you nor the others may say one word against the bishop.

The two men finally discussed the reasons why the bishop had been unable to attend; Henry, in great anger, asked if Eleanor and his seneschal were to blame for Roger’s non-appearance, and the bishop’s reaction provides an insight into the state of relations between Henry and Eleanor: ‘Not the queen, lest perchance out of fear and respect for you she suppress the truth and your anger burn more hotly against me; or if she should confess it to be true, then you might rage madly and rudely against that noble lady.’

Despite the bishop’s fears, Eleanor continued to take an active role in family affairs – indeed, she rose to prominence during Henry’s sickness in early August 1170 that left him confined to his bed for nearly two months, sufficiently fearful of death that he made his will. During that time, she oversaw the departure of her daughter Eleanor in September; the marriage had been brokered as part of another diplomatic initiative by Henry to isolate the count of Toulouse from Louis by building a ring of strategic allies to hem him in. The young Eleanor’s dowry was to be Gascony; although she was probably consulted over the decision, Eleanor senior was not happy that her patrimonial lands were being dismembered around her – even though the bitter pill had been sugar-coated with the caveat that Gascony would only leave Aquitainian control after Eleanor’s death. Nevertheless, there was little sign of disharmony at the end of the year, when Eleanor and Henry were joined by their sons at the Christmas court held at Bure le Roi – the fateful occasion when news of Becket’s foolhardy excommunication of all bishops who had participated in the young Henry’s coronation reached the king, triggering his incandescent outburst that started the chain of events that would lead to Becket’s murder on 29 December.

Henry’s reaction to the news of Becket’s death was almost certainly genuine; but he was not the only member of his family who was deeply shocked and affected. His son, the young king, had been brought up and educated as a boy in Becket’s court when he was still chancellor. The young Henry would have received lessons in knightly conduct, at which he clearly excelled given later accounts of his martial prowess at tournaments – and he grew into a dashing, handsome youth loved by all, for which some credit can be laid at Becket’s door. Equally, he was instructed in the latest theological and political ideas, including the works of John of Salisbury with whom Becket was close. Notwithstanding the fact that the young king refused to see Becket on his return to England in 1170, he was deeply affected by the sudden and brutal death of such an influential character, and blamed his father. Indeed, such was the young king’s affection towards his old master that he was the first royal visitor to Becket’s tomb at Canterbury in 1172, flinging himself prostrate to the ground, ‘overcome with feelings of guilt and remorse’.

His father, meanwhile, was equally remorseful but took a different course of action. With the situation on the continent looking perilous, and his enemies baying for his blood, Henry decided to kill two birds with one stone and launch an expedition to conquer Ireland – an attempt to curry favour with the pope, given Alexander’s concerns over the state of Irish Christianity, as well as a potential opportunity to gain land for his son John, though he was not yet five years old at the time. The political situation in Ireland was complicated, with the high king nominally ruling over regional or tribal under-kings; however, there was no central administration or common set of laws, with eight different forms of permissible marriage that prompted popes to describe the Irish as ‘ignorant and barbarous people’. Henry had indirectly meddled in Irish politics in 1167 when he issued letters patent permitting Dermot, king of Leinster, to recruit ‘free lances’ in his struggle with the king of Connacht. Various members of the leading Anglo-Welsh marcher families, used to border conflict, crossed to Ireland – particularly younger sons or those who had been disinherited after the anarchy. One man in particular, Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow, flourished – mainly because he married Dermot’s daughter and, after Dermot’s death in 1171, claimed the title king of Leinster for himself – although he immediately became embroiled in a bitter struggle with Rory O’Connor, the king of Connacht and nominal high king. Strongbow only saved his position by winning a stunning military victory when it looked like the Normans would be ejected from Ireland. It was at this moment – on 18 October 1171 – that Henry landed with a show of force sufficient to ensure that most of the native kings (with the exception of Rory O’Connor and those in the north) and Strongbow submitted to him. Pope Alexander was delighted at the news. Strongbow was confirmed as king in Leinster, but Henry left behind his own royal garrisons and administration, based in Dublin, and established other Norman ‘kings’ such as Hugh de Lacy in Meath.

Henry’s return from Ireland allowed him to settle his dispute with the pope on more favourable terms than could have been expected in 1171, and he then returned to the management of his continental lands. In Normandy, he conducted enquiries into the lands that his grandfather, Henry I, had held, and ensured that they were returned to his hands, ‘and by this means he doubled his income’. Once more, he met up with Eleanor and discussed Richard’s inheritance, agreeing that – as with the young Henry – it was appropriate that he should be invested as duke. Accordingly, two grand ceremonies were planned to mark this transfer of power in June 1172. The first took place at Poitiers, where Richard was presented with a lance and banner, traditional symbols of authority; then at Limoges, in a more solemn affair, he was invested with the sacred ring of Saint Valerie, as the bishop placed a golden circlet on his head and handed him a rod and a sword – a reference to the post-Roman times when Aquitaine was first a province, and then a kingdom in its own right.

Yet every move Henry made to confirm his commitment to sharing his lands around the family caused more problems. Henry was unwilling to relinquish the title duke of Aquitaine, so it was not quite the transfer of power that Richard might have expected; he was known as count of Poitou, although Eleanor permitted him to take control of many of the administrative aspects of government. This caused deep resentment between the young Henry and Richard, as the older sibling grew bitterly jealous of the autonomy of his younger brother – he had still not been provided with any lands, and it looked like he was slipping further and further down the queue; his brother Geoffrey had an equal cause for complaint, given that Conan of Brittany had died in 1171 and he was still unmarried to Conan’s daughter Constance.

The year ended with Eleanor and Henry together at his Christmas court in Mirebeau, Anjou; however, like the weather, the atmosphere was frosty – mainly because of yet another attempt to isolate the count of Toulouse through a brokered marriage with a nearby neighbour. This time, Henry suggested to Count Humbert of Maurienne – ruler of lands which bordered Provence – that his daughter should marry John. When Henry met Humbert at Montferrat in late January 1173, the count of Toulouse and the king of Aragon-Barcelona joined the conference and made it known that they were eager to settle their differences. Although the marriage did not take place in the end – the death of Humbert’s daughter being one major stumbling block – it had the desired effect; at the betrothal in February, the count of Toulouse recognised Henry as his overlord and performed homage as a vassal of Aquitaine.

This should have been a moment of triumph for Henry, but in reality it was a massive blunder on several levels. First, the count of Toulouse paid homage for the county to Henry and Richard but not Eleanor, an incredibly insensitive insult to her dignity as hereditary duchess, undermining the autonomy that she had been allowed since 1168. Even more damaging was the assignment of the Angevin castles of Chinon, Loudun and Mirebeau to John – a traditional endowment for a second son, and identical to the grant that Henry’s own brother Geoffrey had received until his untimely rebellion at the start of the reign. The grant, along with 5,000 marks cash, was made without any consultation with the young Henry, who viewed them as part of ‘his’ inheritance and further rubbed his nose in the fact that he had been given neither lands nor cash. A bitter quarrel erupted between father and son, in which all the young king’s grievances came out. The king refused to extend his allowance or grant him land; young Henry retorted that, at eighteen years of age, he was already two years older than when his father had been invested as duke of Normandy, he was tired of Henry choosing his household staff and courtiers, and the lack of suitable funding meant that he was unable to maintain a proper court for himself and his wife. As with many family arguments, once started it was hard to stop – young Henry demanded that he be given at least one of his father’s lands to govern, and followed it up with the real bombshell – this was something that his father-in-law, Louis, supported, as did the barons of Normandy and England. Stunned, Henry turned to the count of Toulouse, who confirmed that he had heard rumours that a plot to depose the king was indeed planned.

Even as his anger cooled, Henry gathered his household knights around him and headed back into Aquitaine as he sought to secure the key castles in case the stories were true, before setting off to Normandy with young Henry, a virtual prisoner. They reached Chinon castle on 8 March 1173, and settled down for the night after a long day’s ride. However, young Henry managed to evade the courtiers – or perhaps used his famous charm to persuade them to let him escape – and rode hell for leather to Paris, where he was received warmly at Louis’s court. Henry was furious, and sent envoys to his son, but Louis refused to let them speak with young Henry, rejecting out of hand the demand that he should accompany them back to his father. ‘Who is it that sends such a message to me?’ asked Louis, when he received the formal request from the lead envoy. ‘The king of England’ was the reply. ‘What nonsense,’ Louis scoffed:

Behold! The king of England is here present, and he sends no message to me through you. But even if you still call king his father who was formerly king of England, know that he, as king, is dead. And though he may still act as king, this shall speedily be remedied, for he resigned his kingdom to his son, as all the world bears witness.

Soon after, Geoffrey and Richard left Eleanor’s court in Aquitaine and joined young Henry in Paris, where they also swore allegiance to Louis. The family dispute had just turned into a full-blown war.


The struggle between Henry and his family was not unique in the history of the post-Roman West; the fragmentation of the Carolingian empire into the splintered Frankish lands was driven by centuries of fraternal conflict as territories broke into ever-smaller blocs. What made the Angevin conflict so noteworthy was that Henry’s entire family turned against him, and that so many other powers were dragged into the conflict as a result of interconnected geopolitical alliances, brokered primarily by Louis – the medieval equivalent of the way the balance of power was held in Europe on the eve of the 1914–18 Great War. After Henry’s envoys had been summarily dispatched from Paris, Louis summoned a grand council of his leading magnates. Having declared formally that Henry had been stripped of his possessions in France, Louis ensured they pledged to support young Henry in his endeavours and recognised the transfer of power from father to son; equally, as the duke of Normandy and count of Anjou, young Henry swore not to make peace with his father without the permission of his new overlord. Having taken such a drastic step, the only logical way forward was to empower young Henry with the necessary administrative tools; so Louis arranged for a seal to be cut for the young king so that he could issue orders, make land grants and draw up charters within the lands in which Louis had recognised his authority.

However, it was all very well making plans, sat in the luxury and relative safety in Paris; to take actual control required military intervention. Thus young Henry and Louis started to assemble an army. This depended upon the involvement of neighbouring states, partly by drawing on familial ties but also through the promise of the grant of estates across Henry’s lands that had previously been denied them – this drew the support of the counts of Flanders and Boulogne. Louis also turned to his brothers-in-law, who had been baying for Henry’s blood ever since Becket’s murder. An ‘eastern front’, from the northernmost tip of Normandy to the Blois–Aquitaine border further south, was therefore primed for military conflict. However, a ‘northern front’ was cultivated as well, as young Henry reversed his father’s renegotiation of the Anglo-Scottish border in 1157 and promised William, king of Scots, the whole of Northumbria as far south as the Tyne.

Yet even with such a broad range of foes ranged against Henry, for the attempted coup to succeed it required the cooperation and support of the leading magnates in the territories over which the young Henry sought to gain control. The chroniclers state that, ‘Nearly all the earls and barons of England, Normandy, Aquitaine, Anjou and Brittany arose against the king of England the father.’ It was certainly the case that, in some parts of Henry’s commonwealth, his brutal acts of suppression or dismantling of old autonomous rights in favour of centralised power had created the right environment for revolt; the young king found support particularly on the Norman–Breton borders, through Maine and in large parts of Aquitaine. In England, some leading nobles took arms against the old king, especially the Midlands earls of Leicester, Derby and Chester; and Hugh Bigod, earl of Norfolk, with his long-standing grudge against the king. Yet this was not a wholesale uprising against a tyrannical ruler, and this is testimony to the effectiveness of Henry’s administrative system and its reliance on process and protocol rather than personality. Although many of the rebels still sought greater influence and control of lands they still considered to be ‘theirs’, the way Henry stamped his authority across England at the start of the reign had snuffed out most sources of grievance that might have been allowed to fester from the time of Stephen – with the exception of Bigod. Nevertheless, the increasing burden of royal authority had created a general feeling of discontent, and many decided to adopt a ‘wait and see’ strategy rather than rally round the king: ‘There were only a few barons at that time in England who were not wavering in their allegiance to the king and ready to defect,’ according to William of Newburgh.

Shorn of his family, Henry turned to his trusted advisors amongst his itinerant court, and key officials in England, to decide what to do – given that war could break out on any front, and the king could not be everywhere at once. So, whilst he took some precautionary steps, such as placing all the royal castles in England on a war footing, he also waited to see what would happen – challenging his enemies to make the first move. The blow fell on Normandy, the heart of Henry’s possessions and key to any successful invasion of England. The initial assaults came in May, first at Pacy and then an attack on the castle of Gournay led by the young king at the head of his first army; but these were little more than probing raids. The main assault was unleashed the following month. Philip of Flanders crossed the northern border at Aumale, which fell very easily – raising suspicions that the count of Aumale was part of the conspiracy; Louis invaded further south and besieged Verneuil, with the earl of Leicester and Henry’s longstanding Norman opponent William de Tancarville in support. Meanwhile, Breton rebels crossed the border and marched on Avranches, aided by Hugh, earl of Chester, and key Norman castellan Ralph de Fougères. Now that Henry could see what was planned, he coolly assessed the situation and made a flying visit to England on the royal ship Esnecca, filling it with coin from the royal treasury at Westminster so that he could hire more mercenaries from Brabant. The Norman defences held; indeed, the fortunes of war swung his way. Philip of Flanders moved on from Aumale to capture Driencourt, but his brother Matthew, count of Boulogne, was hit in the knee by a crossbow bolt and was seriously wounded. Infection set in and, despite medical attention, he died a few days later. Distraught, Philip abandoned the campaign and left for his own lands in mourning.

On hearing the news, Henry decided it was time to mobilise his army, and in early August he marched towards Verneuil to confront Louis directly in battle – all deference to his overlord shown in the Toulouse campaign was cast aside. Louis decided to despatch an armed party of envoys to see if the rumours of Henry’s advance were serious; the unfortunate group encountered Henry on the road, in full military gear, leading a vanguard towards the French camp issuing orders and displaying supreme confidence that he would prevail. When the envoys nervously ‘informed him that the king of France wished to receive an assurance concerning the battle, with a fierce countenance and in a terrible voice he replied, “Go, tell your king that I am here in person.”’ The message was duly relayed to Louis, along with an account of the ‘ferocity and stubborn reaction of the monarch who was even then rapidly drawing nigh’. Indeed, Henry’s forces mounted the crest of the hill overlooking the town on 9 August, to find parts of it burning as Louis and his magnates broke their siege and beat a hasty retreat; the rearguard of the French army were butchered in the evening twilight.

Having then marched east to secure Damville, Henry next headed for Rouen to regroup, while sending some of his mercenaries west to challenge the Bretons; they, too, retreated under the onslaught, suffering heavy casualties as they hastened to the town of Dol. On hearing the news that the rebels were besieged, Henry covered the distance from Rouen in only two days, appearing suddenly out of nowhere when least expected – his enemies thought he was still fighting in the eastern marches of Normandy. Trapped inside the citadel, the rebels begged for mercy, which Henry granted on 20 August – their lives were spared, but two of the ringleaders of the war, Hugh of Chester and Ralph de Fougères, were imprisoned. With the rebel campaign faltering, the earl of Leicester attempted a diversionary expedition to England at the end of September, taking a force of Flemings to Suffolk where they landed under the protection of Hugh Bigod and assembled at Framlingham. The opposition to the rebels in England had been led by the justiciar, Richard de Lucy; his focus had been on capturing the chief rebel stronghold, Leicester. However, he had been drawn north by the invasion of William the Lion at the head of a Scottish army that raided through Northumbria into Yorkshire. Having driven them back, de Lucy was forced to march south again to confront the new challenge in East Anglia. In the marshes at Fornham, not far from Bury St Edmunds, de Lucy’s army routed the rebels, even though the royalists were outnumbered; many insurgents died in the fighting, some drowned in the bogs as they tried to flee, and the locals literally waded in to the fight in support of the royal cause. As at Dol, another of the rebel leaders, the earl of Leicester, was captured.

Having secured Normandy and, via his deputy, repulsed the initial threat in England, Henry shored up the Angevin defences along the border with Blois by moving into Touraine and ensuring all key castles were handed over into his control. With the main campaigning season in the north over for the year, Henry headed south to Poitiers from Chinon to tackle the rebellious barons of Aquitaine, who were led by his son Richard, as well as confront his wife given his suspicions that she was behind the actions of his sons. Poitevin chroniclers certainly rejoiced at the uprising against Henry – ‘Exult, Aquitaine! Rejoice, Poitou, that the sceptre of the king of the North be removed from you!’ However, in a surprise attack, Henry took Saintes, where Richard had been based, forcing him to hole up in Geoffrey de Rancon’s ‘impregnable’ château de Taillebourg. Fearing her husband’s wrath, Eleanor fled to Fay-la-Vineuse, her uncle’s lordship, seeking his protection; but he had already abandoned his lands and gone to Paris. Eleanor decided to follow him, and made careful plans to slip through Henry’s military cordons. ‘Having changed from her woman’s clothes’ to adopt the dress of a man, her luck eventually ran out on the road to Chartres; she was captured, brought before Henry, and then locked up in Chinon castle at the king’s pleasure with no hope of release or rescue. Her supporters suffered far worse fates: those that were ‘taken from their lands [were] condemned to a foul death, others deprived of sight, others are forced to wander and flee to scattered places’.

There was little more Henry could do in the south, so he returned to his northern lands. Apart from a surprise attack by Louis against Séez in January 1174, which was repulsed by the citizens, there was no further action throughout the spring. The uneasy stalemate continued; whilst Henry remained in Normandy, the allies were unwilling to attack. Diversionary tactics were required to dislodge him, hence the second invasion by William the Lion, with the support of northern rebels led by Roger de Mowbray, shortly after Easter 1174. Part of the Scottish forces marched south under the command of William’s brother, David, who reinforced the garrison at Leicester and led successful raids against Huntingdon, Northampton and Nottingham. As already seen, the northern earls led the royal resistance to William’s incursions that culminated in his capture outside Alnwick. At the same time Henry’s natural son Geoffrey Plantagenet besieged de Mowbray at Axholme; having managed to escape the encircling army, de Mowbray was captured by local peasants on his way to Leicester. To boost the flagging rebel efforts, Philip of Flanders let it be known that he was planning to invade by mid July with the young king, sending over an advance party of Flemings who landed in East Anglia on 15 May and joined up with Hugh Bigod; they captured Norwich. It was under these circumstances that Henry decided that he should return to England, eventually persuaded by the panicked message he received from one of his trusted deputies in England, Richard de Ilchester. However, he ensured that his Norman castles were secure before sailing from Barfleur on 7 July. His uneasiness was justified; this was exactly the opportunity that the confederates had been waiting for. Philip of Flanders re-joined Louis and together they launched a desperate attack on Normandy, safe in the knowledge that Henry was not present. By 22 July, they were encamped outside the formidable defences of the ducal capital, Rouen.

Henry’s business in England had to be concluded swiftly so that he could return to face the crisis in Normandy, which was why the news of William the Lion’s capture was so welcome. Freed from the threat in the north and reassured that yet another rebel leader was his prisoner, the king marched to the relief of Huntingdon. The town quickly surrendered when Henry appeared in person outside its gates, so he moved on to Northampton, which also abandoned its resistance. At this point the rebellion in England collapsed, and Henry was able to summon and secure the submission of all remaining nobles.

With the country back under royal control, Henry sailed to Barfleur on 8 August and immediately set out for Rouen. Louis’s army was not making much headway, and had not even been able to invest the citadel fully; the western gate was still open and supplies were still entering via the river Seine. A truce had been agreed on 10 August so that both sides could celebrate the feast of St Lawrence; it was, after all, very early in the siege and there were plenty of provisions available for the citizens and besiegers to enjoy the occasion. However, at the insistence of the count of Flanders, Louis was persuaded to use the truce as the cover for a surprise assault. Fortunately two clerks, stationed high up in a church tower within the citadel, noticed activity in the French camp and rang the bell to alert the commander of the defences, just in time to prevent an attempt to scale the walls. It was to be Louis’s last chance of capturing the ducal capital; Henry arrived the next morning with a sizeable force of mercenaries, and entered the city. In his mind, there was only one option – to attack. A party of Welsh scouts were sent to survey the enemy’s encampment, and from hiding positions in the woods around Rouen launched a raid on the French supply train, causing great damage. Henry then ordered a ditch between the city walls and the French camp to be filled in so that his entire force of knights could sweep out and attack. For the second time in the campaign, Louis refused to give battle and beat a hasty retreat. The great rebellion was at an end.


One aspect of particular note was the absence of young Henry and his brothers from the majority of the fighting, which made peace negotiations somewhat easier to conclude. However, the agreement that was reached on 30 September at Montlouis was between father and sons, and conveniently ignored the role that Louis had played in fomenting family discord in order to eject his over-mighty vassal from his continental lands. This act of diplomatic amnesia was accompanied by generous terms for the defeated rebels, winding the clock back to the status quo fifteen days before young Henry fled to Paris. Henry’s magnanimous attitude towards the confederates was criticised in many quarters for its leniency; furthermore, he stuck to the terms of the settlement – in contrast to his somewhat patchy reputation when it came to oath-breaking. The reason for his clemency was that the war had been a wake-up call, forcing him to confront the fact that his sons had indeed grown up and needed more freedom – never an easy moment for a parent, even more so when he has been running the family firm for twenty years. Henry and the young king therefore were publicly reconciled, and although the latter was forced to recognise the grants that his father had made to John – namely the county of Mortain, various sources of revenue from England, Normandy and Anjou, plus the Angevin castles – he was also given two castles in Normandy and an allowance. Geoffrey was granted half the revenues of Brittany, whilst Richard – who, on 23 September, had come from the south ‘with tears to prostrate himself at his father’s feet and crave his pardon’ – was confirmed as count of Poitou, allocated half the revenues of the county and allowed to hold territories in his own right.

Of more relevance, Henry handed Richard the task of subduing the rebellious nobles in Aquitaine – an irony given that Richard had played a leading part in stirring up trouble in Saintonge and Poitou in the first place. It was a clear sign that power had passed from Eleanor to Richard; yet without his mother’s influence, he struggled to make any headway for two years, returning to England in spring 1176 where a family conference was arranged at Winchester to discuss the situation – one of the first signs that Henry was adopting a more conciliar approach to the ‘federal’ government of his realms. Richard was given funds to hire mercenaries and promised the services of his older brother, Henry. This support, though, turned out to be of little use – having left England in April, the young king spent his time in Paris and only arrived in Aquitaine in midsummer, when he took part briefly in the siege of Châteauneuf before wandering off again. However, Richard proved his mettle, and routed the rebel forces led by the count of Angoulême near Bouteville before capturing the castle at Aixe belonging to the viscount of Limoges. He swept through Angoulême, besieging the city with the rebel leaders inside. After six days, the resistance crumbled and everyone surrendered. Richard sent leading Aquitainian nobles Count William of Angoulême, Viscount Aimer of Limoges, and the viscounts of Ventador and Chabanais to England. They were presented to Henry at Winchester on 21 September 1176: ‘Prostrating themselves at the feet of the king the father, they sued for mercy.’

However, there were some exceptions to the king’s amnesty. The simmering tension that had been growing between Henry and Eleanor since their separation in 1167 was now out in the open, and she remained in captivity. Once Henry had made up his mind in July 1174 to deal directly with the situation in England, he summoned his wife and she accompanied him on his voyage from Barfleur on 7 July. Whilst Henry knelt in penance at Canterbury, she was transferred to Salisbury castle, still securely held in royalist hands. For the next fifteen years she remained Henry’s prisoner, although it was more a form of house arrest as she moved from residence to residence in England, furnished with every luxury befitting a queen apart from her freedom. During this time Henry openly lived with Rosamund, attracting criticism for his brazen approach to his marital status, until her sudden death in 1176. Henry was genuinely upset, and helped pay for a tomb to be erected in the choir of the monastery church at Godstow.

Having spent so long shaping English government into a form he understood and that suited his needs, Henry was not about to soften his stance once he had regained his authority. As well as ensuring his wife would not politically embarrass him again, Henry could find no immediate forgiveness for some of his barons. The earls of Chester and Leicester languished in Henry’s prisons until January 1177, as did Ralph de Fougères; although they were then restored to their previous titles, key castles were withheld to ensure their power was weakened. The wily king also had other ways to impose a measure of vengeance, and he turned the screw in England via the administrative and judicial machinery he had assembled. In 1176, Henry issued the assize of Northampton, setting in train the general eyre of royal justices who were now empowered to impose even harsher penalties for criminal offences. Finally, the king also used the royal prerogative to brutal effect, issuing instructions to his feared chief forester, Alan de Neville, to conduct an enquiry into transgressions in the royal forest that took nearly two years to complete.

The man who suffered the most at Henry’s hands was William the Lion of Scotland, who was forced to sign a humiliating treaty at Falaise in December 1174. In return for his freedom, he swore to be ‘the liegeman of the lord king Henry’, thus accepting the overlordship of England across Scotland. A public act of submission at York was accompanied by the surrender of five key castles in Scotland to Henry – Roxburgh, Jedburgh, Berwick, Edinburgh and Stirling; to add insult to injury, the king of the Scots would pay for the English garrisons. Henry next turned his attention to Wales and Ireland. In the case of the former, Henry had generally adopted a more cautious approach that had been rewarded with loyalty and support during the war. The two native kings were elevated above all other native rulers and owed allegiance to Henry, as did the marcher English barons who held lands in Wales. Ireland, however, was far more complicated given the competing demands of the local kings and Henry’s lack of interest in a military solution. In 1175 the treaty of Windsor recognised Rory O’Connor as the high king, but asserted the principle that he was Henry’s vassal. In practice, the agreement proved unworkable as Norman knights continued to cross the Irish Sea to settle as free lances, often supporting Rory’s rivals. Henry was forced to intervene in Munster in 1177; the situation remained too unstable for him to carry out his desire to assign Ireland to John, which had to wait a further eight years until the young prince was of age to lead an army himself.

By the end of 1176, Henry was perhaps in the most powerful position of his entire reign, and the restoration of his reputation after the Becket affair was complete. He formally settled his long-standing dispute with the papacy through negotiations with the legate Cardinal Hugh Pierleone, in 1176. Although Henry confirmed the abandonment of some of the more contentious parts of the constitutions of Clarendon, the tone was markedly different from the compromise of Avranches in 1172 – this time, the arrangements were presented as his concessions to the church, and came hedged with qualifications. In particular, Henry ensured that clerics accused of offences under the forest law were to be tried by the royal officials, rather than a church court; in other words, this area of his prerogative remained intact, drawing sharp criticism from clerical chroniclers.

Angevin Dynasty: A family at war III

Henry’s court in November reflected his heightened status on the European stage, as it was visited by envoys from the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus, from the Holy Roman Emperor, and from the count of Flanders. Such was Henry’s renown that the king of Sicily, William II, sought an alliance by marrying Henry’s daughter Joan in February 1177. Perhaps even more importantly, Henry’s new model of ‘a family firm’, with regular conferences, continued to pay dividends in Aquitaine, where Richard’s permanent presence, rather than rule by an absentee lord such as Henry, finally allowed the pursuit of full ducal authority. However, suppressing rebellion was one thing; bringing traditionally autonomous counties such as Angoulême under control was another. Early signs of Richard’s military skill, tenacity and tactical awareness can be seen in the way he dismantled the strongholds that supported the count of Angoulême by the end of May 1179, including the château de Taillebourg where he had sheltered from his father’s wrath in 1173. The contrast this time could not be greater; after reducing the great castle to rubble, having played a leading role during hand-to-hand combat to wrest control of the gatehouse to gain entry, Richard journeyed to England where he was ‘received by his father with the greatest honour’ and confirmed as ruler of Aquitaine. Thus was born Richard’s reputation as a fearless leader, a warrior with the heart of a lion who was happy to throw himself into the fray alongside his men. As well as a lifelong fascination with the arts of siegecraft and castle-building, he was always looking for opportunities to test his ingenuity against ever more challenging fortresses.

Henry had not forgotten the role played by Louis in stirring up trouble amongst his family, and decided that the time was right to go back onto the offensive, focusing on the contentious areas of Berry and Auvergne – important to Louis as the principal communication route to the southern portion of his realm, yet vital to secure the borders of Aquitaine. In 1177, Henry demanded the handover of Margaret’s dowry – the Norman Vexin – plus lands in Berry for Alice’s dowry as part of her marriage to Richard, and backed up his demands by mustering an army. The sabre-rattling worked. Against the background of increasing tension in the Holy Land, and calls for another crusade to provide assistance to the beleaguered Western strongholds which were under assault from Saladin, Louis and Henry signed a non-aggression pact at Ivry in September 1177 on the basis that they would prepare for a joint military expedition to the Holy Land. Furthermore, the spirit of the agreement was of mutual cooperation – ‘We are now and intend henceforth to be friends, and that each of us will to the best of his ability defend the other in life and limb and in worldly honour against all men,’ removing all claims from each other’s lands. Yet Henry was able to manipulate the situation to his advantage, ensuring the status of Berry, Auvergne and Châteauroux was decided by arbitration at Gracay in November. Not only was the verdict in Henry’s favour, but he also persuaded the lord of La Marche to sell him his lands, which hemmed in the troublesome Aquitainian lords in Poitou, Angoulême and Limoges and acted as a ‘marcher’ state with Berry and Auvergne.

Although this was a major threat to French influence in the south, Louis was no longer in a position to act. He was old and worn out from his struggles with Henry; his focus was to ensure that his only son, Philip, would follow him as king. Louis planned to have Philip crowned as his successor when he turned fourteen on 15 August 1179, but Philip fell so seriously ill that it was feared he would die. Postponing the coronation, Louis travelled to England on 22 August, directed to the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury in a dream. Henry received his fellow king with courtesy, escorting him to the cathedral where Louis prayed for two days. Philip duly recovered and was crowned on 1 November at Reims, with the Angevins represented by young Henry, Richard and Geoffrey; Louis, however, missed the ceremony – he had suffered a stroke on the return journey from Canterbury and was left paralysed, unable to speak: ‘a spectator in the last years of his reign’. He finally died on 18 September 1180 leaving his son at the mercy of court politics. Thereafter followed a power struggle for influence over the new king, with Louis’s widow Adela and her brothers, the counts of Blois, Chartres, Champagne and Sancerre, ranged against the count of Flanders, who had previously arranged for Philip to marry his niece, Isabella of Hainault, in April 1180. Philip sided with his bride’s family, and Adela fled from court; in a twist of fate, the Blois faction appealed to Henry to intervene and facilitate a reconciliation.

When Philip subsequently turned against the count of Flanders in a dispute over control of the Vermandois, Henry was again called in to resolve the conflict as the ‘elder statesman’ of Europe. Prior to his departure to the conference, on 22 February 1182 he dictated his last testament as a precaution, sending a copy to the royal treasury at Westminster and another to Canterbury cathedral for safety. Once in France, he presided over the reconciliation process, surrounded by his former enemies; also present with the king of France and count of Flanders was Henry, the young king, and William, king of Scotland. Chroniclers were moved to write that, ‘We have read of four kings falling together in the same battle, but seldom have we heard of four kings coming peacefully together to confer, and in peace departing.’ Unfortunately, it was to be the last peace Henry was to know.


Despite all his efforts, Henry’s land-share model for federal government fell apart during the next seven years. It is easy to blame the ageing king for failing to relinquish his grasp on power, but this argument does not hold water. In 1181 he had passed Brittany over to Geoffrey to govern in person, and permitted Richard a free hand to tackle the Aquitainian lords. However, Richard’s hand was too heavy, and soon loud complaints could be heard emanating from the deep south as his tactic of imposing long-dormant ducal rights on traditionally independent lords was criticised amid accusations that he ‘oppressed his subjects with burdensome and unwanted exactions and by an impetuous despotism’.

The problem was that the legend of Eleanor’s court of love epitomised the romantic ideal of the emerging code of chivalry, but there was a darker side that required knights to prove their mettle in battle, especially ‘free lances’ that were not attached to the household of a particular lord and could therefore ill-afford to take part in the many tournaments that were held around the counties of France and across the Holy Roman Empire. Troubadours such as Bertran de Born earned their living composing songs of knightly heroic deeds, but during times of peace he sang to a different tune. In a deliberate attempt to cause discontent, Bertran would write political songs inciting violence or mocking the various lords in the hope of stirring up local conflict between them – a medieval version of preachers of hate: ‘I would that the great men should always be quarrelling among themselves.’ Richard brought peace, and it was not to the liking of Bertran and his comrades. Yet trouble was always just around the corner. After the death of Vulgrin, count of Angoulême, in 1181, Richard attempted to impose northern principles of feudal jurisdiction, and claimed that Vulgrin’s infant daughter should be the heiress (and therefore the duke of Aquitaine’s ward), when according to southern custom the county should have passed to one of Vulgrin’s two brothers. Despite the exhortations of Bertran, who had spotted a chance to make mischief and stir up trouble amongst the local barons, the ensuing uprising was somewhat half-hearted; nevertheless, the noise of further unrest coming from Aquitaine forced Henry to intervene. He called the leading lords to a conference at Grandmont in the spring of 1182, shortly after his diplomatic mission to France, and, when the results were inconclusive, helped Richard crush the rebellion via a campaign in the Limousin.

This intervention by Henry in Aquitainian politics was an exception rather than the norm and, although he was concerned by some of Richard’s methods, Henry was happy to let him continue as ruler. The real cause of the old king’s problems was his oldest son, who – unlike Richard and Geoffrey – showed no interest or aptitude for government, yet resented the fact that he held no territory of his own, failing to recognise that hard work, diplomacy and administrative skills were required to wield power. Young Henry had left England in 1176 and headed straight for the glamour of the tournament circuit across France, where he built up a reputation as a dashing, handsome and generous knight who was immensely popular and charming. Young Henry had been assigned to the care of William Marshal, who mentored him in the code of chivalry: ‘When in arms and engaged in war, no sooner was the helmet on his head than he assumed a lofty air, and became impetuous, bold, and fiercer than any wild beast.’ However, it is likely that the siren calls of the troubadours encouraged him to spend money profligately on lavish feasts and in supporting his retinue of young knights, leaving him impoverished, dependent on his father for funds, yet resentful that he could not enjoy the revenues of the lands that he saw as rightfully his. Young Henry struck up a close friendship with the count of Flanders in the late 1170s, and became equally attached to his brother-in-law Philip of France in the early 1180s.

In 1182, Henry had summoned his oldest son to join the campaign in the Limousin at the siege of Perigord, reinforcing the concept that the family pulled together during a time of trouble; but – as always – young Henry dallied along the way and arrived late. Towards the end of the summer, the young king demanded ‘that he be given Normandy or some other territory, where he and his wife might dwell, and from which he might be able to support knights in his service’. The request was rejected out of hand as impertinent, and young Henry stormed off in disgust to the court of his brother-in-law, Philip. This was exactly the same pattern of behaviour that had led to the war in 1173, and Henry was sufficiently alarmed to relent partially. A string of messengers sent to Paris carried offers of money – 100 livres Angevin (around £25 sterling) per day for young Henry, and 10 livres Angevin for his wife. This overly generous offer seemed to do the trick, with the message sent back that young Henry ‘would not depart from his [father’s] will and counsel, nor demand more from him’. These proved to be hollow words, and the real reason for his strange behaviour during the summer became apparent when the family assembled for Henry’s Christmas court at Caen in Normandy. The peace was disturbed when William Marshal burst into the ducal residence, demanding to be heard. Shaking with anger, he formally requested that he be permitted to challenge the young king in trial by combat as a way of proving his innocence in relation to certain scandalous allegations brought against him – namely, that he had conducted an inappropriate affair with young Henry’s wife, Margaret. This was a serious charge, and almost certainly untrue; although Marshal’s request was denied and he was banished from court in disgrace, the incident deeply unsettled Henry and raised suspicions about what was really going on within the young king’s household.

The family had been discussing matters of great importance. Marshal’s interruption and subsequent banishment had clearly added to the tension of the debate. Instead of heading their separate ways, the sons accompanied Henry to his next destination at Le Mans in January 1183. It was here that a huge argument erupted between young Henry and Richard, ‘for whom [Henry] had a consuming hatred’. At the heart of the matter was the young king’s confession that, ‘He had pledged himself to the barons of Aquitaine against his brother Richard, being induced to do so because brother had fortified the castle of Clairvaux, which was part of the patrimony promised to himself, against his wishes.’ As to who had put such thoughts in his head, it is interesting that Bertran de Born – the notorious troublemaking troubadour – had written,

… between Poitiers and l’Île Bouchard and Mirebeau and Loudun and Chinon, someone has dared to build a fair castle at Clairvaux, in the midst of the plain. I should not wish the Young King to know about it or see it, for he would not find it to his liking; but I fear, so white is the stone, that he cannot fail to see it from Matheflon.

Equally, young Henry might have been encouraged by King Philip, a fast learner about the benefits of sowing discord amongst one’s enemies – truly his father Louis’s son.

Richard was furious; technically, Clairvaux had been under the control of Anjou, but was situated at the very northern tip of Poitou and therefore claimed by his jurisdiction. Furthermore, the confession that young Henry had been actively undermining Richard was tantamount to admitting that he was planning a coup; no wonder young Henry had dragged his feet when summoned to join in the family assault on the Aquitanian barons, with whom he was probably in cahoots or at least sounding out the opportunity for an alliance. Given young Henry’s characteristics, he represented a much more palatable proposition to the locals than his iron-willed brother. Henry senior tried to defuse the situation and persuaded Richard to hand Clairvaux over to young Henry, whilst summoning the discontented Aquitainian barons – mainly the Taillefer and Lusignan families – to meet him and his sons at Mirebeau; Geoffrey was entrusted to deliver the message in person.

As the court moved on to Angers, Henry tried once again to resolve matters. However, in trying to provide some clarity over his plans for the division of territories, the king made a terrible blunder. His insistence that they all swore obedience to him and perpetual peace to one another, as well as acknowledge that his decision to divide the territories, along the lines agreed in 1169, was acceptable; his insistence that Richard and Geoffrey swear oaths of allegiance to young Henry as the future head of the family commonwealth provoked a furious response. Richard angrily refused to comply, on the grounds that they were brothers of equal birth status. As his father grew more exasperated, Richard grudgingly relented – only for the young Henry to refuse unless the oaths were sworn on the Gospels. This enraged Richard still further, and he argued that he held Aquitaine from his mother, not his father, directly from the king of France, so there were no grounds on which he should perform homage to his brother. Having made his feelings clear, Richard stormed out of the conference ‘leaving nothing behind him but altercations and threats’ and ‘returned in haste to his own territory and fortified his castles and towns’.

Henry was ‘incandescent from the heat of anger’ but, after he had calmed down, the young king approached him and offered to follow his brother to Aquitaine and broker a peace between Richard and the barons. Despite a natural wariness of his eldest son’s intentions, the old king was pleased that he was taking the situation seriously and wanted to salvage the succession plans. On these grounds, Henry gave permission for him to travel south. However, this proved to be another catastrophic mistake; the young king immediately sent his wife to Paris for safe keeping, as his intention all along had been to follow up on his conversations with the Aquitainian barons and go to war against Richard. As soon as he crossed the border from Anjou, the young king ‘secretly accepted security from the counts and barons that they would faithfully serve him as their lord and would not depart from his service’, and prepared to evict Richard from Aquitaine so that he could claim it for his own.

Henry found out about his son’s betrayal in February 1183; he had followed the young king into Limoges with a small escort, ostensibly to lend support should it be required. Instead he was stunned to find young Henry inside the city conversing happily with the rebel leaders – and even more shocked when the residents opened fire on him with arrows, one of which ripped through his cloak. Negotiations between the two sides lasted several days, even though Henry did not have enough men to besiege the city, despite the city’s defences still being in a state of disrepair after Richard’s previous assault. Yet Henry was even more dumbfounded when a large contingent of Breton mercenaries arrived on the scene, led by Geoffrey – not to help him, but to lend support to the young king’s attempted coup.

This was a bitter blow, but completely in character; Geoffrey was said to be ‘overflowing with words, smooth as oil, possessed by his syrupy and persuasive eloquence, able to corrupt two kingdoms with his tongue, of tireless endeavour and a hypocrite in everything’. It’s likely that Geoffrey had arranged the finer details for the coup when he left court at Le Mans to summon the barons to Mirebeau. Worse still, King Philip – who had grown particularly close to his brother-in-law – saw an opportunity to cause trouble and, declaring an interest in southern affairs as the overlord of both Henry and Richard, moved into the region with armed forces. Other local powers waded into the fray, including the count of Toulouse and the duke of Burgundy. By the spring, Aquitaine was seriously destabilised by the crisis and slid towards anarchy as the various factions struggled for supremacy. For Henry, the similarity with 1173 must have been striking, but things were a little different this time. For a start, not all his sons were ranged against him and Richard was a formidable ally, able to call upon mercenaries of his own to confront the rebels. With restless energy typical of his family, Richard moved across Poitou, routing the Breton forces that had invaded, butchering or mutilating them without mercy. Limoges was besieged, and rebel castles attacked.

Suspecting his position had become hopeless, young Henry slipped out of Limoges to join his allies in Angoulême, before moving further south in May without any clear strategy. Indeed, he was so short of cash to pay his troops that he resorted to raiding monastic houses and shrines including Rocamadour, one of the most famous in Europe. Around 25 May, he contracted dysentery and slowly made his way back towards Limoges. By 7 June he had reached Martel, but it was clear to his followers that he was dying. Young Henry made his confession and received the last rites, and asked that his father meet him one final time: ‘He was smitten with remorse and sent to his father that he would condescend to visit his dying son.’ However his duplicity earlier in the year meant that Henry was highly suspicious; the king’s advisors were wary of a trick, and he did not go. Instead, Henry did send a ring ‘as a token of mercy and forgiveness and a pledge of his paternal affection’. However, it was too late: ‘On receiving the ring the son kissed it and immediately expired,’ on 11 June. The news of his death was broken to Henry as he sheltered from the hot sun in a humble peasant’s cottage, whilst still besieging Limoges. The king was stricken with grief: ‘He cost me much, but I wish he had lived to cost me more.’ Nevertheless, business came first. Limoges surrendered on 24 June, Geoffrey fled back to Brittany and Philip – no longer able to claim he was supporting his brother-in-law – withdrew, as did the count of Toulouse and duke of Burgundy. Richard and Henry mopped up the opposition; Bertran de Born’s castle at Hautefort was among the castles that were seized, probably to the great satisfaction of all who had been on the receiving end of his pithy songs.

The young king’s funeral took place at Rouen on 3 July 1183, after which Henry met with his remaining sons at Angers to reconsider his plans for governing the family lands. There is evidence that he was softening his tone towards his captive wife at this time as well, allowing Eleanor to undertake a tour of her dower lands in England, which she gratefully seized. It was a shrewd move to bring her back into the family circle, as it was not long before his sons were quarrelling again; the more Henry tried to clarify his intentions, the more upset he caused. In September, he unveiled a new model for the division of lands – Richard was to hand Aquitaine to John, and take up the role that young Henry had performed as heir to England, Normandy and Anjou. Unsurprisingly, given his upbringing in the south and the amount of hard graft he had put into the subjugation of Aquitaine, Richard refused – especially as there were grave concerns about John’s youthful lack of experience, which was probably the last thing that was required after the turbulence of the last two years. Once more, Richard departed a family conference in anger and headed south.

One can almost hear Henry gnashing his teeth in frustration at the unwillingness of Richard to cooperate; he had misunderstood the passion that his son felt for the land he’d come to think of as home. Despite all the heartache that military intervention had caused, Henry’s initial reaction was to challenge John to raise an army and take Aquitaine by force, but Henry’s youngest son had no source of revenue and it would appear to have been a half-hearted gesture made in anger. By August 1184 the king was back in England, but no sooner had he left the continent than Geoffrey was stirring up trouble once more, persuading John to raise an army to invade Poitou – although in reality the campaign amounted to little more than border raids in which they ‘burned towns and carried off booty’, provoking Richard to retaliate and strike back against Brittany. Henry did what any exasperated parent would do and summoned all his children to England for a dressing-down; they stayed with him until the end of 1184, and in December the king ‘made peace between his sons’.

It is very easy to focus on a decade of family squabbles, in the way that the Becket affair tends to dominate the manner in which Henry’s earlier reign has been depicted. The old king’s failure adequately to resolve his succession should not mask the fact that he was still held in high regard internationally, evidenced by the willingness of former enemies to turn to him for mediation. Perhaps the most powerful indication of Henry II’s standing at this time as Europe’s elder statesman came in 1185, when the patriarch of Jerusalem visited the royal court at Reading on 29 January and, with theatrical gravitas, approached the king and placed the banner of the kingdom of Jerusalem, complete with the keys to the city, the keys to the tower of David and the keys to the Holy Sepulchre at his feet. He then formally offered the throne to Henry.

For some, this would have been the greatest honour imaginable, and certainly represented a remarkable turnaround in the relationship between Henry and the church from the dark days of 1170. However, this was a poisoned chalice; as Henry was to remark to Gerald of Wales, ‘If the patriarch or anyone else comes to us, it is because they are seeking their own advantage.’ The situation in the Holy Land was grim. The remarkable rise of Saladin as the leader of the Fatimid government in Egypt, and his subsequent conquest of Syria and much of the surrounding territory, now posed a direct threat to the remaining Crusader states, in particular the kingdom of Jerusalem. Its leader was the ailing Baldwin IV, Henry’s cousin – they shared the same grandfather, Fulk V of Anjou, who had settled the county of Anjou on his son Geoffrey so he could marry the kingdom’s heiress, Melisende, on 2 June 1129. Baldwin was aware of the military threat to his borders and was looking for a warrior to succeed him; the offer to Henry was a way of continuing the family connection.

However, with the succession of his own lands clearly unsettled, Henry was reluctant to follow the example of his grandfather and abdicate – although in hindsight this might have been the perfect opportunity for him to exit centre stage with his reputation largely undamaged. Instead, the king summoned a council in March to discuss the issue in a suitable setting in Clerkenwell, inside the church of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. All leading vassals were invited, including William of Scotland and his brother David – making the point that they were considered tenants-in-chief of the king. The advice that Henry was given in relation to Jerusalem sounds very familiar to a modern audience:

It seemed better to all of them, and much for the safety of the king’s soul, that he should govern his kingdom with due care and protect it from the intrusion of foreigners and from external enemies, than that he should in his own person seek the preservation of Easterners.

To Henry’s mind, the uncertainty around the succession and the violent squabbles of his children made it impossible for him to leave. Nor was it possible to extend the offer to one of his children, despite the desperate enthusiasm of his youngest son John who – on bended knee – begged permission to go; Henry had other plans, and dispatched him to Ireland to claim the lordship that had been given him in 1177. However, the campaign was a disaster. John was accompanied by a coterie of young knights who offended the local chiefs, sidelined the Anglo-Norman planter families, spent all the campaign funds on revelry, and united everyone against him. Meanwhile, Henry agreed to confer with Philip of France about aid for Jerusalem, perhaps a tacit recognition of French primacy in the Holy Land: Fulk V had sought permission from his overlord, Louis VI, before accepting the offer of marriage to Melisende and abdicating Anjou. The two kings agreed to offer money to help support an army, but this was not what the patriarch wanted: ‘Almost all the world will offer us money, but it is a prince we need; we would prefer a leader even without money, to money without a leader.’ Instead, Jerusalem passed to Baldwin’s stepfather, Guy de Lusignan – thus strengthening the renown and influence of Richard’s troublesome vassals in the south of France and reinforcing the view that they were independent lords in their own right.

With Henry making it clear that he was staying to put his own house in order, family divisions surfaced once more with John’s departure to Ireland. Henry had instructed Geoffrey to return to Normandy and hold it in custody, possibly a sign that he intended a new configuration whereby he would formally unite Brittany and Normandy under one ruler, in combination with England and Anjou, leaving Aquitaine as an independent entity. Details of events in the spring of 1185 are somewhat unclear, but it seems Richard had once more mobilised his troops, forcing Henry to return to Normandy in April 1185. To all appearances, Henry was losing control of his lands and his sons, and he took drastic action to wrest control of Aquitaine back from Richard. Henry had brought his estranged wife over to the continent with him and ordered Richard that ‘he should without delay render up to Queen Eleanor the whole of Aquitaine with its appurtenances, since it was her inheritance, and that if he declined to comply, he should know for certain that his mother the queen would take the field with a large army to lay waste his land’. With the ultimatum issued, a family conference was arranged in May and Richard, ‘laying aside the weapons of wickedness, returned with all meekness to his father; and the whole of Aquitaine with its castles and fortifications he rendered up to his mother’. A form of peace then descended on the family, but as 1186 dawned it is hard to describe their relationship as anything other than dysfunctional, with any appearance of harmony to the outside world no more than superficial.


There were many factors behind the decline and fall of the Angevin dynasty in the early thirteenth century. However, we can trace the origins of the long war with Capetian France to 1186, when Philip increasingly sought ways to intervene – many would say interfere – in Angevin affairs. Henry should not have been surprised; from the very outset, Philip had shown an independent spirit in the way he tackled the influence of his mother’s family, and then wrested control away from his regent the count of Flanders, during the early part of his reign. Philip now signalled his intention to undermine the powers of Henry, as part of a longer plan to turn the nominal authority of the king of France over its traditionally independent vassals into a more practical version of reality. In March 1186, Henry and Philip held a conference at Gisors to resolve the outstanding issue of Richard’s marriage to Alice, given that they had been betrothed for a well over a decade; Philip agreed that the dower lands of the young king’s widow Margaret – the much-prized Norman Vexin – should transfer to Alice, thus providing an incentive for the marriage finally to take place. Henry and Eleanor returned to England, entrusting Richard with yet another campaign in the south, against the count of Toulouse.

The agreement at Gisors spelled trouble for Geoffrey; it seemed clear that Henry had reverted to his original plan of handing England, Normandy and Anjou to Richard. Running out of options within his own family, Geoffrey reverted to the tried and tested tactics and joined his close friend Philip in Paris to stir up trouble once more. He seems to have spent most of the summer at the French court, and it is likely that he was plotting with Philip, allegedly boasting in August, with typical bravado whilst they were preparing for a tournament, that he would lay waste to Normandy. However, tragedy struck; on 19 August, whilst involved in a mêlée during the staged combats, Geoffrey fell from his horse and was trampled to death. Philip was overcome with grief and, at his friend’s funeral, his household knights had forcibly to prevent him from flinging himself into the grave as well.

Geoffrey’s death marked a hardening of Philip’s attitude towards Henry. In September he demanded custody of Geoffrey’s two young daughters, and that Brittany be placed into his hands; a third child, Arthur, would be born posthumously in March 1187. He also sought to prevent any further military action against the count of Toulouse, making a veiled threat that he considered Henry’s actions tantamount to an invasion against a fellow vassal of the king of France, thus placing Normandy at risk of attack or even judicial confiscation. Henry backed down and a truce was agreed in October, but Richard was not recalled from the south until the two sides met again in February 1187, when a third cause of complaint was raised – Richard’s failure to marry Alice. Fuelled by rumours that Henry had seduced his son’s intended bride, and thus besmirched the dignity of Philip’s sister, Philip demanded the return of the Norman Vexin. This was now a Cold War turned hot. The disputed territory became the flashpoint for conflict between the sides for the next two decades; mercenaries were brought into the region, raising the tension as cross-border skirmishes became more common. Both sides arrested foreign-born nationals living in each other’s territories. Philip marched his army into Berry, where Angevin and Capetian rights and lands were intermingled, an act of military provocation that prompted Henry to mobilise his troops in response. The two sides faced each other in the fields outside Châteauroux, in full battle gear, on 23 June; the fate of two kingdoms hung in the balance. Pitched battles in the medieval period were very rare, especially between kings, given contemporary beliefs that trial by battle conferred divine judgment on the outcome; it is why Hastings holds such an important place in English history.

Châteauroux did not result in a decisive armed showdown. This was partly due to the presence of the papal legate Octavian, who was agitating for a truce because the pope wanted to secure the support of both parties for a crusade. The news coming out of the Holy Land had become increasingly grave, and unbeknown to the parties negotiating in the warm fields of France, time had already run out. On 4 July Guy de Lusignan was crushed by the forces of Saladin on the hot, dusty plains of Hattin; the crusader army was annihilated, Guy was captured and Jerusalem fell into Muslim hands, sending shockwaves around Europe. This was still in the future; Henry and Philip had other matters to occupy them during the shuttle diplomacy between the two armies facing each other at Châteauroux. Neither wished to climb down or lose face; the risk of battle remained real, and the atmosphere tense, as envoys passed between the camps. Many of the potential combatants were well known to one another, having competed on the tournament circuit or through shared family ties, and were therefore somewhat reluctant to engage in a fight to the death. In the end, diplomacy won the day and Henry conceded Philip’s right to two of the disputed lordships, and both sides agreed a two-year truce. However, one outcome from the stand-off at Châteauroux was of monumental importance – Philip had fatally undermined Richard’s relationship with Henry.

Philip’s agent of subversion was none other than the count of Flanders, a cruel irony given Henry’s attempts to patch up his relationship with the king of France during the early years of Philip’s reign. It was during the various negotiations in the meadows surrounding Châteauroux that the count drew Richard to one side to relay a personal message from Philip:

Many of us believe that you are acting extremely foolishly and ill-advisedly in bearing arms against your lord the king of France. Think of the future: why should he be well disposed towards you, or confirm you in your expectations? Do not despise his youth: he may be young in years, but he has a mature mind, is far-seeing and determined in what he does, ever mindful of wrongs and not forgetting services rendered. Believe those with experience; I too once ranged myself against him, but after wasting much treasure I have come to repent of it. How splendid and useful it would be if you had the grace and favour of your lord.

Think of the future – four words that struck at the heart of the issue and made Richard realise that he was the next generation, a young warrior compared to his visibly ageing father. His head was turned, and he agreed to meet Philip in person; when the negotiations were complete, Richard accompanied Philip to Paris where,

Philip so honoured him that every day they ate at the same table, shared the same dish and at night the bed did not separate them. Between the two of them there grew up so great an affection that King Henry was much alarmed and, afraid of what the future might hold in store, he decided to postpone his return to England until he knew what lay behind this sudden friendship.

As a gesture of political defiance, nothing could be clearer; once again, the king of France had driven a wedge between Henry and his eldest son, and he continued to exert a malign influence over Richard, planting the first seeds of doubt that Henry planned to disinherit him, or marry Alice to John.

In the days that followed the stand-off at Châteauroux, and as news of the fall of Jerusalem reverberated around Europe, attention briefly turned away from dynastic rivalry towards cooperative military and financial action in the Holy Land. Richard took the cross in November 1187, and superficially appeared to return to the family fold; the Saladin tithe was levied throughout England to pay for the upkeep of a crusading army. However, it was not long before Richard returned to his ceaseless battle for control in the south of Aquitaine, where yet another revolt had broken out in early 1188. It was also clear that Richard’s relationship with Henry had changed forever and he now acted alone, paying little heed to his father. Henry’s determination not to show his hand over the succession did not help; with only two sons left, and a general favouritism towards John, in whom he saw more of his own characteristics, it was now his policy to keep them guessing, further fuelling the sense of mistrust that Richard bore him.

It was in this atmosphere that entirely baseless rumours began to swirl around that Henry had deliberately stirred up new Lusignan opposition to Richard’s rule, which broke out around this time. Normally, Richard would have seen through this nonsense but it seemed that the slightest hint of interference had ‘alienated his mind from his father’. Philip turned the screw still further. Having defeated the Lusignans, Richard then continued his war against the count of Toulouse, yet it was to Henry that Philip addressed his displeasure over Richard’s actions. Henry responded despairingly that he had totally lost control of Richard and therefore, by extension, Aquitaine as well. Yet Philip could not – or would not – allow his own authority to be undermined by Richard’s unauthorised private war against a fellow vassal of the king of France, so in June 1188 he marched once more into Berry, seizing further Aquitainian lands in the disputed province.

This time, the sense of impending crisis refused to go away, despite Philip’s withdrawal from Berry after Henry raided his lands to the north. Negotiations failed to produce peace, with both sides raising the stakes; in a show of anger Philip even chopped down the ancient oak at Gisors where the king of France and duke of Normandy traditionally met for peace conferences. A further meeting in October similarly failed to provide a solution, with Richard angering his father by agreeing to have his dispute with the count of Toulouse heard in Philip’s court. This also marked the moment when Richard switched sides and

… became reconciled to the king of France because he had heard that his father wished to defraud him of the succession to the kingdom, in that he intended, as rumour had it, to confer the crown of the kingdom upon his younger son John. Disturbed by this, and small wonder, Richard tried to soften the mind of the French king, that in him he might find some solace if his own father should fail him.

The unfolding tragedy was thrown into sharp relief on 18 November at the next conference, arranged by Richard, at Bonmoulins; it did not augur well that Richard arrived in the company of Philip. The meeting was a tense affair. Although it started amicably enough, sharp exchanges became outright threats, leading knights on both sides to reach for their swords in case matters escalated still further. Philip once again demanded that Henry should arrange for Richard and Alice to be married, and declare Richard to be his heir; Henry angrily rejected the request, refusing to be blackmailed into having his family’s succession plans dictated to him by an outsider. At this, Richard turned to his father and asked to be confirmed as his heir, but Henry remained silent. Incredulous, Richard glared at him for a moment and then said, ‘I can only take as true what previously seemed incredible’ – indicating that he believed that he was about to be disinherited by his father. Slowly, he unclasped his sword belt and knelt before Philip and did homage for Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Aquitaine, Berry and lands in Toulouse – effectively usurping his father’s authority. The conference broke up in shock; Richard and Henry walked away from each other in opposite directions without a further word.

Despite an agreement to meet up again in January 1189, this was effectively a declaration of war, and a far more serious betrayal than in 1173 – this time Henry was old and clearly past his prime; Richard and Philip were the future, making it much harder for the old king to rally support. Nervously, he readied the defences of Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine; but when he held his Christmas court at Saumur, many of the usual attendees decided to stay away. Henry fell ill and cancelled the proposed meeting in January, but Philip refused to believe his excuse was genuine and began to wage war along the borders; the Bretons rose in rebellion, sensing an opportunity to exploit the situation to their own advantage and throw off the yoke of Norman dominance. In desperation, Henry sent envoy after envoy to Richard, entreating him to come back to his father, but by now Richard no longer believed anything that Henry said to him. Finally, another meeting was arranged on 28 May at La Ferté-Bernard in Maine. Richard and Philip laid down three conditions for peace – to the familiar demands for the marriage with Alice, and recognition of Richard as heir, was added a requirement that John should accompany his brother on crusade. Once again, Henry refused, perhaps believing that the presence of papal legate John of Agnani would help his negotiating position, given the threat of interdict hanging over Philip if he failed to reach agreement. However, Philip was not to be cowed and simply observed that the legate’s moneybags were full of English silver. The conference broke up once more, and Henry made his way slowly back to Le Mans.

The conventions of medieval warfare required Philip and Richard to withdraw to the frontier, but instead they seized La Ferté-Bernard and pressed on towards Le Mans, capturing castles as they went. On 12 June, they reached the outskirts of the city and, after a furious assault, broke into the lower town. In a desperate attempt to prevent the enemy forces from capturing the main citadel, the defenders set fire to the suburbs. However, the plan backfired as the wind changed direction, blowing the flames into the heart of the city. Before long Le Mans was a blazing inferno. Henry was able to make a hasty retreat with an armed escort, reaching a small hill a few miles to the north where he sat silently on his horse whilst he watched his birthplace burn; perhaps he was reflecting that the fate of Le Mans was an apt analogy for his relationship with Richard. It was too much for him, and he started cursing God for the fate that had befallen him. However, he did not wait long; although Philip halted the march, Richard continued to pursue his father towards Normandy. Riding hard, he caught up with Henry’s rearguard, under the command of William Marshal. Realising the danger, Marshal turned his horse and rode straight at Richard who shouted, ‘By God’s legs, do not kill me, Marshal. That would be wrong. I am unarmed.’ ‘No,’ replied Marshal, ‘let the devil kill you for I won’t,’ and ran Richard’s horse through with a lance, unseating him and making a clear point that he had spared Richard’s life. With the pursuit in chaos, the king’s party rode hard until they were within ten miles of Alençon, and the prospect of relative safety behind the stone walls of one of Normandy’s great fortresses where they could regroup.

Instead, and despite the exhortations of his closest advisors, Henry changed direction and made his way back south towards Anjou. He was a broken man, and no longer had the stomach for yet another cycle of rebellion, suppression and reconciliation. Whilst Philip and Richard overran Maine and Touraine, Henry finally reached his castle at Chinon, where, exhausted by the dangerous journey through enemy lines and fatigued by the heat, he succumbed once more to illness. On 2 July, French envoys reached Chinon and demanded a meeting so that terms could be discussed. Two days later, after Tours had also fallen, Henry agreed and they met at Ballon. However, he was crippled with pain, barely able to mount his horse; even Philip was moved to proffer his enemy a cloak so he could sit on the ground rather than discuss matters whilst mounted. Proud to the last, Henry refused and listened, propped up in his saddle by attendants, whilst Philip dictated the humiliating terms for peace. Henry was to place himself at Philip’s mercy, perform homage for all his continental possessions, recognise Richard as heir, arrange for Alice and Richard’s marriage once Richard had returned from the Holy Land, hand over various key castles as a sign of goodwill, and – the ultimate insult – pay Philip 20,000 marks indemnity for the trouble that had been caused. Henry agreed to everything, but Philip was not finished yet; he /had to give the kiss of peace to his son. As he leant forward to do so, Henry growled in a low voice into Richard’s ear: ‘God grant I die not before I have worthily revenged myself on you.’ Too exhausted to ride back to Chinon, Henry was borne away in a litter as thunder started to roll overhead, breaking the oppressive summer heat. Two days later, shattered by the news that his favourite son John had joined the rebellion against him, Henry was dead.

King Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490)

Hungarian armies became the main shield of Christian Europe against the Turks, a task for which their combination of plate-armoured nobles with light horse archers made them eminently suitable. The period from 1441 AD is that of the great Janos Hunyadi, his son Matthias Corvinus and the famous “Black Army” of mercenaries. Matthias’s successor Laszlo VI (Vladislav II of Bohemia) was unable to finance this, and it was largely replaced by paid feudal troops who may or may not deserve regular status. A late 15th century writer describes the Hungarian “scorpion” formation in which war wagons supported by cavalry moved against the enemy wings while the infantry in square formation held the centre in front of the camp, which was fortified with ordinary wagons.

The death of Ladislaus V left the thrones of Bohemia and Hungary vacant. There were two legitimate heirs: Casimir IV, king of Poland, and William, duke of Saxony, both of whom were brothers-in-law of the late ruler. But the duke laid no claim to the inheritance, while the king of Poland was prevented from entering the lists by his war with the Teutonic Order. Ladislaus’s closest relative in the male line was the emperor, Frederick III, who immediately took possession of Austria, but had no acceptable title to any of the deceased king’s other domains, even though he still retained the Holy Crown.


Finding a new king was the responsibility of the diet. Practically the only candidate was Matthias Hunyadi, who was at that time staying in Prague. Designating anyone else would have caused an immediate relapse into a state of civil war. Matthias was supported not only by the legate of Pope Calixtus III, Cardinal Carvajal, who was then sojourning in Hungary, but also by Archbishop Szécsi himself. Even Palatine Garai promised to accept young Matthias as king, though on the condition that he would marry Garai’s daughter.

At the diet that assembled at Pest in January 1458, at which the nobility were required to appear in person, the influence of the ‘Hunyadi party’ was bound to prevail. Szilágyi presented himself at the head of his 15,000 followers, which could not fail to impress the barons in council in the castle of Buda. By promising them that the future king would not take revenge for the execution of his brother, Szilágyi managed to come to terms with them; and on the following day, 24 January, he stirred an enthusiastic crowd on the frozen Danube into acclaiming Matthias as king. At the same time he had himself appointed governor for five years and immediately issued a couple of laws to prove his willingness to guarantee the liberties of the nobility.

George Poděbrad, governor of Bohemia, had reason to be content with what had happened in Hungary, for it indirectly paved the way for his own election as king. Having betrothed his daughter to Matthias, George released the young king without further hesitation. Matthias was obliged to pay a ransom of 60,000 gold florins, but George immediately remitted it as part of his daughter’s dowry. On 14 February Matthias entered Buda, where he was solemnly enthroned in the church of Our Lady. No coronation was possible, since the Holy Crown was still in the possession of Frederick III in Austria.

If the testimony of a later horoscope is to be trusted, Matthias was 15 years old at this time. No one, least of all Szilágyi, seems to have rated him as an active player in the field of politics, at least for the time being. In view of this it must have caused real surprise when the young king took the initiative within weeks. As early as the end of June he removed Garai from the office of palatine and appointed his father’s old friend, Michael Ország, as his successor. At the same time he suppressed the regency, seeking to appease his uncle by granting him the county of Bistriţa; but this apparently failed and Szilágyi was arrested on 8 October. He was kept in custody for almost a year. Henceforth, until the very day of his death, Matthias kept a firm grip on the reins of government. He always acted with the same resolution, swiftness and determination, both at home and in the field of foreign policy. As a result, within a couple of years he was able to make his kingdom, which had been drifting from one crisis to another since the death of Sigismund, the leading power of central Europe.

His most urgent task was to regain the Holy Crown and legitimise his rule. Immediately after acceding to the throne he initiated negotiations with Frederick III, but because of the harsh conditions set by the emperor his efforts bore no fruit. The situation was complicated by the fact that at the beginning of 1459 Garai, along with other magnates from the western parts of the kingdom who were disappointed in Matthias, sought to designate Frederick as king of Hungary. On 17 February they made an oath of fidelity to him in the castle of Güssing. However, relying on the support of most of the barons, Matthias was able swiftly to defeat the rebels in April. Garai had died in the meantime and Matthias made peace with his widow. Driven by the desire to mount a crusade against the Ottomans, Pope Pius II employed all possible means to bring about a reconciliation between Matthias and Frederick; but a settlement was only reached in April 1462, upon which was based the peace treaty, ratified by Matthias’s envoys on 19 July 1463 at the emperor’s residence, Wiener Neustadt. Matthias finally recovered the Holy Crown, but it cost him 80,000 florins, as well as several important concessions. Frederick, who adopted Matthias as his son and expected the young king to address him as his father, retained his Hungarian royal title, which he had been using since 1459. Of the Hungarian domains that Frederick controlled, only Sopron was returned. Moreover, if Matthias failed to father a legitimate male heir, Frederick or his successors would inherit the Hungarian throne. If all these stipulations fell short of bringing about a definitive settlement to the conflict between the two rulers, they nevertheless normalised their relationship for some years.

The peace with Frederick also facilitated the internal consolidation of the kingdom. From the outset, this process was hindered by the rule of Jiškra and his Czech mercenaries in upper Hungary. Jiškra was reluctant to acknowledge Matthias as his lord and initially worked for the election of Casimir IV. After this failed, he went over to Frederick III. Matthias launched military operations against him as early as April 1458, but the multitude of Jiškra’s strongholds made the king’s task difficult. Having secured the support of Košice and the other royal towns, Matthias cleared several counties of mercenaries by the end of 1461. Spis and Zvolen had yet to be recovered, but further fighting was rendered unnecessary by the treaty signed with Frederick, which entailed the disarmament of Jiškra. Once isolated, the condottiere submitted to Matthias at Vác in May 1462 and handed over his castles, in return for which he was given 25,000 florins with the castles of Lipova and Şoimoş on the River Mureş. Henceforth Jiškra put his military skills at the disposal of his new lord and died an esteemed Hungarian baron shortly before 1471. Yet Jiškra’s submission by no means brought about the immediate pacification of the whole of northern Hungary. Although most of his soldiers were engaged by the king, plundering mercenary bands continued to cause trouble for some years. The last of these was annihilated by Matthias himself at Kostol’any on the River Váh in 1467, when the king had 150 men hanged, including their commander, Jan Švehla.

Another region in need of consolidation was Slavonia, where the disappearance of the counts of Cilli at the end of 1456 had left a power vacuum. The man of the hour there was Jan Vitovec, condottiere of the late Count Ulrich. He had been appointed to the office of ban by Ladislaus V, and with Frederick’s consent had taken control of most of the Slavonian estates of the counts of Cilli. Matthias acquiesced in this fait accompli and in 1463 not only confirmed Vitovec in the office of ban, but also made him perpetual count of Zagorje. He thereby obtained a faithful supporter, who assisted him in acquiring the rest of the Cilli inheritance, which meant that Matthias’s position in Slavonia could be said to be firm from the end of 1465.

In the meantime the Ottoman threat had apparently intensified. Although Mehmed II did not engage in an offensive war against Hungary, he systematically suppressed the Hungarian king’s vassals in the Balkans. The first to fall victim was Serbia, which had become considerably smaller since the Ottoman attacks in 1454–55 and had lost its internal coherence after Branković’s death in 1456. Profiting from this situation and from the crisis in Hungary, the sultan took the castle of Golubac in the summer of 1458, and then Smederevo, the princely residence, on 29 June 1459. Serbia ceased to exist as a political entity for several centuries; the members of the Branković family, together with many of their subjects, fled to Hungary, where the former were given large estates by Matthias, while the latter were used by him to strengthen his army and frontier defence. In 1462 Ottoman troops invaded Wallachia and drove out Vlad Ţepeş, a protégé of the Hungarians. The prince, who was widely known for his cruelty (and was later to be the model for Bram Stoker’s Dracula), first sought refuge in Transylvania, then lived in the castle of Visegrád as Matthias’s prisoner. Wallachia was henceforth one of the sultan’s faithful vassal states. In the summer of 1463 it was the turn of Bosnia, where Mehmed, in the course of a lightning campaign, captured and beheaded King Stephen Tomašević, and transformed his kingdom into an Ottoman province. The last country to pass under Ottoman rule was Hercegovina, the principality of the late Sandalj Hranić, which was occupied in 1466.

The Ottoman advance thus destroyed the system of buffer states that had been created by Sigismund. From the 1460s onwards Ottoman and Hungarian garrisons faced one another along the entire southern frontier, from Omiš on the Adriatic coast to Turnu Severin on the lower Danube. Matthias was unable to check these unfavourable developments. In the early years of his reign, the internal situation of the kingdom made it impossible for him to mobilise substantial forces, while the failures of his father had taught him to avoid a direct confrontation with the sultan’s army. The whole of his Ottoman policy was based upon this perception. This is why he had not intervened before the fall of Bosnia, and only did so after the Ottoman troops had left. In the autumn of 1463 he tried to recover Bosnia, but it took him nearly three months to take Jajce, the former royal residence. Together with a handful of smaller local fortresses, the castle of Jajce was to remain one of the bastions of the Hungarian defensive line until 1527. In the summer of 1464 Mehmed II tried to retake it, subjecting it to 43 days of bombardment, but he withdrew when Matthias appeared at the head of his army. It was then that the king occupied Srebrenik and a number of other castles; but he besieged Zvornik without success, and suffered serious losses during his withdrawal.

The first and most critical phase of Matthias’s rule ended with his coronation, which took place on 29 March 1464. At the diet, which was held at the same time at Székesfehérvár, he solemnly confirmed King Louis I’s law of 1351, which contained the Golden Bull, and Sigismund’s ‘major’ decree of 1435. He had a great seal made and obliged those who had received letters of grant from himself or Ladislaus V to present them within a year for confirmation with the new seal. The latter, along with the secret seal, was entrusted to Stephen Várdai, archbishop of Kalocsa, and John Vitéz. Both bore the title of ‘arch- and secret chancellor’, but the chancellery was effectively directed by Várdai. An important reform was also carried out in the field of judicial administration. Instead of the courts of the royal presence, which had been transformed several times, one central court of justice was established, whose competence extended throughout the kingdom and whose judge, from the 1470s onwards, was referred to as the ‘lieutenant of the royal personal presence’ (personalis praesentiae regiae locumtenens), or simply ‘the Personal’.

Although the coronation ceremony symbolically closed the period of stabilisation, it by no means brought all opposition to an end. A new system of taxation, which was put into effect three years later, led to considerable unrest, above all in Transylvania, where the method of assessment seemed especially injurious. On 18 August 1467 at Cluj-Mănăştur the ‘three nations’ entered into a formal alliance against the king, and elected as their leaders the three barons then holding the office of voivode: John Szentgyörgyi, his brother, Sigismund, and Berthold Ellerbach. Matthias marched swiftly to Transylvania, and the revolt was put down without a fight within a couple of weeks. On 3 October he sat in judgement on the rebels at the assembly of Turda. The voivodes, whose active involvement in the conspiracy could not be proved beyond doubt, were spared, but the noble leaders of the revolt were punished with exemplary harshness. Executions continued for weeks, and the king rewarded his followers lavishly with the estates confiscated from the rebels. Having mopped up the revolt, Matthias marched into Moldavia with a view to forcing Prince Stephen ‘the Great’ to obedience. He was defeated near Baia on 15 December 1467 and compelled to withdraw, but the completeness of Matthias’s triumph in Transylvania is shown unequivocally by the fact that his standing was not in the least shaken by his failure in Moldavia.


As soon as the southern frontier had been consolidated and Transylvania pacified, the king’s ambitions turned decisively towards the west and the north-west. Admittedly, at the level of words Matthias always remained an enthusiastic champion of the war against the Ottomans, and referred to himself as the only defender of Christendom, but it was simply a matter of political propaganda, intended to secure the financial support of Venice and the Holy See and to arouse the sympathy of European princes. In fact, he contented himself with thwarting and, when possible, avenging Ottoman incursions. Further modification of the southern defensive line was not among his plans: he rightly considered it to be beyond his power. In his letters he was at pains to point out that he could do nothing against the sultan without help. But, as the maintenance of his rule depended upon political achievements, and his army had to be employed as well, he looked elsewhere for aggrandisement. As his biographer, Bonfini, put it later: ‘In order to rule in peace at home, he made war abroad.’ The first target to present itself was Bohemia.

Matthias had been contemplating a war against Bohemia for some years, perhaps since the death of his first wife, which had severed the ties with King George. The young queen, Catherine Poděbrad, whom he had married in 1461, died in childbirth shortly before the coronation. Relations between Matthias and his father-in-law had been full of tension during Catherine’s lifetime, for George continually allied himself with Emperor Frederick III against his son-in-law, despite the fact that Matthias would have been his natural ally. The attitude of King George is explained by the fact that, as leader of the utraquists, he badly needed the emperor’s benevolence, as security against his own catholic subjects and neighbours, as well as against the Pope. Although the use of the secular chalice had been sanctioned by the compactata of Prague, and accepted by the council of Basle, there were signs that the Holy See wished to revise its former point of view. Another source of tension between Matthias and Poděbrad was the presence in upper Hungary of Czech mercenaries, who, while acting independently of the king of Bohemia, could in fact count on his sympathy.

The pretext for an armed intervention in Bohemia was furnished by Pope Paul II, who decided finally to settle the Hussite problem. At the end of 1466 the papal consistory declared Poděbrad a heretic, deprived him of his throne, and proclaimed a crusade against him. The Catholic magnates of Bohemia and Moravia, encouraged by the Pope’s attitude and displeased by their ruler’s centralising tendencies, unfurled the banner of revolt and looked for another king. Their first candidate, Casimir IV of Poland, was easily bought off by George, who designated Casimir’s son, Wladislas, as his own heir in Bohemia. After the margrave of Brandenburg had also declined their invitation, they turned to the king of Hungary, whom the Pope had recommended right from the beginning. For Matthias, who as early as 1465 had informed the Pope that for the sake of Christianity he was willing to fight ‘both against the Czechs and against the Ottomans’,2 the offer came at exactly the right moment. Being urged by the Pope and the Bohemian magnates, Matthias’s offensive attitude was given further impetus by Frederick III. When, in early 1468, Victorin Poděbrad, son of King George and governor of Moravia, attacked Austria, the emperor turned to his ‘son’ for help. Matthias was naturally more than ready to intervene. On 31 March 1468 he declared war on Victorin, and the long and tiring struggle for the Bohemian crown began.

The first phase of the war ended with rapid success for Matthias, who for three years led his troops in person. Having cleaned up Austria, he invaded Moravia, which he conquered in the course of 1468 together with the greater part of Silesia. In June he marched into Brno, and after a prolonged siege even managed to starve the castle of Špilberg, situated upon a hill above the city, into surrender. In February 1469 Poděbrad almost succeeded in changing the course of events by forcing his opponent into a militarily unfavourable situation from which he could not avoid starting negotiations. While these were proceeding, however, Matthias’s partisans prepared the way for his election as king of Bohemia. This effectively took place on 3 May 1469 at Olomouc. The war flared up immediately, but this time it was Matthias who achieved the upper hand. In June he captured Prince Victorin, and during the following spring he finally stabilised his rule over Moravia.

The greater part of the domains belonging to the Bohemian crown was from now on to be ruled by Matthias, but the struggle was far from over. Not surprisingly, his achievements filled all of his neighbours with anxiety and a triple alliance, consisting of the rulers of Austria, Bohemia and Poland, gradually formed. The relationship between Matthias and Frederick had been deteriorating since 1469, when Ottoman troops invaded the Austrian provinces for the first time. The emperor accused Matthias of letting the Turkish marauders through his kingdom and of clandestinely aiding the rebellious Estates of Styria, while the Hungarian king demanded the financial support for the Bohemian war that Frederick had promised him. In February 1470 the two rulers met in Vienna with the aim of settling their differences, but by the end of the negotiations their disagreements had become sharper than ever.

In March 1471 Poděbrad died, and, in accordance with his last will, Wladislas, the 15 year old son of Casimir IV, was elected as his successor, which meant that Poland had become directly interested in the struggle for the Bohemian crown. The principal focus of the war soon shifted to Hungary, where another conspiracy was organised with the aim of overthrowing Matthias. This time the movement was led by Archbishop Vitéz, who was supported by his nephew, the famous humanist, Janus Pannonius, bishop of Pécs, and by some other barons. The conspirators contacted Casimir IV, and offered the Hungarian crown to one of his sons, also called Casimir. The Polish prince organised a military intervention immediately, but by the time he marched into Hungary in October, Matthias had already regained control of the situation. At the diet that had assembled in September not only was he assured of the support of the Estates, but also of that of the great majority of prelates and barons. Prince Casimir had to leave the kingdom in December; Janus fled and Vitéz submitted to the king. Matthias’s authority was as solid as ever.

The failure of the Polish attack was followed by a series of truces and peace talks, during which Matthias could count on the consistent and wholehearted support of the Holy See. The negotiations began to bear fruit in 1474. The peace treaty with Poland, signed in February, was ratified by the Hungarian Estates two months later. However, in the meantime Wladislas, who had been staying with Frederick at Nuremberg, had persuaded the emperor to form an anti-Hungarian alliance, which once again offered the prospect of breaking Hungarian hegemony. Casimir immediately joined the coalition, and in October he marched into Silesia at the head of an enormous army, uniting his forces with those of Wladislas. Having previously devastated the whole region, Matthias waited for the attack behind the walls of Wrocław. The allied forces laid siege to the city in October, but were soon desperately short of supplies. Within three weeks they were compelled, despite their overwhelming numerical superiority, to seek a truce. The ensuing treaty, signed on 8 December 1474 and due to expire on 25 May 1477, was the last act of the war for the kingdom of Bohemia. The division of the lands belonging to the Bohemian crown, which was made by the envoys of Matthias and Wladislas at Brno in March 1478, was accepted by the king of Hungary, with minor modifications, on 20 September. It was ratified by the two rulers on 21 July 1479 during the course of splendid festivities at Olomouc. According to the terms of the treaty, Wladislas was to retain the kingdom of Bohemia proper, while the greater part of the territory once ruled by the king of Bohemia, that is, Moravia, Silesia and Lausitz, remained in Matthias’s possession. Wladislas was entitled to redeem these domains for 400,000 florins after Matthias’s death. Both rulers could use the title of king of Bohemia, but whereas Matthias was obliged to address his opponent as such, it was not to be the case the other way round. The peace treaty between Hungary and Poland had been signed somewhat earlier, on 2 April 1479, and thereafter until Matthias’s death the three countries coexisted peacefully.

The relationship between Austria and Hungary, on the other hand, had been gradually deteriorating, especially after one of Matthias’s most trusted advisers, John Beckensloer, archbishop of Esztergom, fled to Austria and joined the emperor’s service. As long as the prospect of an alliance with the kings of Bohemia and Poland existed, Frederick took sides with them, and in June 1477 it was Wladislas whom he declared to be the lawful ruler of Bohemia and Elector of the Empire. Matthias immediately attacked Austria, laid siege to Vienna, and in December 1477 forced the emperor to accept his terms. Frederick acknowledged him as king of Bohemia, and engaged himself to pay an indemnity of 100,000 florins. The peace did not, however, last for long. Frederick worked hard to secure the see of Salzburg for Beckensloer. Determined to thwart the emperor’s plan, Matthias occupied the Styrian castles belonging to the archbishopric in 1480. When, despite the king of Hungary’s efforts, Beckensloer did become archbishop of Salzburg, the outbreak of war became only a question of time. In January 1482 Matthias laid siege to Hainburg, the most important Austrian border castle, then formally declared war on Frederick in April.

Although Matthias was careful to emphasise that he wished to fight Frederick as archduke of Austria and not as emperor, the war in fact became one between Hungary and the Empire. But despite the support that Frederick received from imperial troops, the war was marked from the very beginning by Matthias’s military superiority. No pitched battle was fought, but the most important of Frederick’s strongholds fell successively, most of them after several months’ siege. Hainburg was taken in September 1482, Kőszeg in December, Bruck and Korneuburg two years later. On 29 January 1485 the king of Hungary surrounded the city of Vienna, which was compelled to open its gates on 1 June. Wiener Neustadt, the emperor’s residence, fell on 17 August 1487. The peace treaty, signed at Sankt Pölten on 16 December, left Lower Austria and Styria in Matthias’s possession with the exception of a few castles.

Frederick seems to have acquiesced in his defeat, and at the time of Matthias’s death, the Hungarian king’s empire spread from Bautzen to Belgrade and from Enns to Braşov. But not even these spectacular military achievements could conceal the fact that by far the most important aspect of Hungarian foreign policy, namely the defence against the Ottomans, had been permanently relegated to the background.

The Holy Roman Empire in the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries I

The Hohenstaufen-ruled Holy Roman Empire and Kingdom of Sicily. Imperial and directly held Hohenstaufen lands in the Empire are shown in bright yellow.

During all the years in which the Hohenstaufens had been occupied with their hitter wars against the papacy, Germany of her own accord had been making wonderful progress in social, agricultural, and intellectual matters. In the eleventh century she possessed little more than the lands between the Elbe, Rhine, and Danube; by the fourteenth she had doubled her territory, had extended her bounds to the Baltic and the river Vistula, and had peopled Bohemia, Silesia, and even Transylvania with her colonists.

A new field of activity had been discovered, and in working it, all the experience of past generations was brought to bear. Peasants and citizens, knights and clergy from all parts of Germany wandered out to the Slavic lands in the north and in the east. Their new settlements were unhampered by old traditions; their mode of life became more free and democratic.

Various causes tended to induce men to leave their homes and seek their fortunes elsewhere. Chief among them, for cultivators at least, was lack of space in their native villages.

All through the Middle Ages the unit of landed possession for the village communities was the manse or hufe, which comprised room for house and garden, the right of using the common village pastures and also a certain number of parcels of agricultural land. These parcels were distributed among the three fields, or three greater divisions of land, one of which was to lie idle each year in order that the soil might improve. As a rule about thirty acres of agricultural land would generally fall to the share of each possessor, whose parcels, however, being assigned by lot, did not necessarily adjoin each other.

By the twelfth century the inconveniences of this system had come to mate themselves widely felt. To reach one of his own lots or plots the farmer had to cross his neighbour’s land; it was necessary, therefore, in order to avoid spoiling crops already sown, for all to plough, sow, and harvest at the same time. This was, naturally, a great hardship for active men who had to accommodate themselves to the ways of their slower neighbours.

The great attraction for those who emigrated and became colonists was that in the new districts to which they were invited, or in which they arranged with the lord of the land to become settlers, the different parcels of land were no longer scattered. A long central street was usually laid out and from this each man’s allotment ran backward in a long strip, if necessary over hill and dale.

The new manse, too — the momsus regalis as this measurement was usually called — was almost invariably double the size of the old.

The thinly populated Slavic lands in North-eastern Germany, in Silesia, and in Transylvania were rich in marshy districts, in moorlands, and in uncut forests that were altogether uninhabited. The methods of agriculture of the Slavs were far more primitive than those of the Germans; the process of reclaiming lands, so familiar already to the Dutch and to the Flemings, was to them entirely unknown. Many of the Slavic land-owners now called in the Germans as settlers and divided their districts among them on the new system that was everywhere coming into vogue.

It was with four great groups of Slavs that the German colonists came, peacefully or otherwise, into contact; the Tschecks and Moravians, the Poles, the Baltic tribes, and the Sorbs.

The Tschecks were settled in the present Bohemia, and the Moravians, as now, adjoined them on the east and spoke their language. The Poles possessed at this time an immense stretch of territory, and were destined to play a large part in German as well as in Swedish and Russian history. The Baltic Slavs consisted of the Pomeranians, Liutitians, and Abodrites; their land was flourishing, and Danzig and Wollin had already been founded, the one at the mouth of the Vistula, the other of the Oder. The Sorbs, whose descendants in the Spreewald, about fifty miles from Berlin, still keep their language and their quaint costume, had settlements at that time which extended over a large part of the present kingdom of Saxony.

The Slavs, as has been intimated, possessed no really practical method of agriculture. They had established themselves wherever the land seemed easy to cultivate. Their villages were of a circular form, and did not admit of being enlarged; it accordingly frequently became necessary to found new ones.

In Bohemia and Silesia there were villages under the protection of Slavic princes, where the inhabitants all pursued one trade or occupation; Tscheckish names still exist to remind us of such places. Kolodeja, for instance, was once the village of the wheel-makers, as the word itself implies; Mydlovary, in like manner, has perpetuated the memory of those who were engaged in boiling soap.

The Slavs along the Elbe were in a lower state of civilization than those in Bohemia; it was against them that the Ottos had fought, that Meissen had been founded, and that the Billungs had won their laurels.

It is with Henry the Lion and Albrecht the Bear that the great increase of the empire’s boundaries at the expense of the Slavs may be said to have begun. Albrecht, originally possessed of lands in the present Anhalt, where his descendants still rule, was given the North Mark by the Emperor Lothar in 1134. This embraced the present Altmark and the tongue of land between the Elbe and the Havel. Albrecht’s chief goal was the incorporation of the Slavic territories of Havelberg and Brandenburg into his new dominions. This he accomplished in the one case by violence, in the other by a treaty, Brandenburg falling to him by inheritance after the death of its prince, Pribislav Henry, in 1150.

Both Albrecht and Henry the Lion took part in the crusade of 1147 against the Wends; the results of the undertaking were small, but the terrible devastation and depopulation of the land prepared the way for the calling in of German colonists.

Count Adolf II. of Holstein, a vassal of Henry the Lion, had in the meantime been doing much to carry German culture into Slavic lands. He it was who, in 1143, having called in Flemish, Dutch, Westphalian, and Frisian colonists, began the building of Lubeck, which in both senses was to be the first German city on the Baltic.

For his own part Henry the Lion had at first found it to his advantage to favour the Slavic princes on his borders and to accept their tribute. In 1160, however, he determined to conquer the land of the Abodrites in spite of the fact that its prince, Niklot, had been his friend and ally. Niklot fell after a heroic resistance, but in 1164 his son defeated the Saxons and regained for himself the land of his father. As a fief of the empire, however, with which he remained on terms of peace. He was the founder of the two modern duchies of Mecklenburg Strelitz and Mecklenburg Schwerin.

Henry the Lion next proceeded to attempt the conquest of Pomerania and Eugen. As regards the latter place the Danes were before him, and founded a rule which lasted until the time of the Reformation. In Pomerania Henry was more fortunate. In common with Albrecht’s successor, Otto of Brandenburg, he reduced the land to subjection.

It was, on the whole, the Dutch and the Flemings that proved most successful in the matter of colonizing conquered lands. Accustomed as they were to low moorland, they undertook the cultivation of tracts that had hitherto seemed worthless. To them was due the credit of reclaiming the marshes around Bremen, and their methods were largely adopted by other German settlers.

The territory around the Erzgebirge on the eastern border of the present Saxony was settled in feverish haste, not by farmers, but by miners. Here, near Freiberg, silver was discovered about the year 1160, and a rush was made for the place. By 1225 Freiberg had come to have no less than five different churches and parishes. Tin and copper were also found in the neighbourhood, and around each promising centre German settlements arose.

About 1160 began the systematic colonization of Brandenburg by Albrecht the Bear. He had but shortly before suppressed a Slavic rebellion, and seems now to have adopted the principle that the Slavs had no longer right or title to the lands which had so long been theirs. They were given away right and left to the followers of the margrave and to the new settlers. The former owners took refuge in the forests or founded miserable hamlets on the seashore. Only a few remnants of them can be traced in the following centuries; we know, for instance, that as late as 1762, in Luchow, near Hanover, sermons were preached in the Slavic tongue.

The Slavs were treated by the Germans much as the later redskins by their American conquerors; in certain districts the war against them was one of extermination. In the county of Schwerin, about the year 1170, we hear of an order being given that every Slav who could not answer certain, inquiries about himself should be strung up to the nearest tree.

The influence of the Church must not be forgotten in connection with this work of Germanizing Slavic lands. In the wake of the farmers followed the clergy, and churches and chapels soon dotted the landscape. In Meissen to-day, in the former land of the Sorbs, remains of this early colonial architecture are still to be seen.

The monkish orders were especially active in furthering colonization. The first to take the field were the Premonstratensians, founded by Norbert, Archbishop of Magdeburg from 1126 to 1134. By 1150 they had already established themselves as far north as the island of Usedom. After 1170 their influence yielded to that of the Cistercians, whose order had been founded by Bernard of Clairvaux.

The Cistercian monasteries, founded one after the other in rough uncultivated districts, proved very oases in the desert, and worked their civilizing influence in every direction. Their monks took the matter of colonizing the reclaimed lands into their own hands, and called in Dutch and other settlers as occasion demanded.

The Teutonic Order proved in the end the most successful of all civilizing and Germanizing agents. The knights were called in to Transylvania at the beginning of the thirteenth century by King Andreas II. of Hungary. They undertook the defence of the boundary against the Rumani, a tribe of plunderers.

The rapid progress which the Order made, and the independent power which it seemed about to found soon awakened the fears of King Andreas, and, after fourteen years, the knights were banished. The Order was transplanted to Prussia, where an immense field of activity awaited it.

The Prussians, a people who were divided into many stems and tribes, lived in the land between the Vistula and the Memel. They were about on a level of civilization with the Germans of the time of Tacitus; their priests sacrificed to the gods and tended a never-dying flame.

It was at the hands of the Prussians that St. Adalbert, the friend of Otto III., had met his death; since then there had been various attempts at conversion, some of which had met with no small success. About 1215, however, there was a terrible uprising against the new teachings, and the heathen raged so furiously that a crusade was preached against them in Poland and Germany. The failure of this crusade showed the necessity for more radical measures; Herrmann of Salza, friend alike of Frederick II. and of the Popes who opposed him, procured permission for his Order to undertake the difficult task and to take possession of a large tract of land. It was expressly stipulated that the Order should be independent of the Polish Church, and that its land as well as its future conquests should form a separate principality of the Holy Roman Empire.

This was in 1226; by 1231 the knights had crossed the Vistula and founded the town of Thorn, and already a year later the whole bank of the river between Thorn and Kulm had come into their possession. In 1233 Marienwerder was begun, by 1237 the mouth of the Vistula had been reached. Colonists followed everywhere in the wake of the conquerors; not only peasants and burghers, but nobles as well. In 1236 a grant of thousands of acres near Marienwerder was made to the Noble Lord Dietrich of Tiefenau.

The knights continued their conquests along the Baltic. They were assisted by the “Brothers of the Sword,” an order which had been founded in Livonia at the beginning of the century, and which now gladly amalgamated itself with the Teutons. The next task was to conquer the land which separated the former seats of this new branch from those of the rest of the Teutons. The work was rapidly accomplished; in 1251 Memelburg was founded, in 1264 the important town of Konigsberg.

The Order now ruled over Prussia, Courland, Livonia, and the land of the Lettes.

Terrible revolts of the subjected peoples were still to be met and put down. The next years were full of bloodshed, and the real struggle was found to have only commenced. The Prussians attempted to massacre all the Christians in the land; in the end they themselves were all killed, enslaved, or driven away.

Several times the Order had been on the verge of destruction, but in the end it conquered. By 1283 the struggle was over, and there was no more opposition to be feared. The Teutons were soon able to extend their influence into Poland and Pomerellen, to which latter land the Margrave of Brandenburg was induced in 1308 to abandon all claim.

In 1309 Marienburg was founded at the Delta of the Vistula, and became the capital as it were for the whole order. The ruins of this mighty fortress are to-day among the finest in all Europe.

The land of the Teutonic Order came to be the best governed state of the later Middle Ages; it was divided up into districts, each with its own directory, and with a fortress for its central point. The officials were all chosen from among the brothers, and there existed an admirable system of control. Every year there was a general calling to account, and the grand master, with the advice of the chapter, could depose, advance, or transfer according as he saw fit.

By the efforts of the Order a strong bastion to the north-east of Germany had now been formed against the Slavs; in the south Silesia was strong enough to fear no ordinary attacks. Between the two that part of the Polish kingdom which comprises the present province of Posen made a great indentation to the westward, and touched the confines of Brandenburg. It was the task of the Brandenburg margraves to secure and extend their boundaries in this direction, and well did they succeed. By the time of the interregnum Brandenburg was one of the largest provinces of the entire empire, and fifty years later one of its margraves, Waldemar, became candidate for that empire’s throne.

We have followed far enough the growth of Germany as regards the acquisition and colonization of new territory. In another direction a great inward development was going on quietly the while, and results no less remarkable were being obtained; A population formerly scattered over a large extent of territory began to concentrate itself at different points; we have reached the period of the rise of great towns.

We may define a city in the Middle Ages as a place privileged to hold markets, with immunity from the jurisdiction of the king’s officials, and governing itself by means of a corporation.

No connection remained with the old Roman cities that had existed on German ground; if new settlers occupied the sites where those cities once had been, as was the case with Cologne, they adopted nothing of the old Roman municipal institutions. For centuries the counts and centenars ruled over such incipient towns as over any other part of their county or hundred.

The Holy Roman Empire in the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries II

Art by Graham Turner

What gave the impulse to a new growth or a new founding of cities was the establishment of markets and the bestowal of privileges in connection with them. Markets might be founded at first only by express permission of the kings, who received in return certain tolls or taxes. A large symbol, usually a cross that was erected at the time of each yearly or weekly market, signified to all that the gathering was under the king’s especial peace.

Such markets were held already in Carolingian times, towards the end of which period, too, the places where they were held were often granted immunities! The people within certain limits were not to be subject to the usual financial burdens, but were to enjoy for themselves the revenues accruing from their pastures and fields, and from judicial fines and penalties. They were to be exempt, too, from the jurisdiction of the count or centenar and to have their own official, the advocatus or defensor.

The only duties which these and other districts enjoying immunity were obliged to fulfil were hospitality to the king when he came in their midst, the building of fortresses and the keeping of watch and ward, the building of streets and bridges, and the obeying of a summons to the army.

It is no mere chance that the market place in all older German towns occupies so important a position. It was the nucleus of the city which spread out from it in all directions. Mints and other necessary institutions were established in the neighbourhood; fortifications were erected so that the place should not be disturbed; merchants, and especially Jews, began to settle themselves comfortably round their place of exchange. Judicial courts that began with settling differences relating to market affairs, and that were under a special market judge, developed into the chief judicial bodies of the cities.

The land, for which a small rent was paid to the lord of the town, was already by the end of the eleventh century technically free, and could be willed away or sold. At first the administration as a whole was in the hands of the community in general, and records remain, for Magdeburg, for instance, to show that mass meetings were called for the transacting of ordinary affairs. A chosen few naturally soon gained the ascendancy, and the institution of city councils was evolved.

The old market cross, which was erected and taken down as occasion demanded, was replaced in the twelfth century by a monumental stone cross, to which often a glove, a hat, a sword, or a shield was attached as symbol of the king’s protection. This protection implied that offences committed during market time were to be punished with the royal ban of sixty shillings in addition to the usual penalty. In the fourteenth century the stone crosses gave place in many towns to the Rolands — huge stone figures bearing the sword of justice.

Already in the tenth century Mayence, the Aurea Maguntia as it was called, had begun to be an important centre. One by one the cities along the Rhine now rose into prominence. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries Cologne possessed the commercial supremacy, carrying on a large trade with England and other countries.

The twelfth century, as a result of the constant intercourse kept up with the Orient by crusaders, saw a vast increase of commerce all over Europe. Eastern wares were landed on the English and Flemish coasts, and were transferred from there to all parts of Germany, especially to the coasts of the North Sea and the Baltic. Bremen and Lubeck quickly became large and flourishing.

The needs of commerce had meanwhile given rise to those great and important associations, the Merchant Gilds. Trade was originally carried on by wandering merchants who went with their wares from place to place, and bought, sold, or exchanged at the different markets. For their own protection on the way, a number of traders would unite themselves into caravans. Rich and poor, men of high degree and men of low united into such societies, and chose a leader or alderman for themselves, whose duty it was to arrange for the safety of the expedition.

Such temporary associations for mutual convenience soon led to more lasting unions. The Gild took a name to itself, chose a patron saint, and arranged festivals and banquets. The actual meaning of the word gild is a sacrificial feast — convivium was the common translation for it later in Saxony — and this social and festal element was never wanting.

The earlier alderman becomes a regular official; a number of gild brothers form an advisory committee. The gilds undertook the improvement of intercourse between commercial centres, introduced new scales and weights, and developed new codes of commercial usage. They strove for and obtained the monopoly of trade in certain branches, and they formed sub-gilds in far-off places, thus assuring their members of a good reception and of proper protection. Cologne had a gild in London, Groningen had gilds in Cologne and in Utrecht.

In the cities of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there were thus three factors, the gilds, the city councils, and the lesser or local tradesmen, if we may call them so. The gilds themselves became more and more associations of greater merchants, who in many towns formed a regular oligarchy, securing for their members the chief positions in the city council. They often came into conflict with the other members of the community, but the great struggles between the classes and the masses belong to the history of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The cities were now proud corporations with a great sense of their own importance, their inhabitants are addressed even in royal charters as “distinguished citizens.” More and more did they strive for freedom and for complete emancipation from the rule of the lords to whose territory they belonged.

By the end of the Hohenstaufen period there were comparatively few of these market cities still remaining under the direct jurisdiction of the crown. They had for the most part been deeded away to great nobles, to bishops and abbots.

It was Otto I. who had commenced making such grants of markets and of the jurisdiction over them; by the time of Henry IV. nine-tenths of the markets were subject in the last instance to members of the clergy.

When the markets developed into regular cities, which they did chiefly in the eleventh century, the princes to whom they had been granted retained their authority, drew their revenues from taxes and judicial fines, coined their own money, and saw to the maintenance of peace.

It was not long, however, before the cities tried to throw off the authority of their lords. Already, under Henry IV. and in his favour, Cologne had risen against the Archbishop Anno; many other cities, too, took the part of the unfortunate king, who rewarded them with grants of tolls and jurisdictions.

Later, as we have seen, the territorial princes, supported by Frederick II., made strenuous efforts to prevent the growing autonomy of the cities; a decree of 1231 categorically forbade them to elect their own authorities. The result was a fiercer conflict than ever; the laws passed were disregarded, and in the end the burghers had their way. The cities gradually became little republics, drew the inhabitants of the surrounding districts under their influence and made leagues and confederations with each other.

In the struggle between the Hohenstaufens and the anti-king, Henry Raspe, the cities played an important part — all the more so as the greater lay princes maintained an unworthy neutrality. Sought after by both parties they drew all the profit possible from the condition of affairs. Frederick II. and Conrad IV. were not chary in promising privileges, and were able to win over Aix, Treves, Augsburg, Worms, Ulm, and many other towns.

The Archbishop of Mayence, on the other hand, gained over for himself his own capital by granting it practical autonomy; the Bishop of Strasburg followed suit, while Cologne accepted favours from the papal as well as the Hohenstaufen side and remained neutral.

The disorders consequent upon the fall of the Hohenstaufens gave the cities an opportunity to complete their emancipation. Already in 1254, as we have seen, it had become possible for an organization like the Rhine Confederation to spring into being and to become for a moment the most important political factor in the land.

At the time when the colonization of the Slavic lands by the Germans was making such progress and the German cities were growing so rapidly in importance, in wealth, and in independence, another development was reaching its climax, a development no less interesting and wonderful.

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries are the period when the feudal system flourished in Germany in its greatest completeness. This system may be said to have begun at the time when Charles Martel confiscated the lands of the Church, and parcelled them out among his nobles. His object was to enable the latter to support the heavier expenses of military duty contingent on the extension of the use of cavalry.

In distributing these lands among his followers Charles Martel stipulated that the holders should pay a certain rent to the especial church to which the property belonged — a stipulation which was confirmed and repeated under Pippin.

The “benefices,” as they were called, proved for the Carolingian kings a powerful factor in controlling their nobles. Whoever fell under the royal displeasure was likely to forfeit lands which had been given him, not only as a reward for past services but as a pledge for services to come.

The services in question were mostly of a military nature, and the man to whom the land was lent was obliged to subdivide a certain part of it and lend it in turn to those who were willing to be his followers in the army. What the kings did on a large scale they, the nobles, were compelled to do on a smaller one.

Those to whom they sub-granted their land were obliged to swear loyalty or fealty, and this oath, or homage as it was called, came to be incumbent on the original holders themselves as regarded the king. They became his vassals, and aided him with an army of sub-vassals of their own. These holders-in-chief, or seigneurs, were the men who, towards the end of the Carolingian period, answered the call to arms, and not, as up to the time of Charlemagne, the whole body of freemen.

The feudal system gradually invaded the whole of Europe, although in Germany especially, in addition to fiefs, there were always private landed possessions or allods. These latter, indeed, in order to fit them into the prevalent scheme of land-holding, were often designated as “fiefs of the sun!”

For centuries, fiefs were not hereditary. They lapsed to the crown at the death of every holder; at every change of monarch or of lord there had to be a renewal of the grant. When the time came, as it did in the thirteenth century, that they could descend regularly from a father to his son, or daughter, or even to his collateral relations, the power of the king as a feudal monarch was at an end.

Not only land, but offices and privileges could be granted out as fiefs in return for certain services. These, too, were at first withdrawable at the will of the crown and in time became hereditary.

The result of the spread of vassalage was to ruin the state in its old form. The land became subject to many masters, the monarch wasted the greater part of his time in reckoning with this or that aspiring noble. We no longer find kings issuing general laws or capitularies for all of their subjects just as we no longer find them directly commanding those subjects to fight their battles.

By the twelfth century, feudalism had invaded everything; even the episcopal sees were looked upon as fiefs which were to be withdrawn and held for a while after every vacancy. Rulers of foreign lands hastened to become vassals of the emperors and also of the popes; Henry VI. and Innocent III. claimed homage from nearly all the kings of Europe.

Among the vassals of the higher nobles in Germany the so-called ministeriales or serving men came to form a class of high importance, a class by themselves of men who, originally not free and without land of their own, raised themselves in rank and formed a sort of lesser nobility. In a royal charter of 1134 they are spoken of as the ordo equestris minor. Their advancement was owing to the fact that the services demanded of them were of a military nature, and that they could thus make themselves indispensable on occasion. Many free knights, seeing the rewards that the ministeriales were entitled to, voluntarily gave up their own rank and privileges and entered into this connection.

It was the ministeriales who made up the kernel of the armies of the Hohenstaufens; they it was who helped those kings in their struggles with the princes, with the popes and with the Lombards.

By the time at which we have arrived the knights themselves, ordo equestris major, had come to form a class so distinct and so exclusive that no outsiders could enter it except in the course of three generations or by special decree of the king. Only to those whose fathers and grandfathers were of knightly origin could fiefs now be granted; only such could engage in judicial combat, in knightly sports, and above all in the tournament or joust.

One of the chief duties of a blameless knight was to be a true vassal to his liege lord, and at once to repair to that lord’s court when summoned, even if the object were only to assist at festivities. He was to be ready to aid in the administration of justice or to take part if need be in a war or a feud. He was obliged to swear on receiving his fief to be “faithful, devoted and willing;” he laid his hands in the hands of his master, and in many cases sealed the compact with a kiss.

Feudalism did much to awaken a moral sentiment; fidelity, truth, and sincerity were the presuppositions upon which the whole system rested, and a great solidarity of interests came to exist between the lord and his vassals. The latter might bring no public charges against their master in matters affecting his life, limb, or honour; on three grand occasions, in case of captivity, the knighting of his son, the marriage of his daughter, they were obliged to furnish him with pecuniary aid.

Knightly honour and knightly graces come in the twelfth century to be a matter of fashion and custom; a new and important element, too, the adoration of woman, is introduced. A whole literature arises that has to do almost exclusively with knightly prowess and with knightly love. Altogether we see the dawn of a new social life. Money begins to circulate more freely, we find an increased luxury in the matter of clothing and of household arrangements. The streets become more secure and more passable, and visitors move to and fro from one castle to another. A number of minor courts begin to flourish besides that of the king; the Wartburg, for instance, becomes a centre for the musical and intellectual life of the times. A regular code was finally established of the rules of conduct considered suitable and becoming, the German words “hubsch” (from hofisch = courtly) and “hoflich” are a legacy of these days, and serve to remind us of what was considered good style in such courtly circles.

Just as certain classes of society to-day adopt by preference the garb and the customs of a foreign country, so already in the twelfth century French influence made itself felt in Germany in many directions. The names that refer to the tourney and to knightly sports at this time are all French, so are those which refer to the more elaborate dishes at the table. In fact everything that had to do with festivities or with luxury in general seems to have been taken from France. We have French names for dress-materials, for the costumes themselves, for various dances, and the love-poems of the time are overflowing with French expressions.

The formalism and etiquette, too, of German chivalry was a direct legacy from France. Men troubled themselves about their manners as in other ages they did about their sins; great stress, for instance, is laid on the forms to be observed when entering or when leaving a room, when addressing persons or when parting from them. Godfrey of Strassburg weaves a long discussion into his “Tristan” concerning the different ways of greeting; should one only bow, or should one speak? A conventionalism not only of action and expression, but also of feeling, developed itself. It became the custom to sink oneself in one’s love, to discuss and to analyze the emotions of the soul.

The Hehe and the Kaiser

Askari soldiers under German command (1906)

Warriors from Kondoa (1906)

In taking over the southern portion of East Africa while leaving the Kenya Highlands to the British, the Germans seem to have got the worst of the bargain. Despite their proximity to the equator, the highlands around Iringa in what is now southern Tanzania are not very productive for agriculture, and can be surprisingly cold and bleak. Several early European explorers complained of the incessant cold and rain when crossing this district. The population has always struggled to support itself from its own resources, and in the early nineteenth century the people were known to the outside world mainly as cattle thieves. In the 1840s the hills became a refuge for people driven off the plains by Ngoni and Masai invaders, including elements of the Sango, Bena, Gogo and Kimbu tribes. The first two of these had adopted some of the Zulu-inspired weapons and tactics introduced by the Ngoni, but most of the highland peoples remained militarily insignificant until the 1860s, when a Sango warrior named Munyigumba organized them into a formidable private army. He led them first against the Bena, who were defeated in a battle at Mugoda Mutitu and driven out of the highlands altogether, then turned against the Sango and forced them in turn to withdraw north-westwards into the Kimbu country.

Munyigumba’s army appears to have been the foundation of what became known as the kingdom of the Hehe. Before this time the Hehe were probably not a distinct ethnic or political group at all; their name is not recorded until the 1860s, and is said to be derived from a war-cry: ‘Hee! Hee! Vatavagu twihoma! Ehee!’ (Reusch). The German anthropologist E Nigmann, writing in 1908, admitted that there was no such thing as a ‘pure’ Hehe, and other twentieth-century scholars identified twenty-nine once-independent tribes which made up the confederation. It seems that the defining characteristic of the Hehe was allegiance to the dynasty established by Munyigumba (to which he gave the name of ‘Vamuyinga’, after a legendary founder named Muyinga), and that it was not until the colonial period that a cohesive Hehe ‘nation’ really came into being. This process is by no means unusual in African history, and we have already seen how similar melting pots gave rise to the Zulus, Matabele and Ngoni.

Under Munyigumba the Hehe, like Shaka’s Zulus, quickly gained a formidable reputation out of all proportion to their numbers. Joseph Thomson, who visited them in 1879, says that they were once ‘a very insignificant tribe’ (Thomson, 1881), but they had already made an impression on Verney Cameron, who encountered a group of Hehe warriors in 1873 during his crossing of the continent. ‘Such is their reputation for courage and skill in the use of their weapons,’ he wrote, ‘that none of the tribes on whom they habitually make their raids ever dare to resist them.’ Not long before his death in 1879 Munyigumba fought his last campaign against the dreaded Ngoni, who had sent a raiding army into the heart of Hehe territory. There, at the Battle of Nyamulenge, the invaders were defeated and their chief Chipeta, a man notorious for his cruelty, was killed. The German missionary Richard Reusch records a Hehe tradition that Munyigumba personally killed the enemy commander in single combat. ‘This fight of the two chiefs was so grand,’ he says, ‘that both hosts stopped to watch it in deadly silence, until it was over and Chipeta fell down with the sword of his great enemy in his heart.’

The Organization of the Hehe Kingdom

Munyigumba’s new kingdom was well organized, and subject to a strict code of laws. During his reign he established his authority over at least fifteen neighbouring chiefdoms, whose rulers either accepted his overlordship or were replaced with Hehe appointees. The plateau of Wota on the northern edge of the highlands, which was inhabited by refugees from further south who had settled there early in the century, was also occupied and placed under an appointed governor. This official seems to have had the extra responsibilities of reporting on events along the caravan route from Zanzibar, and of defending the northern frontier against the Masai. The Hehe king, or mutwa, owed his pre-eminence partly to his real or alleged royal birth, and partly to his role as an intermediary with the spirits of dead chiefs. He was also believed to possess a powerful magic charm, the amahomelo, which protected him in battle and helped him to defeat his enemies. It seems that this charm may have been regarded as an essential part of the king’s authority to rule, and his success in war strengthened his legitimacy by proving the effectiveness of the magic. Whatever the true reasons, the kingship established by Munyigumba seems quickly to have gained the sort of prestige which inspired the notoriously individualistic highland warriors to fight and die for it.

There are no reliable figures for the total manpower available to the Hehe kings. After the German conquest in 1898 it was estimated that the ‘nation’ numbered about 50,000 people altogether, but this does not include many non-Hehe who had been incorporated into the realm, and who sometimes fought in their own styles alongside the Hehe proper. The army fighting in Usango in 1877, for example, included a high proportion of Bena auxiliaries who were armed and equipped like Ngoni. Subordinate chiefs known as vanzagila were responsible for raising their own regiments in time of war. Like the king himself, many of them maintained small standing armies. These consisted of two categories of warriors: older men known as vatambule, or veterans, who served as subordinate officers, and the young men in training, or vigendo. Munyigumba also introduced the practice of establishing military colonies of young men of between twelve and twenty years of age in the territories of subjugated tribes. These various regular units formed the permanent cadres of regiments or wajinga, often named in Ngoni style, into which all the unmarried men could be enrolled in time of war.

As among the Zulus and Ngoni, each regiment was formed from the men of a particular age group, who were not allowed to marry until they had proved themselves in combat. One senior unit, the Vatengelamutwa (‘those who stand firm by their chief’), acted as a royal bodyguard in battle. Regiments were further divided into companies, known as fipuka, though their tactical role, if any, is not clear. Men who particularly distinguished themselves were additionally rewarded with gifts of cloth, slaves and cattle, while cowards were humiliated by being forced to work as porters. Food production, supply columns and even medical services were also well organized. Several German observers described this system as identical to that of the Zulus, but it is not known whether it was directly inspired by the Zulu example (perhaps transmitted by the Ngoni) or was simply a development of local practice. Some Hehe regimental names were identical with those known among the Sango, so it is possible that these rather than the Ngoni may have been the model for the Hehe regimental organization.

The life of the Hehe soldier, as recalled by veterans interviewed in the twentieth century, has echoes of the Viking sagas. Between campaigns they caroused in beer halls, singing and boasting of their past and future exploits. Munyigumba’s successor Mkwawa also employed a professional praise singer of Sango origin, who made speeches to inspire the men before a battle. Many warriors adopted picturesque praise names or noms de guerre describing their achievements or ambitions. Recorded examples include Mudenye-wa-ndembo, or ‘breaker of elephants’; Muhayanga-danda-ya-tangu, ‘drinker of his enemies’ blood’; and Mugopisala-amandusi-sinagope, which meant, perhaps prophetically in view of the events of Mkwawa’s reign, ‘he fears the spear, but not the big guns’ (Redmayne).

The Reign of Mkwawa and the Arrival of the Germans

After Munyigumba’s death a struggle for power erupted between his son Mkwawa and his son-in-law Mwambambe. Hehe tradition describes Mkwawa as tall and well built, ‘with the neck of a bull and the muscles of a lion’ (Reusch), but it was not so much his physical strength as his persistence that won him the throne. At one point he was forced into exile, but eventually he returned and drove out his rival. Mwambambe in turn fled, and was given refuge among the neighbouring Kimbu. In 1881 Mkwawa turned on the Ngoni and defeated them again, forcing them to agree to a truce until the sons of the current warriors had come of age. This truce was faithfully observed until the arrival of German rule, which prevented any attempt to resume the war. Meanwhile Mwambambe had returned with an army which included many men armed with muskets. Although Mkwawa’s warriors had very few guns, they defeated the invaders in a bloody battle at a place later known as Ilundamatwe, ‘the place where many heads are piled up’. Mwambambe and most of his supporters were killed, leaving his rival unchallenged. In the early 1880s the Hehe clashed with a horde of Masai, probably members of the Parakuyo clan which had been defeated and displaced in the Masai civil wars. According to Hehe oral tradition the invaders collected a large herd of stolen cattle, but as they were returning home the Hehe attacked and drove them into a patch of quicksand, where many Masai perished.

Another story describes a battle between the Masai and a Hehe army led by Mkwawa’s sister, Mtage. Allegedly both armies were almost annihilated, only three men remaining alive at the end according to one version. This is obviously unlikely, but a hand-to-hand fight between Hehe warriors, who were trained to use stabbing spears in Zulu style, and the similarly equipped Masai may well have been bloody enough for the carnage to leave an indelible impression on both sides. Masai tradition, however, claims that the Hehe were frustrated by their failure to defeat them, and resorted to trying to terrorize them by roasting prisoners alive. The moran retaliated in kind until both sides tired of the slaughter and made peace. It is not clear whether all these accounts refer to the same campaign, but it is clear that the Masai ceased to threaten Mkwawa’s possessions after 1883, when two stone pillars were erected to mark a permanent border between the two tribes’ spheres of influence. Meanwhile Mkwawa continued to expand his kingdom in other directions. The main trading route inland from Zanzibar was regularly attacked by Hehe raiding parties based in Wota. In the course of the fighting many of the villages along the route were burnt and plundered, depriving the caravans of supplies. European observers in the late 1880s frequently complained that the trade route was almost closed by the combined depredations of Mkwawa, the Masai and a notorious Kimbu warlord named Nyungu-ya-Mawe. But this activity was to bring the Hehe into conflict with a far more formidable enemy than any they had encountered so far.

In 1884, as the European powers began their ‘scramble’ for colonial possessions in Africa, an unofficial action by a party of adventurers (including the notorious Carl Peters), backed by the Society for German Colonization, brought the chaotic hinterland of Zanzibar into the sphere of international power politics. Travelling in secret, and with no authority from their government, they persuaded or bribed ten local chiefs to sign treaties accepting German protection. Legally the chiefs were not free to make treaties as they were all subjects of the Sultan of Zanzibar, who in turn was under British protection. It seems unlikely, in fact, that they understood what they were signing; one man put his name to a document declaring that he had never heard of the sultan, even though he lived so close to the island of Zanzibar that it could be seen from his village. Nevertheless, despite the risk of provoking an incident with Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm I agreed to grant the society a Schutzbrief, or charter, which automatically granted German protection to any territory which it acquired. The British government was not particularly interested in the unproductive interior, and eventually agreed to accept the Kaiser’s claims in return for a free hand elsewhere. In 1885 an Anglo-German agreement conceded to Germany the entire hinterland of Zanzibar as far west as Lake Tanganyika, and the sultan had no choice but to accept the situation when a German naval squadron threatened to bombard his palace.

Authority in the new territory was vested in a commercial company, the Deutsch Ost-Afrika Gesellschaft or German East African Company, and its first years were turbulent. The local Arabs resented the Germans, who imposed restrictive laws and generally behaved as if they were in a conquered country. In 1888 fighting broke out when the German commander at the port of Pangani, Lieutenant von Zelewski, chopped down a pole bearing the all-red Zanzibari flag, despite an agreement that it should be flown side by side with the black, white and red German tricolour. This officer was already hated for his severity, which had earned him the Swahili nickname of ‘Nyundo’, ‘the hammer’, but this did not prevent his rapid promotion during and after the ensuing war. The conflict was known to the Germans as the ‘Abushiri Rebellion’ after the main Arab leader, although technically it was not a rebellion at all, as few if any of the participants had ever given their allegiance to Germany. German authority was eventually restored in 1890, but the discredited East African Company was replaced by direct German government control. In the following year a regular army was established, with the title of imperial Schutztruppe or ‘protection force’.

The Schutztruppe

This quickly established itself as one of the most professional armed forces in Africa. All the officers, NCOs and military specialists were white, and the other ranks exclusively African. At first many of the latter were enlisted in the Sudan, Somalia and Mozambique, the last-named including some Shangaan who had passed themselves off as Zulus and were formed into what became known as the ‘Zulu company’. As time went on these men were supplemented by increasing numbers of local recruits, mostly from tribes with well-known military reputations such as the Hehe, Ngoni and Nyamwezi. The askaris were trained with characteristic German professionalism, well treated and well paid. In 1898, for example, a private soldier received 30 rupees a month, compared with 16 rupees in British East Africa. Each man was also provided at government expense with a servant to carry his kit and cook his food. The result was that although German rule was unpopular with the mass of the people, morale in the Schutztruppe was extremely high and there was never any shortage of volunteers. In contrast, several European visitors remarked on the poor quality of the junior officers and NCOs seconded from the regular army. All too often these were men whose superiors were happy to be rid of them, and like their equivalents in the Congo Free State (see Chapter 6) they were given too much freedom of action without supervision in isolated posts. Inevitably they robbed and otherwise oppressed the local people, and failed to discipline their askaris if they did the same. Senior officials such as Zelewski and the former explorer Carl Peters also set an example of indiscriminate brutality.

Unlike the British, who usually equipped their askaris with obsolete weapons discarded by the white soldiers, the Germans issued the same weapons as those used by the army in Germany. By 1891 these included the Model 1871/84 11mm rifle – a magazine conversion of a single-shot breech-loader – and the improved 7.92mm calibre 1888 Commission model, which was a modern bolt-action rifle using smokeless powder cartridges. This was at a time when the East African Rifles, precursor of the King’s African Rifles, still carried single-shot Sniders which had been replaced in British front-line service more than twenty years previously. In fact the Model 71/84 remained in use until the First World War, not for want of anything better but because its large 11mm calibre round was considered to be better for bush fighting than its 7.92mm replacement because of its greater stopping power. The Germans were slower than the British to adopt machine guns, and the Maxim gun was not officially taken into service by the army until 1899. However, individual officers were usually able to acquire such weapons from unofficial sources, and contemporary accounts describe Maxims in action with German forces in Africa as early as 1889.

In 1890, with the war against Abushiri concluded, the new governor of German East Africa, Freiherr von Soden, wished to extend German influence further inland by peaceful means. He established forts at Mpwapwa and Kilosa to protect the caravan route and proposed negotiations with Mkwawa to bring Hehe raids to an end, but this initiative was pre-empted from an unexpected quarter. Zelewski, ‘the hammer’, far from being disciplined for his role in starting the recent war, was now commander-in-chief of the Schutztruppe, with the rank of Hauptmann or major. In June 1891 he led an expedition out of Kilosa to the border of Hehe country to pacify a band of Ngoni who had been raiding for slaves in association with some renegade Hehe. Zelewski’s force consisted of five companies, each comprising about ninety askaris, plus three field guns and two Maxim guns. One company, the 8th, was commanded by a young half-Scottish lieutenant named Tom Prince and was composed of ‘Zulus’, the rest of the rank and file being Sudanese. There were also about 170 locally recruited porters. The Ngoni easily avoided contact with Zelewski, who contented himself with burning a few Hehe border villages. He then advanced up the Kitonga gorge towards the highlands, probably aiming for a fort which Mkwawa had built at Kalenga, of which he had been informed by the Arabs. Zelewski had no orders to invade Mkwawa’s kingdom, and because he did not survive to give an account of his actions it is impossible to be sure whether or not he intended to provoke another war. Certainly, though, he shared with his colleague Peters both a firm belief in the use of ruthless methods, and a deep contempt for the fighting qualities of Africans. According to Lieutenant Prince he had been advised that the Hehe were dangerous, but had dismissed the warning on the grounds that as they did not possess firearms they could not seriously threaten a well-equipped expedition.

The Hehe Army

In fact Zelewski had been misled by his anonymous informant on two counts. The Hehe were by no means ignorant of firearms, but even if they had been they would still have been formidable opponents. Early in the twentieth century Nigmann interviewed Hehe veterans of the ensuing war about the tactics which Mkwawa’s armies had employed. Unlike many native forces they were accustomed to fight in both the dry and wet seasons, and Hehe armies often campaigned in several theatres simultaneously. According to Joseph Thomson, the warriors could travel at a trot for days without food. An expedition would be preceded by scouts or vatandisi, who might operate several days ahead of the main body. Then came an advance guard, the vandagandaga, which was strong enough to carry out surprise raids or pursue a fleeing enemy on its own, and could be quickly supported by the main body in the event of serious resistance. This main body would consist of one or more regiments and the supply train. Large numbers of prisoners of war accompanied the armies as labourers and porters. Munyigumba’s duel with the Ngoni Chipeta notwithstanding, a commander was not normally expected to lead the army into battle in person, but remained in the rear with his bodyguard. The reason for this was that the Hehe believed that the body of a chief was almost sacred, and it was feared that the troops would be demoralized if they saw his blood spilt.

The most interesting aspect of the tactics used against the Germans is that they seem to have represented a deliberate reversion to traditional methods. The main striking force of the army consisted of the wajinga regiments, which advanced to battle in dense formations, culminating with a charge to close quarters. According to Cameron and Thomson, writing in the 1870s, each man was equipped with a heavy Zulu-style spear with a short shaft and a long narrow head, for use as a thrusting weapon at close quarters, and between six and eight lighter throwing spears or assegais. Cameron claims that these missiles were accurate up to 50 yards. They seldom appear in battle accounts of the German war and may have largely gone out of use by this time, although in 1898 Tom Prince was wounded by a spear thrown from ambush. A short sword of Masai type, or what Thomson (1881) describes as ‘a hybrid article, between a billhook and an axe’, was sometimes carried as a sidearm. Shields were also similar to the Zulu type but could be very large, occasionally as tall as a man. The warriors seen by Cameron in 1873 carried huge bull-hide shields, up to 5 feet high by 3 feet wide, with a piece of wood running down the centre as a stiffener and curved outwards in the middle to act as a handgrip. It seems that at least in Mkwawa’s day units could be distinguished by the colours or patterns on their shields, and Tom Prince’s wife, Magdalene, who accompanied him on the campaign, recorded that at least one of the Hehe regiments in the war of the 1890s carried plain white shields. Following the Zulu precedent, this might have indicated elite status, but this cannot be confirmed from contemporary sources

If the warriors were armed with muskets, they would usually fire a single volley at close range before charging. But according to the testimony of the explorer J F Elton, who had been an eyewitness of Munyigumba’s campaign against the Sango in 1877, this had not been the practice at that time. Instead Elton describes a Hehe war-party besieging a fortified village for several days, trading abuse and long-range musketry, advancing cautiously and only under cover, and even entrenching them-selves for protection against the defenders’ bullets. Each night they lit fires, apparently to make the enemy think that they had burnt their temporary huts and left. After a few days they really broke off the siege and retired, pursued by the Sango. It may be that this unsuccessful record in siege warfare encouraged the Hehe in their reliance on their own fortifications like those at Kalenga in their struggle against the Germans. Guns seem always to have been in short supply and were mostly hoarded by the chiefs, who distributed them when required to favoured followers. In a group of warriors encountered by Lieutenant Tettenborn in the early 1890s a minority carried muskets, while the rest had only spears. Several hundred German rifles were captured in the battle at Lugalo, but it is not clear how many of them were used against their former owners. Mkwawa appears to have collected most of them in the fort at Kalenga, where they were recaptured after its fall in 1894. Magdalene Prince refers to others being returned to the Germans in 1896. Mkwawa himself owned a German army revolver, presumably captured, with which he is said to have committed suicide in 1898. After his death he was also found in possession of an old carbine, ‘considerably cracked at the muzzle’ (Iliffe), and a half-filled cartridge belt.

Archbishopric Electorates

John I, Duke of Brabant, at the Battle of Worringen, Codex Manesse, about 1340

Positions of forces at the beginning of the Battle of Worringen.

Archdiocese Cologne

Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons records the existence of a Christian community in Cologne (Köln) by the late second century. Maternus, later bishop of Trier and the first documented bishop of Cologne, was present at the synod of Rome (313) and Arles (314). The troubles attending the arrival of the Franks in Cologne produced a gap in the list of bishops from the death of Bishop Severin (397) to ca. 565–567, but, through the patronage of the bishops of Trier and of the Frankish ruling house, the Cologne church was revived by the time of Bishop Kunibert’s pontificate (ca. 626–648).

The late sixth century began a long period of close relations between the Cologne bishopric and the German monarchy that would last until the thirteenth century. The bishops served Merovingian kings as royal councilors, as ambassadors, and as regents for the Austrasian court in Cologne. The Carolingians established a special amicitia (friendly relationship) with the Cologne bishops, which found its fullest expression when Charlemagne raised Bishop Hildebald to metropolitan status over a vast province in 794/795. The archbishopric of Cologne would eventually encompass most of northwest Germany from Friesland and Saxony to lower Lotharingia, and include the bishoprics of Utrecht, Osnabrück, Minden, Münster, and Liège. The Norman destruction of the city interrupted Cologne’s rise to predominance in the lower Rhineland and western Saxony, but the see was quickly revived under the Saxon monarchy. Emperor Otto I (936–973) appointed his youngest brother, Bruno, as both archbishop of Cologne and archidux of Lotharingia. Bruno I (r. 953–965) also served as imperial regent from 961–965 and laid the foundations for archiepiscopal lordship over the city of Cologne and its environs which would last until 1288. During this period, archbishops of Cologne exercised royal rights of high justice, tolls, weights and measures, mints, markets, and defense.

By the mid-eleventh century the archbishops of Cologne had emerged as the preeminent ecclesiastics of the German episcopate. Since the pontificate of Archbishop Heribert (999–1021) they had enjoyed the right to crown and anoint the king-elect at Aachen, thereby playing a central role in all royal elections. As imperial princes, the archbishops became deeply involved in the emperors’ Italian affairs; to expand their authority in this realm, they were given the office of chancellor of Italy from 1031 onward. Anno II (1256–1275) and Engelbert I (1215–1225) would also periodically continue to fulfill the role of imperial regent. Pope Leo IX confirmed these prerogatives in 1052, and added to them the authority to preside over the provincial synod.

Of course, this mixture of secular and spiritual lordship drew the archbishops of Cologne directly into the Investiture Controversy. In general the archbishops stood on the side of the Salian monarchs; yet, after the Concordat of Worms (1122), imperial influence over episcopal elections dwindled. Rainald of Dassel (1159–1167) and Philip of Heinsberg (1167–1191) were the last two archbishops who were raised to the see by imperial command without allowing for canonical elections. Thereafter, the local noble houses of Berg and Hochstaden competed within the cathedral chapter for the archiepiscopal honor, placing a combined eleven of the seventeen archbishops during the years 1132–1297.

In 1180 the archbishops added the duchy of Westphalia to their ducal domains in lower Lotharingia. Philip of Heinsberg received the newly created duchy by virtue of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa’s dismantling of Welf ducal lands in Saxony. This period marks the high point of archiepiscopal involvement in imperial politics, a role requiring the archbishops to be away from Cologne for extended periods for embassies throughout Europe and for military campaigns in Italy during the papal schism.

By the early thirteenth century, however, the archbishops of Cologne moved away from a pro-Staufen policy and began to establish their own independent territorial principality. Archbishop Adolf I of Altena (1193–1203; 1212–16), during the Welf-Staufen struggle for the throne (Thronstreit), alternately supported Welf or Staufen candidates depending on the advantage that might pertain to his territorial independence. His coronation prerogative ensured that the Cologne archbishop would be at the center of political intrigue surrounding royal elections, but in Adolf I’s case, this proved a mixed blessing. Although he was able, with English financial support, to obtain the election of Otto IV, his subsequent abandonment of the Welf for Philip of Swabia led to excommunication and deposition by Pope Innocent III as well as to deep discord with the burghers of Cologne.

Although Archbishop Engelbert I of Berg returned to the Staufen camp as regent of the young Henry (VII) and imperial regent for Emperor Frederick II, by the 1240s, Archbishop Conrad of Hochstaden (1238–1261) had joined the pope and archbishop of Mainz in an effective anti-Staufen policy that curtailed imperial power in Germany. The result was the establishment of the archbishop’s territorial principality based on two duchies and provincial ecclesiastical authority.

Thereafter, the archbishops of Cologne were the real holders of royal authority in northwest Germany. In 1258 the archbishop Conrad of Hochstaden confirmed this status by obtaining from his personal candidate for royal election, Richard of Cornwall, not only confirmation of full imperial authority throughout the territorial principality, but, also, the right to install new bishops in the name of the king. By this time many nobles held fiefs of the archbishop of Cologne: the duke of Limburg, the counts of Saffenberg, Jülich, Berg, Are, Geldern, Kleve, Kessel, Zutphen, Armsberg, Altena, Mark, and Tecklenburg, and the lords of Hochstaden, Isenburg, Tomburg, Heinsberg, and Lippe.

At the peak of princely power in the mid-thirteenth century, the archbishops sought to tighten control over the autonomous burghers of Cologne and the local nobility of lower Lotharingia and Westphalia. This led to a half-century of civil wars, which culminated in the collapse of the archbishop’s ducal power when Archbishop Siegfried of Westerburg was defeated at the Battle of Worringen (1288) at the hands of a coalition of Cologners and nobles from Brabant, Jülich, Berg, and Kleve. From this time on, the archbishops no longer resided in Cologne, but rather at their palaces in Bonn and Brühl.

By the late thirteenth century, the papacy had secured the right to appoint the archbishops of Cologne, and subsequent archbishops maintained good relations with Rome throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. As loyalists to the Avignon papacy, Archbishops Henry II of Virneburg (1304–1332) and Walram of Jülich (1332–1349) refused to recognize Ludwig of Bavaria’s kingship. Archbishop William von Gennep (1349–1362) was influential in the kingship of Charles IV (1346–1378) and in the editing of the Golden Bull (1356). But, by the mid-fifteenth century, the archbishopric had declined to a second-class power and no longer played a leading role in imperial politics.

Evidence for the beginning of a parish system on the left bank of the Rhine can be found in the sixth century, and for Westphalia by the end of the eighth century. Many of these episcopal parishes and tithes were eventually given to religious foundations and cloisters during the ninth and tenth centuries. By the eleventh century, the archdiaconate and the college of priors were fully functioning in the archdiocese. The cathedral chapter of canons is first documented in 866, but evidence suggests its origin in the seventh century. By the end of the twelfth century, there were thirty-six benefices for canons, sixteen supplementary benefices, and twenty benefices for cathedral scholars (magistri). Since around 1216, eight of the benefices had been reserved for canon priests.

As a sign of its importance in the archdiocese, the cathedral chapter had its own seal by 1106/1109. It often struggled with the college of priors in episcopal elections however, and by the mid-thirteenth century, had successfully asserted its independence and power. The chapter separated from the archbishopric (Erzstift) through the establishment of its own assembly and independent benefices, and by removing itself from liability for the archbishop’s debts. Final success was achieved in 1250, when the college of priors was removed from episcopal elections and sons of ministerials and burghers were no longer accepted as candidates for the cathedral chapter. Thereafter, the canons lived the life of independent, powerful, and princely churchmen, certain to become archbishops.

Battle of Worringen, (June 5, 1288)

During a long fight between the Archbishop Siegfried von Westerburg of Cologne (1275–1297) and the city of Cologne, which was trying to become independent of the archiepiscopal government, a dispute over the inheritance of Limburg sparked a broader regional war. Allied with powerful lords like the counts of Luxemburg and Nassau, the archbishop faced an alliance of Cologne and the counts of Berg, Jülich, and Cleves, as well as the duke of Brabant. The Brabantine and Cologne forces met the archbishop’s army near his castle of Worringen. In the course of the massive battle on June 5, 1288, over two thousand were killed, including the commander of the Cologne city troops. But Brabant and the city prevailed, managing to surround and capture the archbishop.

This defeat left Cologne as an independent, self-governing city, forcing the archbishops to move their main residence to Bonn. The territorial rule of the archbishops on the lower Rhine also continued to decline in competition against the secular dynasts.


Droege, G. “Das kölnische Herzogtum Westfalen.” In Heinrich der Löwe, ed. Wolf-Dieter Mohrmann. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980, pp. 275–304.

Ennen, Edith. “Erzbishof und Stadtgemeinde in Köln bis zur Schlacht von Worringen (1288).” In Gesammelte Abhandlungen. Bonn: Rohrscheid, 1977, vol. 1, pp. 388–404.

Erkens, Franz-Reiner. Der Erzbischof von Köln un the deutsche Königswahl. Siegburg: F.Schmitt, 1987.

Janssen, Wilhelm. “Die Erzbischöfe von Köln un ihr “Land” Westfalen im Spätmittelalter.” Westfalen 58 (1980): 82–95.

——.”Die Kanzlei der Erzbischöfe von Köln im Spätmittelalter.” Münchener Beiträge zur Mediävistik und Renaissane-Forschung (1984): 147–169.

Kallen, Gerhard. “Das Kölner Erzstift und der ‘ducatus Westfalie et Angarie’ (1180).” Jahrbuch des Kölnischen Geschichtsveriens 31/32 (1956–57): 78–107.

Knipping, Richard, et al., ed. Die Regensten der Erzbischöfe von Köln im Mittelalter, 4 vols. Bonn: P. Hanstein, 1901–61.

Oediger, Frederick Wilhelm. Das Bistum Köln von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des 12. Jahrhunderts, 2nd ed. Cologne: J.P.Bachem, 1972.

Pötter, Wilhelm. Die Ministerialität der Erzbischöfe von Köln vom Ende des 11. bis zum Ausgang des 13. Jahrhunderts. Düsseldorf: Schwann, 1967.

Vollrath, Hanna and Stefan Weinfurter, ed. Köln: Stadt und Bistum in Kirche und Reich des Mittelalters: Festschrift für Odilo Engels zum 65. Geburtstag. Cologne: Böhlau, 1993.

Delbrück, Hans. Medieval Warfare, trans. Walter J.Renfroe Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

Der Tag bei Worringen, 5. Juni 1288, ed. Wilhelm Janssen and H.Stehkämper. Cologne: Böhlau, 1988; special issue of Blätter für deutsche Landesgeschichte 124 (1988).

Torunsky, Vera. Worringen 1288: Ursachen und Folgen einer Schlacht. Cologne: Rheinland-Verlag, 1988.

Ulrich, Lehnart. Die Schlacht von Worringen 1288: Kriegführung im Mittelalter: der Limburger Erbfolgekrieg unter besonderer Brücksichtigung der Schlacht von Worringen, 5. 6. 1288. Frankfurt am Main: AFRA-Verlag, 1994.

Archdiocese Mainz

Medieval Mainz grew up within the walls of the Roman military base and provincial capital Mogontiacum, located at the point where the Main River flows into the Rhine. In the Carolingian period, the city became the ecclesiastical center of Germany under Archbishop Saint Boniface (746/747–754). Boniface’s successor, Lul, succeeded in getting the office of archbishop, which had originally been granted to Boniface personally, permanently associated with Mainz. Under Charlemagne, the archbishop of Mainz supervised a large number of suffragan bishops, governed the largest ecclesiastical province in the Western world, and was primate of the church in Germania. As chancellor, the archbishop represented the emperor, and as the highest-ranking elector, he cast the first vote for king. The accumulation of appointments and honors associated with the position of archbishop of Mainz made this one of the most desirable episcopal sees, but it also presented problems for the city in its progress toward self-government.

With the erection of the cathedral, Archbishop Willigis (975–1011) created a new spiritual center in the city. In the Ottonian and Salian eras, the establishment of cloisters, parish churches, and other foundations also depended largely on the bishop.

By the early Gothic, which should be considered Mainz’s golden age, the artistic initiative of the archbishop had given way to that of the citizens and the monastic orders. The union of Rhenish cities in 1254, the privileges extracted by the city government from the archbishop, and the increasing wealth of the city’s patriciate created the necessary conditions for extensive building activity. Archbishop Siegfried III (d. 1249) granted the citizens the right to elect their government and handle its finances, which made the city virtually independent of the archbishop’s rule. In the next century this would lead to constant discord between the city’s secular and religious leaders. The conflict peaked in 1462 in a catastrophe that brought the city’s economy as well as its artistic production to a standstill. Archbishop Adolf II of Nassau conquered the burning city after a bloody ten-hour battle in its streets. Eight hundred men, including Johannes Gutenberg, were banished, and all rights gained by the city since the thirteenth century were revoked.

Although destroyed five times by fire, the cathedral of St. Martin still reflects the same plan as the first building erected by Archbishop Willigis. Its basilical form is modeled on that of Old St. Peter’s in Rome, with the main choir in the west preceded by a transept. Like the earlier church at Fulda (791–819), also a foundation of Boniface, and the later churches at Bamberg, Augsburg, and Regensburg, the cathedral at Mainz combines this “reverse orientation” with a secondary choir in the east. The erection of a church dedicated to the Virgin of the Steps (St. Maria ad gradus) on axis outside the east choir also depends on the Roman model; with the cathedral it provided an appropriate space for the royal coronation ceremony, which took place seven times in Mainz. In 975 Willigis had the pope confirm the right of the archbishop of Mainz to crown the German kings.

On the day before the consecration in 1009, the cathedral burned; it was quickly rebuilt by Willigis’s successor, Bardo, and consecrated in 1036. The eastern parts and the nave were rebuilt after a second fire in 1081. About 1200 the dilapidated vaults of the nave were replaced and a new west choir built on a triconch (with three apses) plan. The addition of side chapels with tracery windows along the aisles between 1279 and 1320 introduced the Gothic architectural vocabulary. At this point the cathedral had attained the state in which it remains today.

The unusual cycle of medieval archbishops’ tombs documents the continuity of episcopal power. The two oldest preserved tomb reliefs show Siegfried III von Eppstein (d. 1249) and Peter von Aspelt (d. 1320) crowning two and three smaller kings, respectively, in a unique tomb iconography. The later tombs follow an almost formulaic type that continues into the seventeenth century: a Gothic arch in low relief frames the fully vested archbishop holding a crosier and a book. The episcopal power displayed by the tombs reveals the self-consciousness of the powerful archbishops. Rather than serving a primarily memorial or liturgical function, the tombs represent the continuity of the political institution of the office of archbishop.

Looting and destruction have been responsible for the loss of much of the cathedral’s medieval decoration including Willigis’s massive gold cross weighing six hundred pounds, all the stained glass windows, and the western rood screen, of which only fragments remain. The preserved bronze doors from about 1100 attest to the splendor of the church’s furnishings. The inscription on the doors emphasizes that these were the first metal doors since Charlemagne’s time, made by Master Berenger for Archbishop Willigis.

One of the churches in the cathedral complex, St. Johannis, the supposed predecessor of the cathedral, stands outside the cathedral’s west choir. The earliest source mentioning this church dates from about 600; it tells of the king’s daughter Berthoara, who supported the bishop Sidonius in the building of the church. In 754 the body of the martyred St. Boniface was prepared here for burial in Fulda. The building as reerected after World War II dates in large part to the building campaign of Archbishop Hatto (891–913), who simultaneously erected the church at Reichenau Oberzell. In both churches the individual spaces are separated by strongly projecting piers. As at the cathedral, the primary choir and transept at St. Johannis are in the west.

The archbishop’s palace chapel dedicated to St. Gotthard (1137) is attached to the cathedral. The four supports divide each of the two stories of the chapel into nine bays, with the middle bay left open to allow contact between the two stories. The structure thus belongs in the tradition of palace chapels with an identical ground plan attached to cathedrals, as at Speyer and formerly at Trier and Cologne.

Apart from three eighteenth-century examples, all the churches of Mainz were erected in the few decades around 1300, when sixteen large-scale projects were realized. Among the buildings still standing today, St. Stephan’s was built as a collegiate church in the first half of the fourteenth century. The wealthy citizens, eager to embellish their city with larger, more modern houses of worship, rebuilt the parish churches of St. Emmeran, for which an indulgence dated 1296 exists, St. Quintin (1300–1330), and St. Christoph (1292–1352). The cloister churches of the Poor Clares (about 1334), the Rich Clares (begun 1272), and the Carmelites (second half of the fourteenth century) still stand; destroyed are those of the Dominicans (mid-thirteenth century), the Franciscans (begun 1253), the Augustinians (founded before 1260), the Teutonic Order (1302), the Carthusians (1330), Our Lady (begun 1285), the Magdalens, as well as Dalheim (third quarter of the thirteenth century) and St. Agnes, for which indulgences in favor of the building project were issued between 1274 and 1295. The side chapels along the aisles in the cathedral and the west choir of St. Johannis also date in this period of rich building activity.

Among these Gothic churches St. Quintin, which is already mentioned in 774 as a parish church, is the oldest foundation. The plan shows the optimal use of the small space available. As at St. Stephan’s and the church of the Virgin, the new building, begun about 1300 and finished in 1330, uses the hall church form favored in Mainz. The type was transferred to Mainz from St. Elizabeth’s in Marburg via other sites in Hesse. The relatively short nave flanked by the tall aisles creates the unusual effect of a light-flooded, airy cube; the destroyed church of the Virgin outside the cathedral must have produced a similar impression.

St. Stephan’s is the largest church after the cathedral. Founded by Willigis on an exposed hill inside the city walls, the church had become structurally unsound by the middle of the thirteenth century. The new building was financed by numerous indulgences, whose dates between 1257 and 1338 establish the period of construction. This building too takes the form of a hall church, but in the more typical oblong shape than the shortened churches of St. Quentin and the Virgin. In addition, St. Stephan’s has a transept as in the Hessian hall churches at Marburg, Haina, and Friedberg. Like the cathedral and St. Johannis, it exhibits a second choir in the west, which is accentuated by a tower. A late Gothic cloister with fine net vaults was erected between 1462 and 1499.

The cloister of the Antonite monks is first mentioned in 1334; it was taken over in 1620 by the Poor Clares and today is referred to by their name. Because the Antonites dedicated themselves to care of the sick and raising pigs, they chose a site outside the city center, although still within the walls. The small aisleless church in the Gothic style is unusual for its completely intact vault painting, executed before 1350. Framed by painted tracery, saints, apostles, and the fathers of the church surround the figure of Christ, who presides over the assembly from the choir vault.

Early-fifteenth-century paintings grace the choir vaults of the Carmelite church. These represent in grisaille the suffering Christ surrounded by angels and prophets. The church, erected between 1326 and 1404, has the long choir typical of churches of the Mendicant orders, which needed more room for the choir stalls; the basilical nave is relatively short.

When St. Maria ad gradus, the church within the cathedral complex dedicated to the Virgin, burned in 1285, the decision was made to rebuild in a high Gothic style; the citizens supported the new building with unusually generous donations. Finished in 1311, the new church, erected over a nearly square plan, provided, with the neighboring cathedral, a defining element in the city’s silhouette until its destruction by French bombardment in 1793. In contrast to the other, undecorated churches of Mainz, the church of the Virgin possessed richly decorated portals; the sculpture is close in style to that of the Naumburg Master.

The Roman walls within which the medieval city developed traced a square of about one kilometer’s distance on each side. This area sufficed for the city’s growth into the nineteenth century, with the exception of a single extension along the Rhine in the thirteenth century. By 1300 some 20,000–25,000 people lived in the city, whose western slopes provided space for orchards and even vineyards. Most of the city’s gates pierced the east wall, in order to accommodate trade from the ship traffic along the Rhine. With the exception of the Iron Tower (about 1200), the Wood Tower (fourteenth century), and short passages of the east wall between them, the city wall was entirely demolished in the eighteenth century.

After 1300 a sort of citizens’ center developed to the northeast of the cathedral quarter. Here the market hall, the hospital, the city hall, and the surrounding market and business district clearly expressed the aspirations of the citizenry. The market hall, dated about 1320, was also used for large public festivals. Unlike the more typical wooden market halls with open sides, that at Mainz was a defensible building in stone, reflecting both the value of the goods stored there and the importance of trade in the city’s economy. Only the sculptural decoration—reliefs representing the seven electors and the king from the crenellations of the building’s upper defenses—is preserved.

The hospital dedicated to the Holy Spirit from the second quarter of the thirteenth century is one of the few preserved medieval hospitals in Germany. Its two-story elevation is comparable to that of St. John’s Hospital in Niederweisel in Hesse. The lower story, originally a seven-aisled hall, probably served as the infirmary.

Despite conditions that were sometimes conducive, no particular style of painting, sculpture, goldsmith work, or manuscript illumination developed in Mainz, and the idea of a Middle Rhenish school, cultivated in art historical scholarship for decades, must be discarded. The patrons of Mainz repeatedly looked to other centers for artists, for example, the renowned Naumburg Master, who sculpted the cathedral’s now fragmentary west choir screen before 1250. Characteristic for the art of the city is the constant reprocessing of new influences from Burgundy, France, Bohemia, Germany, and the Netherlands; works from Mainz are always up-to-date without having a typical local character.


Arens, Fritz. Das goldene Mainz: Bauten und Bilder aus zweitausend Jahren. Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1952.

——. Die Kunstdenkmäler der Stadt Mainz, 1: Kirchen St. Agnes bis Hl. Kreuz. Die Kunstdenkmäler von Rheinland-Pfalz 4,1, ed. Werner Bornheim gen. Schilling. Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1961.

Brück, Anton P. Mainz von Verlust der Stadtfreiheit bis zum Ende des dreissigjährigen Krieges (1462–1648). Geschichte der Stadt Mainz 5. Düsseldorf: W.Rau, 1972.

Brush, Kathryn Louise. “The West Choir Screen at Mainz Cathedral: Studies in Program, Patronage and Meaning.” (Ph.d. diss., Brown University, 1987.

Denkmaltopographie Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Kulturdenkmäler in Rheinland-Pfalz 2.2. Düsseldorf: Schwann, 1988.

Falck, Ludwig. Mainz im frühen und hohen Mittelalter (Mitte 5. Jh. bis 1244). Geschichte der Stadt Mainz 2. Düsseldorf: W.Rau, 1972.

——. Mainz in seiner Blütezeit als Freie Stadt (1244–1328). Geschichte der Stadt Mainz 3. Düsseldorf: W.Rau, 1973.

Hause, Melissa Thorsen. “A Place in Sacred History: Coronation Ritual and Architecture in Ottonian Mainz.” Journal of Ritual Studies, no. 1 (1992): 133–157.

Nagel, Ewald. Stadt Mainz: Altstadt. Herausgegeben im Auftrag des Kultusministeriums vom Landesamt für Denkmalpflege.

Neeb, Ernst, and Fritz Arens. Die Kunstdenkmäler in Hessen, Stadtkreis Mainz. vol. 2, part 2: Bestehende und verschwundene Mainzer Kirchen. Darmstadt: A. Bergsträsser Nachfolger, 1940.

Archdiocese Trier

The Romans founded the city of Trier during Caesar Augustus’s reign. They gave it the unusual name of Augusta Treverorum, after a local Celtic tribe, the Treveri. The Romans at first took advantage of its useful location on the Mosel River, across which they soon built a stone bridge to provision the Roman military outposts along the Rhine. The city soon grew into a major center of trade and imperial administration, becoming a provincial capital. At its height, its population probably exceeded sixty thousand, surpassing most of the cities of northern Gaul. A brief decline followed the Roman Empire’s troubles of the third century, probably including a sacking by the Alamans in 276. Some of the city walls and the famous Porta Nigra (Black Gate) commemorate this period. Shortly thereafter the city experienced a new revival under Constantius Chlorus and his son, Constantine. Emperor Constantine especially promoted the city as one of his residences, for which he had built his famous basilica and baths.

By the end of the fourth century, with the destabilization of the Roman Empire, Trier had lost its important status. At the beginning of the fifth century invading Germans began to sack the city repeatedly. The Ripuarian Franks finally absorbed the city into their realm by the end of the century. While much of Trier lay in ruins and its population had been reduced to a few thousand, some importance was preserved because the city was the seat of a bishop. Indeed, the bishops of Trier would lead the slow revival of the city’s fortunes, and not just as religious prelates. They soon became political rulers, namely, prince-bishops. They would turn the desolate city into the capital of a middle-sized political territory spreading from the lower Moselle across the Rhine and along the lower Lahn Rivers.

The bishops necessarily took on civic leadership because of the chaos created by the Germanic invasions. Soon they began to cooperate with the Frankish kings, who often used the episcopacy as part of their methods of government. By the eighth century, the bishops exercised broad authority in the city and its surroundings. Yet the election of Frankish nobles as bishops also meant the prelates became more secularized, sometimes scandalously leading a noble lifestyle of hunting and warfare. In reaction, the Carolingians trimmed back some of the bishops’ political power to reemphasize the spiritual office. Charlemagne transferred the royal ban and rights to mint money to a local count. At the same time, Charlemagne likewise preserved the bishops’ preeminent position in the region, especially in a reorganization of the church hierarchy. Shortly before 800 the prelates were elevated to be metropolitan archbishops with suffragans (representatives) in Metz, Toul, and Verdun.

In the wake of late Carolingian civil wars and invasions by Vikings (who sacked Trier in 882), effective royal authority waned. Again the archbishops slowly rebuilt the city and reasserted their governance over the surrounding area. By the tenth century the patronage of the kings of the Ottonian and Salian dynasties became especially helpful. Emperor Otto I, for example, confirmed or added to their immunity protection, their freedom from tolls, and their possession of a large forest and monasteries. Other kings gave them more forests, minting rights, market privileges for the city of Trier, and even the surrounding counties. The grant of Coblenz in 1018 was very important for the future. Forming a bridgehead on the Rhine, it provided a motive for the archbishops to connect that city with Trier along the Moselle and through the Eifel and Himsrück hills to the north and south. By the mid-eleventh century, the archbishops of Trier had become a major political force in the Rhineland.

The Investiture Controversy opened up a period of disturbances as pope and emperor tried to assert control over the bishops throughout the empire. Gradually the archbishops of Trier increased their independence from the king as they tried to preserve and defend order in their diocese. At the same time they faced increasing competition from local dynasts, like the counts Palatine by the Rhine or the counts of Luxembourg, to name the most powerful, who were trying to consolidate their own territorial rule. Meanwhile, the bishops had been increasingly using ministerials, or servile knights for their local administration. Many of these, however, soon began to act like free nobles and sought their own interests before those of their master, the archbishop. At the beginning of Archbishop Albero of Montreuil’s reign (1131–1152), the burggrave of Trier had taken political and economic leadership from the previous weak prelates: he commanded the soldiery and controlled the revenues. Albero reclaimed the archbishop’s paramount position, reducing Ludwig to the status of servant. Additionally, in a seven-year war over the substantial properties of the abbey of St. Maximin by Trier, Albero also excluded the abbey’s advocates, the counts of Luxembourg, from the area around the city.

Tension also began to increase between the archbishop and the citizens of Trier, who increasingly sought to form their own government. In 1157, residents of Trier formed a sworn conspiracy to organize communal government, independent of the prelate. Archbishop Hillin briefly suppressed the movement with the aid of a judgment by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Then, while Hillin was on a military campaign in Italy during 1161, the movement revived, this time with the cooperation of Conrad von Staufen, the count Palatine by the Rhine and half-brother of Emperor Frederick. Fortunately for the archbishop, once again the emperor reinforced the archbishop’s regime.

By the mid-thirteenth century not only the citizens of the towns but also the cathedral chapter began to demand a greater share in political rule. The cathedral chapter’s membership was largely drawn from the nobility of the countryside. By the end of the century the chapter was demanding capitulations from candidates before election to archiepiscopal office. These capitulations tended to guarantee more and more power to the canons, limiting the political choices of the archbishops. By the late Middle Ages regional nobles would often join forces with their relatives in the chapter and the city leaders of Trier. Eventually they were able to establish a corporate system where the archbishop shared some power with the estates.

In the late Middle Ages, the most effective of Trier’s rulers was Baldwin von Luxembourg (1307–1354), ironically, a member of an old rival noble family. He opposed his own relatives, the counts of Luxembourg, while constructing a more effective archiepiscopal government. First, he checked the local nobility through force (sieges and battles) and the enforcement of laws. He reformed the chancery, both reviewing old and producing new documents. Second, he expanded the territory through purchase, trade, and feudal contracts. Third, Baldwin augmented archiepiscopal power through royal privileges. The most famous, the Golden Bull of 1356, granted by his nephew Charles IV, assured the archbishop’s preeminence in the empire as one of the electoral princes and tightened his control over cities like Trier and Coblenz. From this foundation regional dynasts would never again be able to threaten the core of archiepiscopal rule.

Schisms inflicted by divided cathedral canons did, however, damage the territory’s political development. One of the worst occurred in 1430 as one faction elected Jacob von Sierck and another voted for Ulrich von Manderscheid; subsequently the pope rejected both and provided Hraban von Helmstätt, who was already prince-bishop of Speyer. Ulrich and his supporters not only took up arms, they appealed to the Council of Basel. The soon-to-be-famous humanist Nicholas of Cusa went to argue Ulrich’s case, even though the prelate was less than the best role model (by the time of his death, he had four natural children). Although the council supported the papal candidate, Hraban of Speyer, Ulrich fought on, financing his efforts by mortgaging the precious rights, privileges, and key places of the territory and diocese. The schism ended with Ulrich’s death in Italy in 1437. The territory took decades to recover from this civil war.

And at the end of the Middle Ages, the city of Trier made one last attempt at achieving the status of a free imperial city independent of the archbishop’s authority. But the Imperial Chamber Court decided once and for all in favor of the archbishop in 1580. Surviving the famous rebellion of Franz von Sickingen (1522–1523) and the Reformation intact, the Electoral Principality of Trier remained a not insignificant player in German politics. Only the wars of the French Revolution, as they demolished the Holy Roman Empire, likewise destroyed the temporal rule of the archbishops of Trier.


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