Richard Berber, “The Devil’s Crown”

A History of Henry II and His Sons

Henry II (1133 – 1189) married to Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 – 1204) with 8 children:

William (1153 – 1156)
Henry (1155 – 1183)
Matilda (1156 – 1189)
Richard (The Lion Hearted) (1157 – 1199)
Geoffrey (1158 – 1186)
Eleanor (1162 – 1214)
Joan (1165 – 1199)
John (Lackland) (1167 – 1216)

A very readable history of the family which gets a bit confusing only because there are so many different individuals that show up in the story.

The Crown was held, in turn by:

Henry II
Richard the Lion Hearted
John
Henry III (Son of John)

The amount of detail of the events in these person’s lives is kinda amazing given the distance into the past. Granted that some of the history is unreliable and the author does a good job of pointing out where the witnesses are either unreliable or known to be biased. There is not much philosophy to speak of but a number of interesting details. A long quotation from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes a variety of the torture methods in use at the time before Henry II to extract monies from the folks.

Henry II was probably the most competent of all these men. His sons seem to have inherited different qualities from the father and missed on some of the others. While Richard was quite the warrior king, his administration was spotty and his diplomacy shaky. John was not a particular warrior nor was he a talented diplomat but did a fair job of administration.

Of Henry II it was said: “With the King of England, it is school every day; there is always conversation with learned men and discussion of learned problems.” One of his main points of conflict with the Pope was the immunity of the clerics from the law. He once sent the Pope a list of over 100 clerics who had committed murder and simply been defrocked without further punishment.

Richards exploits in the Holy Land are the stuff of legend and well earned. His “Lion Hearted” tag was very well earned but the same sense of disregard for his personal safety was also his undoing and the direct cause of his death. That scene one sees in the old movies where the armies are all lined up and ready to fight where the 2 kings meet person-to-person and resolve things actually happened between Richard and Philip of France. They rode out alone into the space between their armies and had a long conversation (content unknown) and then disarmed, gave the “Kiss of Peace” and peace was made….temporary but a peace none-the-less.

John was the English King who was forced to sign the Magna Carta.

An interesting story, well told and well worth reading.

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