Royal power in the reign of Henry II

Royal power in the reign of Henry II

Establishment of the Angevin Empire

  • Henry II ascended to the throne in 1154 and quickly established a vast empire known as the Angevin Empire, which spanned England, parts of Wales, and a large part of France.
  • To control his empire, Henry II designed an effective administrative system and a strong legal framework.

Administrative Measures

  • Henry II revived and enhanced the royal justice system, allowing royal courts to manage disputes rather than local lords.
  • He strengthened “scutage” (shield money), asking nobles for financial payments instead of military service.
  • Henry II sent royal officials or justices to every part of his kingdom each year to adjudicate local disputes, hear lawsuits and collect revenues.
  • The above practice helped Henry monitor the local governance better and maintain close supervision over his vast kingdom, making him a highly efficient ruler.

Legal Reforms

  • Henry II significantly reformed England’s legal system, introducing Common Law, which applied uniformly across the kingdom.
  • He expanded the use of juries in trials, which was a significant change from the usual feudal practice of trial by combat or ordeal.
  • His creation of the Court of Common Pleas, the Exchequer court, and the King’s Bench demonstrated his exceptional administrative capabilities.
  • The “Assizes of Clarendon” (1166) and “Assizes of Northampton” (1176) were primary ordinances passed during Henry’s reign for maintaining law and order.

Conflicts with the Church

  • Henry II’s reign was marked by continuous conflict with the Church, primarily due to his attempts to increase royal control over the clergy.
  • The infamous Becket Controversy, stemming from the appointment of his friend Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, began when Becket started defending the Church’s rights and privileges.
  • The controversy escalated and resulted in Becket’s murder by Henry’s followers, causing public uproar and tarnishing Henry’s image significantly.

Relations with the Nobility

  • Henry II implemented the “Inquest of Sheriffs” (1170), which investigated corrupt sheriffs and established his direct influence on local administration.
  • His efforts to establish royal authority sometimes led to conflict with the nobility, culminating in major revolts like the “Great Revolt” (1173–1174).
  • Despite these conflicts, Henry II managed to keep the nobility in check and ensured the stability and prosperity of his kingdom during his reign.

In sum, Henry II’s reign was characterised by his endeavours to centralise royal power by reforming administrative and legal frameworks, even as he faced considerable challenges from the Church and nobility. His reign left an indelible influence on England’s government and law.