A History of Great Britain by Robert Balmain Mowat - CHAPTER VII - England under the Angevins

August 24 2018

CHAPTER VII - England under the Angevins

Under Henry II., the Anglo-Saxons and Normans have become one people.

He is reigning over a enormous kingdom and is witnessing a change in ecclesiastic rule, as well as the law. The Cistercian Order has established itself, with its emphasis on suffering and self-sufficiency and Henry is tackling the outdated legal system to make it a lot of Norman.

Prior to Henry II., both criminal and civil cases were heard by hundreds of shire-men and decided by ordeal (Ordeal by Fire - to hold a hot iron or Ordeal by Water - to be dunked in a pond) or combat.

Henry does not outright abolish those trial options but offers an attractive alternative. Cases could now be heard in front of 12 ‘lawful’ knights which would investigate the case, or the case could be given to a 100-court, in which the ultimate decision lies with a King’s sheriff.

Clergy too, would now be prosecutable even before a civil court. Beforehand, even a murder would get a monk - at worst - a downgrading to a layman.

The latter policy is not a popular one. The most stout opponent is Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. He refuses to consent to the change and England is soon divided into Church versus State. Becket is eventually exiled.

By 1170 the Pope is threatening to excommunicate the whole of Britain and Henry II. relents at last. Becket returns to England.

Instead of letting the matter rest, Becket quickly excommunicated some of the King’s supporters and, enraged, Henry has Becket killed.

Henry II. is succeeded by his son, Richard I., also known as ‘Lionheart’.

Richard’s name derives from his daring mission to take back the Holy Land from the Saracens. To do so, he joins Italy, Germany and France as the Holy Roman Empire and they set off in 1191.

Alas, they fail - Saladin, the Saracen King, is better equipped and provisioned.

Richard does manage a treaty however; Christian pilgrims will now be given safe passage.

On the journey home, Richard is taken on authority of Henry VI. and held in Austria.

It takes three years to gather his vast ransom sum of £100.000.

Richard dies via crossbow, after he refuses to share his gold with the Viscount of Limoges.

Richard I. is succeeded, in 1199, by his brother John.

Infamously, John has lost Normandy and Poitou in 1204, weakening the already fragile Angevin dynasty.

He is also unpopular (largely considered cruel) and unskilled in church dealings. John has rejected the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, despite the latter being appointed by Pope Innocent III. Consequently, John is excommunicated in 1209.

While he is not too worried initially, the pressure on him is mounting to reconcile with the papacy. The main concern is the relationship Phillip of France has with the pope - could he invade England on behalf of Rome?

In 1213, John has to submit to the terms on Innocent III. and England becomes a fief of the papacy.

Two years later, John famously grants the ‘Magna Carta Libertatum’, the basis for English law through baronial protection. The Magna Carta makes the English freer; even villeins now have the right to retain their livelihood (horses and carts, tools etc.) if they are expelled from service.

It also grants the right to arms against the king, should he break his oaths, to the barons.

This will become a crucial point.

In the summer of 1215, the barons declare war on their king. John had refused to honour the right of English landowners and most of those are barons.

The English barons ally themselves with a potential successor to the French throne, Louis.

They attacked unopposed and gained land quickly. John retreated to reorganise his answer to these rebels. Much back and force attacking commenced, this castle and that was taken and released but meanwhile, John has contracted dysentery.

After struggling on with his campaign, he eventually makes it to Newark Castle and can go no further.

He dies in October 1219.