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Henry II (1133-89) was King of England from 1154, and the first of the Plantagenet line.

In 1152 the marriage of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine was annulled. Eleanor married Henry of Anjou, adding Aquitaine to the regions of Anjou and Normandy that Henry already ruled.

The way to the throne was not an easy one for Henry II of England. His mother, Matilda, was the daughter of Henry I, who wanted her to be the next ruler of England. But the throne was seized by her cousin Stephen and civil war broke out. Matilda was the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V. She next married Count Geoffrey of Anjou, in France. In 1153 Henry invaded England and forced Stephen to make him heir to the throne. In 1154 Henry of Anjou became King Henry II (to 1189); he also ruled more than half of France.

An energetic and capable ruler, Henry controlled nearly half of France but based his empire in England. He soon restored order after the anarchy of Stephen's reign, creating an efficient civil service and introducing many legal reforms, heralding the effective beginning of common law. He chose capable people for his ministers. His struggle to bring the Church under royal control culminated in the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170.

Henry II had appointed his close friend, Thomas Becket, as Archbishop of Canterbury, expecting him to turn a blind eye to royal interference in Church affairs. As the king's chief minister, Becket had led a life of pomp and power. But when Henry made him archbishop of Canterbury, Becket changed his ways. He adopted a frugal lifestyle, became a staunch defender of the Church and resisted Henry's proposed reforms. When he excommunicated several royal servants Henry is reported to have bellowed angrily 'Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?' Four knights mistakenly took these words as an order to execute the archbishop, and murdered him near the altar of Canterbury Cathedral. Henry deeply regretted his erstwhile companion's death and even had himself flogged; Becket was made a Catholic martyr and saint. However, Henry's penance for this crime made little difference to him. He forced the king of the Scots to do homage to him, invaded Ireland and subdued the Welsh.

In 1155 Pope Adrian IV granted Henry II the right to rule Ireland in the early 12th century was made up of more than 100 small kingdoms that often fought each other. The five largest kingdoms were Ulster, Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Meath. One of their kings usually held the title of Ard Ri (high king). The last really strong high king was Turlough O'Connor, King of Connaught. After he died, his son Rory made himself high king. But the King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, also wanted the title. Dermot asked for help from the Normans. Eventually Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, known as 'Strongbow', agreed to back him in return for marrying Dermot's daughter, Aoife, and inheriting Leinster. As King of Leinster, Strongbow, and other Normans, seized Irish lands for themselves. This alarmed the king of England, Henry II, who in 1171 broke the power of Strongbow and annexed Ireland, declaring himself overlord.

In 1159 Henry II demanded scutage (payment in cash) instead of military service.

Henry II's later years were dogged by vicious family arguments as his sons, including Richard I and John, squabbled over their inheritance. In 1173 all three of his sons rebelled supported by their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

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