The obituary of King Henry II of England

From the History of William of Newburgh (1136 – 1198)

Book III, chapter 26:

"Of a truth this king (as is well known) was endowed with many virtues that adorn the person of a king, and yet he was addicted to certain vices especially unbecoming a Christian prince. He was prone to concupiscence, and exceeded the conjugal limit, maintaining in this the practice of his ancestors; yet to his grandfather he yielded the palm in intemperance of this kind. He lived with the queen a sufficient time to raise a progeny; but when she ceased to conceive, he fell into voluptuousness, and had illegitimate offspring. He delighted in the enjoyment of hunting, as much as his grandfather did, and more than was right, yet he was more mild than his grandfather in punishing transgressors of the forest laws; for his grandfather, as it has been said in its place, observed but little or no distinction between the public punishments of those who slew men, and those who killed beasts of venery; but king Henry checked transgressors of this kind by imprisonment, or by temporary exile. He encouraged, more than was right, a nation perfidious and hostile to Christians, that is to say, the Jews, on account of the great advantages which he received from their usuries: and to such a degree that they were insolent and stiff-necked towards Christians, and imposed many burdens upon them. He was somewhat immoderate in seeking after money; but the excessive wickedness of the period was a justification for him in this respect, and was a proof that a decent limit had been observed by him; with this exception, that he allowed vacant bishoprics to remain void a long time, that he might receive the emoluments which thence accrued, and he sent to his treasury the profits, which should rather have been applied to ecclesiastical purposes. Yet he endeavored (it is said) to defend this course, by an excuse that was not very regal. "Is it not better that these sums of money should be expended in affairs that are needful to the realm, rather than consumed in the pleasures of bishops? For the prelates of our time do very little violence to themselves according to the ancient form, but, being remiss and lax in their duty, they embrace the world in their arms." Saying this, though he branded a mark of infamy upon our prelates, yet the defense he set up for himself was void of all show of reason. Certainly he deeply failed in his duty to the church of Lincoln, which is known to have been kept vacant for a long time, on account of its ample revenues; yet, in order to expiate this offence, he made it his study, some years before his death, to provide for that church the care of a religious pastor.

By queen Eleanor he had sons most renowned; but, as the preceding narrative has shown, he was a most unhappy father in having these most illustrious children. This is believed to have happened by the judgment of God from a twofold cause. For the same queen had formerly been united to the king of France; and when she was tired of that marriage, she aspired to a union with him, and sought causes for a divorce; when she was released by law from her first husband, in defiance of the church, by a certain lawless license, if I may say so, he soon after united her to himself in marriage — whence it came to pass, the Almighty secretly balancing all things — that from her he begat a noble offspring to his own destruction. He loved his sons with such extreme tenderness, that he is known to have done injury to many persons by his desire to promote their interests beyond what was right; and, therefore, he was justly punished by their wicked rebellion, and by the premature death of some of them. Yet it is manifest that all this happened by the beautiful ordinance of Him who watches from above.

Moreover, because, as I believe, he had not sufficiently bewailed the rigor of that unfortunate obstinacy which he had entertained towards the venerable archbishop Thomas, therefore, I think, the end of that great prince was thus miserable; and as the Lord, with holy severity, did not spare him in this world, it is our duty to believe that He will show mercy to him in another life; for in his high position in the realm he was most studious in watching over and in cherishing public tranquillity; he was a most fitting minister of God in bearing the sword for the punishment of evil-doers, and in guarding the quiet of good men; and as he was an especial defender and preserver of the property and liberties of the church, as clearly appeared after his death. In his laws he displayed great care for orphans, widows, and the poor; and in many places he bestowed noble alms with an open hand. He especially honored religious men; and commanded that their property should be protected by law, with as much equity as his own demesne lands. At the very commencement of his reign, with eminent piety, he corrected the ancient and inhuman custom with regard to the shipwrecked, and ordained that the duties of humanity should he shown to men who were rescued from the perils of the sea; and he enjoined that heavy punishment should be inflicted upon those who ventured to molest them in any respect, or who presumed to plunder any of their goods. He never imposed any heavy tax on the realm of England, or on his possessions beyond the sea, until that last tax of a tenth for the purpose of an expedition to Jerusalem, and yet this tax of a tenth was equally imposed in other countries. He never laid tribute on churches or monasteries, as other princes did, under pretence of necessity of any kind; and with religious care he even secured their immunity from unjust burdens and public exactions.

Regarding with horror the shedding of blood and the death of man, he made it his study to seek for peace: with arms, indeed, when he could not do otherwise, but more willingly with money, whenever he was able. With these and other good qualities adorning his royal station, he was nevertheless not acceptable to many who had eyes only for his bad qualities. Men who were ungrateful, and treacherous as a deceitful bow, carped without ceasing at the failings of their prince, and would not endure to listen to his good qualities; to such as these, the vexations of the subsequent time could alone give understanding, since the experience of present evils has brought back the remembrance of his good times; and though in his own days he was unpopular with almost all men, yet it now becomes clear that he was an eminent and valuable prince. Solomon, also, that pacific king who raised the people of Israel to the greatest height of honor, and to superlative wealth, yet gave but little satisfaction to his subjects, as those words sufficiently intimate, which were addressed to his son. "Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore case thou somewhat of the grievous servitude of thy father, and we will serve thee" [2 Chron. 10:4]. Moreover, the same son replied to the people who complained, threatening them with childish levity thus, "My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins: for whereas my father did put a heavy yoke upon you, I will put more to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions" [2 Chron.10:10, 11]. This, I remark, was said by him through levity; but in sober truth it applies to our times, and fits most suitably to the period in which we live; though the foolish people are now chastised with scorpions and make less complaint than they did some years ago when they were chastised with whips.

Henry the second, the illustrious king of England, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and count of Anjou, died in the thirty-fifth year of his reign, in the second year from the time he assumed the cross of the Lord, and when two years had passed of the Christian warfare in the East."


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