a) Who are the principal historians of the reign of Henry II ?
b) What are the main contemporary records for the reign of Henry II ? Evaluate the reliability of these sources.
---- ----
c) What problems did the administration of the Angevin Empire raise for Henry ? How did it affect his policies in England?
Caryl Dane ----
The task of personally ruling and of constantly travelling around his immense territories raised problems for Henry. As duke of Normandy (1150), count of Anjou (1151) and duke of Aquitaine (1152) and associated lordships, Henry's continental dominions were more vulnerable than his territory in England. Making substantial gains in expanding his territory and power by war and diplomacy, Henry overshadowed the king of France (and, married his ex-wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine). Louis VII, being his nominal overlord, was watchful for opportunities to reassert his authority and encourage Henry's enemies. Henry spent twenty-one of the thirty-four years of his reign on the continent, governing directly, consolidating his authority and defending his dominions.

How did it affect his policies in England?

Henry had to increasingly rely on representatives and the administrative institutions which diverged from the royal court; chamber, chancery and, especially, the exchequer. The king's frequent and prolonged absences left much authority in the hands of justiciars and chancellors. He appointed a network of trusted officials, as he needed them, to a variety of functions and with them and regularly-kept records kept in communication with his provincial government.

In a series of Assizes Henry unified and rationalised judicial procedure to ensure efficiency in his absence and English common law developed. 

He set up a permanent court which was in regular session in Westminster and a system of frequent circuits of royal justices, or eyres. 

He had his lawyers establish standardised writs that could be sued out of the royal chancery.There was an increased use of juries. A division of authority established between the sheriff, a jury of local men and the royal justices which was only effective when they were working in unity, allowed Henry to delegate and extend royal authority without endowing any one element with overall decisive power. 

Fines were introduced to supplant ordeal by battle.


  • H.R.Loyn, The Making of the English Nation,1991, Thames & Hudson.
  • W.L.Warren, Henry II, 1973, Eyre Methuen Ltd.
d) What problems did Henry inherit from his predecessor Stephen ? How did he solve them ?
---- Georgina Taylor
  Stephen's reign had been a dark chapter in English history. Stephen's main problem had been his inability to act against the errant barons. This inability led to the slow erosion of Stephen's authority, due to the increasing power of the barons. Stephen had failed to keep law and order and the barons took advantage of this by seizing property illegally. Stephen had also granted large amounts of English territory to the Scottish in return for an end to the attacks on the anglo-scot border. His relationship with the church also deteriorated, and led to the church having much judicial latitude at the cost of royal authority. Stephen also succumbed to an unfavourable treaty with Geoffrey of Anjou to end hostilities in Normandy.

The civil war had resulted in much of England being exposed to complete disorder, and people were struggling to survive. The was a higher degree of criminal activity and brigandage by mercenary troops. These were the circumstances which greeted Henry II when he became king. He had come to the throne amid the anarchy of Stephen's reign. One of the first steps Henry made as king was the deposition of all the Flemish mercenaries which Stephen had used during his later years. Although this meant a reduction of Henry's military strength, it was compensated by a rise in public opinion. Henry was moving himself into a position of dominance, slowly extending his control. Gervase of Canterbury believed Henry's immediate purpose was "to root out all the causes of warfare and to clear away all inducements to distrust."

During Stephen's reign, the English and Norman barons had undermined feudal authority. Henry dealt with this by instituting many reforms which would increase royal authority and at the same time decrease the power of the feudal laws which had been manipulated by the errant barons. Henry's most important policy had been the instruction that barons had to relinquish custody of castles which had belonged to the crown. This policy, although challenging, struck at the main problem which was baronial control of the provinces. Initiating the policy was very risky, as it was doubtful that Henry could enforce it due to his reduction in military strength. However, although there were some challenges (ie.William Le Gros, count of Aumale), his demonstration of determination meant the eventual submission of the barons, and the royal properties were restored. Henry had mastered the barons and this now allowed royal ministers to restore the royal demesne.

The Scots were an area which Henry had to deal with on his accession to the throne because Stephen had made important concessions to king David of Scotland in return for an end to frontier attacks. Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Northumberland had been passed under the control of the king of Scotland. Henry solved this problem by calling a meeting with king Malcolm of Scotland. Henry didn't want his kingdom to be divided and therefore told Malcolm he intended to retrieve the land. Malcolm realised Henry's greater argument and greater strength and therefore he acquiesced. In return Henry granted Malcolm the earldom of Huntingdon.

Wales was less of a success for Henry. He did manage to recover his hereditary rights in Wales, but the implications of the oaths which had been sworn by the welsh princes were a matter upon which differing views could be held. Later events with the Welsh leaders were to become problematic as they became increasingly defiant.

During Henry's reign, monetary payments replaced military service as the primary duty of vassals, the position of the exchequer was altered as Henry recognised the importance of the need to keep accurate records and tax collection. Henry replaced incompetent sheriffs with more reliable men and he expanded the authority of the royal courts. Henry's reforms allowed a body of common law to emerge, which replaced the treacherous feudal customs and county courts.

G.J.Taylor hiu417@bangor.ac.uk 

e) What importance should be attached to the development of the principle of hereditary tenure during the reign of Henry II ? (cf S.E. Thorne, Cambridge Law Journal 1959) .
---- ----
f) Summarise the major legal reforms carried out by Henry. Why were these changes necessary ? Pay special attention to the Possessory Assizes and the Grand Assize. What were they, and what procedure did they use ? What problems were raised by the Constitutions of Clarendon ?
Katie Mooney Sarah Hunter
Traditionally Henry II has been seen as the originator of the common law in England. The reforms he made during his reign have been seen to have given his predecessors more power across the whole country, as Henry was able to make sure that the kings justice was relatively the same across the country. M.T Clanchy put forward two major principles in the reforms of the English law, firstly in civil law, a tenants title could only be questioned in the court under the king's authority as he was overlord of all freemen and property. This gave the chance for any freeman to question the right of land ownership and try to prevent any unlawful taking of land. Secondly, in Criminal law, the king would have sole justistiction over everyone, including members of the church and serfs. This, in practice, gave the English kings ultimate authority over all members of his realm and the power to over see all cases that the royal justice system wanted. 

Henry was able to fulfil these principles through two outlets, the invention of assizes and the standifcation of juries across England. In the twelfth century the jury was much different form the form it follows today and consisted of a group of people fro a certain community who swore to tell the truth about something they knew or had investigated. Juries had developed in other countries in Europe, such as France, where the judge would personally hear each jurors opinion independently and make the final decision. This developed much differently in England as the judges wanted to do no more that declare law, therefore left the final decisions to be made among the jurors, creating a system much more diverted from that of its continental counter parts. Henry's second instrument was that of the assize. Assize were instructions to judges and sheriff of how the king believe law should be carried out. These at the time were not real laws as we see them today, later developing into parliamentary acts, but they allowed Henry to by-pass baronial consent, therefore speeding up the process he could make the changes. 

After looking at the general changes, one must discuss why these reforms happened and if they were actually reforms. Historians have given several different views of this,

  • 1) Henry wanted a quicker form of justice, either from his own widely known impatience or because of the need of profits of justice to help him defend his continental land.
  • 2) Henry needed a more efficient justice system to raise the amount of profits of justices for the reason described above.
  • 3) Henry had to gain control of the church and Barons which has caused problems in Stephen's reign and regain control of the country.- seems unlikely because may of the changes happened well into Henry's reign and for his first years he still use the same methods as Stephen.
  • 4) (view of M.T Clanchy) He did no more than write down what he believed were the laws of his grandfather, Henry I, and just used the assizes to establish it nationally.
It does seem that there was no conscience pattern of reform, as Henry did what was needed when it was needed, as he did not drastically change the law, just created a way they became more standadized and efficient across England. 

Henry was able to develop the civil law by use of the Grand assize and Petty Assizes. The Grand assize offered a jury of twelve knights in alternative to the trial by battle. These dealt with the most important civil cases concerning ownership, usually those of Henry's tenants-in-chief or the church, giving an effective and quicker way to deal with the problems that the traditional processes of civil law. 

The Petty assizes dealt with the possession of land and were open to all freemen covered by the following assizes,

  • 1) Novel Disseisin- this dealt with the unlawful seizure of property or disseisin. Through this assize cases became much quicker as Henry levied fines upon those who delayed the cases. It purpose was to decide whether aN unlawful action had taken place, relying upon the jury for the final decision. This was quite limited because it only looked at who lived on the land, not who had the rightful entitlement to the land disputed.
  • 2) Mort d' ancestor (1176)- This built upon the problems of the Novel Disseisin and looked at the right of inheritance. The jurors had to decide whether the heir was the actual legal heir and that his father had the right to the land.
  • 3) Assize of Darrien Presentment(1179-80)- This assize was concerned with whom should have the right to place a priest in a vacant tenancy by looking who last chose the previous person their.
  • 4) Assize of Utrum _- This gave the jury the right to decide if a matter of clerical dispute should be tried with the royal or clerical courts. 
Both 4 and 3 can be seen as Henry trying to make sure that the church did not by pass his laws and given protection within the clerical courts.

Finally when looking at criminal law, one must examine the Assize of Clarendon. In general Henry made the criminal law much more harsher and efficient, as he saw there was not enough criminals being caught or convicted. The Assize of Clarendon tried to tackle this by giving the sheriff, and later the judges, the right to over-rule the Barons to capture suspected criminals who lived upon or hid within the baron's area. This was seen to be Henry undermining the authority of the barons, as this action brought them all under his rule and they could not harbour criminal wanted by the royal courts. Also jurors of an area were expected to accuse those know criminal who had to been caught to be brought up to trial, and created a greater chance of those who were convicted to be sent into exile. Henry tried to bring everyone under his authority by professing in Clarendon that all those accused of serious crimes, such as murder, where to be brought to the royal courts, even if they were members of the church. This caused many problems with the church, especially and most importantly with archbishop Becket, as he took away the sanctuary the clerical court gave and made criminal pay the full penalty he wanted to establish his own authority across the country.

-- ------------

K.D.Mooney hiu45d@bangor.ac.uk

The Legal reforms of Henry II can not be underestimated, they used the common law to rapidly expand and also provided his predecessors with greater power across the whole country.

To give counsel and implement his policies Henry surrounded himself with intelligent and experienced officials. The exchequer grew ever more efficient in the collection of revenues and kept a close watch over the accounting of sheriffs. The independent powers of the sheriffs diminished, and their judicial authority was curtailed with the visitations of itinerant justices.

The major reforms of Henry however, were his Grand Assize and later his Possessory Assizes which popularised trial by jury for civil cases. Previously disputes usually concerning land ownership would be settled by a battle if a compromise could not be reached. The Grand Assize allowed the defendent (the tenant of the land in question) at a price to have the case decided by a jury of twelve knights who were summoned by the sheriff. This provided a much more rational way of settling disputes. However, it often took the jury a long time to reach a verdict. In response to this Henry created three Possessory Assizes to provide speedier remidies to the problems surrounding land ownership, these included:-

  • Novel disseisin- This was concerned with the unlawful seizure of property (disseisin). A jury would be asked the following question, has the plaintiff been disseised unjustly and without judgement within the period covered by the assize?
  • Mort d' Ancestor- This was an extension of the novel disseisin paying particular attention to the problem of inheritance. In this case the jury was asked to decide whether the heir was the actual legal heir and that his father had the right to the land.
  • Darrien Presentment- Lords of villages had the right to place a priest in a vacant tenancy. some villages however, had two lords and it often became very confusing as to whose turn it was to choose a priest. The Darrien Presentment simply worked out who last selected the priest.
If you had a grievance related to any of the above assizes you would have to go to the chancery and get the appropriate writ, for example a writ of Mort d' Ancestor. Thereupon you would pay for it and take it back to the sheriff of your area. The case was then heard by a jury consisting of twelve local people whose job was to tell the truth about something they knew or had investigated. This is very different to modern day juries who base their verdict around the evidence presented to them in the court room. If the jury passed a judgement in your favour but the losing party continued to hold the land in question then the whole weight of royal force would back you up.

Why then were these legal reforms necessary? When Henry became king of England he was also in possession of an extensive area in France which was coming under serious threat by the king of France. Henry needed to profit from justice in order for him to defend this land.

A more effective legal system and overall growth in the common law would also allow Henry to spend more time abroad knowing that England was capable of running itself effectively.

After the anarchy that occured in Stephen's reign it was also important for Henry to secure quicker justice si that better order could be maintained in the land and to allow him to exert his authority over the church and Barons.

His exertion of authority over the church can be seen through the Assize of Clarendon which was concerned with criminal law. It demanded that twelve lawful men of every one hundred and four lawful men of every village should declare on oath if any in their village had been accused or suspected of being a robber, murderer, brigand or receivers of such since Henry became king. This resulted in threatening clerical immunity, the church could no longer protect clerks found guilty of the crimes in question and it meant that they were now subject to ordinary secular punishment. It took away the sanctuary the clerical court gave and made criminals pay the full penalty.

 -- ------------

 S.R.Hunter hiu405@bangor.ac.uk

g) What changes did Henry make in the fiscal government of England ? What were the principal sources of revenue available to the king ? What changes were made in the collection of taxes ? What is the significance of the Saladin Tithe ? Why did Henry II rely so heavily on mercenary soldiers and how did he pay for them?
Abigail Bryant Jacquie Littler
Henry did not initially make any revolutionary changes in governmental policies. It was a slow process of reorganization and application of similar means and principles to that of his grandfather that enabled Henry II to re-establish a smooth running profitable and viable system of government.

Britain was a unique part of Henry's empire as it already had constructs of governmental and judicial systems in place. They were, however, failing slightly due to the neglect and bad management of his predecessors. In the early years of his reign the king took steps to standardize coinage with the view to maximizing the financial yield that taxation could bring. The functions of The Exchequer were revived and it's power over men like the Sheriffs were tightened as part of Henry's plan to extract the most profit from his subjects.

What were the principle sources of revenue available to the king?

The contemporary and independent observer, Gerald of Wales observed that it was "the income from proffers, penalties and taxes which kept Henry II solvent....they took care to augment their revenue from rents by casual income and relied more on subsidiary that basic sources of profit." (Henry II, Warren Pg 273)

Henry was always in need of more money. At the start of his reign Henry himself re-endowed the monarchy with money from the revenues of Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine, with the added bonus of Stephen's lordships in 1159. The desperate requirement for money was highlighted as the government were forced to take such measures as to revive ancient taxes like the Danegeld. This tax was based on very old system of assessment and which was subject to many exemptions, but it was resurrected in the 2nd and 8th years of his reign to raise money. There was immediate money to be accrued in the form if fines or rents. For example, any errors on the valuation of Sheriffs 'farms' os manors were rectified as they became known and an 'increment' was charged. It was very important that Henry regained any royal land that had been lost by encroachment (purprestures) and those lands which should have reverted back to the king because of the death of the rightful heir. All of this required systematic and vigilant enquires throughout out the land and to achieve this the king would require a capable and efficient department within his government. This was the job of the newly re-conditioned Exchequer, which was in turn part of the authority which was to become the kings biggest power.

What changes were made to the collection of taxes?

The Exchequer now had tighter control over the Sheriffs. It enforced their duty to collect the royal revenue and services. It was the sheriff who handled the writs and the juries, they had to guard prisoners and prepare for the visits from the Itinerant Justices, and it was the constant circulation of these royal agents which kept the sheriff under their supervision. The Sheriffs were operating within a system which required a great deal more of them than it had done in pervious years, it was necessary for each Sheriff to meet the Exchequer twice a year and all proceedings and correspondence were now being recorded in duplicate. Another very important source of revenue to the Crown was the justice system. Any freeman could now have the right to call an inquest, for a small fee to the crown. This sale of access to justice was a source of great profit.


 A.H.N.Bryant hiu68a@bangor.ac.uk

  • In the fourth year of his reign, Henry attempted to make a major reform of the coinage. The debasement of coinage was a perennial problem during the Middle Ages and there had been two ways to counter this; a fairly frequent recoinage and the required payment of certain fixed taxes with blanched money. During the reign of Stephen control over coinage had lapsed and Henry tried to rectify this situation. Instead of the old methods he tried to flush old money out of circulation and implemented a standard pattern. This reform improved the revenue from taxes and rents and probably helped trade as well. 
  • The towns provided Henry with the new tax 'tallage' which had descended out of the old 'aids' and 'gifts'. 
  • Henry revived the Danegeld in the early years of his reign (a sign of how desperately the crown needed money) as this was an ancient form of taxation. 
  • One of the major reforms to taxation was the implementation of the 'Saladin Tithe' this tax was widely hated by all but provided Henry with large sums of money.
What were the principal forms of revenue available to Henry?

Many of the new reforms provided Henry with stable and vital forms of money, especially the Saladin Tithe and the Danegeld but ancient forms of taxation provided Henry with, if modest, sums of money. For instance he halted the appointment of Bishops in vacant diocese as a way of directing their income directly to himself, this greatly agitated the clergy especially those of St Albans when he claimed his jurisdiction over the vacant church of Luton. Henry gained money specifically from the knights in the form of scutage, a duty which the knights had to pay to Henry on a yearly basis. Feudal tenures also provided the crown with revenue in the forms of ancient rights that the king had as overlord;

  • Wardship 
  • Marriage
  • knighting his eldest son 
  • His eldest daughter getting married 
  • Ransoming his body 
  • Gracious aid.
It was the Sheriffs who collected these taxes for Henry and they were known as the Royal Debt collectors. Some of the ineffective Sheriffs were later replaced with more effective men to collect the revenues.

Significance of the Saladin Tithe.

This tax was agree upon by Louis VII and Henry as means of gaining funds for a Crusade in the Holy Land, therefore this tax was legitimate in the eyes of the church. It wasn't until 1188 that this levy was implemented in England. What makes the Saladin Tithe so significant was that it was a ten percent levy on all moveable goods which everyone had to pay. Previous to this taxes were only paid by the barons and gentry but now everybody had to pay their share for the Crusade to go ahead. this resulted in this tax being hated and detested by all. It was so hated that Louis VII actually apologised to the people of France for even suggesting that such a tax take place, there was no such respite for the Anglo-Normans.

The mercenaries was one of the first things that Henry dispensed with on becoming king, Stephen had relied heavily on the Flemish mercenaries but Henry disposed of them s he couldn't afford them despite the fact that this lowered his military power greatly yet at the same time earned him popularity from the disgruntled Barons. Henry was, however, to later rely on these hired men. There was nothing new in this but what Henry did was to refashion the army. He made the mercenaries the mainstay of the army and specially trained and equipped the mercenaries for siege attack. These mercenaries were heavily relied on due to the specific way that they had been trained and fought, and they curbed the power of the Barons as Henry, if he used mainly mercenaries, wouldn't owe too much to the Barons in return for their services. The knights were affected by this as despite the mercenaries being cheaper than the mounted knight the knight would fight for the king for free as Scutage, Henry just valued them more as they represented the way that fighting was heading at this time. Henry's treasurer wrote, 'That the power of the ruler rises and falls as their available wealth ebbs and flows; those who lack it are prey to their enemies, and those who have it prey upon them.'

h) What were the major offices in local government in the reign of Henry II ? What kinds of people filled these offices and what duties did Henry expect of them ?
---- ----
I) How was local government organised in relation to the officers identified in question (h) ? What was the significance of (a) the shire (b) the hundred (c) the vill ?
---- ----
j) Why did Henry come into conflict with the Church ? What principles were are stake in the controversy with Beckett ?
Zoe Adams ----
In the 12th century there were a lot of men who were counted as being the clergy although they had no religious vocation and conducted their lives sometimes quite disreputably. Henry believed that Becket would use his influence to persuade the bishops and clergy to accept some curtailment of clerical immunity.

 Complaints reached the king's ear in the 1160's

-a rural dean had blackmailed a burgess of Scarborough

-Philip de Broy, canon of St. Paul's Church, Bedford, had publicly insulted a royal justice.

Henry pressed the subject of criminal clergymen at a Westminster Council in October 163. He asked the bishops to agree that clerks convicted of crimes in Church courts and then degraded should be handed over to royal officers to be punished as laymen. Becket persuaded his colleagues to refuse. The King then asked if they would agree to abide by the ancient customs of the realm. Becket refused and the other bishops assented. This meant that there was a breach between the king and Becket.

Pope Alexander III urged Becket to compromise. Becket eventually agreed to observe the ancient customs, but the king was not satisfied. At the Council of Clarendon in January 1164, 16 ancient customs concerned with relations between the church and state were named. One aspect of these was that if the clergy was accused o criminal offences they had to go to a royal justice before their trial in an ecclesiastical court. If they were convicted, they no longer had the protection of the church an could be treated like laymen. Becket opposed this and then suddenly gave way. In the autumn of 1164 the Pope declared 10 of these points invalid. Becket recanted his acceptation and then fled to France.

Following this there was 6 years of stalemate. The Pope supported Becket but Becket had lost the support of the bishops in England. In 1170, Henry decided that he wanted to crown his son in his lifetime. This made Becket furious and he wanted the Pope to intervene. Henry arranged a meeting for July 22nd and Becket returned to England on 1st December. He was preceded by his letters obtained from the Pope in which he pronounced against the bishops who had been present at the coronation of Henry's son. Becket's arrival was given a hostile reception by those in authority. On Christmas Day, he pronounced the excommunication of his enemies from the pulpit. As a result, 4 knights decided to kill him. Becket was murdered on 29th December. The Constitution of Clarendon was withdrawn. 

-- ------------

Z.K.Adams hiu45a@bangor.ac.uk 


Using the relevant volume of ENGLISH HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS find, read and annotate the following documents:

JSI /20/10/99

School of History and Welsh History - University of Wales Bangor