Saturday 31 December 2022

King of the North Wind

Finished December 28
King of the North Wind: The Life of Henry II in Five Acts by Claudia Gold

This biography shows in-depth research and flows well. It is set out chronologically, and as the subtitle indicates in five sections: The Bargain, Triumph, Pariah, Rebellion, and Nemesis. The book starts with a number of maps: one of the crusader states circa 1150, Britain and Ireland circa 1150, France circa 1150, Henry II's empire circa 1170, and a map showing the Great Revolt of 1173-74. This is followed by family trees: the English succession; the issue of Henry II, the Capetian family; the relationship between Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the relationship between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. These last two are important because of Eleanor's marriages to the two kings and the reason of consanguinity that was used for the annulment of her marriage to Louis. 
This is follows by a list of the people who appear in the biography, which can be helpful as there are rather a lot of them. There are two sections of plates in the book and a timeline at the end of the narrative. There is also an extensive bibliography. 
In the early years, Henry vied against his uncle Stephen for the throne, and was supported heavily by his mother Matilda. Henry was educated for kingship and power, but he had to fight for it. He started great reforms in England that continued after his death as set the rule of law that exists today. He was a patron of the arts and encouraged cultural achievements. But there were dark sides to his reign such as the murder of Thomas Becket, a deed that took Henry a decade and much diplomacy to recover from. He also failed to educate his sons in the same way that he himself had been educated and thus they were ill-prepared for ruling. His mistrust of their skill also influenced this and led to a series of rebellions from his own children, many supported by his rival in France. His reign ended with his worst and saddest years, when he lost the support of all his legitimate sons, and found himself kneeling to the king of France as overlord for some of his lands. 
As the book states, this is a tragic life, but one full of ups and downs. A life of a man who was intelligent, educated, and savvy, but perhaps too confident in the end. A fascinating read.

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