Henry II of England (December 1127 - 18 March 1181) known as "the Liberal" was Count of Champagne from 1152 to 1181 and King of England from 1159 to 1181. He was the eldest son of Count Theobald II of Champagne (who was also Count Theobald IV of Blois) and his wife, Matilda of Carinthia.

Early Life and Career

Henry took part in the Second Crusade in the late 1140s, bearing a letter of recommendation from the great advocate of monasteries, Bernard of Clairvaux. He was involved in the planning of the disastrous attack on Damascus, which was a bit of a low point.

On his father's death, Henry chose to take Champagne, leaving the family's older holdings (including Blois and Chartres) to his younger brothers. At the time this may have been surprising, for the other territories were richer and better developed. Henry must have foreseen the economic possibilities of Champagne, and it is during his rule that the county achieved its high place as one of the richest and strongest of the French principalities.

Henry established orderly rule over the nobles of Champagne, and could fairly reliably count on the aid of some 2,000 vassals, which just by itself made him a power few in France could equal. This order in turn made Champagne a safe place for merchants to gather, and under the count's protection the Champagne Fairs became a central part of long-distance trade and finance in medieval Europe. He followed these free-market policies during his reign as King.

King of England

When Stephen of Blois, his uncle, died, Henry became Regent for his underage son, William III of England. Apart from a brief spell in 1158 - 1159, when William ruled alone, Henry was in charge of England from 1154 to his death in 1181. Until 1165, he primarily occupied with renovating the legal system to a more effective and responsible body (though only nobles had any real political power) and settling property disputes between landowners dispossessed or otherwise harmed by the Anarchy, a long and bitter civil war that had ended recently.

Invasion by the Count of Anjou

This showed signs of flaring up again in 1164, when the last legitimate descendant of Henry I, William Fitzempress, who was the Count of Anjou, landed in Bristol with a small army and attempted to rouse his bastard cousins, including the Earls of Cornwall and Gloucester, to rebellion. A previous attempt in 1158 by his elder brother, Geoffrey, had failed, and it seems that by now most people of consequence were fed up of war. Just to be on the safe side, Henry II executed any possible rival he could find, for which he is criticised moderately.

War in Wales

In the late 1160s and most of the 1170s, Henry campaigned against the Welsh principalities in the summer and dealt with his kingly duties in the winter. Until 1170 his main opponent was the formidable Owain Gwynedd but after his death the North of Wales collapsed into anarchy, leaving the way open for Henry to seize Anglesey, the Granary of Wales'. Thus, by 1178 the last Welsh redoubts were Snowdonia and parts of Cantref Mawr in the south. The Welsh statelets never recovered and the last gave up the ghost in 1193.

Pilgrimage and Death

In 1179, despairing of utter victory in Wales and bored of baronial arguments, Henry II went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, following in an old English tradition for rulers to take time out in foreign parts. While he was gone, his eldest son, Henry III of England ruled in his stead. He also had a younger son, Theobald I, who succeeded his brother. On the way back through Asia Minor, Henry II was captured by the Seljuk Kilij Arslan II and forced to pay an enormous ransom. After calling in debts and milking the treasury dry, it was paid in 1181 but Henry died of natural causes before he got home. This caused a lot of frustration in Court circles. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Henry III.

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