On this day in 1154 Henry II became King of England.
Henry II ruled as Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Nantes, King of England (1154–89) and Lord of Ireland; at various times, he also controlled Wales, Scotland and Brittany.
Henry was the son of Geoffrey of Anjou and Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England. He became actively involved by the age of 14 in his mother’s efforts to claim the throne of England, then occupied by Stephen of Blois, and was made Duke of Normandy at 17.
He inherited Anjou in 1151 and shortly afterwards married Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose marriage to Louis VII of France had recently been annulled. Stephen agreed to a peace treaty after Henry’s military expedition to England in 1153: Henry inherited the kingdom on Stephen’s death a year later.
Henry was an energetic and sometimes ruthless ruler, driven by a desire to restore the lands and privileges of his royal grandfather, Henry I. During the early years of the younger Henry’s reign he restored the royal administration in England, re-established hegemony over Wales and gained full control over his lands in Anjou, Maine and Touraine.
Henry’s desire to reform the relationship with the Church led to conflict with his former friend Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This controversy lasted for much of the 1160s and resulted in Becket’s death in 1170. Henry soon came into conflict with Louis VII and the two rulers fought what has been termed a “cold war” over several decades.
Henry expanded his empire, often at Louis’ expense, taking Brittany and pushing east into central France and south into Toulouse; despite numerous peace conferences and treaties no lasting agreement was reached. By 1172, he controlled England, large parts of Wales, the eastern half of Ireland and the western half of France, an area that would later come to be called the Angevin Empire.