Henry II: A Prince Among Princes

Written by Richard Barber
Review by Tracey Warr

Henry II ruled from 1154 to 1189, and there was a long stretch of peace in England during his reign. This miniature biography in the Penguin Monarchs series packs a genealogy, map, colour images, index and brief further reading suggestions into its small format. It draws on medieval sources such as Walter Map and Gerald of Wales to describe Henry as a generous, intelligent and energetic man, who introduced effective administration of law and finances to England. Henry demonstrated genuine concern for the good of his realm and his people. Richard Barber evokes the King’s magnanimity, his abilities, the extent of his domains across the British Isles and France, and gives a detailed treatment of Henry’s ill-fated dispute with Thomas Becket. Barber shows the light and dark of Henry’s character and reign. He could also be an ornery, provocative man, subject to uncontrollable rages. The King’s petty, vengeful behaviour led to the collapse of his treasured plan to leave the empire to a federation of his sons, who instead became disaffected and disloyal to their father. A solid introduction to this fascinating monarch.