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Revolt of 1173-1174

The Revolt of 1173-1174 was a rebellion against Henry II of England by three of his sons, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and rebel supporters. It lasted 18 months and ended in the revolt's failure: Henry's rebellious family members had to resign themselves to his continuing rule and were reconciled to him.


Henry II, called England's greatest medieval king, ruled three territories comprising the largest kingdom in Europe: England, Normandy, and Anjou. Furthermore, his wife Eleanor was ruler of the vast territory of Aquitaine. In 1173 he had four legitimate sons nearing the age of manhood, from oldest to youngest: Henry, called the "Young King", Richard (later called "the Lionheart"), Geoffrey, and John, all of whom stood to inherit some or all of these possessions.

Henry 'the Young King' was 18 years old in 1173 and praised for his good looks and charm. He had just married the daughter of Louis VII. the king of France and Eleanor's ex-husband. Henry the Young King kept a large and glamorous retinue, but was constrained by his lack of resources: "...he had many knights but he had no means to give rewards and gifts to the knights". The young Henry was therefore anxious to take control of some of his ancestral inheritances to rule in his own right.

The immediate practical cause of the rebellion was Henry's decision to bequeath the territory of Anjou to his youngest son, John, as part of the arrangements for John's marriage to the daughter of the count of Maurienne . At this, Henry the Young King was encouraged to rebel by many aristocrats who saw potential profit and gain in a power transition. His mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had been feuding with her husband joined the cause as did many others upset by Henry's murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170, which had left Henry alienated throughout Christiandom.

Henry the Young King withdrew to the court of his father-in-law, Louis, in France in March 1173 and was soon followed by his brothers Richard and Geoffrey. Their mother, Eleanor, tried to join them but was stopped by Henry II on the way and held in captivity. The Young King and his French mentor created a wide alliance against Henry II by promising land and revenues in England and Anjou to the counts of Flanders, Boulogne, and Blois. William the Lion, king of the Scots, would have Northumberland. In effect, the Young King would seize his inheritance by breaking it apart.

The Revolt

Hostilities began in April 1173 when the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne invaded Normandy from the east, the king of France and young Henry from the south, while the Bretons attacked from the west. Each of the assaults ended with failure: the count of Boulogne was killed, Louis defeated and kicked out of Normandy and the Bretons routed with great loss of life and treasure. William the Lion's attacks in the north of England were also a failure. Negotiations were opened with the rebels in Normandy between father Henry II and son young Henry, but to no avail.

The earl of Leicester, a supporter of young Henry who had been in Normandy and chief of the aristocratic rebels, took up the charge next. He raised an army of Flemish mercenaries and crossed from Normandy back to England to join the other rebel barons there, principally Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. The Earl of Leicester was intercepted by the English forces returning from the north in Scotland, led by Richard de Lucy , and completely defeated. Henry II's barons supposedly said to him "It is a bad year for your enemies."

The rebellion was not over, and in the spring of 1174 fighting continued. The brother of William the Lion of Scotland, David, moved back south to attempt the conquest of northern England and took up the leadership of the rebel barons. The Earl Ferrers, a rebel baron, burned the royal burgh of Nottingham while likewise Hugh Bigod torched Norwich.

On July 8th, 1174, Henry II, who had been in Normandy fighting his enemies, landed in England. His first act was to do penance for the death of Thomas Becket, who, murdered by some of Henry's knights three years earlier, had already been canonized as a saint. The day following the ceremony at Canterbury, on July 13th, 1174, in a seeming act of divine providence for Henry II, William the Lion and many of his supporters were surprised and captured at Alnwick by loyalists. In the aftermath Henry II was able to sweep up the opposition, marching through each rebel stronghold to receive their surrenders. With England taken care of, Henry returned to Normandy and set about a settlement with his enemies and on September 30th "...King Henry, the king's son, and his brothers, returned to their father and to his service, as their lord".


The revolt lasted 18 months. It was played out across a large geographic area from southern Scotland to Brittany. Many castles and towns were destroyed and many killed. Blame was placed on young Henry's advisors, the rebel barons, who manipulated the inexperienced and rash princes for their own dreams of gain. William Marshal, who was loyal to young Henry during the revolt, said "Cursed be the day when the traitors schemed to embroil the father and the son".

Last updated: 08-17-2005 07:28:37