The death of King Henry I in 1135 put Henry II on the path to the throne of England. Henry II lavish youth kept him sheltered from society only allowing him to have a couple friends. One of his life long friends soon became a burden because of differences in opinions about religion. Henry's intelligence and persistency from birth led him to be crowned King of England.
The appointment of Thomas Becket to Archbishop by Henry II started the trend of conflict between the two over the separation of church and state. Henry II, the first of the Plant agents was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet and Matilda, daughter of Henry I. In 1152 Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the ex-wife of Louis VII of France. With this marriage, Henry gained considerable amounts of land in France. In 1153 Henry returned to England after his stay in France and forced Stephens to name him the heir of the throne. Henry immediately appointed his long-term friend Thomas Becket, English Chancellor, to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket accepted the job of Archbishop in 1162 but he did it with some reluctance.
Becket's unkind heart soon became a thorn in Henry's side. (Hay 107) By 1163, Becket had already defied Henry in one of his decisions. He challenged his former friend in his vehement to dismantle the ecclesiastical courts. Becket became an ardent defender of the interests of the church. Becket's hard-nosed attitude towards defending the Church of England showed just how important the church was to England.
"The affairs between Henry and Becket became a highly colored by their personal relationships". ("Henry II") Their life long friendship was the only thing that kept the two on the same side. Another strong disagreement came between the two on the status of "criminous clerics". These were members of the clergy who had committed civil crimes.
The crimes ranged from theft to assault and even murder. This became a tota embarrassment to the church. Henry sought to have the members tried in the royal court, as would others who committed such crimes. Becket insisted that they only be tried in the clerical courts.
The disagreement became a heated battle between the two. Becket stood firm on his belief that the matter should not be brought to a higher court. The situation would only bring even more embarrassment to the Church of England if the members were crucified in the public courts. (Bowden 78) The situation became such a heated battle between the two that in 1164 Becket sought refuge in France. During Becket's exile, Henry began to straighten up the country and straighten up the courts system.
Henry also marched in and conquered Brittany without much opposition. During this time great reforms were made to the English law system. Henry used his intelligence and energy to make lasting changes in England. Several important legal reforms were made to the English Common Law. Henry continued to freely change and control the church without any opposition.
Through the auspices of Pope Cutittus, King and Archbishop were reconciled in 1170 and Becket was allowed to return to England. No sooner than he returned the two found themselves bickering over their different ideas. Neither of the two would yield their principals to each other. While Henry was away in Normandy word of Becket's actions were relayed to Henry. This outraged Henry that Becket could take advantage of him not being in the country. While on a walk with his noble knights Henry allegedly said, "will no one rid me of this turbulent priest" (Henry II) Becket, again proved to be a burden to Henry.
In response to Henry's remarks about Becket, four knights sought to find Becket back in Canterbury. The knights had taken Henry's words literally and traveled to Canterbury with the intentions of killing Becket, doing Henry a favor. Becket was openly slain by the four knights when he was kneeling at an evening prayer. Everyone's attention focused on Henry who was criticized for the murder. Henry was saddened and mourned when he learned of Becket's death. Henry claimed to be heartbroken and felt he needed forgiveness.
(England during crusades) The knights pointed the ordering of the killing towards Henry as they tried to divert the attention. Henry's words were taken literally by the knights and they acted upon their own judgement. Although evidence also pointed towards Henry, he was absolved of the crime by Pope Alexander in 1172. Not long after Henry took a pilgrimage to the tomb of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. He did this to show his forgiveness to everyone and to clear his own inner conflicts.
After Henry's struggles to clear his guilt over Becket's death he began to fall apart. Henry's sons began to fight over who would be heir to the throne. Henry favored John to heir the throne although John and Richard both rebelled to gain the respect they felt they deserved. In the later years, it proved to be Phillip II of France who proved to be the cunning opponent.
Henry's last years were spent trying to hold on to what he had proudly built up. At Henrys death he was forced to name Richard the heir to the throne, and Richard was probably the least liked son. (Hay 175) The conflict over the separation of Church and State between Henry and Becket kept Henry's power over England in balance. Henry's ability to deal with the situation showed his intelligence and power.
At Becket's death over the separation of Church and State proved that the monarch was the ultimate ruler over the land. King Henry II was burdened to his death over a guilt driven conscience.