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Henry the Young King Part I.

Henry the Young King (February 28, 1155 – June 11, 1183) was the eldest surviving son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Beginning in 1170, he was titular King of England, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine. Henry the Young King is the only King of England since the Norman Conquest to be crowned during his father’s reign, but was frustrated by his father’s refusal to grant him meaningful autonomous power. He died aged 28, six years before his father, leaving his brother Richard to become the next king.

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Coronation of Henry the Young King

Little is known of the young Prince Henry before the events associated with his marriage and coronation. His mother’s children by her first marriage to Louis VII of France were Marie of France, Countess of Champagne and Alix of France. Henry had one elder brother, William IX, Count of Poitiers (d. 1156), and his younger siblings included Matilda; Richard; Geoffrey; Eleanor; Joan; and John.

In June 1170, the fifteen-year-old Henry was crowned king during his father’s lifetime, something originally practised by the French Capetian dynasty and adopted by the English kings Stephen and Henry II. The physical appearance of Henry at his coronation in 1170 is given in a contemporary court poem written in Latin, where the fifteen-year-old prince is described as being very handsome, “tall but well proportioned, broad-shouldered with a long and elegant neck, pale and freckled skin, bright and wide blue eyes, and a thick mop of the reddish-gold hair”.

He was known in his own lifetime as “Henry the Young King” to distinguish him from his father. Because he was not a reigning king, he is not counted in the numerical succession of the Kings of England. According to one of Thomas Becket’s correspondents, Henry was knighted by his father before the coronation, but the biographer of William Marshal asserts that the king was knighted by William in the course of the rebellion of 1173 (Georges Duby, Guillaume le Maréchal. Le meilleur chevalier du monde. 1984).

The young Henry played an important part in the politics of his father’s reign. On November 2, 1160, he was betrothed to Margaret of France, daughter of King Louis VII of France and his second wife, Constance of Castile, when he was 5 years of age and she was at least 2. The marriage was an attempt to finally settle the struggle between the counts of Anjou and the French kings over possession of the frontier district of the Norman Vexin, which Louis VII had acquired from Henry’s grandfather, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, in around 1144.

By the terms of the settlement, Margaret would bring the castles of the Norman Vexin to her new husband. However, the marriage was pushed through by Henry II when Young Henry and Margaret were small children so that he could seize the castles. A bitter border war followed between the kings.

They were formally married on August 24, 1172 at Winchester Cathedral, when Henry, aged seventeen, was crowned King of England a second time, this time together with Margaret, by Rotrou, the Archbishop of Rouen.