James Goldman’s masterpiece, The Lion in Winter, is play that is regarded by many as one of the best. The play The Lion in the Winter is basically about the life of king Henry II of England. Although not everything that was mentioned in the play about King Henry II of England was entirely true, some of them are just product of fiction and while some are really unearthed from real history.
Some audience or readers may have either liked or disliked King Henry II of England in James Goldman’s play. But if King Henry II of England’s character is based on a real person, could it be that the real King Henry II of England posses the same negative traits that the play had portrayed him? Or does James Goldman’s portrayal of King Henry II of England have historical and factual basic?
In the play, The Lion in Winter, King Henry II of England was portrayed as aging and conniving. He was not portrayed as the likeable character but rather more of an antagonist that is against the plots of the other characters, namely his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and his sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John. Basically, everyone was after the throne of King Henry II of England, including himself. He wanted nothing but to protect his throne away from those who want to steal it from him. He was in very good position to do that because he was king, he had all the power of a nation in his palm. He was so addicted to the power he possessed that he became a control-freak, much like every king in history.
This was the life the fictional King Henry II of England and the real King Henry II of England. It was a life full of connivances and deception just like in the play. The play had themes like the dysfunctional family, politics, aging, inheritance, all of which made the bulk of the play’s narration, all of which also made up the bulk of King Henry II of England. It just shows that even the person of highest political position and wealth are most likely to be unhappy.
Although, King Henry II of England was portrayed as an aging-annoying snub in the play The Lion in Winter. He is in fact in reality a good-spirited and energetic person, regarded by many as one of the greatest kings to rule. Some reports that he dresses casually except for occasions that require proper attire. Some also say that he loves jokes and does not easily get offended by them, some even say that he has a considerably great humor. Some say that he is very adept in the field of law. Some say that King Henry II of England has an exceptionally photographic memory able to remember each and every person that he had faced. That last claim about the king sounded like an exaggeration to even me.
Although there exists many positive notes to King Henry II of England, there also exists an array of negative notes for the king. Others claim that King Henry II of England had a very bad and short temper. Basically these set of others claim that King Henry II of England has a bad personality. I guess we wouldn’t know since it is too far of a history from where we standing today.
Enough of his personal life and enough of how James Goldman had portrayed him, let us examine King Henry II of England according to how history itself had portrayed him. King Henry II of England is also known as Henry Plantagenet, Henry Fitzempress, Henry of Anjou, and Henry Curtmantle. He is considered as a king that had played a significant role in history and had accomplished many things. He was the first from the house of Plantagenet to be elected for the throne of the kingship of England. That in itself can be considered an accomplishment because as we know being first is always something to be proud of.
Other notable achievements of King Henry II of England were that he was also the one responsible for many expansions of the kingdom and pacification of many rebellions. From the very start, King Henry II of England had inherited many lands form his father, Geoffrey Plantagenet, and his mother Empress Matilda. Although he had inherited many lands from his father, the most significant of lands was the one that her mother had inherited to him, the English throne. He had expanded the kingdom by conquering Ireland. But it didn’t stop there, the expansion went on until it spanned from the Scotland border to Northern Spain. The expansion during King Henry II of England’s term had almost covered more than half of France. (Tabuteau, 183)
King Henry II of England was able to pacify rebellions from the kingdoms domain like of those in Scotland and Ireland. This fact is one reason why some people consider King Henry II of England as the greatest king to rule ever.
He travelled all round his kingdom in a very active and energetic manner. He became known for being to survey his kingdom far more than any other king. Through this, he became familiar to the lands, thus the reason for his victory over insurgencies. Through travelling the lands, he was also able to spot several castles that were built illegally inside his kingdom. These castles were built by King Henry II of England’s enemies to show him that they to have the capability to build large and fortified castles. King Henry II of England had destroyed those castles together with their owners as a message that says he is still the one that has the most power. (Tabuteau, 183)
Another of his most notable achievement is that he had stripped the barons of their power to collect taxes. In this sense he had demolished the concept of baronship, and he had basically stripped them of their power over normal people. He had assigned sheriffs to collect the taxes from the people instead of the barons. This had been proven as an effective method to collect tax for King Henry II of England’s fast-growing kingdom. The tax remittances were then used for warfare finance in the crusades.
King Henry II of England was also one of the firsts who wanted to be separated for the church. He had wanted the individual powers of the church and the government be separated as two different entities. He had wanted such separation from the church so he had formulated the Constitution of Clarendon. In that constitution, he had argued that an accused that is being trialed in church should be turned over to the government immediately when found guilty. (Tabuteau, 185)
Perhaps his greatest and most notable achievement is that he was the one responsible of replacing the trial by combat with the more humane manner of trial by jury. I guess that we should thank him in that aspect because most of our legal courts today are based on what had King Henry II of England had decreed. We should thank him because if not for him, we would still be killing each other when we have legal disputes. We should thank him especially the lawyers, because through trial by jury they don’t have learn how to wield a sword, not to mention for their high salary. (Tabuteau, 186)
Some argues that his most notable of all his achievements is his formulation of English common law which is now the basis for most of the world’s legal systems, and a centralized government system. (Tabuteau, 186)
Although, King Henry II of England’s achievements had made him one of the most popular king even until now, his achievements were always put in danger because of family disputes over territories and other family matters. To resolve the disputes within his family, he had to resort to dividing his territories among his sons. His sons would later turn against him and join allegiance with the king of France. King Henry II of England would manage to pacify his sons for moment. But in the end Richard will manage to snatch the throne from him just in the play The Lion in Winter.
Tabuteau, E. Z. (1997).Henry II. World Book Encyclopedia