In 1154, while Barbarossa was reigning in Germany , Henry II, one of England 's greatest monarchs, came to the throne.
Henry was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet (Plan-tag'-e-net), Count of Anjou in France, and Matilda, daughter of King Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Count Geoffrey used to wear in his hat a sprig of the broom plant, which is called in Latin "planta genista." From this he adopted the name Plantagenet, and the kings who descended from him and ruled England for more than three hundred years are called the Plantagenets.
Henry II inherited a vast domain in France and managing this in addition England kept him very busy. One who knew him well said, "He never sits down; he is on his feet from morning till night."
His chief assistant in the management of public affairs was Thomas Becket, whom he made chancellor of the kingdom. Becket was fond of pomp and luxury, and lived in a more magnificent manner than even the king himself.
The clergy had at this time become almost independent of the king. To bring them under his authority Henry made Becket Archbishop of Canterbury , thus putting him at the head of the Church in England . The king expected that Becket would carry out all his wishes.
Becket, however, refused to do that which the king most desired and a quarrel arose between them. At last, to escape the king's anger, Becket fled to France and remained there for six years.
At the end of this time Henry invited him to come back to England . Not long after, however, the old quarrel began again. One day while Henry was sojourning in France , he cried out in a moment of passion, while surrounded by a group of knights, "Is there no one who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"
Four knights who heard him understood from this angry speech that he desired the death of Becket, and they went to England to murder the Archbishop. When they met Becket they first demanded that he should do as the king wished, but he firmly refused. At dusk that same day they entered Canterbury Cathedral, again seeking for him. "Where is the traitor, Thomas Becket?" one of them cried.
Becket boldly answered, "Here am I — no traitor, but a priest of god."
As he finished speaking the knights rushed upon him and killed him.
The people of England were horrified by this brutal murder. Becket was called a martyr and his tomb became a place of pious pilgrimage. The Pope canonized him and for years he was the most venerated of English saints.
King Henry was in Normandy when the murder occurred. He declared that he had had nothing whatever to do with it and he punished the murderers.
But from this time Henry had many troubles. His own sons rebelled against him, his barons were unfriendly, and conspiracies were formed. Henry thought that God was punishing him for the murder of Becket and so determined to do penance at the tomb of the saint.
For some distance before he reached Canterbury Cathedral where Becket was buried he walked over the road with bare head and feet. After his arrival he fasted and prayed a day and a night. The next day he put scourges into the hands of the cathedral monks and said, "Scourge me as I kneel at the tomb of the saint." The monks did as he bade them and he patiently bore the pain.
Henry finally triumphed over his enemies and had some years of peace, which he devoted to the good of England .
In the last year of his life, however, he had trouble again. The king of France and Henry's son Richard took up arms against him. Henry was defeated and was forced to grant what they wished. When he saw a list of the barons who had joined the French king he found among them the name of his favorite son John, and his heart was broken. He died a few days later.