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Gerald of Wales: 
The Death of Henry II and Comments on the Angevin Family, from De Instructione Principis (On the Instruction of a Prince) 


But it happened that there was a chamber at Winchester beautiful with various painted figures and colours, and a certain place in it which was left clear by the royal command, where a little time after the king [Henry II] ordered an eagle to be painted, and four young ones of the eagle sitting upon it, two upon the two wings, and a third upon the middle of the body, the fourth, not less than the others, sitting upon the neck, and more keenly watching the moment to peck out the eyes of its parent. But being asked by those who were on intimate terms with him what this picture might mean, he said, "The four young ones of the eagle are my four sons, who will not cease to persecute me even unto death. The younger of them, whom I even now embrace with such tender affection, will sometime at the last insult me more grievously and more dangerously than all the others."

Thus, therefore, his mind foreboding evils, pictured to himself those future sorrows which should arise to him from his children; and afterwards embodying the conception of his mind, he caused it to be painted by an artificial representation. Here that saying of the prophet Micah seems to me worthy to be noted: "Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house." But if any one desires to know the natural disposition and qualities of John, he may seek an account of them in the remarks which we have thrown together above upon Britain and Ireland. Moreover, in addition to these things, it had been concluded in the agreement that he should receive his son, the count of Poitou with the kiss of peace, and should banish from his heart all anger and indignation against him; and although this was done, a pretended rather than a sincere kiss of reconciliation was given: in going away the count heard this expression from his father's lips, although it was uttered in a low voice, "May the Lord never permit me to die until I have taken due vengeance upon you." And so when the count went forth from the camp, and related the manner of the reconciliation between himself and his father, and the words which followed, he excited the greatest laughter and wonder in the French king and his whole court.

These things being finished in this manner, the king caused himself to be carried to the castle of Chinon, where his weakness increasing on the fifth day, that is, on the seventh day from the one on which he took to his bed, which the physicians call the crisis, he was seized with death, reiterating and frequently using these expressions, with which he was troubled in his last moments: "alas, the shame for a king to be thus overcome! alas, the shame!" Expressions which, as the mouth is accustomed to speak out of the abundance of the heart, the violence of the disease, as well as of his grief and indignation, forced from him amongst the rest of his thoughts; and so he expired amidst miserable expressions of this kind. the herald of his own confusion; and he died overwhelmed and crushed rather than ending his life by a natural death. From which it is evident that the higher any person is elevated by prosperity, with the greater impetuosity is he cast down at last; and the more the bow is bent backward, the farther is the arrow propelled forward.


But that the reader may be afterwards less astonished at the unhappy end both of the father and of the sons, we have thought it good to annex here some account of their origin and race. The father of queen Eleanor, the count of Poitou, had carried off by force, and had taken away. the wife of the viscount of Chatellerault, his own subject, whose name was Mauberius, and had actually married her. But a good and holy hermit, sent, as was believed, from God, immediately came to him, and on the part of God prohibited him from marrying or betrothing himself to the wife of another man, and especially of a subject of his own; at the same time openly declaring that he was sent as a messenger from God in this matter, and saying, that this would be no marriage, but an open and detestable act of adultery. But he, persisting in his error, answered, that he did not believe him to be a messenger from God, nor was it evident to him that he was so. To whom the good man replied, "If I am a messenger of God, and you have no belief in me, neither shall the offspring to be begotten of you and her; nor shall their progeny be able to leave any prosperous fruit to follow them." This saying Hugh, bishop of Lincoln, a man of good and holy memory, often used to refer to, citing king Henry the second as his authority, who was accustomed to relate it to him when he was persecuted by the hostility of his son. But it is a matter of sufficient notoriety how queen Eleanor had conducted herself at first in the parts of Palestine beyond the sea, and how when she returned she had behaved herself towards her first as well as her second husband. And it is well known concerning her sons, though they had given so great promise in the flower of their age, that they withered away without fruit; and also of her daughters, who were married in Sicily and Saxony, it is evident that at the last the one died without children, the other without comfort; the one without issue, the other not without grief. But as to the rest, (in order that we may not go through the history of each particular; for that, perhaps, would be offensive to some readers,) the time which follows will unfold the condition of the remaining issue, as well as the end, not only of the Spanish race, but also of the German and those of Armorican Brittany, that residence of the giants. Yet one would have hoped that, with God's favour, some good would have come from the Spanish match, which promised so happy an union. In addition to this, it is too well known also how each of the daughters of the said queen, which she had by Louis, the French king, one of whom was lawfully married to Henry, count of Champagne, and the other to his brother Theobald, earl of Blois, how each of them, I say, lost her issue as well in Palestine as in Greece.

In order, moreover, to show that on the part of king Henry the origin of his family was corrupt; for it is known that the emperor Henry, whom Matilda, the daughter of the first, and the mother of the second Henry, king of England, had married; and who, for the sake of worldly ambition, first held his natural father a captive in chains, and afterwards pope Paschal, his spiritual father, of his own will, relinquished his empire, and seeking the desert towards Chester, in the most western part of Britain, he there, even to his death, conscientiously and religiously lived a life of penance. But when she returned, Geoffrey, earl of Anjou, married the empress, by the consent of her father, and whilst her husband was living; and by her he had sons, two of whom, while yet in the ear, and of great promise, suddenly withered away and died without fruit. But a third, as we have said, began his life with greater success than he finished it.

Also Geoffrey, earl of Anjou, when seneschal of France, had carnally known queen Eleanor; of which, as it is said, he frequently forewarned his son Henry, cautioning and forbidding him in any wise to touch her, both because she was the wife of his lord, and because she had been known by his own father.

As it were to crown all these enormities, which were already too enormous, king Henry, as common report declared, dared by an adulterous intercourse to defile this so-called queen of France, and so took her away from her own husband, end actually married her himself. How then, I ask, from such an union could a fortunate race be born ?

And how the said Geoffrey, earl of Anjou, was mad with rage against the holy Gerard, bishop of Seez, and emasculated him, and laid his bloody hands on the Lord's anointed, and how king Henry following the steps of his father in crime, dared to vent his insane fury against the blessed martyr Thomas: each of these facts is too surely attested by history, to the everlasting ignominy of the whole race.

Also, there was a certain countess of Anjou, of remarkable beauty, but of an unknown nation, whom the count married solely for beauty, who was in the habit of coming very seldom to church, and there manifested very little or no devotion in it, she never remained in the church until the celebration of the secret canon of the mass, but always went out immediately after the gospel. At length, however, this was remarked with astonishment both by the count and also by others; and when she had come to the church, and was preparing to depart at her usual hour, she saw that she was kept back by four soldiers at the command of the count; and immediately throwing off the robe by which she was held, and leaving there with the rest her two little sons, whom she had with her under the right sleeve of her robe, she took up under her arm the two others, who were standing on the left, and in the sight of all flew out through a lofty window of the church. And so this woman, more fair in face than in faith, having carried off her two children with her, was never afterwards seen there.

Moreover, king Richard was often accustomed to refer to this event; saying that it was no matter of wonder, if coming from such a race, sons should not cease to harass their parents, and brothers to quarrel amongst each other; for he knew that they all had come of the devil, and to the devil they would go. When, therefore, the root was in every way so corrupt, how was it possible that the branches from such a stock could be prosperous or virtuous?

Again, when in a great war, which Louis the French king was waging with Henry, king of England, a certain cleric, eloquent and facetious, of the name of Godfrey de Lucy, who was soon after raised to the bishopric of Winchester, being sent to Geoffrey, count of Brittany, and had faithfully delivered tile message which the father had commanded to he delivered to his son, and had most earnestly attempted to persuade him (but to no purpose) to win back the son to his father, who in the said war had firmly adhered to the king of France; at last the aforesaid count, who was a prudent and withal a very eloquent man, regarding him, as it seemed, with a fierce look and threatening words, said, "I wonder what vat temerity, what rash and ill-advised choice, brought you hither into my own territory and power, so pertinaciously to disinherit me." But the aforesaid priest, when he had replied to these words with fear and very great modesty, and had openly asserted, with a solemn oath, that he had come thither on account of his honour only, and not for his disgrace or loss; at last the count, as if solving the enigma of the aforesaid speech, said, "Are you ignorant that this is a natural property, engrafted and inserted in us by hereditary right, as it were, by our fathers and forefathers; that no one of us should love the other, but that the brother should always oppose his brother with all his might, and the son the father? Do not, therefore, deprive me of my hereditary right, nor labour to expel my nature from me." Wherefore, it is sufficiently known how the Norman tyrants reigned in the island of which they took possession, not by natural descent or legitimately, but, as it were, by a reversed order of things; for which reason few or none of them departed this life by a praiseworthy end. Moreover; how the brothers of king Henry the first, as well as of the second, miserably died, not living out half their days: how, also, the sons of king Henry the second, unanimously rebelling against their father, and, as we have already said, persecuting him even to the death, were quickly taken away, and did not escape the vengeance of heaven inflicted upon them (for although their actions were pleasing to God, who made use of them as instruments of His vengeance, without doubt their private intentions were displeasing to Him in every way, which in like manner the divine vengeance punished in His own good time): how, I say, each of these events came to pass, and what was the final issue appointed for them, is sufficiently well known both throughout England and France. For which reason the saying of Porphyry, which Gildas recalls to mind in his history, we have thought worth adding here. Porphyry, the oriental historian, says, " Britain is an island in the west, a country abounding in tyrants:" whence, Boetius, "all island kings are tyrants;" and also the poet, "the tyrants of Sicily did not find a greater torment than envy." Nevertheless, since we are wont to detract from merit in general by particular instances of demerit, and that it is not unusual for something occasionally to be found contrary to established rule, through the dominion of the French, who were accustomed to he kings and not tyrants by natural descent, if it had been granted from heaven in our days, as was wished by many, there would be an end, through God's blessing, to the long established sway of tyrants within this island.


Translated by Joseph Stevenson in The Church Historians of England, volume V, part 1. London: Seeley’s, 1863; pp. 221-225.

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