Anglo-Norman Rebellion (1173–1174)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Forces of Henry II vs. rebels in
Normandy and Brittany; also rebellious English barons
allied with William I the Lion, king of Scotland
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Normandy, Brittany, and England
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Faced with multiple
rebellions, Henry II had to resist in order to maintain
the full extent of his empire.
OUTCOME: Henry not only successfully crushed all the
rebels, he achieved political dominance over Scotland.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
The four sons of Henry II (1133–89), king of England,
were each apportioned by the king a foreign land to rule
over. This was Henry’s method of keeping the rebellious
young men in check, for although between them they held
nominal sway over territory extending from the Pyrenees
to Scotland, they enjoyed no truly sovereign power. Ultimately,
three of the sons, Henry (1155–83), Richard (later
Richard the Lionheart, 1157–99), and Geoffrey (1151–
1212), proclaimed independence from their father and
fled to France. Only John (“Lackland”) (1167–1216), the
youngest, remained loyal.
The sons were egged on by their mother, Eleanor of
Aquitaine (c. 1122–1204), in cahoots with the king of
France Philip II Augustus (1165–1223). Encouraged and
supported by Eleanor and the French monarch, the three
sons began a revolt in Brittany and Normandy. Seeing an
opportunity to exploit Henry’s beleaguered state, William I
the Lion (1143–1214), king of Scotland, leagued with a
group of perpetually discontented English barons to
mount a rebellion in England itself.
A highly skilled military leader, Henry parried the
threats on both sides of the English Channel. He defeated
the forces of his sons in France and the barons in England.
Stability had returned to the Anglo-Norman empire by the
end of 1174, and all of those who had rebelled expressed
their craving for Henry’s royal pardon. Wisely, Henry
refrained from exacting mere revenge. He pacified his sons
with subsidies but steadfastly refused to relinquish to
them any real power. The barons, pardoned, were nevertheless
broken in rank. William I the Lion was made a
prisoner, then freed on condition that he acknowledge
Scotland a fief of England. What had begun as a desperate
defensive war was brilliantly reversed to become a triumph
of Henry the tactician.
See also ANGLO-FRENCH WAR (1159–1189).
Further reading: Richard W. Barber, The Devil’s
Crown: A History of Henry II and His Sons (Conshohocken,
Pa.: Combined Books, 1977); Alison Weir, Eleanor of
Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England (London:
Jonathon Cape, 1999).