The Cultivation of History, Legend, and Courtesy at the Court of Henry II

  • John Gillingham
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Academics from Bishop Stubbs onward have liked to imagine—and they still do—that Henry II was a highly educated king who appreciated the value of learning and literature. In two lectures delivered in June 1878 Stubbs enumerated an impressive number of scholars and intellectuals who flourished in the second half of the twelfth century and, no matter where they worked, he brought them together under a single heading: Learning and Literature at the Court of Henry II.1 In doing this Stubbs marked out a path that has been followed many times since. In some ways Henry was a great king. Measured in extent of territories over which he ruled, he was undeniably the greatest king England had as yet seen. When he came to power in the early 1150s he had some claim to be the best-educated prince in the West. Both his father, Geoffrey of Anjou, and his uncle Robert of Gloucester, were well-educated men. Huge hopes were invested in Henry from the moment of his birth in 1133 and a great deal of care taken over his education.2 Given how well educated, rich, and powerful he was, it was only natural that bookish people should have liked to associate him with the world of books. Thus some parts of the French prose Lancelot cycle name the author as Walter Map and have him writing at King Henry’s insistence. The prologue of another thirteenth-century romance, Guiron le Courtois, attributes a similar role to a “noble roy Henri d’Angleterre.3


Twelfth Century Royal Court Latin Literature Great King English King 
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© Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones 2006

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  • John Gillingham

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