Regional Variations in the Charters of King Henry II (1154–89)

  • Nicholas Vincent


In a well known, though perhaps apocryphal injunction to the future King Henry II, Henry’s father, Geoffrey Plantagenet, is said to have urged the about-to-be-king to respect the diverse laws and customs of his dominions, and to preserve in equal measure the Angevin customs of Anjou, and the Norman and English customs of Normandy and England.1 Over the past 300 years, much ink has been spilled in an attempt to determine the extent to which Geoffrey’s injunction was obeyed.2 Did the Plantagenet dominion under Henry II enjoy a centralized administration, sufficient to qualify it as a Plantagenet ‘empire’ in the modern sense of the term, or did it remain merely a diverse collection of lands, each governed according to local custom, ready at any moment to fracture, as after 1189 these lands were indeed to fracture, into a series of independent entities, Norman, Angevin, Poitevin or English as the case might be? The general consensus amongst twentieth-century historians, themselves merely echoing the opinion of David Hume set down as long ago as the 1760s, has been that Henry Plantagenet, whatever his imperialist aspirations, ruled no true empire but a haphazard collection of French and insular territories, at best a dominion or, as the French have grown accustomed to call it, an ‘espace Plantagenêt’, lacking a fixed capi0tal or any unified body of laws, customs, coinage or administration.3


Guild Merchant County Court Documentary Form Judicial Writ Royal Charter 
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© Nicholas Vincent 2005

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  • Nicholas Vincent

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