Monday, September 08, 2008

A Little British History

We're rather quickly reading through H.E. Marshall's Our Island Story, a children's history of England (written in 1905). It's fascinating and a quick read, though the perspective is different and interesting at times (for example, it has the most positive view of Henry II I've ever come across). We especially noticed the contrast in views on King Henry II and St. Thomas a Becket since we read If All the Swords in England earlier this year and watched Becket (not for the younger kids, by the way). Next week we're planning on a dramatic read-aloud of T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. Should be interesting!


The Bookworm said...

For what it's worth, I would rate Henry II one of the best (as in "most effective") kings England has ever had, if not the best. The dispute with Becket was notorious, but only one aspect of a long reign. Henry took over a kingdom that was fragmenting after a civil war, pulled it together, set up the basics of a legal system that is still used in both the UK and the US (common law and the use of a jury), got royal finances onto an even keel ... all while simultaneously governing the larger part of France. On the hoof. He rarely spent more than a couple of nights in one place Even the argument with St. Thomas was understandable in the context of his reign - Henry was trying to centralise law, Thomas was fighting to keep certain areas within the remit of the Church. The other senior bishops in England sided with Henry, not Becket, and they were no slouches.

I should add that St. Thomas is one of my very favourite saints, but Henry is also one of my favourite kings ;). I took a special subject course on him at university, with a tutor who was a leading authority on Becket (she published an edition of his letters).

Love2Learn Mom said...

Awesome! I kind of hoping you would chime in. :)

It sounds like the "Our Island Story" version was pretty accurate. While being sympathetic to Becket, it was generally favorable to Henry II along the lines that you mentioned. "If All the Swords in England" and even the movie "Becket" didn't have much good to say about him at all.

Thanks much!

Love2Learn Mom said...

Oops - that should read "was kind of hoping". :)