The letters of England's Kings and Queens 1154-1215: a vast new resource?
Professor Nicholas Vincent, University of East Anglia
Oxford University Press is about to publish the largest corpus of charter materials (essentially the letters and title deeds) preserved for any twelfth-century king. The 4600 such instruments issued in the name of King Henry II not only outnumber those preserved for the kings of France and Germany combined but demonstrate the extent to which Henry II of England towered over his contemporaries and rivals. Ruler of the largest collection of lands assembled in the west since the fall of the empire of Charlemagne, Henry II was also a patron of literature and intellectuals. At the same time, he was notorious both as an unfaithful husband to his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and as the reputed author of the murder of Thomas Becket, his archbishop of Canterbury. What does our new collection of materials, many of them previously unknown or unpublished, tell us that we did not previously know? What do the charters reveal, both of the extent of Henry’s grip on power, in England, France and Ireland, and of his more personal relations, not only with Becket but with a wider circle of courtiers? The result of more than forty years of scholarly endeavour, the publication of this vast new resource is likely to alter for ever our image of one of medieval Europe’s most fascinating kings.