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Medieval Sourcebook:
Gerald of Wales:
The Death of King Henry II, from the Life of Archbishop Geoffrey of York

Chapter 5: How he was present inseparably with his sick and weak father, and how he did not abandon him even at the very end

Now, the city of Tours having been captured, after the conference, going from Azai to his father in tears along the way, he [Geoffrey] began to ask and ask urgently that at tomorrow’s conference, where he would have to place himself entirely under the mercy of the king of the Franks in all things, he should be allowed not to be present. For he said that he could endure in no way to see his lord and father make such a humiliating peace. And thus they left one another on that condition with great sobs and a large flow of tears. Truly peace was made the next day; when in that same place king lay in bed with a grave illness, clearly with anger and indignation at so great a humiliation proving the cause of his sickness, the chancellor, because he could not stand by the king when he was carried on a bier from Azai for piety as much as for grief, now having been established at Chinon he stuck by him inseparably; and whom he had loved in health and prosperity, he did not abandon when afflicted with ills and lying on his bed in sickness. Therefore sitting one day, with his bosom supporting the head and shoulders of his father, and a certain soldier holding his feet in his lap, he drove away flies from his father’s face with a fan; at last the king, opening his eyes, which for a long time he had kept closed in the anguish of his illness, and seeing his son, with a deep breath broke forth in these words:

"Dearest son," he said, "because whatever of faith and gratitude a son could offer to a father, you have always striven to offer to me; if I recover from this affliction with God helping, I will give you, bastard son of the best father, rewards, and I will set you up among the highest and powerful men of my rule. But if now by chance going to my rest I will not be able to repay you, God, who is the requiter and author of all good things, will repay you, because you have proven yourself such a true son to your father in my every fortune."

To whom at once that one responded: "Your health is enough for me, father, and your prosperity; which if God, and good Fortune, wishes to grant and save, I will confess to want nothing for myself for the increase of desire." And with that, rising up, and withdrawing from that place with a great wail and lamentation, there he could not endure to make a longer delay in the face of so much grief. [Written in margin: Also the king, with tears, asked often that he leave that place with weeping. Truly he said with piety, by which inwardly he was moved looking at him closely, that he was not burdened lightly by one illness.] At length truly on the decisive day, that is the seventh from which he had taken to his sick-bed, now with the fever winning over him, hearing his father coming to the end, full of sorrow and grief he came to him. The king, opening at Geoffrey’s lament his eyes already long closed, and recognizing him, broke out in these words in a weak voice: "It is my desire, dearest son, that you obtain the cathedral honor of the church of Winchester, or better, that of York." And taking a gold ring with a panther, which he always held very dear, and which he had proposed to send to his son-in-law the king of Spain, he extended it to him with his blessing. Also he had previously given to that one his other fine ring, adorned with a most precious and good sapphire, which he had held for a long time as a great treasure. But although the antiquity of a will is favorable and the authority of a will is irrefragible in law, just as in many other cases, in this it was in vain because free will does not return again.

Having done that, because, "Pale death strikes the shacks of paupers and the towers of kings with the same foot," [Horace, Odes 1.4.13] the king, finally succumbing to the sickness, breathed forth his spirit.

And just as a poor man stands out among such great wealth, just so at the end he was without ring, scepter, crown and nearly everything which is fitting for royal funeral rites; and many other things, which could be introduced as an example for all, the book "On the Instruction of a Prince", which this studious soul had proposed to write for a later age and precaution alike, describes diligently.

And then the body of the king was carried to Fontevrault, the son attending the funeral procession along the way on foot, sometimes ahead and sometimes behind, when the body was placed in the church, behold Count Richard of Poitou, the oldest of the legitimate sons still living and the heir, at once came in. And when he entered the church and approached the body, the face of his father, having been denuded of the napkin with which it had been covered, was plainly visible. Which, when it appeared to all, just as if colored and with its usual fierceness, the count, not without growling of flesh and horror before the body, dropping to his knees in prayer for a little while, remained for scarcely an hour of Sunday prayer. But as soon as he had entered the church, just as those who were present maintain, both of the king’s nostrils emitted drops of blood; so much that those seated nearby and the attendants of the body had to wipe clean its mouth and face and wash them several times.

And of what this could be a sign or portent, the careful reader may observe for himself, since to express it would be harmful.

Thus these things having been accomplished, the count then passed through the cloister and chapter house, with a crowd, as usual, following the spoils more than the man, the chancellor remained in the church nearly alone with the nuns, inseparable from the body of his father. Truly on the morrow each son reverently attended the funeral rites and burial of their father with devotion, the chancellor, the father’s seal having been returned to the count, which at once on his death he had signed faithfully under the seals of the barons who were there, followed the count for a few days, so that he would seem to be taken up by him with fraternal devotion. When the count then hastened to go to Normandy, the chancellor making after him after a small delay in the regions of Tours and Anjou, afterwards came to him in Normandy, and discovered the face of the count greatly turned away from him through the malice of jealous men.


Gerald of Wales:  The Death of King Henry II, from the Life of Archbishop Geoffrey of York

©1994, translated by Scott McLetchie. Permission granted for non-commercial educational use. Specifically allowed are copies for course packets. For any other printed use (including use by university presses), contact Scott McLetchie. Do not duplicate this etext file on other sites.

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© Paul Halsall, August 1998


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