In his "Select Charters" Dr. Stubbs has printed the various "Assizes," and the Dialogus de Scaccario, which explains the financial administration of the Curia Regis].
Young as he was, Henry mounted the throne with a resolute purpose of government which his reign carried steadily out. His practical, serviceable frame suited the hardest worker of his time. There was something in his build and look, in the square stout frame, the fiery face, the close-cropped hair, the prominent eyes, the bull neck, the coarse strong hands, the bowed legs, that marked out the keen, stirring, coarse-fibred man of business. " He never sits down," said one who observed him closely; "he is always on his legs from morning till night." Orderly in business, careless in appearance, sparing in diet, never resting or giving his servants rest, chatty, inquisitive, endowed with a singular charm of address and strength of memory, obstinate in love or hatred, a fair scholar, a great hunter, his general air that of a rough, passionate, busy man, Henry's personal character told directly on the character of his reign. His accession marks the period of amalgamation, when neighbourhood and traffic and intermarriage drew Englishmen and Normans rapidly into a single people. A national feeling was thus springing up before which the barriers of the older feudalism were to be swept away.
[Authorities. - Up to the death of Archbishop Thomas we have only the letters of Beket himself, Eoliot, and John of Salisbury, collected by Canon Robertson and Dr. Giles; but this dearth is followed by a vast outburst of historical industry. From 1169 till 1192 our primary authority is the Chronicle known as that of Benedict of Peterborough, whose authorship Dr. Stubbs has shown to be more probably due to the royal treasurer, Bishop Richard Fitz-Neal. It is continued to 1201 by Roger of Howden. Both are works of the highest value, and have been edited for the Rolls series by Dr. Stubbs, whose prefaces have thrown a new light on the constitutional history of Henry's reign. The history by William of Newburgh (which ends in 1198) is a work of the classical school, like William of Malmesbnry, but distinguished by its fairness and good sense. To these may be added the chronicles of Ralf Niger, with the additions of Ralf of Coggeshall, that of Gervase of Canterbury, and the Life of S. Hugh of Lincoln. A mass of general literature lies behind these distinctively historical sources, in the treatises of John of Salisbury, the v luminous works of Giraldus Cambrensis, the "trifles" and satires of Walter Map, Glanvill's treatise on Law, Fitz-Neal's "Dialogue on the Exchequer," the romances of Gaimar and Wace, the poem of the San Graal. Lord Lyttelton's " Life of Henry the Second" is a full and sober account of the time; Canon Robertson's Biography of Beket is accurate, but hostile in tone.
Henry had even less reverence for the feudal past than the men of his day; he was indeed utterly without the imagination and reverence which enable men to sympathize with any past at all. He had a practical man's impatience of the obstacles thrown in the way of his reforms by the older constitution of the realm, nor could he understand other men's reluctance to purchase undoubted improvements by the sacrifice of customs and traditions of bygone days. Without any theoretical hostility to the co-ordinate powers of the state, it seemed to him a perfectly reasonable and natural course to trample either baronage or Church under foot to gain his end of good government. He saw clearly that the remedy for such anarchy as England had endured under Stephen lay in the establishment of a kingly government unembarrassed by any privileges of order or class, administered by royal servants, and in whose public administration the nobles acted simply as delegates of the sovereign. His work was to lie in the organization of judicial and administrative reforms which realized this idea. But of the great currents of thought and feeling which were tending in the same direction he knew nothing. What he did for the moral and social impulses which were telling on men about him was simply to let them alone.
Religion grew more and more identified with patriotism under the eyes of a King who whispered, and scribbled, and looked at picture-books during mass, who never confessed, and cursed God in wild frenzies of blasphemy. Great peoples formed themselves on both sides of the sea round a sovereign who bent the whole force of his mind to hold together an Empire which the growth of nationality must inevitably destroy. There is throughout a tragic grandeur in the irony of Henry's position, that of a Sforza of the fifteenth century set in the midst of the twelfth, building up by patience and policy and craft a dominion alien to the deepest sympathies of his age, and fated to be swept away in the end by popular forces to whose existence his very cleverness and activity blinded him. But indirectly and unconsciously, his policy did more than that of all his predecessors to pre pare England for the unity and freedom which the fall of his house was to reveal.
He had been placed on the throne, as we have seen, by the Church. His first work was to repair the evils which England had endured till his accession by the restoration of the system of Henry the First; and it was with the aid and counsel of Theobald that the foreign marauders were driven from the realm, the castles demolished in spite of the opposition of the baronage, the King's Court and Exchequer restored. Age and infirmity however warned the Primate to retire from the post of minister, and his power fell into the younger and more vigorous hands of Thomas Beket, who had long acted as his confidential adviser and was now made Chancellor. Thomas won the personal favour of the King. The two young men had, in Theobald's words, "but one heart and mind;" Henry jested in the Chancellor's hall, or tore his cloak from his shoulders in rough horse-play as they rode through the streets. He loaded his favourite with riches and honours, but there is no ground for thinking that Thomas in any degree influenced his system of rule. Henry's policy seems for good or evil to have been throughout his own. His work of reorganization went steadily on amidst troubles at home and abroad. Welsh outbreaks forced him in 1157 to lead an army across the border.