Henry was born to the Empress Matilda and her second husband, Geoffrey the Fair, Duke of Anjou. He already controlled Normandy and Anjou on the continent, and his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine added her land holdings to his.
He was born in 1133 in France as his mother was living in exile. The Empress Matilda had been named as her father's (Henry I) successor but her cousin Stephen had taken over, leading to civil wars in England.
In 1153, after marrying Eleanor, he went to England to claim his throne reaching an agreement that he would succeed Stephen when he died, which happened in 1154.
During Stephen's reign, the barons had subverted feudal legislation to undermine the monarch's grip on the realm; Henry saw it as his first task to reverse this shift in power.
Henry II established courts in various parts of the country, and was the first king to grant power to magistrates. As a consequence of the improvements in the legal system, the power of church courts waned.
The church opposed this, and its most vehement spokesman was Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
An Anglo-Norman force landed in Ireland to support a claimant to the throne of Ireland in 1169. Henry travelled to Dublin to assert his authority over the country and an English presence was established. Henry was the first monarch to use the title 'King of England' rather than 'King of the English' and his territory spanned from Ireland to the Pyrenees.
In 1170, Becket again confronted Henry, this time over the coronation of Prince Henry. The much-quoted words of Henry II echo down the centuries: "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" Four of his knights took their king literally, and assassinated Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.
When he found out, he repented for the death of the Archbishop, who had been a friend. He walked through the streets of Canterbury being whipped. He reconciled with the church but the power remained the same.
Henry and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had four sons and three daughters. Henry also had some ten children by at least four other women.
The king had problems within his own family as his sons did not like his plan to divide land between them, which led them to mistrust each other.
In 1170, his fifteen-year-old son Henry was crowned king, but he never actually ruled and is not counted in the monarchs of England; he is now known as Henry the Young King.
Henry II's attempt to divide his titles amongst his sons, but keep the power associated with them, provoked them into trying to take control of the lands assigned to them, and they often had the help of King Louis VII of France.
After the death of Henry the Young King in 1183, and also Henry’s second son, his third son, Richard the Lionheart, attacked and defeated Henry in 1189. The king had tried to give some French land to his youngest son John but had been opposed by his son, who had help from Philip II of France. Henry met his opponents and gave in to their demands.
Henry died on 6 July 1189 after finding out his favourite son John had turned against him. He died at Chinon with just his illegitimate son Geoffrey by his side. Richard I was crowned on 1 September 1189 at Westminster Abbey.