What If The Young King Died Early?


What Really Happened?


Henry the Young King was the eldest son of Henry II of England (and also ruler of the Angevin Empire) who was, uniquely within English history, crowned king while his father was still alive and ruling.  This was intended to settle all dispute over the succession when Henry II shuffled off to meet his maker.  In theory, this should have worked.  It did not.


The character of the Young King has been hotly debated over the years, with some arguing he was a indolent so-and-so and others insisting he had hidden talents.  What is not debatable is that his father continued to treat him as a dependent child, denying him any power and responsibility of his own even though the Young King was crowned and, worse, his brothers (particularly Richard, who became Richard the Lionheart) actually were given such responsibility.  The Young King eventually rebelled against his father, triggering off two civil wars that damaged the Angevin Empire (the second ending with the Young King’s death) and ensured its eventual destruction during the reign of King John (the youngest of Henry II’s children). 


What Might Have Happened?


The Young King was crowned in 1170 and rebelled in 1173.  It was quite possible, between the two events, that he might have met an untimely end.  He was very fond of the tournament even before his first defeat, after which he gave himself up to pleasure for a few years, and it was possible he might have died on the field, without joining the revolt against his father.  His death might even have soothed the tensions roiling the empire at the time.  If Richard had to be recalled to serve as Crown Prince (insofar as the term existed at the time), it’s possible the discontent between Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, would be less noticeable because Eleanor would be needed to keep Aquitaine under control (thus leaving her with more power than OTL.)


Now what?


It’s unclear if Richard would have been immediately crowned in his brother’s place.  He was a very different person, a skilled warrior and a man used to wielding power) and his father might have realised he wouldn’t be content being a king in name only.  It’s more likely his father would try to make use of him, as a heir-in-waiting, without going through the crowning ceremony.  It’s also possible he would insist on Richard marrying Alys of France at once (in OTL, there were suggestions she’d already become Henry II’s mistress, which may have been why Richard was reluctant to marry her after becoming king himself) if she was of marriageable age.  (The sources are unclear on just how old she actually was at the time.)  However, it is more likely Henry would rethink the marriage plans.  Richard was now the heir.


Philip of France would not take kindly to the suggestion the marriage plans were going to be cancelled.  He would threaten war, on the grounds Henry was his vassal.  Henry was not the sort of person to put up with such suggestions – he spent a great deal of time and effort avoiding homage to Philip – and its possible he’d actually provoke a fight.  A conflict between France and the Angevin Empire, the latter led by Henry II and Richard (two of the greatest warriors of the age)?  France was not the giant of the later Hundred Years War, not in 1173.  Philip was a great statesman, but not a soldier.  My guess is that the Angevin Empire would come out ahead, perhaps forcing France into a subordinate position instead.  Henry would wind up master of the greatest state in Europe.


Or would he?  The Angevin Empire was not, in any real sense, a united state.  It was a collection of holdings held together by Henry and his wife.  Note how quickly it vanished from the map when a weak king took the throne.  Henry would have to spend years welding it together into a coherent unit, something he couldn’t do in OTL because of the civil wars, and then hope Richard wouldn’t ruin it.  Would a greater taste of kingship smooth Richard’s rough edges, making him a statesman as well as a warrior?  Would John’s undoubted talents help his brother?  Or would the empire survive long enough to make a mark on Western Europe?


If we assume it does, then we have an empire ruling Britain, France and a sizable chunk of Spain.  The resources under its command would be enough to make the emperor the most powerful man in Europe, perhaps even leading to successful crusades, the recapture of Jerusalem and the defeat of Islam?  What would happen to the Pope, if there is a single monarch dominating most of western Europe?  How far would all this go?