Henry II (1133–89), king of England, was son of Geoffrey, count of Anjou, and his wife Matilda, daughter of Henry I, king of England. He inherited the kingdom of England from his cousin Stephen in 1154 (he already held the duchy of Normandy, conquered by his father c.1144) and spent the first decade of his reign restoring royal authority in England to the position held under his grandfather. Although Henry inherited pre-existing claims to the overlordship of Ireland, he appears to have had little interest in pursuing them even when presented with the papal bull Laudabiliter, which gave permission for English intervention in Ireland to promote further reforms within the Irish church. He also proved reluctant to divert his attention from continental politics when presented with an opportunity to intervene in Ireland by Diarmait Mac Murchada (qv), king of Leinster, in 1166.
However, his attentions turned to Ireland when it became clear that Richard de Clare (Strongbow) (qv), earl of Strigoil, had emerged as a dominant force in Irish politics after fighting off attempts by Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (qv), king of Connacht, to enforce his overlordship of Leinster. The king had given permission for his subjects to aid Mac Murchada but had made his opposition to Strongbow's involvement clear. He ordered the seizure of Strongbow's lands in England, but came to a settlement with the earl in which Strongbow surrendered his lands in Ireland to the king and received them back as a royal grant. Henry determined that it was necessary for him to go to Ireland to enforce his rights over his subjects in Ireland and prevent Ireland from becoming overrun with landless men from England. He went prepared for conflict with the Anglo-Normans in Ireland, bringing with him 400 ships, 4,000 men, and siege equipment, but they all submitted to him within days of his landing near Waterford (17 October 1171).
Henry took steps to maintain a royal presence in Ireland by keeping the Norse towns of Wexford, Waterford, and Dublin as royal demesne; he appears also to have taken steps to ensure that further Anglo-Norman expansion outside Leinster would be under his control. Following Irish tradition, he accepted the submission of more important kings, such as Diarmait Mac Carthaigh (qv), king of Desmond, and Domnall Mór Ua Briain (qv), king of Thomond, on the borders of their lordships, while taking submissions of lesser kings on his progress through Ireland. Mac Carthaig submitted in Waterford and Ua Briain on the banks of the Suir, and in return Henry claimed the cities of Cork and Limerick as royal demesne. He progressed from Waterford to Cashel, where he called a synod to meet in early 1172, and from there to Dublin, where he held his Christmas court in 1171 and accepted the submissions of the Gaelic kings of north Leinster. While in Dublin, he also accepted the submissions of the kings of Meath, Ulaid, Bréifne, and Airgialla, although neither Ruaidrí Ó Conchobair nor the king of Cenél nEógain submitted. The exact nature of these submissions has been greatly debated, but they appear to have been the acknowledgement by an inferior king of the supremacy of another, rather than formal bonds of fealty and homage, and were accepted as such by Henry. His plans for Ireland were still unclear when he departed the country (April 1172); he established a substantial garrison in Dublin and granted the kingdom of Meath to his favourite, Hugh de Lacy (qv), but made no attempt to import a formal administration.
Henry may have planned to return to Ireland, but was diverted by the rebellion of his sons in 1173, when he found that, for all his doubts about the Anglo-Normans in Ireland, they remained uniformly loyal to him. His own inclinations appear to have been to recognise the status quo in Ireland, as can be seen in the terms of the treaty of Windsor (1175), under which Ruaidrí Ó Conchobair submitted to Henry II as overlord but was allowed to retain his own overlordship of Ireland outside Meath and Leinster. However, Henry's inability to supply his new lordship with sufficient resources to control effectively the expansion of the colony meant that the treaty soon broke down as the colonists continued to expand the areas of their control. By 1177 the king was forced to seek a new solution; he decided that the best plan for Ireland was a strong government to act as lord over both Anglo-Norman and Irish alike, a government that would be subordinate to the king of England. To achieve this, he attempted to secure a crown for a kingdom of Ireland from the pope for his youngest son, John (qv), whom he created lord of Ireland in 1177.
As Ireland became the responsibility of John, the Anglo-Norman colony in Ireland suffered from a lack of royal attention between 1177 and 1185, when John finally went to Ireland in person. When this expedition failed to assert royal control over the colony, Henry dropped the plan of creating a kingdom, although John did remain lord of Ireland. Henry's last important act with respect to Ireland before his death (6 July 1189) was to grant the marriage of Strongbow's daughter Isabella (Isabella (qv)) to William Marshal (qv), and with it Strongbow's lordship of Leinster.