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The nature of monarchy in England was of deference, but not necessarily reverence so I think you’d have trouble convincing the English to ascribe that particular epithet to any of their rulers.
He was a solid statesman. But the term “the great” is not appropriate for a few reasons. first, the term is typically ascribed during the time of a ruler, or immediately following his/her passing, because it ensures that a ruler is being labeled the superlative not only because of their administrative/political conquests, but for the adoration of their people. This is one of the truly extraordinary achievements of a statesman. Henry II wasn’t really adored in England, and as some have pointed out he wasn’t even really an English ruler anyways. More to the point, though, Henry was an able administrator, but how on earth could you compare him to Alexander, who conquered most of the known world without losing a battle, or Catherine, who overcame gender stereotypes and modernized one of the most backwards and conservative countries in the world at that time.
It’s just not a comparison. Consider some other historical figures who would deserve the accolade before Henry II: Julius Caesar, George Washington, Joan of Arc, or even other English states people like Elizabeth I or even Winston Churchill.
History is filled with laudable characters. But to be truly “Great,” one has to not only be extraordinary today and in retrospect, but have cultivated for themselves that reputation during the time of their ruling, which Henry II did not.
What are the criteria for calling someone “the Great”? Usually it is a pre-modern historian or propagandist who applied the epithet to a figure, and sometimes those historians were writing hundreds of years after the event. For instance, Alfred of Wessex (9th century) was called “the Great” only in the 16th century, a time when the Tudors had dynastic interests in praising their perceived forebears, like King Alfred and the mythical King Arthur. So the label was at least partly propagandistic, and further historiographers in the 19th century ensured that “Alfred the Great” was a label that would continue into today.
It’s hard to show why something doesn’t happen, but in general, Henry II never attracted that kind of attention or that epithet. It would be strange for historians to proclaim him “the Great” today; modern historians aren’t usually about ranking kings and giving them new epithets.
Worth noting that Henry was first and foremost a French feudal lord. England was just one of his territories. He created what’s known as the Angevin Empire not the English Empire.
Why should he be called great? When the only great thing he ever did was marrying Eleanor Of Aquitaine who came with half of France as her dowry.
Let us compare him with other monarchs who have the same epithet to see how he stacks up.
1. Phillip V Of Macedon or Phillip the Great – Father of another who also had the same epithet.
When he became king, a third of his kingdom was run over by Athenian colonists (Chalcidaea), another third by the Illyrian tribes and the remaining part by Thracian savages. There were two other claimants to the throne and both of his elder brothers were killed in their bid to hold onto the Argead throne.
But in his short reign of 20 or so years, he totally changed the hoplite formation used for centuries by the Greeks, introduced the concept of combined arms as well as oblique order. He played each Greek city against the other ’til he was overlord of all. His machinations in the Persian Court ensured civil war therein for years and a depleted treasury which will be helpful to his son later on.
2. Alexander III ‘The Great’… No need to say why
3. Cyrus The Great – You know someone is great when even your enemies sing your praises. Now Cyrus was nor named the Great by any of his people.. But by Herodotus. Now he was called so by Herodotus not for his battle skills like the two above but for his piety, leniency towards his conquered people and humility.
4. Akbar the Great – Third Mughal Emperor. He too was called the Great not for his battle skills though he was no slouch there just like Cyrus but for his religious and political skills. Akbar was perhaps the only fully localised Mughal Emperor, he had the full support of Rajputs the local rulers whose lands his forebears had defeated pr annexed. He was given that name by Arab traders who were impressed by religious tolerance and leniency towards his conquered people. Same like Cyrus.
5. Ashoka the Great – the only person (other than Alauddin Khilji) to have ever ruled the entirety of the Indian subcontinent. Given the epithet for spreading Buddhism towards the East.
6. Alfred the Great – Called Great for seeding the idea of England, successively staving off England from becoming New Daneland.
Now wtf did your Henry II do in comparison to them?