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The 12th Century

During the 12th century, Britain was a country of forests, farms and simple villages.

William II, also known as William Rufus, was king at the turn of the century but he was killed while hunting, probably by his brother. The spot is marked by the Rufus Stone in the New Forest. His brother ascended to the throne as Henry I and ruled from 1100 to 1135.

Some of the key events during this period were:

1100 Henry I began his 35 year reign
1102 Slavery ended in England
1135 Stephen I crowned king
1154 Henry II succeeded Stephen as king
1154 Work started on the building of York Minster
1167 Oxford University was founded
1170 Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered by knights of Henry II
1170 London's population grew to more than 30, 000
1174 Wells Cathedral was begun
1189 Richard the Lionheart was crowned king
1199 John I succeeded his brother to the throne

Windsor Castle, begun in the 11th century, was extended. The landmark Round Tower was added in the 12th century and can still be visited as part of a tour of the Royal Castle and grounds.

Other buildings which date back to this period are Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk, Oakham Castle in Rutland and Old Sarum which later became Salisbury. The extensive earthworks of the fortification can still be seen just outside the city.

Henry’s daughter Matilda was his rightful successor but instead Henry’s nephew Stephen took the throne and for a time the country was plunged into Civil War. Stephen was crowned king in Westminster Abbey and ruled from 1135-1154.

Although Matilda fought for her rightful crown, she was defeated at the Battle of Farringdon in 1145. The treaty of Westminster (Wallingford) agreed that on Stephen’s death, Matilda’s son Henry would be king.

In 1154 Stephen died and Henry II came to the throne. He was the first of the Angevin kings to rule. His wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, already ruled large areas of Aquitaine in France.

Henry II appointed Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, a powerful position. After a quarrel about the power of civil courts over the powers of the church, Becket was murdered by Henry’s knights in Canterbury Cathedral, much to Henry’s horror.

During his reign, Henry II spent a fortune on the building and furnishing of Dover Castle in Kent, which was not only a fortification but also a demonstration of Henry’s wealth and power.

Henry also established the civil court system and introduced the idea of a trial by a jury of peers.

Upon his death in 1189, his second son, Richard the Lionheart was crowned king of England. He was born in Beaumont Palace, Oxford, which is no longer standing and he reigned until 1199. He spent most of his ten year rule leading the Third Crusade, a religious war to liberate the Holy Land from the occupation of the Seljuk Turks.

During this period, Robin Hood was living in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire with his "Merry Men" allegedly robbing the rich and feeding the poor.

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