BBC Claims, Without Evidence, That English King Henry II Considered Converting To Islam
The sole basis for this absurd article is that Henry II wrote a letter to Pope Alexander in which he said that he “would sooner accept the errors of Nur al-Din [the Sultan of Aleppo] and become an infidel, than suffer Thomas [Becket] to hold sway in Canterbury Cathedral any longer.”
Yes, that’s it. That’s the entire weak reed on which the BBC bases this entire flight of fancy about Henry II converting to Islam and compelling all of England to do so as well.
The BBC should know, and probably does, that Henry’s statement is an example of what is known as hyperbole. It does not in any way actually mean that Henry was thinking of converting to Islam. In fact, it makes it clear that he considers that possibility inconceivable, and so he uses the prospect of his conversion as a rhetorical device to emphasize how his putting up with Becket was even more inconceivable.
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It’s like this. If I say, “I would rather have my teeth pulled out with rusty pliers than see a Star Wars movie,” this does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that I am considering having my teeth pulled out with rusty pliers. It means that I would never under any circumstances see a Star Wars movie.
Is the BBC really this stupid, or just intent on normalizing Islam for its captive audience, no matter how much it has to stretch the truth to do so?
This is just another example of the British intelligentsia’s ongoing efforts to compel Britons to believe that Islam is part of their own culture and heritage, so that they will be shamed into fearing to oppose mass Muslim migration into Britain, as well as jihad violence and Sharia oppression of women and others. It’s just more of Britain’s continuing cultural suicide.
“King Henry II: the Muslim monarch of medieval England?,” by Claudia Gold, BBC History Magazine, April 6, 2020:
In the spring of 1168, Henry II, King of England, wrote to Pope Alexander III. While correspondence between monarch and pontiff was a matter of course, this letter was notable for the menace it projected. For Henry was threatening to convert to Islam.
It was not unusual for Henry to issue threats: they were fundamental to his arsenal of kingship, as vital as his carefully calculated thunderous outbursts, his diplomacy, the legendary speed at which he drove his armies and his unsurpassable siege warfare in inspiring awe among his adversaries. Henry did not discriminate between the recipients of his threats, from the pope to the lowly electors of Winchester, whom he once ordered to “hold a free election” but forbade “to elect anyone but Richard my clerk”.
But this was of a different order altogether. Since 1097, European crusaders had been fighting the forces of Islam in the Middle East and tenaciously hanging on to their conquests: the kingdom of Jerusalem, the principality of Antioch, the counties of Edessa and Tripoli. Muslims were seen as Christendom’s enemies.
Moreover, Henry was not simply King of England: he was also the Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Maine, Anjou and Touraine, master of vast swathes of France. One of the world’s most powerful men, he held sway from the Scottish borders to the Middle East, where his uncles ruled the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. If Henry was serious, the ramifications across 12th-century Europe would be seismic.
Could this, then, have been more than Henry’s characteristic bombast? Is it possible that he meant what he said?
Henry was familiar with Islam. He would have studied the works of Petrus Alfonsi, physician to his grandfather Henry I, who wrote the earliest credible account of Muhammad, as well as Peter the Venerable, who ordered the first translation of the Qur’an into Latin. Although he saw Islam as a heresy, Peter thought it the greatest of all heresies – the one that most deserved to be answered.
Alongside Islam, Henry also developed an admiration for Arabic learning from an early age. He had received an outstanding education from scholars versed in the ‘new’ knowledge that was exploding out of Sicily, Spain and the Middle East. Western Europe had never experienced such an intellectually exciting period as the 12th century – later dubbed the 12thcentury renaissance – fed by a rediscovery of the classical thinkers of Greece and Rome (particularly Christian Rome after Constantine’s conversion), and by contact with the Arab world and its rich intellectual tradition in astronomy, medicine, music, architecture and mathematics….
So much for the king’s high regard for Islam and Arabic culture. But what was it that provoked Henry to make the threat in the first place? The answer is to be found in Henry’s letter, where he tells Pope Alexander he “would sooner accept the errors of Nur al-Din [the Sultan of Aleppo] and become an infidel, than suffer Thomas [Becket] to hold sway in Canterbury Cathedral any longer”.
Now things become a little clearer: it is 1168, and Henry’s row with his erstwhile friend Thomas Becket is in its fifth weary year. Henry had raised Thomas high, appointing him to the position of chancellor soon after his accession. He was “considered second only to the king”. Henry had such faith in Thomas to do his bidding that after Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, died in 1161, he strong-armed a reluctant Becket into taking up the dual position of chancellor -archbishop, despite warnings from Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda, and from Thomas himself. Thomas thought it was ludicrous, protesting that Henry and he knew “for certain that if I am ever promoted to that dignity, I will have to forfeit either the king’s favour or… my service to God Almighty”.
Henry ignored all objections, paying no heed to his mother and even threatening the monks of Canterbury (who did not want Thomas as their archbishop) with his anger if they failed to elect his candidate. Henry’s primary concern was to ensure the succession by crowning his eldest surviving son in his lifetime. It was his bid to avoid another blood-spattered race to the throne when he died – as had happened at the death of every monarch except Stephen since the Norman conquest. The right to crown the kings of England was the prerogative of the archbishops of Canterbury, and Henry expected Thomas to accede to his desire.
Instead, Henry discovered that he had installed a zealot, a soldier now for the eternal Christ instead of his temporal king….
Henry’s conversion would presumably have required the mass conversion of all the different peoples in the lands under his rule, from Northumberland to Aquitaine. The administrative implications alone would have been immense. What would have become of the thousands of bishops and priests? Would Arabic have replaced Latin as the lingua franca? Would there have been a new curriculum in the universities? Would Henry have developed Arabic rather than English law? With which caliphates would he have forged his new alliances? What would have been the effect on the crusades?…
Article posted with permission from Robert Spencer