Henry of Essex or Henry d'Essex (died c. 1170) was a Norman noble who held the honours of Rayleigh, Essex, Haughley (by right of his 2nd wife Alice de Montfort), and the office of Constable of England during the reigns of Kings Stephen and Henry II. That office included the duty of holding the royal standard to indicate the location of the king.
Henry is mentioned in several chronicles, including the Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond. His influence at court was greatest during the reign of King Stephen, but continued into the first years of Henry II's reign. He served King Henry as sheriff of Buckinghamshire from 1156 to 1159 and a justiciar as well as constable. Henry participated in the king's Toulouse campaign in the spring and summer of 1159.
After he dropped the royal standard in a Welsh ambush during Henry II's 1157 campaign into Wales, however, his political importance waned. As royal constable, his office required that he hold that standard to indicate the king's position during any military engagement. Dropping the standard seemed to signal the king's death. At the Easter court of 1163, Henry was accused of treason for that act by a claimant to the Montfort estate. The two men fought a judicial duel a few months later. Jocelin details Henry's judicial dual with Robert de Montfort (a rival for Henry's wife's inheritance) on Fry's Island in the River Thames at Reading. Henry's body was carried senseless from the site of the duel by monks of nearby Reading Abbey, but he revived and there took the Benedictine cowl. As a convicted traitor, however, his estates and offices were forfeit and his family disgraced.
Henry of Essex is thought to have died the same year as Becket, in 1170, at Reading Abbey.
Arms of Henry of Essex
"Arms, Argent, an Orle Gules. Eodem anno, as in Madox's Exch. p.685 John de Bidun."
He married first a woman named Cecily, by whom he seems to have had two sons, Henry and Hugh. Henry's second wife was Alice de Montfort, by whom he at least one daughter, Agnes, who married Aubrey de Vere III, first earl of Oxford, as his third wife.
- Richardson and Sayles, Governance of Medieval England, (Edinburgh: 1963), p. 196.
- Frank Barlow, Thomas Becket, p. 57.
- T. Keefe, Feudal Assessments and the Political Community under Henry II and His Sons (Berkeley, 1983), p. 259.
- G. E. Cokayne, Complete Peerage, vol. 10, pp. 199-207
- DeAragon, R., "Agnes of Essex, Countess of Oxford", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 6, p. 467.
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