It is a commonplace to note, of course, that Italian Cardinals have dominated the Holy See. It's also a commonplace to say that England and the popes were often in conflict. But as the book I have been reading about England and the popes testifies, the relationships between England and the Holy See have also been very strong. During the Anglo-Saxon era, correspondence and travel between England's hierarchy and Rome fostered and signified great devotion to St. Peter--and to his successors.
One of his successors died on September 1, 1159. Pope Adrian IV, alias Nicholas Breakspear, and he was from England--the only pope from England thus far. (Thomas Wolsey had some great ambition to be the second, I believe.)
According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia:
Boso tells us that Adrian was born in England in or near the burg of St. Albans, and that he left his country and his relations in his boyhood to complete his studies, and went to Arles in France. During the vacation he visited the monastery of Sts. Rufus near Avignon, where he took the vows and habit of an Austin canon. After some time he was elected abbot and, going to Rome on important business connected with the monastery, was retained there by Pope Eugenius III, and made a cardinal and Bishop of Albano (1146). Matthew Paris agrees in some measure with this, for he tells us that on Adrian's applying to the abbot of St. Alban's to be received as a monk, the abbot, after examining him, found him deficient and said to him kindly: "Have patience, my son, and stay at school yet a while till you are better fitted for the position you desire." He states further that he was "a native of some hamlet under the abbey, perhaps Langley," and I may add that it is now tolerably certain that he was born at Abbot's Langley in Hertfordshire, about the year 1100; that his father was Robert Brekespear, a man of humble means, though of a decent stock; and that Adrian went abroad as a poor wandering scholar, like John of Salisbury and many others at that time.
Adrian had some dealings with Frederick Barbarossa:
After some negotiations a famous meeting took place at Sutri, about 30 miles north of Rome, on the 9th of June, 1155, between Frederick of Hohenstauffen, then the most powerful ruler in Europe, and the humble canon of Sts. Rufus, now the most powerful spiritual ruler in the world. As the Pope approached, the Emperor advanced to meet him, but did not hold the Pope's stirrup, which was part of the customary ceremony of homage. The Pope said nothing then, but dismounted, and the Emperor led him to a chair and kissed his slipper. Custom required that the Pope should then give the kiss of peace. He refused to do so, and told Frederick that until full homage had been paid he would withhold it. This implied that he would not crown him. Frederick had to submit, and on the 11th of June another meeting was arranged at Nepi, when Frederick advanced on foot and held the Pope's stirrup, and the incident was closed.
Such conflict might be behind Pope Adrian's comment to John of Salisbury: "The office of Pope, he assured me, was a thorny one, beset on all sides with sharp pricks. He wished indeed that he had never left England, his native land, or at least had lived his life quietly in the cloister of Sts. Rufus rather than have entered on such difficult paths, but he dared not refuse, since it was the Lord's bidding" (Polycraticus, Bk. IV, xxviii).
The wikipedia article on Pope Adrian IV provides details about his dealings with Byzantium and Ireland (and is also the source of the illustration above).