Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and was educated in Latin and the liberal arts. On William's death in 1087, Henry's older brothers William Rufus and Robert Curthose inherited England and Normandy respectively, but Henry was left landless. Henry purchased the County of Cotentin in western Normandy from Robert, but was deposed by William and Robert in 1091
Henry gradually rebuilt his power base in the Cotentin and allied himself with William against Robert. Henry was on hand when William died in a hunting accident in 1100, and he seized the English throne, promising at his coronation to correct many of William's less popular policies.
Henry married Matilda of Scotland, but continued to have a large number of mistresses, by whom he had many illegitimate children.
Henry's control of England was disputed by Robert, who invaded in 1101. The campaign ended in a negotiated settlement that confirmed Henry as king. The peace was short-lived, and Henry invaded the Duchy of Normandy in 1105 and 1106, finally defeating Robert at the Battle of Tinchebray.
Henry kept Robert imprisoned for the rest of his life. Henry's control of Normandy was challenged by Louis VI of France, Baldwin of Flanders and Fulk of Anjou, who promoted the rival claims of Robert's son, William Clito, and supported a major rebellion in the Duchy between 1116 and 1119. Following Henry's victory at the Battle of Brémule, a favourable peace settlement was agreed with Louis in 1120.
Henry was a harsh but effective ruler, skilfully manipulating the barons in England and Normandy. In England, he drew on the existing Anglo-Saxon system of justice, local government and taxation, but strengthened it with additional institutions, including the royal exchequer and itinerant justices. Normandy was also governed through a growing system of justices and an exchequer.
Many of the officials that ran Henry's system were "new men", relatively low-born individuals who rose up the ranks as administrators. Henry encouraged ecclesiastical reform, but became embroiled in the investiture controversy in 1101 with Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, which was resolved through a compromise solution in 1105. He supported the Cluniac order and played a major role in the selection of the senior clergy in England and Normandy.
Henry's only legitimate son and heir, William Adelin, drowned in the White Ship disaster of 1120, throwing the royal succession into doubt. Henry took a second wife, Adeliza, in the hope of having another son, but their marriage proved childless.
In response to this, Henry declared his daughter, Matilda, as his heir and married her to Geoffrey of Anjou. Relationships between Henry and the couple became strained, and fighting broke out along the border with Anjou. Henry died on 1 December 1135 after a week of illness. Despite his plans for Matilda, the King was succeeded by his nephew, Stephen of Blois, resulting in a period of civil war known as the Anarchy.
Early life, 1068-1099
Childhood and appearance, 1068-86Henry was probably born in England in 1068, in either the summer or the last weeks of the year, possibly in the town of Selby in Yorkshire. His father was William, who had originally been the Duke of Normandy and then, following the invasion of 1066, become the King of England, with lands stretching into Wales. The invasion had created an Anglo-Norman elite, many with estates spread across both sides of the English Channel.
These Anglo-Norman barons typically had close links to the kingdom of France, which was then a loose collection of counties and smaller polities, under only the minimal control of the king. Henry's mother, Matilda, was the daughter of Robert II of France, and she probably named Henry after her nephew, King Henry I of France.
Henry was the youngest of William and Matilda's four sons. Physically he resembled his older brothers Robert Curthose, Richard and William Rufus, being, as historian David Carpenter describes, "short, stocky and barrel-chested", with black hair.
As a result of their age differences and Richard's early death, Henry would have probably seen relatively little of his older brothers. He probably knew his sister, Adela, well, as the two were close in age.
There is little documentary evidence for his early years; historians Warren Hollister and Kathleen Thompson suggest he was brought up predominantly in England, while Judith Green argues he was initially brought up in the Duchy.
He was probably educated by the Church, possibly by Bishop Osmund, the King's chancellor, at Salisbury Cathedral; it is uncertain if this indicated an intent by his parents for Henry to become a member of the clergy.
It is also uncertain how far Henry's education extended, but he was probably able to read Latin and had some background in the liberal arts. He was given military training by an instructor called Robert Achard, and Henry was knighted by his father on 24 May 1086.
In other parts of Europe, including Normandy and England, the tradition was for lands to be divided up, with the eldest son taking patrimonial lands—usually considered to be the most valuable—and younger sons being given smaller, or more recently acquired, partitions or estates.
In dividing his lands, William appears to have followed the Norman tradition, distinguishing between Normandy, which he had inherited, and England, which he had acquired through war.
William's second son, Richard, had died in a hunting accident, leaving Henry and his two brothers to inherit William's estate. Robert, the eldest, despite being in armed rebellion against his father at the time of his death, received Normandy.
England was given to William Rufus, who was in favour with the dying king. Henry was given a large sum of money, usually reported as £5,000, with the expectation that he would also be given his mother's modest set of lands in Buckinghamshire and Gloucestershire.
William's funeral at Caen was marred by angry complaints from a local man, and Henry may have been responsible for resolving the dispute by buying off the protester with silver.
Robert returned to Normandy, expecting to have been given both the Duchy and England, to find that William Rufus had crossed the Channel and been crowned king. The two brothers disagreed fundamentally over the inheritance, and Robert soon began to plan an invasion of England to seize the kingdom, helped by a rebellion by some of the leading nobles against William Rufus.
Henry remained in Normandy and took up a role within Robert's court, possibly either because he was unwilling to openly side with William Rufus, or because Robert might have taken the opportunity to confiscate Henry's inherited money if he had tried to leave. William Rufus sequestered Henry's new estates in England, leaving Henry landless.
In 1088, Robert's plans for the invasion of England began to falter, and he turned to Henry, proposing that his brother lend him some of his inheritance, which Henry refused. Henry and Robert then came to an alternative arrangement, in which Robert would make Henry the count of western Normandy, in exchange for £3,000.
Henry's lands were a new countship based around a delegation of the ducal authority in the Cotentin, but it spread out further across the Avranchin, with control over the bishoprics of both. This also gave Henry influence over two major Norman leaders, Hugh d'Avranches and Richard de Redvers, and the abbey of *Mont Saint-Michel, whose lands spread out further across the Duchy. Robert's invasion force failed to leave Normandy, leaving William Rufus secure in England.
*We visited Mont Saint Michel and never knew that a great grandfather owned it!
Early reign, 1100-06
Taking the throne, 1100
|12th-century representation of Henry's coronation|
Henry rode to Winchester where an argument ensued as to who now had the best claim to the throne. William of Breteuil championed the rights of Robert, who was still abroad, returning from the Crusade, and to whom Henry and the barons had given homage in previous years.
Henry argued that, unlike Robert, he had been born to a reigning king and queen, thereby giving him a claim under the right of porphyrogeniture.Tempers flared, but Henry, supported by Henry de Beaumont and Robert of Meulan, held sway and convinced the barons to follow him.
He occupied Winchester Castle and seized the royal treasury that was being held there.
Henry was hastily crowned king in Westminster Abbey on 5 August by Maurice, the Bishop of London, as Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had been exiled by William Rufus, and Thomas, the Archbishop of York, was in the north of England at Ripon.
In accordance with English tradition and in a bid to legitimise his rule, Henry issued a coronation charter laying out various commitments.
The new king presented himself as having restored order to a trouble-torn country. He announced that he would abandon William Rufus's policies towards the Church, which had been seen as oppressive by the clergy; he promised to prevent royal abuses of the barons' property rights, and assured a return to the gentler customs of Edward the Confessor; he asserted that he would "establish a firm peace" across England and ordered "that this peace shall henceforth be kept".
In addition to his existing circle of supporters, many of whom were richly rewarded with new lands, Henry quickly co-opted many of the existing administration into his new royal household.
William Giffard, William Rufus's chancellor, was made a bishop, and the prominent sheriffs Urse d'Abetot, Haimo Dapifer and Robert Fitzhamon continued to play a senior role in government.
By contrast, the unpopular Ranulf Flambard, the Bishop of Durham and a key member of the previous regime, was imprisoned in the Tower of London and charged with corruption. The late king had left many church positions unfilled, and Henry set about nominating candidates to these, in an effort to build further support for his new government. The appointments needed to be consecrated, and Henry wrote to Anselm, apologising for having been crowned while the Archbishop was still in France and asking him to return at once.
Marriage to Matilda, 1100
The pair had probably first met earlier the previous decade, possibly being introduced through Bishop Osmund of Salisbury. Historian Warren Hollister argues that Henry and Matilda were emotionally close, but their union was also certainly politically motivated. Matilda had originally been named Edith, an Anglo-Saxon name, and was a member of the West Saxon royal family, being the niece of Edgar the Ætheling, the great-granddaughter of Edmund Ironside and a descendent of Alfred the Great
For Henry, marrying Matilda gave his reign increased legitimacy, and for Matilda, an ambitious woman, it was an opportunity for high status and power in England.
Henry and Mathilde had four children.
Henry had a considerable sexual appetite and enjoyed a substantial number of sexual partners, resulting in a large number of illegitimate children, at least nine sons and 13 daughters, many of whom he appears to have recognised and supported.
It was normal for unmarried Anglo-Norman noblemen to have sexual relations with prostitutes and local women, and kings were also expected to have mistresses. Some of these relationships occurred before Henry was married, but many others took place after his marriage to Matilda.
Henry had a wide range of mistresses from a range of backgrounds, and the relationships appear to have been conducted relatively openly. He may have chosen some of his noble mistresses for political purposes, but the evidence to support this theory is limited.
Treaty of Alton, 1101-02
By July, Robert had formed an army and a fleet, ready to move against Henry in England. Upping the stakes in the conflict, Henry seized Flambard's lands and, with the support of Anselm, Flambard was removed from his position as bishop. Henry held court in April and June, where the nobility renewed their oaths of allegiance to him, but their support still appeared partial and shaky.
With the invasion imminent, Henry mobilised his forces and fleet outside Pevensey, close to Robert's anticipated landing site, training some of them personally in how to counter cavalry charges. Despite English levies and knights owing military service to the Church arriving in considerable numbers, many of his barons did not appear.
Anselm intervened with some of the doubters, emphasising the religious importance of their loyalty to Henry.Robert unexpectedly landed further up the coast at Portsmouth on 20 July with a modest force of a few hundred men, but these were quickly joined by many of the barons in England. Instead of marching into nearby Winchester and seizing Henry's treasury, however, Robert instead paused, which gave Henry time to march quickly west and intercept the invasion force.
The two armies met at Alton where peace negotiations began, initiated either by Henry and Robert, or by the barons, and probably supported by Flambard. The brothers then agreed to the Treaty of Alton, under which Robert released Henry from his oath of homage and recognised him as king; Henry renounced his claims on western Normandy, except for Domfront, and agreed to pay Robert £2,000 a year for life; if either brother died without a male heir, the other would inherit their lands; the barons supporting either side who had seen their lands seized by the King or Duke would have them returned, and Flambard would be reinstated as bishop; the two brothers would campaign together to defend their territories in Normandy.
Robert remained in England for a few months more with Henry before returning to Normandy.
Despite the treaty, Henry set about inflicting severe penalties on the barons who had stood against him during the invasion. *William de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, was accused of fresh crimes, which were not covered by the Alton amnesty, and was banished from England.
In 1102 Henry then turned against Robert of Bellême and his brothers, the most powerful of the barons, accusing him of 45 different offences. Robert escaped and took up arms against Henry. Henry besieged Robert's castles at Arundel, Tickhill and Shrewsbury, pushing down into the south-west to attack Bridgnorth.His power base in England broken, Robert accepted Henry's offer of banishment and left the country for Normandy.
*Another great grandfather
Conquest of Normandy, 1103-06
Henry attempted to win over other members of the Normandy nobility and gave other English estates and lucrative offers to key Norman lords. Duke Robert continued to fight Robert of Bellême, but the Duke's position worsened, until by 1104, he had to ally himself formally with Bellême in order to survive.
Arguing that Duke Robert had broken the terms of their treaty, Henry crossed over the Channel to Domfront, where he met with senior barons from across Normandy, eager to ally themselves with the King. Henry confronted his brother and accused him of siding with his enemies, before returning to England.
Wars between King Henry I and his family in France were many, reading about King Henry I on the internet is extremely interesting.
Howeer one significent event caused Henry I most concern.
Succession crisis, 1120-23
Henry left the port of Barfleur for England in the early evening, leaving William Adelin and many of the younger members of the court to follow on that night in a separate vessel, the White Ship. Both the crew and passengers were drunk and, just outside the harbour, the ship hit a submerged rock.
The ship sank, killing as many as 300 people, with only one survivor, a butcher from Rouen. Henry's court was initially too scared to report William's death to the King. When he was finally told, he collapsed with grief.
The disaster left Henry with no legitimate son, with his various nephews the closest male heirs. Henry announced he would take a new wife, Adeliza of Louvain, opening up the prospect of a new royal son, and the two were married at Windsor Castle in January 1121.
Henry appears to chosen her because she was attractive and came from a prestigious noble line.
Adela seems to have been fond of Henry and joined him in his travels, probably to maximise the chances of her conceiving a child. The White Ship disaster initiated fresh conflict in Wales, where the drowning of Richard, d'Avranches second Earl of Chester, encouraged a rebellion led by Maredudd ap Bleddyn.
A direct result of William Adelin's death was the period known as the Anarchy. The White Ship disaster had left Henry I with only one legitimate child, a second daughter named Matilda. Although Henry I had forced his barons to swear an oath to support Matilda as his heir on several occasions, a woman had never ruled in England in her own right.
Matilda was also unpopular because she was married to Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, a traditional enemy of England's Norman nobles. Upon Henry's death in 1135, the English barons were reluctant to accept Matilda as queen Regnant.
One of Henry I's male relatives, Stephen of Blois, the king's nephew by his sister Adela, usurped Matilda as well as his older brothers William and Theobald to become king. Stephen had allegedly planned to travel on the White Ship but had disembarked just before it sailed;
Orderic Vitalis attributes this to a sudden bout of diarrhea.
After Henry I's death, Matilda and her husband Geoffrey of Anjou, the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty, launched a long and devastating war against Stephen and his allies for control of the English throne. The Anarchy dragged from 1135 to 1153 with devastating effect, especially in southern England.
Contemporary historian William of Malmesbury wrote:
"Here also perished with William, Richard, another of the King's sons, whom a woman without rank (Ansfride) had borne him, before his accession, a brave youth, and dear to his father from his obedience; Richard d'Avranches, second Earl of Chester, and his brother Otheur; Geoffrey Ridel; Walter of Everci; Geoffrey, archdeacon of Hereford; the Countess of Chester; the king's niece Lucia-Mahaut of Blois; and many others ... No ship ever brought so much misery to England."Henry intervened in North Wales that summer with an army, and despite the King being hit by a Welsh arrow, the campaign reaffirmed royal power across the region.
With William dead, Henry's alliance with Anjou - which had been based on his son marrying Fulk's daughter - began to disintegrate. Fulk returned from the Levant and demanded that Henry return Matilda and her dowry, a range of estates and fortifications in Maine.
Matilda left for Anjou, but Henry argued that the dowry had in fact originally belonged to him before it came into the possession of Fulk, and so declined to hand them back to Anjou.Fulk married his daughter Sibylla to William Clito, and granted them Maine.
Once again, conflict broke out, as Amaury de Montfort allied himself with Fulk and led a revolt along the Norman-Anjou border in 1123. Amaury was joined by several other Norman barons, headed by Waleran de Beaumont, one of the sons of Henry's old ally, Robert of Meulan.
Henry despatched Robert of Gloucester and Ranulf le Meschin* to Normandy and then intervened himself in late 1123.
Henry began the process of besieging the rebel castles, before over-wintering in the Duchy. In the spring, campaigning began again. Ranulf received intelligence that the rebels were returning to one of their bases at Vatteville, allowing him to ambush them en route at Rougemontiers; Waleran charged the royal forces, but his knights were cut down by Ranulf's archers and the rebels were quickly overwhelmed.
Waleran was captured, but Amaury escaped capture.
Henry mopped up the remainder of the rebellion, blinding some of the rebel leaders - at the time, considered a more merciful punishment than execution - and recovering the last rebel castles. Henry paid Pope Calixtus a large amount of money, in exchange for the Papacy annulling the marriage of William Clito and Sibylla on the grounds of consanguinity.
Planning the succession, 1124-34
Henry may have begun to look amongst his nephews for a possible heir. He may have considered Stephen of Blois as a possible option, and, possibly in preparation for this, he arranged a beneficial marriage for Stephen to a wealthy heiress, Matilda.
Theobald of Blois, his close ally, may have also felt that he was in favour with Henry.William Clito, who was King Louis's preferred choice, remained opposed to Henry and was therefore unsuitable.
Henry may have also considered his own illegitimate son, Robert of Gloucester*, as a possible candidate, but English tradition and custom would have looked unfavourably on this.
Henry's plans shifted when the Empress Matilda's husband, the Emperor Henry, died in 1125. King Henry recalled his daughter to England the next year and declared that, should he die without a male heir, she was to be his rightful successor.
The Anglo-Norman barons were gathered together at Westminster at Christmas 1126, where they swore to recognise Matilda* and any future legitimate heir she might have. Putting forward a woman as a potential heir in this way was unusual: opposition to Matilda continued to exist within the English court, and Louis was vehemently opposed to her candidacy.
Fresh conflict broke out in 1127, when Charles, the childless Count of Flanders, was murdered, creating a local succession crisis. Backed by King Louis, William Clito was chosen by the Flemings to become their new ruler.
This development potentially threatened Normandy, and Henry began to finance a proxy war in Flanders, promoting the claims of William's Flemish rivals.In an effort to disrupt the French alliance with William, Henry mounted an attack into France in 1128, forcing Louis to cut his aid to William.
William died unexpectedly in July, removing the last major challenger to Henry's rule and bringing the war in Flanders to a halt.Without William, the baronial opposition in Normandy lacked a leader.
A fresh peace was made with France, and the King was finally able to release the remaining prisoners from the revolt of 1123, including Waleran of Meulan, who was rehabilitated into the royal court.
Meanwhile, Henry rebuilt his alliance with Fulk of Anjou, this time by marrying Matilda to Fulk's eldest son, Geoffrey. The pair were betrothed in 1127 and were married the following year.
It is uncertain whether Henry intended Geoffrey to have any future claim on England or Normandy, and he was probably keeping his son-in-law's status deliberately uncertain. Similarly, although Matilda was granted a number of Normandy castles as part of her dowry, it was not specified when the couple would actually take possession of them.
Fulk left Anjou for Jerusalem in 1129, declaring Geoffrey the Count of Anjou and Maine.
The marriage proved difficult, as the couple did not particularly like each other and the disputed castles proved a point of contention, resulting in Matilda returning to Normandy later that year. Henry appears to have blamed Geoffrey for the separation, but in 1131 the couple were reconciled.
Much to the pleasure and relief of Henry, Matilda then gave birth to a sequence of two sons, Henry and Geoffrey, in 1133 and 1134.
And there begins the life of our next great grandfather, King Henry II
Death and legacy
Henry angrily declined to do so, probably out of a concern that Geoffrey would try to seize power in Normandy. A fresh rebellion broke out amongst the barons in southern Normandy, led by William, the Count of Ponthieu, whereupon Geoffrey and Matilda intervened in support of the rebels.
Henry campaigned throughout the autumn, strengthening the southern frontier, and then travelled to Lyons-la-Forêt in November to enjoy some hunting, still apparently well.
There Henry fell ill — according to the chronicler Henry of Huntingdon, he ate an excessive number of lampreys against his physician's advice — and his condition worsened over the course of a week.
Once the condition appeared terminal, Henry gave confession and summoned Archbishop Hugh of Amiens, who was joined by Robert of Gloucester and other members of the court.
In accordance with custom, preparations were made to settle Henry's outstanding debts and to revoke outstanding sentences of forfeiture.The King finally died on 1 December 1135.
Henry's corpse was taken to Rouen accompanied by the barons, where it was embalmed; his entrails were buried locally at Port-du-Salut Abbey, and the preserved body was taken onto England, where it was interned at Reading Abbey.
Despite Henry's efforts, the succession was disputed. When news began to spread of the King's death, Geoffrey and Matilda were in Anjou, supporting the rebels in their campaign against the royal army, which included a number of Matilda's supporters such as Robert of Gloucester.
Many of these barons had taken an oath to stay in Normandy until the late king was properly buried, which prevented them from returning to England.The Norman nobility discussed declaring Theobald of Blois king.
Theobald's younger brother Stephen of Blois, however, quickly crossed from Bolougne to England, accompanied by his military household.
|King Stephen son of King William's daughter Adela|
With the help of his brother, Henry of Blois, he seized power in England, being crowned king on 22 December. The Empress Matilda did not give up her claim to England and Normandy, leading to the prolonged civil war known as the Anarchy between 1135 and 1153.
Family and children
Henry and his second wife, Adeliza, had no children.
So many great grandfathers lives intertwined with King Henry I. Our story is beginning to get quite complicated!