Henry I of England

Summary

Henry I of England (c. 1068 – December 1, 1135), also known as Henry Beauclerc, was king of England from 1100 to his death and also duke of Normandy from 1106 to his death. The fourth son of William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda of Flanders, he was educated in Latin and the liberal arts during his childhood. When his father died in 1087, his older brothers Robert Courteheuse and William the Red inherited the duchy of Normandy and the kingdom of England respectively, while he himself was left landless and forced to choose between his rival brothers. Henri obtained from Robert Courteheuse the cession of the Cotentin, but he was finally expelled in 1091, victim of the reconciliation of the latter with William the Red. However, he managed to gradually rebuild his power in the Cotentin and to ally himself with William against Robert during the following years.

Present at the accidental death of William in 1100, Henry seized the throne of England and promised to correct several unpopular measures of his brother. His accession was nevertheless contested by Robert Courteheuse, who came to England in 1101 to assert his rights before agreeing to recognize him. The peace between the two brothers was short-lived and Henry invaded Normandy in 1105 and 1106, where he defeated and captured Robert at the battle of Tinchebray, whom he would keep imprisoned for the rest of his life. Henry”s control of Normandy proved fragile and was challenged by the Frankish king Louis VI the Fat, Baldwin VII of Flanders and Foulques V of Anjou, who defended the rights of William Cliton, Robert”s son, and supported a major revolt between 1116 and 1119, which was finally broken at the battle of Bremula. Henry I and Louis VI concluded a peace agreement the following year.

Considered by his contemporaries to be a stern but effective ruler, Henry I skillfully tamed the power of the barons of England and Normandy. In England, he established a system of justice, local government and taxation inspired by the Anglo-Saxon era, but strengthened it with additional institutions, notably the Royal Exchequer and the itinerant courts of justice, also established in Normandy. Henry relied in his administration more on men of modest origin than on high-ranking families. Although he supported the Gregorian reform, he did not hesitate to enter into conflict with Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury in 1101, before being reconciled with him after a compromise in 1105. Henry also established a lasting influence of the monarchy on the appointment of bishops in England and Normandy and supported the Order of Cluny.

Henry I had two children from his first wife Matilda of Scotland, William Adelin and Matilda the Empress, as well as numerous illegitimate children from his many extramarital relationships. However, the death of William, his only legitimate son, in the sinking of the Blanche-Nef in 1119 deeply disrupted the royal succession. Henry remarried Adelaide of Louvain in the hope of having a new son, but the marriage remained sterile. Finally, he decided to proclaim his daughter Matilda as his heir and married her to Geoffrey V of Anjou. Relations between Henry and the couple became strained over time and led to armed tensions in Normandy. Henry I died on December 1, 1135 after a week of illness. Despite his wishes, his nephew Stephen of Blois took the throne from Matilda, triggering a long period of instability known as the Anarchy.

Childhood, appearance and education

Henry was probably born in England in 1068, either in the summer or in the last few weeks of the year, or even early in 1069. According to local tradition, he was born in the town of Selby, located in Yorkshire. His father William the Conqueror had been Duke of Normandy as well as King of England since the Norman conquest of England in 1066. The Norman invasion led to the creation of an Anglo-Norman elite that held many possessions on both sides of the Channel, with some barons even settling in Wales. Despite their settlement in England, the Anglo-Norman barons maintained strong ties with the kingdom of France, which was then divided into a multitude of fiefs nominally under the authority of the king of the Franks, but in reality fiercely autonomous. Henry”s mother, Matilda of Flanders, was herself a granddaughter of King Robert II the Pious, and it is possible that she decided to name her son after her uncle Henry I.

Henri was the youngest of William and Matilda”s four sons. He physically resembles his older brothers Robert Courteheuse, Richard and Guillaume le Roux, being described as “short, stocky and barrel-chested” with black hair by historian David Carpenter. Because of his age difference with his brothers, it is unlikely that Henry had much contact with them as a child. It is more likely that he was close to his sister Adele, born around 1067. There are few sources for Henry”s early years: Warren Hollister and Kathleen Thompson think he was raised in England, while Judith Green says he was initially raised in Normandy. He was probably educated by the Church, perhaps by the bishop and royal chancellor Osmond de Sées at Salisbury Cathedral, although it is unclear whether his parents intended him to pursue an ecclesiastical career. His level of education is also uncertain, but it is likely that he learned to read Latin and studied the liberal arts. Henri finally received military training from Robert Achard and was knighted by his father on 24 May 1086.

Legacy of William the Conqueror

In the summer of 1087, William the Conqueror was wounded during a military campaign in the Vexin. Henry quickly joined his dying father near Rouen, where the latter organized the division of his possessions between his sons Robert, William and Henry – Richard was already dead. The rules of succession in the West were uncertain at the time: in some territories of the kingdom of France, primogeniture, allowing the eldest son to inherit the title, was gaining in popularity, while in other territories, notably in Normandy, tradition dictated that the lands be divided between the sons, with the eldest son receiving the paternal lands – often those of greatest value – and the younger sons obtaining smaller or more recently acquired territories. William the Conqueror followed the Norman custom of separating Normandy, which he inherited, and England, which he conquered. Robert Courteheuse, the eldest son, although in rebellion against his father at the time of his death, received Normandy, while William the Red, the second son, then in favor with their father, obtained England. As for Henry, he was given a large sum of money, estimated at 5,000 pounds, in order to establish himself in one of the lands held by his mother Matilda of Flanders, who died in 1083, in Buckinghamshire and Gloucestershire. William the Conqueror died on September 9, 1087, and his funeral, organized shortly afterwards in Caen, was marred by the complaints of an inhabitant concerning his property: Henry could have been asked to appease him by compensating him with money.

Robert Courteheuse, who hoped to inherit Normandy and England, discovered that his younger brother had crossed the Channel and been crowned on September 26. The two brothers disagreed about their father”s inheritance and Robert quickly planned to invade England to take it. Henry remained in Normandy and became influential at his brother Robert”s court, either because he refused to openly ally himself with William the Red, or because Robert would have seized the opportunity of his departure for England to seize his financial heritage. Whatever the case, William ordered the confiscation of Henry”s new English possessions. In 1088, Robert”s plans for England began to fall apart and he approached Henry, asking him to lend him part of his inheritance to finance the expedition. Although Henry refused, the two brothers negotiated an agreement, in which Robert agreed to give him the west of Normandy in exchange for 3,000 pounds. Henry thus obtained a new county including the delegation of the ducal authority over the Cotentin, certain domains of the Avranchin and the control of the dioceses of these two regions. In addition, he now controlled the strategic abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. This considerable gain in land also allowed Henry to increase his influence over two important Norman lords: Hugues d”Avranches and Richard de Reviers. Finally, even if Robert Courteheuse”s military expedition never left Normandy, Henry was able to make a good profit from his support of the latter.

Count of Cotentin

Henry quickly established his authority in Cotentin and created a solid network of supporters in western Normandy and eastern Brittany, which the historian John Le Patourel refers to as “Henry”s gang”. His early supporters included Richard de Reviers, Geoffroy de Mandeville, Hugues d”Avranches and Robert FitzHamon, as well as the clergyman Roger of Salisbury. Aware of the irresistible influence his brother was gaining in his duchy, Robert Courteheuse tried to renege on his agreement with Henry and reclaim the Cotentin, but his brother”s hold on the region was such that he was discouraged. Meanwhile, his own management of Normandy was chaotic and some lands in his duchy – notably those controlled by Henry – became almost independent of the central power in Rouen. If his progressive rise worries Robert Courteheuse, Henri does not gain for all that the confidence of William the Red. Indeed, Henry waited for the rebellion fomented by Robert”s supporters against William to collapse before returning to England in July 1088. The meeting between William and Henry was not very fruitful, since the former refused to give the latter their mother”s lands, despite the arrangements made by their father. Back in Normandy in the autumn, Henry was arrested on the spot by his uncle Odon of Bayeux with the agreement of his brother Robert, the latter being convinced by Odon that Henry was conspiring with William against him. Imprisoned in Neuilly-la-Forêt and deprived of his county of Cotentin, he remained in captivity throughout the winter and was only released in the spring of 1089, when Robert Courteheuse”s advisors persuaded him to release him.

Although he no longer owned the Cotentin, Henry continued to control western Normandy, taking advantage of the continuing tensions between his brothers. While William began to forge alliances with the barons of Normandy and Ponthieu against his older brother, Robert formed an alliance with Philip I, King of the Franks. The conflict between the two brothers was triggered at the end of 1090 by William”s appeal to Conan Pilate, a bourgeois of Rouen, to rebel against Robert. Supported by the people of Rouen, Conan called on the ducal garrisons of the area to pledge allegiance to the king of England. Furious at this challenge to his authority, the Duke of Normandy ordered the mobilization of his vassals: Henry was the first to answer his call and arrived in Rouen in November. The capital of the duchy was plunged into violence, while both sides tried to wrest control of it. At the last moment, Robert withdrew from the fighting, leaving Henri alone to continue the struggle. The battle turns to the advantage of Robert”s supporters and Henri takes Conan prisoner. Furious that Conan had risen up against his suzerain and despite the latter”s offer to buy his freedom with a heavy ransom, Henri ordered him to be thrown out of the castle of Rouen, a gesture that was approved by his contemporaries and that contributed to his military fame.

Isolation and return to grace

Robert ordered Henry to leave Rouen shortly afterwards, probably because of Henry”s leading role in recent events and because Henry demanded the return of Cotentin. At the beginning of 1091, William the Red landed in Normandy with enough forces to force Robert to negotiate. By the treaty of Caen, William received several Norman lands and fortresses, but committed himself to helping Robert reconquer the county of Maine and regain control of Henry”s possessions. In addition, they named each other as heirs to their respective possessions, excluding Henry from the Anglo-Norman succession as long as they were both alive. Soon, the conflict between Henry and his older brothers broke out. Although Henry mobilized an army of mercenaries in western Normandy, Robert and William advanced with their troops, which discouraged Henry”s supporters. Henry decided to concentrate his forces at Mont-Saint-Michel, where he was besieged in March. Easy to defend, the site lacked a supply of drinking water. According to the chronicler William of Malmesbury, Robert Courteheuse provided Henry with water supplies, which seemed to irritate William the Red. The events at the end of the siege remain uncertain: the besiegers begin to quarrel about their future strategy, but Henry capitulates, presumably after negotiation. He then went into exile in Brittany, before returning to France.

Henry”s later activities are not well documented: the chronicler Orderic Vital suggests that he settled in the Vexin with a few followers for a year. By the end of 1091, Robert Courteheuse and Guillaume le Roux separated after a quarrel, and the following year Henry entered Normandy and bloodlessly seized Domfront, after the inhabitants had appealed to him for help against their lord Robert II of Bellême. Over the next two years, Henry reactivated his network of supporters in western Normandy, which Judith Green referred to as “a court in waiting,” and began to hand over lands to them, regardless of Robert”s wishes. He even received financial support from his brother William, who encouraged him to confront their older brother: Henry used these funds to build a new fortress at Domfront. In March 1094, William the Red landed in Normandy to confront Robert Courteheuse and requested Henry”s support when his advance ran out of steam. Henry did not join the campaign, however, and went to London, perhaps at William”s request, who turned back soon after. During the following years, Henry strengthened his influence in western Normandy and occasionally visited William”s court in England. In November 1095, Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont and encouraged the lords of the West to fight in the Holy Land. Robert Courteheuse responded favorably to the pontiff”s request the following year and borrowed a substantial sum of money for his expenses from William the Red, who in exchange received the custody of the duchy of Normandy in his absence. During the four years of absence of their elder brother, William became closer to Henry and the two brothers led a campaign together in the Vexin between 1097 and 1098 against Philip I.

Advent and coronation

On the afternoon of August 2, 1100, William the Red, who had gone hunting in the New Forest with his hunters and several barons, including Henry, was killed by an arrow, perhaps shot by Gautier II Tirel. Many conspiracy theories have since been put forward suggesting an assassination of the king of England, but modern historians point out that hunting was a risky activity at the time and that this kind of accident was quite common. Worried, Tirel fled to France, either because he had shot the arrow that killed William, or because he feared being accused of regicide and used as a scapegoat for the king”s suspicious death. Upon hearing of his brother”s death, Henry hurried to Winchester, where the succession to the throne of England was immediately debated. The rights of Robert Courteheuse, who was just returning from the First Crusade, were mentioned by Guillaume de Breteuil: Henri and the Norman barons had indeed paid him homage before his departure for the Holy Land four years earlier. Nevertheless, Henri specifies that, contrary to Robert, he was born during the reign of their father on the throne of England and shows his claim to the succession of William the Red by evoking the principle of porphyrogeny. Spirits began to flare, but Henry, supported by the Earls Henry and Robert of Beaumont, finally won the support of the majority of the barons and persuaded them to recognize him as their sovereign. He then occupied Winchester Castle and seized the royal treasury.

On August 5, Henry was crowned in Westminster Abbey by Maurice, Bishop of London, because Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, had been exiled by William the Red and Thomas of Bayeux, Archbishop of York, was in Ripon. In accordance with English tradition and in order to legitimize his accession, Henry published the Charter of Liberties in which he stated his commitments: restoration of order in the kingdom, abandonment of the oppressive policy of his predecessor against the clergy, end of royal abuses of the property rights of the barons and return to the customs of the reign of Edward the Confessor. Henry”s proclamation stated that the new king would “establish a firm peace” throughout England and ordered that “this peace be henceforth maintained. While rewarding his most ardent supporters, Henry co-opted much of the existing administration into the new royal household: William Giffard, William the Red”s chancellor, was elected bishop of Winchester, and the important sheriffs Bear of Abbetot, Hamo Dapifer, and Robert FitzHamon retained an influential role in the government. In contrast, the unpopular Rainulf Flambard, bishop of Durham, was imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of corruption. In an effort to retain the support of the church, Henry appointed new candidates to many of the seats vacated by his brother and recalled Anselm from exile, apologizing to him for his hasty coronation in his absence and asking him to validate his bishop appointments.

Marriage with Mathilde of Scotland

A few months later, Henry married Mathilde of Scotland, sister of King Edgar, on November 11, 1100. He was then about 32 years old, but late marriages were not unusual in the 11th century. The couple had probably met in the previous decade, perhaps through Osmond of Sées. Historian Warren Hollister believes that Henry and Matilda became very close, but that their union was certainly motivated by political circumstances. Originally named Edith, Henry”s new wife was of Anglo-Saxon descent through her mother Margaret and was the niece of Edgar Atheling, the unsuccessful claimant to the English throne in 1066, and the great-granddaughter of King Edmund Côte-de-Fer. Thus, this marriage allowed Henry to increase his legitimacy and gave Matilda the opportunity to gain influence over the English government. However, the marriage met with an obstacle, as Matilda had been raised in several convents and might have already taken her vows to become a nun. Henry therefore appealed to Anselm for help, who organized a council at Lambeth Palace to authorize the marriage. Despite some opposition, the council concluded that Matilda was not indeed a nun and gave her permission to marry Henry.

Matilda proved to be a worthy wife and an effective supporter of her husband: she held the role of regent on one occasion, addressed and chaired several councils, and patronized the arts. The new queen quickly gave her husband several children: a daughter, named Mathilde, in 1102, and a son, named William, known as “Adelin”, the following year. It is possible that the couple had a third child, Richard, who died in infancy. After the birth of her children, Matilda preferred to settle in the Palace of Westminster, while Henry traveled regularly throughout England and Normandy: the presence of the queen in the capital underlines her regular involvement in the royal government, but more personal reasons, including religious, are not excluded. Despite his apparently successful marriage, Henry seems to have had a considerable number of mistresses, from whom he fathered many illegitimate children: the names of at least nine sons and thirteen daughters are known, most of whom he recognized as his bastards and to whom he gave his support in their education and establishment. Henry”s case is not isolated: Anglo-Norman nobles had many extramarital (and often public) affairs in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Many of Henry”s extramarital affairs took place before his marriage, but others occurred during his union with Matilda. The origins of Henry”s mistresses are diverse, but several of them seem to have been chosen for political reasons, although contemporary chronicles do not provide many clues on this subject and remain rather vague.

Rivalry with Robert Courteheuse

By early 1101, Henry”s regime was firmly established, but members of the Anglo-Norman barons continued to support his brother Robert Courteheuse or would be willing to join him if he took power in England. In February, Rainulf Flambard escaped from the Tower of London and went to Normandy, where he showed his support for Robert, who assembled a large fleet and army to land in England that spring. In retaliation, Henry confiscated the possessions of Rainulf Flambard and, with the support of Anselm, dismissed him from his bishopric. In April and June, he received renewed oaths of loyalty from his vassals, but their support seemed too fragile. Despite the imminence of his older brother”s invasion, Henry mobilized his forces and his fleet at Pevensey, where Robert intended to land, and trained his troops to resist cavalry charges. Despite the raising of funds and knights by the Church, many barons did not show up. It was only after the personal intervention of Anselm, who reminded them of the importance of the Church”s support for Henry, that some changed their minds and joined the royal army. Contrary to Henry”s expectations, Robert Courteheuse landed at Portsmouth on July 20 with a modest force of a few hundred men, but was soon joined by his English supporters. However, instead of marching directly to Winchester and seizing the royal treasure, Robert paused, giving Henry time to rush west and intercept him.

The two armies met at Alton, in Hampshire, where peace negotiations began, without it being known which side took the initiative, even if Rainulf Flambard distinguished himself during the discussions. By the treaty of Alton, Robert renounces to require from Henry his homage and recognizes him as king of England, against the renunciation of Henry to his possessions in Normandy – with the exception of Domfront – and the annual payment to Robert of a life pension of 2 000 pounds. In addition, if one of the two brothers died without a male heir, the other would inherit his lands. Finally, the barons who had lost their possessions for supporting Robert or Henry were to be restored to their lands, just as Flambard was to be restored to his bishopric, and the two brothers agreed to fight together to defend their Norman possessions. After the conclusion of the treaty, Robert resided in England for a few months before returning to Normandy. However, in defiance of the treaty, Henry inflicted severe sanctions on the barons who supported Robert. Thus, William II of Warenne, accused of having committed several crimes during Robert”s landing, was excluded from the amnesty of the treaty of Alton and banished. The following year, Henry attacked Robert II of Bellême and his brothers, whom he accused of 45 offenses: after forcing him to flee, he laid siege to his fortresses, including the castles of Arundel, Tickhill, Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth. Deprived of his power base, Robert II of Bellême accepted Henry”s peace terms and went into exile in Normandy.

Conquest of Normandy

In 1103, Henry strengthened his network of supporters in Normandy: he married his illegitimate daughters Juliane and Mathilde to Eustache de Breteuil and Rotrou III du Perche, and distributed land and money to other barons. Faced with this threat, Robert Courteheuse was forced to ally himself with Robert II of Bellême, with whom he had been in conflict. Claiming that his brother had not respected his commitments under the Treaty of Alton, Henry crossed the Channel in 1104 and went to Domfront, where he gathered his allies, before accusing Robert of allying himself with his adversaries and leaving for England. However, in 1105, Henry sent Robert FitzHamon to the duchy to provoke his brother. FitzHamon was captured by the duke, which the king of England used as an excuse to intervene and restore order. After having negotiated the neutrality of Philip I, Henry occupied the west of Normandy and advanced towards Bayeux, to deliver FitzHamon. Having tried unsuccessfully to obtain the surrender of the city, he besieged and burned it, before entering Caen without fighting and then taking Falaise. His campaign ran out of steam, which led him to negotiate with Robert, but the discussions were inconclusive and the fighting continued until Christmas, when Henry returned to England.

Henry”s second campaign in Normandy began with his landing in July 1106. Determined to provoke a decisive battle, he laid siege to the castle of Tinchebray, in the southwest of the duchy. Informed of the situation, Robert Courteheuse and Robert II of Bellême rushed from Falaise to deliver Tinchebray. After a final attempt at negotiations, the battle of Tinchebray took place on September 28. The fighting lasted about an hour: after a charge by the ducal cavalry, the infantry of both sides threw themselves into the fray. Finally, the intervention of Henry”s reserves, led by Elijah I of Maine and Alain IV of Brittany, made it possible to attack the flanks of the opposing army and to rout the troops of Robert II of Bellême, then those of Robert Courteheuse. Bellême managed to escape capture by fleeing precipitately, but Courteheuse was taken prisoner. The resistance to the king of England collapsed and the last garrisons surrendered at the request of the duke. When he reached Rouen, Henry reaffirmed the Norman laws and customs, and received the homage of the main barons and burghers of the duchy. Most of the prisoners captured at Tinchebray were quickly released, but Robert Courteheuse and his fierce ally William of Mortain remained in captivity. Guillaume Cliton, Robert”s young son, was given to the custody of the Norman baron Hélias de Saint-Saëns, while Robert II de Bellême was reconciled with Henri. As Henry could not legally remove his brother from the duchy of Normandy, he initially avoided using the title of duke and recalled that his position as king of England allowed him to act as guardian of the duchy to restore order.

Continental and Welsh interventions

From 1108 onwards, the Duchy of Normandy was faced with an increased threat from the Kingdom of France, and the counties of Anjou and Flanders. Indeed, Louis VI the Fat succeeded his father Philip I and began to reassert the central royal power. Louis asked Henry to pay homage to him for Normandy and that two disputed castles located along the border with the royal domain be placed under the control of neutral lords. Henry”s refusal prompted Louis to mobilize his army, but the two kings negotiated a truce that did not resolve the stumbling blocks. At the same time, Foulques V became Count of Anjou in 1109 and hastened to extend his authority: while inheriting Maine, he refused to recognize Henry as his liege lord and became closer to Louis. Robert II of Flanders also joined the alliance against the king of England, shortly before his death in 1111. Faced with this threat, Henry betroths his daughter Matilda to the Roman king Henry V. This marriage alliance allowed Henry V to restore his financial situation and to finance his expedition to Rome in 1111 to be crowned emperor with the dowry of Matilda, set at 6 666 pounds. Despite the difficulty in collecting this colossal sum – which required the establishment of a special tax – Matilda was crowned queen of the Romans in Mainz on July 25, 1110, then married Henry V in Worms on January 6 or 7, 1114.

In order to counter the Franco-Angelian threat, Henry extended his network of supporters in Normandy and had the barons he considered unreliable arrested or dispossessed, notably Robert II of Bellême who, after a new reversal of allegiance in favor of Louis VI, was locked up in 1112. These confiscations of lands allowed him to buy other supporters, especially in Maine. Around 1110, Henri tried to have Guillaume Cliton arrested, but the latter fled to Flanders with his guards. It was also at this time that he began to be referred to as the Duke of Normandy. An uprising in Anjou between 1111 and 1113 gave Henry the opportunity to intervene in support of his nephew Thibaut IV of Blois against Louis VI, whom he tried to isolate diplomatically by betrothing his son William with Mathilde of Anjou, the daughter of Foulques V, and by marrying his illegitimate daughter Mathilde with Conan III of Brittany. Faced with the abandonment of Anjou and Brittany, Louis VI decided to negotiate with Henry, whom he met in March 1113 near Gisors: he renounced this fortress and recognized Henry”s suzerainty over Maine, Brittany and Bellême. The king of England then crossed the English Channel again, because the situation in Wales had deteriorated in his absence: despite a first campaign that had made it possible to colonize Pembroke in 1108, several Norman lords now had to face Welsh attacks, while Owain ap Cadwgan blinded his hostage Madog ap Rhiryd and Gruffydd ap Cynan threatened the authority of Richard of Avranches in the North. Henry retaliated by entering central Wales, while his ally Gilbert de Clare advanced from the south and his brother-in-law and son-in-law Alexander I of Scotland invaded from the north. After forcing Owain and Gruffydd to negotiate peace, Henry strengthened his authority in the Welsh Marches.

Rebellion in Normandy

Worried about his succession, Henry tried to convince Louis VI to recognize William Adelin as the future duke of Normandy, in exchange for the homage of his son. During 1115, he went to Normandy to collect the loyalty oaths of his barons and negotiated an agreement with Louis, by which William Adelin”s rights over Normandy were recognized in exchange for the payment of a sum of money. However, Louis VI quickly reversed his decision and, at the instigation of Baldwin VII of Flanders, preferred to recognize the rights of William Cliton over the duchy. Conflict soon broke out between the two kings, who sacked their respective border towns. From 1116, Henry had to contain an offensive led by the Franks, the Flemings and the Angevins in the Norman countryside. Amaury III de Montfort and other barons seized this opportunity to rebel against Henry, who was even the target of an assassination attempt by a member of his own retinue. Matilda of Scotland died at Westminster on May 1, 1118, but the situation in Normandy was alarming enough that Henry was prevented from attending her funeral.

Despite the increased pressure from his enemies, Henry responded by suppressing the uprising of his vassals and by strengthening his alliance with his nephew Thibaut IV of Blois. In addition, Baldwin VII of Flanders was mortally wounded in September 1118 during a skirmish, which reduced the pressure of Louis VI on Northeast Normandy. Nevertheless, the attempt to reduce the rebellion in the city of Alençon failed because of the intervention of Foulques V of Anjou and his allies. After this failure, Henry”s situation worsened while the defections of his Norman vassals continued. In February 1119, his son-in-law Eustache de Breteuil and his illegitimate daughter Juliane threatened to join the rebellion: hostages were therefore exchanged to guarantee peace, but relations were broken when both sides mutilated their hostages. In retaliation, Henri attacked and seized Breteuil, despite an assassination attempt by Juliane with a crossbow, and then dispossessed the couple of all their possessions. The situation improved in June 1119 with the change of allegiance of Foulques V, after the conclusion of the marriage of Guillaume Adelin and Mathilde d”Anjou in Lisieux, and the payment of a large sum to the Angevins. Foulques left shortly afterwards for the Holy Land and left the management of Maine to Henri, thus allowing the latter to concentrate his forces on Louis VI and Guillaume Cliton.

During the summer, Henri advanced into the Vexin and met Louis VI”s army at the battle of Bremule on August 20. In anticipation of the battle, Henri had his scouts deployed and organized his troops into several lines of dismounted knights. Conversely, the knights of Louis VI remained on their mounts and charged precipitously towards the Anglo-Norman positions. This maneuver broke Henry”s first line of defense, but entangled the French cavalry in the second line and caused Louis” army to collapse. At the height of the fighting, Henri was hit by a sword, but his armor minimized his injury. Faced with a certain defeat, Louis VI and Guillaume Cliton fled, while Henri returned in triumph to Rouen. The conflict dragged on after this battle and pushed the king of the Franks to ask for the intervention of Pope Calixtus II during his council held in Reims in October 1119: even if he was defended by Geoffrey the Breton, archbishop of Rouen, Henry was criticized by the other bishops for his acquisition and management of Normandy. However, the pontiff refused to favor one of the two monarchs and recommended that they make peace. Henry therefore decided to deal separately with his adversaries: he negotiated an agreement with Amaury III of Montfort, but failed to find common ground with William Cliton. Finally, in June 1120, Henri and Louis VI concluded a very advantageous treaty for Guillaume Adelin who, in exchange for his homage to the king of the Franks, was definitively recognized as duke of Normandy.

Succession crisis

Henry”s estate was completely disrupted by the sinking of the Blanche-Nef on November 25, 1120. In the early evening, Henry left the port of Barfleur for England, while William Adelin and his companions had to follow him in a different ship: the Blanche-Nef. It seems that the crew and the passengers were drunk because, while leaving the port, the ship crashed against a rock. The Blanche-Nef sank, killing at least 300 people. Only one passenger, a butcher from Rouen, managed to survive and reach the shore. Upon hearing the news, the court avoided announcing the sinking and the death of the heir to the throne to the king. Henri collapsed in pain when he was informed of the death of his only legitimate son. The disaster cast serious doubt on the succession to the throne, as the king”s closest male relatives were now his nephews. However, Henri announced shortly afterwards that he intended to remarry Adelaide of Louvain, which gave hope for the birth of a new heir. The marriage of Henry and Adelaide took place at Windsor Castle on January 24, 1121. It seems that Henry chose his new wife because of her beauty and prestigious lineage, and that Adelaide herself enjoyed the company of her husband, whom she followed on his many travels throughout England, perhaps to maximize the chances of conceiving a child.

The disaster of the Blanche-Nef plunges Wales into chaos, as the death of Richard of Avranches encourages the rebellion of Maredudd ap Bleddyn. Henry had to intervene personally in the summer of 1121 and reaffirmed royal power in the north of the region, despite being wounded during the fighting. The alliance with Anjou was also called into question by the death of William Adelin: on his return from the Holy Land, Foulques V demanded the return of his daughter Mathilde, her dowry and her fortifications in Maine. If Mathilde d”Anjou finally returned to England, the dowry was on the other hand kept by Henry, who declared that the sum belonged to him before entering into the possession of Foulques and refused to give him back the fortifications he had occupied. In retaliation, Foulques married his daughter Sibylle to Guillaume Cliton and granted them the Maine. This decision caused unrest in Normandy, where Amaury III de Montfort renewed his alliance with Foulques in 1123 and led a rebellion, in which he was joined by other barons, including Galéran IV de Meulan.

Henry had to send his illegitimate son Robert of Gloucester and Ranulph le Meschin to Normandy to restore order, then joined them at the end of the year. The fighting, interrupted during the winter, resumed in the spring of 1124. During the battle of Bourgthéroulde on March 26, 1124, Odon Borleng led the royal army and ambushed the rebels as they retreated through the forest of Brotonne. Galéran IV de Meulan charged the royal forces, but his knights were shot down by Odon”s archers and the rebels were quickly overwhelmed. Galéran was captured, but Amaury III de Montfort managed to escape. The rebellion was then nipped in the bud, its leaders blinded – a punishment considered less severe than an execution – and the last castles of the insurgents taken back. Henry then asked Pope Calixtus II to break the marriage of William Cliton and Sibyl of Anjou, and paid him several sums of money to win his decision: the annulment was finally pronounced for consanguinity on August 26, 1124.

Preparation of the succession

Henri and Adelaide of Louvain did not conceive any children, which led to intense speculation at court as to why this was the case and jeopardized the future of the dynasty. It is possible that Henry gradually began to consider one of his nephews to succeed him on the throne. Perhaps with this in mind, in 1125 he arranged the marriage of his nephew Stephen of Blois to the prestigious heiress Matilda of Boulogne. However, Stephen is not the only candidate for the succession of Henry: thus, his older brother Thibaut IV of Blois considers himself in favor with their uncle, and even the candidacy of William Cliton is supported by Louis VI, although he is not considered a desirable candidate by Henry. It is not excluded either that Henry thought of designating his illegitimate son Robert of Gloucester as his heir, but the English tradition is on the other hand hostile to this choice above all influenced by the Norman custom. However, the death of Emperor Henry V on May 23, 1125 completely disrupted the Anglo-Norman succession, since Henry I recalled his daughter Matilda to England the following year and proclaimed that, if he died without a male heir, she would succeed him on the throne. At Christmas 1126, the barons were invited to Westminster, where they took an oath of loyalty to Matilda and her future descendants. To put forward the candidacy of a woman for the succession to the throne was unprecedented in the early 12th century: part of the court opposed this decision in favor of Matilda, and Louis VI strongly contested her position as heir to the throne.

The death of Charles I of Flanders without an heir in 1127 allowed Louis VI to put forward William Cliton as his successor. This decision directly threatened Henry, who decided to support William”s Flemish rivals and to attack Louis” possessions in order to force him to abandon his alliance with his nephew. The death of William Cliton on July 28, 1128, dismissed Henry”s last opponent, who concluded a truce with Louis VI and ordered the release of the prisoners of the 1123 rebellion, notably Galeran IV of Meulan. In the meantime, Anglo-Angevin relations became more cordial, especially after the marriage of Matilda the Empress to Geoffrey of Anjou, the eldest son of Foulques V, on 17 June 1128. It is not known whether Henry intended to leave a political role for his son-in-law in England or Normandy after his death, but he seems to have deliberately left Geoffrey”s status uncertain. Similarly, although Matilda received several Norman fortresses as part of her dowry, it is not clear when the couple would take possession of them. In 1129, Foulques left for the Holy Land and abandoned Anjou and Maine to Geoffroy. The marriage of Mathilde and Geoffroy did not seem to be fruitful at first: the couple did not get along and the status of Mathilde”s dowry remained a stumbling block. Matilda quickly returned to Normandy – a decision that Henry blamed on Geoffrey – and was only reconciled with her husband in 1131. To Henry”s great relief, Matilda gave birth to two sons, Henry and Geoffrey, in 1133 and 1134.

Relations between Henry on the one hand and Matilda and Geoffrey on the other became increasingly tense during the last months of his reign. The couple thinks, with reason, that it lacks the support of Anglo-Norman barons. In early 1135, Matilda asked her father to hand over the royal castles in Normandy and to demand that the Norman nobility swear an oath of allegiance to her, in order to strengthen the couple”s position after her death. Henry furiously rejected his request, probably because he feared that Geoffrey would try to establish his authority in Normandy for good. A new rebellion broke out in the south of the duchy under the leadership of William I of Ponthieu, to whom Geoffrey and Matilda gave their support. Henry rushed to Normandy in the autumn to re-establish his authority. In November, he stopped at Lyons-la-Forêt to hunt and suddenly fell ill – according to the chronicler Henry of Huntingdon, after having consumed “an overabundance” of lampreys, against the advice of his doctors.

Henry”s condition worsened significantly during a week. Aware of his impending death, he confessed and summoned several members of the court, including Hugh III of Amiens, archbishop of Rouen, and Robert of Gloucester, who oversaw the payment of his debts and had the sanctions against the rebels revoked. Henry I died on December 1, 1135, at the age of about 67, and his body was escorted to Rouen by the court. After being embalmed, his remains were taken to England, where they were deposited in Reading Abbey, while his entrails were placed in the Abbey of Notre-Dame-du-Pré in Valmont. Her burial in Reading is marked by a local cross and a plaque, but the abbey was demolished when the monasteries were dissolved in the 16th century. The exact location of Henry”s grave is uncertain, but it is likely that it now lies in the center of town, on the site of the former abbey choir. A plan to locate his remains was announced in March 2015, with the support of English Heritage and Philippa Langley, who were previously involved in the discovery of Richard III”s body in 2012.

Despite the arrangements made by Henry in 1126, Matilda”s succession to the thrones of England and Normandy was immediately contested. First of all, when the death of the king of England was announced, Matilda and Geoffrey were in Anjou from where they supported the rebellion against the royal army, which included many of their potential supporters, such as Robert of Gloucester. On the other hand, the barons who had accompanied Henry during his campaign were sworn to remain in Normandy until the burial of the deceased king, which prevented them from returning immediately to England. Thus, part of the Norman nobility discussed the possibility of offering the crown to Thibaut IV of Blois, but his brother Stephen crossed the Channel in a hurry from Boulogne with a few troops and was crowned king of England on December 22. His claims were supported by his younger brother Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester, and Hugues Bigot, who declared that Henry I had released the Anglo-Norman barons from their oath of loyalty to Matilda on his deathbed and had supported Stephen”s candidacy. Despite this turn of events, Matilda the Empress did not renounce her paternal inheritance and decided to appeal this decision to Pope Innocent II, then to invade England: the civil war between Matilda and Stephen, known as the Anarchy, lasted until 1153.

Government and legislation

Henry inherited the kingdom of England after the death of William the Red, which gave him a right of suzerainty over Wales and Scotland, and after the defeat of Robert Courteheuse, the duchy of Normandy, a complex regional entity whose borders were often susceptible to unrest. The Anglo-Scottish border was not really fixed during the reign of Henry I, as Anglo-Norman influence extended north beyond Cumbria. However, relations between Henry I and Alexander I, then his successor David I, were generally cordial, partly due to Henry”s first marriage to Alexander and David”s sister, and the marriage of his illegitimate daughter Sibyl to Alexander. In Wales, Henry used his authority to gain respect from the Welsh lords, while the Norman lords of the Marches extended their influence to the valleys of South Wales. As for Normandy, it was controlled by several high lords or members of the clergy, who strengthened their territorial base by the increasing construction of fortresses along the borders. Alliances and relationships with border counties were particularly important for Henry to maintain stability in his duchy, which explains why his two legitimate children married children of Foulques V of Anjou in 1119 and 1128.

Henry was responsible for a substantial expansion of the royal legal system. In England, he drew on the Anglo-Saxon system of royal justice, local government and taxation, but reinforced it with additional centralized institutions. After 1110, Archbishop Roger of Salisbury developed the Royal Exchequer and used it to collect and audit the revenues of royal sheriffs. In addition, itinerant judges traveled throughout the kingdom holding circuit courts, and laws were more regularly recorded. The expansion of royal justice allowed Henry to increase his income, mainly through fines. In addition, the very first Pipe Roll was created in 1130 to record royal expenses. Henry also decided to reform the coinage in 1107, 1108 and 1125, and imposed severe corporal punishment on coiners found guilty of debasing it. In Normandy, Henry restored law and order by establishing a body of judges and an exchequer system similar to those in England. Norman institutions expanded under his reign, though not as quickly as in England. The many members of the royal administration were dubbed the “new men” by historians, because of their ability to rise through the ranks despite their humble origins.

Bar and court

In order to increase his power and reduce the influence of the barons, Henry sought to soften them up by making friends of them. The amicitia were indeed very popular in the 12th century: Henry maintained a very large number of them, which allowed him to mediate between his friends, from different factions established in his possessions, and to reward those who knew how to remain loyal to him. However, Henry also had the reputation of severely punishing vassals who opposed him and developed a solid network of informers and spies who reported his opponents” plans to him. If he was a severe and firm lord, he did not exceed the standards of the time. Over time, he increased his control over his barons, eliminating his enemies and supporting his friends so that what historian Warren Hollister calls the “reconstructed baronage” was above all loyal and dependent on him.

Henry specifically distinguishes his traveling court into different categories: at the heart is his domestic house, called the domus; a larger group is referred to as the familia regis; and the more formal gatherings are known as the curia regis. The domus is divided into different parts: the chapel, headed by the chancellor, handles royal documents, the chamber handles financial matters, and the master marshal is responsible for travel and lodging. The familia regis included Henry”s mounted troops, which numbered up to 1,000 men, came from a wider range of ranks, and could be deployed as he saw fit. Initially, Henry continued the practice maintained by his father of regularly wearing the crown at curia regis ceremonies, but it eventually became less frequent. Henry”s court was large and ostentatious: it financed the construction of larger buildings and castles, and provided the sovereign with many gifts, including a private menagerie of exotic animals at Woodstock Palace. Although he lived in a relatively vibrant community, Henry”s court was more tightly controlled than in previous reigns. For example, strict rules governed personal behavior and forbade members of the court to plunder the villages it passed through, as had been the case during the reign of William the Red.

Relations with Anselm

Henry”s ability to govern was intimately linked to the Church, which was a pillar of government in England and Normandy in the early twelfth century, and his relationship with it changed considerably during his reign. William the Conqueror had reformed the Church of England with the support of the very first Norman archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc, who had become one of his closest advisors. During the reign of William the Red, this arrangement had collapsed, following a quarrel between the king and Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, who had been forced into exile. A supporter of church reform, Henry was involved from his accession in the Quarrel of Investitures, in which Anselm played a crucial role. This controversy sought to determine who should invest a new bishop with his crozier and ring: traditionally, this ceremony was performed by the king as a symbolic demonstration of royal power, but Pope Urban II had condemned this practice in 1099 on the grounds that only the papacy could perform this task and had proclaimed that the clergy should not pay homage to the temporal lords where their lands were located.

Anselm of Canterbury returned from exile after Henry”s accession in 1100, but informed him that he would comply with the wishes of Urban II. Henry was now in a difficult position: on the one hand, symbolism and homage were important to establish his royal authority, but on the other hand, he needed Anselm”s support in his fight against his brother Robert Courteheuse. Anselm held firmly to the papal decision, despite Henry”s attempts to persuade him to renounce this demand in exchange for a vague assurance of a future compromise. Relations between the monarch and the prelate gradually soured, to the point that Anselm went into exile and Henry confiscated the revenues of his archbishopric. It was only after Anselm threatened excommunication that the two men negotiated a solution at L”Aigle on July 22, 1105. A distinction was made between the secular and ecclesiastical powers of the prelates, by virtue of which Henry gave up his right to invest members of the clergy, but retained the custom of requiring them to pay tribute to him for their temporalities – the landed properties that the clergy held. Despite this disagreement, Henry and Anselm worked closely together, especially during Robert Courteheuse”s invasion in 1101, and held important reform councils together in 1102 and 1108.

Relations with the Church

A long dispute broke out between the archbishoprics of Canterbury and York when Raoul of Escures succeeded Anselm in 1114. The archbishopric of Canterbury had long claimed that the archbishopric of York had to formally promise to obey it, but the archbishopric of York argued that the two archbishoprics were independent within the Church of England and that such a promise was not necessary. Henry supported the primacy of the archbishopric of Canterbury, to ensure that England would remain under a single ecclesiastical administration, but Pope Paschal II preferred the arguments of the archbishopric of York. The matter was complicated by Henry”s personal friendship with Archbishop Thurstan of York and the royal desire that the verdict not be pronounced by the pontiff, which would threaten his prerogatives. But since he needed papal support in his fight against Louis VI, Henry allowed Thurstan to attend the Council of Rheims in 1119, during which he was consecrated by the pope without the slightest mention of any duty to the archbishop of Canterbury. Convinced that Thurstan had acted against his assurances, Henry exiled him from England and did not allow him to return until 1121, after their mutual friends and Adele, one of Henry”s sisters, had negotiated a reconciliation between them and Pope Calixtus II had threatened to ban England.

Even after the Investiture Quarrel, Henry continued to play a major role in the selection of Anglo-Norman secular clergy. He appointed several members of his administration to bishoprics and, as historian Martin Brett suggests, “some of his officers could hope for a mitre with almost absolute confidence. Henry also increasingly called upon more of these bishops as advisers – in particular Roger of Salisbury – breaking with the earlier tradition of relying primarily on the archbishop of Canterbury. The result was a cohesive body of administrators through whom Henry could exert prudent influence, holding councils to discuss key political issues. This cohesion changes somewhat after 1125, when Henry begins to promote a greater number of candidates to senior church positions, often with more reformist views: the impact of this generation will be felt after Henry”s death, particularly during the reign of Stephen.

Henry made numerous donations to the Church and patronized several religious communities, but the chronicles of the twelfth century do not consider him to be an exceptionally pious king compared to his contemporaries. Although he was always interested in religion, his personal convictions and piety may have developed in the last years of his life. If so, the untimely death of his son William in 1120 and the stormy tensions of his daughter Matilda”s second marriage in 1129 may have been decisive events in this change. As a supporter of religious reform, Henry made numerous donations to reformist groups within the Church: he was a strong supporter of the Cluny order, probably for intellectual reasons, and made donations to the abbeys of Cluny and Reading, where he was buried. He endowed the latter with rich lands and extensive privileges after its construction began in 1121. Henry also promoted the conversion of clerical communities into Augustinian canons, the foundation of leprosaria, the expansion of convents and the development of the orders of Savigny and Tiron. Finally, he collected relics and sent an embassy to Constantinople in 1118 to collect Byzantine objects, some of which were donated to Reading Abbey.

The three main chroniclers providing information on the events of Henry I”s life are William of Malmesbury, Orderic Vital and Henry of Huntingdon. In the first, the portrait of Henry is close to the stereotype of the prince in the twelfth century: cultured and reasoned, he founded several monasteries, was severe against his enemies and generous towards his friends. For his part, Orderic Vital, who resides in the abbey of Saint-Evroult, located in a turbulent area of the duchy of Normandy that Henry reduced to nothing by eliminating Robert II of Bellême, is quite favorable to him in his Historia ecclesiastica: “governed, in prosperity as well as in misfortune, the kingdom that God had entrusted to him, with as much prudence as success. Among the most remarkable princes of Christendom, he shone with great brilliance in maintaining peace and justice. In his time, the Church of God was joyfully filled with wealth and honor, and all the orders were greatly increased.” However, he emphasizes his cruelty by recalling the events of 1124: when he condemned the rebels Geoffroy de Tourville, Odoard du Pin and Luc de la Barre to blindness, the latter “preferred to split his head against the walls than to be the victim of the king”s cruelty.” As for Henri de Huntingdon, he attributes to him wisdom, military success and wealth as virtues, but also cruelty, debauchery and greed as vices.

Other contemporary chroniclers include Eadmer, Hugh the Singer, Abbot Suger and the Welsh authors of the Brut y Tywysogion. Not all royal documents from the reign of Henry I have been preserved, but a number of charters, writs, letters and royal acts exist, as well as early financial documents. It has since been discovered that some of these documents were forgeries and others were subsequently altered or tampered with. Late medieval chroniclers seized on the accounts of twelfth-century chroniclers of Henry I”s upbringing and gave him the nickname Henry “Beauclerc,” a theme that runs through the analyses of Victorian and Edwardian historians such as Francis Palgrave and Henry Davis. The historian Charles David rejected this argument in 1929, showing that the most extreme claims about Henry”s upbringing were unfounded. Modern studies of Henry began with the work of Richard W. Southern in the early 1960s, followed by extensive research during the rest of the twentieth century on many of the themes of his reign in England and a much smaller number of studies of his reign in Normandy. Only two modern biographies of Henry have been published: the posthumous one by C. Warren Hollister in 2001 and that by Judith Green in 2006.

Historians” interpretation of Henry I”s personality has evolved. Older historians, such as Austin Poole and Southern, view Henry as a cruel and draconian ruler. More recent scholars, such as Hollister and Green, view his implementation of justice much more sympathetically, especially when contrasted with the norms of the time, although Green notes that Henry was “in many ways very unpleasant” and tempers some of the theses favorable to Henry”s government such as his role in advancing the administration and his relationship with the aristocracy. Alan Cooper observes that many contemporary chroniclers were probably too afraid of him to offer much criticism. Historians have also questioned whether Henry”s administrative reforms were really an introduction to what Hollister and John Baldwin have called systematic “administrative kingship,” or whether his conception remained basically traditional.

Legitimate descent

From his first marriage to Matilda of Scotland, Henry I has at least two children:

His second marriage to Adelaide of Louvain produced no descendants.

Illegitimate descent

From various relationships with unknown women, Henry I has at least seven children:

From a relationship with Sibylle Corbet, he has at least three children:

From a relationship with Edith Forne, he has a child:

From a relationship with a woman named Ansfride, he has at least one child:

From a relationship with a woman named Edith, he has a child:

From a relationship with Nest ferch Rhys, he has a child:

From a relationship with Isabelle de Beaumont, he has a child:

From a sister or daughter of Gauthier of Ghent, he has a child:

References

Sources

  1. Henri Ier (roi d”Angleterre)
  2. Henry I of England