Meet the Monarchs:Henry I of England

Born 1068 in Yorkshire, king from August 2nd 1100 till his death on December 1135. Duke of Normandy from 1106-1135. Known as Henry Beauclerc, he was the fourth son of William the Conquerer. He came to the throne in a rather round about way. Henry’s elder brothers Robert Curthose and William Rufus inherited Normandy and England, respectively, but Henry was left landless. This gave him a difficult route to the throne. He bought he County of Cotentin in western Normandy from Robert, but William and Robert deposed him in 1091. After rebuilding his power base in the area again, Henry allied himself with William against Robert. William died in a hunting accident in 1100. Henry took the throne and married Matilda of Scotland. However he still had Robert to deal with. Robert invaded in 1101 but eventually negotiated a peace that confirmed Henry as King, however Henry was not done he invaded the Duchy of Normandy in 1105, finally defeating Robert at the Battle of Tinchebray. Henry kept Robert imprisoned for the rest of his life.

Henry’s ruling style was considered harsh but he was effective in manipulating the barons of England and Normandy. Political friendships were very important at the time, Henry maintained a wide range of these, mediating between his friends in various factions across his realm when necessary. He rewarded those who were loyal to him and punished who stood against him. Henry maintained an effective network of informers and spies who reported to him on events in the realm. Henry was responsible for a substantial expansion of the royal justice system and gathered increasing revenue from the expansion of royal justice,  from fines and fees. In Normandy, Henry restored law and order after 1106, operating through a body of Norman justices and an exchequer system similar to that in England. Norman institutions grew in scale and scope under Henry, just not as quickly as the growth in England.

Henry’s ability to govern was linked with the Church, which formed the key to the administration of both England and Normandy, and this relationship changed considerably over time. Henry believed in reform but needed church support to maintain his power early on. Like many rulers of the period, Henry donated to the Church and patronised various religious communities, but contemporary chroniclers did not consider him particularly pious. It seems Henry had always taken an interest in religion, but in his later years he may have become much more concerned about spiritual affairs especially after the death of his wife Matilda in 1118 and son William in 1120.

The death of his son caused a succession crisis. Henry remarried in 1121 to Adeliza of Louvain. Henry and his new wife did not conceive any children, and the future of the dynasty appeared at risk. Henry’s options were down to nephews, an illegitimate son and his daughter Empress Matilda. He settled on Matilda after her first husband died and arranged for her to marry Geoffrey of Anjou to form an alliance to protect his southern borders. King Henry 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 on Christmas 1126, where they swore to recognise Matilda and any future legitimate heir she might have. 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.  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.


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