Henry I of England

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Henry I
King of the English, Duke of the Normans
Reign August 3, 1100–December 1, 1135
Coronation August 5, 1100
Born c. 1068/1069
Selby, Yorkshire, England
Died 1 December 1135
Saint-Denis-en-Lyons, Normandy
Buried Reading Abbey, Reading, England
Predecessor William II
Successor Stephen (de facto), Empress Matilda (de jure)
Consort Matilda of Scotland (c. 1080–1118)
Adeliza of Louvain (1103–51)
Issue Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester
(illeg., c. 1090–1147)
Empress Matilda (c. 1102–67)
Royal House Norman
Father William I (c. 1028–87)
Mother Matilda of Flanders (1031–83)

Henry I (c. 1068 – December 1, 1135) was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and the first born in England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. He succeeded his elder brother William II as King of England in 1100, and defeated his eldest brother, Robert Curthose, to become Duke of Normandy in 1106. He was called Beauclerc for his scholarly interests and Lion of Justice for refinements which he brought about in the rudimentary administrative and legislative machinery of the time.

Henry's reign is noted for its political opportunism. His succession was confirmed while his brother Robert was away on the First Crusade and the beginning of his reign was occupied by wars with Robert for control of England and Normandy. He successfully reunited the two realms again after their separation on his father's death, in 1087. On his succession, he granted the baronage a Charter of Liberties, which formed a basis for subsequent challenges to rights of kings and anticipated the Magna Carta, which subjected the King to law.

The rest of Henry's reign was filled with judicial and financial reforms. He established the biannual Exchequer to reform the treasury. He used itinerant officials to curb abuses of power at the local and regional level, garnering the praise of the people. The differences between the English and Norman populations began to break down during his reign and he himself married a daughter of the old English royal house. He made peace with the church after the disputes of his brother's reign, but he could not smooth out his succession after the disastrous loss of his eldest son, William, in the wreck of the White Ship. His will stipulated that he was to be succeeded by his daughter, the Empress Matilda, but his stern rule was followed by a period of civil war, known as "the Anarchy."

Early life

Henry was born between May 1068 and May 1069, probably in Selby, Yorkshire, in the north east of England. His mother, Queen Matilda, was descended from Alfred the Great (but not through the main West Saxon Royal line). Queen Matilda named the infant Prince Henry, after her uncle, Henry I of France. As the youngest son of the family, he was almost certainly expected to become a Bishop and was given rather more extensive schooling than was usual for a young nobleman of that time. The Chronicler William of Malmesbury asserts that Henry once remarked that an illiterate King was a crowned ass. He was certainly the first Norman ruler to be fluent in the English language.

William I's third son, Richard, had pre-deceased his father by being killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest so, upon his death in 1087, William bequeathed his dominions to his three surviving sons in the following manner:

  • Robert received the Duchy of Normandy and became Duke Robert III
  • William Rufus received the Kingdom of England and became King William II
  • Henry Beauclerc received 5,000 pounds of silver

The Chronicler Orderic Vitalis reports that the old King had declared to Henry: "You in your own time will have all the dominions I have acquired and be greater than both your brothers in wealth and power."

Henry tried to play his brothers off against each other, but eventually, wary of his devious maneuvering, they acted together and signed an Accession Treaty. This sought to bar Prince Henry from both thrones by stipulating that if either King William or Duke Robert died without an heir, the two dominions of their father would be reunited under the surviving brother.

Seizing the throne of England

When, on August 2, 1100, William II was killed by an arrow in yet another hunting accident in the New Forest, Duke Robert had not yet returned from the First Crusade. His absence, along with his poor reputation among the Norman nobles, allowed Prince Henry to seize the Royal Treasury at Winchester, Hampshire—where he buried his dead brother. Henry was accepted as King by the leading Barons and was crowned three days later on August 5, at Westminster Abbey. He secured his position among the nobles by an act of political appeasement: He issued a Charter of Liberties which is considered a forerunner of the Magna Carta. The Charter promised that the king would refrain from such practices as confiscating church property and levying unfair taxes.

First marriage

On November 11, 1100, Henry married Edith, daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. Since Edith was also the niece of Edgar Atheling and the great-granddaughter of Edward the Confessor's paternal half-brother Edmund Ironside, the marriage united the Norman line with the old English line of Kings. The marriage greatly displeased the Norman Barons, however, and as a concession to their sensibilities, Edith changed her name to Matilda upon becoming Queen. The other side of this coin, however, was that Henry, by dint of his marriage, became far more acceptable to the Anglo-Saxon populace.

The Chronicler William of Malmesbury described Henry thus: "He was of middle stature, greater than the small, but exceeded by the very tall; his hair was black and set back upon the forehead; his eyes mildly bright; his chest brawny; his body fleshy."

Conquest of Normandy

In the following year, 1101, Robert Curthose attempted to seize the crown by invading England. In the Treaty of Alton, Curthose agreed to recognize his brother Henry as King of England and return peacefully to Normandy, upon receipt of an annual sum of 2000 marks, which Henry proceeded to pay.

In 1105, to eliminate the continuing threat from Robert Curthose and the drain on his fiscal resources from the annual payment, Henry led an expeditionary force across the English Channel.

Battle of Tinchebray

On the morning of the September 28, 1106, exactly 40 years after William had landed in England, the decisive battle between his two sons, Robert Curthose and Henry Beauclerc, took place in the small village of Tinchebray. This combat was totally unexpected and unprepared. Henry and his army were marching south from Barfleur on their way to Domfront, and Curthose was marching with his army from Falaise on their way to Mortain. They met at the crossroads at Tinchebray and the running battle which ensued was spread out over several kilometers. The site where most of the fighting took place is the village playing field today. Towards evening, Curthose tried to retreat but was captured by Henry's men at a place three kilometers (just under two miles) North of Tinchebray, where a farm named "Prise" (taken) stands today on the D22 road. The tombstones of three knights are nearby on the same road.

King of England and Duke of Normandy

After Henry had defeated his brother's Norman army at Tinchebray he imprisoned Curthose, initially in the Tower of London, subsequently at Devizes Castle and later at Cardiff. One day whilst out riding, Curthose attempted to escape from Cardiff but his horse was bogged down in a swamp and he was recaptured. To prevent further escapes, Henry had Robert Curthose's eyes burnt out. Henry appropriated the Duchy of Normandy as a possession of the Kingdom of England and reunited his father's dominions.

In 1113, he attempted to reduce difficulties in Normandy by betrothing his eldest son, William Adelin, to the daughter of Fulk of Jerusalem (also known as Fulk V), Count of Anjou, then a serious enemy. They were married in 1119. Eight years later, after William's untimely death, a much more momentous union was made between Henry's daughter, (the former Empress) Matilda and Fulk's son, Geoffrey Plantagenet, which eventually resulted in the union of the two Realms under the Plantagenet Kings.

Activities as a King

Henry I depicted in Cassell's History of England (1902)

Henry's need for finance to consolidate his position led to an increase in the activities of centralized government. As King, Henry carried out social and judicial reforms, including:

Between 1103 and 1107, Henry was involved in a dispute with Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Paschal II in the investiture controversy, which was settled in the Concordat of London in 1107. It was a compromise. In England, a distinction was made in the King's chancery between the secular and ecclesiastical powers of the prelates. Employing the distinction, Henry gave up his right to invest his bishops and abbots, but reserved the custom of requiring them to come and do homage for the "temporalities" (the landed properties tied to the episcopate), directly from his hand, after the bishop had sworn homage and feudal vassalage in the ceremony called commendatio, the commendation ceremony, like any secular vassal. Similar controversy about who had the authority to appoint prelates and other church officials was waging between various popes and kings throughout this period. Kings sold appointment, since many were also had a lucrative income. The Gregorian reforms set out to prevent the sale of ecclesiastical office, and to reduce lay interference in the affairs of the church.

Henry was also known for some brutal acts. He once threw a traitorous burgher named Conan Pilatus from the tower of Rouen; the tower was known from then on as "Conan's Leap." In another instance that took place in 1119, Henry's son-in-law, Eustace de Pacy, and Ralph Harnec, the constable of Ivry, exchanged their children as hostages. When Eustace blinded Harnec's son, Harnec demanded vengeance. King Henry allowed Harnec to blind and mutilate Eustace's two daughters, who were also Henry's own grandchildren. Eustace and his wife, Juliane, were outraged and threatened to rebel. Henry arranged to meet his daughter at a parley at Breteuil, only for Juliane to draw a crossbow and attempt to assassinate her father. She was captured and confined to the castle, but escaped by leaping from a window into the moat below. Some years later, Henry reconciled with his daughter and son-in-law.

Legitimate children

He had three children by Matilda (Edith), who died in 1118:

  • Euphamia (b. & d. July 1101); born premature and died shortly after birth
  • Matilda (1102-1167)
  • William, Duke of Normandy (1103-1120)

Disaster struck when William, his only legitimate son, perished in the wreck of the White Ship on November 25, 1120, off the coast of Normandy. Also among the dead were two of Henry's illegitimate children, as well as a niece, Lucia-Mahaut de Blois. Henry's grieving was intense, and the succession was in crisis.

Second marriage

On January 29, 1121, he married Adeliza, daughter of Godfrey I of Leuven, Duke of Lower Lotharingia and Landgrave of Brabant, but there were no children from this marriage. Left without male heirs, Henry took the unprecedented step of making his barons swear to accept his daughter Empress Matilda, widow of Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor, as his heir.

Death and legacy

Henry visited Normandy in 1135, to see his young grandsons, the children of Matilda and Geoffrey. He took great delight in his grandchildren, but soon quarreled with his daughter and son-in-law and these disputes led him to tarry in Normandy far longer than he originally planned.

Reading Abbey

Henry died on December 1, 1135, of food poisoning from eating "a surfeit of lampreys" (of which he was excessively fond) at Saint-Denis-en-Lyons (now Lyons-la-ForĂȘt) in Normandy. His remains were sewn into the hide of a bull to preserve them on the journey, and then taken back to England and were buried at Reading Abbey, which he had founded fourteen years before. The Abbey was destroyed during the Reformation and no trace of his tomb has survived, the probable site being covered by St James' School. There is a small plaque nearby and a large memorial cross in the adjoining Forbury Gardens.

Although Henry's barons had sworn allegiance to his daughter as their Queen, her gender and her remarriage into the House of Anjou, an enemy of the Normans, allowed Henry's nephew, Stephen of Blois, to come to England and claim the throne with popular support.

The struggle between the former Empress and Stephen resulted in a long civil war known as the Anarchy. The dispute was eventually settled by Stephen's naming of Matilda's son, Henry Plantagenet, as his heir in 1153.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Henry's legacy was the breaking down of the barrier between the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons, and his willingness to recognize the rights of his subjects.

Illegitimate children

King Henry is famed for holding the record for the largest number of acknowledged illegitimate children born to any English king, with the number being around 20 or 25. He had many mistresses, and identifying which mistress is the mother of which child is difficult. His illegitimate offspring for whom there is documentation are:

  1. Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester. Often, probably incorrectly, said to have been a son of Sybil Corbet. His mother may have been a member of the Gai/Gay/Gayt family.
  2. Maud FitzRoy, married Conan III, Duke of Brittany
  3. Constance FitzRoy, married Richard de Beaumont
  4. Mabel FitzRoy, married William III Gouet
  5. Aline FitzRoy, married Matthieu I of Montmorency
  6. Gilbert FitzRoy, died after 1142. His mother may have been a sister of Walter de Gand.
  7. Emma, born c. 1138; married Gui de Laval, Lord Laval. [Uncertain, born 2 years after Henry died.]

With Edith

  1. Matilda du Perche, married Count Rotrou II of Perche, perished in the wreck of the White Ship.

With Gieva de Tracy

1. William de Tracy

With Ansfride

Ansfride was born c. 1070. She was the wife of Anskill of Seacourt, at Wytham in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire).

  1. Juliane de Fontevrault(born c. 1090); married Eustace de Pacy in 1103. She tried to shoot her father with a crossbow after King Henry allowed her two young daughters to be blinded.
  2. Fulk FitzRoy (born c. 1092); a monk at Abingdon.
  3. Richard of Lincoln (c. 1094-November 25, 1120); perished in the wreck of the White Ship.

With Sybil Corbet

Lady Sybilla Corbet of Alcester was born in 1077, in Alcester in Warwickshire. She married Herbert FitzHerbert, son of Herbert "the Chamberlain" of Winchester and Emma de Blois. She died after 1157, and was also known as Adela (or Lucia) Corbet. Sybil was definitely mother of Sybil and Rainald, possibly also of William and Rohese. Some sources suggest that there was another daughter by this relationship, Gundred, but it appears that she was thought as such because she was a sister of Reginald de Dunstanville but it appears that that was another person of that name who was not related to this family.

  1. Sybilla de Normandy, married Alexander I of Scotland.
  2. William Constable, born before 1105. Married Alice (Constable); died after 1187.
  3. Reginald de Dunstanville, 1st Earl of Cornwall.
  4. Gundred of England (1114–46), married 1130 Henry de la Pomeroy, son of Joscelin de la Pomerai.
  5. Rohese of England, born 1114; married Henry de la Pomeroy.

With Edith FitzForne

  1. Robert FitzEdith, Lord Okehampton, (1093–1172) married Dame Maud d'Avranches du Sap.
  2. Adeliza FitzEdith. Appears in charters with her brother Robert.

With Princess Nest

Nest ferch Rhys was born about 1073, at Dynefwr Castle, Carmarthenshire, the daughter of Prince Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth and his wife, Gwladys ferch Rhywallon. She married, in 1095, to Gerald de Windsor (also known as Geraldus FitzWalter) son of Walter FitzOther, Constable of Windsor Castle and Keeper of the Forests of Berkshire. She had several other liaisons—including one with Stephen of Cardigan, Constable of Cardigan (1136)—and subsequently other illegitimate children. The date of her death is unknown.

  1. Henry FitzRoy, died 1157.

With Isabel de Beaumont

Isabel (Elizabeth) de Beaumont (after 1102–after 1172), daughter of Robert de Beaumont, sister of Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester. She married Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke, in 1130. She was also known as Isabella de Meulan.

  1. Isabel Hedwig of England
  2. Matilda FitzRoy, abbess of Montvilliers, also known as Montpiller


Henry I's ancestors in three generations
Henry I of England Father:
William I of England
Paternal Grandfather:
Robert II, Duke of Normandy
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Richard II, Duke of Normandy
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Judith of Rennes
Paternal Grandmother:
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Fulbert of Falaise
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Matilda of Flanders
Maternal Grandfather:
Baldwin V, Count of Flanders
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Baldwin IV, Count of Flanders
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Ogive of Luxembourg
Maternal Grandmother:
Adela of France, Countess of Flanders
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Robert II of France
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Constance of Arles

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cross, Arthur Lyon. A History of England and Greater Britain. London: Macmillan, 1917.
  • Green, Judith A. Henry I: King of England and Duke of Normandy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521591317
  • Hollister, C. Warren. Henry I. Yale University Press, 2001. ISBN 0300098294
  • Thompson, Kathleen. "Affairs of State: the Illegitimate Children of Henry I." Journal of Medieval History 29 (2003): 129-51.

External links

All links retrieved December 16, 2017.


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