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The fourth, youngest and ablest son of Wiliam the Conqueror (1066-1087) by Mathilda of Flanders, Henry seized the throne of England in 1100 on the death of his brother William Rufus (1087-1100) after a hunting accident in the New Forest, while Robert II, Duke of Normandy, unpopular with the Norman barons, was returning from the First Crusade.
Often surnamed 'Beauclerk' or 'Beauclerc' ('fine scholar') on account of his scholarly interests or the 'Lion of Justice' for his limitation on the power of the crown, the strengthening of its executive powers and improvement of the mechanism of the country's government, Henry is best known for his reuniting of his father's dominions and the naming of his daughter Maud or Matilda as his heir after the death of his son William in the 'sinking of the White Ship' which threw the country into civil war.
Born between May 1068 and May 1069 (probably at Selby in Yorkshire), as the youngest son of the Conqueror, he was probably expected to become a bishop rather than inherit the throne and recieved extensive schooling for a nobleman of the time, hence his surname 'Beauclerk' - he was probably the first Norman king of England to speak the English language fluently.
On the death of William Rufus, Henry speedily seized the castle and royal treasury at Winchester, supported by a few friends led by Henry the earl of Warwick. He was elected king by the leading barons and clergy and crowned at Westminster on August 5th. His hold on the crown precarious, Henry denounced the harsh rule of William and granted a charter of liberties guaranteeing the barons good government. He also married the Scotch princess Matilda uniting the Norman and Saxon lines and securing peace with the Scots.
Henry was hunting in the woods on the morning of August 2, 1100 when William II (Rufus) was killed by a stray arrow during the chase. His quick action in seizing the royal treasury at Winchester and securing the crown on only three days later, on August 5th, led many to believe that he was involved if not responsible for the death of his brother the king.
The new king immediately strengthened his position with the barons by granting the 'Charter of Liberties' providing that;
Although Henry did not keep to the provisions of the charter, it formed the basis for the Magna Carta extracted from King John in 1215.
On November 11th, Henry married Edith (or Eadgyth), the daughter of Malcolm III (Canmore), King of Scotland. Edith was the niece of Edgar the Atheling and, by the marriage, Henry united the lines of the Saxon and Norman kings. Although the marriage angered the barons, Edith changed her name to Matilda on becoming Queen as a concession to them.
The following year, his brother Robert Curthose unsuccessfully attempted to seize the crown by invading England with considerable support but, by the Treaty of Alton, agreed to recognize Henry as king of England on Henry's relinquishing his claims in Normandy and a large annuity, returned peacefully to Normandy.
To eliminate the continuing threat posed to him by the chaotic rule of his brother Robert, Henry led an expedition into Normandy in 1105 and decisively defeated Robert's forces at Tinchebray 1106the following year. He imprisoned Robert for the remaining twenty-eight years of his life until his death in 1134 and appropriated the Duchy as an English possession (thus fullfilling his father's alleged prophesy that he would inherit all his dominions).
The defeat of Robert did not end Henry's problems in France and the last years of his reign were dominated by wars on the continent. In Normandy, he was challenged Robert's son, William Clito whose supporters mounted two assaults with the Norman barons against the king, resentful of the imposition of royal officials and high taxation. By 1120, Henry had subdued the barons, and his son had married into the house of Angevin house. Louis VI (the Fat) of France had begun to consolidate his kingdom and attacked Normandy no less than three times but agreed terms for peace after having been defeated at the Battle of Brémule. It was in November, during the return journey to England from the his successful campaign, that tragedy struck with the sinking of the White Ship.
Henry had four children by Matilda (William, Matilda, Robert de Mellent the Earl of Gloucester and Sibylla) before her death in 1118. His second marriage on January 29th, 1121 to Adeliza (or Adelaide) of Louvain, daughter of Godfrey, Count of Louvain, at Windsor Castle in Berkshire produced no children.
Henry I holds the record for the largest number of acknowledged illigitimate children born to and English king - some twenty-five.
The sinking of the White Ship off the coast of Normandy during the return from the successful French campaign on November 25th, 1120 claimed the lives of the cream of the aristocracy's youth and most importantly of Prince William, Henry's only ligitimate male heir (by Matilda) and, possibly, prince Richard.
Prince Richard is extremely obscure casting doubts on his very existence.
Henry is reputed by tradition never to have smiled again after recieving news of the disaster.
Left without a male heir, in 1125 Henry I took the unprecedented step of summoning his daughter Maud or Matilda, widow of Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, to England and forcing the barons to pay homage to her, accepting her as Henry's lawful heir in 1127 after he had arranged her marriage to the 16-year-old Geoffrey of Anjou to cement an Angevin alliance. Matilda's marriage produced a son, Henry, and Hnery again forced the reluctant magnates to swear allegiance to his daughter and grandson in 1133.
The decision threw the country into a protracted civil war known as 'the Anarchy' between Matilda and Henry's nephew Stephen of Boulogne and their supporters on Henry's death in 1135.
A number of the revellers on the White Ship the may have sensed trouble and, like Stephen of Blois (already ill with diarrhoea), decided to leave and arrange for a later passage.
It is interesting to ponder how the history of England would have progressed on the death of king Henry I in 1035 had Stephen who later claimed the English throne stayed aboard and drowned on the White Ship in 1120.
Geoffrey of Anjou demanded custody of a number of key Norman castles as a show of good-will on the part of Henry in the summer of 1135. Henry's refusal threw the pair into open warfare atthe end of his reign.
Although the barons had sworn allegiance to Matilda, her sex and remarriage to the House of Anjou (in 1123 she married Geoffrey Plantagenet) which was hostile to the Normans allowed Stephen of Boulogneto enter England and claim the throne with the popular support of the magnates.
The resulting turmoil was eventually ended in 1153 when Stephen agreed that Matilda's son, Henry, would inherit the crown as his heir.
Henry died of food poisoning by eating foul lampreys on December 1st, 1135, at St Denis le Fermont in Normandy. He was buried at Reading Abbey in Berkshire which he had founded in 1121.
Henry's frequent absences from England caused him to establish a beaurocracy rather than personal government which was incapable of maintining order in his absence abroad. His establishment of the rule of law not because of a particularly virtuous character but because he appreciated that the king could only be prosperous if his realm was prosperous and that this was impossible in a lawless kingdom where the law was administered at the whim of the local magnates. Itinerant royal justices toured the country to administer the king's justice in the king's courts and inquire into revenues, frequently aggressively, and Henry developed the exchequer to deal with royal revenues.
After Henry's conquest of Normandy and quarrels with the Church were finished in
1106, the king concentrated on expanding royal power in the
realm. He appointed loyal and gifted but obscure men to administrative positions causing considerable
resentment amongst the magnates but creating a loyal and independent beaurocracy.
His involment on the continent caused him to be away from England for as much as
half his time and he created the position of
Robert de Caen (sometimes referred to as
'Roger of Salisbury') as the first incumbent who ruled the country in the
Henry's reforms of the royal treasury, carried out by his justiciar, into an efficient instrument for the collection of royal revenues, were the foundation upon which later kings built.
The Exchequer held twice-yearly sessions during which the sheriffs and other revenue-collecting
officials appeared before the justiciar, the chancellor, and several clerks and were
required to render their accounts.
Henry is remembered for his sending out of roayl officials to to the shires to judge
local disputes, particularly those of a financial nature, and thus weakening the
feudal courts controlled by local barons. The king's courts were also used to curb
errant sheriffs who had been given considerable powers by the Conqueror.
Henry I "transformed his court from a gang of itinerant predators into a company of well-controlled courtiers . . ." - C Warren Hollister, Henry I
It was during Henry's reign that the differences between English and Norman society slowly began to erode.
The changes in administration which Henry introduced disintegrated during 'the Anarchy', the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, which followed his death in 1135.
William of Malmesbury records that it was Henry I who standardised the length of a yard on the length of his own arm.
Henry became rapidly embrioled in a controversey with the Church over lay investiture, the selling of clergy appointments by the crown. Considered as a feudal prerogative of the crown, this was vigorously opposed by the Gregorian reformers in the Church.
Henry made his peace with Anselm of Bec (with whom his brother William II (Rufus) had quarelled) to further appease the magnates of the realm. He was recalled and restored to Canterbury and Ranulf Flambard was imprisoned.
Anselm refused to do homage to Henry for the lands he held from his as his feudal lord and the situation remained unresolved until Pope Paschall II threatened the king with excommunication in 1105 when a compromise with the papacy was reached: Henry surrendered the monarch's divine right in conferring sacred offices but the appointees continued to do homage to the crown for their fiefdoms.
Although Henry I's agreement with the papacy marked the point where monarchs became
secular (and subserviant in the eyes of the Church), the king, in practice, maintained a deciding influence in appointments to ecclesiastical offices.
|Anselm of Bec|
|Archbishop of Canterbury.|
|Henry de Newburgh (or Beaumont)|
|Henry I granted Warwick Castle and the borough of Warwick to Henry de Newburgh (or Henry Beaumont) who was also made earl of Warwick.|
|Louis VI (the Fat ) of France|
|King of France, 1108-1137.|
|Pope Pascal II|
|Robert of Gloucester|
|Possibly the eldest of Henry's illigitimate children, Robert originally supported Stephen's usurpation of the throne on Henry's death but later allied himself to Matilda for the remainder of his life.|
|Roger de Caen|
|Bishop of Salisbury, Chancellor & subsequently Justiciar to Henry I.|
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