Sunday, 5 August 2012

Sons of William the Conqueror - Henry I

Henry I (1068 - 1135) king of England 1100 - 1135

Henry I, youngest son of William the Conqueror, was in the hunting party in the New Forest when William Rufus died. One explanation of the assassination is that the future king arranged his brother's death because he was frustrating his (Henry's) plans to marry Eagdyth, daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland. Whether he took part in a conspiracy will never be known. But from his point of view his brother's death could not have come at a better time, nor in a better place. He rode straight to Winchester, claimed the royal treasury and three days later was crowned in Westminster Abbey.

Henry I followed the custom of his predecessors  and immediately issued a charter announcing his intention of correcting the abuses of the previous reign: vacant sees were filled (though with men loyal to the king), and Anselm was recalled. In the same year, 1100, Henry's marriage to Matilda, the king of Scotland's daughter, and a descendant of the old English kings, won him popular support. A few weeks after the coronation, his elder brother Robert, duke of Normandy, returned to Normandy from the First Crusade ready to claim the English throne. He invaded England in 1101 but renounced his claim to the throne in return for Henry's Norman lands and a pension. But Henry remained determined to take Normandy by force, and on 28 September 1106, 40 years to the day after William' the Conqueror's decisive victory at Hastings, he defeated Robert near Avranches in a pitched battle that lasted less than an hour. Robert was taken prisoner and died 28 years later, still in captivity.

Henry was now king of England and duke of Normandy, He quickly restored order, punishing rebel barons, razing castles and consolidating his father's system of government. His influence on continental politics increased. Alliances with a number of neighbouring states were formed, but his principal opponents - Louis VI of France and the counts of Flanders and Anjou, plus a number of Norman barons - were increasingly restive and there were continual wars and battles. Finally, by 1120, peace and stability seemed to have arrived at last, and Henry was able to spend more time in England. But in that year Henry's only son was lost at sea along with a number of prominent courtiers.

Henry became increasingly concerned about the succession, and in 1127 made his barons and bishops swear allegiance to his daughter, Matilda, widow of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, as his heir. She was then married to Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou. The last years of the king's reign were relatively trouble free.

Henry died in 1135 on a hunting trip near Lyons, as a result of Lampreys, a dish forbidden by his doctors, and today he is remembered for laying the foundations of the royal administration and developing the English judicial system.

Medieval Monarchs edited by Elizabeth Hallam. Tiger Books International, 1996 pp 22-23

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