Henry I of England

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Henry I of England, depicted in Cassell's History of England, Century Edition, published circa 1902


Henry I (c.10681 December 1135), called variously Henry Beauclerk, Henri Beauclerc, or Henry Beauclerc because of his scholarly interests, was the third son of William the Conqueror.

His reign as King of England extended from 1100 to 1135, succeeding his brother, William II Rufus. He also was known by the nickname "Lion of Justice", due to the refinements which he brought about in the rudimentary administrative and legislative machinery of the time.

He seized power after the death of William II, which occurred (conveniently) during the absence of his brother Robert Curthose on the Crusades.

His reign is noted for his opportunistic political skills, the aforementioned improvements in the machinery of government, the integration of the divided Anglo-Saxon and Normans within his kingom, his reuniting of the dominions of his father, and his controversial (although well-founded) decision to name his daughter as his heir.


Early life

Henry was born between May 1068 and May 1069, probably in Selby, Yorkshire in England. His mother, Queen Matilda of Flanders, named him after her uncle, King Henry I of France. As the youngest son of the family, he was most likely expected to become a bishop and was given extensive schooling for a young nobleman of that time period. William of Malmesbury asserts that Henry once remarked that an illiterate king was a crowned ass. He was probably the first Norman ruler to be fluent in the English language.

His father William, upon his death in 1087, bequeathed his dominions to his sons in the following manner:

Orderic Vitalis reports that King William 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 played his brothers off against each other. Eventually, wary of his devious manouevring, they acted together and signed an accession treaty which effectively barred Henry from both thrones, stipulating that if either died without an heir, the two dominions of their father would be reunited under the surviving brother.

Seizing the throne of England

When William II was killed by an arrow whilst hunting on 2 August 1100, however, Robert was returning from the First Crusade. His absence, along with his poor reputation among the Norman nobles, allowed Henry to seize the keys of the royal hoard at Winchester. He was accepted as king by the leading barons and was crowned three days later on 5 August at Westminster. He secured his position among the nobles by an act of political appeasement, issuing the Charter of Liberties, which is considered a forerunner of the Magna Carta.

First marriage

On 11 November 1100 Henry married Edith, daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. Since Edith was also the niece of Edgar Atheling, the marriage united the Norman line with 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 obverse side of this coin, however, was that Henry, by dint of his marriage, became far more acceptable to the Anglo-Saxon populace.

William of Malmesbury describes Henry thusly: "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 1101, the following year, Robert Curthose attempted to seize the crown by invading England. In the Treaty of Alton, Robert agreed to recognize 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 and to obviate the drain on his fiscal resources, Henry led an expeditionary force across the English Channel. In 1106, he defeated his brother's Norman army decisively at Tinchebray in Normandy. He imprisoned his brother, initially in the Tower of London, subsequently at Devizes Castle and later at Cardiff. Henry appropriated the Duchy of Normandy as a possession of England, and reunited his father's dominions.

He attempted to reduce difficulties in Normandy by marrying his eldest son, William, to the daughter of Fulk of Jerusalem, Count of Anjou and a serious enemy.

Activities as a King

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

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, King 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 mutiliate 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 parlay 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 was reconciled with his daughter and son-in-law.

Legitimate children

He had two children by Edith-Matilda, who died in 1118: Maud, born February 1102, and William Adelin, born November 1103. Disaster struck when William Adelin, his only legitimate son, perished in the wreck of the White Ship on 25 November 1120 off the coast of Normandy. Also among the dead were two of Henry's bastard children, as well as a niece, Lucia-Mahaut de Blois. Henry's grieving was intense, and the succession was in crisis.

Second marriage

On 29 January 1121, he married Adeliza, daughter of Godfrey, Count of Louvain, 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 Maud, 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 Maud 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.

Henry died of food poisoning from eating foul lampreys in December 1135 at St. Denis le Fermont in Normandy and was buried at Reading Abbey, which he had founded 14 years before.

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

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

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 FitzRoy. His mother was probably a member of the Gai family.
  2. Sibylla FitzRoy, married King Alexander I of Scotland. Probably the daughter of Sibyl Corbet.
  3. Reginald FitzRoy. His mother was Sibyl Corbet.
  4. Maud FitzRoy, married Conan III, Duke of Brittany
  5. Richard FitzRoy, perished in the wreck of the White Ship. His mother was Ansfride.
  6. Fulk FitzRoy, a monk at Abingdon. His mother may have been Ansfride.
  7. Juliane FitzRoy, married Eustace de Pacy. She tried to shoot her father with a crossbow after King Henry allowed her two young daughters to be blinded. Her mother may have been Ansfride.
  8. Matilda FitzRoy, married Count Rotrou II of Perche, perished in the wreck of the White Ship. Her mother was Edith.
  9. Constance FitzRoy, married Roscelin de Beaumont
  10. Henry FitzRoy, died 1157. His mother was Princess Nest.
  11. Mabel FitzRoy, married William III Gouet
  12. Aline FitzRoy, married Matthieu I of Montmorency
  13. Isabel FitzRoy, daughter of Isabel de Beaumont, sister of Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester.
  14. Matilda FitzRoy, abbess of Montvilliers
  15. Adeliza FitzRoy. Appears in charters with her brother Robert (below), she was probably daughter of Eda FitzForne.
  16. Robert FitzRoy, died 1172. His mother was Eda FitzForne.
  17. William de Tracy, died shortly after King Henry.
  18. Gilbert FitzRoy, died after 1142. His mother may have been a sister of Walter de Gand.

Template:Succession box two to oneTemplate:End box


  • Cross, Arthur Lyon. A History of England and Greater Britain. (New York: Macmillan, 1917).
  • Hollister, Warren C. Henry I (Yale Monarchs Series)
  • Thompson, K. Affairs of State: the illegitimate children of Henry I, 2003.

See also

External links

da:Henrik I af England de:Heinrich I. (England) fr:Henri Ier d'Angleterre he:הנרי הראשון מלך אנגליה it:Enrico I d'Inghilterra nl:Hendrik I van Engeland ja:ヘンリー1世 (イングランド王) pl:Henryk I (krl Anglii) pt:Henrique I de Inglaterra ru:Генрих I (король Англии) fi:Englannin Henrik I sv:Henrik I av England zh:亨利一世 (英格兰)


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