Henry I of England
Henry I of England, depicted in Cassell's History of England, Century Edition, published circa 1902
Henry I (c.1068 - December 1, 1135), called Henry Beauclerk or Henry Beauclerc because of his scholarly interests, was the youngest son of William the Conqueror. He reigned as King of England from 1100 to 1135, succeeding his brother, William II Rufus. He was also known by the nickname "Lion of Justice". His reign is noted for his limitations on the power of the crown, his improvements in the machinery of government, his reuniting of the dominions of his father, and his controversial decision to name his daughter as his heir.
Henry was born between May 1068 and May 1069, probably in Selby, Yorkshire in England. 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. He was probably the first Norman ruler to be fluent in English.
His father William, upon his death in 1087, bequeathed his dominions to his sons in the following manner:
The two older brothers made an agreement that if either died without an heir, the two dominions of their father would be reunited under the surviving brother. When William II died in 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 August 5 at Westminster. He immediately secured his position among the nobles by issuing the Charter of Liberties, which is considered a forerunner of the Magna Carta.
On November 11, 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 named to Matilda upon becoming queen.
The following year in 1101, Robert Curthose attempted to seize back the crown by an invading England. In the Treaty of Alton, Robert agreed to recognize Henry as king of England and return peacefully to Normandy.
In 1105, to eliminate the continuing threat from Robert, Henry led an expeditionary force across the English Channel. In 1106, he decisively defeated his brother's Norman army at Tinchebray. He imprisoned his brother and appropriated the Duchy of Normandy as a possession of England, thus reuniting his father's dominions.
As king, Henry carried out social and judicial reforms, including:
He had four children by Matilda before her death in 1118. On January 29, 1121, he married Adeliza, daughter of Godfrey, Count of Louvain, but there were no children from this marriage. He also holds the record for the largest number of acknowledged illegitimate children born to any English king, with a provisional total of twenty-five.
However, neither of his legitimate sons, both by his first wife, survived him; both died in the wreck of the White Ship, on November 25, 1120, off the coast of Normandy. One of these sons, Richard, remains extremely obscure and may not have existed at all. The other, William Adelin, definitely existed and his death proved a disaster for England.
Left without male heirs, Henry took the unprecedented step of making his barons swear to accept his daughter Matilda, widow of Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor, as his heir.
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.
Although Henry's barons had sworn allegiance to his daughter Matilda as their queen, Matilda's sex and her remarriage to 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 Matilda 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, as his heir in 1153.
- Arthur Lyon Cross; A History of England and Greater Britain. (New York: Macmillan, 1917).
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