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Planning the succession, 1125–1134

Henry and Adeliza did not conceive any children, generating prurient speculation as to the possible explanation, and the future of the dynasty appeared at risk. Henry may have begun to look among his nephews for a possible heir.

He may have considered Stephen of Blois as a possible option and, perhaps in preparation for this, he arranged a beneficial marriage for Stephen to a wealthy heiress, Matilda.

Theobald of Blois, his close ally, may have also felt that he was in favour with Henry. William Clito, who was King Louis VI’s preferred choice, remained opposed to Henry and was therefore unsuitable. Henry may have also considered his own illegitimate son, Robert of Gloucester, as a possible candidate, but English tradition and custom would have looked unfavourably on this.

Henry’s plans shifted when the Empress Matilda’s husband, the Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich V died in 1125. The King recalled his daughter to England the next year and declared that, should he die without a male heir, she was to be his rightful successor.

The Anglo-Norman barons were gathered together at Westminster at Christmas 1126, where they swore to recognise Matilda and any future legitimate heir she might have. Putting forward a woman as a potential heir in this way was unusual: opposition to Matilda continued to exist within the English court, and Louis was vehemently opposed to her candidacy.

Medieval chroniclers’ accounts of this oath vary on the points of detail. William of Malmesbury described that those present recognised Matilda as the legitimate heir on the basis of her paternal and maternal royal descent; John of Worcester described the inheritance of England as being conditional on Matilda having a legitimate male heir; the Anglo-Saxon chronicle suggested that an oath was given concerning the inheritance of both England and Normandy; neither Orderic nor Henry of Huntingdon recorded the event at all.

Some chronicler accounts may have been influenced by Stephen’s acquisition of the throne in 1135 and the later events of the Anarchy.

Fresh conflict broke out in 1127, when the childless Charles I, Count of Flanders, was murdered, creating a local succession crisis. Backed by King Louis VI, William Clito was chosen by the Flemings to become their new ruler.

This development potentially threatened Normandy, and Henry began to finance a proxy war in Flanders, promoting the claims of William Clito’s Flemish rivals. In an effort to disrupt the French alliance with William, Henry mounted an attack into France in 1128, forcing Louis VI to cut his aid to William Clito.

William Clito died unexpectedly in July, removing the last major challenger to Henry’s rule and bringing the war in Flanders to a halt. Without William Clito the baronial opposition in Normandy lacked a leader. A fresh peace was made with France, and Henry was finally able to release the remaining prisoners from the revolt of 1123, including Waleran of Meulan, who was rehabilitated into the royal court.

Meanwhile, Henry rebuilt his alliance with Fulk of Anjou, this time by marrying Matilda to Fulk’s eldest son, Geoffrey. The pair were betrothed in 1127 and married the following year. It is unknown whether Henry intended Geoffrey to have any future claim on England or Normandy, and he was probably keeping his son-in-law’s status deliberately uncertain.

Similarly, although Matilda was granted a number of Normandy castles as part of her dowry, it was not specified when the couple would actually take possession of them. Fulk left Anjou for Jerusalem in 1129, declaring Geoffrey the Count of Anjou and Maine.

The marriage proved difficult, as the couple did not particularly like each other and the disputed castles proved a point of contention, resulting in Matilda returning to Normandy later that year. Henry appears to have blamed Geoffrey for the separation, but in 1131 the couple were reconciled. Much to the pleasure and relief of Henry, Matilda then gave birth to a sequence of two sons, Henry and Geoffrey, in 1133 and 1134.