Empress Matilda, King Henry I of England, King Malcolm III of Scotland, King of the English, Matilda of Scotland, Robert Curthose, The Anarchy, The White Ship, Westminster Abbey, William Ætheling, William Rufus, William the Conqueror
Henry I (c. 1068 – December 1, 1135), also known as Henry Beauclerc, was King of the English from 1100 to his death in 1135. He was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and was educated in Latin and the liberal arts. On William’s death in 1087, Henry’s elder brothers Robert Curthose and William Rufus inherited Normandy and England, respectively, but Henry was left landless.
He purchased the County of Cotentin in western Normandy from Robert, but his brothers deposed him in 1091. He gradually rebuilt his power base in the Cotentin and allied himself with William Rufus against Robert.
Henry was probably born in England in 1068, in either the summer or the last weeks of the year, possibly in the town of Selby in Yorkshire. His father was William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy who had invaded England in 1066 to become King of the English establishing lands stretching into Wales.
The invasion had created an Anglo-Norman ruling class, many with estates on both sides of the English Channel. These Anglo-Norman barons typically had close links to the Kingdom of France, which was then a loose collection of counties and smaller polities, under only the nominal control of the king. Henry’s mother, Matilda of Flanders, was the granddaughter of Robert II of France, and she probably named Henry after her uncle, King Henry I of France.
Present at the place where his brother King William II died in a hunting accident in 1100, Henry seized the English throne,
Henry was hastily crowned king in Westminster Abbey on August 5 by Maurice, the bishop of London, as Anselm, the archbishop of Canterbury, had been exiled by William Rufus, and Thomas, the archbishop of York, was in the north of England at Ripon. In accordance with English tradition and in a bid to legitimise his rule, Henry issued a coronation charter laying out various commitments.
The new king presented himself as having restored order to a trouble-torn country. He announced that he would abandon William Rufus’s policies towards the Church, which had been seen as oppressive by the clergy; he promised to prevent royal abuses of the barons’ property rights, and assured a return to the gentler customs of Edward the Confessor; he asserted that he would “establish a firm peace” across England and ordered “that this peace shall henceforth be kept”.
Daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland and the Anglo-Saxon princess Margaret of Wessex, Matilda was educated at a convent in southern England, where her aunt Christina was abbess, and forced her to wear a veil. In 1093, Matilda was engaged to an English nobleman until her father and her brother Edward were killed in the Battle of Alnwick in 1093.
Her uncle Donald III seized the throne of Scotland, triggering a messy succession conflict. England opposed King Donald and supported first her half-brother Duncan II as king of Scotland, and after his death, her brother Edgar, who assumed the throne in 1097.
Henry I succeeded his brother William Rufus as king of the English in 1100 and quickly proposed marriage to Matilda due to her descent from the Anglo-Saxon House of Wessex, which would help legitimize his rule. After proving she had not taken religious vows, Matilda and Henry were married.
Henry and Matilda had two surviving children, Empress Matilda and William Adelin; he also had many illegitimate children by his many mistresses.
Robert, who invaded from Normandy in 1101, disputed Henry’s control of England; this military campaign ended in a negotiated settlement that confirmed Henry as king. The peace was short-lived, and Henry invaded the Duchy of Normandy in 1105 and 1106, finally defeating Robert at the Battle of Tinchebray. Henry kept Robert imprisoned for the rest of his life.
Henry’s control of Normandy was challenged by Louis VI, King of the Franks, Baldwin VII of Flanders and Fulk V of Anjou, who promoted the rival claims of Robert’s son, William Clito, and supported a major rebellion in the Duchy between 1116 and 1119.
Following Henry’s victory at the Battle of Brémule, a favourable peace settlement was agreed with Louis in 1120.
Considered by contemporaries to be a harsh but effective ruler, Henry skillfully manipulated the barons in England and Normandy. In England, he drew on the existing Anglo-Saxon system of justice, local government and taxation, but also strengthened it with additional institutions, including the royal exchequer and itinerant justices.
Normandy was also governed through a growing system of justices and an exchequer. Many of the officials who ran Henry’s system were “new men” of obscure backgrounds, rather than from families of high status, who rose through the ranks as administrators.
Henry encouraged ecclesiastical reform, but became embroiled in a serious dispute in 1101 with Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, which was resolved through a compromise solution in 1105. He supported the Cluniac order and played a major role in the selection of the senior clergy in England and Normandy.
Henry’s son William drowned in the White Ship disaster of 1120, throwing the royal succession into doubt. Henry took a second wife, Adeliza of Louvain, in the hope of having another son, but their marriage was childless.
In response to this, he declared his daughter Matilda his heir and married her to Geoffrey of Anjou. The relationship between Henry and the couple became strained, and fighting broke out along the border with Anjou. King Henry I died on December 1, 1135 after a week of illness. Despite his plans for Matilda, the King was succeeded by his nephew Stephen of Blois, resulting in a period of civil war known as the Anarchy.