1902 Encyclopedia > Henry I, King of England

Henry I, King of England
(1038-1135)




HENRY I. (1068-1135), king of England, fourth and Kings of youngest son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of England* Flanders, was born some time in the autumn of .1068. Local tradition fixes his birthplace at Selby in Yorkshire. Little is known of his earlier life, except that he received an unusually good education, and attained a proficiency rare among the princes of his day. In 1086 he was dubbed knight. Next year his father bequeathed to him on his death-bed a sum of five thousand pounds, and is said to have foretold that he would eventually be king. Condemned, by the division of the Conqueror's territories, to a position of inferiority to his two brothers, he used his legacy to improve that position. Robert, being in need of money, sold him the districts of the Cotentin and the Avranchin, which he held of his brother as a fief. His relations with Robert were not always friendly, but he defended Normandy against Rufus, and aided his liege lord in putting down a revolt in Rouen. Nevertheless, in the treaty between William and Robert made in 1091, he was excluded from the succession, and soon afterwards was deprived of his lands in Normandy.

The treatment he met with from Robert was not likely to make him support the terms of the treaty of 1091. Immediately after the death of Rufus, he rode to Win-chester, and seized the royal hoard in that city. Next day (August 3, 1100) he was elected king by such of the witan as were present, and on Sunday, August 5th, he was crowned at Westminster. In order to conciliate the clergy and the nation, he recalled Anselm, imprisoned Ranulf Flambard, and issued a comprehensive charter of liberties. Before the year was out he married Matilda, daughter of Malcolm and Margaret, and great-granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, a step which greatly strengthened his otherwise insecure title to the crown. The alliance thus contracted with the church and the nation was his constant support in the struggle with his brother and his unruly vassals, which began immediately. It resulted in the conquest of Normandy, the temporary suppression of feudalism, and the consolidation of royal power on both sides of the Channel. Robert, as soon as he returned from the Holy Land, attempted with the aid of a conspiracy in England to wrest the crown from the usurper. He landed at Portsmouth (August 1, 1101), but before a blow was struck the brothers came to terms. Robert recognized Henry as king of England, and returned to Normandy. Henry's vengeance fell upon his brother's partisans, and Robert of Belesme and several others were banished from the country and lost their English estates. Secure in England, Henry carried the war into the enemy's country. His brother's misgovernment gave him both pretext and opportunity. After two or three expeditions, the struggle was brought to a close by the battle of Tenchebrai (September 28, 1106), in which Robert was taken prisoner. He remained in captivity till his death in 1134, and Nor-mandy passed into the possession of the English king. This conquest at once brought Henry into collision with France. Louis the Fat was a constant supporter of Henry's rebellious vassals, and of his rival and nephew, William, son of Robert. Henceforward Henry had to spend most of his time in the duchy. A war with France (1111-1113) ended in a peace which brought some advantages to Henry. Louis gave up his claim to the sovereignty of Maine and Brittany, and Henry was able to carry his old opponent, Bobert of Belesme, to England, where he was imprisoned for the rest of his life. Henry had already, though in vain, attempted to secure the aid of Flanders by two treaties with Count Robert (1103, 1108). He now sought a mightier ally in the emperor Henry V., to whom he mar-ried his daughter Matilda (January '7, 1114). Another war with France, which broke out in 1116, and in which Louis took up the cause of William, son of Robert, against his uncle, was marked by the battle of Noyon (1119). At a council at Rheims (1119) Louis accused Henry before Pope Calixtus of rebellion and usurpation. Henry, however, pleaded his own cause before the pope at Gisors so persuasively that Calixtus brought about a peace between the two kings (1120) on the basis of a mutual restoration of conquests. During the war Henry had suffered a severe loss in the death of his queen Matilda. He now felt it more than ever necessary to take measures for securing the succession to his only son William. The baronage of Normandy and England were made to do homage to the young prince (1119), who shortly afterwards married Matilda, daughter of Fulk of Anjou, an alliance by which Henry hoped to turn a dangerous foe into a firm friend, and to secure at least the chance of a rich inherit-ance. All these hopes were, however, shattered by the death of William (1120). Deprived of an heir to his throne, Henry now married Adeliza, daughter of Godfrey, count of Louvain (1121), but the marriage unfortunately proved childless. Shortly afterwards another rebellion, headed by Count Waleran of Meulan, broke out in Nor-mandy (1123). The rebels were emboldened by the assist-ance of the king of France and the count of Anjou, but were entirely defeated at Bourgtheroulde (1124). The terrible vengeance taken by Henry on this occasion, together with the death of William, son of Bobert, in 1128, seems to have finally crushed the opposition in Normandy. The death of Duke Robert in 1134 removed the last object round which the schemes of rebellion or the intrigues of France could centre. Meanwhile Henry had recalled his daughter Matilda, now a widow, from Germany. In de-fault of an heir to the throne, he made the witan swear to accept her as Lady of England and Normandy (Christmas 1126). Next year he gave her in marriage to Geoffrey, son of Fulk, count of Anjou, hoping thereby to secure the objects frustrated by the death of his son. Fate, however, thwarted the immediate success of these schemes.





The annals of England, after the expulsion of Robert of Belesme, are uneventful. In his ecclesiastical policy Henry, without giving up the control over the church which his father had asserted, was forced to recognize to a certain extent the advancing claims of Borne. His dispute with Anselm was conducted with good temper on both sides, and was brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Anselm had made no objection to the ecclesiastical supremacy claimed by Rufus, but the decrees of the Lateran Council (1099) obliged him to resist a similar claim when put forward by Henry I. He refused to do homage to his new king, or to consecrate the bishops whom Henry invested, according to ancient custom, with the symbols of ecclesiastical dignity. Neither side would give way. Henry continued to make bishops as before, and Anselm refused to consecrate them. In 1103 he left England. For the next three years the affairs of Normandy hindered the settlement of the ques-tion, but a compromise was effected in 1107. The pope, Paschal II., consented that homage should be done to the king, while Henry gave up his claim to investiture with the ring and staff. The question thus settled was not re-opened till the days of Becket. In other respects Henry acquiesced in the tendency of the time towards ecclesiastical separatism, and countenanced the decrees of the synod of 1102, which forbade the marriage of the clergy and the tenure of temporal offices by ecclesiastics. He showed his care for the church by the establishment of two new sees, those of Ely (1109) and Carlisle (1133), taken respectively from the unwieldy dioceses of Lincoln and York. In the old quarrel between York and Canterbury, Henry supported the claims of the southern metropolitan against Archbishop Thurstan. On Anselm's death, Henry was guilty of leaving the see vacant for five years, but in his other deal-ings with the church he seems to have been actuated by worthy motives. He refused, however, to open her high places to Englishmen, and till near the end of his reign no native attained the dignity of prelate. The same exclusive spirit made itself felt in the appointments to temporal office. But although political liberty and influence were not granted to Englishmen under Henry I., the English nation as a whole acquiesced gladly in his rule. Its chief wants were justice and order, and protection from feudal tyranny; and these blessings it obtained. The necessities of his position compelled Henry to rely mainly on his English subjects. As a counterpoise to the local influence of the baronage, he did his best to restore to activity the old popular institu-tions of the hundred and the county-court, of tithings and frankpledge, of watch and ward. His frequent progresses through the country, for judicial and other purposes, form a link between the annual courts held by the Conqueror and the regular circuits of the justices established by Henry II. In the administration of justice and the toils of government he relied on new men, raised from the ranks and dependent on himself for their position. The older baronage he habitually depressed, and every unsuccessful rebellion thinned the ranks of the feudal nobility, while it tightened the link between the king and the nation.

Thus secure at home, Henry was dreaded by his neigh-bours within the four seas. Over Scotland, Ireland, and Wales a sort of ecclesiastical supremacy was recognized. On the northern frontier there was peace throughout the reign ; on the western there was more disturbance. Henry settled a colony of Flemings in Pembroke (1111), and made two expeditions into Wales (1114, 1121), in one of which he received the submission of several Welsh princes. The profound peace which England enjoyed for a period of thirty-four years is the best testimony to Henry's merits as a king. As a man his character is not admirable, nor yet wholly to be condemned. He was hard, merciless, and unforgiving, but not wantonly cruel. He sometimes dis-played a grim humour which reminds one of his father; but he never gave way to the vices and brutality of Rufus, nor.to the jovial good-humour which was so winning in his eldest brother. Regarded as the "Lion of Justice" by his people, and bitterly regretted after he was gone, he was not a popular king. He died, after bequeathing his crown to his daughter Matilda, near Rouen (December 1, 1135). His body was carried to England, and buried in the abbey he had founded at Reading.





[Further Reading]

The following
general authorities may be consulted for this and the next five reigns here noticed:—Statutes of the Realm; Rymer's Fozdera; the Pipe-Rolls, Rotuli Gartarum, Rotuli Litterarum Pat. and Olaus. &c. (ed. Hardy); Lappenberg and Pauli, Geschichte von England; Stubbs, Constitutional History of England; Stubbs, Documents illustrative of English History (for Henry L, II., III.); Lingard, History of England; Green, History of the English People.

For this reign, original authorities:—Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; Florence of Worcester, Chronicon ex Chronicis, with its continua-tion ; Simeon of Durham, De Regibus Anglorum, &c.; Ordericus Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pon-tificum Anglorum, Gesta Regum Anglorum, and Historia Novella; Eadmer, Vita Anselmi and Historia Novorum; Robert du Mont, Chronica, and continuation of William of Jumieges; the Magnus Rotulus Scaccarii, 1131 A.D. (ed. Hunter).

Modern authorities.—Freeman, History of the Norman Conquest, vol. v.; Church, Life of Anselm; Palgrave, History of Normandy and England. (G. W. P.)




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