Thursday, October 20, 2016


Another of the Conqueror's sons becomes King of England and we have our very first Henry.  From "The Kings and Queens of England and Scotland".

HENRY I  1100-1135  Known as Henry Beauclerk because he was the first king since Alfred who could read fluently.  Also known as the Lion of Justice.

Born:  1068

Succeeded as King of England 2 August, 1100 aged32, as de facto Duke of Normandy 1106.'

Younger brother of his predecessor William, and fourth son of William the Conqueror.

Married:  1.  On his accession, Matilda (Eadgyth) daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland and his Queen, (Saint) Margaret, who was a sister of Edgar Atheling and granddaughter of Edmund Ironside; died 1118;  2.  Adela of Brabant and Louvain in 1120.

Children:  all of Matilda:  a son who died young; William was drowned in the wreck of the White Ship, 1120, and Matilda (Maud) who after a short-lived marriage to the Emperor Henry V married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou (the Angevin, nicknamed Plantagenet).

Mistresses:  the most notable of many is Nesta, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdr (Tudor) ruling prince of South Wales.

Bastards:  Henry generously acknowledged 20 illegitimate children, which is presumed to be only a selection of his offspring.  The most notable is the learned Robert, Earl of Gloucester, whom he dearly loved and who voluntarily renounced the disputed succession on the ground of his illegitimacy, notwithstanding the success of his grandfather, the Conqueror.

Died:  at Lyons-la-Foret, Normandy, on 1 December, 1135, of dysentry after over-eating lampreys, an uncharacteristic happening since he was generally abstemious and lampreys (vertebrates looking like eels, yet not strictly fishes) were his only indulgence.  He was aged 67 and had reigned 35 years.  (I remember reading somewhere that this king had died of a "a surfeit of lampreys".)

Buried: Reading Abbey.

Profile:  Dark hair, like all his family, but with a tendency to a receding hairline marked by combing it into a Roman fringe over his forehead; a thick-set figure accentuated by the family paunch.  (Isn't  it amazing that modern men also comb their hair forward to disguise receding hairlines.)

Henry was credited by his most flattering chronicler with the vices of avarice, cruelty and lust.  In this respect, therefore, he does not seem to have differed from his brother Rufus, yet most contemporary comparisons of the two appear to agree that Henry was more ruthless in his extortion of money and more barbaric in his savagery against the subject - particularly the conspirator, the criminal or the tax-dodger.  But there was a correspondingly harder streak in his efficiency of government, particularly in the spheres of defence,  finance and justice.

Henry had, almost literally, seized the crown - staging a coronation service three days after Rufus' death - before his elder brother Robert, who had many supporters in England, completed the last lap of his return from a crusade.  Henry immediately negotiated marriage with Matilda of Scotland. which not only pumped back the blood of Alfred into his heirs but offered some promise of security on his northern border.  The King of the Scots had done homage to him on his accession and later recognised his daughter.  His brother Robert of Normandy did not give up his ambitions for England, and kept Henry ruefully aware that, in the days of Rufus, Henry and Robert had plotted jointly to secure the throne, ostensibly for Robert.  The climax came when Henry defeated Robert in a battle at Tinchebrai in 1106, and imprisoned him for life (a further 28 years) in Cardiff Castle taking over Normandy virtually from that date.  Henry then had space and time to improve affairs at home.

Part of the price of his accession had been to offer the people of England a Charter of Liberties which, as far as individual freedoms went, was a scrap of paper with the only merit that it could be thrust at King John a century later as a significant archive to demonstrate the virtues of the good old days.  Administratively, however, Henry's reorganisation of the judiciary and of finance (he appointed the first Chancellor of the Exchequer) did introduce new liberties of law and order, paid for by heavy taxes imposed impartially on Normans and Saxons.  Moreover, by forcing a compromise with the Pope, whereby the king retained the baronial (not spiritual) homage of bishops, and had positive influence in appointing them, Henry preserved certain liberties of pride and conscience for his peasants as well as his peers, and undoubtedly prevented the land from becoming priest ridden.

With the death of Henry's heir in 1120 - his wife Matilda having died two years previously - Henry was once more excessively worried about the succession.  He married again, but produced no legitimate heir.  He required his barons to swear allegiance to his daughter Matilda 'The Empress', widow of Emperor Henry of Germany and wife of Count Geoffrey of Anjou.  Yet, confusing the issue even if he was keeping his options open, he cultivated his favourite nephew, Stephen, and nurtured him as a possible heir.  He gave him vast estates in Lancashire and Normandy, and married him back into the ancient royal Saxon bloodstock, to a Saxon-Scot, Matilda of Boulogne wh also owned very extensive property in what was then known as Flanders.  The marriage brings a triple confusion of names.  Stephen married Matilda, niece of Henry's first wife Matilda (or Eadgyth, or Edith) of Scotland.  Henry I and Matilda of Scotland had a daughter, the Empress Matilda, who is historically the most important of the three and challenged Stephen in the next reign.  All the Matildas were descended from Alfred the Great.   Henry had a longer life and a longer reign than any of his predecessors, but, later three kings to a century was quite an ordinary score.  In religion he was conformist-pious, and he built Reading Abbey as a Benedictine house to receive his corpse.

This king did not sound a particularly nice person and yet I found him a quite interesting monarch for many reasons, particularly the confusion of all the names (as in the final para).







  1. Ah, they were all buckets of scum. Amazing the world ever turned out half as good as it has.

    1. I feel there was a little good in some or at least one would like to believe so.

  2. Hari OM
    As lampreys are parastic, sucking the blood of their victims, perhaps there is poetic justice in this fella's departure! On a related note, this article on the critter may interest you. YAM xx

    1. You may have a point there Yamini.
      I do know quite a lot about the little critters and not sure I would enjoy eating them.

  3. A confusion of names for sure. I'm reminded of my own family tree which is filled with Bernhard&Emma's; Joseph(Josef)& Maria's, with succeeding generations named after them.
    I've never heard of Lamprey's before.

    1. Some families do continue names don't they. Not sure it happens very much in either of my families.
      I always remember reading that he died from a surfeit of lampreys and decided to check on just what they are.