Henry Beauclerc I (1068-1135)

(Relation to me: 25th Great Grandfather)

Henry in Brief

A few weeks ago I wrote about William the Conqueror, Henry was his fourth son and when his father had died in 1087, his elder brothers, Robert and William had inherited his lands. Robert would run Normandy and William, England. However, being the fourth son, Henry was left landless.

Henry would later end up getting lands though, and became King of England in 1100, and remained so until his death in 1135. Before becoming king he had purchased County Cotentin in western Normandy from his brother Robert, but both of his brothers deposed him in 1091. He gradually built his power base in the county again and allied himself with William against their brother Robert. He would also be present when his brother William died in an accident in 1100.

He married Matilda of Scotland, but would continue to have a lot of mistresses and many illegitimate children as well. A year after becoming king, Robert invaded his younger brother’s land in England in dispute of his control of the area. The military campaign would end in negotiation, but peace would be short-lived as Henry later invaded the Duchy of Normandy in 1105. Finally, Henry would defeat Robert in the Battle of Tinchebray, and put him in prison, where he would remain for the rest of his life. His control of Normandy would be challenged by Louis VI of France, Baldwin of Flanders, and Fulk of Anjou who had promoted the rival claims of Robert’s son, William Clito, supporting a major rebellion in the Duchy from 1116 until 1119. After Henry’s victory at the Battle of Bremule, a favorable peace settlement was agreed upon in 1120.

Henry was considered to have been harsh but still an effective ruler by his contemporaries. He would skillfully manipulate the barons in England and in Normandy. In England he drew on the existing system of justice, local government and taxation, but also had strengthened it with additional institutions, including that of royal exchequer and itinerant justices. Many officials would run his system and were known as “new men”. These were men of obscure backgrounds, instead of men from high status families. They would rise through the ranks as administrators. He had encouraged ecclesiastical reform, but became embroiled in a serious dispute in 1101 with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm. The dispute would reach a compromise in 1105. He had also supported the Cluniac order and played a major role in the selection of the senior clergy in England and in Normandy.

Henry did deal with loss in his life, when his illegitimate son and heir, William Adelin, drowned in the White Ship disaster in 1120. This would throw the royal succession into doubt. Henry at that time took a second wife, Adeliza, in hopes of having another son, but the marriage remained childless. In response he ended up declaring his daughter, Matilda, his heir and arranged for her to marry Geoffrey of Anjou. His relationship with the couple became strained and fighting would break out along the border of Anjou.

On the 1st of December of 1135, after a week of illness, Henry passed away. Even though his plan was for Matilda to be his heir, Henry was succeeded by his nephew, Stephen of Blois. This would end up resulting in a period of civil war, which would be known as “The Anarchy.”


Childhood of a Future King

Henry was probably born in England in about 1068. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but was either in the summer or the last weeks of the year. He was possibly born in the town of Selby in Yorkshire, England to William the Conqueror, who was originally Duke of Normandy and then after 1066 became King of England. The invasion of 1066 created an Anglo-Norman elite, many of who would have estates that would spread across both sides of the English Channel. These Anglo-Norman barons had close links to the kingdom of France, which had then been a loose collection of counties and smaller polities, under only the minimal control of the king. Henry’s mother was Matilda of Flanders, who was the granddaughter of Robert II of France. Henry was probably named after his uncle, King Henry I of France. Henry was the youngest of William and Matilda’s four sons.

Matilda of Flanders
Matilda of Flanders
William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror

He was probably educated by the Church. Bishop Osmund, the King’s chancellor at Salisbury Cathedral was probably Henry’s instructor. It’s not totally clear if this had indicated his parent’s intent to have him become a member of the clergy. His education probably included learning how to read Latin, but he did have some kind of education in liberal arts and could also read and write in English. He was also probably given military training by the instructor Richard Archard. Henry was knighted by his father, William the Conqueror, on the 24th of May of 1086.


What Did Henry Look Like?

Physically Henry had resembled his elder brothers, Robert, Richard, and William. The historian David Carpenter had described him as “short, stocky, and barrel-chested” with black hair. Due to their age differences and Richard’s early death, Henry would have probably seen relatively little of his elder brothers. He probably knew his sister, Adela pretty well as the two were the closest in age. Historian William of Malmesbury was a contemporary of Henry’s and wrote that “He was of middle stature, his hair was black, but scanty near the forehead; his eyes were mildly bright, his chest brawny, his body well fleshed. He was facetious in proper season, nor did multiplicity of business cause him to be less pleasant when he mixed in society. Not prone to personal combat, he verified the saying of Scipio Africanus, ‘My mother bore me a commander not a soldier;’ wherefore he was inferior in wisdom to no king of modern time; and I may also say, he clearly surpassed all his predecessors in England and preferred contending by counsel, rather than by the sword. If he could he conquered without bloodshed; if it was unavoidable, with as little as possible.”

There is not much evidence for Henry’s younger years, Warren Hollister and Kathleen Thompson had suggested that he was brought up in England, while Judith Green argues he was initially brought up in the Duchy.


Henry’s Inheritance

In 1087, Henry’s father was fatally injured during a campaign in the Vexin. Henry had been by his father’s bedside in Rouen in September, when he died. It was at this time that William had partitioned off his possessions among his sons. Western Europe’s rules of succession at the time of William’s death are not certain. In some parts of France, primogeniture was possible. This was when the eldest son would inherit a title when his father would die. This form of succession was growing in popularity at the time. In other parts of Europe, including Normandy and England, the tradition had been for lands to be divided up. The eldest son of the deceased would take patrimonial lands, those with the most value. Younger sons were given smaller, or more recently acquired lands, along with partitions or estates.


Robert Cuthose Duke of Normandy
Robert Curthose

Upon dividing his lands, William appears to have followed the Norman tradition. His second son, Richard had died in a hunting accident, which left Henry and his two elder brothers to inherit their father’s estate. Robert, who was the eldest then, tho

William Rufus
William Rufus

ugh he was involved in an armed rebellion at the time against his father, had received Normandy. Henry’s other older brother, William Rufus, who was in favor with his father when he died, received England. Henry, being the youngest of the three boys, was given a large sum of money. The amount is usually reported as being 5,000 pounds, with expectations that he’d also be given his mother’s modest set of lands in Buckinghamshire and Gloucestershire, both in England.

As written in my William the Conqueror post, his funeral was marred by an angry local man, saying the land of which William was to be buried was taken from him. Henry might have been the one responsible for resolving the dispute by buying off the man with silver.

Robert had returned to Normandy, expecting that he’d be given both the Duchy of Normandy and England, but upon his return he learned that his brother William Rufus had crossed over the English Channel and was crowned king, and became William II. The two boys would disagree fundamentally over the inheritance. Robert soon began making plans to invade England and seize the kingdom from William. Robert would be helped in the invasion by some leading nobles against William Rufus. Henry remained in Normandy at the time and took a role within Robert’s court. This could have done this because he wasn’t willing to side with William, it may have also been because Robert might have taken the opportunity to confiscate his inherited money if he had tried to leave.

In 1088, Robert’s plans for invasion in England had begun to falter and so he turned to his younger brother Henry. He would propose that he lend him some of his inheritance, but Henry refused. Instead, the men came to another arrangement. Robert said he’d make Henry a count of western Normandy, in exchange for three thousand pounds. Henry’s lands were a new count ship, based around a delegation of the ducal authority in the Cotentin, but it also extended across the Avranchin, with control over the bishoprics of both as well. His new title gave Henry the influence over two of the major Norman leaders, Hugh d’Avranches and Richard de Redvers, as well as the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, whose lands spread out further across the Duchy. Even though the men came to this agreement, Robert’s invasion force had failed to leave Normandy. This had left William Rufus secure in England.


Henry as Count of the Cotentin

Cotentin France
Cotentin, France today

Henry had quickly established himself in his new position as Count of the Cotentin. He built up a network of followers from Western Normandy and Eastern Brittany. Historian John Le Patourel has characterized Henry’s new found followers as “Henry’s gang”. These early supporters included Roger of Mandeville, Richard of Redvers, Richard d’Avranches, and Robert Fitzhamon, and also included the churchman Roger of Salisbury.

His elder brother, Robert, would attempt to go back on the deal he had made with Henry, but his younger brother’s grip was already firm enough to prevent this. Robert’s rule of the Duchy of Normandy was chaotic. Parts of Henry’s lands had become almost independent of central control from Rouen. At this time, neither William nor Robert had trusted their younger brother, Henry.

In July of 1088, Henry had waited until the rebellion against William Rufus was safely over and then he returned to England. When he returned he met with his brother, the king, and was unable to persuade him to grant him his mother’s estates. He then traveled back to Normandy in autumn. While he was away, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, who had regarded Henry as a potential competitor, had convinced Robert that Henry was conspiring against him with his brother William Rufus. After landing, Odo had seized Henry and imprisoned him in Neuilly-la-Foret and Robert took back Cotentin. Henry was held throughout the winter, but in the spring of 1089, senior elements of the Normandy nobility had convinced Robert to release him.

Even though Henry was no longer Count of Cotentin, he continued to control the west of Normandy. His struggles between him and his brother’s continued. William continued putting down any resistance to his rule in England, but also began to build a number of alliances against his elder brother Robert with barons in Normandy, as well as the neighboring Ponthieu. Robert would ally himself with Philip I of France.

In the later part of 1090, William encouraged Conan Pilatus, to rebel against Robert. Conan was a powerful burgher in Rouen and was supported by most of Rouen. He would make appeals to neighboring ducal garrisons to switch allegiance as well. Robert had issued an appeal for help to his barons. Henry had first arrived in Rouen in November of 1090. Violence would break out, which lead to savage, confused street fighting as both sides would attempt to take control of the city. Robert and Henry had left the castle to join the battle, but Robert would retreat, leaving Henry to continue the fight. The battle turned in favor of the ducal forces and Henry had taken Conan as prisoner. Henry was angry that

Rouen Castle
Rouen Castle

Conan had turned against his feudal lord. He had him taken to the top of Rouen Castle and despite Conan’s offers to pay a huge amount of ransom, Henry threw him from the top of the castle to his death. Contemporaries would consider what he had done appropriate, as it had, to them, made an example of Conan and Henry had become famous for his exploits in the battle.


Henry’s Fall and Rise

After the battle, Robert had forced Henry to leave Rouen. This was probably due to Henry’s role in the fighting had become more prominent than his own. It could have possibly also have been because Henry asked to be formally reinstated as Count of Cotentin.

In early 1091, William had invaded Normandy, accompanied by a sufficiently large army to bring Robert to the negotiating table. The two brothers would sign a treaty at Rouen, it would grant William a range of lands and castles in Normandy. In return he promised to support Robert’s attempts to regain control of the neighboring county of Maine. Maine had once been under Norman control, and this would help Robert regain control of his Duchy, including Henry’s lands. Together they nominated one another as heirs to England and Normandy, excluding Henry from any succession while either of them were still alive.

A war had broken out between Henry and his brothers. Henry mobilized a mercenary army in western Normandy. William and Robert’s forces would advance and Henry’s network of baronial support melted away. He had focused his remaining forces at Mont Saint-Michel and they attacked, probably in March of 1091. The area was easy to defend, however, it did lack fresh water. The chronicler William of Malmesbury suggested that when Henry’s water had run low, Robert had allowed him to get fresh supplies, leading to remonstrations between Robert and William. The events of the final days of the siege are unknown. Attackers had begun to argue about future strategies for the campaign, but Henry ended up abandoning Mont Saint-Michel. This was probably part of a negotiated surrender. He would leave Brittany and cross over into France.

His next steps have pretty much been lost to history. One chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, which was written about along with William the Conqueror, suggests that he had traveled in the French Vexin, along the Normandy border, for over a year with a small group of his followers. By the end of the year, Robert and William had another falling out, and the Treaty of Rouen had been abandoned.

In 1092, Henry, along with his followers, had seized the Normandy town of Domfront. The town had previously been in control by Robert of Belleme, but the inhabitants didn’t like Robert’s rule and invited Henry to take over the town, which he would do in a coup, without causing any bloodshed. Over the next two years, Henry had regained his network of supporters across western Normandy, and formed what Judith Green would call a “court in waiting”.

Two years later, Henry was giving lands and castles to his followers as if he was the Duke of Normandy. William Rufus began helping his brother with money. He would encourage Henry in his campaign against their brother Robert, and Henry used some of the money to build a substantial castle at Domfront. William then crossed over into Normandy to wage war on Robert. When his progress had stalled he reached out to Henry for assistance. Henry would respond by traveling to London instead of joining the main campaign further east in Normandy. He visited England off and on to attend to his brother’s court.

In 1095, Pope Urban II started the First Crusade. He would encourage knights from across Europe to join it. Robert joined, and borrowed money from his brother William to do so. He granted William temporary custody of his part of the Duchy exchange. William appeared to have been confident of regaining the remainder of Normandy from Robert, and Henry appeared to have been closer than ever to William Rufus. The pair campaigned together in Norman Vexin from 1097 until 1098.


Acquiring the Throne

On August 2nd of 1100, William Rufus went out hunting in the New Forest. He was accompanied by a team of huntsmen and a number of the Norman nobility, including his brother Henry. At some point, an arrow was fired, possibly by the baron Walter Tirel, and it hit and killed William. There are still numerous conspiracies that have been suggested saying that William was killed deliberately. Most modern historians reject the conspiracies. At the time hunting was a risky activity, and because of that accidents were quite common.

Chaos would break out, and Tirel had fled to France. He either fled to France because he had fired the fatal shot or because he had been falsely accused and had feared that he’d be a scapegoat for the king’s death. Henry had rode on to Winchester, where an argument ensued as to who would now have claim to the throne. Could Henry have killed or had his brother killed, so he could take the throne?

William of Breteuil had said Robert, who was still abroad and on his way back from the Crusade had first rights to the throne. Henry though, argued that, unlike Robert, he’d been born to a reigning king and queen, therefore, he had claim under right of porphyrogeniture.

Tempers were flared, but Henry, supported by Henry Beaumont and Robert of Meulan, held sway and persuaded barons to follow him. He occupied Winchester Castle and ended up seizing the royal treasury. He was quickly crowned at Westminster Abbey on the 5th of August by Maurice, Bishop of London. 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, so they were unavailable to crown him at the time. In accordance with English tradition and in a bid to legitimize his rule, Henry issued coronation charter laying out various commitments.

The new king had presented himself as having restored order to a trouble-torn country. He announced he would abandon William’s policies towards the Church, and assured a return to the gentler customs of Edward the Confessor. Henry also asserted he would “establish a firm peace” across England and ordered “that this peace shall henceforth be kept.”

Along with his existing circle of supporters, many of which were richly rewarded with new lands, Henry quickly co-opted many of the existing administration into his new royal household. William Giffard, William Rufus’s chancellor, was made Bishop of Winchester. The prominent sheriffs, Urse d’Abetot, Haimo Dapifer, and Robert Fitzhamon would continue to play a senior role in the government. Unpopular, Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, was thrown into prison at the Tower of London and was charged with corruption. He left many of the church positions unfilled, but had set about nominating candidates in an effort to build further support for his new government.

Henry would write to Anselm with an apology for having been crowned while he was still in France and had asked for him to return immediately.

Upon becoming King of England he also was given claim of suzerainty over Wales and Scotland. The borders between England and Scotland would remain uncertain throughout Henry’s reign, with the Anglo-Norman influence pushing north through Cumbria. However, Henry’s relationship with King David I of Scotland was generally a good one, partially due to the marriage of Henry to King David’s sister.

In Wales, Henry would use his power to coerce and charm the Welsh princes, while Norman Marcher Lords would push across the valleys of South Wales.


The King Finds His Queen

On the 11th of November 1100, Henry would marry a woman named Matilda. She was the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland. He was thirty-one when he married Matilda. Marriages at this age were not uncommon in the eleventh century.

The couple had probably first met in the previous decade, and were possibly introduced through the Bishop of Salisbury, Osmund. The historian Warren Hollister argues that Henry and Matilda were emotionally close, but their union was certainly politically motivated. Marrying Matilda would have given Henry’s reign an increased legitimacy.

Matilda of Scotland
Matilda of Scotland

Matilda was previously named Edith, which was an Anglo-Saxon name. She was also a member of the West Saxon royal family, being the niece of Edgar the Etheling, great grand-daughter of Edmund “Ironside”, and a descendant of Alfred the Great. Matilda was an ambitious woman, and marrying Henry would have given her the opportunity for high status and power in England. She was educated in a sequence of convents. She could have also taken the vows to have formally become a nun, which would have made an obstacle for the marriage progressing. She didn’t wish to become a nun and had appealed to Anselm for permission to marry Henry. The Archbishop gathered a council at Lambeth Palace to judge the issue. Even though there were some dissenting voices, the council concluded that although Matilda had lived in a convent, she had not actually become a nun and therefore she was free to marry anyone. Anselm then allowed for the marriage to proceed.

Matilda would prove to be an effective queen for Henry, and acted as regent of England from time to time. She had addressed and presided over some councils and had extensively supported the arts.

Before long Henry and Matilda welcomed two children. Their daughter Matilda was born in 1102 and their son William Adelin was born in 1103. It is possible that they had a second son together named Richard, but he had died young. After the birth of their children, Matilda had preferred to remain in Westminster while Henry was traveling across England and Normandy. She did this either for religious reasons or because she had enjoyed being involved in the royal governance.

Even though they were married, Henry had a considerable sexual appetite and thus enjoyed a substantial number of sexual partners other than his wife. Henry’s sexual appetite resulted in a large number of illegitimate children. He would have at least nine sons and thirteen daughters that he appears to have recognized and supported. He is actually famous for holding a record for the largest number of acknowledged illegitimate children born to any English king. It was normal for unmarried Anglo-Norman noblemen to have relations with prostitutes and local women, and kings were also expected to have had mistresses. Some relationships that he had had were before he was married, others took place after. The women he had as mistresses were from a range of background, and his relationships appear to have been conducted relatively openly. Some of his noble mistresses may have been chosen for political purposes.


The Treaty of Alton

Early in 1101, Henry’s new regime was established and functioning. Many of the Anglo-Norman elite still supported Robert however, and would be prepared to switch sides if Henry’s brother had appeared likely to gain power of England.

In February, Flambard had escaped from the Tower of London and crossed over the English Channel to Normandy. There he had injected fresh direction and energy to Robert’s attempts to mobilize an invading force. In fact, by July Robert formed an army and a fleet and was ready to move against Henry back in England. To raise the stakes in the conflict, Henry seized Flambard’s lands and, with the support of Anselm, Flambard was removed from his position as bishop.

Henry held a court in April and June, where the nobility would renew their oaths of allegiance to him, but their support would still appear partial and shaky. With an invasion imminent, Henry mobilized his forces and a fleet outside of Pevensey, which was close to Robert’s anticipated landing site. Henry would train some of his forces and fleets personally in how to counter cavalry charges. Despite English levies and knights owing military service to the Church, and arriving in considerable numbers, many of his barons did not appear. Anselm would intervene with some of the doubters, emphasizing the religious importance of their loyalty to Henry.

Robert had unexpectedly landed further up the coast at Portsmouth on the 20th of July. He had a modest force of a few hundred men, but these would quickly be joined by many of the barons in England. Instead of marching into Winchester, which was close by, and seizing Henry’s treasury, Robert waited, giving his little brother time to march west and intercept the invading force. The two armies would meet at Alton where negotiations for peace would begin. This peace negotiation was possibly initiated by Henry or Robert, but probably was supported by Flambard.

The brothers would agree to a negotiation known as the Treaty of Alton. Under this treaty, Robert would release Henry from oath of homage and recognized him as the King of England. Henry then renounced his claims on western Normandy, except for in Domfront, and agreed to pay his older brother two thousand pounds a year for the rest of his life. If either of the brothers would die without a male heir, the other would inherit the others lands. The barons who had their lands seized by either the King of the Duke for supporting his rival would have them returned as well. Flambard would be reinstated as bishop as well. The two brothers would then campaign together to defend their territories in Normandy. Robert had remained in England for a few months more with Henry before he went back to Normandy.

However, despite the treaty, Henry set out with inflicting penalties on the barons who’d risen up against him during his brother’s invasion. William de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, had been accused of crimes, which weren’t covered by the Alton amnesty, and thus was banished from England.

In 1102, Henry turned against Robert of Belleme and his brothers. Belleme and his brothers were the most powerful barons, and he had accused Belleme of forty-five different offenses. Robert, however, would escape and took up arms against Henry. Henry then besieged Robert’s castles at Arundel, Tickhill, and Shrewsbury, pushing down into the southwest so to attack Bridgnorth. With his power base broken in England, Belleme accepted Henry’s offer of banishment and left the country for Normandy.


The Normandy Conquest

Henry’s network of allies in Normandy had become stronger in 1103. At this time, Henry also married his illegitimate daughter, Juliana, to Eustace of Breteuil. He also married another of his illegitimate daughters, Matilda, to Rotrou, the Count of Perche on the Normandy border. He also attempted to win over other members of the Normandy nobility and gave some English estates and lucrative offers to some key Norman lords. Duke Robert would continue to fight Robert of Belleme, but Duke Robert’s position worsened until 1104. The Duke ended up having to ally himself before this time with Belleme in order to survive. While arguing with his elder brother about breaking the terms of their treaty, Henry crossed the English Channel to Domfront. He would meet with senior barons from across Normandy who were eager to ally themselves with the King. Henry would confront his brother and accused him of siding with his enemies before he would return to England. Normandy would continue to fall into chaos.

In 1105, Henry had sent his friend Robert Fitzhamon and a force of knights into the Normandy Duchy, apparently so they could provoke a confrontation with Duke Robert. Fitzhamon would end up being captured. Henry would use this as an excuse to invade, promising to restore peace and order. He would have support of most of the neighboring counts around the Normandy borders. King Philip of France was persuaded to remain neutral at this time. Henry then occupied western Normandy, advanced east on Bayeux, which is where Fitzhamon was being held. The city would refuse to surrender and Henry would attack it and burn it to the ground. Another town, Caen, was terrified at this point of meeting the same fate, so it had decided to switch sides and surrendered. This would allow Henry to move on to Falaise, which he would take with a few casualties. Henry’s campaign then stalled out, and he instead began to discuss peace with Robert. The negotiations were inconclusive and fighting would continue to drag out until Christmas. At that time Henry returned to England.

In July of 1106, Henry would return again for another invasion, hoping to provoke a decisive battle. After some initial tactical successes, he turned to the southwest towards the castle of Tinchebray. He then attacked the castle and Duke Robert, supported by Belleme, advanced from Falaise to relieve it.

On the 28th of September, after attempts were made for a negotiation had failed, the Battle of Tinchebray would take place. The battle only lasted about an hour. It had started with a charge by Duke Robert’s cavalry, the infantry would dismount knights of both sides then joined the battle as well. Henry’s reserves, who were led by Elias, the Count of Maine, and Alan, the Duke of Brittany, attacked the enemy flanks, taking first Belleme’s forces and then the bulk of the ducal forces. Duke Robert would, at this time, be taken as prisoner, but Belleme escaped. Henry then mopped up remaining resistance through Normandy. Robert would order his last garrisons to surrender.

When reaching Rouen, Henry reaffirmed laws and customs of Normandy and had taken homage from leading barons and citizens. Other prisoners that were taken at Tinchebray were released, but Robert and several other leading nobles were imprisoned indefinitely. Henry’s nephew, Robert’s son, William Clito, was only three years old at this time. He was released to the care of Helias of Saint-Saens, who was a Norman baron.

Henry would reconcile his relationship with Robert Belleme, who had given up his ducal lands that he had seized and rejoined the royal court. Henry had no way though of legally removing the Duchy from his brother Robert, and had initially avoided using the title “duke” at all. He emphasized that as King of England he was only acting as a guardian of the trouble Duchy.


Henry’s Law and Court

Henry had ruled through various barons and lords in both England and Normandy. He would manipulate these men skillfully for their political effect. Political friendships, termed amicitia in Latin, were important during the 12th century and Henry would maintain a wide range. He would mediate between his friends in various factions across his realm when it was necessary to do so, and he rewarded those who were loyal to him as well.

He also had a reputation for punishing those who would stand up against him, and maintained an effective network of informers and spies who would report back to him. He was a harsh, firm ruler, but wasn’t excessive by the standards of the day. Over time, he would increase a degree of his control over barons, removing those that were his enemies and “hiring” his friends until the “reconstructed baronage” as the historian Warren Hollister describes it, was predominantly loyal and dependent on their king.

Henry’s royal court would compromise of various parts. At the heart of his court was the domestic household, also called the domus. It was divided into several parts. A chancellor would be head of the chapel, and would look after royal documents. The chamber dealt with financial affairs, and the master-marshal was responsible for Henry’s travel and accommodation. Another, wider grouping, was the familiar regis. This would include Henry’s mounted household troops, up to several hundred in strength. They came from a wide range of social backgrounds and could be deployed across the English kingdom and Normandy as it was required.

Formal gathering at court were termed curia. At first Henry had continued what his father practiced. He would have regular crown-wearing ceremonies at his curia, but this would become less frequent as the years went by. His court was also grand and ostentatious. He financed the construction of large new buildings and castles with a range of precious gifts on display, including that of the King’s private menagerie of exotic animals. The animals would be kept at Woodstock Palace.

Even though the community was a lively one, Henry’s court was more tightly controlled than that of previous kings. He had strict rules that were meant to control personal behaviors. He would prohibit members of the court from pillaging any neighboring villages, which had been a normality under Henry’s elder brother, William Rufus. Henry was also responsible for an expansion of the royal justice system.

In England, Henry drew on the existing Anglo-Saxon system of justice, local government and taxes. He would strengthen these with additional central governmental institutions. Roger of Salisbury began to develop royal exchequer after 1110, using it in order to collect and audit revenues from the King’s sheriffs in shires. Itinerant justices would begin to emerge under Henry, and would travel the country managing eyer courts, and many more laws were formally recorded.

Henry had gathered an increasing revenue from expansion of royal justice, both from fines as well as fees. The first Pipe Roll that’s known to have survived dates included date from 1130, recording royal expenditures. Henry reformed the coinage as well in 1107, 1108 and 1125. He’d inflict harsh corporal punishments to English coiners who’d been found guilty of debasing the currency.

In Normandy, Henry would restore law and order after 1106. Henry would operate through a body of Norman justices and an exchequer system that was similar to that in England. Norman institutions would grow in scale and scope. Many officials that ran his system were termed as “new men”. These men were relatively low-class born individuals who would rise through ranks as administrators, managing justice or royal revenues.


The King and the Church

Henry’s ability to govern was bound up with the Church. It would form a key part of the administration of both England and Normandy. Over the course of Henry’s reign the relationship with the church would change considerably.

His father, William, had reformed the English Church with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc, who had also become a close colleague and advisor to him. Under Henry’s elder brother William Rufus, the arrangement with the church had collapsed. The king and the Archbishop, Anselm had become estranged and Anselm would go into exile.

Henry had also believed in Church reform, but upon taking power in England became embroiled in a controversy with it. The argument concerned who should invest a new bishop with his staff and ring. Traditionally this act would be carried out by the king in a symbolic demonstration of his royal power. Pope Urban II had condemned the practice however in 1099, arguing that only the papacy could carry out such a task. He also thought that the clergy shouldn’t give homage to their local temporal rulers. Anselm would return to England from his exile in 1100, having heard Urban’s announcement, and informed Henry that he’d be complying with the Pope’s wishes.

Henry, however, was in a difficult position. Symbolism and homage were important to him, but he needed Anselm’s support in his struggle against his brother Robert. Anselm stuck firmly with the letter from the papacy, despite Henry’s attempts to persuade him to give way in return for a vague assurance of a future royal compromise. Matters would begin to escalate and Anselm went back into exile. Henry would confiscate his revenues and estates, and in return Anselm threatened excommunication.

In July of 1105 the two men would negotiate a solution. A line was drawn between secular and ecclesiastical powers of the prelates. Henry gave up his right to invest his clergy, but retained the custom of requiring them to come and do homage for the temporalities (the landed properties that they held in England). Despite this argument, the pair worked closely together. They paired together to deal with Duke Robert’s invasion in 1101.

A long time dispute between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York flared up under Anselm’s successor, Ralph d’Escures. Canterbury was traditionally the senior of the two establishments and had long argued that York should formally promise to obey their Archbishop, but York had argued that two episcopates were independent within the English Church and no such promise had been necessary.

Henry would support Canterbury, to ensure that England had remained under a single ecclesiastical administration, but the Pope preferred York’s case. The matter was complicated when Henry’s personal friendship with Thurstan, Archbishop of York, and Henry’s desire that the case not end up in the papal court, and beyond royal control. Henry had badly needed the support of the Papacy in struggle with Louis of France, however, and therefore allowed Thurstan to attend the Council of Rheims in 1119. It was here that Thurstan was then consecrated by the Pope with no mention of any duty towards Canterbury. He believed that that had gone against the assurances Thurstan had previously made and exiled him from England until the king and Archbishop would come to a negotiation the next year.

Even after the investiture dispute, King Henry continued playing a major role in the selection of the new English and Norman bishops and archbishops. Henry appointed many of his own officials to bishoprics and, as historian Martin Brett has suggested, “some of his officers could look forward to mitre with all but absolute confidence.” His chancellors, and those of his queen, became the bishops of Durham, Hereford, London, Lincoln, Winchester, and Salisbury. He had drew on a wider range of the bishops as advisors, more and more, particularly Roger of Salisbury, breaking with the earlier tradition of relying primarily on the Archbishop of Canterbury. This would result in a cohesive body of administrators through which he could exercise careful influence. He would hold general councils to discuss key matters of policy. Stability would shift slightly after 1125 when Henry began to inject a wider range of candidates into senior positions of the church, often with more of his same views of reform. The impact of this generation would be felt for many years even after Henry had died.


Henry’s Beliefs and His Piety

Like other rulers had done at this time, Henry had donated to the church and patronized various religious communities. Contemporary chroniclers didn’t categorize him as an unusually pious king. Henry’s personal beliefs and his piety may have developed throughout the course of his life. He had always taken an interest in religion, but in the later years of his life he may have become much more concerned with spiritual affairs, as

Reading Abbey ruins
Ruins of Reading Abbey

many still do today. If in fact his spirituality grew through his life, major shifts in his thinking would have appeared to have occurred after 1120, upon the death of his son William Adelin. Nine years after his son’s death his daughter’s marriage would teeter on the verge of collapse. As a proponent of religious reform, Henry would give extensively to reformist groups within the church. He was a keen supporter of the Cluniac order, probably due to intellectual purposes. He would donate money to the abbey at Cluny specifically.

After 1120, Henry donated generously to Reading Abbey, which was also a Cluniac establishment. The construction of the Abbey began in 1121 and Henry would endow it with rich lands and extensive privileges, making it a symbol of his dynastic lines. He also focused his efforts on promoting the conversion of communities of clerks into Augustinian canons, the foundation of leper hospitals, expanding the provisions of nunneries, and charismatic orders of the Savigniacs and Tironensians. Henry was also an avid collector of relics. He sent an embassy to Constantinople in 1118 just to collect Byzantine items, some of which would later be donated to Reading Abbey.


Politics in Europe and Wales

In 1108, Normandy had faced a growing threat from France, Anjou, and Flanders. Louis VI had succeeded to the French throne that year and began to reassert central royal power. He demanded that Henry give homage to him and that two castles that were disputed along the Normandy border be placed into the control of neutral castellans. Henry would refuse though and Louis responded with the mobilization of an army. After a few arguments, the two kings negotiated a truce and retreated without any fighting occurring, leaving some underlying issues still unresolved.

A year later in Anjou, Fulk V assumed his power and began to rebuild Angevin authority. He would inherit the county of Maine, but had refused to acknowledge Henry as the feudal lord and instead allied himself with Louis. Robert II of Flanders also had for a short time joined the alliance, before he had died in 1111.

In 1108, Henry arranged for his eight year old daughter, Matilda, to marry Henry V, the future Holy Roman Emperor. For King Henry V, this would be an opportunity to recover from the financial situation he was in at the time and fund an expedition to Italy. Upon the marriage Henry V would receive a dowry of 6,666 pounds from England and Normandy. Raising this kind of money would prove to be challenging for Henry and required a special “aid” or tax to be set in England. In 1110, Matilda was crowned as Henry V’s queen.

Henry would respond to the French and Angevin threat by expanding his own network of supporters beyond the Norman borders. Some of the Norman barons would prove to be unreliable and were arrested or dispossessed. He’d use their forfeited estates to bribe his potential allies in the neighboring areas, in particular Maine. In about 1110, Henry would attempt to arrest his brother Robert’s son William Clito, but his mentors took him to safety in Flanders before he could be taken. It was during this time that Henry had probably started styling himself as the Duke of Normandy. Two years after Henry’s attempt to arrest William Clito, Robert Belleme would turn against Henry yet again. He’d appear at the court of Henry in a new role as a French ambassador, but was arrested and imprisoned. Rebellions had broken out in 1111 in France and Anjou and continued on after Robert’s arrest into 1113.

Henry would cross into Normandy to support his nephew, the Count of Blois, Theobald, who had sided against Louis in an uprising. In an attempt to diplomatically isolate the French King, Henry arranged for his young son William Adelin to marry Fulk’s daughter Matilda. He also married off his illegitimate daughter Matilda to Conan III, the Duke of Brittany. Both of these marriages would create an alliance with Anjou and Brittany. Louis would back down and in March of 1113 he met with Henry near Gisors to agree to a peace settlement. This gave Henry the disputed fortresses and also confirmed his overlordship of Maine, Belleme, and Brittany.

Back in 1108, Henry also dealt with a deteriorating situation in Wales. He would conduct a campaign to South Wales, pushing out the royal power of the region and colonized the area around Pembroke with Flemings. By 1114 some of the residing Norman lords were under attack, and while in Mid-Wales, Owain ap Cadwgan had blinded one of the political hostages he had been holding. In North Wales Gruffudd ap Cynan was threatening the power of the Earl of Chester. Henry would send three armies into the country that year. Gilbert FitzRichard would lead a force from the south. Alexander, the King of Scotland would press on from the north and Henry himself would advance into Mid-Wales. Owain and Gruffudd asked for peace and Henry accepted to come to a political compromise. Henry would reinforce the Welsh Marches with his own appointees, which in turn strengthened the border territories.


A Rebellion

In his concerns for succession, Henry looked to persuade Louis VI to accept his son, William Adelin, as his legitimate son, and future Duke of Normandy, in exchange for his son’s homage. In 1115, Henry crossed the border into Normandy bringing together Norman barons who would swear their loyalty to him. He nearly succeeded in negotiating a settlement with King Louis, but the deal fell through. A war would break out after Henry returned to Normandy. Henry and Louis would raid each other’s towns along the border and in 1116 a wider conflict would break out. Henry had been pushed into defensive mode as the French, Flemish, and Angevin forces began to pillage the Normandy countryside. Amaury III of Montfort and many other barons would rise up against Henry, and an assassination plot from within his own household would arise.

In 1118, Henry’s wife Matilda passed away and due to the situation in Normandy pressing Henry he was unable to return to England for his wife’s funeral. Henry would respond by mounting numerous campaigns against rebel barons and strengthened his alliance with Theobald of Blois. Baldwin of Flanders would be wounded in a battle and died in September of 1118. This would ease some of the pressure on Normandy from the northeast. Henry would then attempt to crush a revolt in the city of Alencon, but he was defeated by Fulk and the Angevin army and forced to retreat from Alencon. His position had quickly deteriorated at an alarming pace. His resources became overstretched and more barons would abandon his cause.

In the early part of 1119, Eustace of Breteuil and Henry’s daughter, Juliana had threatened to join the baronial revolt. There were some hostages that were exchanged so as to attempt to avoid a conflict, but relations broke down and both sides mutilated their captives. Henry attacked and took the town of Breteuil, even though Juliana had attempted to kill her father with a crossbow. In the aftermath, Henry dispossessed the couple of almost all of their lands in Normandy. That May, Henry’s situation began to improve when he talked Fulk into switching sides by agreeing to marry William Adelin to his daughter Matilda, as well as paying him a large amount of money. Fulk would leave for the Levant, leaving Maine in the care of Henry. The king was then free to focus on crushing his remaining enemies. In summer, Henry would advance into Norman Vexin, where he would come across Louis’s army, and the Battle of Brémule broke out.

Henry appears to have deployed his scouts and then started to organize his troops into several carefully formed lines of dismounted knights. Unlike these forces, the French knights remained mounted. They would quickly charge the Anglo-Norman positions, breaking through the first lines of defense but then they became entangled in Henry’s second line of knights. When the French army had realized they were surrounded they began to collapse. Henry would be hit by the blow of a sword during the battle, but his armor protected him. Louis and William Clito had escaped from the battle, and left Henry to return to Rouen in victory. The war would slowly conclude after this battle. Louis took the dispute over Normandy to Pope Callixtus II’s council in Reims later in the year, in October. Henry faced a number of complaints from the French with concerns of acquisition and subsequent management of Normandy. Despite being defended by Geoffrey, the Archbishop of Rouen, Henry’s case was knocked down by the pro-French elements of the council.

Callixtus would decline to support Louis, and merely advised the two rulers to seek a peace amongst each other. Amaury de Montfort would come to terms with Henry, however, Henry and William Clito could not agree to a mutually satisfactory compromise. In June of 1120, Henry and Louis formally made peace on terms that were advantageous to Henry. William Adelin would give homage to Louis, and in return Louis confirmed William’s rights to the Duchy.


The Sinking of the White Ship and Succession in Crisis

White Ship Disaster
Depiction of the White Ship Disaster

Henry’s plans for his succession were thrown in chaos yet again when on November 25th of 1120, a ship called the “White Ship” had sunk.

Henry would leave the port of Barfleur for England in the early evening of November 25th. He would leave his son William Adelin and many of the younger members of the court to follow later that night in a separate vessel, the White Ship. Both the crew and their passengers were drunk, when just outside of the harbor the ship hit a submerged rock. The ship sank, killing as many as three hundred people, only one person would survivor, a butcher from Rouen.

At first, Henry’s court was too afraid to report William’s death to the King. When he was finally given the news, Henry collapsed with grief. The disaster had left Henry with no legitimate son and only various nephews had remained his closest male hei

Adeliza Louvain
Adeliza of Louvain

rs. He then announced that he would take on a new wife, Adeliza of Louvain. In January of 1121, with the prospect of a new royal son, the two were married at Windsor Castle. Henry appears to have chosen Adeliza because she was attractive and came from a prestigious noble line. She too seemed to have been fond of Henry and had joined him in his travels, but she probably went along as well to maximize the chances of conceiving a child.

The White Ship disaster had also initiated a fresh conflict in Wales. Richard, the Earl of Chester had also drowned in the disaster. This would encourage a rebellion that would be led by Maredudd ap Bleddyn. That summer Henry would intervene in North Wales with an army and, although he was hit by a Welsh arrow, the campaign would reaffirm his power across the region. With his son William dead, Henry’s alliance with Anjou, which was based on his son marrying Fulk’s daughter also began to disintegrate. Fulk would return from Levant and demanded that Henry return his daughter and her dowry, which included a range of estates and fortifications in Maine.

Matilda would leave for Anjou, but Henry argued that the dowry had in fact originally belonged to him before it came into Fulk’s possession and so he declined to hand over the estates. Fulk would marry his daughter Sibyilla to William Clito, and thus granted them the area of Maine.

In 1123, once again conflict broke out. Amaury de Montfort had allied himself with Fulk and led a revolt along the Norman-Anjou border. He would be joined by several other Norman barons, who were headed by Waleran de Beaumont, one of the sons of Henry’s once ally, Robert of Meulan. Henry would send Robert of Gloucester and Ranulf le Meschin to Normandy and then in late 1123 also joined them. He began the process of attacking the rebel castles before wintering in the Duchy.

In Spring the campaign would again start. Ranulf would receive intelligence that the rebels were returning to a base of theirs at Vatteville, which had given him the chance to ambush them while they were in route at Rougemontiers. Walern was captured, but Amaury had escaped. Henry would mop up the remainder of the rebels, going as far to have blinded some of the leaders. At this time, this was considered to have been a more merciful punishment than having executed them all. Henry would then recover the last rebel castles. He also paid Pope Callixtus a large sum of money, in exchange for the Papacy annulling the marriage of William Clito and Sibylla on the grounds of consanguinity.


A New Successor

Even though Henry had remarried, the relationship hadn’t produced any more children for Henry. Leaving the future of the dynasty at risk. Henry might have begun to look among his nephews for a possible heir, thinking and considering Stephen of Blois as a possible option. In preparation for this, Henry arranged a beneficial marriage for his nephew to a wealthy heiress, Matilda. Theobald of Blois, his close ally may also have felt that he was in favor with Henry. William Clito, who had been King Louis’s preferred choice, remained opposed to Henry and was thus unsuitable. Henry might have also considered his own illegitimate son, Robert of Gloucester, but English tradition and custom would have looked unfavorably on this decision.

Henry’s plans would shift though when Empress Matilda’s husband, Emperor Henry had died in 1125. King Henry had called his daughter to England the following year and declared that if he had died without a male heir, she was to be his rightful successor. During the Christmas of 1126, Anglo-Norman barons had gathered together at Westminster where they swore to recognize Matilda and any future legitimate heir she may have.

Putting forward a woman as the potential heir to the throne was unusual for the time. Opposition to Matilda would continue to exist within the English court, and Louis had vehemently opposed her candidacy. In 1127, a new conflict would break out, when Charles, the childless Count of Flanders, had been murdered, creating a local succession crisis. William Clito, backed by King Louis, was chosen by the Flemings to become the new ruler. The development had potential for threatening Normandy. Henry began to finance a proxy war in Flanders, and promoted claims of William’s Flemish rivals. In an attempt to disrupt the French alliance with William, Henry mounted an attack into France in 1128, forcing Louis to cut his aid to William. However, in July of 1127, William died unexpectedly. His death removed the last major challenger to Henry’s rule and brought the war in Flanders to a halt. Without William the baronial opposition in Normandy had lacked its leader. A new 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, Henry would marry his daughter Matilda to Fulk’s eldest son, Geoffrey. The pair were betrothed in 1127 and would marry in the following year. It is unknown if Henry had intended for Geoffrey to have any future claim on England or Normandy, but he was probably keeping his son-in-law’s status deliberately uncertain. Although Matilda was granted a number of Normandy castles as part of her dowry, it wasn’t specified when the couple would actually take possession of them. Fulk had left Anjou for Jerusalem in 1129, declaring Geoffrey the Count of Anjou and Maine before he left.

Matilda and Geoffrey’s marriage proved to be a difficult one, the couple didn’t really like each other much and disputed the castles in the dowry. This would result in Matilda returning to Normandy later on that year. Henry appears to have blamed his son-in-law for the couple’s separation. In 1131 though the couple had reconciled. Henry was very pleased and relieved for the reconciliation. Matilda then gave birth to two sons, Henry would be born in 1133 and Geoffrey in 1134.


Death of a King

Relations between Henry, his daughter and Geoffrey had increasingly deteriorated during Henry’s final years. Matilda and Geoffrey figured that they had lacked the genuine support of England. In 1135, they would urge Henry to hand over the royal castles in Normandy to Matilda while he was still alive, and they insisted that the Norman nobility should swear immediate allegiance to Matilda. This gave the couple a more powerful position when Matilda’s father passed away. Henry would angrily decline and probably due to his concern that Geoffrey would try and seize power in Normandy. A group of rebels arose, being led by William the Count of Ponthieu against Henry. Geoffrey and Matilda would intervene but not on Henry’s side, but against him, supporting the rebels. Henry campaigned throughout the autumn, strengthening the southern frontier and then he traveled to Lyons-la-Foret in November to enjoy some hunting. At this time, Henry was still in good health.

While at Lyons-la-Foret, Henry became ill, according to chronicler Henry of Huntingdon, he ate a number of lampreys against the advice of his physician. His condition thereafter worsened over a course of a week. When his condition appeared to be terminal, Henry gave confession and summoned for Archbishop Hugh of Amiens, who was also joined by Robert of Gloucester and other members of his court. In accordance with custom, preparations were made to settle Henry’s outstanding debts and to revoke outstanding sentences of forfeiture.

On the 1st of December 1135, Henry died, his corpse was then taken to Rouen accompanied by the barons, where it was then embalmed. His entrails were buried locally at Port-du-Salut Abbey, and the preserved body was then taken to England, where it was interred at Reading Abbey.

plaque where Henry I was buried
A marker at Reading Abbey all that is left marking where Henry was buried

Despite his efforts to name his successor while he was alive, the succession was disputed. When the news had spread of Henry’s death, Geoffrey and Matilda of Anjou supported the rebels in their campaign against the royal army, including a number of Matilda’s supporters such as Robert of Gloucester. Many of the barons had taken an oath to stay in Normandy until Henry was properly buried, which had prevented them from returning to England. The Norman nobility had then discussed Theobald of Blois being declared the next king. However, his younger brother, Stephen of Blois would quickly cross from Boulogne to England, accompanied by his military household. With the help of his brother, Henry of Blois, he would seize power in England and would be crowned the next king on December 22nd. The late king’s daughter Matilda, however, didn’t give up her claim to England and Normandy. She would lead a prolonged civil war that would be known as the Anarchy between 1135 and 1153.



Works Cited


Cotentin, France

Reading Abbey Ruins

Rouen Castle

White Ship Disaster





English Monarchs

New World Encyclopedia


2 thoughts on “Henry Beauclerc I (1068-1135)”

  1. Henry Beauclerc is my 27th great-grandfather through his illegitimate son, Robert of Gloucester. As always, I thank you for posting such well-researched pieces!

    Liked by 1 person

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