Henry I

(Henry I of England, Henry Beauclerc)


Henry I was the fourth son of William the Conqueror. He was not expected to inherit the throne, but with the death of two of his brothers, and a little opportunism, he managed to secure both the Norman and English kingdoms for himself. The reign of Henry I was proceeded by that of his brother, William Rufus, who was so widely deplored that Henry at first appeared saint-like in comparison. On assuming the throne, he made amends with the church, which had been thoroughly abused during the reign of William, and also married an Anglo-Saxon princess. Both of these actions, taken very early in his reign, made him very popular with his subjects, and put him in an excellent position to resist the inevitable rebellion of his living elder brother, whose hereditary claim to the throne was better than his own. He reigned competently for thirty-five years, repaired relations with the church, and put down numerous rebellions in Normandy. Yet in spite of fathering over twenty illegitimate children, he produced no surviving male heir to the throne, and left the kingdom in a state of anarchy that was not resolved until his grandson, Henry Plantagenet, assumed the throne nineteen years after his death.

As the fourth son, Henry was expected to become a bishop, and so had an excellent education. On the death of his father, his eldest brother, Robert Curthose, received Normandy, William Rufus received England, and Henry received only money. Thirteen years later, William was killed in an accident while Robert was on a crusade. Henry was present in England at the time, and had himself crowned several months before Robert returned to claim his rights. By that time, Henry had consolidated power, by bringing back the well-respected archbishop Anselm from exile, gaining the support of the church, and making other popular reforms. Robert's initial rebellion was repulsed, but after five years of conspiracies, Henry decided to remove the threat altogether and marched upon Normandy. He defeated and imprisoned Robert, and annexed Normandy to his dominions but later had to deal with similar rebellions by Robert's son William.

The most tragic event of Henry's reign was the death of his one legitimate son on a pleasure cruise. This left terrible succession problems which Henry attempted to solve by forcing his Baron's to accept his daughter Matilda as sovereign. This effort failed, and led to wide-spread civil wars after Henry's death in 1135.

Key events during the life of Henry I, "Beuclerc":

Birth of Henry, fourth son of William the Conqueror
Death of William the Conqueror. Henry left money, but no land.
Falls from favor of both William Rufus and Robert Curthose.
Reconciled with William Rufus.
Present at death of William Rufus. Immediately crowned as king.
Robert Curthose attempts to claim the crown of England but is repelled.
Invades Normandy and defeats Brother at the Battle of Tichebray.
Annexes Normandy to his dominions.
Settled dispute with Anselm over Investiture
Repelled a Norman conspiracy led by the son of Robert Curthouse.
Death of Henry's son William on the 'White Ship.'
Death of his Norman rival, the son of Robert Curthose.
Died of food poisoning.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Sons of William the Conqueror  in  Fifty Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
White Ship  in  Fifty Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
The Loss of the White Ship  in  Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary  by  Cambridge Press
Henry I—The Story of the 'White Ship'  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
How the White Ship Sailed  in  Historical Tales: English  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

Henry I
 in Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary

The wreck of the White Ship
 in Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary

The little boy knelt before the King and stammered out the story.
 in Our Island Story

Short Biography
Robert III of Normandy Eldest son of William the conqueror. Raised a rebellion against his father.
St. Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury under William Rufus and Henry I. Feuded with both kings.
William Rufus Son of William the Conqueror. A bad and brutal king. Killed in the New Forest.
Maude the Good Scottish wife of Henry I. Grandmother of Henry II. Patron and benefactor to poor of England.
Matilda of England Daughter of Henry I. Fought her cousin Stephen for the throne. Her son Henry II won the crown.