Henry I, King of England

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HENRY I, KING OF ENGLAND

Reigned from 1100 to Dec. 1, 1135; b. Selby (probably), England, 1068; d. Gisors, near Rouen, France. The fourth and youngest son of King william i the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, he received an education and was literate. Immediately upon the death of his brother, King William II Rufus on Aug. 2, 1100, Henry, accompanied by two of Rufus's chief counselors, the Beaumont brothers, dashed to Winchester, seized the Treasury, and was proclaimed and crowned king of the English. His elder brother, Duke Robert Curthose of Normandy, had not yet returned from the First Crusade. Henry immediately issued his Coronation Charter, confirming the traditional rights of his barons and of the Church in England, and promising to right the wrongs of his brother. The new king also recalled from exile Abp. Anselm of Canterbury, whom Rufus had expelled and exiled from England, and he promised to rule the Church as Anselm wished. With Anselm's support, Henry quelled Curthose's invasion of 1102 without a battle, and the two brothers were reconciled. The king further solidified his rule by marrying Edith-Matilda, daughter of Malcolm and Margaret of Scotland, the latter of the old Anglo-Saxon royal lineage. Henry immediately began a policy of weeding out the most obstreperous of the barons, confiscating their lands and awarding them to more loyal followers.

But Anselm, having heard the decrees of the Papal Court, at once challenged Henry's right to invest clerics and receive their homage, beginning the investiture contest in England. King and archbishop tried to persuade Pope Paschal II to rescind these decrees for England, with Anselm even traveling to Rome to present his request to the pope in person. When Paschal refused, Henry at once offered him the choice of compliance with England's customs, or exile. Anselm chose exile. Soon thereafter, King Henry launched his attempt to conquer Normandy from his brother, Robert Curthose, but was stymied when Anselm threatened to excommunicate the king, causing some of Henry's allies to desert him. King and archbishop reconciled at a meeting at Laigle in 1105, Henry renouncing his right to investiture but retaining the right of homage of clerics; after papal ratification of the agreement, Henry and Anselm proclaimed their reconciliation publicly at Bec in 1106, and from Bec, now with Anselm's support, Henry proceeded to his victory at Tinchebray. In 1107, Henry and Anselm triumphantly held a great council at London, where king and archbishop appointed new clerics to the many vacancies in England, and Henry received their fealty.

Henry's great achievements were, first, to keep the peace in England for the entire 35 years of his reign; and second, to begin to build a bureaucracy which created the foundation for administrative kingship in England. Finally, he built a strong court of faithful and cooperative barons by judicious rewards of land and privileges, strategic marriage arrangements, particularly of heiresses; and the application of reason and order to a systematic reformulation of the government, but always based on England's Anglo-Saxon heritage. No wars disturbed England's prosperity during Henry's reign, while Normandy, touched by warfare on its borders during three crises11111113, 11181119, and 11231124also enjoyed internal peace. Law came to supercede violence as the means of settling property disputes, because of Henry's expansion and reform of the shire courts and use of royal justices in eyre. In Henry's reign began the elaborate records of the newly constituted exchequer, the Pipe Rolls; an avalanche of royal charters preserved the legal records; the first treatise on English Law, the Leges Henrici Primi, with its companion Quadripartitus, appeared; and the first evidence of a reformed royal household, with an elaborate and complex hierarcy of officials paid by fixed stipends, the Constitutio Domus Regis, issued from Henry's court. Henry's highly literate government, transformed by a new systematizing order, clearly underlay and prepared the way for his grandson, henry ii.

Henry's foreign policy also aided England's peace. One of Henry's greatest triumphs was the marriage of his daughter, Matilda, to Emperor Henry V of Germany, but he also married many of his "natural" children to form alliances with many lords on the borders of the Anglo-Norman realm. The king habitually rewarded his loyal courtiers with marriages to heiresses, so that they owed their wealth and prestige to him, assuring their loyalty. The greatest challenge to the peace was the claim of Henry's nephew, William Clito, son of Robert Curthose, to the Anglo-Norman realma challenge which Henry's skillful alliances helped to quell.

Henry I's ecclesiastical policies were energetic and benevolent. After he had reconciled with Anselm, Henry founded the sees of ely (1109) and carlisle (1133). He presided over generous and rich benefactions made by his many courtiers to the various abbeys of England and Normandy. Henry himself was the most generous donor to the building of Cluny III, lavishing enormous wealth on it during the building program and involving himself in cluny's building personally. He founded, as his personal foundation, reading abbey, and installed Cluniac monks there in cooperation with Abbot peter the venerable. Reading enjoyed many liberties and privileges beyond those of other English abbeys. Henry also supported cistercian and premonstratensian foundations, which first entered England during his reign, as did gilbert of sempringham and his gilbertines. In Henry's reign also the traditional rivalry for precedence between the archbishops of canterbury and york was definitely settled when York was freed from all subordination to Canterbury. It was as a consequence of this quarrel that Henry permitted papal legates access to England at last in 1125.

Henry was buried in Reading. His insistence that the English barons recognize the empress matilda as his successor would have passed the succession on peacefully, had not his nephew, stephen, seized the throne unexpectedly, violating his own oath of fealty to the empress. There resulted widespread chaos and civil war throughout Normandy and England that threatened to undo all of Henry's constitutional and administrative achievements.

Bibliography: john of worcester, The Chronicle of John of Worcester, ed. tr. r. r. darlington, p. mcgurk, and j. bray 3v. (Oxford Medieval Texts 19952000). Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, ed. c. plummer, 2 v. (Oxford 18929). eadmer, Historia Novorum, ed. m. rule [Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores (New York 1964) 81:1884]. william of malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum, ed. tr. r. a. b. mynors, r. m. thomson and m. winterbottom, v.1 (Oxford Medieval Texts 1998). o. vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, ed. tr. m. chibnall, 6 v. (Oxford Medieval Texts 196980). henry of huntingdon, Historia Anglorum, ed. tr. d. greenway (Oxford Medieval Texts 1996). symeon of durham, Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie, ed. tr. d. rollason (Oxford Medieval Texts 2000). l. h. primi, ed. tr. l. j. downer (Oxford 1972). Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, ed. c. johnson v.2 (Oxford 1956). c. w. hollister, Henry I, ed. and completed by a. c. frost (New Haven 2001). m. brett, The English Church under Henry I (Oxford 1975). j. a. green, The Government of England under Henry I (Cambridge 1986). c. w. hollister, Monarchy, Magnates, and Institutions in the Anglo-Norman World (London 1986). j. a. green, The Aristocracy of Norman England (Cambridge 1997). c. a. newman, The Anglo-Norman Nobility in the Reign of Henry I (Philadelphia 1988). r. w. southern, St. Anselm and His Biographer (New York 1963). s. n. vaughn, Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1987). r.w. southern, Saint Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape (Cambridge 1990). The Letters of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, tr. w. frÖlich, 3 v. (Kalamazoo 19901994).

[s. vaughn]

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Henry I, King of England

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