Henry I (1068/9–1135), king of England and lord of Normandy
by C. Warren Hollister

Henry I (1068/9–1135), king of England and lord of Normandy, was the fourth and youngest son of , and .

Family, childhood, and adolescence

Henry was born in England, possibly at Selby, between either mid-May and early September 1068 or early February and early May 1069. He was reared in England and remained there, apart from occasional trips to Normandy, until after receiving knighthood from his father at Westminster on 24 May 1086. William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis testify independently that Henry was literate and, indeed, well educated in the liberal arts. Writers between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries much exaggerated the extent of his learning, asserting that he had a mastery of Greek, was a gifted poet, and had earned a degree from the University of Cambridge—which, of course, did not yet exist (his epithet Beauclerc appears to have originated in the fourteenth century). These amusing exaggerations must not obscure the fact that Henry was indeed literate, and probably better educated than any previous English king except Alfred. Moreover, as V. H. Galbraith aptly observed, Henry's education marked a permanent change in the rearing of royal heirs: with the likely exception of Stephen, kings of England from Henry I's time onward were normally trained in letters.

Henry's tutor or magister cannot be identified with any certainty. The person was most likely a learned prelate of the English church, perhaps someone of the type of Osmund, bishop of Salisbury, a former royal chancellor and an avid bibliophile who enormously expanded his cathedral library, built the earliest Norman Romanesque cathedral at Old Sarum, and probably assisted in making the Domesday survey. By order of William the Conqueror from Normandy, the young Henry, accompanied by Bishop Osmund, visited Abingdon Abbey for several days during the Easter season of 1084, and Henry's attestations are to be found along with Bishop Osmund's on a number of the Conqueror's charters. But this evidence is obviously inconclusive.

Early manhood, 1086–1088

After being knighted Henry accompanied his father on the latter's final trip to the continent in 1086. He was present at the Conqueror's deathbed at St Gervais outside Rouen in September 1087, and at his entombment at Caen shortly afterwards. William I, having left the duchy of Normandy to his eldest son, , and the kingdom of England to his second surviving son, (another son, Richard, had died in a hunting accident), bequeathed to Henry no lands but a large treasure—£5000 according to the most reliable reports. Henry had also been granted by his mother (who died in 1083) her lands in England, which are recorded in Domesday Book as being worth something in excess of £300 a year. The evidence suggests, however, that he never enjoyed the revenues from these lands. They were in fact granted by William Rufus to the royal familiaris Robert fitz Hamon and later passed, through Robert's daughter Mabel (or Maud), to her husband, Henry's eldest natural son, , whom Henry created earl of Gloucester.

Henry did, however, acquire a large territorial base when, in the spring of 1088, Duke Robert Curthose sold (or possibly pawned) most of western Normandy to him for the sum of £3000, which Robert squandered that same year on a fruitless attempt to conquer England from Rufus. Along with these territories, which included at least the Cotentin and Avranchin with the abbey of Mont-St Michel, Henry acquired the title ‘count of the Cotentin’. His rule there earned him a number of powerful friends among the barons of western Normandy, including Hugh, vicomte d'Avranches and earl of Chester, and Richard de Revières, who acquired vast lands in southern England on Henry's accession to the throne, and whose descendants were earls of Devon.

Henry had joined Robert Curthose's court in Normandy after his father's death and, although not yet twenty, evidently rose quickly to become a leading ducal counsellor—judging by the appearance of his name and new comital title alongside Robert Curthose's in ducal charters: ‘Signum Rotberti comitis Normanniae + Signum Hen+rici comitis, fratris ejus …’ and ‘Si+gnum Rotberti comitis … Si+gnum Henrici comitis’ (Haskins, 291). After Rufus had defeated the combined rebellion and invasion of 1088 that had aimed unsuccessfully at placing Robert Curthose on the throne of England, Henry journeyed to Rufus's court in the summer of 1088, to request possession of his mother's English lands. Henry had delayed his visit until such a time as he could make an appearance in the kingdom without seeming to take sides in the armed struggle between his older brothers for the English crown. Orderic's report that his visit with Rufus was cordial is supported by Henry's attestation of a royal charter in the late summer or early autumn of 1088. But, as has been said, there is no clear evidence that Henry ever received his mother's lands, and as Orderic makes clear, he did not possess them in 1091.

Relations with Robert Curthose, 1088–1089

Henry crossed back to Normandy in the autumn of 1088, in the company of a person who would later become one of his foremost adversaries, , whom contemporaries described as a brilliant military architect but sadistically cruel. Robert was the eldest son of the Conqueror's companion and kinsman, Roger de Montgomery, lord of Arundel and earl of Shrewsbury, one of the three or four wealthiest lords in both Normandy and England. Robert de Bellême's mother, Mabel, was heir to the immense lands of the ancient family of Bellême (or Talvas), whose holdings stretched across the southern frontier of Normandy towards Maine. At her death in the late 1070s Mabel's lands had passed to Robert de Bellême, and he would soon inherit the great Montgomery holdings in Normandy from his aged father. He subsequently acquired, on the death of his younger brother Hugh, his father's lands in England: the earldom of Shrewsbury and the rape of Arundel.

When Count Henry and Robert de Bellême arrived in Normandy, they received a most unpleasant surprise. Robert Curthose took them both captive, on the advice of his disgruntled uncle, Odo, bishop of Bayeux, who alleged that they had been plotting with Rufus against the duke. The king had just disseised Odo of his immensely wealthy earldom of Kent and banished him from England for his leadership of the recent rebellion, and the bishop had returned to Normandy in an ugly mood. Robert Curthose revoked Henry's comital title and consigned both captives to the custody of Bishop Odo, who imprisoned Henry in his episcopal city of Bayeux.

The inconstant Curthose first launched a military campaign against the Montgomery–Bellême castles, then came to terms with Robert de Bellême's father, Roger de Montgomery, and good-heartedly released Robert de Bellême from captivity. Subsequently, some time in spring 1089, Curthose released Henry as well, having yielded, so Orderic explains, to the supplications of Norman optimates—presumably Henry's friends in western Normandy. A ducal charter of 24 April 1089, attested by Henry's supporter Richard de Revières, along with Ranulf, vicomte de Bayeux, and his son, and an unusual number of other western Normans, may mark the event.

Count in the Cotentin, 1089–1091

On his release Henry seems to have returned to western Normandy, where Curthose's authority was evidently non-existent. Henry resumed his comital title, probably without reference to Curthose. The sources suggest that he remained there, exercising his comital authority without challenge and eschewing the ducal court, until late October or early November 1090, when he responded to Robert Curthose's plea for help against a rebellion planned by citizens in the ducal capital of Rouen, acting in league with William Rufus. King William, while remaining in England, had been striving to win Normandy from his brother by buying the allegiance of major barons in the north-eastern part of the duchy. Rufus had also won over to his cause the richest merchant in Rouen, a certain Conan son of Gilbert Pilatus, whose numerous followers among the townspeople, known as ‘Pilatenses’, were prepared to rebel on Rufus's behalf and open the gates of Rouen to Rufus's Norman allies. Having yielded western Normandy to Henry, and forfeited most of north-eastern Normandy to Rufus, Curthose stood to lose his ducal authority altogether if he lost Rouen. He therefore begged the assistance of several Norman magnates, including his two victims of 1088, Count Henry and Robert de Bellême. Surprisingly, both responded, perhaps hoping for the ransoms of wealthy burghers whom they might take captive (although Henry is not known to have taken any captives for ransom).

When fighting broke out within the city, on 3 November, Curthose himself took refuge in the church of Notre-Dame-du-Pré, a priory affiliated to Bec just outside Rouen, while Henry and other ducal supporters engaged the rebels and their royalist allies in the city's streets and, after much bloodshed, defeated them. Conan son of Gilbert fell into the hands of Henry himself, who led him atop the tower of Rouen Castle and then pushed him out to his death, declaring that his betrayal of his lord, Duke Robert, was unforgivable. Some modern historians have condemned Henry for gratuitous cruelty. Contemporary observers, on the other hand, seem generally to have viewed the event as a righteous act of summary execution by a high-spirited prince against a treacherous burgess. Supporters of Curthose on the ground below, who obviously shared that view, tied Conan's lifeless body to a horse's tail and had it dragged through the city streets, like Hector, as an example to other traitorous townsmen, and long afterwards the tower bore the striking name ‘Conan's Leap’. Altogether, Henry emerged from the rebellion with a considerably better reputation than Curthose, who left his refuge at Notre-Dame-du-Pré only after peace had been restored to the city. Afterwards Henry returned to western Normandy.

On 2 February 1091 Rufus personally led an army into north-eastern Normandy against Curthose. Thoroughly intimidated, the duke quickly negotiated a peace on terms highly favourable to Rufus. In essence, their treaty provided for the division of Normandy between them, to the total exclusion and disinheritance of Henry. Rufus and Curthose thereupon marched westward against their brother, forcing Henry to withdraw from the Avranchin and Cotentin and to make a last stand in the mountain-top abbey of Mont-St Michel. There, in March and April 1091, Rufus and Curthose besieged their younger brother until at length, with water running short, Henry agreed to relinquish the abbey and departed Normandy under a safe conduct, accompanied by his remaining companions and his baggage.

The young Henry and his brothers, 1091–1100

For more than a year thereafter Henry wandered through the French Vexin in a state of relative poverty, accompanied by only a handful of companions. His luck changed when, in 1092, the townsmen of the hilltop citadel of Domfront to the south of Normandy repudiated their lord, Robert de Bellême, and invited Henry to rule them. Henry, reconsidering his attitude towards townsmen who betrayed their lords, accepted gladly. He pledged to the citizens never to change their customs or to abandon his lordship of their town. For the next several years Domfront remained his primary power base.

Meanwhile, Curthose and Rufus had fallen out again, and Rufus, continuing his effort to extend his authority over Normandy, reached an accommodation with Henry. With Rufus's encouragement and support Henry led raids from his hilltop citadel at Domfront against the forces of both Robert Curthose and Robert de Bellême. These raids were highly effective, and before long, with Rufus's consent, Henry had re-established his authority over much of western Normandy. From at least 1094 until Rufus's death in August 1100, he and Henry remained friends and allies. They met at London around the end of 1094, and in the spring of 1095 Henry ‘crossed back to Normandy with great treasures, in fealty to the king against their brother’ (ASC, s.a. 1095).

Normandy fell into Rufus's hands at last in 1096, when Robert Curthose resolved to pawn the duchy to his royal brother and join the first crusade, accompanied by Odo of Bayeux and many others. On Curthose's departure Rufus, recognizing Henry's former comital status, ceded to him all of western Normandy—Cotentin, Avranchin, and Bessin—except the episcopal city of Bayeux and the ducal centre at Caen. Historians have assumed that this grant expanded Henry's original comital holdings, but it may simply have restored them. Henry now spent much of his time at the king's court. He is reported to have been a commander in Rufus's campaigns of 1097–8 in the French Vexin, but his exploits, if any, have gone unrecorded. His participation in the campaign may well have been less than enthusiastic in view of the fact that Rufus's chief military leader was Robert de Bellême. Henry attested two surviving charters of Rufus issued from England during the final fifteen months of the reign, and was a member of Rufus's ill-starred hunting party in the New Forest on 2 August 1100.

The accession of Henry I

Although some historians once suspected Henry of having plotted Rufus's killing, that notion is unsupported by historical evidence and is no longer taken seriously. Nevertheless, as any ambitious person would have done in his position, possessed of intelligence and sagacious advisers, Henry responded to the news of Rufus's death with alacrity. At the crucial moment his foremost advisers were the Beaumont brothers—Henry, earl of Warwick, and Robert, count of Meulan—whose vast holdings in England, Normandy, and the French Vexin placed them at the pinnacle of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy. Both had been close friends of Rufus and Henry alike, and Robert of Meulan, the more assertive of the brothers, was reputed to possess the most powerful intelligence among the Anglo-Norman baronage.

It was probably in the company of the Beaumonts that Henry made his dash to Winchester to seize control of the royal treasure and win the ‘election’ of a rump group of barons. Against the objections of some, his cause was successfully upheld by Henry of Warwick (whom William of Malmesbury describes as an old friend), and once he had the treasure and the election in hand, the newly elected king immediately undertook the journey to Westminster for his coronation, accompanied by Robert of Meulan. It could well have been in the course of the journey that Robert of Meulan and the future Henry I hammered out the clauses of Henry's coronation charter, based on the tradition of previous royal coronation oaths but the first to be committed to writing. In it he undertook to reform specific abuses of William Rufus's regime, particularly as regards the exercise of royal lordship over tenants-in-chief, and to restore ‘the law of King Edward together with such emendations to it as my father made with the counsel of his barons’ (English Historical Documents, 2, ed. D. C. Douglas and W. Greenaway, 1953, 434).

Henry promised, for example, to exact just and lawful reliefs rather than the arbitrarily high reliefs that Rufus had presumably imposed. He also promised to take nothing from the demesnes of churches during vacancies, to refrain from charging for the marriages of heiresses, and to permit widows to marry or not, as they chose. Some of these promises Henry broke, others he kept, and still others seem ambiguous. Henry's regime did, for example, collect the annual revenues from church demesnes during vacancies, but it differed from Rufus's in refraining from selling off capital assets such as timber or church ornaments, and from mistreating the monks or clergy. From what one can tell, Henry's reliefs were not excessive, but he did run a brisk traffic in marriageable heiresses and widows. Most information on these matters comes from the pipe roll of 1130, from which distant perspective it was perhaps difficult to recall promises made a long generation earlier under very different circumstances. The coronation charter became famous in the annals of English constitutional history and served as a precedent for Magna Carta, but for Henry it was simply one of several expedients to secure a precarious succession.

It would be anachronistic to describe the succession as a usurpation—as has been done. Although Robert Curthose was the older brother, and was returning home from the crusade just then, there was as yet no firm tradition of primogeniture in English royal succession custom, and William Rufus, at the instigation of William I and Archbishop Lanfranc, had taken precedence over his elder brother in succeeding to the English throne in 1087. Had William Rufus left a son, the latter's claim would have indeed been strong, perhaps decisively so if the son had been more than an infant, but Rufus left no heirs. And although primogeniture was taking hold in Normandy, in England the succession of an eldest son to the throne had been uncommon ever since the time of King Alfred, whose own succession had violated the rule of primogeniture. Henry's problem was not that his accession was illegal but that it was disputed. He and his friends arranged a swift coronation at Westminster Abbey, on 5 August 1100, by Bishop Maurice of London in the absence of Archbishop Anselm, who was in exile, and Thomas of York, who had not yet arrived. Having once received the all-important royal consecration, Henry undertook to circulate the coronation charter to shire courts and bishoprics. Continuing to act quickly, he arrested Rufus's unpopular chief minister, Ranulf Flambard, bishop of Durham, consigning him to the Tower of London as its first political prisoner. Henry also wrote to Anselm urging his return and apologizing profusely to him for proceeding with the coronation without the customary archiepiscopal anointment. In the days and weeks that followed, Henry received the homage of most English barons (including Robert de Bellême, earl of Shrewsbury), all of whom were anxious to perform the ritual that enabled them to retain title to their estates under the new regime.

The new king

With Rufus's death from a stray arrow, and Henry's accession to the throne, the character of the English monarchy changed significantly. For although in recent years Rufus and Henry had been friends and companions, and although both were far more competent rulers than their elder brother, they were nevertheless very different in character and temperament. First and most obviously to contemporaries, Henry was avidly heterosexual. With a bevy of mistresses (most of whom were of sufficient social distinction to be identifiable) he had some twenty-two to twenty-four known bastards, more than any other English king, whereas Rufus had none. Whether this was a result of Henry's willingness to accord formal recognition to his bastards and Rufus's preference for more casual relations with women of low status, or perhaps a result of Rufus's homosexuality or (as a recent biographer suggests) bisexuality, it left Henry with natural sons to support his cause, and a plethora of natural daughters wherewith to forge marriage alliances with neighbouring princes, whereas Rufus enjoyed no such family ties.

The contemporary historian William of Malmesbury, who excelled in the art of personal description, portrayed Henry as of medium height, with black, receding hair, a broad chest, and a tendency to gain weight with advancing years. He was sociable and witty, temperate in eating and drinking, casual and informal in speech. He slept soundly and had a most regrettable tendency to snore. Unlike Rufus, he preferred diplomacy to battle: ‘He would rather contend by counsel than the sword; he conquered without bloodshed if he could, and if not, with as little as possible’ (Malmesbury, Gesta regum, 2.488).

In political affairs, Henry was more cautious than Rufus, more thoughtful (or calculating), and by all indications more intelligent. He was unique among medieval monarchs in maintaining strict peace throughout his kingdom of England during his final thirty-three years—an achievement that was widely and deeply appreciated by his subjects. He maintained this peace through a policy that combined strict justice, high taxes (particularly in times of war in Normandy), severe punishment for wrongdoing, and the adroit use of royal patronage to attract talented new men to his court while at the same time keeping most of the old conquest families loyal to his regime.

Henry's foreign policy was radically different, too. Whereas Rufus's territorial ambitions seemed virtually limitless (at his death he was on the verge of taking Aquitaine in pawn), Henry, having once reunited his father's dominions, sought to safeguard their frontiers rather than extend them. As king of the English, and as his father's son, he was strongly committed to retain or recover all the lands and privileges that the Conqueror had possessed, but Henry's ambitions do not appear to have extended beyond that commonplace ideal of royal stewardship. After the first six turbulent years of his reign, when he was preoccupied with saving his throne and reuniting England and Normandy, his policies were primarily defensive.

Ecclesiastical policy: early relations with Anselm

Henry's relations with the church were much better than Rufus's, and he enjoyed a far more favourable treatment at the hands of contemporary monk–historians such as William of Malmesbury, John of Worcester, Robert de Torigni, Orderic Vitalis, and even Eadmer of Canterbury—whose advocacy of caused him to dislike both kings, though in differing degrees. Henry was generous in his benefactions to churches, including the great Burgundian abbey of Cluny for which he underwrote a major rebuilding programme of the immense church known as Cluny III. He had a friendly correspondence with Bernard of Clairvaux, and major figures in his court and administration supported the establishment of the first English Cistercian houses: Waverley, Fountains, and Rievaulx. He collaborated in the elevation of the abbey of Ely (1108) and the priory of Carlisle (1133) into bishoprics—the last English bishoprics to be created until the Reformation.

Of Henry's own religious foundations, which included priories at Cirencester, Dunstable, and Mortemer in eastern Normandy, by far the greatest was Reading Abbey, which he established on a lavish scale in the early 1120s shortly after the death of his son William, and surely in his memory, and which became the site of Henry's own burial. And whereas Rufus's ruthless sequestration of the revenues and properties of vacant churches had evoked an anguished and quite justifiable chorus of complaints from contemporary ecclesiastical writers, Henry's exercise of ‘regalian right’ was relatively restrained and generally accepted. Moreover, Henry fully supported his archbishops of Canterbury in their summoning of kingdom-wide primatial councils, which they regarded as essential instruments in their governance of the English church and had summoned frequently under William the Conqueror, but which Rufus had absolutely forbidden.

Following Henry's agreement to eschew Rufus's severe policies towards the church, Anselm returned from exile, but almost immediately the archbishop raised the novel and unexpected issues of lay investiture of prelates and clerical homage to lay lords, both of which he had tolerated under Rufus, but which Pope Urban II's Council of Rome in 1099 had banned in Anselm's presence. Anselm, who seems to have had no personal objection to these rituals, felt absolutely constrained to obey a direct papal and conciliar decree affirmed in his presence. He therefore refused to accept investiture from Henry, to render him homage, or to permit any other English prelate to do either. This issue created a grave dilemma, for in rendering due obedience to a solemn papal decree, Anselm was challenging Henry's own deeply felt determination to rule as his father had done, retaining all customary prerogatives and rituals of his royal predecessors. Henry and Anselm, both of whom possessed sufficient practical intelligence to understand the other's dilemma, remained accommodating despite their differences. They agreed to postpone the issue, while sending a joint delegation to the papal court to seek advice and perhaps a dispensation.

Marriage

Meanwhile Henry sought to buttress his political position further by marrying the Scottish princess Edith, who had adopted the Norman name . Reared at Romsey Abbey in Hampshire but never having taken religious vows, Matilda was the orphaned daughter of Malcolm III (Canmore), king of Scots (d. 1093), and his celebrated queen, the saintly Margaret (d. 1093), and, through Margaret, a direct descendant of Edmund Ironside and the West Saxon kings. Matilda's marriage to Henry would thus have pleased both Scots and Anglo-Saxons. More importantly, however, it reinforced Henry's claim to the throne by providing his children with a direct hereditary link to the old English royal line. The blood of both Alfred and William the Conqueror would flow through them. By an odd chain of circumstances, Matilda was also the god-daughter of Henry's brother, Duke Robert Curthose.

Some contemporary critics alleged that the fact of Matilda's having been reared in a convent while wearing a nun's habit made her a de facto nun and barred her from marriage, regardless of whether she had taken religious vows. Many years later, after Henry's death, advocates supporting King Stephen's claim to the English throne raised the same objection in order to stigmatize the , daughter of Queen Matilda and Henry I, as a bastard. But in November 1100 a tribunal of friendly Anglo-Norman prelates decided otherwise, and Archbishop Anselm, always at pains to co-operate with Henry whenever he could do so without serious moral compromise, officiated at both the marriage ceremony and Matilda's subsequent coronation on 11 November. She became a widely admired queen, presiding competently as regent over England during Henry's frequent sojourns in Normandy and, through her patronage, making the English royal court a centre for writers and musicians. She commissioned the writing of a history of England by the monks of Malmesbury Abbey, for example, and thus became a benefactor of the great historian William of Malmesbury. She may also have given her patronage to the unknown writer who produced the first major poem to be written in Anglo-Norman French, the Voyage of St Brendan. Moreover, as a spiritual disciple of Anselm, Matilda used her close relationships with both the archbishop and her royal husband to intervene with some effect in the complex negotiations over lay investiture. The impression conveyed by her letters is that while her love of Anselm was deep and genuine, it was exceeded by her devotion to her husband and his policies.

Establishing the new regime, 1100–1102

Robert Curthose, on his return from crusade in the autumn of 1100, resumed his lordship over Normandy and, as in 1088, began planning a campaign to conquer England. He received invaluable help from Ranulf Flambard, who made a daring escape from the Tower of London by climbing down a rope that had been smuggled into his room in a wine cask. The portly prelate skinned his hands badly on the way down, but he nevertheless managed with the help of confederates to ride to the coast, sail to Normandy, and join Curthose's court. Flambard's mother, a sorceress who was said to converse regularly with the devil, followed her son across the channel with his treasure. Henry responded to Flambard's escape by summoning an army to Pevensey on the channel coast, sending ships into the channel to defend the English shore, and levying a heavy fine on the keeper of the Tower, William de Mandeville. But Curthose, under the astute guidance of Ranulf Flambard, won over the ships' crews, avoided Pevensey, and landed with an army at Portsmouth on 20 July 1101. A considerable number of magnates, including Robert de Bellême, betrayed Henry and defected to Curthose, while others, undecided in their allegiance, were persuaded to remain in Henry's camp only by the persuasive preaching of Archbishop Anselm and his suffragan Gundulf, bishop of Rochester. Only the Beaumont brothers, along with Richard de Revières, Robert fitz Hamon, and a small handful of other magnates gave Henry their unstinted support.

The two armies met at Alton in Hampshire, not far from Winchester, where the barons on both sides helped mediate a peace between the brothers. Curthose relinquished his claim to the English throne, and Henry in return granted him custody of the Cotentin and all his other holdings across the channel except Domfront, along with an annuity of 3000 marks—which Curthose relinquished two years later on the petition of his god-daughter Queen Matilda. The brothers further agreed that barons on both sides should be permitted to keep or recover their lands. But to preserve the peace of the cross-channel condominium, they agreed that any baron who in the future was charged with treason by one brother should be regarded as a traitor by the other.

In the years immediately following Henry sought to win the majority of the Anglo-Norman barons to his cause, and to drive the incorrigibles from England. In 1102, adroitly isolating Robert de Bellême and his kinsmen from their potential supporters, he charged Robert with forty-five separate acts of malfeasance, seized his castles one by one—Tickhill, Arundel, Bridgnorth, and Shrewsbury—and banished him from England. Robert de Bellême, whose penchant for violence and cruelty was widely abhorred, could claim few sympathizers. Indeed, his departure for Normandy was greeted with joy. When, in the following year, Robert Curthose came to terms with Robert de Bellême, Henry charged Curthose with violating their treaty of 1101.

Meanwhile, Henry and Robert of Meulan were winning supporters among the Norman baronage through acts of patronage, consisting chiefly of generous landed endowments or marriages to aristocratic women, including both close relatives of Henry and his bastard daughters. Through such means, for example, great magnates—including the counts of Perche and Boulogne, and the lords of L'Aigle, Tosny, and Breteuil—became Henry's allies. Breteuil, one of the wealthiest honours in Normandy, was especially important. It had been left without an undisputed heir by the death of its childless lord, Guillaume de Breteuil, in 1102. After a considerable struggle between rival claimants, Robert of Meulan manipulated the conflict in such a way that the honour passed to Guillaume de Breteuil's bastard son Eustace, who had married Henry I's bastard daughter Juliana and thereafter became a staunch ally of the English monarchy.

Anselm, investitures, and the conquest of Normandy, 1102–1106

While winning friends in Normandy, Henry was continuing to resist Anselm's demand that he relinquish the royal custom of investing prelates and receiving their homage. In other respects Henry's behaviour towards the church was relatively benign. In particular he permitted Archbishop Anselm to preside at a large primatial council at Westminster Abbey at about Michaelmas 1102, which passed important legislation against clerical marriage and other abuses and deposed a number of simoniacal or otherwise unworthy abbots. And he was also prepared to fill the numerous ecclesiastical vacancies left over from Rufus's reign (or created by the depositions of 1102). However, this process was impeded by Henry's insistence on investing new prelates, and by Anselm's refusal to condone the ceremony on the grounds of the papal prohibition of 1099. After the failure of successive joint delegations to Rome, Anselm himself in 1103 undertook to petition the pope to waive the investiture ban for England. Pope Paschal II granted Anselm important primatial privileges for Canterbury but refused his petition to permit royal investiture in England, and, with Henry remaining adamant, Anselm returned to exile in the French archiepiscopal city of Lyons, where he had spent much of his previous exile under Rufus. Henry wrote affably to Anselm but also confiscated the Canterbury estates. Anselm objected firmly to this confiscation. At Queen Matilda's urging, Henry restored half the Canterbury revenues, but Anselm refused to be placated until the king had restored them all.

In the meantime Henry's courtship of the Anglo-Norman baronage was achieving remarkable success. Crossing to Normandy in 1104 he found himself joined by a plethora of Norman nobles, who accompanied the king in a kind of festive cavalcade through his brother's duchy. Henry's entourage even undertook to adjudicate Robert Curthose's competence to govern the duchy in a kind of court proceeding, with Curthose himself evidently present. The luckless duke was able to forestall the judgment only by granting Henry the allegiance and homage of still another powerful Norman magnate, Guillaume, count of Évreux.

Henry's Norman campaign of the following year, 1105, began even more promisingly but ended in disarray. Crossing with a large force to the port of Barfleur in the Cotentin, he marched unopposed to Bayeux, reduced the city by burning it to the ground, and intimidated the townspeople of Caen into surrendering, but then found his army stalled before the ducal castle of Falaise. The difficulty was unquestionably Anselm, who had seized the opportunity of Henry's climactic Norman campaign to resolve the investiture controversy and make possible his own return to Canterbury. Henry had justified his Norman campaign by the argument, by no means implausible, that his purpose was to rescue the Norman church from the violence resulting from Curthose's anarchic rule and Robert de Bellême's depredations. Henry's image as God's avenger was fatally weakened, however, when Anselm moved northward from Lyons with the publicly announced intention of excommunicating him. News of the venture of this internationally celebrated holy man is said to have given pause to many of Henry's baronial supporters. His ally Elias, count of Maine, a friend and correspondent of Anselm, defected before the walls of Falaise and returned home with his Manceau troops, and Henry's siege failed. Having negotiated fruitlessly with Curthose shortly thereafter at Cintheaux (between Caen and Falaise), Henry evidently concluded that he had no choice but to come to terms with Anselm. The archbishop, in the meantime, had broken his northward journey at the castle of Adela, countess of Blois, his spiritual daughter and Henry's favourite sister, who arranged a meeting between the king and archbishop at the castle of L'Aigle in south-eastern Normandy. There Anselm and Henry worked out a compromise, which verged on a royal capitulation. The king could continue to require the homage of his prelates—which the pope had originally banned but had later passed over in silence—but Henry relinquished the right to investiture with pastoral staff and ring. After a fruitless effort at delay on Henry's part, the compromise was sent to Rome, Paschal accepted it, and Henry and Anselm came to terms at last.

Henry returned to Normandy in force in summer 1106. He met with Anselm at Bec to confirm the agreement on investitures, and then proceeded to the castle of Tinchebrai in south-western Normandy. There, on 28 September, Henry cleverly employed mounted and dismounted knights, infantry, and a hidden Manceau reserve force (led once again by Count Elias) to win a decisive victory over Robert Curthose. Robert de Bellême managed to flee, but Duke Robert and most of his other followers fell into Henry's hands. Curthose remained his brother's prisoner, well treated but closely guarded, until his death twenty-eight years later. Henry's lifelong imprisonment of Curthose has been seen as a major stain on the king's character. But to have set Curthose free would very likely have resulted in a major upsurge in civil strife and violence within the Anglo-Norman dominions.

The battle of Tinchebrai therefore brought Normandy firmly under Henry's rule, and the continued incarceration of Robert Curthose was doubtless a significant factor in the maintenance of peace throughout Henry's dominions. After a long effort, and at the cost of investitures, he had reforged his father's Anglo-Norman state.

Henry's reorganization of government

In the months and years immediately following Tinchebrai, Henry undertook to reinstitute strong rule in Normandy and to reform the government of England. In late 1106 and early 1107, at Lisieux, he asserted firm ducal lordship over Normandy, receiving the homage of the Norman baronage, affirming the peace of the duchy, and re-establishing tenures as they existed under William the Conqueror. But by his own volition, he avoided (unlike his Angevin successors) any ceremony of installation as duke of Normandy, and his chancery usually avoided giving him the title of dux Normannorum in charters, styling him only rex Anglorum.

In August 1107 Henry's concession of investitures received the assent of a great council of magnates and prelates meeting in the king's presence at the palace of Westminster. With the settlement ratified, Henry undertook immediately to break the logjam of abbatial and episcopal consecrations, installing new prelates in many leaderless abbeys and in five bishoprics that had lain vacant because of the investiture impasse (some of these were already filled by bishops-elect). Because Henry no longer insisted on investing them, Anselm was now free to consecrate the new prelates. Henry appears to have followed Anselm's advice in appointing to abbacies men with serious spiritual vocations, and often with Bec connections. The newly consecrated bishops, on the other hand, were more notable for their administrative skills than their holy zeal. Anselm must have found them acceptable, but it is clear that he had not nominated them. The most notable of the new episcopal appointees, , bishop of Salisbury, had formerly been Henry's chancellor, and had managed Henry's affairs during the years before his coronation. Roger of Salisbury directed the royal administration throughout Henry's reign and served as English regent after 1123. An administrator of extraordinary skill and originality, he was responsible for notable advances in the financial and judicial institutions of the kingdom.

In the following year, on the advice of Anselm and others, Henry undertook a series of reforms in the operation of his household and administration. He earned general praise by instituting severe punishments for various acts of lawbreaking, false coining in particular, which resulted, fifteen years later, in the mutilation of most of the minters in England. And he reformed his own itinerant court by forbidding pillaging of the localities through which it passed—a practice that had evidently reached horrendous proportions under William Rufus and Robert Curthose and continued through Henry's opening years. The reform included strictly enforced regulations regarding the requisitioning of local goods, and set fixed prices for their purchase. Henry also established specific allowances for his household officers and stipends for magnates attending his court, thus arranging that everyone in his entourage should receive fixed payments for their subsistence. His new arrangements for the royal household seem to be reflected (with a few emendations) in a unique document of c.1136, the Constitutio domus regis, which was probably drawn up by Henry's administrators for the guidance of King Stephen's household.

By 1109 Henry had negotiated the marriage of his daughter Matilda to Heinrich V, emperor and king of Germany (r. 1106–25). It was a dazzling alliance for the Anglo-Norman house, and Henry proudly reported the successful conclusion of the negotiations in a letter of 1109 to Anselm, written shortly before the archbishop's death. It may well have been in connection with the raising of Matilda's immense marriage gift of 10,000 marks of silver (c.1110) that Henry and his chief administrator, Roger of Salisbury, redesigned the royal accounting system, known thereafter as the exchequer (scaccarium), and instituted the records of its annual audits known as pipe rolls. The exchequer system was a fundamental step forward in English administrative history.

The defence of Normandy, 1106–1119

The state of peace and stability resulting from Tinchebrai began to crumble with the accession in 1108 of an assertive new king of France, Louis VI, and in 1109 of a vigorous young count of Anjou, Foulques (V), who became count of Maine in the right of his wife in 1110. The Angevin annexation of Maine constituted a severe diplomatic challenge to Henry I, whose father had ruled Maine during much of his reign; Henry could not relinquish it altogether without betraying his commitment to the stewardship of his father's possessions. Foulques and Louis VI were now joined by Robert (II), count of Flanders, in a hostile coalition that sought to replace Henry's rule of Normandy and perhaps England with that of his nephew, , the only legitimate son of the captive Robert Curthose. William Clito had fled Normandy c.1110, and in the following year open warfare broke out between Henry and his enemies. Almost miraculously, Henry managed to keep his Anglo-Norman dominions free of conflict during these years by identifying and arresting potential rebels—Guillaume, count of Évreux, William Crispin, Philip de Briouze, William Malet, and William Bainard—and by stirring up rebellions within his enemies' lands. Luck intervened on Henry's behalf when Robert of Flanders was mortally injured while campaigning in 1111. The following year Henry arrested Robert de Bellême (who had once again joined Henry's foes) and consigned him to lifelong imprisonment. And throughout the conflict Henry kept Louis VI off balance by encouraging uprisings by such French magnates as Hugues du Puiset and Thibaud, count of Blois. Henry was thus able to conclude an altogether favourable peace settlement early in 1113. He betrothed his son and heir, , to Matilda, daughter of Foulques (V), count of Anjou, who in return did homage to Henry for Maine. Louis came to terms shortly afterwards, conceding to Henry the overlordships of Bellême, Maine, and Brittany.

Two or three years later, however, hostilities resumed. Once again Henry found himself pitted against Louis VI, Foulques (V), and the new count of Flanders, Baudouin (VII), all fighting on behalf of William Clito's succession. The crisis deepened when the aged Guillaume, count of Évreux, died in 1118 without a son and heir, leaving his wealthy and strategic county to a powerful French magnate and potential enemy of Henry I, Amaury de Montfort, who had fought against Henry in the war of 1111–13. Amaury enjoyed close relations with both France and Anjou. His sister, the celebrated, and indeed notorious, Bertrada de Montfort, had married, successively, Foulques (IV) of Anjou and Philippe I of France, as a result of which Amaury was both the uncle of Foulques (V) and an associate of the French royal family. Henry tried to block Amaury's succession to the county, but the castle garrison of Évreux, defying the king, put Amaury in possession of the citadel. For nearly a decade Amaury remained Henry's chief adversary in Normandy, replacing the long incarcerated Robert de Bellême. Indeed, with his strong international connections and a much more amiable disposition, Amaury was a more dangerous enemy than Robert de Bellême had been.

In 1118 the fighting became intense when Louis VI brought a large army by stealth into the Norman Vexin and was supported by a number of rebellious barons throughout Normandy. Henry's cause was weakened by the death on 1 May 1118 of his wife, Matilda, who had served regularly and effectively as English regent during his absences in Normandy. Henry suffered the further loss of his stalwart baronial supporter Robert, count of Meulan, who died at his monastery of Préaux a few weeks later. For a time major Norman magnates defected right and left. Even Henry's own daughter Juliana and her husband, Eustace de Breteuil, turned against him and cast their support behind William Clito. Although Henry received staunch backing from his natural son Richard, from the young Richard, earl of Chester, and from members of the king's military familia such as Ralph de Pont-Èchanfray (Ralph the Red), there seemed few other Norman barons whom Henry could trust completely. About Christmas 1118 Foulques (V) defeated the Anglo-Norman forces in an important though ill-recorded battle at Alençon in southern Normandy, and Henry's life was endangered at about this time in an assassination attempt by a treasurer of his own household—the low-born court official Herbert the Chamberlain. Thereafter Henry slept with a sword and shield near his bed, and it is said that he did not sleep soundly.

Henry's fortunes revived the following year. In May 1119 he persuaded Foulques (V) of Anjou to break his alliance with Louis and conduct a separate peace. Then in the following month his son William married Matilda of Anjou and received as his dowry the lordship of Maine. At about the same time Count Baudouin of Flanders died of a battle-wound received the previous autumn. Moving more firmly onto the offensive, Henry's forces laid siege to Évreux and set fire to the town, having obtained permission to do so from Audoin, bishop of Évreux, on the king's promise to rebuild the cathedral on a grander scale than before. (Much of this post-1119 rebuilding has survived in the nave of the present cathedral.) The keep of Évreux Castle continued to hold out for a time, defended by Amaury's friends and kinsmen, but Henry was clearly regaining control of the duchy. On 20 August 1119 he and his army, using highly sophisticated tactics, routed the forces of Louis VI at Brémule in eastern Normandy. Henry's men took some 140 prisoners and the French royal banner, and drove the French from the duchy. In the weeks that followed the king worked out amicable settlements with rebellious Norman barons, one after the other. He restored Eustace and Juliana de Breteuil to his good graces, although not to the honour of Breteuil. Before the year's end Amaury de Montfort had surrendered the citadel of Évreux and, on his promise of peace and loyalty, Henry granted him the comital title with jurisdiction over the county of Évreux itself, apart from the citadel which would remain garrisoned by Henry's knights. Finally in mid-1120, with the help of papal mediation, Henry entered into a definitive peace with France. Louis accepted young William's homage for Normandy, thus formally repudiating Clito's claim to the duchy, and on 25 November 1120, with a durable peace at last achieved, Henry I set off for England in triumph.

The White Ship and the problem of the succession, 1120–1121

On that same evening Henry's plans were brought to ruin when William Ætheling and a flock of his aristocratic companions drowned in the wreck of the White Ship as it departed the harbour of Barfleur. Both the passengers and crew had evidently been celebrating to excess, and many were said to have been intoxicated, when the pilot carelessly permitted the ship to strike an underwater rock a short distance offshore. Everyone aboard was lost except, it is said, a butcher of Rouen. The disaster altered the lines of succession of several major Anglo-Norman families and cost the lives of some of Henry's most stalwart supporters in the recent war—including his natural son Richard, his natural daughter Matilda of Perche, Richard, earl of Chester, and Ralph the Red. No one dared inform Henry of the catastrophe for some time after he had landed in England. His grief at the death of his only legitimate son was exacerbated by the unravelling of the peace agreements with France and Anjou that he had achieved after such prolonged effort. Both agreements had hinged on William: his marriage to Matilda of Anjou and his homage to Louis VI. Worst of all, the loss of Henry's one legitimate son, to whom the barons of Normandy and England had all rendered homage, threw the royal succession into total disarray.

On the advice of his counsellors Henry remarried almost immediately. On 29 January 1121, at Windsor Castle, he wed , daughter of Godfrey, count of Louvain and duke of Lower Lorraine, and she was crowned queen the following day. Like Matilda, Adeliza of Louvain was landless but of distinguished birth and keen literary interests. Perhaps more importantly, in the light of Henry's need for an heir, she was young and, so it was said, beautiful. She did not serve as English regent, as Matilda had done, because Henry kept her constantly at his side. Yet in the course of their fifteen-year marriage she gave birth to no children. Henry was in his early fifties at the time of the marriage, and notwithstanding his prowess in fathering illegitimate offspring, the failure was clearly his. After Henry's death Adeliza married William d'Aubigny, son of the royal butler, and bore several children.

War and diplomacy, 1123–1125

In time both Louis VI and Foulques (V) resumed their support of William Clito. Foulques arranged for Clito to marry his second daughter, Sibylla, and dowered her with Maine. A rebellion on Clito's behalf broke out in Normandy in 1123, backed by the French and Angevins and led by their friend and kinsman Amaury de Montfort, count of Évreux. To Henry's chagrin one of the chief Norman rebels was the young Waleran, count of Meulan, son and continental heir of Henry's intimate friend, the late Robert de Beaumont, count of Meulan, and lord of a string of Beaumont family castles dominating the Risle valley in central Normandy. The rebellion collapsed the following spring when, on 26 March 1124, a well-led troop of Henry I's household knights surprised and defeated virtually the entire rebel force as it emerged from the Forest of Brotonne en route from the Beaumont stronghold of Vatteville for the castle of Beaumont (Beaumont-le-Roger). The battle is variously described as having been fought near the town of Bourgthéroulde, about a dozen miles south-west of Rouen, and (perhaps more accurately) at Rougemontier, a village some 10 miles west-north-west of Bourgthéroulde near the present edge of the forest and directly on what would probably have been the rebels' route from Vatteville to Beaumont.

The battle was brief but decisive. The royal troops, using mounted archers on the only known occasion in Anglo-Norman history, took most of the rebel leaders prisoner, including Waleran of Meulan who spent the next five years in captivity. (Henry released him, and returned his estates to him, in 1129 on the death of William Clito.) Amaury de Montfort escaped by a hair's breadth. In the meantime Henry managed to keep French forces out of Normandy by persuading his son-in-law, the emperor Henry V, to invade France from the east. The German invasion occurred in summer 1124, well after the collapse of the Norman rebellion, but advance rumours of the emperor's project would probably have kept Louis from involving himself directly in the Norman hostilities. The imperial expedition turned out to be an utter failure. The German army approached Rheims but then withdrew, overawed by the size of the army Louis had managed to assemble, perhaps intimidated by the oriflamme of St Denis, and possibly terrified by a partial eclipse of the sun.

Meanwhile, through complex negotiations between Henry I and the Roman curia, papal legates annulled Clito's marriage to Sibylla of Anjou on the grounds of consanguinity, narrowly interpreted. Foulques (V) was furious and is reported to have singed the whiskers of the legate who brought him the news. Henry rewarded the papacy for its good services by permitting a papal legate to exercise full legatine powers in England for the first time in his reign. In September 1125 Cardinal Giovanni da Crema presided at a legatine council in London that once again forbade clerical marriage and enforced ecclesiastical discipline in a variety of ways. The council manifested papal authority to a degree that Henry had not previously permitted in England, much to the chagrin of William de Corbeil, archbishop of Canterbury, whose customary precedence at kingdom-wide councils Cardinal Giovanni had pre-empted. English churchmen retaliated by concocting scandalous stories about the cardinal's womanizing during his sojourn in England. But to Henry, the concession to the legate was a cheap price to pay for the quashing of Clito's Angevin marriage.

William Clito and the Flemish crisis, 1125–1128

As the years passed by without Adeliza bearing a child, it became necessary for Henry to look elsewhere for an heir. ‘In grief that the woman did not conceive,’ William of Malmesbury wrote (Malmesbury, Historia novella, 3), ‘and in fear that she would always be barren’, the king turned to his daughter Matilda, whose own childless marriage to Heinrich V had ended with the emperor's death in 1125. The following year Henry I summoned her to join him in Normandy, and in autumn 1126 they crossed to England in the company of a distinguished assemblage of magnates, prelates, high royal officials, and neighbouring princes. Since the king and his daughter had not met face to face since she had left for Germany at the age of eight, Henry would surely have taken the time to consider her qualifications and discuss them with his counsellors. Such consultation occurred that autumn, with the result that the empress's succession was opposed by some but supported strongly by her half-brother, Henry's natural son Robert, earl of Gloucester (d. 1147), by Earl Robert's good friend, the Breton Brian fitz Count, lord of Wallingford, and by Matilda's uncle, David, king of Scots, brother of the late Queen Matilda. Their advice prevailed, and on 1 January 1127 King Henry had his court swear to support his daughter as his heir to England and Normandy. Roger, bishop of Salisbury, presided at the oath taking, and Robert of Gloucester vied for the honour of swearing first with Henry's nephew , younger son of Adela, countess of Blois, and, thanks to Henry's generosity, a major Anglo-Norman landholder.

It was doubtless Henry's decision in favour of the empress that prompted Louis VI to give all-out support to William Clito's rival claim. Before the end of January 1127 Louis had married his wife's half-sister, Jeanne de Montferrat, to Clito, and had endowed him with the lordship of the French Vexin. Shortly afterwards Clito led an armed force to Henry's frontier castle of Gisors, where he issued a formal claim to Normandy. Clito's fortunes rose still higher when, on 2 March 1127, political enemies of the childless Charles the Good, count of Flanders, murdered him at mass. In less than two weeks Louis VI was at Arras to help punish the murderers and participate in the selection of a new count, and on his advice and command the Flemings chose William Clito, grandson of Henry I's mother, Matilda of Flanders, over several other candidates with various claims of kinship to the comital house. But even as count of Flanders, Clito was by no means ready to abandon his designs on Normandy. On the contrary, he was in a position to advance them more forcefully than ever before. Henry could now expect a renewal of the Franco-Flemish-Angevin coalition that had nearly toppled his regime in 1118–19.

Henry responded by devoting money, energy, and all his diplomatic ingenuity to forestalling the impending coalition and shaking Clito's hold on Flanders. He secretly provided financial support to the several unsuccessful claimants to Flanders, placing himself nominally at their head by asserting his own claim to the countship (as son of Matilda of Flanders), and encouraging them all until he could discern which one might win sufficient support to unseat Clito. By 1128, through Henry's machinations and Clito's inept handling of Flemish townspeople, the county was in a state of general rebellion. Louis returned to Flanders briefly in May to support Clito in his need, but was forced to withdraw when Henry launched a military threat against the Île-de-France. Shortly before the Flemish crisis broke, Louis VI and Amaury de Montfort had quarrelled and broken off their friendship; their dissension made it possible for Henry I to lead an army unopposed to Amaury's castle of Épernon, between Chartres and Paris, and to remain there peacefully as Amaury's guest for over a week, forcing Louis to withdraw from Flanders to defend Paris. When he did, Henry returned to Normandy.

By then Thierry, count of Alsace, had emerged, with Henry's aid, as Clito's chief rival to the Flemish countship. Hostilities continued in Flanders until late in July, when Clito was mortally wounded in an assault on Thierry's castle of Aalst. Clito's death brought the crisis, and Henry's troubles, to a sudden end, and the Anglo-Norman state remained at peace with Flanders and France for the remaining years of the reign. But before Clito met his end, Henry, in the heat of the crisis, had once again negotiated a marriage alliance with Anjou.

The alliance with Anjou, 1127–1128

As at previous moments of military crisis, Henry saw the critical importance of separating Anjou from France, and while he was undermining Clito's regime in Flanders, he was also negotiating with Foulques (V) the marriage of Foulques's son and heir, Geoffrey Plantagenet, with the Empress Matilda. Henry had probably never intended to leave Matilda unmarried, for his great hope would have been a grandson to succeed him—a male heir who, like the long-lost William, would unite the Norman and Anglo-Saxon royal lines. The grave threat arising from the crisis of 1127 had the effect of hastening Henry's search for a consort for Matilda and determining its direction. The royal succession was of enormous importance to him, but the immediate threat to his Anglo-Norman dominions was more important still. And the marriage of Matilda and Geoffrey might well answer both these urgent needs: an Anglo-Norman heir and peace with Anjou.

The marriage was negotiated in the spring of 1127, and the betrothal occurred late in the same year, at Sées or possibly Rouen. On Whitsunday (10 June) 1128 Henry knighted Geoffrey in Rouen, and a week later Geoffrey and Matilda were married at Le Mans in the presence of King Henry and Count Fulk. At the time of their marriage Matilda was a widow of twenty-five and her bridegroom a boy of fourteen. But despite Geoffrey's youth Foulques immediately associated him in the governance of Anjou. In 1129 Geoffrey became sole count when Foulques departed for the Holy Land to marry the heiress of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, less than six weeks after Matilda's marriage to Geoffrey, its chief motivation was suddenly and unexpectedly removed with Clito's death in battle. The international crisis ended, but the marriage endured.

Anglo-Norman governance and culture

Henry I's reign witnessed notable developments in administration, patronage, and culture. In all three areas, the changes are clearly products of a far more general cultural upsurge that was transforming contemporary western Europe and has been termed the renaissance of the twelfth century. It is marked by a novel impulse to explain the cosmos and the everyday world in rational terms, viewing nature not as a theatre of miracles, but as a natural order operating on principles intelligible to the human mind and susceptible to logical enquiry. This new approach had a profound impact on the disciplines of theology, law, and history. During Henry I's reign, the best centres of higher learning were in France—at Paris, Chartres, Laon, and elsewhere—but the Anglo-Norman world was by no means isolated from these new intellectual currents. Archbishop Anselm was the most gifted theologian of his generation, while William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis were among the foremost historians of their time. Indeed, a most remarkable configuration of historians was at work in Henry I's dominions, including such notable figures as Eadmer of Canterbury, Robert de Torigni, Henry of Huntingdon, Simeon of Durham, John of Worcester, and the Peterborough chronicler, along with a host of lesser writers of annals and annotated cartularies—all of whom cast welcome illumination on King Henry and his reign.

The new currents and cross-currents of thought had a significant effect as well on the operations and records of Henry I's government. The relationship between the new learning and advances in Anglo-Norman administration is suggested by the close links between the scholarly centre of Laon in northern France and the court of Henry I. Ranulf, Henry's chancellor between 1107 and c.1122, sent both his sons to Laon for their education, and Roger of Salisbury, the head of Henry's government in England, sent his nephews, Alexander and Nigel, to study there as well. After their return Alexander was advanced to the wealthy bishopric of Lincoln and also played a major role in the royal entourage and administration. Nigel became the first royal treasurer for both England and Normandy, and although he was elevated to the bishopric of Ely in 1133, he remained active in royal governance. Another Laon student, Gui d'Étampes, became master of Bishop Roger's school at Salisbury. Not surprisingly, when a group of canons from Laon Cathedral arrived at Salisbury in the course of a fund-raising tour of England in 1113, they received the warmest of welcomes from Bishop Roger.

A highly literate government such as Henry I's, directed by officials who were in close touch with one of Europe's foremost centres of learning, could well be expected to produce administrative records unprecedented in their abundance and originality. Henry's government more than met such expectations with a great flood of governmental documents. They included an unprecedented outpouring of royal charters (using the term in its broad and contemporary sense to include all royal written orders, including writs), of which about 1500—a small fraction of the original avalanche—have survived, as compared with less than 500 surviving charters of William the Conqueror and William Rufus, whose two reigns spanned an equivalent period. The charters of Henry I furnish, as in no previous reign, an abundance of information on the activities and personnel of the royal government.

The systematization of government

Another product of Henry I's precocious administration was the first record of the newly constituted exchequer, the pipe roll of 1130, the sole surviving exemplar of an annual series of such accounts, and by far the earliest surviving kingdom-wide financial survey in the history of Europe. The exchequer, meeting at Winchester, very likely originated under Henry I and his great minister Roger of Salisbury. It was a monument in the evolution of medieval government from itinerant household administration to administrative kingship based on sedentary departments.

Henry I's regime also produced an elaborate record, again the first of its kind, of the organization, rank, and emoluments of the royal household, the aforementioned Constitutio domus regis. An anonymous administrator in Henry I's government wrote the first treatise on English law, the Leges Henrici primi, and was also very probably the author of a very significant companion treatise, the Quadripartitus. The two treatises are best seen as products of a single interconnected enterprise to make explicit the unwritten ‘Laws of Edward the Confessor’ which Henry, in his coronation charter, had undertaken to restore. Henry further recognized the authority of pre-conquest legal practices in a writ mandating the continued functioning of shire and hundred courts, to meet ‘as they were wont to do in the time of King Edward, and not otherwise’ (Reg. RAN, 2, no. 892). It is characteristic of twelfth-century intellectual developments that the Leges Henrici primi and Quadripartitus both rest on deep historical foundations, penetrating far into the past, yet analyse these foundations with a self-awareness and coherence that is altogether new.

Henry I himself appears to have participated fully in this newly systematic approach to governance. He surrounded himself with systematizers, but none was more systematic than Henry himself. According to Orderic:
He inquired into everything, and retained all he heard in his tenacious memory. He wished to know all the business of officials and dignitaries; and, since he was an assiduous ruler, he kept an eye on all the happenings in England and Normandy. (Ordericus Vitalis, Eccl. hist., 6.100)

Royal patronage

The two aspects of Henry I's government in which the emergence of new ideas of reason and order is most apparent are, first, royal patronage and, second, administrative machinery. Southern has described patronage as perhaps Henry I's most fundamental contribution to English history. It was Henry, Southern writes, ‘who first controlled the whole range of government patronage with which we are later familiar; and it was under him that we can first observe the effects of this patronage at all closely’ (Southern, Medieval Humanism, 209). Whether Henry I's contribution to the development of royal patronage is actual, or an illusion created by the vast increase in surviving sources, will perhaps never be determined. But Henry was indeed notably successful in drawing into his regime some of the wealthiest persons in the Anglo-Norman world, and some of the most intelligent: new men ‘raised from the dust’ such as Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and his swiftly ascending clerical kinsmen Alexander of Lincoln and Nigel of Ely, along with such laymen as William and Nigel d'Aubigny and Geoffrey of Clinton. One must also include those men neither old nor new—high-born, non-inheriting cadets and bastards, such as Robert of Gloucester, Stephen of Blois, Stephen's brother Henry, bishop of Winchester, and Brian fitz Count. And there were also members of the great old families: Beaumont, Warenne, Boulogne, Clare, Chester. As Southern cogently argues, Henry I drew these diverse people into his net through means well known to later kings in later times: marriages to heiresses, forgiveness or delay of debts, exemptions from taxes or fines, the granting of wardships, shrievalties or other ministries, leniency in regard to collateral inheritances, and an endless variety of other royal favours made available to the king's friends—or, occasionally, to their clients.

The whole vast system of Henry I's patronage is recorded in detail in the pipe roll of 1130, which might well be described as a record of royal benefactions no less than of royal income. Since no earlier pipe roll has survived, nor any later one until 1155, the antiquity of the system that the pipe roll of 1130 displays is not certain. But Walter Map, writing under Henry II, credits Henry I with initiating a highly systematic approach to rewarding his magnates: he had a survey prepared of all his earls and barons, so Map asserts, and, as has been seen earlier, provided them with fixed per diem allowances of bread, wine, and candles when they were present at his court. And the lists of exemptions from geld and auxilium burgi (levies on boroughs) listed county by county in the pipe roll of 1130 suggest, once again, the development of highly systematic arrangements for allotting and recording favours to royal servants and friends.

Justice and finance

The same systematizing tendency induced the government of Henry I to develop into what several historians have aptly described as an administrative ‘machine’. As a response to his conquest of Normandy, Henry established viceregency governments in both the kingdom and the duchy, the members of which operated the royal courts and administration either in the king's presence or, if he was across the channel, on their own. These officials—Roger of Salisbury, Robert Bloet, bishop of Lincoln, and others in England, Jean de Lisieux, Robert de la Haie, and others in Normandy—also presided at the semi-annual English and Norman exchequer audits. It was in the 1120s that Nigel, nephew of Roger of Salisbury and future bishop of Ely, became the first truly Anglo-Norman treasurer, exercising responsibility over the revenues of both England and Normandy.

By that time Henry had reorganized the English judicial system by instituting a novel and comprehensive system of itinerant royal justices in place of the shire justiciars of earlier times (whose names and activities fade from the records about midway through Henry I's reign). The new itinerant justices now administered the bulk of royal judicial business in the shires. In the years between about 1125 and 1130 they were visiting all or nearly all the shires of England. This system of what would later be called ‘justices on eyre’ is disclosed to us only by the fortuitous survival of the pipe roll of 1130. No such arrangements are known to have operated in contemporary Normandy, but since no exchequer record survives for Normandy until the late twelfth century, confident conclusions one way or the other are not possible. Whatever the case, the surviving evidence does disclose a remarkable and evidently self-conscious administrative reorganization that had the effect of centralizing and systematizing the governance of both England and the entire Anglo-Norman regnum.

Henry's final years, 1128–1135

After William Clito's death and the marriage of Matilda and Geoffrey, Henry ruled his dominions in relative peace. He protected his frontiers with a great arc of stone castles, and by an encircling ring of friendly princes bound to Henry by vassalage, or marriage alliances, or both. Henry had married his natural daughters at one time or another to princes all along the Anglo-Norman periphery—to Rotrou, count of Perche, Guillaume Gouet, lord of Montmirail (Perche), Bouchard de Montmorency (with interests in the French Vexin, Eustace de Breteuil, Roscelin de Beaumont-le-Vicomte (Maine), Conan (III), duke of Brittany, Fergus of Galloway, Alexander, king of Scots, and, quite possibly, Gui (IV), lord of Laval (Maine).

Henry's relations with Louis VI were now placid. He remained a friend of Thierry of Alsace, count of Flanders, and had the pleasure of seeing Thierry wed to the same Sibylla of Anjou who had once alarmed Henry by marrying William Clito. The county of Anjou was now in the family, although tensions continued owing to the Empress Matilda's stormy relations first with her husband, then with her father. Wales and Scotland had never posed serious problems for Henry: the latter was ruled by a succession of Henry's brothers-in-law—Edgar, Alexander, David—all siblings of Queen Matilda and friends of Henry. Alexander, indeed, had been wed to one of Henry's bastard daughters (although it was said that he had not been overly fond of her), and David was virtually a member of Henry's court. The Welsh had posed more difficulties, and Henry had responded by leading military expeditions into Wales in 1114 and 1121, settling a colony of Flemings in Pembrokeshire, and endowing trusted Anglo-Norman magnates with strategic holdings within Wales—Gilbert fitz Richard de Clare in Ceredigion, Robert, earl of Gloucester, in Glamorgan and Gwynllŵg, Brian fitz Count in Abergavenny, Henry, earl of Warwick, in Gower.

Unfortunately for Henry, the marriage of Geoffrey and Matilda did not stabilize his relationship with Anjou as he had hoped. In mid-1129 Matilda quarrelled with Geoffrey and returned to Henry's dominions, thus delaying the conception of the all-important heir. She was with her father in England in summer 1131 when Henry received a message from Count Geoffrey asking that his wife return to him. At a great council on 8 September in Northampton, Henry and his magnates determined that Matilda should go back to Anjou, and the magnates once again swore fealty to the empress and to any son she might bear. Returning to Geoffrey, Matilda at last gave birth to a son, the future Henry II, on 5 March 1133. In August, despite the alarming portents of a solar eclipse and an earthquake, Henry set off for Normandy for the last time. Matilda joined him in Rouen the following year, where she bore a second son, Geoffrey. Henry is said to have taken great pleasure in his grandsons, whose births seemed to resolve the Anglo-Norman succession issue at last.

In mid-1135, however, Matilda and Geoffrey quarrelled with King Henry, demanding to be put in possession of castles that Geoffrey claimed Henry had promised him at the time of the wedding. The Angevin couple also demanded that Henry reinstate Guillaume Talvas, son and heir of Robert de Bellême, in his lands. Henry refused both requests, and undertook a minor military expedition along the Norman–Angevin border during the summer and autumn of 1135; he occupied several of Guillaume Talvas's castles, and afterwards retired to Normandy. Having journeyed to his lodge at Lyons-la-Forêt to indulge in his favourite pastime of hunting, he fell mortally ill on about 25 November after feasting on lampreys—a delicacy that his physician had forbidden him. The legend that Henry died of ‘a surfeit of lampreys’ has no basis in the historical record. It was not that he ate too many lampreys, but that his physician had advised him not to eat any at all.

Death and burial

As he lay ill Henry summoned to his side his good friend, the churchman Hugh of Amiens, whom he had made first abbot of his great foundation at Reading and then had advanced to the archbishopric of Rouen. On Archbishop Hugh's advice Henry revoked all sentences of forfeiture that had been pronounced by his courts, allowed exiles to return and the disinherited to recover their inheritances. He ordered his son Robert of Gloucester, who had charge of his treasure at Falaise Castle, to pay out £60,000 in wages and gifts to his household and military retinue, and he asked that his body be taken to Reading Abbey for burial. Finally, he asked all in his hearing to devote themselves, as he had, to the preservation of peace and the protection of the poor. Then, after making his last confession and receiving absolution and last rites, Henry I died on the evening of 1 December 1135, after a reign of more than thirty-five years.

The crowd at Henry's deathbed included Archbishop Hugh, Bishop Audoin of Évreux, many magnates, and five counts or earls, among them Robert, earl of Gloucester, and Waleran, count of Meulan. As a group they bore Henry's body from Lyons-la-Forêt to Rouen Cathedral, where it was embalmed. His entrails were buried at the Bec priory of Notre-Dame-du-Pré where, forty-five years earlier, Robert Curthose had taken refuge while the young Henry had struggled to put down a rebellion in the streets of the ducal capital. From Rouen royal officials escorted the king's bier to Caen and, after a long wait for suitable winds, to Reading where it was buried at the abbey on 4 January 1136. Among those present at the burial was the new king of the English, whom Henry had never intended to succeed him, Stephen of Blois.

Historical interpretations

Henry I has been seen as contributing very significantly to the rise of administrative kingship in England, and also to the development of royal patronage. In his time he was the most respected of kings. Orderic Vitalis and William of Malmesbury (neither of them court historians) admired him greatly. Walter Map, in the following generation, compared him favourably with his grandson Henry II. Later historians praised him as England's first learned king, and eminent historians of the nineteenth century, for instance William Stubbs and E. A. Freeman, saw him as an important ‘constitutional’ monarch and (in Freeman's case) a stalwart, native-born representative of the English after their humiliation in 1066. Henry I fared less well in the twentieth century. Distinguished British historians such as Sir Frank Stenton, Sir Richard Southern, and Christopher Brooke have viewed Henry I's regime as oppressive and his rule as savage and cruel. Others, such as Marjorie Chibnall, Judith Green, and the present writer, have seen Henry as a well-intentioned king who, while seeing to his own interests, nevertheless sought to live up to the standards and aspirations of medieval kingship—to rule in peace, to protect the church and the poor, and to safeguard and carry on the rights and privileges of his royal predecessors.

In pursuit of his goals Henry could be ruthless and at times, out of necessity, even cruel. He has been accused by twentieth-century historians of presiding over a regime that mutilated prisoners and persecuted persons who betrayed their lord king or publicly ridiculed him. But such crimes and punishments had been condemned for many generations in English law. Mutilation, for example (as Suger of St Denis stated in Henry's own time), was viewed as less severe than execution, and publicly ridiculing the king was a felony in Old English law. Judgements on Henry I differ, but if he is judged by contemporary standards rather than by those of the twentieth century, Orderic Vitalis's judgement, that although Henry was lascivious, he was, nevertheless, ‘the greatest of kings’ may serve as his epitaph. Or as Hugh of Amiens said at Henry's deathbed, ‘God grant him peace, for peace he loved’ (Malmesbury, Historia novella, 14).

Aftermath

Henry's seemingly trivial quarrel with Matilda and Geoffrey in 1135 proved to be of decisive importance, for at his death he had not been on speaking terms with them for several months. Their separation from Henry made it possible for his nephew Stephen of Blois, now count of Boulogne in the right of his wife, to seize the English throne. The long and tragic civil war between Stephen and Matilda was the result not of a fundamental error in policy on Henry's part, but of an egregious miscalculation by Matilda and Geoffrey. Had Matilda been with Henry at the time of his death, there is little question but that she would have acquired England immediately afterwards, with the backing of the magnates and prelates at the royal deathbed. But as it was, the peace that Henry struggled so hard to maintain throughout his Anglo-Norman dominions died with him. Eventually, in 1154, Henry's grand design for the royal succession did bear fruit, and his precocious administrative advances resumed, when Henry II, his grandson and namesake, and a descendant of the ruling houses of Normandy, Wessex, and Anjou, became the first of the Angevin kings.

C. WARREN HOLLISTER

Sources  

Reg. RAN, vols. 1–2 · W. Farrer, An outline itinerary of King Henry I (1920) · Ordericus Vitalis, Eccl. hist. · William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum / The history of the English kings, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson, and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols., OMT (1998–9) · William of Malmesbury, The Historia novella, ed. and trans. K. R. Potter (1955) · Willelmi Malmesbiriensis monachi de gestis pontificum Anglorum libri quinque, ed. N. E. S. A. Hamilton, Rolls Series, 52 (1870) · Eadmeri historia novorum in Anglia, ed. M. Rule, Rolls Series, 81 (1884) · Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum, ed. D. E. Greenway, OMT (1996) · The chronicle of John of Worcester, 1118–1140, ed. J. R. H. Weaver (1908) · Florentii Wigorniensis monachi chronicon ex chronicis, ed. B. Thorpe, 2 vols., EHS, 10 (1848–9) · ASC · ‘Historia regum’, Symeon of Durham, Opera, vol. 2 · William of Jumièges, Gesta Normannorum ducum, ed. J. Marx (Rouen and Paris, 1914) · R. Fitz Nigel [R. Fitzneale], Dialogus de scaccario / The course of the exchequer, ed. and trans. C. Johnson, rev. edn, rev. F. E. L. Carter and D. E. Greenaway, OMT (1983) · S. Anselmi Cantuariensis archiepiscopi opera omnia, ed. F. S. Schmitt, 6 vols. (1938–61); repr. with Prolegomena, seu, Ratio editionis (1968) · The letters of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, ed. and trans. W. Fröhlich, 3 vols. (1990–94) · S. N. Vaughn, Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan: the innocence of the dove and the wisdom of the serpent (1987) · R. W. Southern, Medieval humanism and other studies (1970) · R. W. Southern, Saint Anselm: a portrait in a landscape (1990) · J. A. Green, The government of England under Henry I (1986) · C. W. Hollister, Monarchy, magnates, and institutions in the Anglo-Norman world (1986) · D. Knowles, The monastic order in England, 2nd edn (1963) · F. Barlow, The English church, 1066–1154: a history of the Anglo-Norman church (1979) · F. Barlow, William Rufus (1983) · M. Brett, The English church under Henry I (1975) · D. Whitelock, M. Brett, and C. N. L. Brooke, eds., Councils and synods with other documents relating to the English church, 871–1204, 2 (1981) · M. Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England, 1066–1166 (1986) · M. Chibnall, The world of Orderic Vitalis (1984) · F. M. Stenton, The first century of English feudalism, 1066–1166, 2nd edn (1961) · C. H. Haskins, Norman institutions (1918) · I. J. Sanders, English baronies: a study of their origin and descent, 1086–1327 (1960) · D. Crouch, The Beaumont twins: the roots and branches of power in the twelfth century, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 4th ser., 1 (1986) · J. Hudson, Land, law, and lordship in Anglo-Norman England (1994) · P. Dalton, Conquest, anarchy, and lordship: Yorkshire, 1066–1154, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 4th ser., 27 (1994) · C. A. Newman, The Anglo-Norman nobility in the reign of Henry I: the second generation (1988) · S. Morillo, Warfare under the Anglo-Norman kings, 1066–1135 (1994) · A. Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros: annales de sa vie et de son regne (1081–1137) (1890) · Hugh the Chanter: the history of the church of York, 1066–1127, ed. and trans. C. Johnson (1961) · Suger, abbot of St Denis, Vie de Louis VI le Gros, ed. and trans. H. Waquet (1929); repr. (Paris, 1964) · W. Farrer and others, eds., Early Yorkshire charters, 12 vols. (1914–65), vol. 1

Likenesses  

coins, BM · manuscript drawing, CCC Oxf., MS 157, fol. 383 [see illus.] · portrait, repro. in John of Worcester, Chron. · war seals, BM


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Henry I (1068/9–1135): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/12948