Henry I (1068 – 1135) was the fourth son of William the Conqueror, and might never have become king if not for the rebellious nature of his eldest brother (Robert Curthose) and the untimely deaths of his other two brothers (Richard and William Rufus). It is even speculated that Henry had something to do with William Rufus’ death, who was “accidentally” shot and killed by Walter Tyrell while hunting in the New Forest. Regardless of whether or not his brother’s death was an accident, Henry used this opportunity to grab the English throne while his brother, Robert, was away on crusade. The barons crowned Henry at Westminster on August 5, 1100.
The first part of Henry’s reign was spent fighting against Robert over control of England and Normandy. In 1106, he finally defeated and captured his brother at the Battle of Tinchebray. He imprisoned Robert in Cardiff Castle in Wales, where he died in 1134. With the death of Robert, the realms of Normandy and England were unified under a single ruler.
Henry’s major accomplishments included judicial, financial, and ecclesiastical reforms. He granted the Charter of Liberties to the English barons, he established the biannual Exchequer to improve the treasury, and he reached an agreement (the Concordant of London) with the pope and Archbishop of Canterbury over the issue of lay investiture. Henry agreed to give up his control over elections of bishops and abbots, and the pope agreed that these churchmen should do homage and swear fealty to the king before receiving their landed properties.
While Henry managed to put in motion important reforms during his reign and bring England under a more centralized government, his death caused a fracturing among the barons in support of Henry’s immediate successor. Henry’s only legitimate son, William, died by drowning while crossing the English channel in the “White Ship,” leaving Henry with only one legitimate child — a girl — Matilda. While the barons agreed to back Matilda as the claimant to the throne upon Henry’s death, they instead sided with Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, after Henry died of food poisoning in Angers on December 1, 1135. The resulting power vacuum led to a civil war between Stephen and Matilda.
English, Edward D. “Henry I.” Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE49&iPin=EMW0664&SingleRecord=True (accessed May 5, 2009).
“Henry I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 05 May. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/261418/Henry-I>.
*image is a Miniature from illuminated Chronicle of Matthew Paris (1236-1259), British Library, MS Royal 14 CVII, f.8v