Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Burning Candle: Henry I, King of England

In medieval England, Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan and his counterpart William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey served King Henry I, viewed by many historians as the rex pacificus who 'made peace for men and beast.' After he claimed the throne, Henry governed a powerful and financially secure realm, promoted just laws, and united England and Normandy, which had been ruled separately for 20 years of his life by his brothers. The first of the Norman Kings born in England, Henry is also infamous for his conflicts with the Roman Catholic Church, especially Pope Paschal II and the Archbishop of Canterbury Anselm of Bec. Henry is equally notorious for the large number of illegitimate children acknowledged during his lifetime.

Facts about Henry's life
Born: circa May 1068 - 1069, near Selby, Yorkshire
Father: King William I of England, Duke of Normandy
Mother: Queen Matilda of Flanders, Duchess of Normandy
Siblings: Robert Curthose Duke of Normandy, Richard, William Rufus II King of England (elder brothers); Adela Countess of Blois, Cecilia Abbess of Holy Trinity at Caen, Matilda, Constance, Adeliza / Adelaide and possibly Agatha (sisters)  
Titles: King of England (seized the crown after the death of his brother, King William Rufus II in August 1101), Count of the Contentin (1088 - 1091)


It's likely that Henry came into the world at Selby, near Yorkshire. Around the time of his birth, his parents King William (also Duke of Normandy) and Queen Matilda were in the north for the dedication of a new Norman abbey.  A turbulent world awaited the young prince. His father had defeated Harold Godwinson at Hastings only three years ago and resistance to the Norman conquest of England would rage during Henry's formative years. Henry had five or possibly six sisters. As the youngest among his brothers Robert, Richard (who died young) and William Rufus, Henry cannot have reasonably expected to gain much at their father's death. His eldest brother Robert coveted Normandy and revolted against King William to gain it prematurely. The King had also designated William Rufus his heir in England and at his eventual passing, Henry received money only. There must have been a bit of rivalry between the brothers while growing up. Their mother had left Henry English lands, which William Rufus denied him. Robert and William Rufus also swore a joint pact that if either man died, Henry could not claim the succession to Normandy or England. Yet, due to Robert's mismanagement of his finances, Henry found a way to buy himself the title of Comte of the Contentin (peninsula encompassing Cherbourg, Valonges and Bayeux) for a few years.

Then in August 1100, King William Rufus died by a stray arrow, while hunting with Henry, his companion Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan and others. Some historians have suggested that Henry might have arranged the assassination during the hunt. The man who allegedly shot the arrow was Walter Tirel, who had married into the Clare family, a Norman baronial house that would benefit greatly during Henry's rule. Also, when Henry heard of his brother's death, he and so many others in the King's retinue immediately scattered. Henry and Robert de Beaumont rode for the capital and treasury at Winchester. Within days. Henry claimed the crown. At the time, his brother Duke Robert had gone on Crusade, but he soon returned. Henry settled down to the business of the kingdom and chose a bride, Edith (later Queen Matilda) who was the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland and Queen Margaret. Henry married in November 1100 and became the father of Matilda / Maud and a son, William.

Henry is notorious for having publicly acknowledged at least 21 illegitimate children as his, more than any other English monarch has done. In fact, he did more than acknowledge them; his children became bishops and abbesses, earls and countesses, as well as the consorts of other powerful monarchs. The children all seem to have been fathered between 1090 and possibly as late as 1126. In The Burning Candle, one of the unnamed daughters of the King is a strong secondary character. It is possible there are others whom we will never know. My primary source for knowledge of Henry's children identifies 21 bastards, but another who was never named before is revealed in a primary source on the King. Henry's relationships with the mothers of his children were no casual relationships. His mistress Lady Sybil Corbet of Alcester bore him at least five children and might have been the mother of Robert Earl of Gloucester, a staunch supporter of his half-sister, Princess Matilda / Maud in later years. Another daughter of Sybil's, her mother's namesake, became wife of Alexander I of Scotland. Nest, the daughter of the Welsh King Rhys ap Tewdwr, also bore Henry a son. Yet another mistress in Henry's later years was Isabel, the young daughter of Robert de Beaumont. 


As remarkable as his relationship with his bastards might have been, Henry's passions did not govern him in the rule of England. His father had raised him with the idea of the divine right of kings. From the beginning of Henry's reign, he clashed with Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Paschal II over the right of kings to demand homage from clerics and invest laymen as clergy. Anselm accepted exile rather than tangle with Henry, but in all fairness, Pope Paschal seemed to have been more belligerent of the three. Henry warred with his brother Robert over the latter's claim to England. In 1101, the brothers averted a crisis by agreeing to similar terms as Robert had with their brother William Rufus regarding the succession. Five years later, Henry and Robert met at the battle of Tinchebrai. The King emerged victorious and kept his brother in custody for the rest of his life. As ruler of Normandy and England with an heir groomed for the succession, Henry seemed destined only for greatness. Learn more about his ending in my Author's Note of The Burning Candle.


Last, but not least, will be the final article on my heroine, Isabel de Vermandois. Check the blog next Sunday.

2 comments:

Anita Davison said...

That was fascinating and very detailed, but then I expect nothing less from you Lisa - and all this from a beach in New Mexico - impressive!

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks,A; wait until you see New Mexico's version of a beach. I'll post more pics on FB soon.

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