Family tree for Henry, son of William I showing:
King Henry I was born in 1068 (exact date not known) and died 1st December 1135. He was the third son of William I and Matilda of Flanders and the couple’s tenth child. His elder siblings were Robert, Richard, William, Adeliza, Cecilia, Matilda, Constance, Agatha and Adela. He was the first of William’s children to be born in England.
Very little is known of Henry’s early life but it is believed he was educated by the church. He was also given military training. Henry was knighted by his father at the age of 18 years.
Henry’s elder brother, William, became King William II when his father died. His other brother, Robert inherited Normandy. However, many people felt that Robert should have inherited England as well as Normandy. Robert asked Henry for a loan and gave him land in the Contentin, making Henry Count of Contentin.
Conflict with his brothers
In 1088 Henry travelled to England to try to persuade his brother William to give him land in England. William refused and Henry returned to the continent. While he had been away, his uncle, Odo of Bayeux, had convinced Robert that he was a threat. When he landed, Henry was seized and imprisoned for the next six months.
By 1091, William and Robert had made peace by agreeing to be each other’s heirs excluding Henry from the succession. Henry gathered his forces at Mont St Michel to make an attack on his brothers but instead they placed Mont St Michel under siege. He could not withstand the siege and fled to France.
Henry and William had made peace by 1095. Robert had left Normandy to join the First Crusade and had leased his lands to William. Henry joined William on campaign in Normandy for the next two years.
On 2nd August 1100, King William II was hunting in the New Forest when he was killed by an arrow fired by Walter Tirel. Some historians believe that he may have been assassinated by Tirel acting on the orders of Henry, but most reject this idea. When henry heard the news he went to Winchester and seized control of the treasury. Although some barons believed that Robert should be King of England, Henry managed to get sufficient backing and was crowned three days later on 5th August 1100.
King Henry I
Henry immediately took steps to reverse many of the unpopular measures of his brother’s rule. He imprisoned Ranulf Flambard, William’s favourite, and restored Anselem of Bec to the See of Canterbury. To cement relations between England and Scotland, he married Edith, daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland. Edith was given the name Matilda on her marriage. The couple had two children: Adelaide, known as Matilda, was born in 1102 and William Aetheling was born the following year.
In 1101 Henry and Robert had reached agreement. However, by 1104 the two were in disagreement again and Henry invaded Normandy. Fighting continued until Robert was captured and imprisoned after being defeated at the Battle of Tinchebray on 28th September 1106. However, Henry was still challenged in Normandy as the Norman nobles recognised Robert’s son, William Clito as Duke of Normandy.
The conflict had dragged on over the following decade. Henry badly needed an ally in Northern France and agreed the marriage of his son and heir, William Aetheling, to Matilda, daughter of Fulk of Anjou.
White Ship Disaster
The White Ship Disaster of 1120 put the treaty with Anjou under threat. On 25th November, a ship carrying a drunken party of three hundred noblemen, including William Aetheling, heir to the throne and his illegitimate brother Richard, sank when it hit a rock in the French harbour of Barflour. There was only one survivor, a butcher who was able to tell the tale of the disaster. Henry was devastated at the loss of his only legitimate son and heir and the backing of Anjou.
Henry and his daughter Matilda
Henry’s daughter, Adelaide, had married the Emperor of Germany, Henry V at Mainz, Germany on 7th January 1114. Her name was changed to Matilda on the same day and she was known as Empress Matilda. In May 1125 the Emperor died and the following year, Henry recalled his daughter to Normandy. He persuaded his nobles to swear allegiance to Matilda as his heir. He then suggested to Fulk of Anjou that Matilda marry his son, Geoffrey. Matilda reluctantly married 15 year old Geoffrey on 17th June 1128. Their first son, Henry was born in 1133.
In the last years of Henry’s reign, he was in constant conflict with his daughter who wanted Henry to cede power to her while he was still alive. Henry, who had married Adeliza of Louvain after the death of his first wife, hoped to beget another son and refused. Henry I died on 1st December 1135. Although the nobles had sworn to support Matilda’s claim to the throne, Henry was succeeded by his nephew Stephen of Blois.
First published 2017; Updated and re-published Oct 04 @ 6:17 pm – Updated –
Harvard Reference for this page:
Heather Y Wheeler. (2017 – 2020). King Henry I 1068 – 1135. Available: https://www.treesofblue.com/king-henry-i-1068-1135. Last accessed April 28th, 2021