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(1)  1066 was a very important year for Anglo-Saxon England. There were 3 Kings, 2 Battles and a comet. There hasn't been another y...

Friday, 6 July 2012


King Henry I
(4) Henry Beauclerc, youngest son of William the Conqueror, seized the throne of England just three days after the death of his brother, William Rufus, who had been killed whilst out hunting in the New Forest on 2nd August 1100.

On the day of William's death, Henry arrived at Winchester before the body of his brother arrived.  Winchester was where the Royal Treasure was kept.  He demanded the keys for the Royal Treasure from the guards, but the guards refused to hand them over, saying that Henry's eldest brother, Robert, was the rightful heir.  Henry drew his sword and demanded that know-one shall stand between him and his father's sceptre. Resistance soon collapsed and when the peasants arrived with Rufus on a cart, the Lords where already electing Henry as the new King.  The first elected King since Harold Godwinson.  Henry's brother, Robert, was fighting abroad in the First Crusade.  With no time to waste, Henry was crowned King at Westminster Abbey on 5th of August 1100.

Henry's succession was unstable as Robert had a number of Barons supporting him.  Henry acted quickly and bought the support of the Barons by granting favours.  He abolished abuses of royal power that his brother, William Rufus, engaged in, especially the over-taxation of the barons, the abuse of vacant sees (the official seat of a bishop) and the practices of simony, which is the act of paying for sacraments.  Which in consequence paid for holy offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church.  Henry made wide ranging concessions in his Charter of Liberties.


This charter was important in two ways: firstly, Henry formally bound himself to the laws, setting the stage for the rule of law that parliaments and parliamentarians of later years would cry out for.  Secondly, it reads almost exactly like the Magna Carta, and served as the model for the Great Charter in 1215.

Here is a summary of the Charter.  The complete Charter of Liberties of Henry I, can be found at: http://www.tpuc.org/Charter_of_Liberties_1100

Summary of Charter of Henry I, 1100

Henry, king of the English, to Bishop Samson and Urso de Abetot and all his barons and faithful, both French and English, of Worcestershire, [copies were sent to all the shires] greeting.

1.) I, Henry, by the grace of God having been crowned the King of England, shall not take or sell any property from a Church upon the death of a bishop or abbot, until a successor has been named to that Church property. I shall end all the oppressive practises which have been an evil presence in England.
2.) If any baron or earl of mine shall die, his heirs shall not be forced to purchase their inheritance, but shall retrieve it through force of law and custom.
3.) Any baron or earl who wishes to betroth his daughter or other women kinsfolk in marriage should consult me first, but I will not stand in the way of any prudent marriage. Any widow who wishes to remarry should consult with me, but I shall abide by the wishes of her close relatives, the other barons and earls. I will not allow her to marry one of my enemies.
4.) Any wife of my barons, who becomes a widow shall not be denied her dowry. She should be allowed to remarry according to her wishes, so long as she maintains the integrity of her body, in a lawful manner. Barons overseeing the children of a dead baron shall maintain their land and interest in a lawful manner.
5.) Common seigniorage taken in the cities and counties, not in the time of Edward I (Edward the Confessor) shall henceforth be forbidden.
6.) I shall remit all debts and pleas which were owing to my brother, except those which were lawfully made through an inheritance.
7.) If any of my barons should grow feeble, and give away money or other possessions, these shall be honoured, so long as the heirs are properly remembered. Gifts given by feeble barons under force of arms shall not be enforced.
8.) If any of my barons commit a crime, he shall not bind himself to the crown with a payment as was done in the time of my father and brother, but shall stand for the crime as was custom and law before the time of my father, and make amends as are appropriate. Anyone guilty of treachery or other heinous crime shall make proper amends.
9.) I forgive all murders committed before I was crowned. Subsequent murders shall stand before the justice of the Crown.
10.) With the common consent of my barons, I shall maintain all the forests as was done in the time of my father.
11.) Those knights who render military service and horses shall not be required to give grain or other farm goods to me.
12.) I impose a strict peace on the land, and command it be maintained.
13.) I restore the law of King Edward and the amendments which my father introduced upon the advice of his barons.
14.) Anything taken from me after the death of my father shall be returned immediately, without fine. If it is not returned, a heavy fine shall be enforced.

Witnesses Maurice bishop of London, and William bishop elect of Winchester, and Gerard bishop of Hereford, and earl Henry, and earl Simon, and Walter Giffard,and Robert de Montfort, and Roger Bigot, and Eudo the steward, and Robert son of Hamo, and Robert Malet. At London when I was crowned. Farewell.

By the November of 1100, Henry had married Edith, daughter of Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland, at Westminster Abbey.  This was in order to secure the northern border, but this did not please some of the barons.  Edith's mother, Margaret was the sister of Edgar Atheling, the last royal Saxon descendant.  The marriage therefore represented the union of the Norman and Saxon royal lines.  Edith adopted the name Matilda because it was thought that the Norman barons might not respect a Queen with a Saxon name.

Henry encouraged other Norman barons to marry English women, but the great barons regarded this with contempt and regarded the King and Queen as no better than commoners. The barons also didn't appreciate that the King was literate in three languages, his nickname was, 'Henri Beauclerc' meaning 'Henry the Swat'.

Map showing England territories in 1106
Map showing England territories in 1106

In 1101 Robert invaded England, which proved unsuccessful as Henry had a lot of support by this time.  The two brothers came to an agreed, amicable settlement. Robert had to relinquish his claim to the throne of England in return for Henry's territories in Normandy. By 1106 Henry was incensed by the way Robert was handling things in Normandy and decided to invade.  He defeated Robert's army at Tinchebrai, capturing Robert and imprisoning him for life.  It is quite ironic as Henry was King of England because his Norman father invaded England, now an English King has invaded Normandy and gained Norman territories for England.

Henry supervised his Kingdom by moving his court from one place to another.  It was a great travelling performance with no permanent home.  The language of the court was Norman French.  The schools, the law and the aristocracy was also Norman French.  It was not until the loss of Normandy in 1204 that the Normans began to learn English and a moulding of the two languages began.


Henry spent half of his time in Normandy, while he was away, he left Roger the Bishop of Salisbury, also known as the 'Justiciar', to rule in his absence.  Roger was a Norman medieval Bishop and the seventh Lord Chancellor and Lord Keeper of England.  By 1110 Roger had created the exchequer system, which was managed by him and his family for more than a century, and he used his position very wisely to create power and riches for himself.

Henry was managing to keep the treasury well stocked with money by selling charters to towns.  Charters were a special grant that enabled towns to build walls, raise local taxes and elect their own local administrators.  This meant he could buy loyalty whenever he wanted.  His way of keeping a breast of monies was by checking his income  The Sheriffs would come from all over the country, twice a year, at Easter and Michaelmas (a festival celebrated on 29th of September in honour of the archangel Michael), to have their money counted.  It was shunted around, in piles, on a chequered cloth like a chess board, 'Checked'. The Dialogue concerning the Exchequer, an early medieval work describing the practice of the Exchequer, describes the Exchequer itself referred to the cloth that would be lain over a large table, 10 feet by 5 feet, with a lip on the edge of four fingers, on which counters were placed representing various values.  The term "Exchequer" then came to refer to the twice yearly meetings at which government financial business was transacted and an audit held of the Sheriffs returns.

The procedure adopted for the audit would involve the Treasurer, drawing up a summons sent to each Sheriff, which they would be required to answer.  The Treasurer would call on each Sheriff to give an account of the income in their shire, due from royal lands and from the county farm.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer would then, question them concerning debts owed by private individuals.  The results of the audit were recorded in a series of records known as the Pipe Rolls.   Up until the 19th century the records of the Exchequer were kept in the 'Pell Office', next to Westminster Hall.  The office was named after the skins from which the rolls were made.

The idea of government by a system rather than by a man was beginning to take shape. Judges were sent on their own tours of the country and the laws of the Land were enforced, harshly.  Henry had an idea that a man was guilty until proven innocent.  Although there wasn't much of a chance to prove your innocence, but the people seemed to embrace the harsh laws.  England's streets were full of blind beggars muttering, 'firm but fair.'

On the 7th of January, 1114, Henry's daughter, Adelaide, married the Emperor of Germany, Henry V at Mainz, Germany.  Her name was changed to Matilda on the same day.  She was crowned Empress of Germany as part of the Wedding ceremony.

King Henry had one other legitimate child, his heir, Prince William.  He was a very lively child and Henry adored him. William married the daughter of the powerful Count of Anjou which put an end to the challenges in Normandy of his brother Robert's son, William Clito.  By 1120, the barons had submitted. Henry had been obliged to repel two assaults by Clito's supporters and Norman barons who resented Henry's officials and high taxes.  Louis VI of France was defeated in battle, he agreed to terms for peace and that the Duchy of Normandy was to pass to Henry's son, William, after his death.  Within hours Henry's life would be shattered.


A painting of the White Ship from 1120

On the night of the 25th of November 1120, disaster struck on the high seas of the English Channel.  It was late and the weather was stormy.  Henry's court had been celebrating their victory over Normandy in the port of Barfleur in France.  Henry was eager to return to England so had left about half an hour before his son William.  William was returning on a ship called La Blanche Nef (The White Ship).  The White Ship was a state of the art, high tech vessel.  It was owned and commanded by Thomas Fitz Stephen who, was only too happy to accommodate the Prince.

The story goes that the Prince and his entourage had been partying all night so by the time they set sail it was dark.  The passengers' list consisted of about 300 passengers, 160 English and French noblemen and women of the highest Norman families.  The Prince, being only 17 years old and in very high spirits, decided he wanted to arrive in Portsmouth before his father so he ordered Captain Fitz Stephen to take a different route.  The Captain, being drunk himself agreed, but very soon after they set sail they ran into trouble.  The normal route across the channel that was always taken by the Norman royals, would have headed south, then north west in order to sail safely to Portsmouth.  The Captain decided to head north in order to overtake the royal fleet.  The White Ship crashed into a submerged rock, the Quilleboeff, the timbers on the port side of the ship cracked open revealing a gaping hole in the side of the ship, soon after, the ship capsized.

All on board perished in the icy waters apart from one man, a butcher from Rouen, called Berold, who apparently was only on board to collect a debt owed to him. The Norman nobles in their finery of silk and satin dress would not of stood a chance. The butcher on the other hand had worn warm autumn like clothing. He was said to have been a well-fed man and was also sober, which no doubt helped him survive. He clung to a piece of wood for dear life for more than 10 hours.

The butcher's account of the disaster, which is the only account that we have, reports that the Prince had been put into a lifeboat by his bodyguard, but he could hear the cries of his family and friends begging for him not to leave them.  William persuaded his bodyguard to go back. The White Ship was going down fast and more and more passengers were jumping into the cold waters of the channel.  The Royal lifeboat was swamped with people trying desperately to save themselves.  It was hopeless and soon the lifeboat overturned and sank along with the Prince, his bodyguard, his half-brother Richard, his half-sister Matilda the Countess of Perche, his cousins Stephen and Matilda of Blois, the nephew of the German Emperor Henry V, the young Earl of Chester and most of the heirs to the great estates of England and Normandy.  It is said the screams of the stricken passengers could be heard on the shore at Barfleur and on the boats of the King's fleet up ahead, but it was just thought that the noise was of the drunken party having a good time.  As a result no one went out to sea in order to look for any of the passengers.  The sinking of The White Ship remains one of the biggest tragedy in Royal history.

On hearing the news, Henry was said to have never smiled again.  Henry only had three legitimate children, William, Robert and Matilda. Robert had died before Henry's death.  He had over 20 illegitimate children, four of which were on the White Ship.

The succession to the throne was now at critical point with no male heir.  Henry decided to name Matilda as his heir before he died, but the barons were not yet ready for a woman to rule over them. This led to the civil war between Matilda and Stephen, upon his death.  The King died from over eating of the fish called lamprey.  His physician had warned him not to eat it, but he took no notice. He died in Saint-Denis-en-Lyons (now Lyons-la-ForĂȘt) in Normandy on the 2nd of December 1135 and was buried in Reading Abbey.  The barons who had vowed to support the accession of Matilda to the throne reneged and Stephen, Matilda's cousin, seized the throne.

1 comment:

  1. Hi my names Tom, I have really enjoyed and learned from your 4 blogs so far so please keep it up, I am curious as to how far you plan to write about.

    I personally am particularly interested in the Roman Republic and Empire and the British Empire.