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Henry I - 1100-1135

Key Facts about Henry I

The speed with which Henry was crowned, a few days after his brother, William II Rufus's death, and with which he took possession of the royal treasure gives credence to the suggestion that he planned William's death.

Henry was the youngest and cleverest of the Conqueror's sons. He ruled England with firmness and skill for thirty-five years, but strictly speaking he had no right to be king at all. When Rufus lay dead in that New Forest clearing, the throne should have passed, by right, to his elder brother, Robert Curthose, and Henry himself must have been acutely aware of this.

However, Henry was a supreme opportunist. He too was in the New Forest on that fatal day, and when he heard of Rufus's death he didn't waste a moment. He galloped as fast as he could first to the royal palace at Winchester, where he demanded the keys to the treasury. Friends of Robert tried in vain to stop him. A crowd gathered, but Henry brandished his sword and swore that he was the rightful heir. Luckily for him he was popular with the majority, and the castle and all its treasure were handed over to him. Then he made the 60-mile dash to London, and in just three days he had himself crowned king. He was aged thirty-one and still unmarried.

Once in power Henry proved to be an able and conscientious King concerned with administration and reform of existing laws. His right to be King was challenged by Robert, Duke of Normandy, whom he defeated at the battle of Tinchebrai and imprisoned at Cardiff Castle. He then assumed the title of Duke of Normandy in addition to that of King of England.

Henry's ambition to restore the Angevin possessions, lost under Robert, were not a success, despite several attempts which were foiled by the growing power of Louis IX, King of France. Such commitments increased his debts, however, and as a major part of these were with the Papacy, he feared excommunication for non payment.

Henry now devoted himself to the good government of England and became known as Beauclerc for his talent for administration and his knowledge of both Latin and English. With Roger Salisbury as his Chancellor in the court of the Exchequer he set about reforms and the control of crown finances. The system known as Pipe Rolls continued in use until June 1834.

Henry married Edith, daughter of Malcolm III, who was also the niece of Edgar the Aethling, and thereby strengthened his ties with Scotland and the existing English establishment.

Henry's only legitimate son and heir to the throne was drowned while crossing the Channel from France. Returning from Normandy aboard the White Ship, William lost his life when the pilot, who was drunk, steered the vessel onto a rock, where it quickly filled with water.

Tradition says that 'he never smiled again'. His wife, the Scottish Matilda, had already died, so, within months, desperate for another male heir, Henry married again, to Adela of Louvain. He was fifty-three: she was eighteen. No heir came. Eventually, despairing of ever having another son, he made plans to hand over the throne, on his death, to his daughter, another Matilda.

Henry lived on for another fifteen years, dying, memorably, of ptomaine poisoning. He was buried in Reading Abbey, which he himself had founded.

Key Events during the Reign of Henry I

1100 - Henry I succeeds his brother, William II. Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham and chief adviser to William II, is imprisoned by Henry in the Tower of London. Henry marries Edith, daughter of Malcolm III.

1101 - Robert of Normandy invades England in an attempt to wrest the throne from his brother, Henry. Robert signs the Treaty of Alton, which confirms Henry as King of England and Robert as Duke of Normandy. Henry appoints Roger Salisbury as Chancellor.

1106 - War breaks out between Henry and Robert of Normandy. Henry defeats Robert at the Battle of Tinchebrai and imprisons him in Cardiff Castle for the rest of his life.

1109 - Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury dies.

1118 - Death of Matilda.

1120 - Henry's 17-year-old son and heir, William, is drowned.

1121 - Henry marries Adela of Louvain.

1128 - Henry's daughter, Matilda, marries Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou.

1135 - Henry I dies of food poisoning near Rouen, in France.

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