Like Grandfather, Like Grandson: The Reigns of King Henry I and King Henry II

This year, my emphasis will shift from Henry II to Henry I.

Henry I is still a relatively unknown monarch, and certainly an under-valued one; yet in many respects, he was a very successful King of England. In fact, if one was to compare Henry I and Henry II in horse racing terms, then Henry II would only beat Henry I by a few lengths. To extend the racing metaphor, it was Henry I that effectively established the Angevin stable, which Henry II was then to raise to a pinnacle of achievement. Significantly, both monarchs were active on the ‘regal turf’ for exactly the same length of time: 35 years.

In other ways too, the reigns of Henry I and Henry II were remarkably similar.

  • The province of Anjou (in France) was vital to both monarchs. Henry II was the elder son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou; indeed, the very name of Henry II’s dynasty was derived from Anjou. However, it was in Henry I’s reign that the link between Anjou and the kings of England was forged. In 1128, Henry I knighted Geoffrey of Anjou. The alliance between Anjou and the England was then cemented a week afterwards by the marriage of Geoffrey of Anjou to Henry I’s daughter (and sole surviving legitimate heir), the Empress Matilda. The royal marriage was celebrated at Le Mans, where their son, the future King Henry II, was born in 1133.
  • The reigns of both Henry I and Henry II saw major developments in English Common Law. Last year, I analysed the key legal developments in Henry IIs reign: the Assizes of Clarendon and Northampton, the Assizes of Mort d’Ancestor and Novel Disseisin, and the Inquest of Sheriffs. Henry I’s reign saw similar advances in the development of English Common Law, especially in the provisions of Henry I’s Coronation Charter (1100), and in his ‘Leges Henrici Primi’ (1114-1118).
  •  Both Henry I and Henry II faced formidable challenges to their authority from rebellious tenants-in-chief. In 1101, Henry was opposed by William of Warenne (Earl of Surrey). In the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1173-1174, Henry II was opposed by the Earls of Chester and Leicester. The fact that both Henry I and Henry II were opposed by rebellious magnates is in itself not so surprising, as most medieval monarchs did face such opposition sometime in their reigns. What is different about Henry I and Henry II is that both these monarchs displayed magnanimity to their opponents. In 1102 (or 1103), Henry I restored William of Warenne to his earldom. Likewise, at the Council of Northampton, in January 1177, Henry II restored the Earls of Leicester and Chester to their estates. In displaying such magnanimity to former opponents, both Henry I and Henry II were showing their strength. In contrast, both King John and Stephen nursed grudges against their opponents, reflecting their weaker personalities.
  • Both Henry I and Henry II married strong-willed, effective queens. I have already analysed Henry II’s famous queen, Eleanor. Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II undoubtedly strengthened his new Angevin regime. Not only did Eleanor bring the important duchy of Aquitaine to Henry II’s growing Angevin Empire, but Eleanor was an effective ruler in her own right. Similarly, Henry I’s marriage to Queen Edith Matilda greatly strengthened his newly established regime in 1100. Edith Matilda, the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, represented the Anglo/Saxon dynasty, as she was a direct descendent of Edmund Ironside. Not only that, but Queen Edith Matilda effectively acted as Henry I’s regent when he was in Normandy. Queen Edith Matilda issued writs in her own name, heard petitions, and even tried law cases; her administrative skills greatly assisted Henry I’s government in England
  • Finally, both Henry I and Henry II had the great foresight to appreciate the crucial role Normandy played in strengthening their position as Kings of England. Henry I effectively reunited England with Normandy by his great military success at the battle of Tinchebrai in 1106, when he defeated the forces of his elder brother, Duke Robert. Similarly, perhaps the vital factor explaining Henry II’s survival in the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1173-1174 was his victory at the battle of Verneuil, in August 1173. In contrast, both King Stephen and King John were unsuccessful in regaining Normandy: this might explain their ultimate failure to defeat their rebellious tenants-in-chief.

I have concentrated on the similarities between Henry I and Henry II; but of course there were also differences, which will be analysed in my forthcoming blogs. Even so, I hope I have whetted my readers’ appetites for my 2012 historical dishes on King Henry I. In the meantime, should any of my Angevin supporters want to do some background work on King Henry I, I suggest they consult one (or perhaps both) of the following biographies:

“Henry I”, by Judith Green CUP, ISBN 978-0-521-74452-2

Henry I by C. Warren Hollister, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-09829-4


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Filed under Angevins, British Kings and Queens, Civil law in the UK, English Common Law, Famous women, Henry I, Henry II, History, King John, Medieval History, Medieval Normandy, Military History, Mort d'Ancestor, Norman Kings, Novel Disseisin

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