Sibling Strife Part 2 : King William II and King Henry I: August 1100

The second part of my Trilogy on Henry I’s Accession and Retention of Power takes us back from July 1101 to August 1100. Picture the scene:-

  •  It is the afternoon of 2nd August 1100. King William II (the second son of King William the Conqueror) is out hunting in the New Forest, accompanied by several magnates. He is in his mid-forties, quite healthy (having survived serious illness in 1093). Towards the end of that August day, tragedy struck King William. Let a contemporary chronicler, the reliable William of Malmesbury, tell us what happened next:

“The sun was now setting, and the king drawing his bow let fly an arrow which slightly wounded a stag which passed before him. He ran in pursuit, keeping his gaze rigidly fixed on the quarry, and holding up his hand to shield his eyes from the sun’s rays. At that instant Walter {Tirel}, forming in his mind a project which seemed good to him, tried to transfix another stag which by chance came near him while the king’s attention was otherwise occupied. And thus it was that unknowingly, and without power to prevent it (oh, gracious God!), he pierced the king’s breast with a fatal arrow. “[EHD, Vol II, page 318].

  • At the time of his brother’s death, Henry was conveniently close by. He immediately galloped to nearby Winchester to get control of the important castle and the royal treasure. Henry was out to get the throne: this was his golden chance for power, while his elder brother (Duke Robert of Normandy) was still involved in the First Crusade. Possession of the important city of Winchester would clearly strengthen Henry’s claim to the English Crown. Having secured some baronial support for his monarchical coup d’état, Henry then continued his energetic pursuit of the Crown by quitting Winchester and, with a few baronial companions, riding post haste to London. It is possible that Henry covered the 70 miles to London in 24 hours (arriving in London on the evening of 4th August). And so it was that Henry was formally crowned King Henry I of England on the next day, 5th August 1100.
  • The speed of the political events, over the four day period 2nd to 5th August, was amazing: it fuels speculation that maybe there had existed a planned assassination attempt against King William II. Most historians dismiss this conspiracy theory. They see William II’s death as simply a tragic accident, caused by a series of chance events, such as the dazzling effect of the setting sun, William’s partial wounding of his quarry, and Tirel’s bow shot whilst William II was preoccupied. Such an interpretation is supported by William of Malmesbury’s own judgement that Tirel ‘unknowingly’ killed the king. However, Professor Judith Green, in her excellent recent biography of King Henry, considers that: “a conspiracy to murder Rufus involving Henry, Walter Tirel and the Clares {a powerful baronial family} is…… not out of the question.” {Henry I, by Judith Green (2009), p.40, CUP}. Walter Tirel’s later actions are certainly suspect. Describing Tirel’s reaction to King William’s hunting accident, William of Malmesbury dryly observed, “Walter immediately ran up, but finding the king senseless and speechless, he leapt quickly on his horse, and escaped at full gallop.” [EHD, Vol II, page 318]. It could be argued that Tirel’s flight was simply the result of fear. A possibly more convincing explanation is that Tirel made sure that William II really was dead, and having ascertained this fact, he immediately ensured his own escape.
  • Whether or not King William’s death in the New Forest was the result of accident or design, Henry would have to make some immediately important political gesture to shore up his new monarchical regime. It was therefore no accident that Henry’s Coronation on the 5th August (by Maurice, Bishop of London) was accompanied by King Henry I (as he now was) issuing his celebrated ‘Coronation Charter’. This Charter remains virtually unknown to today’s general public (unlike the 1215 ‘Magna Carta’). Yet King Henry I’s Coronation Charter of 5th August 1100 (exactly 912 years ago today) was a very important medieval document: so significant was Henry’s Coronation Charter, that it was re-issued by King Stephen in 1135 and King Henry II in 1154. It was even cited by Archbishop Stephen Langton in 1215 as a precedent for Magna Carta. Indeed, certain of its provisions (especially those dealing with women) are still relevant today.

King Henry I’s Coronation Charter, 5th August 1100.

As Professor Green and other historians have pointed out, many of the Charter’s Fourteen Points were not entirely new. [See Judith Green, ‘Henry I’, pages 45 to 49]. Even so, some of the specific details enshrined in the Coronation Charter were novel.

Clause 1By this Clause, Henry promised the Church that he would “neither sell or lease its property; nor on the death of an archbishop or a bishop or an abbot will I take anything from the demesne of the Church or from its vassals during the period which elapses before a successor is installed.”

Clause 2 concerned the succession of heirs to the estates of their fathers; and the inheritance tax (‘Relief’) they would have to pay to the Crown. Henry promised that such ‘reliefs’ would only be “Just and Lawful.”

Clause 3concerned both the marriage of aristocratic female heirs and the rights of widows. Regarding the childless widow of a tenant-in-chief, Henry stated that, “she shall have her dower and her marriage portion, and I will not give her in marriage unless she herself consents.”

Clause 4 further stipulated the rights of widows and their offspring: “If a widow survives with children under age, she shall have her dower and her marriage portion, so long as she keeps her body chaste; and I will not give her in marriage except with her consent. And the guardian of the land, and of the children, shall be either the widow or another of her relations, as may seem proper. And I order that my barons shall act likewise towards the sons and daughters and widows of their men.”

Clause 5gave a warning to counterfeiters of the coinage.

Clause 6 Henry promised to forego most of the debts owed to his late brother, King William II.

Clause 7 concerned intestate estates of the barons For those of Henry’s barons who died intestate, “his widow or his children or his relatives or one of his true men shall make such division {of the movable property} for the sake of his soul, as may seem best to them.”

Clauses 8 to 10dealt with various matters concerning the barons, such as the Law of the Forests.

Clause 11concerned the feudal obligations of the Knights (lesser tenants): “The knights, who in return for their estates perform military service equipped with a hauberk of mail, shall hold their demesne lands quit of all gelds {taxes} and all work.”

Clauses 12 to 14were general statements, including a pledge to keep the peace, and restore the law of the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor.

{See EHD, Vol II, pages 432 to 434 for full details of King Henry I’s Coronation  Charter}

Interpretation of King Henry I’s Coronation Charter: Cunning or Commendable?

The Charter was a mixture of both. On one level, Henry’s Coronation Charter was clearly an ingenious device to win support for his royalist coup d’état. In the words of the famous BBC character Baldrick, King Henry I ‘had a cunning plan’ to win support from those sections of English society whose support was vital to any monarch: the Church, Tenants-in-Chief, and the Knights. In this sense, the Charter was simply a Political Manifesto, intended to help Henry defeat his elder brother’s opposition to his accession to the English Throne. The reference to the Knights (Clause 11) is especially significant. By giving the knights the privilege of tax exemption, Henry I attested his faith in the military organisation of the ‘Feudal Levy’ (Servitium Debitum), by which Henry I could nominally count on 5,000 knights to aid him in a crisis.

However, what is also striking is the rights King Henry I accorded to women, especially widows (Clauses Three, Four, and Seven). Such repeated assertions of the rights of widows almost implies that the Coronation Charter was a ‘Medieval Feminist Proclamation’. In this sense, the Coronation Charter certainly was commendable, because there was little political reward for Henry in making such ‘suffragist’ declarations.

Conclusion.

In promoting his Coronation Charter, Henry I had made a good start in rallying support. He made another politically astute move three months after the promulgation of the Coronation Charter, by marrying the Anglo-Saxon Princess, Edith Matilda, on 11th November 1100. Edith Matilda was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. By her mother, Edith Matilda was also the great grand-daughter of the Anglo-Saxon King, Edmund Ironside. By his marriage, Henry I probably also gained the backing of the Anglo-Saxon population In England, as well as the friendship of Scotland. Even so, would all these plus points help Henry I withstand the expected challenge to his Crown from his elder brother Duke Robert of Normandy?

Sibling strife was a potent factor affecting relations between Henry and Robert (and also William II). In acceding to the English throne in August 1100, Henry had thrown down the gauntlet to his brother Robert (perhaps literally)! Duke Robert picked up the gauntlet and invaded England in the summer of 1101. What happened next? See my July Blog for details!!!!

Question

King Henry’s Coronation Charter of 5th August contained 14 Points. Which other important historical political charter also contained 14 Points? (Clue – think 20th century.)

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Filed under 12th Century England, Angevins, Anglo-Saxon history, British Kings and Queens, British taxation, Chance in History, Charters, Duke Robert of Normandy, English Common Law, Famous women, Feminism, Finance, Henry I, King John, King Stephen, King William Rufus, London, Magna Carta, Medieval government, Medieval History, Norman Kings, Robert Curthose, Scotland, William of Malmesbury, Winchester, Women's Rights

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