Category Archives: Anglo-Saxon history

The Laws of the Lion of Justice: 1115

October 1st 2012 is an important date in the legal profession of England & Wales. To begin with, it marks the beginning of the Michaelmas Law Term in England & Wales. Perhaps even more significant: today is the third anniversary of the Act of Parliament establishing the new Supreme Court of the UK (thereby superseding the historic function of the House of Lords). It is therefore fitting that my October Blog will examine the impact of Henry I’s reign on the development of  English Common Law; particularly the important legal initiative: ‘The Laws of Henry I’.

This ground-breaking document, ‘’Leges Henrici Primi”, was written about 900 years ago, in the second decade of Henry’s reign. It clearly drew on legal innovations outlined in Henry’s ‘Coronation Charter’ of 1100; but the Charter had been primarily designed to attract support for Henry’s new regime. In contrast, the Leges was more concerned with the actual advancement of the Law: it was to be a indispensable staging post in the evolution of English Common Law.

Impact of the Leges on English Common Law.

(1) The Leges formalised the Anglo-Saxon ‘Two-Tier’ System of Law Courts: Shire Courts for serious offences and Hundred Courts for lesser offences.

Clause VII(i) stated that: ”the general plea of the shire court shall be held at the recognised terms and times throughout the different provinces of England.”

Clause VII(iv) stated that: ”The shire moot and the borough moot ought to meet twice a year; and the hundred moot and the wapentake moot twelve times a year.” (All direct quotations from the Leges are taken from EHD, Volume II, pages 491 to 495).                                                                                                  The Shire and Borough Moots approximate to our  Crown Courts. The Hundred and Wapentake Moots roughly correspond to our modern-day Magistrates’ Courts. However there is at least one major difference between the 12th century Hundred and Wapentake Moots and today’s Magistrates’ Courts. There are about 350 Magistrates’ Courts in England & Wales in 2012. Nine hundred years ago, there were possibly as many as 600 Hundred and Wapentake Courts in England (reflecting the obvious difficulties in travel in 12th century England).                                                                                                                               The ‘Hundred’ was the basic Anglo-Saxon unit of local government. The ‘Wapentake’ was the basic unit of local government in what had been the Danelaw. As Professor Bartlett has pointed out, the Leges actually defined England, it stated: “The Kingdom of England is divided into three parts, Wessex, Mercia and the Danelaw.” (Quoted by Robert Bartlett, in his ‘England under the Norman and Angevin Kings,’ OUP (2000), page 155). What is impressive is that our modern Law Terms are still standardised throughout England (and also in Wales). What is also impressive is that the Danelaw was still recognised as a separate entity in England as late as the early 12th century.  The Danelaw was established as the Viking half of England in the late 9th century.

In the early 12th century, when referring to the Danelaw (or Denelaga), the Leges effectively meant Northern England (from Lincolnshire northwards). When referring to Wessex (Westsexenlaga),  the Leges effectively referred to Southern England (including London). When referring to Mercia (Merchenlaga), the Leges effectively meant what is now Central England.

(2) A key element in any formal legal system is the ‘Right of Appeal’: it is an obvious safeguard against the arbitrary use of the law. It was the Leges that contained one of the first written references to appeal procedures in England.

Clause XXXI(iv) stated that: “No man may dispute  the judgement of the king’s court, but it shall be permitted to men who have knowledge of the plea to appeal against the judgement of other courts.” What the Leges seems to be implying is that the King’s Court might well be the final Court of Appeal. (Shades of our modern Supreme Court?)

(3) It would of course be stretching incredulity to suggest that the Leges was an exact blueprint for our present day legal structure. For example, the author of the Leges deliberately wrote into the Leges a formal assertion of the legal rights of King Henry’s Tenants-in-Chief.

Clause LV(i): “Every lord is allowed to summon his men, so that he may do justice upon them in his court. If the man be resident in a manor far from the honour from which he holds, he shall none the less go to the plea if the lord summon him.”

The concept of a ‘summons’ is of course familiar to legal systems; but Clause LV explicitly allowed the Tenants-in-Chief to have their own courts, called Honor Courts (a Norman innovation).  Such private courts would of course be unthinkable in any modern democratic legal system. Even so, as Professor Bartlett has demonstrated, the Leges contained checks against ‘overmighty’ Tenants-in-Chief, as Henry I forbade ‘building a castle without permission.’ (Bartlett, page 279). This prohibition was an effective safeguard against ambitious Tenants-in-Chief. In any case,  these ‘Honorial ‘ or ‘Seignorial’ courts did not really take root in 12th century England. The Anglo/Saxon ‘two-tier’ system of shire and hundred courts remained pre-eminent in 12th century England, thereby bequeathing a two-tier court system to us.

(4) Any progressive legal system has to differentiate between categories of crime. This is where perhaps the Leges made its most important contribution to the maturation of  English Common Law. Professor Judith Green has argued that the Leges certainly did effectively identify different categories of crime.

Serious crime included rape & abduction, arson, robbery, treachery and murder. Lesser crimes included breach of the King’s Peace and contempt for the King’s Writs. (Judith Green, ‘The Government of England under Henry I’ (1989), page 102). The categorisation of rape & abduction as serious crime must have represented a real progression in the position of women in 12th century English society. One wonders if Henry’s Consort, Queen Edith Matilda, was involved ‘behind the scene’ in the implementation of the latter measure..

Conclusion

The pronouncement of The Laws of Henry I, around 1115, was a turning point in the evolution of English Common Law. As Professor Judith Green has pointed out, attempts to formally inscribe English Law had largely been dormant since the reign of Cnut (1016 to 1035): “it was re-born in the early twelfth century under a king whose reign became a byword for the rule of law.” (Judith Green, ‘The Government of England under Henry I’ (page 99)). Professor Green says it all: every one of us owes a great debt to King Henry I. Today, in 2012,, we must ensure that  we do not, by default, erode the legal heritage bequeathed to us by ‘The Lion of Justice.’

Question

Just over 800 years ago, the 1st October was a dynastically significant date. Why?

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Sibling Strife Part 3: Henrican Heroism and Anglo-Saxon Atonement: 1106

The final part of my Trilogy on Henry I’s rivalry with his two brothers, King William II of England and Duke Robert of Normandy, in the period 1100 to 1106, is centred on the Battle of Tinchebrai. This important battle fought in Normandy just over 900 years ago today, on 28th September 1106. It was a turning-point in Henry I’s reign (and indeed for the whole of Angevin England). Not only did the battle of Tinchebrai finally consolidate Henry I’s monarchy (he was to reign a further 29 years); but it also partially represented Anglo-Saxon recompense for their military humbling at the Battle of Hastings, forty years previously.

Background to Tinchebrai 1100 to 1103

(1) As my July and August Blogs have hopefully demonstrated, Henry made strenuous efforts to consolidate his régime in England after his spectacular monarchical coup d’état in early August 1100. He issued a ground-breaking manifesto, The Coronation Charter, to win support in England. Three months after the Coronation Charter, Henry made a judicious marriage with Princess Edith Matilda. Henry also managed to out-manoeuvre Duke Robert in the summer of 1101, when the latter invaded England with an army. Henry’s offer of £2,500 to Robert to persuade him to quit England brought Henry a much needed breathing space to consolidate his new régime.

(2) Henry used this breathing space to good effect. His wife, Queen Edith Matilda, bore him two children between 1101 and 1106: Matilda (probably born in February 1102) and William (born on 5th August 1103 exactly three years after the proclamation of the Coronation Charter). The birth of William The Atheling was especially important for the dynastic solidity of Henry’s régime, as it meant he had a son and heir, further enhancing his status among the Anglo-Norman magnates, and possibly also the Anglo-Saxon population.

Scheming for Normandy, 1103 to mid 1106

(a) Despite the undeniable progress Henry had made after 1100, the prize of Normandy still eluded him. Control of Normandy was the essential component in stabilising Henry’s regime in England. Re-unification of England and Normandy would greatly augment Henry’s status in England. Not only would Henry be able to claim that he had re-created the Anglo-Norman state established by his father, William the Conqueror; but Anglo-Norman magnates owning territories on both sides of The Channel would be re-assured that they would not owe allegiance to two different rulers.

(b) Between 1103 and 1106 Henry initiated a ‘Cold War’ against his brother Duke Robert. This ‘Cold War’ strategy took two main forms. To begin with, Henry launched a diplomatic offensive in France against Robert. Henry made agreements with the counts of Anjou, Maine, Brittany and Flanders. Such agreements were accompanied with proposals of marriage alliances, or monetary bribes (or perhaps both).  Secondly, Henry actually ‘invaded’ Northern France, deliberately challenging Duke Robert. The ostensible reason for Henry’s foray into France in August 1104 was for Henry to visit his castle at Domfront, in Normandy. The fact that Henry’s visit was enthusiastically received by Anglo-Norman magnates such as Robert of Meulan, Richard Earl of Chester, Stephen Count of Aumerle and others, was a clear challenge to Robert’s ducal authority in Normandy. Henry made another raid into Northern France in the early summer of 1106 (where he was joined by the Counts of Brittany and Maine). This raid was, in fact, the prelude to Henry’s major invasion of Normandy, in September 1106.

The Battle of Tinchebrai, 28th September 1106.

Some years ago, Professor Carpenter famously remarked that Henry I “had that rarest of all assets among the successful: he knew when to stop.” [David Carpenter,’ The Struggle for Mastery’. Allen Lane (2003). Pages 134-135].  It could also be argued that Henry also knew when to start. He clearly felt that the time was right in the autumn of 1106 for the ‘final showdown’ with his brother, Duke Robert.

Henry’s precise movements between June and September 1106 are quite difficult to follow, but he undoubtedly had brought across the Channel a formidable array of English troops, to reinforce the soldiers of his continental allies. The key battle between the two brothers was to be fought at Tinchebrai in Normandy. This key battle was ultimately caused by Henry’s provocative action in besieging Tinchebrai Castle, which belonged to one of Robert’s few remaining allies, Count William of Mortain. Count William asked for help from Duke Robert, who duly brought up his army and, as King Henry I had hoped, decided to do battle against the forces of King Henry I. Henry’s army was organised in three lines. According to one contemporary account, given by a priest of Fécamp, King Henry’s Army numbered “about forty thousand men.”[EHD, Vol II, page 329].  This total is clearly an exaggeration, though it does seem to be the case that Henry’s army exceeded that of Duke Robert. The battle started at about 9.00 in the morning with a charge from Robert’s army. Henry himself seems to have dismounted and led his force of Englishmen and Normans into the heat of the battle. The crucial stage in the battle was probably when Henry’s mounted Bretons attacked on the flanks, destroying the Duke’s foot soldiers. Witnessing this reverse, Robert de Bellème, one of Duke Robert’s most important allies, fled the field. Duke Robert’s force now effectively disintegrated, and the battle was over in an hour.

Impact of Henry’s victory at the Battle of Tinchebrai

  • Henry’s great military success confirmed his position as monarch. He was now both King of England and Duke of Normandy. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, expressed contemporary respect for Henry in a letter he wrote to Henry a few weeks after Tinchebrai: “To Henry, glorious king of the English and duke of the Normans, Archbishop Anselm sends faithful service with faithful prayers and wishing he may always increase towards greater and better things and never decrease.”  The sibling strife between King Henry I and his brothers King William II and Duke Robert of Normandy was now over, and Henry was the ultimate victor.
  • King Henry I had effectively re-created the Anglo-Norman state, which was to survive for just under a century, until 1204, when King John was defeated by King Philip Augustus of France. Secure as monarch, King Henry was now able to devote his energies to administrative reform in England, which was to bear fruit a decade later with Henry’s Exchequer reforms (See my April 2012 Blog) and the Legal Reforms (to be analysed in my next Blog, on 1st October 2012).
  • For his part, Duke Robert was taken captive by Henry I’s army. He was placed under ‘house arrest’ in Devizes Castle, and later in Cardiff Castle, where he died in 1134 aged 80 years; (Henry I was to die a year later, in 1135, aged 67 years). Fighting alongside Duke Robert at Tinchebrai was Edgar the Atheling. His was a life of ‘near misses’. On the death of King Edward the Confessor, in 1066, Edgar, then fifteen years old, was the natural successor to the English Crown. However, he was passed over in favour of Harold Godwinson. The Anglo-Norman kings treated Edgar well, and Edgar became especially friendly with Robert. In fact, he fought alongside Duke Robert at Tinchebrai. Henry immediately released Edgar, who then lived quietly, dying at the age of 75 in 1126. His epitaph will always be, ‘The king who was proclaimed but never crowned.’
  • Finally, was Tinchebrai a ‘revenge’ victory for the Anglo-Saxons? It is a fact that Tinchebrai was fought exactly forty years after Duke William’s huge invading force had landed on English soil (at Pevensey, on 28th September 1066). This remarkable co-incidence suggests that Henry I may have had some inkling of the historical parallel – he certainly used English troops at Tinchebrai. The reliable contemporary chronicler, William of Malmesbury, had no doubt of the historical co-incidence: “It was the same day, on which about forty years before, William had first landed at Hastings: doubtless by the wise dispensation of God, that Normandy should be subjected to England on the same day that the Normans had formerly arrived to subjugate that kingdom.” Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s a nice story.

Question

Does History merely consist of s series of random, unique events, as Karl Popper argued: or does History sometimes repeat itself?

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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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Sibling Strife Part 1 : King Henry I and Duke Robert of Normandy 1101

Just over 900 years ago today, on 20th July 1101, Duke Robert of Normandy landed at Portsmouth with an invading army from Normandy. Though numerically smaller than his father’s mighty invasion force had been in 1066, Robert’s invading army still posed a major threat to Henry I, King of England. What had caused this political and military crisis in England?

  • Duke Robert and King Henry I were both sons of King William I: Robert being the eldest son and Henry the youngest son. King William I’s middle son was also called William (nicknamed Rufus). Robert and William had shared out the territorial spoils when their father, William the Conqueror, died in 1087. Robert succeeded to the Dukedom of Normandy, while William became King William II of England. Henry, the youngest son, had to make do with a massive payoff; maybe as much as three thousand silver marks. Henry’s two elder brothers had excluded him from political power: their cavalier treatment of Henry in 1087 perhaps sowed the seeds of the later sibling strife between Henry and Robert.
  • As it was, for the next dozen or so years, Henry had to wait in the political wings, while Robert and William enjoyed the prestige that went with political office. Sexual liaisons seemed to have totally occupied Henry. Indeed, Professor Judith Green estimates that Henry fathered the amazing total of 19 illegitimate children between 1086 (when he was knighted) and 1100 (when he became King of England).* Henry was catholic in his choice of mistresses: Ede, Ansfrida and Edith were all well-born Anglo/Saxon ladies. Ansfrida was clearly more than just a passing fancy for Henry, as the couple had three children (their liaison began after Ansfrida had been widowed). Another of Henry’s mistresses, Nest, was a Welsh Princess; while yet another mistress, Isabel, was a well-born Norman lady (daughter of Count Meulan).
  • Even so, it would be incorrect to dismiss Henry as merely a sexual adventurer. As the very reliable contemporary chronicler, William of Malmesbury, remarked about Henry: “He was early instructed in the liberal arts, and so throughout imbibed the sweets of learning that no warlike disturbance and no pressure of business could ever erase them from his noble mind.” [EHD, Vol. II, page 319] It seems likely that Henry had always closely followed political events in England and Normandy, to see how he could further his own interests. His chance finally came in August 1100, when William II died in an accident whilst hunting in the New Forest (see my forthcoming August Blog). The political situation in early August 1100 was uniquely favourable to Henry: William II of England had just died, while his elder brother, Robert, was still many miles away, returning from his participation in the First Crusade. Henry took his chance, seizing the English Crown. Why did Henry not also try to appropriate the dukedom of Normandy in August 1100? The answer seems to be that he initially needed to consolidate his position as King of England; as Professor Carpenter has sagely remarked about King Henry I: “he knew when to stop.” **
  •  Duke Robert returned to Normandy in the autumn of 1100. He immediately set about making plans to invade England, to dispossess Henry I of the English Crown. In February 1101, his cause was greatly aided by the arrival in Normandy of Ranulf Flambard. Flambard had been William II’s chief administrator. Henry I had imprisoned Flambard after his accession to the Crown in August 1100. Flambard now took his revenge against Henry, helping Robert, Duke of Normandy, to mastermind the Norman Invasion of England, which finally took place in July 1101.
  • Duke Robert’s invasion Force posed a supreme challenge to King Henry I. To begin with, Duke Robert had assembled an invasion fleet of at least 200 ships. Secondly, Flambard bribed Henry’s English seamen to allow Duke Robert’s invasion fleet to land on English soil unopposed – which they did, at Portsmouth, on 20th July 1101. Finally, once Duke Robert and his invasion army had set foot on English soil, many of Henry’s Tenants-in-Chief began to desert him. It looked as if an action-replay of the 1066 Hastings Campaign, fought thirty-five years earlier, was about to happen. The then Duke of Normandy was successful in 1066: the question was would the new Duke of Normandy be equally successful in 1101?
  • Yet King Henry I probably had more acumen than King Harold. To begin with, Henry had the unswerving support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the justly renowned Anselm. Anselm privately stiffened the loyalty of any magnates who were uncertain whether or not to support Henry. Secondly, Henry sensibly used all means at his disposal to maximise the size of his army. Like all Norman monarchs, he demanded that his tenants-in-chief (those that were still loyal) fulfil their feudal obligations to provide him with mounted knights. In addition, Henry utilised the Anglo/Saxon fyrd. He summoned his Englishmen to muster at Hastings (possibility deliberately invoking memories of 1066). The fact that Henry, alone of William the Conqueror’s sons, had been born in England (possibly in Selby), and that he had married an Anglo/Saxon Princess (Queen Edith Matilda) doubtless encouraged English troops to muster in the fyrd. Finally, Henry himself was a talented leader. Back in 1066, at the Battle of Hastings, King Harold had failed to properly discipline the English shield wall against William the Conqueror’s invading army. King Henry displayed no such military shortcomings. As the fyrd gathered at Hastings in July 1101, Henry himself repeatedly passed through the assembled ranks of the English soldiers. He personally instructed them how to repel a cavalry charge by maintaining their shield wall, and returning their enemies’ blows. Here indeed was a leader in action.
  • The result was a military stand-off between the two armies; yet such a stalemate would ultimately favour Henry, as it would mean that the political initiative would return to him. That is what happened. With the help of mediators, Henry and Robert agreed to make peace, enshrined in the ‘Treaty of Alton’, which was formally ratified at Winchester on 2nd August 1101. It cannot have been lost on contemporaries that this was exactly a year since the death of King William II, close to Winchester, in the New Forest. The Treaty of Alton was a major boost for Henry I. By this Treaty, Robert formally renounced the English Crown. In return, King Henry I had to pay Robert a huge pension, possibly as much as £2,500. The latter tribute smacked of Henry imitating the Anglo/Saxon King Aethelred a hundred years earlier when the latter monarch paid the Danegeld; but such a comparison would be false. It is true that Henry gained a much needed breathing space by the Treaty of Alton; but he aimed to use the respite by further consolidating his regime in England, and then make his own bid for Normandy. That this was probably the case is supported by the fact that although Robert renounced the English Crown at the Treaty of Alton. Henry for his part was careful not to renounce his claim to the Dukedom of Normandy.

 

Conclusion

It seemed that by the Treaty of Alton, the sibling strife between Robert and Henry had given way to brotherly bliss; yet their rivalry remained. This Blog entry is the first of a trilogy of Blogs concerned with Henry I’s accession and retention of power between 1100 and 1106. The final sibling struggle was to be acted out on the playing fields of Tinchebrai, in Normandy, in 1106 (the subject of my September Blog entry). There, King Henry I sealed his triumph, becoming Duke of Normandy, as well as King of England. By 1106, Henry had effectively staked out his claim to be the most successful son of King William the Conqueror, a claim he was to make good in the thirty or so years after 1106.

Question

Henry’s fecundity in fathering illegitimate offspring is still relatively unknown. What British monarch traditionally has ben regarded as being the father of numerous illegitimate children?

 

*Henry I by Judith Green. CUP. 2006

 

**The Struggle for Mastery by David Carpenter. Allen Lane. 2003

 

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Proto-Feminism in the 12th Century:This is Your Life, Queen Edith Matilda

Just over a year ago, I published an account of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the famous Queen of King Henry II.* I then argued that the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine reflected the important political role women played in Western Europe in the mid-twelfth century.

Eleanor, the Queen Consort to Henry II, is very well known. Less well-known is Edith Matilda, Queen Consort to King Henry I, who died just under 900 years ago today, on 1st May 1118. Yet it could be argued that Edith Matilda’s life was the political trail-blazer for 12th century feminism. In many ways, Eleanor of Aquitaine’s success was due to the feminist foundations set by Edith Matilda in the first quarter of the 12th century.

  • Edith’s background was aristocratic. More importantly, she was descended from the Anglo/Saxon aristocracy. Born in about 1080, Edith was the seventh child of King Malcolm III of Scotland, and his Queen, Margaret. It was through her mother, the saintly Queen Margaret, that Edith claimed legitimate decent from the Anglo-Saxon Wessex dynasty. Edith’s mother, Margaret, was the sister of Edgar the Atheling, whose legitimate claims to the English succession in 1066 had been effectively over-ruled by Harold Godwine. Not only that, but Edith was also descended from the Anglo-Saxon monarch King Edmund Ironside; confirming her descent from the Royal House of Wessex.
  • Edith’s childhood was mainly spent at Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. It seems that Edith never actually took the vows of a nun, and certainly did not lack for eligible suitors as she grew to womanhood. The suitor who mattered was Henry, the youngest son of William the Conqueror. King Henry I married Edith on 11th November 1100, shortly after his accession in August 1100. The marriage included Edith’s coronation as Henry I’s Queen. Henceforth, Edith also took the name of Matilda, partly as a sop to Norman sentiment; and so she is known to historians as ‘Edith Matilda’.
  • Henry I’s new bride greatly helped Henry to consolidate his accession to the English Throne in 1100. As is well known, Henry had succeeded to the English Crown in August 1100 in odd circumstances. His elder brother, William II, had been killed in a freak accident whilst hunting in the New Forest (he had been killed by an arrow from a member of his hunting party). William II lacked any offspring, so Henry seized his chance and took the throne before his other brother, Duke Robert of Normandy, could act. Henry’s ‘royalist coup d’état’ left him in a vulnerable position, and his marriage to Edith Matilda probably won him the useful support of the Anglo-Saxon population. As the contemporary writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle stated: “The King married Maud [Edith Matilda], daughter of Malcolm, king of Scots, and of Margaret, the good queen, the kinswoman of King Edward, of the true royal family of England” (my italics).
  • As queen consort, Edith Matilda showed she was no mere cipher. After Henry’s opportunistic royal takeover in August 1100, he faced continual opposition from his eldest brother Duke Robert, who felt cheated out of his legitimate claim to rule England. In 1101, Duke Robert led a formidable invasion force to England. In the face of Robert’s invasion, Henry managed to retain his royal authority in England; but the price he had to pay for his success was a staggering £2,000 a year to Duke Robert. The annual payment of such a ‘Danegeld’ would have been a serious drain on Henry I’s financial resources; but it seems that Edith Matilda was able to persuade Duke Robert to forgo this annual pension a few years later. The fact that Duke Robert was personally well disposed to Edith Matilda (he was her godfather) will have helped. Even so, Edith Matilda had shown diplomatic skill in her dealings with Duke Robert, and one suspects that Robert would not have been so accommodating to his brother Henry.
  • In the eighteen years from Henry I’s accession in 1100 to her own death in 1118, Edith Matilda took an important role In Henry’s government, particularly when Henry was across the Channel in Normandy. Queen Edith Matilda then acted as Henry’s Regent in England. She issued writs in her own name. Edith Matilda had her own seal, with which she validated her writs and charters. Edith Matilda also expected to be consulted by Henry’s ministers on important matters of government. One such minister was Bishop Roger of Salisbury. Under Edith Matilda’s political patronage Bishop Roger started to display his talents for government, whether in finance, or conduct of the law. For example, Bishop Roger was probably the force behind the creation of the pipe rolls, possibly as early as 1114. After Edith Matilda’s early death, in 1118, Bishop Roger emerged as Henry I’s chief minister. The office of Justicar had effectively been created, and Edith Matilda had played an important role in the creation of that vitally important ministerial office.

Conclusion

The medieval period certainly contained notable female personalities:-

  • Matilda of Boulogne (c.1105 to 1152), Queen Consort to King Stephen
  • Eleanor de Montfort (1215 to 1275), Countess of Pembroke and Leicester.
  • Isabella of France (1295 to 1358), Queen Consort to King Edward II.
  • Margaret of Anjou (1430 to 1482), Queen Consort to King Henry VI.

These four female rulers, spanning the 12th to the 15th centuries, were certainly formidable personalities; but all of their energies were essentially aimed at preserving either their own power, or that of their menfolk.

What sets both Edith Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine apart from these female personalities is that Edith Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine each  played a notable role in medieval government. As such, they were both harbingers of a developing feminist influence on 12th century medieval government; an influence that was effectively curtailed in the later medieval period.

Question Time!

(i)                Queen Edith Matilda was born in Dunfermline. Which other British monarch was also born in Dunfermline?

(ii)             Queen Isabella of France is popularly known by what nickname?

(iii)     In one of his History Plays, Shakespeare uses the same nickname.   What is the name of this play? (As a clue, the play has two alternative titles.)

*See my blog entry, ‘Proto-Feminism in 12th Century Western Europe: This is your life, Eleanor of Aquitaine.’ Posted on 1st April, 2011.

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