31 Henry I – Normandy and the Succession

Henry was a Norman king like any other – Normandy was in his blood. For 30 years, he controlled the diplomatic game to keep Normandy in the Empire. The one thing he couldn't control was the succession. When William the Atheling died in the disaster of the White Ship, William was left with a daughter – and no woman had ever been the English monarch.

31 Henry I – Normandy and the Succession

Dramatis Personae – see the previous post here

The Struggle for Normandy: Round 1, 1109 – 1113

A bit chaotic. Louis VI started it off demanding Gisors. Henry's friend Theobald of Blois organised a distracting raid into Brie, Henry captured and imprisoned Robert of Belleme, and bought off Fulk of Anjou by promising his son in marriage to Fulk's daughter. Left on his own Louis gave in and made peace.

Round 2, 1115 – 1119, and the Battle of Bremule

This time Theobald started the trouble, by killing a friend of the Louis's. Henry had to come to Theobald's aid, and off it all went again. Fulk and Baldwin of Flanders also joined the fight against Henry. This time, a group of Norman nobles also joined in, and William Clito was declared Duke of Normandy. But again, they could make no real headway against the Norman castles. In 1119, Henry was defeated at the battle of Alencon by Fulk, but despite that things turn out well. Because Fulk wanted to go on crusade – and gave up his struggle, in return for Henry's promise observe the peace while he was away.

Louis meanwhile was defeated at the Battle of Bremule. 400 of Louis's household knights were defeated by 500 of Henry's, and William Clito and Louis fled back to France. William captured 140 knights – and ransomed those he could, and blinded (yes, blinded) the rest.

William Atheling Interruption – The White Ship, 1120

The death of Henry's only son and heir in 1120 was a personal and nationbal tragedy. William Atheling died when his ship hit rocks off Barfleur. No one dared to tell Henry – until a young boy was brave enough to do the task, Henry fell to the ground, until being led away to his personal chambers.

Round 3, 1123-1124 and the Battle of Bourgtheroulde

Fulk stirred up trouble with Henry's Norman barons, in particular Waleran, Count of Meulan. Henry was furious – Waleran was of the Beaumont family, who hadGeoffrey Plantagenet been showered with grants of land in reward for the loyalty of the father, Robert de Beaumont. Waleran was defeated by Henry's lieutenants – either Ralph of Bayeux or William of Tancarville – in another battle between household knights. Now for the next 10 years, Henry could relax a little more.

The Succession

Henry's solution was radical – his daughter Matilda. He got his barons to swear alleigance to her as the next monarch in 1127. Then he went even further – marrying her to Geoffrey of Anjou in 1128. This was radical – the Normand and Angevins were fierce enemies. Despite further oath takings, more than a few would have suspected trouble.


Henry died in 1135. He came home from hunting, ate too many lampreys, and so died one of England's most successful monarchs. Not necessarily the nicest, but an effective king and a reformer of justice and royal governance.


3 thoughts on “31 Henry I – Normandy and the Succession

  1. Here’s to ‘the boring stuff’ of history!
    As an American I will shamelessly support you in this endeavor by sharing a stereotypical colloquialism of my patriae – you’re ‘sticking to your guns’ and I appreciate you for it. Names, dates and battles are three of the reasons I listen to this podcast – they really are exciting in their own respective rights.
    I hope my question a few podcasts back about Saxon / Norman Church laity conflicts weren’t seen as mere ‘social history’, though I admit that, in and of itself, the question really was just that. As I learn more about the history of England, I realize how much cultural and social clashes between Puritans, Presbyterians, Catholics and so forth will be instrumental to understanding the distinctives and turning points in English history, and I suppose I was trying to anticipate that a little bit, get myself into the practice of thinking about English Church history, insofar as those sorts of conflicts are necessary to the historical framework I would think one would weave, if one were to be producing such an astounding and valuable podcast such as this one.
    Anyhow, keep at it, I listen every week at work, I thoroughly anticipate new episodes, I even talk about it to friends!

  2. Hi Matt – I’m glad you sent this so quickly – I’d actually released the wrong version ! I’d decided not to rant . . . and actually, I have to confess that I’m rather looking forward to doung a bit more of the social stuff. It’ll be good for me.
    And yes, I think you are absolutely right – the church and religious life is so very fundamental to so much of England’s history that no history would be remotely complete without it.
    Thanks very much for the kind words – very much appreciated and I hope you keep enjoying it !

  3. This morning, I listened to this episode, and this afternoon I found myself in Reading with time on my hands. I wandered over to the ruins of Reading Abbey because, you know, I like history. And lo and behold, not only did Henry I found the monastery, he was buried there, too!
    It was honestly pretty thrilling to have so much knowledge so fresh in my head. The sign says, dry as dust, that On Or Near This Spot, King Henry Beauclerc Was Buried — and I knew all about him, right down to the lampreys! Sadly, there was not a single dogwalker to regale with tales of brotherly conniving, rebels thrown from towers, sons lost at sea — and lampreys, of course.
    There’s a hand-powered speaker by the ruins, and if you turn the crank, it plays Gregorian chant. Heard at dusk, the voices cast a kind of aural shadow, giving the ruins an eerie and beautiful life.

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