Moonday’s Heroic Hunk: King Henry I’s Record


     Moonday and Memorial Day Greetings! As our nation honors those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country, I would like to thank also those who are still in harm’s way protecting us AND those who have returned home.
     The next month’s Heroic Hunks in History will feature the Angevin kings of England. Some were far from heroic and others were certainly not hunks, though. Some were downright cruel and vicious.
    When William died in 1087, he was succeeded by his son, William Rufus (the Red), who was both cruel and extravagant- disliked by his nobles and subjects. He was “accidentally” killed by a stray arrow while hunting in 1100. Even then, nobody believed the tale and the likely culprit, Walter Tyrrell, conveniently left the country for France taking the truth of William’s death with him.
     Henry Beauclerc, another of the Conqueror’s sons, was conveniently prepared to intervene (despite Robert Curthose’s – his older brother’s – stronger claim) and seized the country’s treasury before Robert could return from the Crusades. Henry could actually read and write English and Latin, very unusual in this period.
     The old King William evidently knew his son Henry well. According to one chronicler, William had declared to Henry: “You in your own time will have all the dominions I have acquired and be greater than both your brothers in wealth and power.” He was proven correct when King Henry I – through battles and bribery – secured his throne and vast parts of his father’s French possessions.
     William of Malmesbury describes Henry as: “of middle stature, greater than the small, but exceeded by the very tall; his hair was black and set back upon the forehead; his eyes mildly bright; his chest brawny; his body fleshy.” (Sounds like sort of short, fat and balding to me.) Whatever his appearance, Henry was evidently “popular” with the ladies. He married the daughter of the king of Scotland who was of the ancient Saxon lineage. They had four children. He also had 20+ children (the record for English kings) by a slew of long-term mistresses, including a Welch princess.
     Despite a VERY active love life, Henry accomplished quite a bit. He was called the ‘Lion of Justice’ because he revised England’s laws. He introduced a new monetary system involving “tally sticks” which survived for seven centuries. He granted the Charter of Liberties, a forerunner to the Magna Carta, which secured the support of the nobles.        

Henry & Princess Nest in Bed


     Henry’s major weakness was his failure to secure the succession. When one son had drowned in the White Ship disaster and the other had died, Henry named his daughter Matilda who was married to Geoffrey Plantagenet as his successor. When Henry died from food poisoning in 1135, the Council considered a woman unfit to rule so offered the throne to Stephen, a grandson of William I. POOR CHOICE, POOR KING.
     Matilda’s son, however, a young and powerful man—another Henry—was waiting in the wings. Check out the Oscar-winning The Lion in Winter, which features Henry and one of my all-time favorite women in history-Eleanor of Aquitaine—next week’s Heroic Couple in History.

6 Responses

  1. Once again you’ve used the interest factor with flare! If history teachers could only use items like yours to preface their teachings, you would have avid students everywhere!

    It’s hard to imagine leaders unable to read and write in multiple languages in any period. Frightening! Explains how the scribes and scholars could become the real power behind the throne. More frightening.

    And people believe Shakespeare made up his stories of political intrigue from his imagination–he probably only had to tweak historical bits to have an endless supply of juicy tales!

    Only a man with true foresight would have the ability to create the justice system that prefaced our Magna Carta. Raise a cup to Henry I!

    • Thanks so much. Some of the best tales can get you in trouble, though. For ex, the King and the Princess are naked in bed in the tapestry but so was everyone else of the period. Night gowns came into style with the later Tudors. ALSO, the Welch Princess Nest married and had children after Henry but was kidnapped by a noble with her children. The children eventually returned but she did not-she stayed with the kidnaper and had a couple more kids before returning. THen her husband hunted down the kidnaper and killed him. Then, she married again and had more kids. What a Twisted Mess!!

  2. I’ve read a lot of historical romances featuring Henry I and I always found him fascinating. I didn’t know he was so learned though, which just proves that he was a savvy ruler. He didn’t need to rely on scribes to handle his missives. Very wise. I can’t wait to see what you tell us about Eleanor…one of my favorite female historical figures of all time!

    • Love Eleanor-women of power were uncommon but we’ll check out medieval cougars, plotting and poison, & what women who accompany their men on Crusade do when they are bored. RVF

  3. Your amazing, a history book, with legs.. I love to read what you write. I learn things I never knew. Sorry this is late. I’ve been busy an have a cold. love you girls.

  4. I can’t wait for the next installment. I too love Eleanor!
    By the way, I just saw a mockup of the cover of Battlesong. In a week of two, I’ll get the real cover and you’ll find it one my web page. This one is fabulous.

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