Simon Phillips

title.none: Green, Henry I (Simon Phillips)

identifier.other: baj9928.0802.010 08.02.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Simon Phillips, University of Winchester,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Green, Judith A. Henry I: King of England and Duke of Normandy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xi, 392. $85.00 0-521-59131-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.02.10

Green, Judith A. Henry I: King of England and Duke of Normandy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xi, 392. $85.00 0-521-59131-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Simon Phillips
University of Winchester

Medieval kingship in England is associated with the name Henry, more than any other name. Between 1100 and 1547, eight Henrys sat on the throne for a total of 250 years. Some of them, due to their own exploits or the Shakespeare Histories, have ventured beyond the world of the historian into popular imagination. Judith Green's colourful portrayal of Henry I should bring his name to the public eye.

The majority of the book is divided between ten chronological sections, from Henry's birth in c. 1068 until his death in 1135. As the youngest of four sons, as Green points out, he was probably not considered of great importance outside the family, suggested by the uncertainty over his exact date of birth and the fact that he was not given a Norman ducal name. Perhaps this gave him a desire to be recognised, which his brothers took for granted. Knighted by his father in 1086, it seems the king favoured him, and though he was left no lands on William's death, he was granted a large cash amount, enough to acquire lands. Nevertheless, between 1087 and 1100, Henry's fortunes relied on the goodwill of his brothers, and he moved between William Rufus and Robert of Normandy's courts to ensure this.

Early on in his life, Henry displayed two characteristics that were to gain him a reputation, his sexual appetite and extreme cruelty. He is known to have acknowledged twenty-two illegitimate children, and it is likely that there were others unacknowledged. However, not all of these were passing flings, with the women and their children--often through marriage--provided for. Henry's lack of mercy is apparent throughout his life, the infamous throwing of Conan, son of Pilatus, a rebel against Duke Robert, off Rouen tower in 1190 being just one example. There was an element of psychological cruelty here, in that Henry led Conan through a tour of the castle, mocking him and prolonging his fate, and would not even let him have confession. Perhaps death was a kinder punishment than those dished out to his brother Robert, who was allegedly blinded, or his innocent granddaughters, who were blinded and had the tips of their noses cut off. It is easy to accuse Henry of excessive violence, but medieval kings could not afford to tolerate disobedience or seem weak. Those who were weak, such as Edward II or Henry VI, had tumultuous reigns that ended in usurpation. Henry could not be accused of either. Showing strength, ambition, and a ruthless streak, he was able to gain the English throne, unite the duchy of Normandy and kingdom of England under one ruler, as it had been under the Conqueror, and bring peace to his dominions. Constantly travelling to emphasise his control, nobody dared challenge his rule in either England or Normandy.

This leads us on to the final chapters of the book, which cover three key themes of his reign: Henry as a ruler, his relationship with the church, and his court. During Henry's reign, there are indications of further Norman colonisation and settlement of the northern counties of England, the southern parts of Scotland, and in Wales. He also managed to strengthen relations with local lords in Normandy, especially through marriage alliances and patronage of local religious foundations. Yet it appears that there was no attempt to incorporate Normandy into an Anglo-Norman state, and the two remained distinctive, despite the expected similarities when ruled by one man for so many years. In this chapter, Green challenges the current consensus that Henry I departed from his father's and brother's expansionist policy, and was content to maintain what he inherited. Instead she argues that the evidence of expansionism in the British Isles has previously been disregarded, as has his aggressive policy towards forging alliances with neighbouring states, which allowed England and Normandy to be "ringed with allies." With regard to the church, Henry gained a reputation as a great benefactor upholding the rights and, to a certain degree, independence of the church. Although after his death, the state of the church in England during his reign was deplored, Henry did make attempts at reform, in both England and Normandy, such as the eradication of clerical marriage. He founded new dioceses, patronised both bishops and religious communities, and in his later years showed favour to the recently founded military order of the Temple. The final chapter looks at Henry's court as a means to learn more about both Henry and the development of court culture in twelfth- century England. It mentions changes that Henry brought in, such as publicising his itinerary in advance, and makes fascinating comments, for instance, that the decision to have one formal meal a day, rather than two, might have indirectly been influenced by the customs of the Byzantine emperor.

Beautifully written, this is a book that is accessible to all, and deserves to become the standard work on Henry I. War, sex, violence, tragedy, political intrigue, paranoia: it is the stuff of fiction. Henry I lived it.