In this eminently readable and engaging biography, Theodore Evergates elucidates how Henry the Liberal formed and governed the principality of Champagne and in the process, brings to life an engaging but little studied figure. Evergates uses a "stages of life" organization, which allows him to explore how Henry developed as a ruler, and to more easily present the changing contemporary context--political, economic, religious and cultural--in which to understand Henry's innovations and actions. Evergates' thesis is that Henry's singular achievement was "to construct a major new polity, the county of Champagne, and to endow it with the institutions and identity as a province in early modern France that would survive his dynasty (ix)."
The first chapter presents a persuasive and nuanced discussion of the complex relationship of Henry's father, Thibaut of Blois-Chartres, with Louis VII, neighboring counts and lords, and religious leaders. Evergates also shows how Henry received not only a thorough knowledge of "letters" but also training to govern, as he routinely attended his father's court as he itinerated through his lands. The second chapter launches into Henry's participation in the Second Crusade which Evergates clearly demonstrates was a formative experience, and one which would have long-lasting influence on his political relationships, particularly a deep bond with Louis VII and the Champenois nobility. In the first six years as sole ruler of the lands which would become Champagne, Henry constructed a new capital at Troyes, with an impressive campus and chapel which harkened to the Cappella Palatina in Sicily and the grandeurs of Byzantine imperial summer residence which he had come to know on crusade. He cultivated a sense of unity amongst his chapters of regular canons and fixed an annual cycle of clustered fairs at Troyes and Provins. The resulting prosperity enriched not only the merchants, but the religious communities, thanks to the count's generous and prudent policies concerning taxes. In addition, Henry's household officers and nominees for church office were drawn from his crusade companions. Henry, Evergates argues, envisioned his lands as "a territorial state anchored on thirty walled towns and fortifications with their geographically defined districts administered by his provost, bailiffs, and toll collections (171)." It is Henry's reign which marks a new era of commercialization, bureaucratization, and centralization of comital authority.
Evergates' discussion of Henry's role in politics outside his county--navigating the tense relationship between the English and French kings, the Becket affair, the papal schism, and the ecclesiastical conflicts among Sens, Vezelay, and Reims--demonstrates the count of Champagne's deft touch and Evergates ability to succinctly but carefully summarize these complex confrontations. Although amiable, honorable, and seemingly disinclined to use force, one only needs to look at his determined and unwavering response over the episcopal jurisdiction of his chapel of St-Etienne to recognize he was not a pushover. My only criticism of Evergates' analysis of this aspect of Henry's career is the almost laser focus on the Ile-de-France and Champagne, with only minimal references to Anjou, Blois (governed by his brother), Picardy, or Lorraine.
Having analyzed the consolidation of Henry's county and his role in "international affairs", Evergates dedicates a chapter to Henry's court. The discussion of the Champenois intellectual life and architectural developments are fascinating, particularly the examination of the correspondence between Henry with contemporary scholars and clerics. Henry's education imbued him with a deep love of books, especially history or the "old learning" in Latin, classical and patristic. Evergates demonstrates that Henry's interests did not extend to romances and epics.
The final years of Henry's life were focused on preparing for and participating in the 1177-1179 crusade. Most of this trip was spent visiting religious sites, and Henry's capture by Muslims meant that he missed the marriage of his sister-in-law, Agnes, to Manuel, the Byzantine emperor. Upon arriving home, he fell ill, having lost many old and dear friends and companions on the trip, and died eight days later. He was remembered by his contemporaries as the most liberal, pious, and illustrious count. He was visually memorialized in a spectacular tomb which he had commissioned.
Evergate's Henry the Liberal presents a careful analysis of the creation of a centralized polity with a thriving commercial economy which fostered a lively intellectual life and architectural innovation. One of the great strengths of this work is the transformation of the often-times dry material of the surviving letters patent, charters, rolls of fiefs, and ecclesiastical letters into a lively and vibrant portrait of Henry, his household, and his acquaintances, and more broadly of life in twelfth-century France. I wish there had been more discussion of Henry's mother and wife, as well as his relationship with his siblings beyond William, archbishop of Sens and Reims, and Stephen of Sancerre. That being said, I found the book to be a thoroughly engaging, carefully argued work which furthers our understanding of the formation of polities and commerce in this period.