King William’s deathbed dispositions, whatever his earlier intentions, accorded with developing customary law in Normandy which distinguished between patrimony, which must go intact to the eldest son, and acquisitions, which a father could dispose of as he wished. Robert became Duke of Normandy and the Conqueror’s second son, William Rufus, king of England. Henry, the third son, received only money. The quarrels between the Conqueror’s children, grandchildren and their noble followers dominated Anglo-Norman politics down to 1154, had constant repercussions in Wales and Scotland, and did much to shape and re-shape the political face of Britain. This chapter covers the history of Britain during the reigns of William Rufus (1087–1100) and Henry I (1100–1135).
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English politics in the years after 1087 were enacted within an Anglo-Norman framework, one which involved far more than simply an old play acted out on a larger stage. The central struggle of the Conqueror’s descendants to defy the division of 1087, oust their rivals in England or Normandy, and thus unite the Anglo-Norman realm, was entirely new. So were the complications which ensued for the nobility, especially when they held lands on both sides of the Channel. Not everyone, to be sure, was in this position. There were major Norman landholders after the Conquest, like the count of Evreux, who held little or no land in England. And politics, particularly in border areas (like the Norman Vexin), had their own momentum distinct from those of the wider realm. Yet the fact remains that large numbers of influential men did have extensive cross-Channel holdings. That was ultimately true of eight of the ten barons closest to the Conqueror at the end of his reign. When England and Normandy came under separate and contending rulers, as was frequently the case after 1087, the position of such men became intolerable. ‘How can one serve two masters?’ the cry went up again and again. Cross-Channel barons had to commit treason to one ruler or the other, and for that the normal penalty was disinheritance. As the barons complained in 1088, according to Orderic, ‘If we serve Robert, Duke of Normandy as we ought we will offend his brother William, who will then strip us of our great revenues and mighty honours in England. Again if we obey King William dutifully, Duke Robert will confiscate our inherited estates in Normandy.’ The situation was equally fraught for the ruler, who sought to prevent the succession of disloyal heirs and the marriage of women to ‘enemies’ (as Henry I put it in his Coronation Charter of 1100). Nor was the problem solved when the lands of a Conquest baron were divided between sons in England and Normandy, which usually (though not invariably) happened in accordance with the distinction between patrimony and acquisitions. Such separations were rarely final and clear-cut. For instance, a baron disinherited for disloyalty in England might find safety with his kin across the Channel and support for the recovery of his lands. Families did not forget, and cherished claims to lost lands down the generations.
One reaction of the nobility to these circumstances was to strive for good relations between the rival rulers. ‘A few attentive to their own advantage for they had possessions in both countries were mediators of peace,’ noted William of Malmesbury of the civil war of 1088. Another was to work for the triumph of one party over the other, thus ending the conflict of interest. ‘Then let us make Duke Robert ruler over England and Normandy to preserve the union of the two realms’ (Orderic) was the majority decision in 1088 – not that the majority got its way.
Politics thus gained a new intensity after the Conquest, and yet they were also less bloody. In the great Anglo-Norman and English battles between 1106 and 1264, as in the more general ravaging warfare, very few nobles were ever killed. The immediate reason, as Orderic stressed, was the protection of armour, but ultimately any knight could be surrounded and disarmed. The key point was that when this moment came he simply surrendered and was taken off for ransom. The institution of ransom was, therefore, absolutely central to the failsafe warfare enjoyed by the nobility in this period. Indeed the whole aim in battle was to capture, not to kill, a noble opponent. There was here a wider context because politics too, not just warfare, was largely bloodless. It is a remarkable fact (and one quite contrary to usual perceptions of the Middle Ages) that between Waltheof’s demise in 1076 and Gaveston’s in 1312 not a single English earl, and indeed hardly a single baron, was executed (or murdered) in England for political reasons. Rufus and Henry I mutilated a few of their enemies but such corporal punishments too were on the way out. The usual penalty for treason was disinheritance and imprisonment. This was not because of any lack of theory. Treason, in the sense of breach of faith to one’s lord, was very old, could cover a wide range of offences, and might certainly be punishable by death. It was simply that in this period the death penalty was not exacted.
These basic conditions of warfare and politics were already becoming established in Normandy before 1066. In England, political killings persisted (the last took place at court in 1064) and there had been no softening of the view that the penalty for treason should be death. Thus Waltheof’s execution in 1076 was, wrote Orderic, according to ‘the law of England’ while ‘the laws of the Normans’ stipulated imprisonment and forfeiture. Nobles were also killed in English warfare, in part because until 1016 it had been in conflict with another people, the Danes, and the whole future of the dynasty had been at stake. In Normandy, on the other hand, warfare both foreign and domestic was between high-status nobles of similar outlook and background, very often sharing kith and kin. It ebbed and flowed across open frontiers and around castles, with victory and defeat unpredictable, and usually nothing utterly fundamental at stake. Of course, when the Normans engaged in all-out warfare against another people, as they did in 1066, they too killed with a will. But normally it seemed natural to spare noble enemies. Orderic specifically mentions how family ties kept down casualties in battle. This type of politics was reinforced and confirmed by the special circumstances created by the Anglo-Norman realm. What was the point in executing rebels in England if that just antagonized their kin in Normandy? Thus in 1095 Rufus, as Orderic observed, treated the rebels mercifully ‘out of respect for their exalted kinfolk who might have sought vengeance in Normandy’.
After 1066, therefore, English politics and warfare were embraced by those of Normandy and France and followed their conventions. It was the latter which created the conditions for the development of chivalry, that code of values which so profoundly influenced the attitudes of the aristocracy in this period. What distinguished chivalry from earlier codes was principally ‘courtesy’, a ‘courtesy’ manifested most strikingly in the civilized treatment of one’s opponent. It was that comfortable context which made the practice of the other chivalric virtues – loyalty, largesse, and above all valour – so much more enjoyable; enjoyable, that is, for the nobility. Chivalry was very much a code which governed their conduct towards each other; it had nothing to do with how they treated townsmen and peasants. Knights might not kill each other in warfare. They killed everybody else.
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Physically the sons of the Conqueror were much alike: short, stocky, and barrel-chested, though Robert was the stoutest and shortest, hence his nickname ‘Curthose’ (‘Short-stockings’), while Rufus had blond hair, a florid complexion and a red beard. Henry’s hair was black. All three were bred to war, though for Rufus it was a passion, for Henry a business. On the face of it the future seemed to belong most probably to Robert. His right to Normandy was unchallenged and, as eldest son, he had some claim to England. Yet Robert was ultimately swept aside by his brothers, both in Normandy and in England, and no wonder. He was eloquent, plausible and chivalrous, yet at the same time he was lazy, prodigal and utterly without judgement. Rufus was totally different. Ecclesiastical writers treated him with horror, the result of his public pillage of the church and the murky dissipation of his private life. In fact he was probably heterosexual but with the court at night deliberately unlit it was easy to think otherwise. Rufus, however, was no spendthrift playboy. William of Malmesbury shrewdly noted the adroitly controlled contrast between his private and public face; the intus and the extus. At table with his intimates, Rufus was affable, relaxed, and self-mocking; in public assemblies he was intimidating, with glaring eyes (of different colours) and a ferocious voice, that was all the more frightening for becoming slightly halting when he was angry. Rufus’s sharp intelligence could slice through to the political heart of any question. His boundless energy contrasted with Robert’s torpor, and his expansive self-confidence with Henry’s doubts and fears. Above all, as Malmesbury recognized, Rufus was ambitious, he was greedy for power and fame. His deeds of personal gallantry, his ‘mighty plans’ and his ‘courtesy’ (he offered a place in his household to a knight who had unhorsed him) became legendary. To later secular writers (most notably Gaimar, in his History of the English, written around 1140) he seemed the epitome of the heroic, chivalric king. His success was phenomenal. He secured Normandy, conquered Maine, expanded England’s frontiers northwards, and asserted his supremacy over Scotland. Only Wales, thanks to these and other preoccupations which included a tumultuous quarrel with Archbishop Anselm, escaped his power.
None of this seemed likely at the start of the reign. Almost at once Rufus faced a rebellion designed to set Robert on the throne, the aim being to place England and Normandy under one ruler. The leader was Rufus’s uncle, Odo of Bayeux, who had been released on the Conqueror’s death. His capture and that of Rochester castle in the summer of 1088 brought the revolt to an end. The anarchy in Normandy and Robert’s loss of Maine now gave Rufus ample opportunity to turn aggressor. In January 1091 he arrived in the duchy with a large army and forced Robert both to cede him significant territory and expel Edgar Atheling, still a potential focus for intrigue. Edgar, however, went to the court of his brother-in-law, King Malcolm, and in May 1091, with Rufus still in Normandy, the two invaded the north. (See p. 121.) Rufus’s reaction came in two stages. An expedition to the Forth in 1091 forced Malcolm’s submission; an expedition to the Solway in 1092 led to the foundation of Carlisle. Rufus and Carlisle: the two should always march together as the best measure of this king’s ambition and achievement. Since 1061 Cumbria south of the Solway had probably been King Malcolm’s. But now the foundation of Carlisle with its castle superbly sited on a bluff between the rivers Caldew and Eden brought it clearly within the English kingdom and opened the way for further advance. Carlisle was a far more aggressive statement than Newcastle upon Tyne, which merely retained what had long been in the realm.
These and other plans, however, were soon hampered by Rufus’s quarrel with the church. In March 1093 he fell dangerously ill and, in the hope either of survival or salvation, filled the see of Canterbury, scandalously vacant since Lanfranc’s death in 1089, with Anselm, the abbot of Bec. Anselm, an Italian like Lanfranc, was sixty years old and had been a monk of Bec for thirty-three years. He was famous for his piety, intellectual brilliance and theological writings. He warned that his appointment meant shackling a raging bull to an old and feeble sheep. But Anselm was no sheep; a wiry mule with a forceful kick would have been a better analogy. Like Lanfranc, Anselm was determined to defend Canterbury’s rights and properties, many of which had been lost or damaged during the vacancy. He burned too with the desire to hold Lanfrancian-style councils for the reform of the church. But two things were different. The first was that Rufus was not like his father. He had absolutely no interest in the church save as a source of profit. The second was that Anselm, younger than Lanfranc and from a more uncompromising reform generation, was not prepared to qualify obedience to the pope for the sake of peace and royal power in England.
Rufus recovered, although he never thanked Anselm for it, and in the next month decisive events occured in Wales. The killing of Rhys ap Tewdr in April 1093, recognized by the Conqueror as ruler in the south, allowed Arnulf, Roger of Montgomery’s son, to establish himself at Pembroke. It also facilitated Bernard of Neufmarché’s conquest of Brecon and Robert fitz Hamon’s of southern Glamorgan (see above, p. 111). With Gwynedd in the north encastellated by Robert of Rhuddlan and Earl Hugh of Chester, it looked as though the whole of Wales was coming under Norman rule. But at once there was a contrary sign. On 3 July, in a skirmish under the cliffs of the Great Orme, Robert of Rhuddlan was killed by (or so Orderic believed) the native claimant to Gwynedd, Gruffudd ap Cynan. For the moment, however, Rufus was busy with the affairs of Scotland. In August 1093, he asserted that his barons could sit in judgement on King Malcolm, a novel claim which implied the Scottish king had merely baronial status. The result, as we have seen, was Malcolm’s last invasion of England and his death together with that of his eldest son Edward at the hands of Earl Robert of Mowbray, a pardoned rebel of 1088. With Queen Margaret’s death a few days later the tensions created by Malcolm’s policies exploded. The English at court were expelled, Malcolm’s other sons by Margaret were brushed aside, and the throne was taken by Malcolm’s younger brother Donald Bàn. Rufus now seized the chance to make his own man king of Scots. He received the fealty of Duncan, Malcolm’s son by his first marriage (long a hostage at the Norman court), and sent him north with an army. Donald Bàn was ousted and Duncan became king. Yet, a measure of Rufus’s priorities, he himself crossed to Normandy in March 1094, having first refused Anselm’s demand to fill vacant abbeys and sanction the holding of a reforming council.
When Rufus returned at the end of 1094, Britain was in turmoil. That November Duncan had been killed and Donald Bàn restored. There had also been a general rising in Wales, Roger of Montgomery’s death in July 1094 following the killing of Robert of Rhuddlan the year before having cleared the way. The Norman base at Pembroke survived but the other castles in Ceredigion and Dyfed were destroyed, as were the Norman castles in Gwynedd (see above, p. 112).
Rufus was in no position to mount an immediate response. In January 1095 at a council held at Rockingham, his quarrel with Anselm reached a climax. Rufus demanded that the archbishop abandon Pope Urban II, whom Anselm had recognized while abbot of Bec, and like everyone else in England since the Conqueror’s time (above, pp. 101–2) await the royal decision over which of two rival popes should be recognized. The king’s authority to make this decision was integral, so Rufus asserted, to the rights of the crown. Anselm freely acknowledged the allegiance he owed the king ‘in the things that are Caesar’s’, but denied that this extended to making him abandon the pope. Rather than do that, he declared, he would leave the kingdom. In the event, Rufus, always quick on his feet, decided to accept Urban in the hope that this would bring Anselm’s deposition, which it did not. On top of this problem, in the summer of 1095 Rufus faced a baronial revolt. Its aim was to replace him, not with the hapless Robert, but with the Conqueror’s nephew, Stephen, count of Aumale. The leader, the tall, dark, unsmiling Earl Robert de Mowbray, perhaps felt his dispatch of King Malcolm had lacked reward. Rufus reacted with confidence. Indeed in October 1095, with Mowbray’s castle at Bamburgh under siege, he led an expedition to north Wales. Traditional Welsh tactics were a match for it. Gruffudd ap Cynan laid ambushes and retreated to the hills, thus baffling a general who was used to a very different terrain and had little time to spare.
The revolt, however, was suppressed. Mowbray was imprisoned for life, Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury was fined £3,000, and the count of Eu blinded and castrated. Thereafter Rufus enjoyed almost unbroken triumphs. He maintained peace in England, installed a client king in Scotland, took possession of Normandy, conquered Maine, and dispensed with his awkward archbishop of Canterbury. The real turning-point for all this was Robert’s decision to embark on the First Crusade, when in order to raise money he leased Normandy to Rufus for five years in return for £6,666. In September 1096 Rufus took possession of the duchy. This was followed the next year by his second and grander invasion of Wales, this time in the south. The results were unspectacular but Rufus penetrated to St Davids, and stabilized the Norman hold on Pembroke. The campaign led to the final break with Anselm, who was accused of providing substandard knights for the expedition. In November 1097, pouring scorn on the custom that no one could visit Rome without royal permission, he left England to put his case to the pope. ‘Go if you must,’ laughed Rufus’s councillor, the count of Meulan, ‘we will get what we want’; and for the rest of the reign Canterbury’s revenues flowed into the royal coffers.
By this time William had transformed the situation in Scotland. In October 1097 he sent Edgar Atheling (now an ally) north with an army. It drove Donald Bàn from the kingdom and installed Edgar, Malcolm’s eldest surviving son by Queen Margaret, in his place. He was to reign till his death in 1107. The Malcolm–Margaret line had been restored for good. Yet Edgar was not intended to be an independent king like his father. In a charter issued before his installation, he styled himself king of Scots and Lothian by the gift of his lord King William.
Next on Rufus’s agenda was the recovery of Maine, which his father had conquered and Robert had lost. By the end of July 1098 this had been achieved, thanks in good part to an extraordinary nobleman whose power stretched across many frontiers and whose military skills were as legendary as his sadism. This was Robert of Bellême, the second surviving son of Roger of Montgomery. Bellême ruled the county of Ponthieu in right of his wife, and held both his father’s lands in Normandy and his mother’s to the south of the duchy, including Bellême itself. It was in Wales, however, that he received his reward, with important consequences for Gwynedd’s independence.
In the summer of 1098 Bellême’s brother, Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury, together with Earl Hugh of Chester, made a determined attempt to recover Gwynedd. They penetrated Anglesey and forced both Gruffudd ap Cynan and Cadwgan ap Bleddyn to flee to Ireland. But at this moment a dramatic intervention took place in these western seas, one with an outcome that affected the political shape of both Wales and Scotland.
Magnus Barelegs, king of Norway (grandson of Harold Hardrada), had gathered a great fleet ‘to plunder and gain dominion in the west beyond the sea’. He occupied the Shetlands, the Western Isles, and the Isle of Man, his authority over all three (according to Magnus’s Saga) being now formally recognized by the king of Scots. Certainly it was not till 1266 that Norway resigned this lordship in the west. Magnus then descended on Anglesey, killed Hugh of Shrewsbury with a lucky shot from his bow, and departed as suddenly as he had come. In the vacuum created by this disaster, both Gruffudd and Cadwgan returned from Ireland. Gruffudd was suffered by the Normans to keep Anglesey and Cadwgan parts of Ceredigion and Powys. The vacuum was confirmed by Rufus’s own decisions. Instead of passing Hugh’s lands to Arnulf, lord of Pembroke, his brother on the spot, he preferred the absentee Robert of Bellême, a decision determined and vindicated by the situation in Maine, where in the summer of 1099 Bellême’s help was needed to put down rebellion. Rufus himself when he heard the news abandoned his hunt in Clarendon forest, galloped to Southampton, crossed to Normandy in the teeth of a storm (‘Whoever heard of a king perishing by shipwreck?’), took the horse of a local priest and surrounded by cheering crowds rode off to muster an army with which he soon recovered Le Mans. Next year Rufus held his Whitsun court at Westminster in the great hall which he had built. The massive structure still survives: 240 feet long and 67 feet wide, at the time by far the largest hall in Europe. Yet Rufus’s reaction was characteristic: ‘It should have been twice as big.’
Rufus’s successes depended above all upon money, hence his ability to buy Normandy from his brother. Although there were ‘feudal’ contingents (like Anselm’s) in his armies, he also recruited household knights from all over Europe, and was famous as an open-handed hirer of soldiers. The revenue-raising ability of the administration in England was vital, and here Rufus found a minister of drive and genius in Ranulf Flambard. Flambard had risen from obscure origins to be keeper of the royal seal in the 1080s and ultimately (in 1099) he became bishop of Durham. He was arrogant, abrasive, expansive, jocular, licentious, sharp-tongued and quick-witted, a man after Rufus’s heart. His nickname Flambard meant ‘incendiary’ or ‘scorcher’. Contemporaries recognized that Flambard was ‘second after the king’. He authorized many writs and (as Orderic makes clear) was in charge of both the dispensation of justice and the exaction of revenue. He may well have developed schemes to make more money from the geld, and certainly it was a heavy geld which raised the money to purchase Normandy. He almost certainly masterminded the exploitation of the king’s ‘feudal’ rights, an exploitation for which, as we have seen, Domesday Book was the central tool. For the first time, to the disgust of reforming churchmen, abbeys and bishoprics were deliberately kept vacant so that the king could enjoy their revenues. Inheritance fines reached such levels that some barons complained they were made to buy back their own land. Wardships and the attendant marriages were exploited by the king not left in the hands of families. As the concessions made by Henry I in his Coronation Charter show, all this was deeply resented.
It is doubtful if any of this worried the king. He had treated rebels with a cunning mixture of punishment and pardon. He had made Robert of Bellême his trusted aide and rewarded other supporters, usually from old baronial families, with earldoms. Henry de Beaumont, for example, became earl of Warwick and William de Warenne earl of Surrey, yet this was at small cost to the crown because such titles (notably in the case of Warenne) were largely honorary. Stories later abounded of what Rufus intended next: he would conquer Poitou; he would build a bridge of boats across the sea and conquer Ireland; he would make himself king of France; he would take Rome itself. The reality was different. On 2 August 1100, having feasted in the morning, Rufus went hunting in the afternoon. He was killed in the New Forest by an arrow shot by Walter Tirel, almost certainly an accident. The body was taken back, blood dripping from the cart, for burial at Winchester.
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On 5 August 1100, three days after Rufus’s death, his younger brother Henry was crowned king of the English. Henry was to conquer Normandy, bring thirty-three years of peace to England, develop its structures of government, reach a settlement of fundamental importance with the papacy, and (as the Brut put it) ‘subdue under his authority all the island of Britain and its mighty ones’. To Orderic Vitalis he seemed to be the mightiest king ever to sit on the English throne.
Henry was now thirty-two years old. His youthful struggles with his brothers had educated him politically, as Orderic noted. In contrast to the open-handed Robert, he knew the value of money and the importance of bestowing patronage carefully. In contrast to the self-confident Rufus, he was always fearful of treason and the turn of fortune’s wheel. Never a risk-taker, Henry preferred, as William of Malmesbury observed, to gain his ends by diplomacy rather than the sword; and he had that rarest of all assets among the successful: he knew when to stop. That characteristic, together with his preoccupations in Normandy (where he spent more than half his time), meant that over Wales and Scotland his aim was more to control than to conquer. The political shape of Britain came to owe much to his restraint. This did not mean that Henry was in any way a mild man. There was no contradiction, as there had been with Rufus, between his public and private face. With little laughter in his household, everything was business. Even his womanizing (so William of Malmesbury thought) was a duty imposed by the desire for children. Henry’s bullock body, his bawling voice, his decisive actions, his righteous punishments, his very restraint, were all intimidating.
In gaining the throne Henry was lucky, for Robert was still absent on crusade. When he returned only a month later he took possession of Normandy and at once cast eyes on England. Henry had already moved to gain support. On the day of his coronation, he had issued a Charter which disavowed Rufus’s ‘oppressions’. Henceforth the king would not exploit ecclesiastical vacancies and would charge heirs a ‘just and lawful relief’, instead of making them virtually buy back their lands. He would not force widows to marry, and would arrange the marriages of heiresses only after consultation with his barons. Widows too, or other relations, were to have custody of land and children during minorities, which seemed virtually to eliminate the royal right of wardship. Henry thus appeased his barons, but he also sought the loyalty of the under-tenants, very much on the lines of the oath of Salisbury (see above, p. 105). The Charter stipulated that the barons were to give like concessions to their own men, and exempted knights from paying geld on their demesne lands. Henry capped all this by sending Ranulf Flambard to the Tower; and by his marriage to Edith, daughter of Margaret and Malcolm of Scotland, who was conveniently in his power at Romsey abbey, he hoped to graft the Norman dynasty onto the old Anglo-Saxon root, and conciliate the kind of Englishmen on whom much of local government depended. Such men had already given Rufus significant support in the crisis of 1088.
As Henry braced himself to meet Robert’s challenge, Archbishop Anselm returned to England and exploded a bomb. He refused either to receive the customary investiture of ring and staff from the king or to do him homage; both had been forbidden at the council in Rome the previous year, which he had attended. He had not come back to England, he said, for the king to disobey the pope. The investiture dispute was part of a much wider European struggle which had already led to violent conflict between Pope Gregory VII and the Emperor Henry IV. For the king to invest a bishop or abbot with ring and staff, the spiritual symbols of office, the church argued, implied that he had spiritual jurisdiction, ‘a monstrous idea’ as Pope Paschal II (1099–1118) put it, tantamount to saying that man had created God. Likewise if ecclesiastics performed homage to the king it showed they were subject to him. All this was part of a wider programme to free the church altogether from secular control and in particular to ensure that rulers had no part in ecclesiastical appointments. Bishops should be chosen by the clergy and people of their diocese, and abbots by their communities: free canonical elections. If on the other hand, as Paschal explained to Henry, kings ‘open the door of the church’, those chosen would ‘not be shepherds but thieves and robbers’.
Henry had an appalling dilemma. He needed Anselm’s support against Robert but its price might gravely damage his control over the church. Eadmer, a Canterbury monk and Anselm’s biographer, even described Henry, with pardonable exaggeration, as facing ‘as it were the loss of half his kingdom’. At one extreme, lay investiture could be defended (as in the works of a writer known as ‘Anonymous of York’) precisely because the king did have spiritual functions: he was both king and priest, rex et sacerdos. A more moderate line was taken by Ivo, bishop of Chartres, who argued that what was being given was nothing spiritual but simply the temporal properties of the prelates which princes had conferred on the church down the ages. Henry himself made his stand partly on custom, ‘the usages of my predecessors’, which he would not alter, and partly (here moving to the question of homage as well as investiture) on his refusal to tolerate ‘anyone in my kingdom who is not my man’.
In the short term an agreement to refer the whole question back to the pope found a way out of this impasse. Anselm married Henry to Edith, now re-named Matilda, and gave essential support, both material and moral, in the ensuing crisis. As in 1088, Robert had the backing of the greatest Anglo-Norman magnates, partly from their desire to unite the two realms. Henry countered in March 1101 by promising the count of Flanders £500 a year in return for bringing a thousand knights to England in the event of invasion or revolt, a classic example of the importance of money and mercenaries. However, Robert’s challenge soon evaporated. He reached England in July 1101 and then, to the disgust of his supporters, resigned his claims to the kingdom in return for £2,000 a year and other concessions. Those dispossessed on either side were to be reinstated. In future neither ruler would harbour the other’s enemies. The Anglo-Norman realm was to function through a peaceful accord between its rulers. The aspiration was sensible, but foundered on Henry’s success in England and Robert’s failure in Normandy.
Henry, in fact, soon moved against his brothers’ leading supporters, namely Robert of Bellême and Arnulf of Pembroke, the sons of Roger of Montgomery. Unlike Rufus, he did not need Bellême’s support to hold down Maine, and in 1102 he struck, besieging Robert’s English castles and forcing the brothers back across the Channel with the loss of all their English and Welsh possessions. After the fall of the Bellêmes in 1102, England, as Orderic Vitalis noted, enjoyed peace until the end of Henry’s reign. If Henry could dispossess them, small wonder ‘no one dared rebel or hold a castle against him’. But Henry’s peace was not just based on fear. He also strove to create a group of loyalist barons. William de Warenne, earl of Surrey and lord of Lewes and Conisborough, had backed Robert in 1101 and been dispossessed in the next year. Yet he was soon to be a pillar of Henry’s regime. Henry also knew how to reward his servants, many from old baronial families – Robert of Meulan, for instance, a leading councillor until his death in 1118, added the honour and earldom of Leicester to his large Norman estates. In the first years of the reign, however, one vital ingredient necessary to peace was absent: Henry did not control Normandy. Those disaffected in England could flee to their cross-Channel estates, and were bound to back Robert in a fresh attempt on England. To the conquest of Normandy, therefore, Henry assigned top priority. That decision had important repercussions on royal authority in Wales, limiting intervention when the opportunities for it were abundant.
Earl Hugh of Chester had died in July 1101, leaving a seven-year-old son, Richard, whose estates thus came into the king’s hands, the first example of how the right of wardship could suddenly transform the king’s power in Wales. Would Henry now seek to recover the dominion over Gwynedd which Hugh had exercised before the great revolt of 1094? Faced with that prospect, Gruffudd ap Cynan journeyed to King Henry’s court for one of the most crucial interviews in Welsh history. He was welcomed by the king, who was looking for allies against the Bellêmes and was conceded much of Gwynedd west of the Conwy. In the years down to 1114, with Henry preoccupied with Normandy, he was able to build up his power east of the river too. Further south, Henry was more hands-on, partly to round off the destruction of the Bellêmes. He kept Shropshire and placed it under a sheriff. He also kept western Dyfed and Pembroke where he made Arnulf’s former deputy, Gerald of Windsor, his castellan. In Ceredigion he replaced Cadwgan ap Bleddyn of the Powys dynasty (a client of the Bellêmes) with his brother Iorwerth ap Bleddyn, here showing an early ability to exploit the divisions within the native dynasties. But it was not long before Iorwerth himself was languishing in Henry’s prison, having been taken to court and been judged guilty of various offences. From now on, the ‘fear of King Henry and his law’ was upon the Welsh rulers.
After Henry had secured the kingdom, he allowed Anselm to hold the one great reforming council of his archiepiscopate (at Westminster in 1102). Nine abbots were deposed for simony, and legislation governing the lives of monks and clergy was passed. Yet the impasse over investiture and homage remained. At the end of 1103, with Anselm now in Rome and the pope standing firm, Henry seized the revenues of Canterbury. It took the critical situation in Normandy to break this log-jam. There Henry, or so his apologists claimed, was being urged to rescue the duchy from anarchy. He was only too pleased to comply, but just before he could launch what was his second campaign (in 1105), the pope excommunicated Robert of Meulan, Henry’s chief adviser, and raised the prospect of excommunicating Henry himself. It was imperative to reach a settlement and this was achieved just before the climax of Henry’s final campaign in 1106. That climax came in the battle joined outside Tinchebrai on 28 September. Robert was captured and spent the last twenty-six years of his life in comfortable confinement in a succession of castles in south-west England. Beating off several later challenges, Henry was to hold England and Normandy together for the rest of his life.
In August 1107, back in England the settlement of the investiture dispute was formally pronounced. Henry promised to give up the practice of investiture for good. Pope Paschal conceded that no one was to be denied consecration because they had done homage to the king. True, this was only until the rain of Anselm’s prayers persuaded Henry to renounce homage, but it would have taken an ocean of tears in which Henry was drowning to effect that. Although nothing explicitly was said about it, Henry continued to control appointments (as Anselm acknowledged) so that his chief minister, Roger, became bishop of Salisbury and his chaplain, Thurstan, in 1114 archbishop of York. Henry continued to exploit ecclesiastical vacancies: Canterbury remained unfilled for five years after Anselm’s death in 1109, when it passed to a ‘safe’ man, Ralph, prior of Caen. The verdict of the York historian, Hugh the Chanter, seemed about right: faced by the greatest of all attempts to free the church from secular control, Henry had lost something in royal dignity but little in real power. Henry was not, in any case, a man of outward show, and he had scaled down his father’s thrice-yearly crown-wearing ceremonies. He owed his ability to keep control of the church partly to the fact that the episcopal bench was so royalist. Eight of the thirteen bishops in 1097 had been royal clerks, although such men, it should be stressed, could often be conscientious and independent diocesans: Thurstan showed a real pastoral concern and was a tiger in asserting the rights of York. Moreover, where curial bishops remained in secular office, like Roger of Salisbury, they could act as a hinge between church and state. Even the most committed reformers, for example Gilbert Crispin, abbot of Westminster, were uncertain about Anselm’s stand. Should he not have remained at home tending his flock? Henry was no Rufus, as his permission for the Westminster council had shown in 1102. And after all, what Anselm himself most wanted was to hold such councils and work generally for the reform of the church. As it was, his practical achievements were far smaller than Lanfranc’s save in one area which concerned them both, the assertion of Canterbury’s primatial authority over the whole of Britain. Thus Anselm received from Bishop Urban of Llandaff (1107–35) the first (or at least the first known) profession of obedience to Canterbury from a Welsh bishop. Anselm’s career had also both reflected and reinforced a tide bringing England into a much closer relationship with the papacy.
Pope Paschal complained that Henry prevented contact with Rome, but if so the prevention was intermittent. In fact during the reign much closer ties were established with the papacy. Of the archbishops and bishops in 1100, only four had visited the pope, each on a single occasion; of those in office in 1135 all save two had done so, some many times over. In 1119, moreover, Pope Calixtus II had himself consecrated Archbishop Thurstan, and next year he freed York explicitly from any obedience to Canterbury. This was directly against Henry’s wishes, yet he accepted the verdict. If that was partly because Calixtus promised not to send legates to England without the king’s permission (only one presided over a council during the reign), it still represented a considerable assertion of papal authority. Other developments were also changing the face of the church. No fewer than 137 monasteries were established in the reign, of which forty were daughters of continental houses. Henry himself established the great Cluniac abbey at Reading, where he was buried. Most important of all was the arrival of the Cistercians. The first monastery was established at Waverley in Surrey in 1128, followed in 1132 by Rievaulx in Yorkshire, founded by Henry’s great minister Walter Espec. Over the next twenty years Cistercian houses covered the land, transforming England’s spiritual life and influencing the course of politics.
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The outcome of the battle at Tinchebrai reunited the Anglo-Norman realm and for the moment brought peace to Normandy as well as to England. Henry, like some great puppet master, could once more pull the strings in Britain. Soon after 1106, he gave the lordship of Carlisle to Ranulf le Meschin, who had led the van at Tinchebrai, the son of the vicomte of the Bessin. This was to relinquish Rufus’s great foundation, but to a loyal vassal and at a time when relations with Scotland were harmonious. King Alexander I (1107–23), who succeeded on his brother Edgar’s death, had spent time at Henry’s court, and his sister, of course, was Henry’s queen. In south Wales, Henry consolidated his hold around Pembroke, in 1108 settling large numbers of Flemings in the area (see above, p. 38). This part of the country long afterwards retained its Flemish character. At the same time Henry founded a royal castle at Carmarthen on a strategic site just above the estuary of the Tywi where it controlled the river which cut through the heart of Ystrad Tywi.
All this was interrupted by an extraordinary act of romantic folly. In 1109 Owain, son of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn of Powys and Ceredigion, seized and seduced Nest, the alluring and eager wife of Gerald of Windsor, Henry’s castellan at Pembroke. Since Nest was the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, the king of Deheubarth killed by the Normans in 1093, the marriage (and it does not stand alone) illustrates a growing accommodation between the Welsh and the Normans. So in a sense does the sequel, which shows the Welsh princes still as major players, while accepting that their games were refereed by the king.
The immediate effect of the seizure (graphically described in the Brut, which is particularly comprehensive in dealing with this period) was like that of an explosion which sends a flock of birds rising in panic into the air. Cadwgan, Owain’s father, filled with the ‘fear of King Henry on account of the injury to his officer’, hurried to court but nevertheless he was deprived of everything save one township. Henry was then free to give Ceredigion to Gilbert fitz Richard de Clare, one of England’s wealthiest magnates: ‘You were always asking me for a portion of Wales… now go and take possession of it.’ Gilbert did just that, establishing castles at Aberystwyth and Cardigan, and enfeoffing his followers, who also established castles. So the Normans for a time recovered Ceredigion, which they had lost after the Welsh resurgence of the 1090s. This was also a major step in Henry’s rapprochement with the old baronial families in England and in Normandy, where Gilbert’s brother was lord of Orbec and Bienfaite.
Meanwhile Henry’s sheriff of Shropshire exploited the segmentation of the Powys family and its violent feuds by enlisting Owain’s cousin, Madog (‘Do you want to please King Henry?’). Madog indeed seized Owain’s and Cadwgan’s portions of Powys, and then in 1111 killed both Cadwgan and Cadwgan’s brother Iorwerth, whom Henry had released from prison to fight him, for by this time Madog and Henry had fallen out. Yet, after these triumphs, Madog still went to King Henry’s court, where he was soon followed by Owain, both clamouring for royal recognition and the support that that would bring. For the moment, truces were arranged, hostages taken and both gained shares in Powys; not long after, however, Owain trapped and blinded Madog.
Henry’s moderate response was utterly conditioned by threats far away on the southern frontiers of the Anglo-Norman realm. In August 1111 he left England for Normandy where he remained for nearly two years. His policies in Britain continued to be adjusted in the light of his anxious defence of the duchy. One problem was that he had no clear ‘right’ to Normandy, which as he said he had simply ‘subjugated by battle’. At best, as William of Malmesbury put it, he had ‘done wrong’ (in deposing Robert) ‘to put an end to wrong’ (Robert’s anarchic rule). Even Henry’s partisans, like Orderic, acknowledged that Robert’s son, William Clito, born in October 1102, had a good claim to the duchy. Having just escaped Henry’s attempt to seize him in 1111, he had fled to the French court and he remained a constant danger until his death in 1128. There were other threats across the frontiers. The count of Flanders was antagonized by the marriage in 1110 of Henry’s daughter Matilda to his enemy the Emperor Henry V. In the same year Fulk V of Anjou had become count of Maine, and he refused to acknowledge Henry’s overlordship. And then there was the king of France, Louis VI, ‘the Fat’ (1108–37). With steady energy and wily ambition, Louis was determined to establish Normandy’s status as a fief and to destroy the great castle of Gisors, built by Rufus on the frontier of the Epte, which divided the Norman from the French Vexin. All these external foes were very ready to take up Clito’s cause, and tempt from Henry’s allegiance those Norman barons who had no stake in England.
The barons with interests spanning the Channel were in a different position. The land they held in England and Wales – land completely in Henry’s power – could keep them loyal in Normandy, rather as a plank held down at one end by a great weight will remain in place even if the ground at the other end gives way. Equally vital were the resources and prestige of his English kingship for they were the support behind everything done in Normandy. Orderic was making a practical, not a constitutional, statement when he described Henry as issuing ‘royal commands’ in the duchy. To emphasize the point Henry in his Norman writs and charters usually styled himself king rather than duke. To the pressures he faced between 1111 and 1113, he reacted with a mixture of pre-emptive strikes, patronage and diplomacy. He seized and imprisoned Robert of Bellême; he established his nephew and eventual successor, Stephen, as count of Mortain in the vulnerable south-west corner of the duchy, also giving him the honours of Lancaster and Eye in England; and above all he engaged his son and heir, William, to Fulk V’s daughter Matilda, accepting Fulk’s rule in Maine, while Fulk acknowledged Henry’s overlordship. There would, then, be no re-conquest of Maine, a restraint very different from the reactions of Rufus, which parallels Henry’s earlier decision not to re-conquer Gwynedd.
The stabilization of Normandy had immediate repercussions in Britain on Henry’s return there in July 1113. He made David, King Alexander of Scotland’s younger brother, an earl, married him to the widowed daughter of Earl Waltheof (see above, p. 102), and gave him custody of her inheritance, which included extensive lands in the midlands, the beginning of a long-term connection between the Scottish royal house and what came to be called the earldom of Huntingdon. Since Alexander was childless and David, who was often at the English court, was his heir, this was a clever way to secure a hold over the future Scottish king. In 1115 Henry at last moved to assert his authority in Wales. Here Gruffudd ap Cynan’s expansion of Gwynedd east of Conwy had brought him into conflict with Richard, who had now succeeded his father as earl of Chester. Owain ap Cadwgan (of Nest fame) was likewise struggling with Gilbert fitz Richard for power in Ceredigion. Henry’s campaign was the greatest yet mounted in Wales, and anticipated much later strategy in having three armies split between the south, the centre (against Powys) and the north. The writer of the Brut feared for the extermination of his race, yet Henry was content when Gruffudd ap Cynan, Owain and other men of Powys submitted and paid tribute. His lesson had certainly gone home. In 1117 when Gruffudd, Nest’s brother, the son of Rhys ap Tewdwr, returned from Irish exile and attempted to recover his lands, he got scant support. On Henry’s instructions, Gruffudd ap Cynan plotted to seize him; ‘Yes!’ shouted the Welsh garrison of Carmarthen when asked if they were true to the king, and Owain, having been knighted by Henry in Normandy, joyfully set out to put down the revolt – only to be killed by the forces of Gerald of Windsor in revenge for Nest’s abduction.
By this time Henry was once more in Normandy and facing a formidable coalition which had rallied in support of Clito. Again Henry made artful use of patronage, giving William de Warenne the castle of Saint-Saens in the heart of the Warenne family lands, a castle which inevitably would be lost in any Clito victory, having belonged to Clito’s faithful guardian Elias. Diplomacy played an important part too with the marriage of Henry’s son, William, which finally took place in 1119. And then, on 20 August 1119, Henry decisively defeated King Louis’s forces at the battle of Brémule. At its climax William Crispin brought a great blow down on Henry’s helmet, only to be felled by Roger fitz Richard – how Henry must have blessed the day he gave Ceredigion to Roger’s brother! In 1120 the two kings came to terms. Hitherto Henry had avoided doing homage to the king of France and thus acknowledging explicitly that he held Normandy as a fief. He may well have hoped his authority in the duchy would become more and more regal. But the top priority was to see Clito off. So William, Henry’s son, now did homage in return for Normandy (with Gisors included), which indicated Louis had abandoned Clito. Henry still avoided doing homage himself but wanted no more uncertainty about his position. On his new seal, used from 1121 (and perhaps earlier), he firmly styled himself duke of Normandy.
Yet there was to be no absolute certainty. In November 1120 William, heir to the English throne, was drowned in the wreck of the White Ship. Apart from his daughter Matilda, married to the emperor, Henry had no other legitimate children and his re-marriage next year to the daughter of the count of Louvain failed to produce a child. The question of the succession dogged the rest of Henry’s reign and exploded in civil war after his death. For the moment, however, Henry’s return to England in 1120 had an impact on Wales and Scotland, much as had his return in 1114. In 1121 he led his second expedition to Wales, this time directed just towards Powys. Gruffudd ap Cynan of Gwynedd refused to support the men of Powys, saying he had ‘made peace with King Henry’, which left the remaining sons of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn and their uncle, Maredudd, no alternative but to submit and pay heavy tributes.
In the next year, 1122, Henry turned his attention to the north, with highly significant results. His concern for the northern border is explained by the pretensions of King Alexander in Scotland, the first sign of much future conflict.
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As king of Scotland, Alexander almost certainly acknowledged Henry’s overlordship. His childless marriage to one of Henry’s illegitimate daughters itself emphasized his subordinate status. It was to perform the military service he owed that he accompanied Henry on his Welsh campaign of 1114. In all probability Alexander’s grant to his brother David of southern Lothian, and Cumbria north of the Solway, was also the result of Henrician pressure. That Alexander began to resent this demanding overlordship is strongly suggested by his conduct of ecclesiastical affairs.
In 1109 Alexander had filled the see of St Andrews, vacant since Fothad’s death in 1093, with Turgot, prior of Durham and his mother’s biographer. During his episcopate which lasted till 1115 Turgot brought the Scottish church into direct contact with the papacy, and tackled the same issues of discipline and morality that had concerned Queen Margaret. The king’s connections with the south also explain his establishment of Augustinian canons at Scone, the very heart of the kingdom, for these priests came from Nostell priory in Yorkshire. There were also, in all probability, important developments in episcopal organization. By 1155 the Scottish church was divided into ten dioceses. Some were of long standing, like St Andrews, although they were often left unfilled. Others may well have been founded in the reigns of Alexander and David, his successor. Certainly in or soon after 1115 there were bishops of Moray and Dunkeld. These developments raised in acute form the question: to whom was the Scottish church subject? Here Alexander was determined to overthrow the Canterbury–York agreement of 1072 which, without any consultation with the Scots, as he complained, had placed the Scottish church under the metropolitan authority of the archbishop of York. That had seemed of little moment when King Malcolm’s thrusts reached as far south as Durham. It was different now with King Alexander on the defensive. At York, meanwhile, Thurstan was equally determined to uphold his metropolitan authority, which meant consecrating and receiving professions of obedience from all the Scottish bishops. In 1119 Pope Calixtus issued a letter supporting this stance. It was to rebut these pretensions that in 1120 Alexander, seeking a new bishop of St Andrews, turned to the Canterbury monk Eadmer, Anselm’s biographer, and manifestly no friend of York. But Eadmer, apart from raising problems over homage and investiture, sought simply to replace York’s authority with that of Canterbury. Alexander was firm: ‘He would never in his life consent to a Scottish bishop being subject to the archbishop of Canterbury,’ Eadmer reported him as saying. This was part of a wider view of his royal authority, which he may well have derived from Henry I in England. As the bishop of Glasgow told Eadmer, Alexander ‘wishes in his kingdom to be all things alone; and he will not endure any authority to have the least power in any matter, without his consent’. The logic of all this, in the ecclesiastical field, was that St Andrews should be raised to metropolitan authority, and it was precisely this that King David (doubtless picking up the ball from Alexander) was to seek from the pope in 1124–5, soon after his accession. The political ramifications were clear. As Thurstan said, the demand implied that the king of Scotland was not subject to the king of England, whereas (so he said) the reverse was indeed the case.
Therefore when Henry returned to his kingdom in 1120 he found Alexander showing unwelcome independence. His brother David too, in Cumbria, made sure that John, bishop of Glasgow (1118–47) was consecrated by the pope, not by York. It was no accident that in 1121 Henry permitted (and quite probably instructed) Ranulf Flambard, long rehabilitated as bishop of Durham, to build a castle at Norham on Tweed, thus at last protecting the northern border. Around this time he also established two ‘new men’, who owed everything to him, in the north: Walter Espec at Wark on Tweed (and Helmsley in Yorkshire), and Eustace fitz John at Alnwick. Meanwhile, in the north-west Henry gained security beyond the border by marrying an illegitimate daughter to Fergus, the ruler in Galloway, and in a move of enormous importance reversed his earlier policy towards Carlisle. Richard, earl of Chester had perished in the White Ship without any direct heirs. Henry allowed the earldom to pass to Ranulf le Meschin, vicomte of the Bessin, but in return he took back into his own hands the lordship of Carlisle which he had granted Ranulf in the 1100s. Royal authority was in this way planted once again on the Solway; by 1130 the region to the south was divided, rather imprecisely, into two administrative districts under royal officials, one described as ‘Carlisle’ and later in the century as ‘Cumberland’, the other (much less important) as Westmorland. This was an important moment in the history of the north, and one deeply offensive to the Scottish royal house from whom Carlisle had been taken by Rufus in 1092. In 1122 Henry went north, began the great square keep of Carlisle castle, which still survives, and surrounded the town with a wall, thus protecting its burgesses. He also laid plans for a separate bishopric which would sever the area from the authority of the bishop of Glasgow. This was finally sanctioned by the pope in 1133, by which time Carlisle had its own mint, supported by a silver mine run by the town’s burgesses at Alston.
These advances in the north were interrupted in 1123 by the last of the Norman revolts which Henry had to face, again with the aim of making Clito duke. As before, Henry triumphed with a mixture of diplomacy and force. The plans of his son-in-law, the Emperor Henry V, for invasion kept Louis VI quiet. The pope annulled Clito’s dangerous marriage to the daughter of Fulk V of Anjou and in return a papal legate, John of Crema, was allowed to hold a council in England. By the time this took place in 1125, Henry’s household knights in March 1124 had crushed the rebels at the battle of Bourgthéroulde.
The crisis was over but the door of the succession still swung on its hinges. The death of the emperor in May 1125 gave Henry the opportunity to try and slam it shut. He brought Matilda to England and in the New Year exacted an oath from the great magnates to accept her succession both in England and Normandy. There was an immediate reason for such speed. Louis VI had once more adopted Clito’s cause, and in January 1127 he accepted his homage both for Normandy and the French Vexin. There was considerable support for him, even within Henry’s court. He seemed the ‘natural’ heir, at least to Normandy, while there were no precedents in either the kingdom or the duchy for female succession. Later in 1127, therefore, Henry took out further insurance in a move which shaped the whole future of the dynasty. He betrothed Matilda to Geoffrey, the son and heir of Fulk V, count of Anjou. The marriage (finally celebrated in 1128) was a variation on an old theme, for William, Matilda’s brother, had married Geoffrey’s sister. The aim in both cases was to forge an alliance with the count of Anjou and prevent him supporting rebels in Normandy.
Clito’s death in 1128 without direct heirs was thus a great relief, especially as King Louis had just made him count of Flanders. Henry could also be reassured about affairs in Scotland and Wales. At the Christmas court of 1126 David, who had now succeeded his brother Alexander as king of Scots, had both supported Matilda’s succession and abandoned his attempt to get metropolitan status for St Andrews. In return Archbishop Thurstan relinquished his own efforts at Rome to subject the Scottish bishops to York’s obedience. In south Wales Henry was very much in control. He had established royal bases at both Pembroke and Carmarthen. He had married his trusted minister Miles of Gloucester to the heiress of the lordship of Brecon, and his illegitimate son Robert to the heiress of Glamorgan. Robert had also received Bristol and the earldom of Gloucester. One branch of the Clares was in Ceredigion while another had gained Chepstow and lower Gwent between the Usk and the Wye, the lordship founded by William fitz Osbern.
In north Wales, in the 1120s, Gruffudd ap Cynan’s sons, taking up the baton from their father, had pushed Gwynedd eastwards at least to the Clywd, this at the expense both of native rulers and the earl of Chester. But given Gruffudd’s loyalty, and the earl’s unreliability, that had not bothered Henry. In his extraordinary career, Gruffudd had thus rescued Gwynedd from virtual extinction and made it the dominant force in the north. In the last years before his death in 1137, so his Life recalled, he held great feasts, adorned his land with churches, and brought peace and prosperity to his people. He was also anxious to ‘modernize’ Gwynedd, especially in ecclesiastical affairs, something which paralleled developments elsewhere in Wales. Before the Normans the Welsh church had bishops but no diocesan structure, either in terms of boundaries or government. In the south, a reflection of Norman influence, territorial dioceses emerged in the first half of the century in part through the disputes between Bishops Urban of Llandaff (1107–34) and Bernard of St Davids (1115–48). Llandaff, embracing forty-six churches, was defined as lying between the Wye and the Tywi. The dispute was also important in putting the Welsh church in close touch with the pope who issued five bulls in relation to it, and in 1132 appointed ‘judges delegate’ to hear the case back in Britain, one of the earliest examples of such commissions. All this is revealed in The Book of Llandaff, which documents the struggle. In the north, the Normans had established Hervé, a Breton, as bishop at Bangor in the 1090s but, appalled by Welsh customs, he soon departed. The decisive moment in establishing a diocese at Bangor came in 1120 when Gruffudd made David bishop; David was of mixed Welsh and Irish ancestry, had studied at Würzburg and been a much-travelled clerk of Henry I. So Gruffudd had placed Bangor under a man familiar with best international practice and in this appointment had also pleased Henry I. If Gruffudd had given birth to modern Gwynedd, Henry had indeed been the midwife.
With south Wales in his own hands or under loyalist magnates and ministers, with north Wales under the trusty Gruffudd ap Cynan, with loyalists enfeoffed in Northumberland, with the king himself at Carlisle, and both the king of Scots and the Welsh rulers frequenting his court, Henry could indeed be called, as Walter Map put it later in the century, ‘lord of the whole English island’.
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King Henry’s hold of Normandy and control of Britain depended directly on his government of England, which secured much of the revenue on which they were based. That government had also to maintain law and order, thus fulfilling Henry’s pledge in his Coronation Charter: ‘I establish a firm peace in all my kingdom and I order it henceforth to be kept.’ Ministers had to do all this, moreover, in the frequent absences of the king, absences which after the conquest of Normandy in 1106 were clearly to be a permanent feature of his rule. In the event he spent more than half his reign outside England. Henry himself was well qualified to oversee this government. He was the most educated of the brothers and was heard to quip that an unlearned king was like a crowned ass (his only known joke). Orderic observed how he subjected everything to vigilant scrutiny and wished to be cognizant of the affairs of all his servants. Under that watchful eye, in the long Henrician peace an experienced cadre of ministers gave careful attention to detail and made improvements from year to year, in this way developing the structures of a royal government more powerful and intrusive than ever before.
Henry’s household, as shown by a ‘Constitution’ written down soon after his death, consisted of over 150 men, together with fifty more in the hunt, and one solitary woman, the laundress. The basic structure was probably much as under his predecessors, but Henry had introduced one important reform. Under Rufus and at the start of Henry’s reign the court had lived in part by plundering the countryside, so much so that the peasantry fled as it approached. In 1108 Henry laid down the penalty of mutilation for anyone guilty of such seizures, ‘alleviating the evils which pressed most heavily on the poor’, as Eadmer put it. This was probably the origin of the regulations seen in the ‘Constitution’, which stipulated in great detail how each member of the household was to be supported – by wages, food, drink and candles, all carefully graduated according to position.
The officials of Henry’s chamber were responsible for the room in which he lived. They included the bearer of his bed, and his ‘ewerer’ who filled his bath and dried his clothes after a journey. They also received, stored and spent the king’s money; the increasing sums for which they were responsible were reflected in the office of treasurer of the chamber, which appears for the first time in the 1120s. There was also an expansion in the work of the chancellor. Averaged across the reign, forty documents a year survive (in originals or copies) from Henry’s chancery and less than twenty from that of Rufus. The level of chancery business (of which the surviving documents are but a tiny fraction) is reflected in the existence of a deputy, the ‘master of the writing office’, whose wages Henry doubled, and in the gigantic offer of over £3,000 which Geoffrey Rufus, the chancellor in 1130, made to obtain the office.
The ‘Constitution’ does not mention the branch of the household which gave these written orders punch: the household knights. However, their position and function in Henry’s reign have been much studied. Perhaps Henry did not retain as many knights as Rufus but according to Orderic he had several hundreds of them. Drawn both from noble families and from the lower ranks of society, many of them building up traditions of family service in the household, they were expected to be worthy (as Orderic said) of the wages and food which supported them. They might also serve in the hope of recovering lost patrimonies, as Eadmer noted, and gaining new ones. They appear throughout the pages of Orderic as councillors, castellans, and (at Bourgthéroulde) as victors. They were vital to Henry’s rule.
The king’s household was the most fundamental institution unifying the Anglo-Norman realms. Some of the stewards were based largely in England or Normandy, but the master of the writing office, the treasurer of the chamber, and probably the bulk of the household went back and forth across the Channel. When in England and not pulled by emergencies to Wales or the north, Henry spent most of his time at palaces and palace-castles in the south. According to the number of known documents issued from them, Westminster-London was first in rank with 237, followed by Winchester (127), Woodstock (93) and Windsor (71). Henry thus did not need to travel to rule England and could remain, as far as his itinerary went, very much a Wessex king. To cope with his absences, Henry set up small regency courts or councils in England and in Normandy. In Normandy they were headed for many years by John, bishop of Lisieux; in England until her death in 1118 by Queen Matilda.
Matilda, as the daughter of King Malcolm and Queen Margaret of Scotland, was descended from the line of the Anglo-Saxon kings through her mother. Her initial position cannot have been easy. There had been no queen of England since the death of the Conqueror’s wife in 1083. Matilda brought with her no inheritance and was scorned by some Normans for her Anglo-Saxon pedigree. Her change of name from Edith to Matilda, from that of the last pre-Conquest to the first Norman queen, itself reflected sensitivity on the subject. Yet Matilda, clever and co-operative, played a significant part in the first phase of Henry’s reign. Henry himself in remembering his mother, Matilda of Flanders, must have had a very positive image of queenship, and he soon gave his own wife a similar kind of landed endowment. So Matilda had her own resources which she exploited, according to William of Malmesbury, with some harshness. If to some of the Norman elite Matilda seemed an alien, her ancestry, in which she was intensely interested, made her very much at one with the mass of Henry’s subjects. Poets indeed celebrated her as ‘the glory of England’, ‘sprung from kings on both sides’. Matilda could also draw on another positive image of queenship, indeed she did so quite deliberately, for it was she who commissioned the Life of her mother, Queen Margaret, which showed Margaret playing a very full part in the daily affairs of court and kingdom (see above, p. 124).
Matilda’s religious observance certainly echoed that of her mother, for example in her concern for the poor and oppressed. On one occasion she astonished her brother David, the future king of Scots, by washing and kissing the feet of lepers. To David’s remark that if Henry found out he would never kiss her again, she retorted that the feet of the eternal king were preferable to the lips of a mortal one. In her patronage of religious houses Matilda stood in the tradition of both her mother and mother-in-law. Just as the one had founded Dunfermline priory and the other Holy Trinity at Caen, so Matilda founded Holy Trinity, Aldgate in London, one of the first Augustinian houses in England, using the revenues of Exeter to do so. Here, as in her endowment of other houses like Abingdon, Matilda’s grants were confirmed by her husband, the two acting very much in partnership.
Contemporary comment, for example in the so-called Hyde abbey chronicle, shows that Matilda’s religiosity earned her great respect; so, indeed, did her success in providing the king with children. Of course, there was no scope at Henry’s court for the kind of role played by Queen Margaret at the court of King Malcolm where she had laboured to bring its ceremonial up to date. Nor was Henry always approachable. On one occasion, faced by a crowd of complaining clergy, Matilda was tearfully sympathetic but apparently too frightened to intervene. Intervene, however, she sometimes did, and effectively. For example, she helped persuade Henry to return Canterbury revenues to Anselm and later to give in marriage Earl Waltheof’s daughter to her brother David. She was careful, however, in matters of controversy to take her husband’s part. Solicited for help by both Anselm and the pope throughout the investiture dispute, she explained that there could be no settlement which ‘diminished the rights of royal majesty’. This loyalty to the king and understanding of his objectives was the key to her appointment as regent when Henry was out of England. The success of Henry’s mother in the post had created a precedent, yet it was also one which could be ignored: no similar position was accorded to Henry’s second wife, Adela of Louvain. As regent, Matilda issued writs in her own name, heard petitions, and tried law cases in, as she put ‘the court of my lord and myself’. She made clear to ministers that she must be consulted and was complimented by the bishop of Norwich for ‘administering royal affairs with laudable solicitude’. Matilda’s seal, with which she authenticated her writs and charters, showed her standing, a tall imposing figure, holding as symbols of authority an orb in one hand and a sceptre in the other. Here indeed was a woman who could govern a kingdom.
Of the ministers of the king and queen, one was pre-eminent: Roger, bishop of Salisbury (1107–39). A poor priest from the suburbs of Caen, he had, so the story went, impressed Henry by racing through the Mass and had become his chaplain. In England he soon headed both the judicial and financial administration. The large numbers of writs he witnessed and in effect authorized shows that the writing office and central government moved at his command. He worked under Henry when the king was in the kingdom, under Matilda when he was not. After Matilda’s death, Roger was left formally in charge and issued writs in his own name. He was in fact ‘second under the king’, as Henry of Huntingdon put it, and ‘justiciar of all England’, the title ultimately adopted by his successors, although Roger himself did not use it. In many ways Roger’s position was similar to that of Rufus’s great minister Ranulf Flambard, and contemporaries described them in similar terms. Yet in approach they were as different as their masters. Rufus’s mighty plans and high-cost wars required large sums of money to be raised very quickly; for that purpose Flambard’s aggression and fertility were ideal, and his unpopularity the measure of his success. After 1106, Roger operated in calmer waters even with the emergencies in Normandy, and was able to build slowly; for that his bureaucratic mentality (he attended to affairs of state in the morning and those of his bishopric in the afternoon) was ideal. So was his plausible and conciliatory nature. Letters poured in to him begging for justice and favour. His ability to balance the options they posed, gauge the limits of his authority (did the king need to be consulted, was the queen persuadable?), and come up with acceptable solutions made an essential contribution to England’s peace.
Central to Roger’s power and the control of the king’s revenues was the exchequer, where he presided probably from 1110. That greatest of all institutions of central government for the first time emerges into the light. Its task was first to exact or collect the king’s annual revenue; second, to store it and spend it on the king’s orders; and third, to audit annually the accounts of those responsible for the revenue’s collection. A great book written by Bishop Roger’s great nephew, The Dialogue of the Exchequer, explains the exchequer’s workings in 1178 and they were not fundamentally different in Roger’s own day. Each year the exchequer officials, the barons of the exchequer, usually meeting at Winchester, prepared lists of the sums which the sheriffs were to collect and pay in, one half at Easter and one at Michaelmas. The payments were made into the treasury, which was also at Winchester, and by 1130 effectively a branch of the exchequer. By 1178 it was often called the ‘lower exchequer’ or the ‘exchequer of receipt’. At the treasury two chamberlains received the money, kept it and dispensed it on the king’s orders, the great bulk often being sent to the king’s chamber. The receipts for payments were wooden tallies (one for each individual debt), that is sticks cut down the middle with the payment recorded both in notches and writing on either side. One half was kept by the sheriff, the other by the exchequer. After Michaelmas each year, at stated intervals, the sheriffs and other collectors of revenue came back to the exchequer, or more specifically to the branch later called the ‘upper exchequer’ or ‘exchequer of audit’. There they accounted for the money they had been summoned to pay in at the previous Easter and Michaelmas, the tallies being matched up as proof of payment. If the sheriff had been ordered by the king to pay some of his revenue directly into the chamber or spend some of his revenues locally, for example on the garrisoning of a castle, he now produced the authorizing writ and was credited accordingly. The state of play in respect of each debt was worked out visually with counters on a great chequered cloth, which gave the exchequer its name. Like the tally sticks, this was clearly designed to help those who could not read.
The results of the annual audit were recorded on a great roll (the ‘pipe roll’, as it was later called), a new one being opened for every year. That for 1130 is the first to survive, and the only one from Henry’s reign. It is mightily impressive. Sixteen separate membranes, each around four feet long and a foot wide and made up of two smaller membranes, were written up on both sides. All sixteen were then sewn together at the top so that they could be rolled up into a single roll. The roll of 1130 runs to 161 pages in a modern printed edition, records over 300 writs authorizing expenditure by sheriffs or pardoning debts, and mentions over 2,000 people and places.
If Bishop Roger conceived the exchequer de novo he was an administrative genius. Yet even the friendly Dialogue does not make that claim, but discusses whether it went back to Anglo-Saxon times or whether it was introduced by the Conqueror and modelled on the exchequer in Normandy. There certainly was a Norman exchequer under Henry I but its origins are as obscure as its English brother’s. Probably at least the name exchequer and the chequered cloth method of accounting from which it derived were fairly new in Henry’s reign. Although the abacus system on which it was loosely based had been known in England for a long time, there is no reference to the exchequer eo nomine before 1110. On the other hand, previous kings can hardly have been without means of recording and auditing their dues. The Dialogue mentions that the original name for the exchequer was ‘the tallies’, which seems to recall a time before the exchequer cloth when wooden tallies may have been used to record debts as well as receipts. The treasury at Winchester existed before the Conquest and it certainly kept records of the farms due from royal estates and lists of hides for the levying of the geld. Both are referred to in Domesday Book. Probably the system of 1130 emerged gradually. The absenteeism of the Norman kings, which made it harder to audit accounts ad hoc as the king went round his estates, and accelerated the replacement of revenue in kind from royal manors with revenue in cash, necessitated a central audit and increased the amount of money it had to deal with. The number of debts owed to the king was also increased by new feudal revenues and the increasing impositions made by royal justices in the localities. According to the Dialogue the exchequer flourished exceedingly under Bishop Roger’s direction, as the rolls showed. It may well be that much of the procedure which existed in 1130 was due to him. Certainly in his time the exchequer was a hugely powerful instrument of government. It was central to the exaction of revenue, the control of local officials, and the web of political control which the king could spin over the country, for nearly everyone of importance owed money to the crown and could be punished or rewarded by varying the rates of repayment.
Where did Henry’s revenues come from? In one key area these had actually been declining, since land brought in over £3,000 less in 1130 than it had in 1087, the result of the amount given away in patronage during the intervening period. Nevertheless land in 1130 was still by far the largest component of the total income: £2,600 came from estates which had come into the king’s hands through forfeiture and escheat, and £9,900 from the county farms. The latter were fixed sums which the sheriffs had to pay each year, being derived largely from the king’s lands in the county, though also from other customary payments (like ‘sheriff’s aid’), and minor pleas in the county and hundred courts. The exchequer was also working hard to get more money from the farms, having revalued them only a few years before, and in 1129 demanding a £666 increment from eleven shires specially grouped together. The decline in revenue from land provided an incentive to make more money by other means. One of these was the royal forests. In his Coronation Charter Henry had promised to keep the forests as in the time of his father, which implied he would not imitate Rufus’s malpractices. Yet Henry had royal forests in twenty-five counties and certainly expanded their bounds, a process Stephen (in 1136) promised to reverse.
Other sources which could be exploited were ‘justice’ (of which more later) and the king’s feudal rights. It was these, of course, which had been opened up by Flambard’s shameless energy and Henry in his Coronation Charter had forsworn them – not for long, although not on Flambard’s brazen scale. Ecclesiastical vacancies brought in £1,100 in the 1130 roll, and inheritance fines, reliefs, and payments for wardships and marriages another £1,300. A further £5,550 still to be paid hung unpleasantly over baronial heads. With £2,500 coming from the geld (and more pardoned as patronage), Henry’s total recorded revenue in 1130 was £24,550 of which £22,900 was paid into the exchequer (barring a small amount going directly to the king’s chamber) and the rest expended locally. This sum was only exceeded four times in the reign of Henry II and was more than that raised a hundred years later in 1230, although by then there had been considerable inflation. The total actually demanded (as opposed to paid in and expended) was £66,800, so Henry was also owed a great deal of money; a useful position to be in. He was very rich, and was probably every year generating a considerable surplus; a treasure of fabled size glowed at Winchester.
There were other ways in which Henry kept hold of local government. Like his father and brother he was careful about the creation of earldoms. Henry made Robert, count of Meulan, earl of Leicester in 1107, his brother-in-law David in effect earl of Huntingdon around 1114, and Robert, his own illegitimate son, earl of Gloucester between 1121 and 1123. But these earldoms were different from the border palatinates created after the Conquest, of which only Chester now survived. The new earls had much more limited powers and their counties were essentially run by the sheriff appointed by the king, and responsible at the exchequer for the shire’s revenues. Henry was also determined to control the sheriffs, whose performance he had criticized in a writ of 1108. Early in his reign twelve counties were under sheriffs who had been in office at the time of Domesday Book or were the sons of such men. Henry allowed the trusty Miles to follow his father in Gloucester but in general made it very clear the office was not hereditary. He appointed tenants of loyalist barons to some counties (like Nottinghamshire), and over others placed curiales, that is men who were high in his service and members of his court. At times he dramatically increased the numbers of the latter so that in 1130 they held no less than eighteen counties.
In 1108 Henry’s criticism was that the sheriffs were holding extra sessions of the county and hundred courts to suit their own ‘needs’, meaning for their own profit. One source of that profit was hearing pleas of the crown. Described at length in The Laws of King Henry I, a book on legal procedure written between c. 1114 and 1118, these included (as they had since Anglo-Saxon times) homicide, robbery, assault, serious theft, rape and arson. It was vital for the king to control and exploit such business, and Henry developed two ways of doing so more efficiently. One was through the increasing use of an official who had existed before 1100, namely a local justiciar empowered to ‘keep the pleas of the crown of the king’, which probably involved investigating them, and then prosecuting the offenders in the local courts, taking over all this from the sheriff. Prosecution could also be either by juries drawn from the hundreds or by individuals following a process known as appeal. In 1130 the keeper of the crown pleas in Norfolk and Suffolk promised to make the king a ‘profit’ of £333, which shows just how much money could be made.
A second development was more significant. This was the practice of sending judges on circuit round the shires to hear crown pleas and whatever civil business was brought before them. These judges were later called ‘justices in eyre’ (‘eyre’ meaning visitation) or ‘itinerant justices’. Since the leading itinerant justices were curiales, they gave the king far tighter control over his pleas than the local justiciars and the sheriffs whom they superseded. It was on the ‘itinerant justices’ that the administration of royal justice in the shires in the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries was largely to depend. The precise stages between the Conqueror’s practice of sending a judge to a shire to hear an important individual plea, on the one hand, and the judges going through several shires to hear all crown pleas, on the other, is difficult to trace in the absence of pipe rolls. In 1096 Flambard may have held a West Country crown pleas circuit. By the 1120s, as the 1130 pipe roll shows, the eyres were certainly in full swing. Richard Basset, for example, had heard pleas in six shires; Geoffrey de Clinton in eighteen; and Ralph Basset (Richard’s father) in eleven. In 1124 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle provides a glimpse of Ralph Basset at work in Leicestershire where he hanged forty-four thieves and mutilated six. Henry’s eyres provided an impressive manifestation of royal power, contributing most of the £3,600 owed for pleas in the 1130 pipe roll, and demonstrating that everyone was subject to the king’s justice. Even the peasants of the mightiest northern barons were saddled with amercements which had to be paid to the king. A significant by-product of this activity may well have been to diminish yet further, indeed perhaps largely eliminate, the role of local courts in arranging compensation payments like those seen in the Anglo-Saxon law codes for offences to person and property, although these certainly continued unofficially.
Beneath the level of pleas of the crown, Henry had no quarrel with private jurisdiction, whether exercised in the (often overlapping) courts of manor, honour or private hundred. He ordered lords to implement the judgements of their courts (if they didn’t, the sheriff would) and restore land to tenants ‘justly’, which probably indicated that the matter should be decided in a court of law. Quite probably many cases were moving from honourial to shire courts, or coming before the king himself because of default of justice. But Henry was quite prepared to shore up the jurisdiction of particular honourial courts and command tenants to perform the service due to their lords. In his 1108 writ he laid down that pleas over the occupation and division of land between the tenants of the same lord should be heard in the lord’s court. (For further discussion of the honour, see below, pp. 403–7.) The 1108 writ also made clear that actions between barons were to come before the king himself. In such cases, in particular, the king could charge large sums for ‘justice’, £3,500 being offered for judicial favours in the 1130 pipe roll.
There has been much debate among historians about the type of men Henry I employed to run his government. Orderic Vitalis in a famous passage described how Henry ‘ennobled men of base stock, who had served him well, raising them, as it were, from the dust’. There was certainly nothing new about kings taking servants from outside the ranks of the baronage. Indeed Hugh of Buckland, named by Orderic as one of Henry’s new men, had been a sheriff under Rufus. All kings needed to recruit servants who were dependent on the crown for their fortunes and could be relied upon to be loyal and diligent in its service. The length, stability and administrative developments of Henry’s reign may have made such men more conspicuous than before, and also have given them wider opportunities for holding office. Geoffrey de Clinton, for example, was sheriff of Warwickshire, a justice in eyre in numerous counties, chamberlain of the Winchester treasury and a prominent figure at court. The background of some of Henry’s servants is obscure, justifying Orderic’s remark that they had been ‘raised from the dust’. The Dialogue of the Exchequer itself referred to Bishop Roger’s ‘lean poverty’. Others like Clinton and Ralph Basset, who headed Orderic’s list of examples, came from families of essentially knightly status holding small amounts of property in England or Normandy, sometimes in both. Western Normandy, where Henry had been based before his accession, was a particularly fertile recruiting ground. There were also ministers who came from more substantial backgrounds, like Miles of Gloucester, son of the Domesday sheriff, and Aubrey de Vere, son of a minor baron. Henry’s servants were certainly enriched, as Orderic noted. Clinton by 1130 had added 578 hides of land to his father’s single manor at Glympton in Oxfordshire. Walter Espec, Eustace and Payn fitz John, and Nigel d’Albigny (who began as a household knight), as well as Miles of Gloucester, all became great barons through marriages arranged for them by the king. Such men were ruthless acquisitors, disseising tenants within the honours they had acquired and forcing men to grant them land; as a result Nigel d’Albigny was conscience-stricken on his deathbed. This suited the king. The very unpopularity of these ministers made them all the more dependent on his favour. Their loyalty might also be ensured by the large sums of money they could owe him, sometimes as punishment, sometimes through having to pay for favours they received. Together they formed a loyal and ruthless cadre on which Henrician government depended.
The work of the chancery; Bishop Roger and the exchequer; control over the sheriffs; justices in eyre; use of new men: in all these areas Henry built on earlier precedents. In all he probably went beyond them. The resulting structure of government was formidably strong.
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Orderic wrote enthusiastically about the new cathedrals, monastic buildings and village churches permitted by Henry’s peace, a peace which was both ‘law and order’ and ‘political’ in the sense of the absence of civil strife. To the political peace Henry’s relations with many of his barons had made a crucial contribution. He had proved adept at exploiting the bonds which could tie nobles to the king: the desire for the status conferred by a place at court; the delight in fighting alongside the king on military campaigns; and the rewards that might come from faithful service. Henry was constantly taking counsel from his barons, both formally in specially summoned large assemblies and informally in his chamber and at the hunt. Orderic remarked on Henry’s new men but he also declared that the king had ‘won the loyalty of magnates by treating them with generosity and adding to their estates’ – of which we have already seen many examples. In particular, just like his father, Henry had sought to make close family pillars of the regime. He had raised up his illegitimate son Robert, his nephew Stephen and his brother-in-law King David. Indeed, in a crucial move in 1125 Stephen had been married to a great heiress, the daughter of the count of Boulogne, gaining the highly strategic county of Boulogne itself and also lands centred on Essex which with the honour of Eye made him the most powerful landholder in south-east England. Meanwhile Stephen’s clever and articulate brother Henry had become bishop of Winchester (1129–1171).
One leading Henrician scholar, C. W. Hollister, has argued that Henry left behind a largely harmonious political system, yet this may be to claim too much. While old magnates and new men rubbed shoulders at court, there was tension between them. ‘The noblest men in the kingdom grudged [Henry’s new men] their distinction because they were of the lowest origins and exceeded in wealth and power those far better born than themselves,’ wrote the author of the Gesta Stephani. While, moreover, many barons enjoyed the king’s favour, significant numbers felt they did not. There was tension, too, over the king’s continued exploitation of his feudal rights. Rufus’s own exploitation of inheritance payments, wardships and marriages had clearly antagonized many barons, resulting in Henry I’s promises in his Coronation Charter, but these promises were not kept. There were also many families burning with the desire to regain lands of which they felt they had been deprived. This situation had not arisen because Henry had denied the principle of hereditary succession; in fact the principle was implicit in many clauses in his Coronation Charter. In practice, of the 193 baronies existing in 1135, 102 (52 per cent) had descended in the male line since 1086. But that still left plenty of room for royal interference through the processes of marriage and forfeiture, interference necessitated by the circumstances of Anglo-Norman politics described at the start of this chapter. Forty-seven baronies (24 per cent) had come into royal hands between 1087 and 1135, mostly through forfeiture, usually to be granted out again to those in the king’s favour. Twenty-one (11 per cent) had been gained by new families through the marriage of heiresses. All this created material for dispute. Gilbert de Lacy wanted to recover the honour of Pontefract, which Henry I had taken from his father in 1114 for suspected treason and given ultimately to William Maltravers, a man whose origins are quite obscure. Simon de Senlis wanted the honour of Huntingdon which Henry had given King David on his marriage to Waltheof’s daughter, Simon being the son of her first marriage. Payn fitz John, and Roger, son of Miles of Gloucester, disputed possession of the honour of Weobley with the Talbots and another branch of the Lacys. Under Stephen, these and many other ‘family history’ disputes and claims flooded to the surface and turned the mills of the civil war. The issue was not hereditary succession (which both sides freely conceded) but who should enjoy it.
There was also potential tension between the centralizing ambitions of the crown and the decentralizing ones of the nobility. As Judith Green has remarked, the nobles were both collaborators of the king and his competitors in the pursuit of power, that competition being particularly sharp in the local arena. The aim of an ambitious lord was to assert his rule in the localities by combining his castles and feudal structures with office and privileges received from the king – an earldom with real power, a private hundred, a royal castle, and a sheriffdom held either by himself or one of his men. If the king wanted to reward a great lord and gain a powerful local agent he might well condone such ambitions. Yet there were clearly dangers in doing so, especially if a baron’s hold on local office became hereditary. Equally, if the king’s immediate priority was cash paid into the exchequer, the last thing he wanted was such great local agents for they aspired to keep much of the king’s revenue for themselves. Henry I, as we have seen, combated these centrifugal tendencies, preventing the sheriffdoms becoming hereditary and hesitating to set up palatine earldoms. But the result unfortunately was to leave a body of disgruntled magnates who nursed claims to such possessions, and resented those who held local office. Earl Roger of Warwick clearly detested the way his activities were monitored by the sheriff Geoffrey de Clinton, established at Warwick castle. Earl Ranulf II of Chester (who succeeded c. 1129) and his half-brother, William de Roumare, had claims to the castle and sheriffdom of Lincoln, while Geoffrey de Mandeville eyed up the Tower of London and the sheriffdoms of London and Middlesex, and Essex and Hertfordshire, which Henry had taken from his grandfather. When he finally recovered them under Stephen he secured a concession enabling him to exclude the justices in eyre (see below, p. 175). Those outside the regime must also have resented the power of the exchequer which recorded their debts and if ordered to do so exacted them for the crown. The pipe roll of 1130 shows Geoffrey de Mandeville owing £846; Earl Ranulf II of Chester £1,613; his mother Lucy, £646; and Earl Roger of Warwick £218. In all this too there were strains which were to explode after Henry’s death.
In the very last years of Henry’s reign, problems were also looming on the frontiers. The native rulers in Glamorgan were seething with discontent over Earl Robert of Gloucester’s expansionary rule. In Gwynedd, the sons of Gruffudd ap Cynan threatened to be far less accommodating than their venerable father. In 1135 the incursions of the rulers of Powys into Shropshire were making Henry plan a return to Britain. In Scotland, King David owed much to Henry, yet had been thwarted over Carlisle. Henry’s wealth and power enabled him to hold all these tensions in check. ‘No one dared injure another in his time,’ wrote the Anglo-Saxon chronicler. When his successor ran out of money it would be a different story.
And who was that successor to be? Henry, as we have seen, wanted it to be his daughter Matilda, ‘the Empress’ as she proudly styled herself, being the widow of the Emperor Henry V. The king’s intent was strengthened after she had given birth to a son, the future Henry II, in 1133. But her path would not be easy. Quite apart from the fact that she was a woman, there was the question of the role to be played by her husband, Geoffrey, count of Anjou, for whom the Anglo-Norman magnates had no brief. In 1130 Henry had extracted another solemn undertaking to accept his daughter’s succession, but he had granted her lands and castles neither in England nor in Normandy, despite Geoffrey’s demands for the latter. Therefore she had no power base from which to stake her claim. Nor did Henry crown the Empress, or associate her in any way with his rule – unlike Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem (1118–31) when he made his daughter Melisende his heir, an example widely known since Melisende’s husband was none other than Fulk V of Anjou, Geoffrey’s father. Henry, now well into his sixties, would not give way. He wanted no rival. And while he had failed to secure the position of the Empress, he had built up those of both Stephen and Robert, thus laying the foundations for the former’s usurpation and the latter’s championship of the Empress’s cause, the heart of the civil war.