Sunday, October 23, 2011


A review of C. Warren Hollister's Henry I (2001)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Warren Hollister's Henry I was published posthumously. The work was completed and edited by Amanda Clark Frost. The book is a great legacy for not only the life and career of the subject but for the author as well. Hollister tells the story a young prince, who as his father's youngest son was not going to be expected to be a king himself, but ended up as one of the most powerful rulers in Western Christendom.

The story of Henry I begins a few years after his father's conquest of England. As the youngest son of the Conqueror, it is unlikely that he will ever rule anything since his three older brothers will come first. Even after the death of the second oldest and the almost disinheritance of the oldest*, young Henry was only left with a small sum of money and no land. However after the accidental death** of his closest brother, King William II, Henry lays claim to the crown of England. Up to this point, he had lived his life as either the King's son or the King's brother, now he was the King himself.

(King Henry I of England)

Known as the King who created the exchequer, Hollister describes King Henry I to be an administrative wonder. As king, Henry would issue multiple laws and actually took the time to have them widely published. More interested in governing his kingdom and duchy than waging war, Henry's reign would leave a legacy of peace. In one exciting adventure he did manage to wrest Normandy from his disinherited older brother Duke Robert. They fought in the battle of Tinchebray, a conflict that lasted only an hour compared to the battle of Hastings forty years earlier. (Interestingly, the battle of Tinchebray literally reversed the battle of Hastings for this time the King of England conquered the Duke of Normandy.)

(The Conqueror's eldest son, Robert Curthose, the man who should have been King was disinherited by his father for his consistent betrayals)

Hollister goes into great detail discussing the various aspects of the reign of King Henry I. One the most important problems that King Henry faced were his struggles against the Church over the King's rights vs. the Church's rights. His struggles with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anslem, a feud which would echo another two generations later but with far less deadly results. In this case the King in the Archbishop were able to work out a compromise that both could live with. Their successors would not be so lucky.

(Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury)

I do have some technical quibbles with the book. Hollister refers to King Henry's first wife as Queen Matilda II, in order to avoid confusion with Henry I's mother who was also Queen Matilda. The problem is it is wrong. Queens consort do not receive numbers, only queens regina do. For example the modern Queen of Great Britain is Queen Elizabeth II not Queen Elizabeth V.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to know more about England in the 12th century or about the life of one of its better monarchs. Hollister was a very good writer and it is sad that he is no longer with us.

*Robert was able to inherit Normandy but denied England.

**And it does appear to have been accidental.

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