On this day, 887 years ago, King Henry I died after eating too many lampreys. Henry was the youngest son of William the Conqueror. He took the throne of England and Wales in 1100 after his older brother King William II (Rufus) was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest. Henry was a member of the hunting party when his brother was shot by an arrow. Many Norman nobles believed the crown should have gone to the eldest of William the Conqueror’s three surviving sons, Robert (Curthose or Short Legs) Duke of Normandy. In 1106, Henry defeated Robert in battle, imprisoned him for 28 years and added the duchy of Normandy to his Anglo-Norman empire. He was a harsh but effective ruler until his death in 1135 at the age of 67. He died at a hunting lodge in Lyons-la-Forêt in Normandy and was buried at Reading Abbey in England.
Henry probably holds the record for the king with the highest number of mistresses and illegitimate children. The majority of his known mistresses, and his first queen, were ‘native’ women – Anglo-Saxons, Welsh and Scottish – from the lands that his father had conquered. He had over 23 illegitimate children and acknowledged and took care of them and their mothers.
Henry’s only legitimate son drowned in a shipwreck in the English Channel in 1120, sparking a succession crisis. Henry named his legitimate daughter, Empress Matilda, as his successor but when he died suddenly in Normandy, his nephew Stephen de Blois rushed to England and usurped the throne. A long period of civil war ensued between Stephen and Matilda. Stephen, however, was not fated to displace Henry’s bloodline on the throne. His son Eustace died in 1153 and his other son William renounced his claim to the throne, in favour of his cousin Henry FitzEmpress. King Stephen died in 1154 and Henry I’s grandson and Matilda’s son became King Henry II.
New editions of my historical fiction trilogy, Conquest, are published in spring 2023 and can be preordered at Meanda Books. The novels centre on the reign of Henry I and the turbulent life of the Welsh noblewoman Nest ferch Rhys who was one of Henry’s mistresses and is pictured in bed with the king above.