On this day, 881 years ago, 1 December 1135, Henry I “Beauclerc”, the first English King fluent in the English language, dies from a fever supposedly caused by eating “a surfeit of lampreys.” He was my twice-over 28th great-grandfather, both through his son Robert of Gloucester and through his daughter Matilda.
Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror. On William’s death in 1087, Henry’s elder brothers Robert Curthose and William Rufus inherited Normandy and England, respectively. Henry was left landless. Henry purchased land from Robert in the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy; however, in 1091, William and Robert deposed Henry. Henry gradually rebuilt his power base in the Cotentin and allied himself with William against Robert. In 1100, William, like his older brother Richard, died in a hunting accident in New Forest. His death was suspicious; he was killed by an arrow through the lung. With William’s death, Henry seized the English throne.
Robert, who invaded in 1101, disputed Henry’s control of England. This military campaign ended in a negotiated settlement that confirmed Henry as king. Sadly the peace was short-lived; Henry invaded the Duchy of Normandy in 1105 and 1106, finally defeating Robert at the Battle of Tinchebray. Henry kept Robert imprisoned for the rest of his life.
Henry’s control of Normandy was challenged by Baldwin VII of Flanders, Fulk V of Anjou (my 27th great-grandfather), and Louis VI of France (who is both my 27th great-grandfather through his son Peter I and my 28th great-grandfather through his son Robert I, and who, incidentally, was born on this same day—1 December—in 1081). In 1120, following Henry’s victory at the Battle of Brémule, Henry I made peace with Louis VI.
In January 1114, Henry married Matilda of Scotland. Despite his marriage, Henry had many mistresses with whom he had several illegitimate children, including Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester (my 27th great-grandfather.)
Henry’s only legitimate son and heir, William Ætheling, drowned in the White Ship disaster of 1120, throwing the royal succession into doubt. Henry took a second wife, Adeliza, in the hope of having another son, but their marriage was childless. Consequently, Henry named his daughter, Matilda (my 27th great-grandmother), as his heir, He then married Matilda to Geoffrey V of Anjou (my 27th great-grandfather).
During the King’s final years, relations between Henry, Matilda, and Geoffrey became strained. In 1135, Matilda and Geoffrey urged Henry to hand over the royal castles in Normandy to Matilda while Henry was still alive and insisted that the Norman nobility swear immediate allegiance to her, thereby giving the couple a more powerful position after Henry’s death. In anger, Henry declined, probably assuming that Geoffrey would try to seize power in Normandy. Rebellion broke out in southern Normandy, led by William III, Count of Ponthieu (my 28th great-grandfather). Geoffrey and Matilda supported the rebellion.
Henry participated in the fight, strengthening the southern frontier, before traveled to Lyons-la-Forêt in November to enjoy some hunting. While there, Henry fell ill. Supposedly, Henry I ate lampreys against his physician’s advice. If not cleaned and cooked properly, lampreys can be poisonous. Obviously, this was the case, as on 1 December 1135, Henry I died. His body was interred under the altar of the Reading Abbey.