01 August 2011

The Children of King Henry I of England

King Henry I of England
Henry I of England (1100 to 1135), son of William the Conqueror, was as noteworthy for his political power, as for the tragedy of his legitimate son and daughter's lives. Henry had the misfortune to lose his heir William in a fire on the English Channel and while his barons swore to support his daughter Matilda's claim, they changed their minds after Henry's death, allowing for his nephew Stephen to seize the throne. Perhaps more notorious was the number of illegitimate children Henry fathered. Even more exceptional, most of Henry’s bastards went on to prominent positions throughout the British Isles and France. The daughters married into powerful families including the Scottish royal line, while the sons became earls, archbishops and abbots of the feudal Church.

Artist's illustration of Bristol Castle, which Robert de Caen originally built
Robert of Caen, born in 1090, lived in his father’s household from at least the age of ten. In 1119, he married an heiress Mabel, a granddaughter of the powerful Earl Roger Montgomery of Shrewsbury. She brought the wealth of lands in Gloucester to the union. A few years later, when Henry summoned his barons to England to recognize Matilda as a future Queen, Robert swore an oath in support of her, as did the King’s nephew Stephen. When he usurped Matilda’s claim, Robert accepted his rule. Two years later, he became Matilda’s commander-in-chief during the Anarchy (1135 to 1154), a tumultuous period when she and her cousin vied for the throne. In 1141, Matilda’s supporters captured King Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln, but seven months later, his allies apprehended Robert. In a prisoner exchange, both men gained their freedom. Robert continued his campaign to establish her rule and that of her son, the future Henry II, but he died before its achievement on October 31, 1147.

Loch Tay island, where Queen Sybil's church stood
Sybil, born possibly two years after Robert, was King Henry’s daughter by his long-time mistress, Sybil Corbet. The daughter had another connection to the royal family, being the granddaughter of Count Robert of Mortain, brother of William the Conqueror.  After 1107, Sybil married the young Scots King Alexander. Although they were devoted to each other, they did not have any children. She died in 1122 and Alexander founded a church on the island of Loch Tay, where she died. Alexander never re-married and his brother David inherited the throne.
Sybil’s full-blood brother Rainald de Dunstanville first became Earl of Cornwall, when he supported King Stephen. Like his half-brother Robert of Caen, he soon switched sides and led a rebellion. Rainald married well in 1139 to Beatrice, an heiress with lands throughout Cornwall. They would have seven children together. Two years later, his half-sister Matilda conferred the earldom on him again. The Anarchy allowed Rainald to evade payment of taxes on his holdings, which did not change until 1175, when Rainald died without a living male heir.

In 1103, Juliane, another bastard daughter of King Henry by his mistress Ansfride, married Eustace de Pacy in Normandy. The couple shared similar circumstances. Eustace’s father William de Breteuil acknowledged him despite his illegitimate birth. Sixteen years later, King Henry held his own granddaughters from Juliane as pledges for Eustace’s safekeeping of the castle at Ivry. Eustace failed in his bid and as revenge, Henry had his granddaughters eyes put out and the tips of their noses cut off. A naturally aggrieved Juliane sided with her husband against her father. He besieged her in the castle at Breteuil. She requested a meeting with him, but tried to put a bolt from a crossbow in his heart. Surrounded and helpless, Juliane surrendered. Later, she and her husband sought Henry’s forgiveness and she retired to the abbey at Fontevrault.
Isabel is one of the most provocative of Henry’s illegitimate daughters. The controversy stems from her ancestors’ ties to Henry. Isabel was the granddaughter of Comte Robert de Meulan, who had been an advisor to King Henry from the beginning of his reign. The men were longtime friends and Henry would have seen Robert’s children grow up during his long reign. When Robert died in 1117, Henry claimed his eldest sons, the 13-year-old twins Waleran de Meulan and Robert of Leicester as wards. Their sister Isabel was at least three years younger, yet in 1120, she bore Henry an illegitimate daughter who shared her mother’s name. While this last of the King’s mistresses went on to marry Gilbert de Clare and become the mother of Richard, known as Strongbow, her daughter never wed.     
Henry acknowledged at least fifteen other bastards during his lifetime. No other English king, including Charles II five centuries later, fathered as many illegitimate children. For those aligned with Henry’s children through marriage and political alliance, the link to royal blood mattered most, not the legitimacy of that connection.


Melisende said...

Great post - thanks for sharing!

Karenmc said...

Henry and many of his descendents are in my family tree. Now I need to go back and research the new information you have here. This is fascinating.

Lisa Yarde said...

Melisende & Karenmc, thanks for commenting on the post. Henry is one of my favorite English kings, a fascinating man at an interesting period in history.

Deborah said...

Henry and many of his descendents are in the family trees of a lot of people -- probably millions - myself and my husband included.

Wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

Like others Henry and at least one of his brood of illegitamate children are in my tree. Intersting lives our ancestors led.