What did Henry achieve for England?

One of Henry’s first moves was to ensure a successor by marrying Matilda of Scotland, originally called Edith. She was the daughter of the King and Queen of Scotland and through her mother was also descended from the Saxon royal family, so linking Henry into the pre-Conquest dynasty. She had been brought up at Romsey Abbey.

Henry also promised to re-instate many of the laws and statutes of King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxon past. He put an end to the private warfare among the barons, threatening them with horrific punishments. Instead, Henry’s travelling court dealt with disputes between the barons as well as other matters: the origin of the modern judicial circuit. He also stopped the tradition, common under Rufus, of the royal court, as it travelled around the country, laying waste great swathes of countryside, often devastating villages and abducting women and girls. Instead Henry announced in advance where he would be travelling, thus allowing local farmers and merchants to sell their produce to the court.

The seal of Matilda of Scotland
The Treasury was reformed and a system of book-keeping established through the use of pipe rolls which recorded economic and legal transactions. The currency was stabilised and illegal coiners or debasers of coins were punished by having their hands amputated. Because Henry was so often abroad an efficient system of bureaucracy became established, the origin of today’s Civil Service.

Henry had good relations with the Church and especially Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who sometimes acted as his regent when Henry was in Normandy. There was disagreement between them over who had the right to invest bishops and Anselm left England for a time. However they continued to write very affectionately to each other. Unfortunately Henry’s grandson Henry II did not follow his example in his relationship with Becket many decades later.

A pipe roll
Although Henry had over 20 illegitimate children, mainly born in the years before he became king, he and Matilda had only two children, Matilda and William, known as Adelin or heir apparent. As a very young girl Matilda was betrothed, and soon married, to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, while William was groomed to succeed his father as King of England and Duke of Normandy. In 1113, when he was 9, he was betrothed to the daughter of the Duke of Anjou, as part of a peace settlement. King Henry’s own wife, the children’s mother, died in 1118.

Lindsay Mullaney

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