6 – Assassination and the first Henry

England has been conquered. The Norman invasion in 1066 brought a halt to English rule with William the Conqueror, a Norman of Viking decent, installing himself as King of England.

His death in 1087, brought his third son, William II, to the throne. There was speculation by historians that William II was either homosexual or bisexual based on his flamboyance as well as the fact that he did not marry nor have children.

William spent most of his time ending a revolt, led by his older brother Robert in Normandy while also bringing good justice to England, extending his rule in Wales and bringing Scotland firmly under his lordship.

William died in 1100 while on a hunting trip in the New Forest, probably around Brockenhurst, taking an arrow to the lung – although the circumstances around the event remain unclear.

The earliest mention of the event took place in the Anglo-Saxon Chronical which noted “the King was shot by an arrow from one of his own men.”

A memorial stone was erected in the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire, which states “Remember King William Rufus who died in these parts then known as Truham whilst hunting on 2nd August 1100.”

Memorial stone in the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire

William’s younger brother, Henry, hastened to Winchester to secure the royal treasury and then to London, where he was crowned within days. It has been speculated that William’s death was no accident as the named archer, a nobleman named Walter Tirel, was a keen bowman and it was unlikely that he would have “loosed such an impetuous shot.”

“Rufus Stone”, close to the A31 near the village of Minstead (grid reference SU270124), is claimed to mark the spot where William fell

Henry was with the hunting party that day and historians state that rivalry between brothers during this period was a pattern of political conflict and have found that the assassination theory credible.

Henry, who became known as Henry I, was no different to his forefathers in political disputes.

When his father, William the Conqueror died in 1087, he was left landless as William II inherited England and his brother, Robert, inherited Normandy.

Henry though purchased the County of Cotentin in western Normandy from Robert, but his brothers deposed him in 1091. He gradually rebuilt his power base in the Cotentin and allied himself with William II against Robert.

Upon seizing the English throne in 1100 when William II died, Henry married Matilda of Scotland, and had two surviving children, William Adelin and Empress Matilda (remember that name).

Robert, who disputed Henry’s claim to the English throne, invaded England in 1101 but the invasion ended up with a negotiated settlement that confirmed Henry as King of England.

The peace between the brothers was short-lived though as Henry invaded the Dutchy of Normandy in 1105 and 1106, defeating Robert at the Battle of Tinchebray and imprisoning him for the rest of his life.

Henry’s control of Normandy was challenged for many years and only in 1120 was a favourable peace achieved with Henry’s victory at the Battle of Bremule against King Louis VI of France.

Henry’s only son, William, drowned in the White Ship disaster of 1120 when around 300 revelers and nobles attempted to cross the Channel. William escaped when the ship hit a submerged rock in the dark, but got into a smaller boat to rescue his half-sister, Matilda, but his boat was swamped by survivors and he drowned along with them.

The village of Tinchebray in 2008

This left the English succession in doubt despite Henry naming his daughter Matilda as heir to the throne. Henry had married Matilda off to Geoffrey of Anjou and this made her unpopular.

With Henry’s relationship with his daughter and son-in-law becoming strained, fighting broke out along the Anjou border. When Henry died on 1 December 1135 after a week-long illness, his nephew (and grandson of William the Conqueror) Stephen of Blois succeeded him as King of England despite his plans for Matilda – this became known as The Anarchy!

Author: Brendon

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