THE FATHER'S DAY SNAP
The Norman king who out-daddied them all
This wonderful ink portrait of Henry I (r. 1100-1135) was made by Matthew Paris, long after Henry was dead and without any attempt at a true physical likeness. So it is Henry I, but also not. He’s holding Reading Abbey, his greatest monastic foundation, where his body was buried, in front of the high altar, following his death from the famous ‘surfeit of lampreys’. The abbey was dissolved and ruined in the sixteenth century Reformation, so Henry’s royal grave is one of the several that are now missing.
Anyway, I’m sharing this image of Henry with you because it’s Father’s Day, and I reckon Henry was the ultimate daddy of medieval England. HIs output was extraordinary: Henry sired between twenty and twenty-four children. Two of them - William the Aetheling and the Empress Matilda - were legitimate. The rest were bastards, but that was no impediment to high political status, as the career of someone like Robert earl of Gloucester demonstrates.
Here’s rather a nice paragraph from the most recent scholarly article on Henry’s children.
Henry I, as William of Malmesbury informs us on the highest authority, was ‘completely free from fleshly lusts’, and he succumbed to female blandishments not for sexual gratification but for the sake of issue. In his endeavours in this area, as in so much of the rest of his life, Henry was eminently successful. Among British kings he holds the record for the most illegitimate offspring and shares with his nearest rival, Charles II, the distinction of an appendix in the Complete Peerage, cataloguing his procreative achievements. While Charles was gracious in the acknowledgement of his children and several members of the current British peerage owe their titles to his activities, Henry’s generosity was tempered by self-interest. His offspring were deployed in his service in a hard-headed and astute manner that made them and their children influential and powerful figures well into the third quarter of the 12th century.
Thompson, Kathleen, ‘Affairs of State: the illegitimate children of Henry I’, Journal of Medieval History 29 (2003)
This week I shall be at the Chalke Valley History Festival - the greatest history festival in the world. If you feel like a trip to Wiltshire you can catch me down there doing something or other most days (some of it scheduled, some of it ‘pop-up’). But I’ll be posting about the experience on here. I hope you enjoy it.
Have a great week!