Henry I


Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror - and didn't expect to become King of England! But accidents will happen...

Henry I of England
Henry I of England


  • Born c. 1068
  • Ruled from 1100
  • Died 1135

Who was he?

What is he most remembered for?

  • Being a harsh but effective leader.
  • Taking his older brother, Robert, prisoner.
  • Marrying Matilda of Scotland, with whom he had two children Matilda and William.
  • Having lots of children – 28 in all! Only two of his children were with his wife.
  • Establishing a more bureaucratic state (in which appointed officials took some important decisions as well as the king).
  • Restoring the English laws of Edward the Confessor.
  • Dying after eating too many eels.

What happened next?

When Henry died in his 60s, Matilda was his sole legitimate heir, but her first cousin Stephen took the throne.

Points of interest:

  • Henry was well-educated and became known as Henry Beauclerc (which means ‘fine scholar’)
  • Henry’s first wife was christened Edith but changed her name to Maude/Matilda when she got married, as a compliment to her mother-in-law!
  • Henry’s son William Adelin drowned in 1120 when the royal boat, The White Ship, sank in the English Channel.


Some say Henry I was the king ‘who would let no one break the laws – but himself!’ Perhaps he saw himself as ‘first’ in everything.

A Short Biography of Henry I

When William I died in 1087, Henry inherited some money from his father but no royal title, while his older brothers Robert and William Rufus inherited Normandy and England respectively. As the youngest of four sons (his older brother Richard had died young), Henry was expected to become a bishop.

Henry inherits the crown unexpectedly
William Rufus’ death in a hunting accident in 1100 changed everything. William had no wife or heir and Henry took advantage of Robert’s absence in the First Crusade (a religious war between Christians and Muslims) and rushed to have himself crowned king. Some of the barons favoured Robert, but Henry bought their support with favours.

Fighting his brother - and winning
Robert returned from the Crusades in 1101 and invaded England to take the throne himself, but Henry by then had more support. He drove Robert back to Normandy. Robert wasn’t a good leader, and some of the Normans wanted Henry to take over in Normandy too. So Henry invaded Normandy and took his brother prisoner! Robert would live in captivity for the rest of his life (28 more years), while Henry took his title as Duke of Normandy.

Henry carried out reforms when he came to power. Unlike his brother and father, Henry was a popular king. He abolished unpopular laws and decreased taxes, extended the justice system and lessened the power of the Norman barons (wealthy noblemen who had come over to England with William the Conqueror and been given large parcels of land) over their English subjects. He brought in ‘new men’ with different backgrounds who rose through the ranks, rather than families of high status. While Henry was abroad, a bureaucracy developed (system of government) to deal with things in his absence. The exchequer was also developed to deal with royal revenues.

Good Queen Maude
Henry married Matilda, the great-granddaughter of Edmund II and daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland, which helped to secure the northern border. Matilda was very popular with the people and became known as ‘Good Queen Maude’. Matilda died two years before her son drowned.

Henry arranged a marriage between his only legitimate son William Adelin and Isabella of Anjou, to secure more lands in France. But when William drowned in a shipwreck in 1120, the succession came into question. Henry promised the throne to his daughter, another Matilda. He got the English lords and nobles to agree to support him. Deep down, however, they didn’t want to be ruled by a woman, and his daughter Matilda wasn’t at all popular! A year after the tragedy of the shipwreck, Henry married Adeliza, in the hope of having a son and heir, but there were no children from the marriage.

Henry I mourns the death of his son
Henry I mourns the death of his son

Overeating - and civil war
Henry died in Normandy in 1135, It is said he died from from eating too many eels! Perhaps it was food poisoning, but that isn't as interesting! He was buried in Reading Abbey. Following his death there was the civil war known as 'the anarchy' as Matilda (his daughter) and Stephen (Henry's nephew) fought over the throne.

Our Henry I Printables

Henry I Eating Eels Colouring Page

Henry I Eating Eels Colouring Page

Imagine if you were remembered because you had died of overeating eels? Sadly that's the fate of Henry I, and children can colour in that image here!

Henry I Fact Sheet

Henry I Fact Sheet

This is a 3-page pdf file containing a printable version of our information on Henry I of England, designed as a guide to learning for children. We've included all sorts of interesting facts to keep them engaged!

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