King Henri I of the Franks: the weak royal demesne of France

King Henri I of the Franks

King Henri I of the Franks, born c 1008 in Reims, died on the 4th of August 1060, in Vitry-aux-Loges in France.  He was crowned at Reims in 1027 in his father’s lifetime, following the sudden demise of his elder brother Hugh Magnus.   Son of Robert Capet (King Robert II) and Constance of Arles, Henri was the third Capetian king of the Franks whose solo reign lasted from 1031 to 1060, which was quite a substantial length of time for the High Middle Ages.

Henri and his younger brother, Robert, clashed with the old King Robert and defeated him, compelling him to return to Paris.  However, after their father passed away in 1031, the two brothers rebelled against each other because their mother, Constance, wanted her youngest son, Robert, to become King of the Franks.   On the back of his mother’s continuing opposition to his succession, Henri had to flee from Paris and briefly take refuge briefly in Normandy in 1033, but he was able to return back and retake his throne with the help of Robert II, Duke of Normandy.

The peace between King Henri I and Robert was achieved when Robert was granted Burgundy in 1032.  The French realm was really like a barrel of gunpowder in the Early and High Middle Ages when sons struggled for supremacy against their fathers, and brothers rebelled against brothers, when those who ultimately became monarchs had to continuously administer the realm with an iron hand and a crafty brain to ensure that their vassals would not rise up against their sovereign and other lords.   The matter of how power was wielded and how wielded it was frequently decided by sword. Perhaps it was one of the reasons why the monarchs crowned their eldest sons and heirs in their lifetime, showthe younger sons, if they had them, who would inherit the crown.

King Henri I of the Franks

Henri, too, had to deal with rebellious vassals.  From 1033 to 1043, Henry battled with several feudal magnates in his realm, including Eudes of Blois and his younger brother Robert.  In 1055, the county of Sens was annexed by the crown as the sole territorial gain of Henry’s reign. However, after the loss of Burgundy, the royal demesne of France reached its smallest size, and Henri’s descendants who would have to overcome the weakness of the early Capetians.  Henri tried to use the marriage market to strengthen his rule: counting upon an alliance with members of the Salian Dynasty, rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, he was betrothed to Matilda of Franconia, the daughter of Conrad II, Holy Roman Emperor, but she died in 1534 before they could marry, and then Henri married Henry III’s relative – Matilda of Frisia, but she died giving birth to a daughter via Caesarian section.

At first, Henri of France was on friendly terms with Duke William of Normandy (the future William the Conqueror).  Henri and his men assisted William, Robert I of Normandy’s successor as Duke of Normandy, to squash the uprising at the Battle of Val-aux-Dunes in 1047.  Nonetheless, later their alliance fell apart, partly because William married Matilda of Flanders, which Henri interpreted as a threat to his throne because this marriage could have created an extremely powerful enemy for the King of the Francs in the region.  They waged war against one another, and Henri was crushed at Varaville in 1058.  Later, Henri again invaded Normandy, but he lost at the Battle of Mortemer.

The wedding of King Henri I of the Franks and Anne of Kiev

Henri I did not rush to remarry.  In 7 years, his next wife became Anne of Kiev, a daughter of Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Kiev and Prince of Novgorod, and his second wife, Ingegerd Olofsdotter of Sweden.  They married on the 19th of May 1051 during the feast of Pentecost, at Reims Cathedral, where she was crowned immediately after the marriage ceremony.  Henri was 20 years older than his young and beautiful bride from exotic Eastern European lands.  The new Queen of France fulfilled her duty: she birthed Henri four children – Philippe (the future King Philippe I), Emma, Robert (died young in 1160), and Hugh the Great de Vermandois.  Anne introduced the name ‘Philippe’ to Western Europe.  In 1059, Henri quarreled with the Church over the Gregorian Reform, and Anne received a letter from Pope Nicholas II, in which he counselled the young queen to influence her spouse in order to make him follow his conscience and govern without animosity towards the Vatican.

Anne and Henri were married for 9 years, during which he allowed her to participate in the royal council.  Her husband passed away at the age of 52 when he was besieging Thimert occupied by the Normans.  Henri was laid to eternal rest in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, and Anne became the regent for her son, Philippe, together with Count Baldwin V of Flanders, the husband of Henri’s sister Adèle.  For some time, Anne acted as her son’s regent: an act from 1060 shows her name following Philippe’s, and her name also appears in charters together with Baldwin’s.  However, Anne seems to have stopped being actively involved in politics after her controversial second marriage to Count Ralph IV de Valois, who was Henri’s cousin, which meant the affinity of her second marriage, and a bigamist as Ralph was already married.  Anne was forced to leave the French court and lived in her second spouse’s estates until his death in 1074.

All images are in the public domain.

Text © 2020 Olivia Longueville