King Henry I
It is no secret that I am obsessed with King Henry VII. I have a copy of one of his portraits up on the wall in my office. I collect books about him. I watched “The White Queen” in part because he was a character. My book is about his time in exile. This is a major obsession, and I believe that he was one of the best kings England has had.
But my affection does not mean that I am blind to the fact that he had a very weak blood claim to the throne, and therefore should be considered a “conquering” king instead of a dynastic one. His reign was good for the country; he was able to leave the throne to his son, Henry VIII, with a fortune saved in the royal treasury due primarily to proper management and cutting out of waste.
Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth of York was very important for the stability of the realm. With her two brothers, the “Princes in the Tower,” gone and presumed dead, Elizabeth was the heir to her father, Edward IV. Because Henry and Elizabeth’s children would have the blood of both sides, Lancaster and York, the country would unite under them. The “Tudor Rose” children were one of the motivations behind their political union, though the marriage grew into love over the years. This was not the first time a king married a queen to make the claim of his children stronger.
In 1100 Henry I married Edith, a Scottish princess, and she changed her name to Matilda to sound more “Norman.” Henry came to the throne of England under questionable circumstances. A younger son of William I, or “The Conqueror,” he had been out hunting with his older brother, King William II, or “Rufus” as he was called, when Rufus suddenly died. We do not know if Rufus was murdered or if his death was an accident, but Henry rode straight to Westminster to be crowned king as soon as Rufus was dead. Henry was not his brother’s heir; their brother Robert, the Duke of Normandy, was Rufus’ heir. Later, Henry and Robert would go to war against each other, but for now Robert let Henry be king of England.
Henry was the son of a conquering king, and had taken the throne when it wasn’t his. How could he make sure that his heir would be secure on the throne when he died? By giving his children a blood connection to the old Saxon kings, his children would be secure. This was why he married Edith/Matilda. She was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, and was the descendant of King Ethelred II of England. Their children would become the unity of Saxon and Norman blood. The whole country would unite under them, and they would be secure and powerful.
This is the exact same logic that Henry VII used when he married Elizabeth of York, and they had their “Tudor Rose” children. When Henry VII died in 1509, he left his throne to his son, Henry VIII. His daughter Margaret was the queen of Scotland, and his daughter Mary was the queen of France for a short period, before marrying her love, Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk.
Henry I’s story was sadder. Only one of his children outlived him, his daughter Matilda. She had been married to Henry V, the German Emperor, which is why she is called “Empress Matilda.” Henry’s male next of kin was now his nephew Stephan, but because Stephan did not have the Saxon blood that Matilda did, Henry did not want Stephan to be his heir. When Henry lay dying, he had the English barons promise their support to Matilda, that she would be the next ruler of England. They did not live up to their promises, and Stephan was crowned king. He and Matilda entered into battle against each other, sieging castles and taking the other as prisoner but then releasing them. This game of cat and mouse continued for years, until they made an agreement. Matilda would accept Stephan as the king if he agreed to have her son from her second marriage as his heir. Matilda’s son became Henry II, the first Plantagenet king and he became one of the best kings that England has had. His sons are another story…
Of course, the Tudors would be plagued by Henry VIII’s tumultuous person life and struggle to produce a healthy and legitimate male heir. The dynasty ended after 118 years, when Queen Elizabeth I passed away in 1603. But the descendants of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York continue to sit on the throne to this day, and they have many, many other non-royal descendants as well.
This is why I can compare the two marriages to each other, and they are a valid comparison. Both married their spouse to give credibility to their reign and to make the reigns of their children smoother than their own had been. They knew that by having children that had both blood lines in them, there could be no question of their legitimacy and security on the throne.
Can you think of any other royal marriages that compare? Let me know what you think!