Henry the Liberal: Count of Champagne, 1127-1181

Henry the Liberal: Count of Champagne, 1127-1181

Henry the Liberal: Count of Champagne, 1127-1181

Henry the Liberal: Count of Champagne, 1127-1181


Over the course of the twelfth century, the county of Champagne grew into one of the wealthiest and most important of French principalities, home to a large and established aristocracy, the site of international trade fairs, and a center for artistic, literary, and intellectual production. It had not always been this way, notes Theodore Evergates, who charts the ascent of Champagne under the rule of Count Henry the Liberal.

Tutored in the liberal arts and mentored in the practice of lordship from an early age, Henry commanded the barons and knights of Champagne on the Second Crusade at twenty and succeeded as count of Champagne at twenty-five. Over the next three decades Henry immersed himself in the details of governance, most often in his newly built capital in Troyes, where he resolved disputes, confirmed nonlitigious transactions, and monitored the disposition of his fiefs. He was a powerful presence beyond the county as well, serving in King Louis VII's military ventures and on diplomatic missions to the papacy and the monarchs of England and Germany.

Evergates presents a chronicle of the transformation of the lands east of Paris as well as a biography of one of the most engaging princes of twelfth-century France. Count Henry was celebrated for balancing the arts of governance with learning and for his generosity and inquisitive mind, but his enduring achievement, Evergates makes clear, was to transform the county of Champagne into a dynamic principality within the emerging French state.


Count Henry the Liberal of Champagne (1127–81) was justly celebrated in his own time for his generosity (hence “the Liberal”), for his unusually inquisitive mind, and for balancing the practical arts of governance with learning. and that is how he is generally remembered today. As I delved into the details of his life, however, those characterizations seemed inadequate to encompass the experiences and accomplishments of one of the most engaging princes of twelfth-century France. Tutored in the liberal arts from an early age, mentored in the practice of rulership from the age of seven, leader at twenty of the Champenois contingent on the Second Crusade, and count of two of his father’s counties from twenty-two to twenty-five, he was by then an experienced and well-traveled prince who would rule the county of Champagne for the next three decades. As the most reliable of King Louis VII’s great lords, Henry served the king in military affairs and on diplomatic missions, and he married Louis and Queen Eleanor’s eldest daughter, Marie. His brother Thibaut was royal seneschal for more than three decades, another brother, William, was archbishop successively of Sens and Reims, and his sister Adele became Louis VII’s third wife and mother of the future Philip ii. Henry knew all the major political and religious figures of his time—three popes, the emperors of Germany and Constantinople, Henry ii of England and his sons, and a long list of archbishops, bishops, and abbots, not to mention learned clerics with whom he shared a love of books and history.

It is curious that no contemporary writer saw fit to pen a biography or even a significant portrait of Henry, who lived so large in the public sphere. Obituaries remembered him primarily for his benefactions, and one simply noted his name, Henricus dictus Largus. Three lengthy praise letters by Philip of Harvengt (ca. 1160), Nicholas of Montiéramey (ca. 1160), and Guy of Bazoches (1170s) laud Henry as a literate and generous prince but offer few details about his life, and the brief remembrances after his death are anecdotal rather than substantive. Pierre Pithou, who wrote the first history of the . . .

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