The Feudal Kingdom of England, 1042-1216

By Frank Barlow | Go to book overview

6
THE ZENITH AND THE NADIR OF
NORMAN RULE, 1100-1154

I

WITH the reign of Henry I, the youngest son of William the Basterd, Norman kingship reached its splendid apogee in England. With the reign of Stephen, a grandson of King William, it fell to its lowest level. The first William had been famed as a conqueror; the second William shone as a magnificent and eccentric knight; but Henry I impressed contemporaries by his learning. The impression developed into a myth, so that by the fourteenth century Henry was called 'Beauclerk'. But, although we know that Henry was illiterate and had little if any Latin; although to us, looking back, he seems as tyrannical as his brother and much crueller; and although, like his father and his brother, he spent his life in warfare and hunting, his reputation is proof that there was a new spirit in the court. If Henry could not write he had many clerks who could; and the experiments towards an orderly bureaucratic administration, which under Rufus had been detested, under Henry for the first time aroused admiration; and it may well be that Henry's true greatness lies in causing this revolution in attitude. Of his successor, his nephew Stephen, Walter Map wrote, 'A fine knight, but in other respects almost a fool', and under Stephen the imposing façade of a coherent kingdom disconcertingly crumbled. The failure and the success were not entirely disconnected. The sons of the Conqueror had pushed the royal powers too hard and had strained the capacities and loyalties of their servants far too severely. The succession of a weak man -- an accident that no dynasty can avoid for ever -- not only caused the pressure to slacken but allowed the inevitable reaction to destroy much that had been achieved. Nevertheless, if proof were required of the basic soundness of the polity

-171-

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The Feudal Kingdom of England, 1042-1216
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introductory Note v
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Maps and Charts xii
  • I - England in the Reign of Edward the Confessor 1
  • 2 - The Reign of Edward the Confessor 55
  • 3 - The Norman Conquest of England 77
  • 4 - The Anglo-Norman Kingdom 100
  • 5 England and Normandy, 1066-1100 137
  • 6 - The Zenith and the Nadir of Norman Rule, 1100-1154 171
  • 7 - Social Changes in England 235
  • 8 - The Re-Establishment of the Monarchy Under Henry II 283
  • 9 - The Angevin Empire 331
  • 10 - The Angevin Despotism 375
  • Epilogue 436
  • Note on Books 442
  • Index 445
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