Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

King Henry I

Today marks the anniversary of the death of King Henry I in 1135.

I recently read C.Warren Hollister's Henry I, which is the Yale series on English Monarchs. The story behind the publication of the book is in itself remarkable - the text, notes and library which susrtaine dit were lost in a Californian forest fire and the author had to begin all over again, only to have a fatal heart attack before he finished the book - on his death bed in 1997 he handed the project over to a former student, Amanda Clark Frost, who brought it to completion. The book is however remarkable in its own right as a wonderful insight into the life of the King and into the nature and working of early twelfth century government. It really is very well worth reading, and full of insights and a profound understanding of the King and his age.

Front Cover

Part of its attraction is the gentle academic humour Prof Hollister deploys. Here, for example, is his comment after writing of how the King, famous for his vast numbers of illegitimate children, was seen by comtemporaries and modern historians as making good use of his progeny in building up the networks of power and patronage ..."[b]ut even so, it is difficult to believe that such calculations dominated Henry's mind during the moments he was conceiving these offspring. If so, then Henry was an even more devious schemer than some moderndistorians have accused him of being."

One thing which, very surprisingly, appears to be missing in the book is William of Malmesbury's description of King Henry's appearance and character:

He was of middle stature, greater than the small, but exceeded by the very tall; his hair was black, but scanty near the forehead; his eyes were mildly bright, his chest brawny, his body well fleshed. He was facetious in proper season, nor did multiplicity of business cause him to be less pleasant when he mixed in society. Not prone to personal combat, he verified the saying of Scipio Africanus, 'My mother bore me a commander not a soldier;' wherefore he was inferior in wisdom to no king of modern time; and I may also say, he clearly surpassed all his predecessors in England and preferred contending by counsel, rather than by the sword. If he could he conquered without bloodshed; if it was unavoidable, with as little as possible.

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