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Henry I.

by C. Warren Hollister. Edited and completed by Amanda Clark Frost. Yale English Monarchs Series. New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2001. xx, 554 pp. $39.95 U.S. (cloth).

The long-awaited volume for Henry I in the Yale English Monarchs Series is very welcome, particularly after the unfortunate circumstances surrounding its writing. Warren Hollister lost his manuscript for the book, plus his own research library, in a tragic fire in 1990. Undaunted, Hollister set about writing the volume anew, but sadly died in 1997 after completing drafts of eight and a half chapters. Amanda Clark Frost has completed the remaining chapters and edited Hollister's drafts.

Hollister's first chapter is a valuable evaluation of the sources for Henry I. His discussion of the chronicles is particularly comprehensive, including biographical information on the authors, and will be extremely useful to persons researching a variety of topics in this period. Chapters two through eight, as well as most of the final chapter, comprise a narrative of Henry I's life, proceeding in mainly chronological fashion. Chapters three and four deal with Henry's military conflicts with his brothers William Rufus and Robert Curthose, suggesting that Henry's successes owed much to his ability to draw support for his cause from disgruntled Norman nobles. However, Henry was later to discover, during the attempt by his nephew William Clito to seize Normandy, that the tendency of the Normans to change sides was not always to his own advantage. The investiture controversy with Anselm of Canterbury is carefully detailed, particularly as a means to demonstrate the king's policy of using delaying tactics to reach eventual accommodation on difficult issues. This narrative section is lucid, highly readable, and is spiced with Hollister's humour, as when he notes that the digestive illness which prevented Stephen of Blois (later King Stephen) from sailing on the ill-fated White Ship may have determined the future history of England.

Hollister bases these narrative chapters largely on painstaking research in primary sources. He gives a tremendous amount of information for all aspects of the king's life, although at times the minutiae become somewhat overwhelming, as when he writes three pages on Henry's exact birthdate. This narrative provides a wealth of accessible information and will be particularly beneficial for newcomers to the study of Henry I--particularly undergraduates, those who are not able to obtain primary sources readily, and those who do not read Latin. While Hollister's reliance on primary sources has advantages, it does highlight the major shortcoming of his approach to the narrative section, which is a relative neglect of recent scholarship. Frost has attempted to remedy this situation by updating the footnotes, but the text itself still reflects the fact that Hollister's theories are largely based on older works, some of them many decades old. It is disappointing that Hollister has not incorporated more up-to-date ideas, such as recent scholarship on power and authority, and debates on the nature of feudalism.

However, the three chapters of analysis and evaluation which follow the narrative section do show a much greater use of recent scholarship, no doubt reflecting Frost's contribution to the text. The relatively brief chapter on law and governance is central to Hollister's thesis that Henry I was fundamental in the creation of effective administrative kingship in England and Normandy. He discusses Henry's re-organization of the justice system by the proliferation of justices at all levels of jurisdiction, while retaining strict royal control by setting over larger areas sheriffs who were directly answerable to the king. Evidence suggests that the exchequer, as we know it, appeared during the reign of Henry I. The organization of the exchequer, coupled with the increased efficiency of the dispensation of justice, resulted in extremely effective collection of revenues for the royal treasury. The fiscal strength of Henry's reign is noteworthy, in spite of the drains on the treasury caused by wars in Normandy and unusual expenses such as the huge dowry of his daughter Maud. Henry also managed the difficult task of ruling lands on both sides of the Channel by instituting bodies of viceregal administrators for each region.

The chapter on the Church outlines Henry's donations to ecclesiastical institutions in considerable detail, as well as stressing the use which he made of the distribution of bishoprics and abbotships to his favourites. The king's tremendous support of the abbey of Cluny is discussed thoroughly, as is his foundation and endowment of the Cluniac abbey at Reading.

Frost's labour in editing and completing Hollister's work must have been a tremendously arduous job, and she deserves considerable credit for enabling the publication of this volume. In addition to finalizing Hollister's own writing, she has completed the last two and a half chapters, and updated the references. She has endeavoured to stay as close as possible to Hollister's own ideas, accessing his previous publications and minimal notes. In view of her estimable work, a reviewer hesitates to make any criticisms of these final chapters. However, it might have been preferable if she had become joint author of the book, rather than merely completing it according to Hollister's vision. The final chapters are vital to the entire work, as they contain the evaluation and overall assessment of Henry I's reign. In an effort to replicate what Hollister might have written, had he lived to complete the work, Frost has been forced to draw too heavily on his previously published writing, even to the point of including seventeen pages of text verbatim from one of Hollister's articles. As his earlier writings are easily accessible and well-known, this approach has resulted in an unfortunate duplication of scholarship. It might have been advantageous if Frost had dared to incorporate more of her own ideas into the concluding chapters, providing a fresh viewpoint to complement Hollister's work.

Hollister has included an appendix discussing his "witness-counting" method of analyzing charters and writs, in which he attempts to refute Criticisms of this methodology, particularly by David Bates. While Hollister does provide examples of the utility of his method, he fails to address adequately all the concerns which Bates has raised, such as accumulation of witness signatures over a period of time, forgeries, and distortions caused by the loss of entire archives. Thus, he does not provide a completely convincing argument in favour of witness counting. As results gained by this method are often cited within the text of the book, it is perhaps wise to approach these conclusions with a degree of caution.

In general, the long reign of Henry I is presented in great detail and provides the reader with useful references to primary sources. Henry I is portrayed throughout in a sympathetic manner, emphasizing his preference for accommodation over war, his generosity to ecclesiastical institutions, his reformation and improvement of administration, the fiscal strength of his government, and the general stability and peace of his reign. While the bias may tend a little too much in favour of Henry's personal qualities, Hollister's work emphatically confirms the considerable accomplishments which mark Henry I as an extremely successful king.

Pembroke College, University of Cambridge

Laura Napran
COPYRIGHT 2003 Canadian Journal of History
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Author:Napran, Laura
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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