English School , Late Sixteenth Century
Henry I was the fourth and youngest son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders...
This is one of only three recorded panel portraits of King Henry I painted in or before 1620 and the only surviving example in private hands.
Perhaps the best known panel portrait of Henry I is the example in the National Portrait Gallery, London which forms part of the so-called ‘Hornby Castle set of early Kings and Queens’ painted between c.1597 and 1618. The other recorded panel portrait forms part of a similar series at Dulwich Picture Gallery, which we know from original receipts was commissioned between 1618 and 1620. The portrait of Henry in this later set at Dulwich derives from an engraving by Reginald Elstracke published in Henry Holland’s ‘Baziliwlogia. A Book of Kings. Beeing the true and liuely Effigies of all our English Kings from the Conquest Vntill this Present’, published in 1618.
Our portrait shows obvious similarities with an engraving published in a book by an author with the initials ‘T.T’ in 1597, although it remains unclear whether there was an established portrait pattern of Henry in circulation prior to the publication of the print, or if painted portraits such as this work derive from the engraving. Dendrochronological analysis of the panel on which this work was painted suggests an earliest plausible creation date of 1583-9 upwards, which would predate the publication of the T.T print, however it is also known that prepared panels were sometimes laid up for a number of years before usage, making a definitive conclusion difficult to ascertain.
Henry I, possibly born at Selby between 1068 and 1069, was the fourth and youngest son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. In 1086 Henry received a knighthood from his father William I at Westminster on the 24th May and that same year travelled with William to France and was present at his death at St Gervais, Rouen in September 1087.
As the youngest of four sons, Henry’s hopes of one day becoming king must have seemed a little distant, however, with the death of third son William in a hunting accident, the Dukedom of Normandy left to eldest son Robert, and England left to second son William Rufus (William II), Henry’s prospects greatly improved.
On his father’s death Henry went to Normandy to live at the court of eldest brother William and soon acquired from him a substantial area of land in western Normandy for £3000, which were sold in order to raise funds to invade his brother in England. This territory included Cotentin and Avranchin and Henry was thus given the title of ‘Count of Cotentin’. However, when Henry and his companion Robert de Bellême, who would become his chief adviser, arrived in Normandy, they were captured by Robert’s men and held hostage on the orders of uncle Odo, Bishop of Bayeux who persuaded Robert that Henry was plotting to assassinate him. Following Henry’s release he reclaimed western Normandy as Robert no longer had any influential power in the region.
Relationships with Henry’s brothers continued to be difficult and after William Rufus, William II of England, died in a mysterious hunting accident, in which his brother was present, Henry quickly succeeded him as King. Robert Curthose returned from crusade in 1101 and invaded England, a campaign which declared Henry victorious. However, peace did not last long and Henry I invaded France in 1105-6 and defeated Robert at the Battle of Tinchebrai. Following this victory, Henry imprisoned his brother for life, and although he was treated relatively well, he was kept under constant guard until his death 28 years later.
The stability of Henry’s Anglo-Franco kingdom came under threat with the accession of a new king of France, Louis VI, who sided with Robert Curthose’s son and heir William Clito over leadership of western Normandy, which resulted in a rebellion between 1116 and 1119. Nevertheless, Henry was declared victorious once again at the Battle of Brémule and peace was agreed with Louis VI.
Henry I of England became known as a harsh but effective leader with the first official kingdom-wide record in Europe being produced of the newly constituted exchequer; the pipe roll from 1130 exists to this day. He also created unique records of the organisation and rank of the royal household, again, something which had not been conducted in Europe before. Henry was remarkably different to his brother William II and had numerous mistresses whilst married to Matilda of Scotland (daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scots) and supposedly fathered twenty-four illegitimate children. Henry’s only legitimate heir William Adelin drowned when the White Ship sank in the English Channel in 1120. The death of William led to a succession crisis, with Henry I declaring his daughter Matilda and husband Geoffrey Plantagenet heirs to the throne. However, after Henry’s death on 1st December 1135, after thirty-five years on the throne, Matilda and Geoffrey were supplanted by Henry’s nephew Stephen of Blois.
 This is deduced through studying C. Daunt, (2015) Portrait Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England, 2 vols., Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Sussex, Vol.2, p.69.
 T.T., A booke, containing the true portraiture of the countenances and attires of the kings of England (London, 1597).