To what extent did a strong succession mean a strong reign in the years 1066-1189?
To what extent did a strong succession mean a strong reign in the years 1066-1189?
An analysis of the five king’s in question and there ability to cope with rebellions would help elucidate the extent to which a King’s reign would be effective. Rebellions had to be dealt with swiftly and effectively in order to safeguard the kings reign. The support of the people of London became paramount especially between the years 1130 and 1135 when this was a vital factor in deciding who would obtain the monarchy. Additionally, the new king would have to seize the treasury and therefore control the kingdoms finances. The concept of iconography was still in existence and was perhaps the most noteworthy method of identifying the new king. This included being crowned publically by a religious figure of high status. The latter is the systematic establishment of these factors within the kings’ reign as well as a solid construction of governmental infrastructure. Although a strong succession may have assisted the maintenance of strong reign, perhaps it was the individual qualities of the king himself that determined the way he governed his kingdom that demonstrated a strong reign.
Firstly, the suppression of the rebellions, and the complete annihilation of opposition was paramount if a King was to secure and maintain a successful reign. Perhaps the king that encountered the most rebellions was William the conqueror. This was inevitable as he was the first monarch to seize an unchartered England. After his victory at Hastings, the conqueror travelled straight to Winchester and seized the treasury, perhaps recognising the substantial importance of such an institution if he were to emphasise his absolute rule over his newly acquired jurisdiction. Within two weeks of his invasion, William was crowned publically by a high ranking bishop, therefore reinforcing the idea of iconography. It was without doubt that those loyal to Harold would attempt to oppose the new Norman kings role, either perhaps to test the strength of their new king or to purge him from power completely. The rebellion of the Norman earls in 1075 seemed to confirm William the Conqueror’s security and strength of his kingship. The rebellion was stifled from the outset, partly because of the intervention of the Conquerors regent, Lanfranc, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury. Many of the rebels who participated in the uprising were blinded and murdered. This demonstrated his authority and control of his kingdom, which reinforced his reputation as a strong king, authoritative king, perhaps derived from his personality. William went onto show great adaptation and innovation within the governmental infrastructure of England. The meticulous control of his new kingdom can again demonstrate his authoritative, intolerant, supremely dominant personality that lead to a strong, efficient reign as king. In direct juxtaposition however, Stephen, who most certainly had the strongest succession of all the Norman kings, failed to effectively deal with such a threat to his kingship. Stephen possibly had the ultimate succession, with help from his brother, Henry, the Bishop of Winchester, he not only gained influential religious support, but his brother was able to ensure that he claimed the treasury before Matilda. However, he was not able to convert his succession into a strong reign as he indecisively dealt with the empress. He allowed Matilda and her husband Geoffrey safe passage from Arundel in 1139 when they landed in England. Matilda and Geoffrey’s very presence was enough to set a precedent of rebellions within Stephen’s kingdom that invariably lead to his so
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called “anarchical” reign. There is evidence to suggest that if Stephen were to hastily annihilate the empress and her husband, he may have been able to demonstrate his
strength and intolerance as king whilst simultaneously enforcing his unopposed rule. Without such opposition, Stephen would have been able to strengthen his status as undisputed king. However, it was his gallant and pious personality that contributed to his instable kingship and lead to the twenty years of “anarchy”. It is paramount that in order to succeed as king, the monarch in power impose his almighty supremacy and intolerant rule upon his kingdom, such qualities that Stephen blatantly did not posses.
Moreover, another factor for consideration is the Kings’ recognition and implementation of the church within his reign. It is important to note the powerful influence of the Church through the era, as it was seen as a divine force through Medieval England. William I and Henry I were perhaps the most successful rulers in terms of their success with the Church, as they both successfully acknowledged the power and influence of such an institution, seeing fit to heavily involve it within his regime. This was critical as the unwavering support of the church was necessary if they wished to stabilise their regimes in their kingdoms. This is an example of where an embracement of religion led to a strong reign. However, William II’s relations with the church can be contrasted to William the Conqueror and Henry I. Rufus’ ruthless and avaricious personality alienated and separated divine intervention from his reign. The following succession of Henry I saw an alternation in the relationship between the King and the Church, as he was an effective guardian of the Church, which juxtaposed with the tyrannical features of William II. Deteriorating relations with the church may perhaps be one of the reasons for king Stephen’s weak reign. Initially, relations with the Clergy were favourable, as his brother was the Bishop of Winchester and he was formally acknowledged by the Pope who declared his support for Stephen. Consequently, this weakened Matilda’s and Geoffrey’s claim to the throne, therefore consolidating Stephen’s reign. However, later on in his reign Stephens’s relations with the Church soured as he offended his brother Henry, as he failed to promote him to the higher and much more prestigious status of the Arch Bishop of Canterbury. The loss of the prominent support of the church may have been a significant factor that lead to the de-stabilisation of his reign. On the contrary however, the divine power of the Church is clearly suggested by the last of the Kings in question, Henry II, who had a thriving relationship with the Church. Henry was declared ‘King by the grace of God’, which symbolises the effects that the Church had on the succession of his powerful and illustrious reign. However, Henry II strong reign was perhaps further supplemented by the fact that he was the only member of the Norman monarchy to inherit the favourable position of being the only undisputed heir. This was confirmed via the Treaty of Winchester. Henry, or the “Lion of Justice”, a name given in reference to the substantial contributes he made to law and order, had a year to familiarise himself with the infrastructure of his new jurisdictions. The involvement of the church within a particular king’s reign suggests a strong kingship. Reconciliation with the church was at the forefront of considerations for many successful kings as the Church was a symbol of God and therefore the ultimate power and authority within the medieval world. It was essential that in order for the king’s to maintain a successful reign, the support and admiration of the Church was vital.
Finally, the support of the barons was a significant factor in ensuring a peaceful, legitimate succession and a successful reign. William I, being a new, foreign king was perhaps the most likely of the medieval monarchs to encounter baronial resistance. William was initially lenient towards the Anglo-Saxon earls and barons. However, by the time the Domesday Book was completed, Normans had replaced nearly all the ruling class
of pre-conquest England. This once again demonstrates the conquerors adaptation in governmental infrastructure as he knew that a successful reign may not be feasible if many key figures in government were still loyal to Harold. In order to ensure a successful rule, he had to remove these existing barons from office and ensure that
those ones he brought it from Normandy would swear homage to him. On the contrary however, during the reign of Stephen, the barons swore loyalty to Stephen, thus strengthening his succession. However, he was unable to control and impose his rule on these barons in later years and baronial influence and authority was at the height of its power. This may have been perhaps as a result of his gallant and pious nature, or possibly due to the merciless reign of Henry I. “The Lion of Justice” had such an efficient, rigid hold of his kingdom, the barons simply could not rebel because of his sheer strength and intolerance. When Henry I passed, the barons seized the opportunity to take full advantage of the weak kingship in an attempt to obtain further prestige and power. Finally, perhaps the largest argument against the view that a strong succession lead to a strong reign can be seen in the reign of Henry II, especially in the way he dealt with the barons. By the time he was the monarch, it seems that England was in a state of turmoil. Henry II had to make substantial modifications to English government to ensure that it was running as efficiently as it was under the reign of his grandfather. Such modifications and alterations can be seen in his re-organisation of the Exchequer and the royal finances. He had to organise and demand the co-operation and loyalty from the barons, who experienced unlimited power during the previous king’s reign. Through the assizes of Clarendon and Northampton as well as the effective inquest of the sheriffs, Henry II was able to once stabilise the government of England, whilst simultaneously implementing unique an innovative practises of law and order of which the foundations of such mechanisms still exist today.
In summary, the evidence suggests that a strong succession did not necessarily symbolise a strong reign. The strength of each king may have been deduced from his personality and his ability to keep other figures of authority content, as well as the ability to maintain a well-organised kingdom and other jurisdictions. Although a strong succession may have had the potential to help establish and maintain a strong reign, what must not be ignored is that in order to successfully and efficiently govern a kingdom, the kings rule must be absolute and he must have the strong, authoritative, dominant personality necessary to achieve such order and stability.