Alternate History

Henry I of Anglia (The Kalmar Union)

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Henry I
Henry I Anglia (The Kalmar Union).png
Henry I
King of Anglia
Reign 14th March, 1310 - 3rd March, 1347
Predecessor Charles III
Successor Henry II
Spouse Margareta of Oostend

Joanna of Brabant

Issue Karl Henrysson

Isabel Henrysdotter
John Henrysson
Harold Henrysson
Maria Henrysdotter
Henry II
Katherina Henrysdotter

Full name
Henry Karlsson
House Estridsson
Father Charles III
Mother Maria of Loon
Born 6th August, 1279
Mons, Hainault
Died 3rd March, 1347
Saint-Hubert, Luxembourg

Considering the successes the Anglian branch of the Estridsson family had achieved since 1098 it is little wonder that those present at the coronation of Henry I believed they were living in a golden age. His father Charles III had left behind a vast treasury and an expanded holding on the continent. The rule of the Witenage was uncontested in Anglia itself with laws and well-defined rights dispensed to the land with touring 'gyres' or courts. On the continent recourse to justice lay more with the local lords but the ever-growing wealth of the towns showed the general lot of the population was good.

However all was not well within Anglia. The kings still held an incredible amount of power over the function of government but during Charles III's long period of blindness this authority had been handed more and more over to the chancellors and occasionally untrustworthy advisors, disturbing the relations between king and nobility. More and more the business of government would be reliant on personality rather than landed ties between the nobles. Henry did not have the best personality to be dealing with a tight knit group such as this. Bad-tempered, argumentative and often petty he had already made several enemies while prince and started his reign in the same manner, rudely dismissing three chancellors in as many years. Meanwhile his profligate spending on feasts, favours and tournaments may have kept some of the more carefree knights happy but showed no economical acumen for the future government of the realm. Henry was hardly a distinguished commander either inspiring little confidence from his nobles. He had been decisively beaten by Henry VII of Luxembourg during the 1290s helping the obscure count's rapid rise to Holy Roman Emperor.

Finally he was also viewed with suspicion by the church after marrying Joanna of Brabant, his father's intended fourth wife. The fact that his first wife Margareta of Oostend was still alive, and that the church had been strong-armed into concocting spurious reasons for separation, reeked of opportunism. As Joanna was the only child of John II of Brabant the marriage her hand promised the inheritance of Brabant and Limburg but required a huge payment for the union. Joanna was hardly a spendthrift either. Henry lavished gifts upon her and while Henry reportedly lived in opulence, her own court was 'equal to her husband's in splendour'. Together the couple ate through the royal treasury at an alarming rate lavishing money on relics, grand building projects and their knights.

Henry's government staggered on however, continuing the spending levels of Charles III's reign until it suffered a comprehensive system breakdown. The 'Great Famine' of 1315-1322 coupled with a 'sheep blight' ruined Anglia's economy which was dominated by the wool trade. Whilst peasants died of starvation tax receipts tailed off dramatically and by the 1320s Anglia had stopped paying for the campaigns of Frederick I of Austria allowing Louis IV to secure the Imperial throne as well as loosen the bonds keeping the Rhineland states in-line with Anglian machinations.

Arrogant and badly in need of funds, Henry tended to pocket the estates of deceased nobles releasing them only after a substantial sum was paid over or, gifting them to his close personal retinue. The elevation of certain knights namely Sigurd Ivarsson and his own cousin Henry of Loon to unheralded positions of power while denying inheritance to established families pushed the Witenage to the brink on several occasions. Time and again, often through armed intervention, Ivarsson and Henry of Loon would be banished for 'poisoning the king's peace' only for them to return once the fuss had died down.

Henry I & Sigurd Ivarsson (The Kalmar Union)

Henry I and Sigurd Ivarsson, a 1943 painting by Jan Langton showing the relationship of the two men and concern of the king's onlooking advisors

In 1331 matters came to a head. Ivarsson, returning for a third time from exile in Man had been raised to Earl of Holland (Lincolnshire) and Lord of Atrecht, an unheard of collection of estates and wealth for such a low-born knight. The other lords of Artesië rebelled, followed swiftly by the Anglian Witenage. Ivarsson was captured by the Earl of Norfolk's forces and taken to Lincoln to face a hastily arranged trial in which he was forbidden from testifying. Found guilty of treason his lands were confiscated and was executed.

The royal army, long kept loyal with bribes soon overcame the earls' forces however capturing the ringleaders. Henry then let his men off the leash in the still fermenting continental possessions. In this respect the crisis was more traumatic for Flanders than Anglia as Anglian troops raged almost unsupervised through the county for 18 months while Henry settled scores with his enemies. Several would follow Ivarsson to the executioners, an unheard of punishment for nobility. Cowed, the Witenage granted Henry a massive one-off tax on wool, enough to pay off his and Joanna's creditors and contemplate foreign ventures once more. Ivarsson's body was transferred to Lincoln cathedral and Henry would venerate his friend's tomb 'almost as if he were a saint'.

Once again supreme, Henry returned to cajoling Namur into giving up more of its sovereignty, this time with a particularly overbearing and heartless military campaign. The spread of fortresses through the region, stuffed with Anglian (and not Flemish or Hainaultian) troops, and the promotion of his own confessor to the office of Bishop of Cambrai (ignoring Liege's authority) led to a more general war between Anglia and Liege as well as dragging in France. Seeing an easy push-over Henry went for the kill but he had picked the wrong fight. No longer fed by Anglian bribes the princes of the Empire slowly formed a solid alliance to 'push the Anglians back to the sea'. Meanwhile his funds had run dangerously low. John I of Bohemia, in a move possibly meant to begin his campaign to take the Imperial throne travelled west to lead the fight. Showing the same tactical and technical ineptitude against John as he had shown against Henry VII, the Anglian armies were pushed into battles which they had no hope of winning. Eventually after the fall of Mons in April 1334 Henry was forced to renounce his hold over Namur and pay 120,000 Marks to John I. Even more humiliating Henry was forced to pay homage to Louis XI for Artesië, Flanders and Hainault. While Anglia had not lost control of the counties Henry and all of his continental lords were technically France's vassals.

This time there would be no easy way out for Henry. Bankrupt, he spent several years eking funds out of dwindling estates culminating in a half-hearted attempt to sell the Bishopric of Durham to the highest bidder This was a final straw and brought out all of his enemies, most prominently those he had not fully removed from power after the crisis of 1231. Just as at his coronation Henry was forced to reissue the various charters of Charles III's reign, followed by an unprecedented writ authorising the Witenage to root out corrupt dealings in local government. This to all intents and purposes sidelined the royal family and allowed the Witenage in concert to govern in Henry's name.

From 1340 to 1343 Henry was effectively locked out of government. The reigns of power were operated by the Archbishop of Jorvik; Christopher of Trent, and the Earl of Suffolk; Baldwin Sigurdsson, who sent out commissioners to survey the levels of corruption in the shires and into Flanders too; the first attempt to bring the Flemish into the Witenage's sphere. While this went on Henry spent his time touring his continental holdings spending much of his time in the gloomy coastal fortress of IJzendijke in Southern Zeeland.

The death of Christopher of Trent in January 1343 seemed to signal an end to the commissions. The survey had certainly rooted out corruption but was becoming onerous on the lower lords who were losing their own incomes. It had however closed off many holes through which Henry had skimmed money off as well removed biased justices and sheriffs who had proven a blight to their localities. It also installed fixed and permanent law courts in the shires allowing the population much easier access to justice. With the job done Henry was welcomed back from his semi-exile more frail and melancholy than before. Joanna had died the previous summer and his temper had been seemingly replaced with bouts of depression. Still his return to Lincoln was marked with fine pageantry, topped off with another reissue of the great charters promising the good governance of the Witenage would be upheld by the King.

A resumption of war with Luxembourg in 1346 proved to be a last hurrah. Once again facing the mighty John I of Bohemia and Louis XI of France, at the Battle of Monthermé Henry's outnumbered army had their backs to the river Semoy. However Henry, or rather his superb commander Christopher Crouch, a Marcher lord of Essex, arrayed the Anglian forces between the river and a dense forest. Rain turned the broad field between the armies into mud and the French cavalry charge was torn apart by a combination of arrows and well-paid dismounted men-at-arms. Meanwhile rudimentary Anglian cannons caused utter confusion amongst their opponents. John I was killed, cut down by a specialist cadre of Flemish knights tasked solely with capturing high value targets (though obviously they failed in capturing this particular target) while Louis XI was captured. The French retreated in ignominy awaiting final terms from Anglia.

The Anglian forces continued into Luxembourg with Henry refusing to leave the army. Besieging the fortress-abbey of Saint-Hubert the by now quite infirm Henry caught dysentery and died. He and Joanna had seven children however it would the youngest boy, Henry who would succeed his father. Margareta of Oostend's children Karl and Isabel were struck out of the inheritance with repercussions for the future.

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