son of Thibaud II and of Marie of Carinthie, Henri was born at the
castle of Vitry in December of 1127. He received a scholar's education
as well as that of a man destined to be a military leader. He participated
in the Second Crusade (1147-1149) alongside king Louis VII and was
dubbed a knight by the Byzantine emperor, Manuel Comnene. The young
count distinguished himself at the battle of Méandre where the attack
he led with the counts of Flanders and Mâcon permitted the King's
army to scatter the Turks and sent them fleeing from their encampment
on the south bank of that river. On the 24th of June, 1148 Henri was
present at the crusader's court held at Acre by Conrad III.
his return from the Holy Land, he received from his father an advance
of his inheritance in the form of the lordships of Vitry and of Bar-sur-Aube.
At the death of his father, Henri became count of Champagne and Brie,
while his brother Thibaud inherited Blois. Thanks to his close ties
to king Louis VII, Henri married the princess Marie, daughter of Louis
and of Eleanor of Aquitaine, around 1159.
his reign, Henri maintained a balanced political stance, often playing
the role of mediator to settle conflicts which opposed his sovereign
king Louis VII with the emperor Frédéric Barberousse, or between the
king of England, Henri Plantagenêt, and pope Alexander III, as well
as during a dispute between the abbot of Vézelay and the count of
Nevers (1165-1166). He also intervened in 1181 when king Philippe-Auguste
was tempted to go to war with Henri II of England against Frédéric
Barberousse. By this activity, Henri fitted perfectly into this time
period when institutions such as diplomacy were beginning to make
headway in resolving disputes peacefully without the use of military
force. However, Henri the Liberal was the vassal of several sovereign
rulers: notably the king of France and the Ottonian emperor. He most
likely used this position to conserve and consolidate his political
the Liberal was instrumental in the economic development of Champagne
in the XIIth century. For example, he instituted a set calendar for
the six largest trade fairs of the region and assured protection for
the merchants traveling to and from the fairs. Thanks to his guidance
and interest, Champagne became for a time the undisputed commercial
center of Western Europe.
extreme generosity to the ecclesiastical institutions of Champagne
merited him the surname "the Liberal". He richly endowed abbeys and
monasteries alike with gifts of land and or economic privileges. Henri
the Liberal founded the collegial churches of Saint-Etienne of Troyes
(which would become the burial place of his family), Saint-Maclou
of Bar-sur-Aube and Saint-Nicolas of Sézanne. While fulfilling his
duty as a good christian nobleman, he was also strengthening his political
position by this policy of giving magnificent gifts.
of Henri I the Liberal used from 1152 to 1176
Paris, National Archives, coll. of seals, D 566
well as being known for his moderation, his generosity, his political
strength and his love of tournaments, Henri the Liberal was also a
scholar who knew Latin and read it for his personal pleasure. In his
library, there was no indication of curiosity for works written in
the vernacular, nor any penchant for the courtly literature of the
day. Henri being eighteen years older than his wife Marie de Champagne,
he collected history books, Valère Maxime, Quinte-Curce, the moral
treaties, bible commentaries, Macrobe, saint Augustine.
In 1179, Henri led an expedition to the Holy Land. The embarkation
took place at Marseille and the debarkation at Acre where he was accompanied
by the counts Pierre of Courtenay, Henri of Grandpré and bishop Philippe
of Beauvais. The king of Jerusalem joined forces with them on their
unsuccessful attempt to deliver Tibériade in August of that year.
On his return trip, he and his companions fell captive to the Turks
in Asia Minor. They were liberated thanks to the intervention of the
Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnene. Henri the Liberal returned to France
in poor health. He died at Troyes the 16th of March 1181.
was buried in a sumptuous tomb made of gilt copper, enamel and silver
located in the sanctuary of the collegiate church of Saint-Etienne
which he had had constructed adjacent to his palace in 1157. From
his marriage with Marie, daughter of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine,
he had two sons: Henri II (1181-1197) who was his successor , later
to be followed by the future Thibaud III.
of the counts of Champagne