Keeping relatives who were rivals locked up was often seen as too risky – even if these relatives didn’t manage to escape, they could easily become focal points for rebellion. The English Kings John, Henry IV and Richard III (probably) all disposed of relatives who had a better claim to the throne. Herod the Great, Cleopatra VII, John the Fearless, Atahualpa (Incan emperor) and numerous others seemed to have had few qualms about dispatching close relatives, including siblings and their own children.

Henry I, on the other hand, kept his brother prisoner in a succession of castles even as he was dealing with rebellions supporting Robert and / or his son William Clito. Although Henry could be merciful to those who opposed him, he was a stern ruler who meted out some brutal punishments at times. Given the obvious risks of keeping his brother alive (and, it seems, treating him rather well as Robert lived to be about 83), why did Henry take the risk of letting him live?

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    Have you also considered the risks of killing Robert? His supporters might fear that they were next and had nothing to lose by rising in rebellion.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 14:23
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    Killing a relative is not a thing most human beings will do easily by nature (evolutional instinct to keep one's own genes around). Maybe he was simply less sociopathic than the other rulers you mentioned.
    – Annatar
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 14:23
  • @ Steve Bird. That was one of the reasons I thought of but I haven't found any evidence to back it up (it seems a real possibility nonetheless). He may also have been concerned about posterity and would have been aware that his brother William II's ruthlessness created a very unfavourable impression. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 2:44
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    @Annatar. Agreed, but when it comes to rulers ,we are not talking about most human beings. In his rush to seize the throne, Henry left his brother William II's corpse lying in the New Forest. That's pretty cold-hearted at best. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 2:53
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    Someone voted to close this question, saying that it is unclear. What is unclear about it? If you have a valid point, you should give people the opportunity to clarify. Please explain rather just being negative - be fair to other members. Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 1:50

1 Answer 1


The brother Robert was not only "older" than Henry I, but also "old" (by the standards of the time, aged 55 or so when imprisoned). Killing "weak" people (such as oldsters) went against the code of chivalry. (Although "chivalry" wasn't codified in its final form until the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, it was "coming together" by the 1100s.) And after a few years' imprisonment, Robert would be physically incapable of leading a rebellion. Much better for Henry to have him alive (under the circumstances), than have him to be a dead martyr and a rallying point. The fact that Robert was still alive might somewhat deter rebels.

Henry probably calculated that Robert would die a natural death before he did. His calculation was correct but just barely; Robert lived till 83 and died a year before the much-younger Henry.

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    "Chivalry" per se wasn't "codified" until the works of Chretien de Troyes in the late 1100s, so to support your thesis, you'll have to provide a source that nails down an earlier emphasis on abstract values like this among the nobility.
    – Spencer
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 18:35
  • @Spencer: Added a "qualitying" sentence to address your comment.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 18:47

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