Sometime in the second decade of the twelfth century an anonymous clerk compiled a long awkward treatise which we call the Laws of Henry I. He pompously began by declaring, “The glorious Caesar, Henry, moderate, wise, just and valiant, sheds radiance over all his kingdom in ecclesiastical laws and secular ordinances, in writings, and in displays of good works.” On the very day that Henry died in Normandy a Saxon physician, priest, and prophet, Wulfric of Haselbury, living in seclusion in Somerset, told his feudal patron that the dead king would enter Paradise because he had kept peace, had sought justice, and had even built a splendid abbey for Benedictine monks. Few later commentators would be as generous as these two. Other historians unfavorably contrasted Henry's wisdom, wealth, and victory with his avarice, cruelty, and lust.
The law clerk's short catalog contains several surprises. It suggests Henry generated ecclesiastical laws himself, an odd, but not untrue, observation. It reports that the king performed good works, but these are never specified. Most fascinatingly, it hints that “in writings” Henry composed things other than charters and writs. Unfortunately, no such texts have survived. Thus, what we most seek to learn—the monarch's own intentions and reflections—still elude us. Henry's personal understanding of his monarchial responsibilities must therefore be interpreted from his actions, rather than traced from his plans.