He was born in about 1092, hastily crowned king of England in 1135 and died in 1154. His reign was so tenuous that he was challenged from every side. Of his reign it was said that it seemed Christ and his saints slept. A real-life game of thrones.
It all began with the wreck of the White Ship on 25 Nov 1120, as it left the coastal town Barfleur, where William the Conqueror had launched his assault on England in 1066.
At a time when few people knew how to swim, King Henry I’s heir William Adelin (or Audelin) was on board, and so were the best and the brightest of the next generation. The crew and passengers had been celebrating and were drunk. The ship left in the dark, speedily racing Henry I’s ship, called the Esnecca or Serpent. The White Ship hit a rock and sank.
Only one survived, a butcher. William could have survived, but when he was in the rescue boat, they went back to get his sister; the victims grabbed the sides of the boat and capsized it. The heir drowned.
Stephen (the subject of this post) had diarrhea or some other stomach ailment and never boarded the ship or disembarked when he was afflicted. One historian says he didn’t like the drunkenness, either. He survived.
On hearing the news, Henry collapsed from grief.
Now who would be his successor?
Let’s begin with the big picture of family connections.
Stephen was William the Conqueror’s grandson, while Henry II was his great-grandson, but the grandson of Henry I, the previous king before Stephen took the crown.
From Edmund King’s book on Stephen:
Three tables from Marjorie Chibnall’s book Empress Matilda:
Three tables from W. L. Warren’s book Henry II (the best Medievalist, though all the others I’ve read come in a close second!):
From C. Warren Hollister’s book Henry I:
From Dan Jones’s Plantagenets (Source):
That last table is included because we are heading towards the Plantagenets, for Matilda, daughter of Henry I, fought Stephen over control of England, in the name of her son Henry (future Henry II).
STEPHEN’S PARENTS AND SIBLINGS
His mother Adele (or Adela), daughter of William the Conqueror, was born about 1060-62. She married at Chartres, France, in 1080 Etienne (Stephen) Henri (Henry), Count of Blois, Chartres, Chateaudun, Meaux, Provins, Sancerre, and Troyes, son of Thibaut (Theobald) III, Count of those same regions (except Troyes) by Theobald’s second wife Gondrée (Gundrada). Count Stephen-Henry was born in 1046. He was killed in battle at the siege of Ramallah 19 May 1102. Adele died at the monastery of Marcigny 8 Mar 1138 and was buried in the Abbey of Holy Trinity, Caen.
They had four sons and five daughters:
1.. Guillaume (William): He was born about 1087. He married in or before 1104 Agnes de Sully, daughter and heiress of Gilles (or Gilon) de Sully and other places, by Eldeberge, daughter of Geoffrey IV, Vicomte (Viscount) of Bourges. Guillaume was made Count of Chartres, seigneur of Sully-sur-Loire (etc.) until 1105. Then his brother Thibaut (or Theobald) took it in 1107. Guillaume died in 1150.Why wasn’t he considered a viable choice to succeed his father to the crown? His contemporaries called him “degenerate,” so there was no path for him to the throne. In other words, they didn’t like him.
Guillaume and Agnes had these children: Archambaud (seigneur of Sully); Henri (Abbot of Fécamp); Raoul (Prior of Charité, Abbot of Cluny); Marguerite (she married Henri, Count of Eu, lord of Hastings, Sussex. Their descendants have been traced); Elizabeth (Abbess of la Trinité of Caen).
2.. Thibaut (Theobald): He was born soon after 1090 and was eventually nicknamed le Grand or the Great, chevalier, Count of Blois, Champagne, and Troyes. He married in 1123 Matilda of Carinthia, daughter of Engelbert II von Sponheim, Duke of Carinthia, Margrace of Isttria, by Uta, daughter of Ulrich, Count of Passau. He died 8 Jan 1152. Matilda died 13 Dec 1160/61. Why didn’t he assume the throne when Henry I died? The barons of Normandy favored him, but when Stephen took the initiative, the barons backed off because they had land in both Normandy and England
Theobald and Matilda had these children:
Henri was nicknamed le Liberal or the Generous. He was Count Palatine of Troyes, Count of Champagne. In 1164 he married Marie of France, Regent of Champagne, daughter of Louis VII, King of France, by his first wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henri died at Troyes 17 Mar 1181 and was buried there in the church of St. Etienne, though his remains were later removed to Troyes Cathedral. Marie died 11 Mar 1198.
For more information on Eleanor of Aquitaine, see this post at this website, here:
Henri and Marie had these children:
Henri II, Count of Palatine of Troyes, Count of Champagne and Brie, King of Jerusalem, who married Elizabeth or Isabelle of Anjou, Queen of Jerusalem. Their descendants have been traced.
Thibaut (Theobald) III, Count of Champagne and Brie, also Count of Blois, Chartres, Sancerre, Vicomte (Viscount) of Chateaudun. He married Blanche of Navarre, daughter of Sancho VI, King of Navarre by Sancha, daughter of Alfonso VII, King of Castile. Their descendants have been traced. Theobald died 24 May 1201 and his remains were removed to Troyes Cathedral. Blanche died 12 or 14 Mar 1229. Their descendants have been traced.
Marie of Champagne was born about 1174. On 6 Jan 1186 she married Baudouin (Baldwin) VI, Count of Hainault and Flanders, Emperor of Constantinople. He was crowned Emperor 16 May 1204. Marie died 29 Aug 1204. He died in prison in Bulgaria 11 June 1205.
They had two daughters:
Joan was Countess of Flanders and Hainault.
Marguerite married before 23 July 1212 Bouchard d’Avesnes. They had three sons but divorced in 1221, because of consanguinity. Then she remarried before 15 Nov 12213 Guillaume de Dampierre. The latter marriage produced three sons Guillaume (count of Flanders); Guy III (Count of Flanders, Marquis of Namur); John (seigneur of Dampierre-sur-l’Aube and Saint Dizier); and two daughters: Joan (wife of Hughes III of Vitry, Count of Rethel and Theobald II, Count of Bar-Mousson); and Marie (Abbess of Flines). Guillaume de Dampierre died 3 Sep 1231. Marguerite died 10 Feb 1280. She left a will dated Nov 1273. John and Guy III’s descendants have been traced.
Marie of Blois married Eudes (or Odo) II, duke of Burgundy, son and heir of Hughes II Borel, Duke of burgundy, by Matilda, daughter of Gautier IV, seigneur of Mayenne. He was born 1120. They had one son Hugh III (Duke of Burgundy) and three daughters: Alice (Alix), Mahaut (wife of Robert IV, Count of Auvergne and Clermont) and ___ (wife of Robert, seigneur of Boisleux). Eudes died 26 or 27 Sep 1162 and was buried in the church of the Abbey of Citeaux (Cote-d’Ore). His widow, Marie, served as Regent of Burgundy in 1162-65. She was subsequently became a num at Fontevrault Abbey, where she was elected Abbess in 1174. She died 11 Mar probably in 1190 and was buried before the door of the church of Fontevrault Abbey. Their son Hugh and daughter Alice’s descendants have been traced.
Isabelle (or Elizabeth) of Blois married (1) Roger de Hauteville, Duke of Apulia and (2) Guillaume Goulet, seigneur of Montmirail. Their descendants and ancestors have been traced.
Agnes married Renaud II, Count of Bar. Their descendants and ancestors have been traced.
Adele (or Ala) married Louis VII, King of France as his third wife on 13 Nov 1160 in Notre Dame cathedral at Paris. She was born about 1140. They had one son, Philip, who becamse King of France, and one daughter Agnes. Louis died at Paris 18 or 19 Sep 1180 and was buried in the Abbey of Notre Dame de Barbeau near Fontainebleau. Adele died at Paris 4 June 1206 and was buried in the Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy.
3.. Stephen: You’re in his post now! He was the Count of Mortain and through is wife the Countess of Boulogne. For more of the basic facts, see the next major section titled “Children.”
4.. Henry: He was the Bishop of Winchester, nominated on 4 Oct 1129 and consecrated 17 Nov 1129. He was present at Westminster Abbey on 22 Dec 1135 when his brother Stephen was crowned king. Henry favored his older brother over Empress Matilda. He took a prominent role in the Treaty of Winchester in 1153. He even assisted at the coronation of King Henry II on 19 Dec 1154. Henry, Bishop of Winchester, died 8 or 9 Aug 1171.
5.. Agnes married Hugh (III) de Puiset, Vicomte (Viscount) of Chartres, seigneur of le Puiset, son and heir of Ebrand III du Puiset. They had three sons: Ebrard (IV, seigneur of le Puiset, Vicomte of Chartres); Bouchard (Chancellor of the Count of Cahrtres); and Hugh (Bishop of Durham; he had three illegitimate sons, who have not been traced). Agnes was living in 1128, while her husband Hugh was living in 1129.
Note: Adele and Stephen-Henry also had these children: Eudes or Odo; Maud (wife of Richard of Cornwall, Earl of Chester); Adele (wife of Milon II de Montlhéry, seigneur of Bray-sur-Seine); Alice or Alix (wife of Renaud III, Count of Joigny); and Eleanor (wife of Raoul, Count of Vermandois), but they have not been traced.
CHILDREN OF STEPHEN AND MATILDA OF BOULOGNE
First, let’s give the basics of Matilda’s life. She was born probably in 1072. She was the Countess of Boulogne and Lens, daughter and heiress of Eustache III, Count of Boulogne by Mary, daughter of Malcolm III (Canmor), King of Scots. Eustache was deceased sometime before 1142, after which his son-in-law Stephen granted land in the Boulonnais to Clairmarais Abbey “for the soul of Count Eustache.” Queen Maud died 30 May 1152 (one researcher says 1151, but this does not fit the facts, below). Stephen died at Dover, Kent, 25 Oct 1154. He and his wife were buried in Faversham Abbey, Kent.
Stephen and Maud had these children:
1.. Eustache: Stephen’s eldest was born in about 1131. He was the Count or Earl of Boulogne and Mortain. He married Constance of France in Feb. 1140, daughter of Louis VI of France. They had no issue. He died 16 Aug 1153 and was buried in Faversham Abbey, Kent, and she remarried.
2.. William of England: He was the second eldest surviving son of Stephen, was born in 1132-37 and married Isabel of Warren. He became count of Boulogne and Mortain on the death of his brother Eustache, in Aug 1153. Henry II knighted him at Carlisle in 1158. He died in the Toulouse expedition in Oct 1159. He was buried in the hospital of Montmorillon in Poitou. His widow remarried.
3.. Baldwin of England: Stephen’s third son died young and was buried in Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate, London.
4.. Maud of England: She was born in 1134 and while an infant was betrothed to marry Waleran, Count of Meulan, but she died in childhood in or before 1141 and was buried in Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate, London.
5.. Mary or Marie: She was born in 1136. She became a nun sometime between 1148 and 1155. She was elected Abbess of Romsey, Countess of Boulogne. King Henry II ordered her, however, to resign and marry Matthew of Flanders, who was born about 1138. They had two daughters: Ida, Countess of Boulogne and Matilda (the latter married Henri I, duke of Lorraine and Brabant, Margrave of Antwerp; she died in 1210 or 1211, but not before having two sons: Henri II and Godfrey; and four daughters: Maria, Margaret, Aleide or Alice, and Machtild, sic). Mary’s marriage to Matthew drew condemnation from churchmen like Thomas Becket. After a while, the marriage was annulled, and she returned to monastic life. She died at the monastery of St. Austreberthe in Montreuil in 1182. He remarried.
STEPHEN’S ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN
Fitzroy means son or daughter of king (Fitz = son or daughter and roy = king), usually implying illegitimacy.
1.. Gervase: His mother is Dameta, Stephen’s mistress. He became the Abbot of St. Peter’s Abbey, Westminster, c. 1138-c. 1157. He died 25 Aug 1160.
2.. William Fitzroy: He married Aubrey of Baldock. They had one son: William of Harsley.
3.. Unnamed daughter: She married Hervé de Leon, son and heir of Guiomar III, Vicomte of Leon in Brittany. Hervé died in 1168 and left two sons: Guiomar IV and Hamon, Bishop of Leon.
WHO HAS THE BETTER CASE TO BE MONARCH?
The two sides present their evidence to you, the reader:
|Empress Matilda and Her Son Henry||Stephen|
|Henry I, son of the Conqueror, designated his daughter Matilda to succeed him; she was a daughter of the king and granddaughter of William the Conqueror.||His mother was Adele, daughter of the Conqueror and older sister of Henry I|
|Henry I had raced to secure the throne against his older brother Robert Curthose, so Henry’s claim to the throne was doubtful, but he was skillful enough to hold it against a weak older brother||Stephen’s ancestry bypassed such doubt, but he descends from a woman. And he will secure the throne in a similar way as that of Henry (see below). But will Stephen be skillful enough to hold it against Matilda?|
|Matilda’s (future) son (born 5 Mar 1133) was a great-grandson of the Conqueror||Adele’s son Stephen was a grandson of the Conqueror|
|Matilda was born (c. 1102) “in the purple,” that is, while her father Henry I was king (crowned 5 Aug 1100) and wore the symbolic royal color of purple; she was the daughter of the king!||Adele’s father was crowned 25 Dec 1066, but she was born c. 1060-62, so she was not born “in the purple”; and it’s not clear this notional privilege was transferrable to Stephen, but it wouldn’t have hurt his case|
|On 7 Jan 1114, Matilda married the Holy Roman Emperor (also named Henry!), but he died in 1125. Childless, she came back to England with money and title of Empress||Not knowing how succession would play out, Henry I showered him with land on both sides of the Channel, so Stephen formed extensive alliances|
|On 17 June 1128 at Rouen, she married Count Geoffrey of Anjou, who might take away Normandy-Anjou rivalry and unify the two||In 1125 he married rich heiress Matilda of Boulogne, so his landholdings increased. Coastal town Boulogne had profitable trade ties with London|
|Paternal title / prestige: Henry’s father Geoffrey was a count||Stephen’s father Stephen-Henry was a count|
|Foreign royal bloodline: Matilda’s mother was Edith-Matilda, daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scots, by (saint) Margaret; Matilda kept her title “Empress” but it was merely by marriage||He married Matilda of Boulogne, and she was daughter of Mary, also daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scots, by his second wife (saint) Margaret. But this connection was merely by marriage, though Stephen’s sons could gain by it|
|On 1 Jan 1127 barons (including Stephen) swore an oath to her, swearing she would succeed. Henry I made the barons renew their oath on 8 Sep 1133 (Stephen swore the oath too)||Later, his promoters said the barons’ oath was forced because no one dared defy Henry I; and they claimed that on his deathbed Henry (supposedly) repented of his act of designating Matilda and her son (not likely!)|
|She was female, an impediment to her being monarch (long before Mary I and Elizabeth I)||He was a male, which in those days favored him to be king|
|Henry I died 1 Dec 1135 (from eating Lamprey eels)|
|Would her powerful half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester, favor her or Stephen? Would Robert claim the crown for himself, or would his illegitimacy disqualify him?||His two older brothers, William and Theobald, were alive; barons at first favored Theobald, until Stephen simply took the crown (next)|
|Instead of taking power immediately, she dawdled. Was she too confident in barons’ oaths? Too confident in her father’s designating her and her son? Her illness in 1134? Was she sizing up her allies or the flow of events? Her first child Henry was born in 1133, so was she fearful of being killed in a conflict at this time? (Later she will challenge him.) Meanwhile ….||On Henry I’s death in Normandy, Stephen promptly crossed the Channel, arrived in London where he was celebrated (trade ties with Boulogne), took control of the bulging Treasury at Winchester, and was crowned king by the archbishop of Canterbury, on 22 Dec 1135 at Winchester, in the huge Romanesque cathedral|
And So Stephen’s Reign Will Be Tumultuous
Christ and His Saints Seemed to “Sleep”
So who has the better case?
BASIC FACTS AND STORIES
- Stephen was born about 1092. He was the son of Adele (or Adela), daughter of William the Conqueror. She had married Stephen-Henry, Count of Blois.
- William Clito, son of Robert Curthose (Henry I’s older brother), could have challenged Stephen and Empress Matilda, but he was killed in battle in Flanders, in 1128.
- His uncle (Henry I) made him a rich man. Henry gave him the Norman county of Mortain, in the southwest of the duchy, as well as valuable lands in England, like Lancaster. But Mortain was a frontier lordship, always tenuous, and his lands in England were taken from the magnates who had opposed Henry and preferred Henry’s brother Robert and Robert’s son William Clito.
- As noted in the Table, Stephen was anointed king on 22 Dec 1135 by the hastily summoned archbishop of Canterbury. He was smeared (or perhaps dabbed) with oil on his head, chest, shoulders and arms.
- A king’s anointing had profound significance, going all the way back to the Bible, when the prophet Samuel poured oil on David, the second and greatest king. A verse says of Saul, the first king (oil on his head was not recorded, though implied), when David was tempted to kill him, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed!” (1 Sam 24:6).
- Pope Innocent II gave his blessings on Stephen’s election and consecration. Maybe the pope believed possession (of the crown) was nine-tenths of the law.
- Stephen’s enemies would have to work around the consecration. Assassinating an anointed sovereign would be very disconcerting to them and perhaps beyond their psyche.
- However, who would be the first to act against Stephen? The Scots, under King David I, whose sister married Henry I was first up.
- In late 1135 and early 1136, David intervened in behalf of his niece, Empress Matilda. He marched into northern England. Stephen hurried north with an overwhelming force and cowed David, who signed the Treaty of Durham on 5 Feb 1136. He agreed to withdraw from Northumbria, but his son Prince Henry received the lordship of Carlisle with lands going into Cumbria—a pay-off.
- By Easter 1136 Stephen was able to produce a letter from the pope approving his elevation to the throne. So how could the Anglo-Norman magnates reject him now?
- In spring 1139 she sent to Rome Bishop Ulger of Angers to argue her case for the crown. Stephen’s representatives argued for their king. Back and forth the arguments went. The king’s representatives carried letters from the archbishops and bishops of the realm and also obtained letters from the king of France and Count Theobald of Blois supporting Stephen.
- Finally the pope had heard enough. He was not going to overturn a coronation that he had recognized over three years earlier. He supported Stephen. But that’s the church. It blocked Matilda’s claim.
- However, with too much money and resources at stake, who next to challenge Stephen? Matilda’s half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester, at first held back from paying homage to Stephen, for the earl wanted to see how events evolved. But after Easter 1136, he knelt before the new king and placed his hands between those of the king and offered his solemn submission. Would it last, though?
- Who next to challenge the new king? Lord of Brycheiniog of Wales raised forces and met Norman troops in the Gower and defeated the Normans, on 1 Jan 1136. But nothing more came of the insurgency—for the moment.
- Then in the spring, other Welsh princelings acted more decisively and castles fell to them. In these wins, dead bodies of Normans were so numerous that men crossed over rivers from bank to bank by stepping on the piled up bodies.
- Stephen would be measured unfavorably against his two predecessors, his grandfather William the Conqueror and his uncle Henry I. However, though the Welsh expanded their territory, what would come of it, from Stephen’s point of view? Not much. Troubles broke out closer to home.
- Baldwin de Redvers (Rivière), a baron who refused to do homage (ritual and religious submission). He fortified Exeter and its strong castle, and Stephen came in person and besieged it for three months, neither side yielding. Then the springs feeding the fortified town dried up.
- Baldwin had to surrender. Would Stephen show mercy? His brother Henry, bishop of Winchester, said to show no mercy, but Stephen did, allowing Baldwin and his men march out in arms, with pennants fluttering.
- His brother Henry said that if Stephen had shown stern justice, there would not be so many castles rallying against him in the near future.
- What about Normandy, across the Channel? These home-grown Normans were in disorder, as they usually are (from a king’s point of view). Henry I had often needed to pacify them. What would Stephen do?
- After appearing to dawdle, finally, in March 1137 Stephen gathered an army and crossed the Channel to Normandy. At first things went well in the campaign.
- Traditionally, dukes of Normandy formally submitted to the king of France, who was not any more powerful than other regions in France, since his realm was smaller or as large as other regions. But Stephen finagled the tradition by having his son submit to the French king.
- But internal tensions in Stephen’s army, led by a Flemish captain William of Ypres and Robert of Gloucester, led to a slowdown of the momentum in Normandy.
- In the disorder, Geoffrey of Anjou (Empress Matilda’s husband) had earlier invaded Normandy, but he was beaten back.
- In November Stephen agreed to a truce with the Angevins, rivals of the Normans, and he returned to England to take care of flare-ups there, but he didn’t militarily impose his authority on the duchy of Normandy. This is the beginning of the end for him, though no one (or few) saw it at the time.
- What about the tension between Stephen and Robert Earl of Gloucester, Matilda’s half-brother? He had lands on the marches (borderlands) of Wales, and he watched Stephen’s authority there weaken. He renounced his homage after Whitsuntide 1138. He raised the colors of the Empress. Her cause was finally rekindled.
- Powerful men took advantage of this disarray in Stephen’s side and asked for land and castles. If he refused, they claimed he betrayed them and gave themselves permission to plunder land and fortify castles.
- Time to take stock (so far): Stephen was failing to be the roaring lion that his uncle and grandfather had been. He began things energetically, but then followed through only lazily. Early in the reign he showed off the majesty of monarchy in a progress around England, but his weakness made him look like a crowned magnate or baron, not a king. He was too kind and gentle, said his promoters who wrote histories at the time.
- In Feb 1138 the Scots under David rumbled again. He was at first beaten, but he waged a war of attrition, allowing Stephen to fight furiously, and then fall back. In July 1138, David led an army as far south as Yorkshire.
- This time Stephen did nothing because he had troubles down south with Robert of Gloucester, who claimed Stephen usurped power and redistributed land to those who didn’t have legal right to them and took the land from those who did. He was the cause of the deaths of many thousands.
- However, the Archbishop of York, debilitated by old age, such that he had to be carried around on a litter, rallied the northern barons and took his stand on Cowton Moor, near Northallertaon on 22 Aug 1138. He had a mast strung with banners of northern saints, Cuthbert and Wilfrid, and a pyx containing Eucharistic wafers, for saintly intercession and intervention.
- The English army defeated the Scots in the Battle of the Banner. But their defeat was not complete. Northern Englishmen had fought on David’s side. Stephen’s rule in the north was not consolidated.
- In summer 1139, Henry found an excuse to arrest three bishops appointed by Henry I: Roger of Salisbury, Alexander the Magnificent of Lincoln, and Nigel of Ely. He summoned Roger to answer for a brawl that broke out with Roger’s men in his court at Oxford, which disturbed the king’s peace. Stephen may have planned the fight. Powerful Roger was confined in a cowshed at first.
- Why the arrest? The three bishops were appointed by the deceased king Henry I, and they were building up castles, which might be used against the new king. It was time to shake things up administratively, too. This represented a break with the church, at least in part.
- Now what about Empress Matilda? She landed in England on 30 Sep 1139 and proceeded to Arundel, to claim the throne. Some Medieval religious chroniclers said it was time to watch God punish Stephen.
- The Empress went to Henry I’s queen Adeliza of Louvain, who was still alive (after his first wife died Henry had remarried to a young woman, but he did not father any child with her). Robert of Gloucester joined her too.
- Why didn’t Stephen rush to crush her? Chivalry? Confidence in his powers and the weakness of women?
- Into the 1140s Robert and the Empress and their supporters consolidated their positions. Civil war in southwestern England was happening and getting worse, as the powerful elite staked out their claims.
- One such problem happened at Lincoln. A powerful earl revolted, and Stephen moved to crush it, but on 2 Feb 1141, Candlemas Day, after ill omens during Mass when the king’s candle shattered, he had to retreat. He found himself surrounded. He fought bravely but he was hit on the head with a rock, knocked down, and taken prisoner.
- He was taken southward, first to Gloucester, where he almost escaped with bribing the guards, then to tight security at Earl Robert’s fortress at Bristol. The Earl, however, had a proper view of the crown for his day, and he let him live.
- Now what about Matilda’s surge forward? Stephen’s brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester, converted to her cause. He presented her as the “Lady (Domina) of England” in 1141. She was a queen-in-waiting.
- But Stephen’s allies, particularly his queen, also named Matilda, did not sit idly by.
- In this post from here on, Empress Matilda = wife of Geoffrey of Anjou, the leader of the Angevin side, and mother to young Henry. Queen Matilda = Stephen’s wife and mother of Eustace.
- The Empress was not very effective at leading. She was imperious and demanding, pressing her claims with financial imposts and no promises of gifts and handouts. She squeezed London.
- On the other side Queen Matilda used supplications and gifts to form a collation, notably at London, which had good trade ties with Boulogne, Queen Matilda’s home base.
- On the night of 24 June on the eve of Empress Matilda’s coronation at Westminster, the people of London they descended with weapons in hand on her feast and drove out Matilda and her entourage. No coronation. She left for Oxford and regrouped at Winchester in July, and meeting Earl Robert and King David of Scotland.
- The Queen’s troops outnumbered Empress Matilda’s troops, but somehow the Empress broke out of the encirclement, riding out astride a horse in the male fashion. Then from fear she had to be strapped to it like a corpse (or so says one account). Earl Robert did not escape, but was taken prisoner.
- On 31 Oct 1141, Stephen’s supporters got him released in exchange for Robert. Stephen was on the rise, and the Empress in decline.
- Stephen was re-crowned on Christmas Day at Canterbury, 1141.
- But was Matilda in decline and Stephen ascendant? Her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou had won over the men of Normandy and taken a lot of territory.
- Also, Stephen had made many men earls before 1141, and since then they wanted more power. He gave it to them. However, more power spread around = less unity.
- Their power is illustrated in the coinage. Various lords in their territories minted misshapen coins of varying quality, and it boils down to this equation: Misshapen coins = misshapen politics. Fraction and factions.
- Count Geoffrey managed to lure Earl Robert of Gloucester to help in Angevin. The Earl was an effective military man. The Empress was at Oxford at the castle there. Stephen decided to attack, trapping her in the castle.
- However, in the dead of night, a little before Christmas in 1142, the Empress escaped, wearing white garments to camouflage her in the snow. She passed over the frozen Thames River and went some six miles to safety. The stuff of legend!
- She withdrew deeper in the West Country and ensconced herself in the Devizes, the castle of Roger of Salisbury. Stephen circled around to Wareham, an important harbor, to cut off communication between Angevin England and Normandy. But he withdrew when he could not overcome fortifications.
- Robert of Gloucester returned and hunted Stephen down in 1143 and caught the king’s army off-guard. On 1 July they fought at Wilton Abbey, and the king was nearly captured. However, Robert did capture a valuable steward who held Robert off so the king could escape. The ransom price was Sherborne Castle, the king’s last stronghold in the southwest.
- Now the Empress’s and her half-brother Robert’s power extended from sea to sea over “half of England.”
- But all this time, during the fighting, as they took refuge in Cathedrals and churches harboring with babies attached to nursing mothers. Houses and churches were torched.
- From 1143 to 1147, various deaths took the principal players in the conflicts. Pope Innocent II, who blessed Stephen’s coronation died in 1143. Others prominent men in Normandy and England die in their beds. On 31 Oct 1147, Empress Matilda’s half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester, died of a fever.
- On the good-news front for Matilda, Geoffrey of Anjou, finally rolled up Normandy in 1147.
- Empress Matilda decided to leave England and head for Normandy. Smart move, because she could regroup, consolidate her power base, and try again to get the crown in England, if not for her, then her growing son.
- Her son Henry made futile attempts to go up to Wareham in the company of his half-uncle Robert, to stir up trouble, but early in 1142, at just nine years old. He was a new figurehead for the Angevins. Stephen just laughed and sent him home packing.
- In 1146 young Henry made another unexpected return to England. He had recruited a small band of mercenaries on credit since he had no cash. He attempted to rescue his mother from the blockade at Devizes. News spread of the rescue attempt.
- Stephen countered the rescue attempt without any trouble, and Henry even appealed to Stephen for help to head back to Normandy. Stephen’s generosity came through, and he gave Henry the money to return at the end of May 1147.
- Stephen’s men believed this generosity was weak. Too much “pity and compassion,” wrote the anonymous author of the Deeds of Stephen. But in many ways Stephen was a kind and generous man.
- In June 1148 Empress Matilda managed to return to Normandy because she and Stephen had been locked in a violent stalemate. So why keep the same policy and strategy? Smart move because she could consolidate her power from there.
- Henry landed again at Easter in 1149. He met David, King of Scots, his great-uncle, who knighted him at Carlisle, a northern stronghold. Powerful men met up there, and Stephen decided to act. The men left.
- Henry withdrew to the continent to and received the duchy of Normandy. Henry is now a duke!
- Now what about Eustace, Stephen’s son? He had been knighted in 1147. The French Capetian royal dynasty performed “an anticipatory succession” by anointing a young king while the older king was still alive. Stephen intended to do the same for Eustache.
- However, by 1151, the papacy was under the influence of reform-minded churchmen, and they didn’t like Stephen’s quest to fill the vacancy for Archbishop of York. Pope Eugenius III rejected Stephen’s proposal for Eustace’s coronation, so the churchmen of England didn’t allow it.
- In Sep. 1151, Geoffrey, Henry’s father, died. Henry inherited the lands of Anjou. He was powerful. Was he ready to intervene in England?
- On 18 May 1152, he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, and she brought with her that powerful and rich duchy.
- King Louis VI didn’t like this at all, since he had divorced her a few weeks earlier. He formed a coalition to fight Henry, including Eustace. Henry responded decisively and waged a lightning war and picked off allies. Louis was forced to call for a truce in the summer of 1152.
- Worst news of all: Queen Matilda, Stephen’s wife, died on 30 May 1152.
- Henry came to England in January 1153 and intended to finish things once and for all. However, the barons balked because they were fed up with fighting, and which side should they choose? A deadlock meant one side could not lord it over them.
- In July the two sides met at the castle at Wallingford. With no victory for either one, Henry and Stephen met to hammer out a settlement. After negotiations, Eustace left his father in a rage, and went to East Anglia, raiding and plundering, just to express his frustrations. However, he got sick and died in Aug 1153.
- Stephen made no plan to offer his son William the crown. In fact on 6 Nov 1153, he signed a treaty with Henry, called the Treaty of Winchester.
- The terms: Duke Henry of Anjou was Stephen’s heir. Stephen would remain king until he died. Strategic castles would be placed in Henry’s hands. The reconciliation was sealed with a kiss of peace. They went out on a progress together, to advertize their peace and love.
- Stephen was taken ill with pains in his guts and fluxes of blood. His wife’s Confessor, Ralph, Prior of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, was brought quickly to his side. The king was to make his final confession, take the Eucharist if he could.
- Stephen died on 25 Oct 1154 at Dover, Kent. He was buried at Faversham Abbey, Kent.
- On 7 Dec 1154, Henry crossed the Channel and was crowned king on 17 Dec 1154, at Westminster Abbey. Archbishop Theobald (no relation to Stephen) placed the crown on his head.
- Stephen’s son William died in Oct 1159.
- The new Angevin ascendancy begins, unhindered by old rivals.
HOUSES OF NORMANDY AND BLOIS
William Clopton and Our Royal Heritage (royal gateway ancestor)
Jim Bradbury, Stephen and Matilda: The Civil War of 1139-53 (The History P, 1996).
Helen Castor, The She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth (Harper-Perennial, 2011).
Marjorie Chibnall, The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother, and Lady of the English (Blackwell Publishers, 1991).
—, The Normans (Blackwell, 2000).
Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (Metro Books, 2006).
David Crouch, The Normans: The History of the Dynasty (Hambledon and London, 2002).
David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact upon England (UC P, 1964).
C. Warren Hollister and Amanda Clark Frost, Henry I, Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP, 2001).
Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (Penguin, 2012).
Edmund King, King Stephen, Yale English Monarch Series (Yale UP, 2012).
The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam, (Crescent Books, 1996).
Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).
Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).
W. L. Warren, Henry II (Berkeley: University of California P, 1973).
Carl Watkins, Stephen: The Reign of Anarchy. Penguin Monarchs (Allen Lane and Random House, 2015).