Matilda, Stephen and Civil War

The funeral of the Emperor Henry V, first husband of Matilda



bullet The death of Henry I's only legitimate son (William Atheling) in 1120 led him in 1127 to proclaim his daughter, Matilda heir to the throne.
[Henry had at least seventeen illegitimate children - many of them, including Robert of Gloucester and Rainald of Cornwall, by Sybilla Corbet].
bullet Matilda (born about 1103 or 1104) married Emperor Henry V of Germany in 1114 but he died in May 1125. (Matilda continued to use the title "Empress" after his death).
bullet Matilda returned to England; in May 1128 she married Geoffrey Plantagenet, "the Fair"  (1113-51). Geoffrey became 5th Count of Anjou in 1129. Their first son, Henry was born March 1133.

Geoffrey's position as Count of Anjou and Maine gave him large landholdings in north central France.
Geoffrey's land was a basis for the family's power and wealth, but long rivalry and intermittent warfare with Normandy meant that many Anglo-Norman lords felt hostile to Anjou.
In 1144, Geoffrey was recognized as Duke of Normandy in right of his wife, but in 1150 he gave the territory to his son, Henry.


bullet In 1131 Matilda went to England, where Henry I's major nobles (including Stephen, the son of Henry's sister Adela) swore to recognize Matilda's title and pay her allegiance.
bullet Matilda was extremely strong-minded, and determined to assert her claims to the English throne. However, in an age when personal leadership in war was a major part of a monarch's role, the fact that she was a woman made many English barons reluctant that she should succeed.

Iffley Church, Oxfordshire,
constructed during the 12th century


bullet Stephen of Blois was a son of William I's daughter, Adela (1067-1137) and of Count Stephen of Blois, (a Crusader who died at Battle of Ramleh, 1102).
bullet Their eldest son, Theobald became Count of Blois, and another child, Henry, became Bishop of Winchester.
bullet Stephen remained mostly in England where he became a great favorite of Henry I. Stephen became rich on the grants of land given him by Henry, and in 1125 married Matilda of Boulogne - daughter of Mary of Scotland and granddaughter of Margaret the Atheling, of the Cerdic line of Anglo-Saxon rulers.

On Henry I's death, Stephen immediately seized the throne. His brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester rallied the English Church behind him and Roger, Bishop of Salisbury - chief justiciar of England and head of a powerful family, also supported Stephen. Many other barons joined them, both because of their dislike of Anjou and because of their resentment of Matilda, who had gained a reputation for haughtiness.

Rochester Castle, begun in the 1120's and later extended

bullet Stephen's fait accompli was accepted by Theobald, and (more reluctantly) by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and he was crowned king 22 December 1135.
bullet Unfortunately, Stephen proved less able to use power than to seize it. He managed both to vacillate, appearing weak, and also to alienate powerful interests by high-handedness.
bullet Stephen tried to buy the friendship of King David of Scotland by giving Cumberland to David's son Henry. Recognizing weakness, King David decided he wanted Northumberland as well. He invaded England in 1138

22 August 1138 - The Battle of the Standard

["The Standard" was a ship's mast, on top of which a silver pyx containing  the consecrated host was placed]

The Scots were led by King David and his son, Henry.

King David " hastened with his whole force to devastate Northumberland. And then that execrable army, more atrocious than the whole race of pagans, neither fearing God nor regarding man, spread desolation over the whole province, and murdered everywhere persons of both sexes, of every age and rank, and devastated towns, churches and houses."

(Richard of Hexham)

The English troops were led by Archbishop Thurston of York. The Scottish forces, mainly composed of soldiers from Galloway in southwestern Scotland, charged the English line, but were halted by the archers, and then thrown back by the disciplined spearmen. The few Scottish mounted troops tried to outflank the English on the left of the line, but the English cavalry overwhelmed them after bitter fighting. King David and Prince Henry fled.

"A large number of Picts were slain in the first attack, while the rest, throwing down their arms, disgracefully fled. The plain was strewn with corpses, very many were taken prisoner; the king and all his magnates took to flight, till in the end, of that immense army all were either slain, captured or scattered as sheep without a shepherd".

(Richard of Hexham)


bullet Despite the English victory, Stephen made many concessions to Scotland in the Treaty of Durham (April 1139). This alienated Ranulph, Earl of Chester, who had significant interests in the border region.
The Church
bullet At a Council in Oxford 1136 Stephen made generous promises to respect the church's freedom, but then alienated clerics by his arrest of Roger, Bishop of Salisbury. Stephen also feared the ambitions of his own brother, Henry, Bishop of Winchester, and refused to appoint him Archbishop of Canterbury.

Innocent II

In 1139, Henry (Bishop of Winchester) obtained from Pope Innocent II (1130-43) the position of papal legate to England and - fearing that he might meet the same fate as Roger of Salisbury - tried to turn the church against Stephen.


The accession of Stephen was seen by many Welsh princes as a chance to regain their lands and independence.


Many Welsh revolted in 1136, and in the following years important Anglo-Norman strongholds at Carmathen, Oswestry and Mold fell into their hands.


Owain Gwynedd (1137-70) assumed power in the North of Wales and soon began to prove himself skilful as both soldier and politician.



Civil War


Civil War broke out in 1139 when Robert of Gloucester decided to support his half-sister Matilda's claim to the throne.

Matilda and Robert gradually collected supporters in the West of England, and Ranulph of Chester fortified Lincoln Castle against Stephen. Stephen laid siege to the castle only to be attacked by an army under Ranulph and Robert (2 February 1141).



Stephen was defeated and imprisoned at Bristol, but Matilda was so tactless in victory that she was expelled from London and Henry, Bishop of Winchester changed sides and joined Stephen.


Robert of Gloucester was then surprised and captured, and Matilda forced to exchange Stephen for him.


Robert went to France and returned (1142) with Matilda's nine-year-old son, Henry. Desultory fighting between the two parties continued for many years. Robert of Gloucester remained the leader of Matilda's cause until his death in 1147, but Henry gradually became more able and powerful.


When Stephen's eldest son (Eustace) died in 1153, he bowed to the inevitable and recognized Henry as his successor. Henry acceded to the English crown in 1154.

"To till the ground was to plough the sea: the earth bare no corn, for the land was all laid waste by such deeds; and they said openly, that Christ slept, and his saints. Such things, and more than we can say, suffered we nineteen winters for our sins."

(The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)


Stephen's reign is often called "The Anarchy." Certainly, royal power was at its nadir and baronial power at its zenith. The number of earls and barons increased and their rights to hereditary succession became firmly established.

Stephen's reign saw the English coinage also reach a low point in standards of production; this example is extremely well produced by the normal standards of the reign.

bullet Not all England descended into feudal anarchy: - the Southeast, for example, remained peaceful. Moreover, even the barons themselves saw the disadvantages of endemic warfare, and sometimes reached local agreements to keep the peace. Stability was needed if lands were to be productive and trade profitable.
bullet Many welcomed the strong central rule soon restored after Henry II's accession.