Stephen, King of England


Stephen ( c. 1092

He was born in the county of Blois in central France; his father, Count Stephen II Henry, died while he was still young, so he was raised by his mother, Adela, daughter of William I the Conqueror. Integrated into the court of his uncle Henry I of England, he began to gain followers and was granted extensive lands. He married Matilda de Boulogne and inherited additional estates in Kent and Boulogne, which made the couple one of the wealthiest in England. Stephen narrowly escaped drowning with his cousin William Adelin in the sinking of the White Ship in 1120; his cousin”s death left the succession of the English kingdom uncertain. When Henry I died in 1135, he quickly crossed the English Channel and, with the help of his brother Henry of Blois, a powerful ecclesiastic, ascended the throne, with the promise that preserving order in the kingdom took precedence over his earlier oaths to support the claim of his cousin Matilda.

The early years of her reign were largely successful, despite a series of attacks on her possessions in England and Normandy by David I of Scotland, Welsh rebels, and her cousin-in-law Godfrey V of Anjou. In 1138, Matilda”s half-brother Robert of Gloucester rebelled and threatened civil war. Together with his close advisor, Galerano de Beaumont, Stephen took firm measures to defend his kingdom, such as arresting a powerful family of bishops. However, when Matilda and Robert invaded in 1139, he was unable to stop the revolt quickly and his kinsmen seized southwest England. Captured at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, he was abandoned by many of his followers and lost control of Normandy. He was released after his consort and William of Ypres, one of his military commanders, captured Robert at the tumult of Winchester, but the war dragged on for years without either side being able to gain an advantage.

He became increasingly concerned to ensure that his son Eustace would inherit the throne. He tried to persuade the Church to agree to crown him to bolster his claim; Pope Eugenius III refused, and Stephen became embroiled in a series of increasingly bitter disputes with the high clergy. In 1153, Henry FitzEmpress, invaded England and forged an alliance of powerful regional barons to back his claim to the throne. The two armies met at Wallingford, but none of the barons on either side was eager to fight another pitched battle. He examined the idea of a negotiated peace, a process hastened by the sudden death of his son. Later that year, Stephen and Henry signed the Treaty of Winchester, in which the king recognized his kinsman as heir in exchange for peace and passed over William, his second son. He died the following year. Modern historians have extensively debated the extent to which his personality, external events or weaknesses in the Norman state contributed to this prolonged period of civil war.


He was born in the county of Blois in France, between 1092 and 1096. His father Stephen II Henry, Count of Blois and Chartres, was an important French nobleman and active crusader, who was only present for a brief part of his son”s early life. During the First Crusade, Stephen II Henry had acquired the reputation of a coward, so he returned to the Levant in 1101 to rebuild his reputation; there he was killed at the Battle of Ramla the following year. Stephen”s mother, Adela, was the daughter of William I the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, famous among her contemporaries for her piety, wealth and political talent. She had a strong matriarchal influence on her son during his early years.

In the 12th century, France was a group of counties and small political entities under little control of the king. The monarch”s power was tied to his control of the rich province of Île-de-France, just east of Blois, Stephen”s home county. To the west stretched the three counties of Maine, Anjou and Thurena, and to the north of Blois was the Duchy of Normandy, from which William I the Conqueror had invaded England in 1066. William”s sons continued to fight for the collective Anglo-Norman heritage. The rulers of this region spoke a similar language albeit with regional dialects, followed the same religion, and were closely interrelated; they were also highly competitive and often came into conflict with each other over valuable territory and the castles they controlled.

Stephen had at least four brothers and one sister, along with two probable half-sisters. His eldest brother was William, who under normal circumstances would have ruled the county; he probably had an intellectual disability, as Adela gave the title to her second son, Theobald, who later acquired the county of Champagne, as well as Blois and Chartres. The second eldest brother, Odon, died young, probably in his early teens. His younger brother, Henry of Blois, was probably born four years after him. The brothers formed a close-knit family group, and Adela encouraged him to assume the role of feudal knight, while guiding Henry toward a career in the Church, possibly so that her personal interests would not interfere. Unusually, Stephen grew up in his mother”s household rather than being sent to a close relative; he learned Latin, horseback riding, and was educated in contemporary history and biblical accounts by his tutor, William the Norman.

Relationship with Henry I

His life was markedly influenced by his relationship with his uncle Henry I, who took power in England after the death of his elder brother William II. In 1106, the English king invaded and captured the Duchy of Normandy, controlled by his older brother Robert II, defeating the Norman army at the Battle of Tinchebray. Henry I entered into a dispute with Louis VI of France, who took the opportunity to declare Robert II”s son, William Cleitus, Duke of Normandy. The English king responded by forming a network of alliances with the western counties of France against the French sovereign, resulting in a regional conflict that would last throughout Stephen”s life. His mother and brother allied themselves with Henry I and it was decided to introduce him into their royal court. Henry I fought from 1111 onwards in the following military campaign in Normandy, where rebels led by Robert de Bellême opposed his reign. Stephen was probably with the king during the war of 1112, when he was knighted, and was present at court during Henry I”s visit to the abbey of Saint-Évroult in 1113. He probably visited England for the first time in 1113 or 1115, almost certainly as part of the English royal court.

Henry I became a powerful patron of Stephen; he probably chose him because he was part of his extended family and a regional ally, but not wealthy or powerful enough in his own right to pose a threat to his reign or his heir, William Adelin. As the third surviving son of even an influential family in the region, Stephen needed the support of a wealthy patron like the King of England to get ahead in life. As Henry I”s favorite, he quickly began to accumulate lands and possessions. After the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106, the king confiscated the earldom of Mortain from William of Mortain and the manor of Eye, a large territory previously owned by Robert Malet, and gave them to his protégé in 1113, although without the lands previously held by William in England. The manor of Lancaster was another of his gratuities, after being expropriated from Roger Poitevin. He also received lands in Alenzon in southern Normandy, but the inhabitants rebelled and sought help from Fulk IV, Count of Anjou. Stephen and his elder brother Theobald were defeated in the subsequent campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Alenzon, so the territories were not recovered.

Finally, in 1125, Henry I arranged for his favorite to marry Matilda, daughter and sole heiress of the Count of Boulogne, who also owned the important continental port of Boulogne and vast estates in the northwest and southeast of England. In 1127, William Cleitus, a presumed pretender to the English throne, was about to become Count of Flanders; Stephen was sent by the king on a mission to prevent this and, after a successful election, Cleitus attacked his rival”s lands in neighboring Boulogne in retaliation. Eventually, a truce was declared, although Cleitus died the following year.

El Barco Blanco and succession

In 1120, the English political landscape changed drastically. Three hundred passengers set sail on the White Ship from Barfleur in Normandy to England, among them the heir to the throne, William Adelin, and many other high-ranking nobles. Stephen had intended to sail on the same vessel, but changed his mind at the last minute and got off to wait for another ship, either out of concern for overcrowding aboard the ship or because he had diarrhea. The ship was wrecked en route and all but two of the passengers died, among them William Adelin.

With Adelin dead, the inheritance of the English throne was in question. The rules of succession in Western Europe at the time were uncertain; in some parts of France, male primogeniture-in which the eldest son inherited the title-was becoming more popular. It was also traditional for the king of France to crown his successor during his lifetime, making the intended line of succession relatively clear, but this was not the case in England. In other parts of Europe, such as Normandy and England, the tradition was to divide the lands: the eldest son took the patrimonial lands – generally considered to be the most valuable – and the younger ones were left with smaller or newly acquired partitions or estates. The problem was further complicated by the sequence of unstable Anglo-Norman successions during the previous sixty years: after William I the Conqueror invaded England, his sons William Rufus and Robert Curthose waged war with each other to take his inheritance; Henry I had also acquired control of Normandy by force. There were no peaceful successions without opposition.

Thus Henry I had only one legitimate daughter, Matilda, but her status as a woman left her at a substantial political disadvantage. Although the king took a second wife, Adela of Louvain, he became unlikely to have another legitimate son and instead saw his daughter as his heir. Matilda obtained the title of empress of the Holy Roman Empire by marriage to the Teutonic emperor Henry V, but her husband died in 1125; she remarried in 1128 to Godfrey V, count of Anjou, whose lands bordered the Duchy of Normandy. The new consort was unpopular among the Anglo-Norman elite: as an Angevin ruler, he was a traditional enemy of the Normans. At the same time, tensions continued to grow as a result of Henry I”s domestic policies, in particular the high level of revenues he raised to pay for his wars. However, the king”s power and reputation restrained the conflict.

Henry I attempted to establish a base of political support for his daughter in both England and Normandy and demanded that his court take an oath, first in 1127 and then again in 1128 and 1131, to recognize her as immediate successor and her descendants as legitimate rulers. Stephen was one of those who took this oath in 1127. However, relations between the king, his daughter, and his son-in-law became increasingly strained toward the end of his life. Matilda and Godfrey V suspected that they lacked genuine support in England and proposed to Henry I in 1135 that he should hand over the royal castles in Normandy to his daughter during her lifetime and insist that the Norman nobility swear immediate fealty to her. This would have given the couple a much more powerful position after the king”s death, but he angrily rejected the idea, probably worried that Godfrey V would try to seize power in Normandy sooner than planned. A new rebellion broke out in southern Normandy and Godfrey V and Matilda intervened militarily on behalf of the rebels. In the midst of this confrontation, Henry I unexpectedly fell ill and died near Lyons-la-Forêt.

Stephen was a well-established figure in Anglo-Norman society in 1135. He was extremely wealthy, well educated, and beloved by his peers; he was also considered a man capable of firm action. The chroniclers recorded that despite his wealth and power he was a modest and quiet leader, happy to sit with his men and servants, casually laughing and eating with them. He was very pious, both in terms of observance of religious rituals and personal generosity to the Catholic Church. He also had a personal Augustinian confessor appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who implemented a penitential regime for him; he also encouraged the new Cistercian Order to establish abbeys on his estates, by which he gained new allies within the Church.

However, rumors of his father”s cowardice during the First Crusade continued to circulate and a desire to avoid the same reputation may have influenced some of his military actions. His wife Matilda played an important role in managing his vast English estates, which contributed to the couple being the second wealthiest lay house after the English royal family. The banished Flemish nobleman William of Ypres joined the house of Stephen in 1133.

His younger brother, Henry of Blois, had also risen to power with Henry I. He was a Cluniac monk and followed his brother to England. He was a Cluniac monk and followed his brother to England, where the king appointed him abbot of Glastonbury, the most opulent monastery in England. Henry I appointed him bishop of Winchester, one of the wealthiest bishoprics, allowing him to retain Glastonbury. The combined income from the two positions made Henry of Blois the second richest man in England after the king. He was anxious to reverse what he perceived as an encroachment by Norman monarchs on ecclesiastical rights. Norman kings had traditionally exercised great power and autonomy over the Church within their territories. However, beginning in the 1040s, successive popes presented a message of reform that emphasized the importance of the Church “being governed more coherently and hierarchically from the center” and established “its own sphere of authority and jurisdiction separate and independent from that of the lay ruler,” in the words of historian Richard Huscroft.

When news of Henry I”s death spread, many of the potential pretenders to the throne were in no position to respond. Godfrey V and Matilda were in Anjou, clumsily supporting the rebels in their campaign against the royal army, which included several supporters of the king”s daughter, such as Robert of Gloucester. Many of these barons had sworn to remain in Normandy until the late sovereign was properly buried, which prevented them from returning to England. Stephen”s older brother, Theobald, was even further south, in Blois. However, Stephen was in Boulogne and, when he received news of the king”s death, he left for England accompanied by his military. Robert of Gloucester had garrisoned the ports of Dover and Canterbury and some accounts suggest that they prevented Stephen”s access when he first arrived. However, he probably landed on his own estate outside London on December 8 and, during the following week, began to seize power in England.

The crowds in London demanded the traditional right to elect the king and proclaimed Stephen the new monarch, believing that he would in return grant new rights and privileges to the city. Henry of Blois gave support on behalf of the Church: his brother was able to advance to Winchester, where Roger, bishop of Salisbury and the lord chancellor, ordered the royal treasury to be delivered to him. On December 15, Henry presented an agreement according to which his brother would grant extensive liberties and rights to the Church, in return for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the papal legate supporting his accession to the throne. There was the small matter of the religious oath that Stephen had taken to support his cousin, but his brother argued convincingly that the late king had been wrong to insist that his court take the oath. He further indicated that Henry I had insisted on that oath to protect the stability of the realm and, considering the chaos that might ensue, Stephen was justified in ignoring it. Henry was also able to convince Hugo Bigod, royal steward to the late king, to swear that Henry I had changed his mind about the succession on his deathbed and had nominated his nephew in his place. The coronation was held a week later at Westminster Abbey on December 22.

Meanwhile, the Norman nobility met at Le Neubourg to discuss the possibility of declaring Theobald king, probably after news that Stephen was gathering support in England. The Normans argued that the earl, as the eldest grandson of William I the Conqueror, had more right to rule the Kingdom of England and the Duchy of Normandy, preferably better than Matilda. Theobald met with the Norman barons and Robert of Gloucester at Lisieux on December 21, but their talks were interrupted by news from England that Stephen”s coronation would take place the next day. Although Theobald had already accepted the Normans” proposal, he soon discovered that his support immediately waned because the barons were not prepared for a division of England and Normandy by opposing the new king, who subsequently compensated Theobald financially and Theobald, in return, remained in Blois and seconded his brother”s succession.

Ascent to the throne

The Anglo-Norman kingdom had grown out of the Norman conquest of England in 1066, followed by expansion into South Wales during the following years. Both the kingdom and the duchy were dominated by a small number of important barons who held lands on both sides of the English Channel, as well as lesser barons who generally held more localized holdings. The extent to which lands and positions were to be transmitted by hereditary right or by grant from the king was still uncertain, and tensions regarding this issue had increased during the reign of Henry I. What is certain is that lands in Normandy, given by hereditary right, were generally considered more valuable to the more powerful barons than those in England, where their possession was less secure. Henry I had increased the authority and capabilities of the central royal administration, often bringing in “new men” to fill key positions rather than using the established nobility. In the process, he was able to maximize revenues and contain expenditures, resulting in a favorable surplus and a substantial treasury, but also increasing political tensions.

Stephen had to intervene in the north of England immediately after his coronation. David I of Scotland invaded the north following news of the king”s death, occupying Carlisle, Newcastle and other key strongholds. The north of England was a disputed territory at the time, with the Scottish kings traditionally claiming Cumberland; David I also claimed Northumbria by virtue of his marriage to the daughter of the Anglo-Saxon Earl Waltheof, executed during the reign of William the Conqueror. Stephen quickly marched north with an army and met David I at Durham. An agreement was reached whereby the Scottish king would return most of the territory he had occupied, with the exception of Carlisle. In return, Stephen confirmed the possessions in England of the Scottish Prince Henry, such as the earldom of Huntingdon.

On his return to the south, Stephen held his first royal court at Easter 1136.A number of nobles gathered at Westminster for the event, including many of the Anglo-Norman barons and most of the senior Church officials.He issued a new royal charter confirming the promises he had made to the Church; in addition, he promised to reverse Henry I”s policies on the royal forests and to reform any abuses of the kingdom”s legal system. He described himself as the natural successor to Henry I”s policies and ratified the seven existing earldoms in the kingdom to their holders. The Easter court was a lavish event and much money was spent on clothes, gifts and the event itself. The king distributed grants of land and favors to those present and endowed numerous ecclesiastical foundations with land and privileges. However, his claim to the throne still had to be ratified by the pope and Henry of Blois was apparently responsible for ensuring that testimonials of support were sent by Stephen”s elder brother Theobald and King Louis VI of France, for whom the English king represented a useful balance to Angevin power in northern France. Pope Innocent II confirmed him as king of England later that year and royal advisors circulated the news throughout the country to demonstrate Stephen”s legitimacy.

However, troubles continued in the kingdom. After the Welsh victory at the Battle of Llwchwr in January 1136 and Richard FitzGilbert”s successful ambush of Clare in April, south Wales rose up in rebellion, beginning in east Glamorgan and spreading rapidly through the rest of the south during 1137. Owain Gwynedd and Gruffydd ap Rhys managed to capture considerable territory, such as Carmarthen Castle. Stephen responded by sending Richard”s brother Baldwin and the mark lord Robert FitzHarold of Ewyas to pacify the region. Neither mission was properly successful and, by the end of 1137, the king seemed to have abandoned attempts to quell the rebellion. Meanwhile, he had put down two revolts in the southwest led by Baldwin of Redvers and Robert of Bampton; the former was released after his capture and traveled to Normandy, where he became a fervent critic of the king.

The security of Normandy was also a concern. Godfrey V of Anjou invaded in early 1136 and, after a temporary truce, continued the occupation again that same year, attacking and burning property rather than trying to administer the territory. Events in England prevented the king from being able to travel to Normandy, so Galerano de Beaumont-appointed by Stephen as lieutenant of Normandy-and Theobald led efforts to defend the duchy. The king returned to the duchy in 1137, where he met with Louis VI and Theobald to agree on an informal regional alliance, probably brokered by Henry of Blois, to counter growing Angevin power in the region. As part of this agreement, Louis VI recognized Prince Eustace as Duke of Normandy in exchange for his pledge of allegiance to him. However, Stephen had little success in recapturing the province of Argentan along the border of Normandy and Anjou, which Godfrey V had seized in late 1135. He formed an army to retake it, but friction between his Flemish mercenary forces led by William of Ypres and the local Norman barons resulted in a battle between the two halves of his army. The Normans then deserted, forcing the English king to give up his campaign. He agreed to another truce with Godfrey V, promising to pay him 2000 marks annually in exchange for peace along the Norman borders.

In the years following his succession, Stephen”s relationship with the Church gradually became more complex. The royal charter of 1136 promised to review the possession of lands that the Crown had taken from the Church since 1087, but these estates were already owned by nobles. The claims of Henry of Blois, in his role as abbot of Glastonbury, to extensive lands in Devon led to considerable local unrest. In 1136, the archbishop of Canterbury William of Corbeil died and the king immediately seized his personal wealth, which caused some discontent among the leading clergy. Henry of Blois wanted to succeed William, but Stephen supported Theobald of Bec, who was eventually appointed, while the papacy appointed the former papal legate, possibly as a consolation for not having received Canterbury.

His first years as king can be interpreted in different ways. From a positive perspective, he stabilized the northern border with Scotland, contained the attacks of Godfrey V against Normandy, was at peace with Louis VI, enjoyed good relations with the Catholic Church, and had the broad support of his barons. Nevertheless, there were major unresolved problems. The north of England was controlled by David I and Prince Henry, Wales had been abandoned, the fighting in Normandy had considerably destabilized the duchy, and a growing number of barons felt that the king had not granted them the lands and titles they felt they deserved or were owed. In addition, Stephen was running short of funds: Henry I”s considerable treasury had been emptied in 1138 due to the costs of running Stephen”s lavish and generous court and the need to recruit and maintain his mercenary armies fighting in England and Normandy.

Defense of the kingdom

He was under attack from several fronts during 1138. First, Robert of Gloucester rebelled against him and pushed the situation into civil war in England. The illegitimate son of Henry I and half-brother of Matilda, Robert was one of the most powerful Anglo-Norman barons, controlling estates in Normandy as well as the earldom of Gloucester. He was known for his statesmanship, military experience, and leadership skills. Robert had tried to convince Theobald to take the throne in 1135; he did not attend Stephen”s first court in 1136 and it took several summonses to convince him to attend court at Oxford later that year. In 1138, he renounced his allegiance to the new king and declared his support for his half-sister, triggering a regional uprising in Kent and southwest England, although he remained in Normandy. In France, Godfrey V of Anjou took advantage of the situation by re-invading Normandy. David I of Scotland also occupied northern England once again and announced that he supported his niece”s claim to the English throne, while advancing south into Yorkshire.

Anglo-Norman warfare during his reign was characterized by military campaigns of attrition, in which commanders attempted to seize important enemy castles in order to seize control of their adversaries” lands and ultimately win a slow strategic victory. The armies of this era centered on mounted and armed bodies of knights, supported by infantry and crossbowmen. These forces were formed by feudal levies, brought in by local nobles for a limited period of service in a campaign, or mercenaries, much in demand and often more skilled and flexible, though expensive. However, these armies were inadequate for besieging castles, whether the old castral motte designs or the new stone-built keeps. Existing siege engines were significantly less powerful than later stone-thrower designs, giving defenders a substantial advantage over attackers. As a result, commanders preferred slow sieges to starve out defenders or mining operations to undermine walls, rather than direct attacks.Occasionally pitched battles were fought between armies, but these were considered highly risky ventures and generally avoided by prudent commanders.The cost of warfare had risen considerably in the early part of the 12th century and adequate supplies of cash became increasingly important in the success of campaigns.

His personal qualities as a military leader centered on his skill in personal combat, capabilities in siege warfare, and a remarkable talent for rapidly mobilizing military forces over relatively long distances. In response to revolts and invasions, he quickly undertook several military campaigns and focused primarily on England rather than Normandy. His consort Matilda was sent to Kent with ships and resources from Boulogne, tasked with retaking the key port of Dover, under Robert”s control. A few of Stephen”s household knights were sent north to assist in the fight against the Scots, where David I”s forces were defeated at the Battle of the Standard in August 1138 by the forces of Thurstan, Archbishop of York. However, despite the English victory, David I still held most of the north. Stephen personally headed west in an attempt to recapture Gloucestershire; he first advanced north into the Welsh Marches and took Hereford and Shrewsbury before heading south towards Bath. The city of Bristol proved too strong for him, so he contented himself with raiding and plundering the surrounding area. The rebels were apparently waiting for Robert to intervene with reinforcements, but he remained in Normandy throughout the year, trying to convince Matilda to invade England. Dover finally surrendered to the forces of Stephen”s consort later that year.

The military campaign in England had progressed well and historian David Crouch described it as “a military achievement of the first rank”. The king took the opportunity of his military advantage to forge a peace agreement with Scotland. His wife was sent to negotiate another agreement between Stephen and David I, called the Treaty of Durham; Northumbria and Cumbria would be given to David I and his son Henry in return for loyalty and future peace along the border. However, the powerful Ranulf of Gernon, Earl of Chester, considered himself the rightful holder of the traditional rights of Carlisle and Cumberland and was very unhappy to see them in Scottish hands. However, Stephen could now turn his attention to the anticipated invasion of England by the forces of Robert and Matilda.

Road to civil war

He prepared for the Angevin invasion by creating several counties. Only a handful of these existed from the reign of Henry I and they had been largely symbolic in nature. Stephen created many more and placed them in charge of men he considered loyal and capable military commanders and in the most vulnerable areas of the country, where he assigned new lands and additional executive powers. He apparently had several goals in mind, such as ensuring the loyalty of his key supporters by bestowing these honors on them and improving their defenses in crucial parts of the kingdom. He was greatly influenced by his chief advisor, Galerano de Beaumont, twin brother of Robert of Leicester. The Beaumont twins and their younger brothers and cousins received most of these new counties. From 1138, the king granted them the titles of earls of Worcester, Leicester, Hereford, Warwick and Pembroke, which created a large block of territory – especially when combined with the holdings of Stephen”s new ally, Prince Henry of Scotland, in Cumberland and Northumbria – to act as a buffer zone in the troubled south and west, especially Chester, and the rest of the kingdom. With their new lands, the Beamount”s power grew to the point where David Crouch suggested that it became “dangerous to be anything other than a friend of Galerano” at the royal court.

The king took steps to eliminate a group of bishops he considered a threat to his power. The royal administration under Henry I had been led by Roger, bishop of Salisbury, with the support of his nephews-Alexander and Nigel, bishops of Lincoln and Ely, respectively-and his son-Roger le Poer, the lord chancellor.These bishops were important landowners and ecclesiastical rulers and had begun to build new castles and increase the size of their military forces, leading Stephen to suspect that they were about to defect to Matilda.Roger and his family were also enemies of Galerano, who disliked their handling of the royal administration.The king took steps to remove a group of bishops he considered a threat to his power. Roger and his family were also enemies of Galerano, who disliked their handling of the royal administration. In June 1139, Stephen held court at Oxford, where a quarrel broke out between Alan of Brittany and Roger”s men, an incident probably deliberately staged by the king, who responded by demanding that Roger and the other bishops surrender their castles in England. This threat was followed by their arrest, with the exception of Nigel, who had taken refuge in Devizes Castle; the bishop surrendered after the king laid siege to the castle and threatened to execute Roger le Poer. The remaining fortresses were handed over to the king.

Henry of Blois was alarmed by this, both as a matter of principle – his brother had previously agreed in 1135 to respect the liberties of the Church – and more pragmatically because he himself had recently built six castles and had no wish to be treated in the same way. As papal legate, he summoned the king to appear before an ecclesiastical council and answer for the arrests and the seizure of property. Henry asserted the right of the Church to investigate and try charges against members of the clergy. Stephen sent Aubrey de Vere as his spokesman to the council, who argued that Roger of Salisbury had been arrested not as bishop, but in his role as baron, since he had been preparing to switch to Matilda”s side. The king was supported by Hugues, archbishop of Rouen, who challenged the bishops to show what part of canon law authorized them to build or maintain castles; he also warned that the king would complain about the harassment suffered by the Church in England to the pope. The council left the matter closed after an unsuccessful appeal to Rome. The incident successfully removed any military threat from the bishops, but it may also have damaged Stephen”s relationship with the leading clergy and, in particular, his brother Henry.

Initial stage

The Angevin invasion finally came in 1139. Baldwin of Redvers crossed from Normandy to Wareham in August in an initial attempt to capture a port to receive Matilda”s invading army, but Stephen”s forces forced him to retreat to the southwest. The following month, however, Queen Mother Adela invited Matilda to land at Arundel, and on September 30, Robert of Gloucester and she arrived in England with 140 knights. Matilda stayed at Arundel Castle, while Robert marched northwest towards Wallingford and Bristol, hoping to gain support for the rebellion and join Miles of Gloucester, who had seized the opportunity to renounce his allegiance to the king and defend Matilda. Stephen quickly moved south and laid siege to Arundel, trapping her inside the castle.

The king then agreed to a truce proposed by his brother Henry; the details of the agreement are not known, but as a result Matilda and her knight-guards were released from siege and escorted to southwest England, where they were reunited with Robert of Gloucester. The reasons for Matilda”s release remain unclear: Stephen may have thought it best for him to release her and concentrate instead on attacking Robert, since he considered the latter his main opponent at this point in the conflict. He also faced a military dilemma at Arundel: the castle was considered almost impregnable and he may have been worried about risking too much in keeping his army busy in the south while Robert roamed freely in the west. Another theory is that Stephen released Matilda as a gesture of chivalry; he had a generous and gracious personality and women were not normally expected to be targeted in Anglo-Norman warfare.

After freeing Matilda, he focused on pacifying southwest England. Although there were few new defections for his cousin, his enemies controlled a compact block of territory stretching from Gloucester and Bristol south into Wiltshire, west into the Welsh Marches and east across the Thames valley to Oxford and Wallingford, which threatened London. Stephen began by attacking Wallingford Castle, held by his cousin”s childhood friend Brian FitzCount, but found it well defended. The king left some troops to blockade the castle and continued west into Wiltshire to attack Trowbridge and took the castles of South Cerney and Malmesbury on the way. Meanwhile, Miles of Gloucester marched east, attacked the rearguard royal forces at Wallingford and threatened an advance on London. Stephen was forced to abandon his campaign in the west and returned east to stabilize the situation and protect his capital.

In early 1140, Nigel, Bishop of Ely, whose castles had been confiscated the previous year, rebelled against the king as well.Hoping to seize East Anglia, Nigel established his base of operations on the Isle of Ely, then surrounded by protective marshlands.Stephen responded quickly and took an army with him to the marshes and, using boats tied together, formed a causeway that allowed him to make a surprise attack on the island.The bishop escaped to Gloucester, but his men and castle were captured, which temporarily restored order in the east.The soldiers of Robert of Gloucester took back part of the territory that Robert of Gloucester had seized. The bishop escaped to Gloucester, but his men and castle were captured, which temporarily restored order in the east. Robert of Gloucester”s soldiers retook some of the territory that Stephen had taken in his campaign of 1139. In an effort to negotiate a truce, Henry of Blois held a peace conference at Bath, at which his brother was represented by his consort. The conference failed after Henry and the clergy insisted that they should set the terms of a peace agreement, which the king”s representatives found unacceptable.

Ranulph of Chester was upset that Stephen gave away the north of England to Henry of Scotland. He devised a plan to deal with the problem by ambushing the prince as he traveled from the royal court to Scotland after Christmas, so he escorted Henry to the north, but this gesture was the last straw for Stephen. Stephen was informed of this plan, so he escorted Henry north, but this gesture was the last straw for the Earl of Chester. Ranulph had previously claimed that he had the rights to Lincoln Castle – then owned by the king – and, under the guise of a social visit, seized the fortification in a surprise attack. The king marched north to Lincoln and agreed a truce with Ranulfo, probably to prevent him from joining Matilda”s faction, and allowed him to keep the castle. Stephen returned to London, but received news that Ranulfo, his brother and his family remained in the castle with a small troop of guards, a perfect target for a surprise attack. Abandoning the deal he had just made, he reassembled his army and headed north, but not fast enough: Ranulph escaped from Lincoln and declared his support for Matilda, so the king was forced to lay siege to the castle.

Second stage

As Stephen and his army laid siege to Lincoln Castle in early 1141, Robert of Gloucester and Ranulph of Chester advanced on the king”s position with a somewhat larger force. When the news reached the king, he held a council to decide whether to give battle or retreat and gather more soldiers: Stephen decided to fight, which resulted in the Battle of Lincoln on February 2, 1141. The king commanded the center of the army, with Alan of Brittany on the right flank and William of Aumale on the left. Robert and Ranulph”s forces were superior in cavalry and Stephen dismounted many of his own knights to form a solid infantry block; he joined them and fought on foot in the battle. The king was not gifted in public speaking and delegated the pre-battle speech to Baldwin of Clare, who delivered a rousing statement.After an initial success, in which William”s troops destroyed the Welsh infantry of the Angevins, the battle turned unfavorably for the royal forces.Robert and Ranulph”s cavalry surrounded the center of the army and Stephen was quickly identified by the Angevins. Many of Stephen”s supporters – such as Galerano of Beaumont and William of Ypres – fled the battlefield at this point, but the king fought on, defending himself first with his sword and then, when it broke, with a borrowed battle-axe. Finally, he was defeated by Robert”s soldiers and taken from the battlefield under guard.

Robert took Stephen with him back to Gloucester, where he met with Matilda, and was then transferred to Bristol Castle, traditionally used to hold high-ranking prisoners. Initially, he was confined in relatively good conditions, but later his security was tightened and he was kept in chains. Matilda then began to take the necessary steps to seize the throne, which would require the agreement of the Church and her coronation at Westminster. Henry, Stephen”s brother, convened a council at Winchester before Easter in his capacity as papal legate to consider the opinion of the clergy. He had made a private deal with her in which he would surrender the support of the Catholic Church in return for being granted control of ecclesiastical affairs in England. Henry handed over to her the royal treasury-which turned out to be quite dilapidated except for Stephen”s crown-and excommunicated many of his enemies who refused to change sides. However, Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury was unwilling to proclaim her queen so quickly and a delegation of clergy and nobles, led by Theobald, traveled to Bristol to see Stephen and consult him about his moral dilemma of abandoning his oaths of allegiance. Stephen stated that, given the situation, he was willing to release his subjects from their oath, so the clergy met again in Winchester after Easter to declare Matilda “mistress of England and Normandy” as a preliminary to her coronation. However, when she advanced to London in an effort to arrange her coronation in June, she faced an uprising by local citizens in support of the deposed king, forcing her to flee to Oxford.

When news of Stephen”s capture arrived, Godfrey V of Anjou invaded Normandy again and, in the absence of Galerano de Beaumont – who was still fighting in England – occupied the entire duchy as far south of the Seine and east of the Risle. This time he received no help from Stephen”s brother, Theobald of Champagne, who seems to have been preoccupied with his own problems with France: the new king – Louis VII of France – had rejected his father”s regional alliance, improved relations with Anjou and adopted a more bellicose stance against Theobald, which would lead to war the following year. The success of Godfrey V in Normandy and the weakness of Stephen in England began to influence the loyalty of many Anglo-Norman barons, who feared losing their lands in England to Robert and Matilda and their possessions in Normandy to Godfrey V. Many began to leave Stephen”s faction. His friend and advisor Galerano was one of those who decided to defect in mid-1141 and sailed to Normandy to secure his ancestral possessions by allying with the Angevins, allowing Matilda”s camp to be established in Worcestershire. Galerano”s twin brother, Robert of Leicester, likewise withdrew from the fray at the same time. Other supporters of Matilda were restored to their former strongholds – such as Bishop Nigel of Ely – and others received new earldoms in the west of England. Centralized control over coinage was disrupted, causing local barons and bishops to produce their own coins throughout the country.

Stephen”s consort played a pivotal role in keeping alive the cause of the king in captivity. She rallied her remaining lieutenants and the royal family in the southeast and advanced toward London when the populace rejected Matilda. Stephen”s former commander, William of Ypres, remained with the queen consort in London; William Martel, royal steward, commanded operations from Sherborne in Dorset, while Faramus de Boulogne led the royal household. The queen consort apparently generated real sympathy and support from Stephen”s most loyal followers. Henry”s alliance with Matilda proved short-lived, as they soon quarreled over political patronage and ecclesiastical policy; the bishop met the queen consort at Guildford and gave her his support.

The king”s eventual release resulted from the Angevin defeat at the tumult of Winchester. Robert of Gloucester and Matilda besieged Henry of Blois in the city of Winchester in July. The queen consort and William of Ypres surrounded the Angevin forces with an army of their own and reinforced with fresh troops from London. In the ensuing battle, Matilda”s forces were defeated and Robert of Gloucester was taken prisoner during the retreat. Negotiations were held to agree on a general peace, but the queen consort was unwilling to offer any compromise to Matilda and in the meantime Robert refused any offer to switch to Stephen”s side. On the other hand, in November the two sides simply exchanged sides: Stephen returned to his consort and Robert to Matilda in Oxford; in turn, the king re-established his authority Henry organized another church council, in which he reaffirmed his brother”s legitimacy to reign; at Christmas 1141 a new coronation of Stephen and his consort took place.

Early in 1142, he fell ill and at Easter rumors began to circulate that he had died. Possibly this illness was the result of imprisonment the previous year, but he eventually recovered and traveled north to recruit new troops and convinced Ranulph of Chester to switch sides once again. He spent the summer attacking some of the new Angevin castles built the previous year, such as those at Cirencester, Bampton and Wareham. In September, he saw an opportunity to trap his cousin at Oxford, a safe city, protected by walls and the River Isis, but Stephen led a sudden attack across the tributary, led the charge and swam part of the way. Once on the other side, the king and his men stormed the city and trapped Matilda in the castle. Oxford Castle was an imposing fortress and, rather than storm it, the king decided to station himself for a long siege, albeit with the knowledge that she was surrounded. Just before Christmas, Matilda crept out of the castle with a handful of knights, crossed the frozen river on foot and escaped the royal army to take refuge in Wallingford. The garrison surrendered soon after, but Stephen had lost the opportunity to capture his main opponent.


The war between the two sides in England reached a stalemate in the mid 1140s as Godfrey V of Anjou consolidated his control of Normandy.The year 1143 began precariously for the king when he was besieged by Robert of Gloucester at Wilton Castle, a rallying point for the royal forces in Herefordshire.Stephen attempted to break the siege and escape, which resulted in the Battle of Wilton.Once again, Stephen tried to break the siege and escape, which resulted in the Battle of Wilton.Once again, the Angevin cavalry proved too strong and, for a moment, it appeared that he would be captured a second time. Once again, the Angevin cavalry proved too strong and, for a moment, it appeared that he would be captured a second time. However, on this occasion William Martel, royal steward, made a fierce rearguard defense, allowing the king to escape the battlefield. Stephen valued William”s loyalty enough to exchange Sherborne Castle for his safe release: this was one of the few instances in which he was willing to give up a castle to ransom one of his men.

In late 1143 he faced a new threat in the east, when Godfrey of Mandeville, Earl of Essex, rose in rebellion against him in East Anglia. The king had disliked that baron for several years, provoking the conflict when Godfrey was summoned to court, where he was arrested. Stephen threatened to execute Godfrey unless he surrendered his castles, such as the Tower of London, Saffron Walden and Pleshey and their important fortifications, because they were in or near London. Godfrey surrendered, but once free he headed for the northeastern marshes in the direction of the island of Ely, from where he began a military campaign against Cambridge with the intention of advancing toward the capital. With this and other problems and Hugo Bigod revolted in Norfolk, Stephen lacked the resources to track Godfrey in the marshes and managed to build a network of fortresses between Ely and London, such as Burwell Castle.

The situation continued to worsen. Ranulf of Chester rebelled once again in the summer of 1144 and divided between himself and Prince Henry of Scotland the Lancastrian lordship of Stephen Lancaster. In the west, Robert of Gloucester and his followers continued to attack the surrounding royalist territories, while Wallingford Castle remained a secure Angevin stronghold, too close to London for the king”s comfort. Meanwhile, Godfrey V of Anjou finished consolidating his control over southern Normandy and, in January 1144, advanced to Rouen, the duchy”s capital, to conclude his campaign. Louis VII recognized him as Duke of Normandy shortly thereafter. At this point in the war, Stephen was increasingly dependent on his immediate royal house-like William of Ypres and others-and lacked the support of the major barons who could have provided him with significant additional forces; after the events of 1141, he made little use of his network of counts.

After 1143, the war stagnated, but progressed somewhat better for Stephen. Miles of Gloucester, one of the most talented Angevin commanders, had died while hunting the previous Christmas, which relieved some of the military pressure in the west. Godfrey of Mandeville”s rebellion against the king in the east ended with his death in September 1144 during an attack on Burwell Castle. The war in the west progressed better in 1145, when the king recaptured Faringdon Castle in Oxfordshire. In the north, Stephen reached a new agreement with Ranulf of Chester, but in 1146 he repeated the ruse he had employed with Godfrey of Mandeville in 1143: he first invited him to court, then arrested him and threatened to execute him if he did not surrender a number of castles, such as Lincoln and Coventry. Like Godfrey, the moment Rudolph was released he rebelled, but the situation fell into a stalemate: Stephen had few troops in the north to conduct a new campaign, while Rudolph lacked castles to support an attack against the king. However, by this time the practice of inviting barons to court and arresting them had brought him into increasing disrepute and distrust.

Final stages

The people of England had suffered from the war in 1147, leading later historians to call the period of conflict “the Anarchy.” The contemporary Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that “there was nothing but riot and iniquity and robbery.” What is certain is that in many parts of the country-such as Wiltshire, Berkshire, the Thames Valley and East Anglia-fighting and raiding had caused severe devastation. Numerous “adulterous” or unauthorized castles had been built as bases for local lords: the chronicler Robert de Torigni documented that as many as 1115 such castles had been built during the conflict, although this was probably an exaggeration as he suggested an alternative figure of 126. The previously centralized royal coinage system was fragmented, with Stephen, Matilda and local lords minting their own coins. The law of royal forests had collapsed in much of the country. However, some parts of the country were hardly affected by the conflict; for example, Stephen”s lands in the southeast and the Angevin core around Gloucester and Bristol were largely unaffected, while David I effectively ruled his territories in the north. However, the king”s overall income from his estates declined considerably during the conflict-particularly after 1141-and the monarchy”s control over the minting of new coinage remained limited outside the southeast and East Anglia. Stationing frequently in the southeast, Westminster was increasingly used-rather than the former site of Winchester-as the seat of royal government.

Conflict conditions in England gradually began to change; as the historian Frank Barlow suggested, by the late 1140s “the civil war was over,” except for brief outbreaks of armed conflict. In 1147, Robert of Gloucester died peacefully and, the following year, Matilda departed southwest England for Normandy; this helped to reduce the tempers of war. The Second Crusade was announced and many Angevin supporters, such as Galerano de Beaumont, joined the coalition and left the region for several years. Some of the Anglo-Norman barons made individual peace agreements among themselves to secure their lands and war profits.The son of Godfrey V and Matilda, Henry FitzEmpress, intervened in England with a small army of mercenaries in 1147, but the expedition failed, mainly because he lacked the funds needed to pay his men.Stephen ended up paying his nephew”s mercenaries, which allowed him to return home safely; his reasons for doing so are still unclear. One possible explanation is the king”s courtesy to a member of his extended family; another is that he was beginning to consider how to end the war peacefully and saw this as a way to build an amicable relationship with Henry FitzEmpress.

The young Henry returned to England again in 1149, this time with the purpose of forming a northern alliance with Ranulph of Chester. The Angevin plan called for Ranulph to give up his claim to Carlisle – held by the Scots – in exchange for being given the rights to the manor of Lancaster; Ranulph would pay homage to both David I and Henry, who would be senior in rank; after this agreement, Henry and Ranulph set out to attack York, probably with the help of the Scots. After this peace agreement, Henry and Ranulph revolted to attack York, probably with the help of the Scots. Stephen quickly marched north to York, and the planned attack failed, forcing Henry to return to Normandy, where he was declared duke by his father Godfrey V. Although still young, Henry was increasingly gaining a reputation as an energetic and capable leader. His prestige and power were further enhanced when he unexpectedly married in 1152 to Eleanor, the attractive duchess of Aquitaine and recently divorced from Louis VII of France. The marriage made Henry the future ruler of a large group of territories in France.

In the later years of the war, Stephen began to focus on family matters and succession. He tried to confirm his eldest son Eustace as successor, although chroniclers recorded that he had a reputation for imposing heavy taxes and extorting money from those living on his lands. His second son William was married to the wealthy heiress Elizabeth of Warenne. In 1148, Stephen built the Cluniac abbey of Faversham as a resting place for his family. Both his consort Matilda and his elder brother Theobald died in 1152.

Conflicts with the Church

Stephen”s relationship with the Church deteriorated severely towards the end of his reign. The reformist movement within the Church, which advocated greater autonomy from royal authority for the clergy, had continued to grow, while new voices – such as the Cistercians – had gained prestige within the monastic orders and eclipsed older orders such as the Cluniacs. The dispute between the king and the Church originated in 1140, when Archbishop Thurstan of York died. A debate then broke out between a group of reformers based in York and supported by Bernard of Clairvaux, head of the Cistercian order, who preferred William of Rievaulx as the new archbishop, while Stephen and his brother Henry preferred several relatives from Blois. The enmity between Henry and Bernard became increasingly personal, as the former used his authority as papal legate to appoint his nephew William of York to the post in 1144, only to discover that, when Pope Innocent II died in 1145, Bernard was able to obtain the annulment of the appointment by the Holy See; he had convinced Pope Eugene III to reverse Henry”s decision in 1147, dismiss William and appoint Henri Murdac as archbishop in his place.

Stephen was furious at what he saw as potentially threatening papal interference with his royal authority and initially refused to allow Murdac to enter England. When Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, went to consult with the Roman pontiff on the matter against the king”s wishes, he was also denied his return to England and his property was expropriated. Stephen also severed his ties with the Cistercian order and turned to the Cluniacs, of which his brother was a member.

Nevertheless, the pressure to entrench his son Eustace as the legitimate heir continued to grow. He gave his son the earldom of Boulogne in 1147, but it was unclear whether he would inherit England. Stephen”s preferred option was to crown him during his lifetime, as was the custom in France, although this was not the usual practice in England, but Pope Celestine II, during his brief tenure between 1143 and 1144, had forbidden altering this practice. Since the only person who could crown Eustace was Archbishop Theobald, who refused to do so without agreement with the then pope, Eugenius III, the matter came to an impasse. In late 1148, Stephen and Theobald reached a temporary compromise that allowed the archbishop to return to England. Theobald was appointed papal legate in 1151, which increased his authority. Then the king made a new attempt to crown his son at Easter 1152; he gathered his nobles to swear allegiance to his son and insisted that Theobald and his bishops anoint him king. When the archbishop refused once again, Stephen and Eustace imprisoned him and the bishops and denied their release unless they agreed to the coronation. Theobald again escaped into temporary exile in Flanders and was pursued to the coast by the king”s knights, marking a low point in Stephen”s relationship with the Church.

Agreements and peace

Henry FitzEmpress returned to England again in early 1153 with a small army, supported in the north and east of England by Ranulph of Chester and Hugo Bigod.The castle at Malmesbury was besieged by invading forces and the king responded by marching west with an army to liberate it.He tried unsuccessfully to push Henry”s smaller army to fight a decisive battle near the Avon. Faced with increasingly wintry weather, Stephen agreed to a temporary truce and returned to London, allowing Henry to travel north through the Midlands, where Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, announced his support for the Angevin cause. Despite modest military successes, Henry and his allies already controlled the southwest, the Midlands, and much of northern England.

During the summer, Stephen intensified the long siege of Wallingford Castle in a final attempt to take this important Angevin stronghold. The fall of Wallingford seemed imminent and Henry marched south in an attempt to liberate the fortress with a small army with which he would surround the besiegers. At the news, Stephen gathered more troops and marched from Oxford; in July the two sides clashed at Wallingford near the Thames. At this point in the war, the barons on both sides seemed anxious to avoid open battle. As a result, instead of a battle, members of the Church negotiated a truce, much to the chagrin of the two leaders.

After Wallingford, the two spoke privately about the possible end of the war; however, Stephen”s son Eustace was furious about the peaceful outcome at Wallingford. He abandoned his father and returned home to Cambridge to raise more funds for a new campaign, where he fell ill and died the following month. Eustace”s death eliminated a pretender to the throne and was politically expedient for those seeking a permanent peace in England. However, it is possible that Stephen had already begun to consider overlooking his son; historian Edmund King noted that, for example, Eustace”s rights to the throne were not mentioned in the discussions at Wallingford and this may have incited his anger.

Fighting continued after Wallingford, but in a rather listless manner. Stephen lost the towns of Oxford and Stamford, which fell to Henry, while the king continued to fight Hugo Bigod in eastern England, but Nottingham Castle survived an Angevin attempt at capture. Meanwhile, Henry of Blois and Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury met in an effort to negotiate a permanent peace between the two sides and pressed the king to accept a settlement. The two armies met again at Winchester, where both leaders ratified the terms of a permanent peace in November. Stephen announced the Treaty of Winchester at Winchester Cathedral, in which he recognized Henry FitzEmpress as his adopted son and successor, in return for the latter”s homage; the king promised to listen to advice from his successor, but retained his royal powers; the king”s second son William would also pay homage to the new successor and renounce his claim to the throne, in exchange for promises of security over his lands; the guarantors would hold the key royal castles in Henry”s name, but Stephen would have access to his successor”s fortresses; foreign mercenaries would be demobilized and sent home. Stephen and Henry sealed the treaty with a kiss of peace in the cathedral.

The decision to recognize Henry as heir was not necessarily, at the time, the final solution to the civil war.Despite the issuance of new monetary and administrative reforms, he might have lived for many more years, although his successor”s position on the continent was far from secure.While his son William was young and unprepared to challenge Henry for the throne in 1153, the situation may have changed in later years.There were widespread rumors during 1154 that William, for example, was planning to assassinate his adopted brother. There were widespread rumors during 1154 that William, for example, was planning to assassinate his adopted brother. The historian Graham White described the Treaty of Winchester as an “uneasy peace,” in tune with the judgment of most modern historians that the situation at the end of 1153 was still uncertain and unpredictable.

What was certain was that many issues remained to be resolved, including the reestablishment of royal authority over the provinces and the resolution of the complex question of which barons should control disputed lands and estates after the protracted civil war. The king returned to business in early 1154 and toured the kingdom. He began issuing royal commands for southwest England again and traveled to York, where he presided over an important court in an attempt to convince the northern barons that royal authority was reasserting itself. However, after a busy summer in 1154, he arrived in Dover to meet Theodoric of Alsace, count of Flanders; some historians believe that the king was already ill and preparing to settle family matters. He fell ill with a stomach disorder and died on October 25 at the local priory. He was buried in Faversham Abbey with his wife Matilda and son Eustace.

Subsequent events

After Stephen”s death, Henry FitzEmpress (now Henry II) ascended the throne of England and vigorously reestablished royal authority after the civil war, dismantled castles, and increased revenues, although several of these trends had begun during the previous administration. The destruction of castles during Henry II”s reign was not as dramatic as thought, and although it restored royal revenues, England”s economy remained basically unchanged under both rulers. Stephen”s second male son, William I of Blois, was made Earl of Surrey by Henry II and prospered under the new sovereign, with occasional tensions. Mary of Boulogne also outlived her father, who had sent her to a convent, but after his death she abandoned the habit and married. Another of his sons, Baldwin, and his second daughter, Matilda, had died before 1147 and were buried at Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate. Stephen probably had three illegitimate sons, Gervase, Ralph, and Americ, with his mistress Damette; Gervase was abbot of Westminster in 1138, but after his father”s death, he was deposed by Henry II in 1157 and died shortly thereafter.

Historiographic evaluations

Much of the modern history of his reign is based on accounts by chroniclers who lived in or in the mid-12th century, which formed a relatively rich account of the period. The major chroniclers” histories have marked regional biases in the way they described disparate events. Several of the major chronicles come from southwest England, such as William of Malmesbury”s Gesta Stephani (Acts of Stephen) and Historia Novella (New History). In Normandy, Orderic Vital wrote his Ecclesiastical History-covering the reign to 1141-and Robert of Torigni wrote a later account of the rest of the period. Henry of Huntingdon, who lived in eastern England, produced Historia Anglorum (History of England), which provides a regional account of the reign. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle had reached its peak by the time of Stephen, but is remembered for its striking description of conditions during “the Anarchy.” Most chronicles have some bias for or against Stephen, Robert of Gloucester, or other key figures in the conflict. Those who wrote for the Church after the events of the reign-John of Salisbury, for example-illustrated the king as a tyrant because of his quarrels with the Archbishop of Canterbury; by contrast, Durham clergymen regarded him as a savior for his contribution to the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of the Standard. Later chronicles written during Henry II”s reign were generally more negative: for example, Walter Map described him as “an excellent gentleman, but in other respects almost a fool.” Several letters were issued during Stephen”s reign that frequently gave details of current events or daily routine; these have been widely used as sources by modern historians.

Historians in the Whiggish tradition who emerged during the Victorian period conceived of a progressive, universalist process of political and economic development in England during the medieval period. William Stubbs focused on these constitutional aspects of Stephen”s reign in The Constitutional History of England of 1874, which sparked an enduring interest in Stephen and his reign. Stubbs”s analysis-focusing on the disorder of the period-influenced his pupil John Horace Round to coin the term “the Anarchy” to describe that period, a label that, though sometimes criticized, continues to be employed today. Late Victorian scholar Frederic William Maitland also introduced the possibility that this reign marked a turning point in English legal history: the so-called “crisis of tenure.”

Stephen remains a popular subject for historical study: David Crouch suggested that, after John I, he is “possibly the medieval king England. Modern historians vary in their assessments of him as king. Historian R. H. Davis”s biography presented the image of a weak monarch: a capable military leader on the battlefield, very active and personable, but, “beneath the surface distrustful and dissembling,” with mediocre strategic judgment that ultimately undermined his reign. The lack of good political judgment and his mishandling of international affairs-which led to the loss of Normandy and his consequent incompetence in winning the civil war in England-was also highlighted by another of his biographers, David Crouch. Historian and biographer Edmund King – while giving a slightly more positive portrayal than Davis – also concluded that – despite being a stoic, pious and affable leader – he was rarely, if ever, his own man, as he generally relied on stronger characters such as his brother or wife. Historian Keith Stringer offered a more positive portrayal of Stephen, arguing that his ultimate failure as king was the result of external pressures on the Norman state, rather than the result of personal failings.

Popular representations

Stephen and his reign have served as occasional inspiration in historical fiction. He and his followers appear in English novelist Ellis Peters” historical detective series about the character Brother Cadfael, set between 1137 and 1145. Peters” description of his reign is an essentially local narrative, centered in and around the town of Shrewsbury. Peters described Stephen as a “tolerant man” and a “reasonable ruler,” despite the execution of Shrewsbury”s defenders after the capture of the town in 1138. In contrast, he is portrayed as unsympathetic in Ken Follett”s historical novel The Pillars of the Earth and the television adaptation of the same name.

Stephen of Blois married Matilda de Boulogne in 1125. From this marriage were born.

There are also known illegitimate children with a courtesan named Damette.


  1. Esteban de Inglaterra
  2. Stephen, King of England