The Anarchy - Civil War - Stephen and Matilda (1139 - 1154)Tweet
Stephen chosen by the barons
tephen of Blois, with the approval of the Norman barons, claimed the English throne in 1135 after the death of Henry I, king of England. Henry had chosen his own daughter Matilda as heir to the English throne and had initially gained the agreement of the Norman barons but after his death the barons chose Stephen instead. The barons wanted a Norman to rule England and not an English woman like Matilda. When Stephen became king, Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou, her husband, fled the country for their own safety.
The Barons take control
Stephen was not a particularly strong king and the barons used this time to build more castles from which they could harshly rule their lands both in Normandy and in England.
Support for Matilda
Not all the barons supported King Stephen. In Scotland King David, Matilda's uncle, gave his full support to her cause and in the summer of 1138 invaded the north of England travelling as far south as Lincolnshire. The Scottish army was met by the Normans at Northallerton on the 22nd of August in Yorkshire. The battle is known as the Battle of the Standard because at the centre of the English army was a cart displaying important religious banners. The Scots were defeated and King David returned to Scotland.
Matilda also had support from her half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester. Robert was an illegitimate son of Henry I and had a weak claim to the English throne. Initially Robert had supported Stephen but in 1138 changed sides and began to fight for Matilda.
The winter was harsh and the siege lasted long enough for the citizens of Oxford to run out of supplies to eat and burn. The situation was hopeless and Matilda planned her escape. Dressed in white robes to travel unnoticed across the snow, Matilda and a small number of knights escaped from the city. The river had completely frozen and they were able to cross over the ice. In October of 1147 Robert of Gloucester died and in February of the next year Matilda left England for Anjou. Without the support of Robert her personal fight for the English throne was over.
Matilda's son continues the fight
Henry was the eldest son of Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou. Henry made several attempts to overthrow Stephen and in 1153 a treaty was signed at Wallingford on the banks of the River Thames. Stephen's son Eustace had recently died and Stephen was happy for the fighting that had damaged the country so much to come to an end. It was agreed that when Stephen died Henry should become king as Henry II. Stephen died in October 1154 and in December Henry II was crowned at Westminster Abbey.
Matilda and her supporters
Matilda was the daughter of Henry I, King of England. Henry died in 1035 leaving only Matilda as heir to the English throne. William Audlin, Henry's son, had been killed in 1120 when his ship ran aground. Henry had realised there would be a problem if he died without leaving a male heir and had sought assurances from the barons that they would accept Matilda as Queen of England when he died. Although the barons agreed at the time, after Henry's death Stephen of Blois, his nephew, claimed the throne. Matilda fought back leading to the civil war between her supporters and supporters of King Stephen.
Henry, Duke of Normandy was the son of Matilda. Henry assisted his mother in the civil war against King Stephen. Eventually King Stephen was forced to recognise Henry as the rightful heir to the English throne and when Stephen died Henry became king as Henry II.
Robert, Earl of Gloucester was the illegitimate son of Henry I, King of England and a chief supporter of his step-sister Matilda's claim to the English throne during the civil war.
David I, King of Scotland had been educated at the court of Henry I and gave important support to Matilda during the civil war. David assisted Matilda's son Henry and knighted him. David was defeated by Stephen at the Battle of the Standard in August of 1138.
Stephen and his supporters
Stephen of Blois was the grandson of William the Conqueror and the nephew of Henry I, King of England. Stephen's mother was Henry's sister. When Henry I died Stephen had rushed to England and claimed the throne for himself as Stephen I, King of England.
Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex was a powerful baron who took advantage of the chaos of the civil war to cause as much destruction as possible to further his own power and wealth. At first Mandeville sided with King Stephen but when Matilda took the upper hand in the war he changed sides. When King Stephen later regained power Mandeville changed sides again. All these changes of loyalty finally caught up with the Earl and he was banished.
See the timeline below or this graphical version for more detailed information.
Event Participants and Locations
Early Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
Last Middle Ages
Early Modern Period
Event Participants and Locations