Stephen's succession to the throne (1135)Tweet
illiam Rufus, the King of England since 1087 died in 1100 and because he died without having any children his younger brother Henry claimed the English throne and became the next King of England as Henry I. In Normandy, William and Henry had another brother called Robert. Robert was older than Henry and the Normans in England wanted Robert to become the King of England instead of Henry. Henry had been born in England at Selby in Yorkshire and the English people regarded him as an Englishman. The English nobles preferred to see an Englishman on the throne rather than another Norman like William Rufus. Robert was returning from the Crusades when William died and was unable to prevent Henry becoming King of England.
Henry married Matilda Edith, the great-grandchild of Edmund Ironside who had been King of England for a few months in 1016. The marriage strengthened the English peoples' support for Henry but it was unpopular with the Norman barons living in England.
The Charter of Henry I, King of England
When King Henry was coronated he promised to abolish the unpopular laws that had been brought in by William Rufus. The charter made it fairer for the rightful heirs of nobles to claim the property of their deceased fathers without having to pay large sums as they did before. Fines for illegal acts would be paid based on the severity of the act, and the laws of the land would be properly upheld.
In 1101 Robert crossed the English Channel from Normandy with an army intent on taking the English throne from Henry. In July Robert landed at Portsmouth and marched north to Alton on the way to London. He was met by a strong English army and decided the best course of action would be to sign a peace treaty. Henry and Robert both signed The Treaty of Alton and Robert gave up his claim to the English throne in return for 3,000 marks a year from Henry. The agreement also ensured that Robert's supporters in England would not be punished. In 1106 Henry crossed to Normandy attacking and capturing Robert. Robert was transported back to England and then to Wales where he was imprisoned in Cardiff Castle until his death. Henry added the lands of Normandy to his domain.
The Tragedy of the White Ship (1120)
Henry and Matilda Edith had a son called William Adelin. William was heir to the English throne until the tragedy of the sinking of the White Ship. It should have been a straight forward sea crossing from Normandy to England and the weather was good, but the young prince and his young friends had delayed the sailing with their merrymaking in Normandy. The crew of the White Ship were supplied with beer and were in no state to handle the ship safely. Shortly after leaving harbour the ship hit rocks and began to sink. Prince William was initially saved and placed in a small boat but on his orders he tried to rescue his sister and the boat was overwhelmed by others desperate to be saved. The small boat tipped over and the prince was drowned.
Matilda nominated as heir
King Henry's only son was now dead but he did have a daughter named Matilda. Henry chose Matilda as heir to the English throne, but choosing a woman rather than a man to rule the country was not popular and the choice was opposed by the Norman barons. Henry managed to get the agreement of the barons but this agreement would only last while Henry was alive.
Henry dies and the agreement is broken
King Henry I died on December 1st of 1135 and the agreement with his barons to make Matilda Queen of England was ignored. The barons choose Stephen, Henry's nephew and grandson of William the Conqueror. Stephen was a Norman like the barons and unlike Matilda who the barons considered English because her mother was an English woman. Matilda was also married to a Frenchman, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, and enemy of Normandy. If Matilda became Queen it was possible that Geoffrey would become King of England after her death. Stephen became King of England on December 22nd of 1135 and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on the 26th. Matilda and Geoffrey left England for their own safety but they planned how to overthrow Stephen and claim the English their own safety. The resulting conflict between Stephen and Matilda would become a civil war.
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