Sunday, 5 August 2012

Stephen & Matilda

Stephen (c1097 - 1154) king of England 1135 - 1154

Matilda (1102 - 1167) in power in England 1141 - 1142 but not crowned

The succession crisis that occurred after the death of Matilda's father, Henry I, was known as The Anarchy.

A contemporary chronicler described Stephen 'a good night, but in all other respects a fool'. A stinging verdict that was perhaps over harsh. No one doubted Stephen's personal bravery. At the battle of Lincoln on 2 February 1141 he fought on foot long after much of his army had fled, wearing out a battle-axe and a sword before being captured.

He was a chivalrous figure - courteous, affable, kind-hearted and generous, if somewhat ineffectual when it came to carrying through the schemes he had conceived with such enthusiasm. He could also be sly and shifty, and on many occasions showed considerable lack of judgement. Stephen was the third son of Stephen, count of Blois and Chartres, who had acquired European notoriety by running away from Antioch during the First crusade, and Adela, the tough-minded daughter of William the Conqueror who sent her husband back to the Holy Land.

Young Stephen was dispatched to the court of his uncle Henry I and given extensive lands in Normandy and England which made him one of the wealthiest of the Anglo-Norman landholders. In 1126, along with many others, Stephen took an oath to accept the succession of Henry's daughter Matilda.

However on hearing of Henry's death on 1 December, 1135, he set in motion what seems to have been a premeditated and well-organized plan. He crossed to England, was accepted as king in London, gained possession of the treasury at Winchester, and was crowned on 22 December. A messenger then hurried to Normandy  where the Norman barons, after hesitation, accepted him as duke. In this way Stephen re-created Henry I's cross-Channel dominion. Early in 1136 his position seemed secure. His Easter court was attended by many of the major landholders, and even Matilda's half brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester, had done homage. Matilda and her supporters had been able to occupy parts of southern Normandy and there were isolated acts of defiance in the West Country. However, Stephen made political blunders during his 19 years on the throne - a reign that was plagued by civil war, local disturbances and even a loss of control of the kingdom in 1141-1142. Arresting Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and his nephews Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, and Nigel, bishop of Ely, was one that cost him the Church's support. And on occasions his sense of chivalry led him to make mistakes that astonished and dismayed his followers, as in 1139 when he had Matilda at his mercy but gave her safe-conduct to her brother's castle at Bristol. Because Matilda, as wife of Geoffrey Plantagent, count of Anjou, had a secure base in Anjou and later in Normandy, Stephen had to deal with a combination of of external and internal opposition the like of which none of his predecessors had faced. In the end, however, he simply lacked the dominant personality essential to successful 12th century kingship.

Medieval Monarchs edited by Elizabeth Hallam. Tiger Books International, 1996 p 26

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