Stephen of England
|Reign||Dec 22,1135 – Oct 25,1154|
|Coronation||December 22, 1135|
|Queen||Matilda of Boulogne (1105–1152)|
|Issue||Eustace IV (c. 1130–1153)
William of Blois (c. 1137–1159)
Marie of Boulogne (d. 1182)
|Father||Stephen, Count of Blois
|Mother||Adela of Blois (c. 1062–1138)|
|Died||October 25, 1154
|Buried||Faversham Abbey, Kent|
Stephen (1096 - October 25, 1154), the last Norman King of England, reigned from 1135 to 1154, when he was succeeded by his cousin Henry II, the first of the Angevin or Plantagenet Kings.
Stephen was born at Blois in France, the son of Stephen, Count of Blois, and Adela (daughter of William the Conqueror). His brothers were Count Theobald II of Champagne and Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester.
Stephen was sent to be reared at the English court of his uncle, King Henry I, in 1106. He became Count of Mortain in about 1115, and married Matilda, daughter of the Count of Boulogne, in about 1125, who shortly after became Countess of Boulogne. Stephen became joint ruler in 1128. In 1150 he ceased to co-rule, and in 1151, the County was given to his son, Eustace IV. When Eustace died childless, Stephen's next living son, William inherited the territory.
Seizes throne of England
Before the death of King Henry I of England in 1135, the majority of the barons of England swore to support Henry's daughter (Empress Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror), and her claim to the throne. However, Stephen (also a grandchild of The Conqueror through his mother and who had been raised at Henry's court) laid claim to the throne. He also claimed his uncle, King Henry, had changed his mind on his deathbed, and named Stephen as his heir. Once Stephen was crowned, he gained the support of the majority of the barons as well as Pope Innocent II. The first few years of his reign were peaceful, but by 1139 he was seen as weak and indecisive, setting the country up for a civil war, commonly called The Anarchy.
Stephen had many traits that made him seem superficially fit for kingship: his high birth, his descent from the Conqueror, his handsomeness, his bravery and good nature. But he possessed none of the ruthlessness necessary for the ruthless times he lived in; indeed, Walter Map says of Stephen: "He was adept at the martial arts but in other respects little more than a simpleton."
War with Matilda
Bad omens haunted him before the Battle of Lincoln (2 February 1141). Stephen was facing his rebellious
barons Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester (the Empress' illegitimate half-brother) and the Earl of Chester. He fought so bravely in the battle that his battle-axe shattered. He drew a sword and continued fighting until it broke as well, as he was captured by a knight named William de Cahagnes. Stephen was defeated and he was brought before his cousin, the Empress Matilda.
Stephen was imprisoned at Bristol, but his wife, the Countess Matilda, kept faith, and the Empress was soon forced out of London. With the capture of her most able lieutenant, the Earl of Gloucester, Matilda was eventually obliged to release Stephen from captivity, and he was restored to the throne in November of the same year. In December1142, the Empress was besieged at Oxford, but she managed to escape across the snow to Wallingford Castle, held by her supporter Brien FitzCount.
In 1147, Empress Matilda's adolescent son, Henry (the eventual King Henry II), decided to assist in the war effort by raising a small army of mercenaries and invading England. Rumors of this army's size terrified Stephen's retainers, although in truth the force was very small. Having been defeated twice in battle, and with no money to pay his mercenaries, the young Henry appealed to his uncle Robert for aid but was turned away. Desperately, and in secret, the boy then asked Stephen for help. According to the Gesta Stephani, "On receiving the message, the king, who was ever full of pity and compassion, hearkened to the young man..." and bestowed upon him money and other support. Despite this generosity, there is no evidence for the rumors that Stephen was Henry's biological father.
Recognises Henry as his heir and dies
Stephen maintained his precarious hold on the throne for the remainder of his lifetime. However, after a military standoff at Wallingford with Henry, and following the death of his son and heir, Eustace, in 1153, he was persuaded to reach a compromise with Empress Matilda (known as theTreaty of Wallingford or Winchester), whereby her son would succeed Stephen on the English throne as King Henry II.
Stephen died in Dover, at Dover Priory, and was buried in Faversham Abbey, which he had founded with Countess Matilda in 1147.
Besides Eustace, Stephen and Matilda had two other sons, Baldwin (d. before 1135), and William of Blois (Count of Mortain and Boulogne, and Earl of Surrey or Warenne). They also had two daughters, Matilda and Marie of Boulogne. In addition to these children, Stephen fathered at least three illegitimate children, one of whom, Gervase, became Abbot of Westminster.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (the Peterborough Chronicle, second continuation) provides a moving and succinct appraisal of Stephen's reign:
- "In the days of this King there was nothing but strife, evil, and robbery, for quickly the great men who were traitors rose against him. When the traitors saw that Stephen was a good-humoured, kindly, and easy-going man who inflicted no punishment, then they committed all manner of horrible crimes . . . And so it lasted for nineteen years while Stephen was King, till the land was all undone and darkened with such deeds, and men said openly that Christ and his angels slept".
The monastic author said, of The Anarchy, "this and more we suffered nineteen winters for our sins."
- Gesta Stephani
- Walter Map
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
- Crouch, David. The Reign of King Stephen, 2000
|King of England
|Duke of Normandy
|Count of Mortain
|Count of Boulogne
with Matilda I
|Monarchs of England|
|Alfred | Edward the Elder | Ethelweard | Athelstan | Edmund I | Edred | Edwy | Edgar I | Edward the Martyr | Ethelred | Sweyn I*† | Edmund II | Canute*† | Harthacanute* | Harold I | Edward the Confessor | Harold II | Edgar II | William I | William II | Henry I | Stephen | Matilda | Henry II | Richard I | John | Henry III | Edward I | Edward II | Edward III | Richard II | Henry IV | Henry V | Henry VI | Edward IV | Edward V | Richard III | Henry VII | Henry VIII‡ | Edward VI‡ | Jane‡ | Mary I‡ | Elizabeth I‡ | James I‡§ | Charles I‡§ | Interregnum | Charles II‡§ | James II‡§ | William III‡§¶ and Mary II‡§ | Anne‡§|
|* Also Monarch of Denmark | † Also Monarch of Norway | ‡Also Monarch of Ireland | § Also Monarch of Scotland | ¶ Also Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel and Drenthe|