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King Stephen

Updated on July 1, 2013

Stephen of Blois

Stephen was born in 1096 at in France. He was the son of Stephen, Count of Blois and Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror. He was one of ten children, six boys and four girls.

Stephen was sent to England in 1106 to the court of his uncle, King Henry 1st, At twentynine years of age, and now Henry's favourite nephew, he married Matilda, daughter of the Count of Boulogne. Their marriage was happy and his wife was an important supporter during the struggle for the English crown. Stephen became joint ruler of Boulogne in 1128.

King Stephen

The contenders for the throne of England on Henry's death were Matilda, Henry's only legitimate surviving child, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, the illegitimate son of Henry, Stephen and Stephen's elder brother Theobald. Theobald, though did not want the kingdom, if it meant fighting for it. Before his death in 1135, Henry named his daughter Matilda as his heir and made the nobles of England swear allegiance to her.

Stephen rushed to England and with great speed he entered London and was elected king by the townspeople, who saw it as their ancient right to decide upon the king. From here he moved to Winchester, where, with the support of his younger brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester, he secured the treasury. The barons preferred Stephen to Matilda and so they supported him in stealing the throne. Matilda's illegitimate half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, allied himself with Matilda. Stephen, meanwhile, made a series of poor decisions that caused resentment amongst his former supporters. His own brother, Henry of Winchester disowned him as he had arrested some of the prominent bishops in the land, which Henry perceived as an attack on the church. Matilda landed in England and met up with Robert of Gloucester. Another of the opposing earls, Ranulf of Chester had moved to Lincoln and captured the castle. Despite making peace with Ranulf, Stephen responded to the citizens of Lincoln to attack the castle he held. Ranulf was advised of this treachery, and escaped to join up with his father-in-law, Robert of Gloucester. This started the Battle of Lincoln. In this, the only major battle of the struggle, Stephen suffered defeat on 2 February 1141. He was taken prisoner and jailed in Bristol. Matilda took the throne. However, her haughty manner very soon made enemies in London and she felt obliged to leave the capital for Oxford. Stephen's wife now entered the war and in September 1141, Robert of Gloucester was defeated at Winchester and he was captured. Matilda decided to get Robert back by exchanging Stephen for him. Stephen then grabbed the throne again. Matilda was still in Oxford Castle and when Stephen attacked the castle, she escaped by night in the snow to Wallingford.

Stephen's reign was known as the Anarchy, or the nineteen years winter as the whole period was cursed by civil war and unsettled government.

In 1147, Empress Matilda's teenage son, the future King Henry 2nd.decided to assist in the war effort by raising a small army of mercenaries and invading England. The force was very small and suffered two defeats. Unrest continued throughout Stephen's reign, even after Matilda returned to France following Robert's death in 1147.

Stephen himself was in poor health by this time, and he suffered a further blow when his eldest son, Eustace died suddenly in 1153. Matilda's son had by now grown up into a skilled military tactician and a determined opponent, and he arrived in England with the intention of taking the crown. Stephen and Henry signed the treaty of Wallingford in 1153 whereby Stephen recognised Henry as heir to the throne.

Stephen died in October 1154 and and was buried in Faversham Abbey.

King Stephen


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