Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Matriarch of the Plantagenets - the Empress Matilda VII

Henry and Eleanor
Return to England

Henry’s return to England was in part delayed by the hostility of Louis VII, newly returned from the Second Crusade. He was not pleased to realise that Normandy and England could soon be ruled by the same person and refused to recognise Henry as Duke of Normandy. Eventually Geoffrey advised bribing Louis by giving up the Vexin in return for recognition as duke[i]; it worked. At the end of August 1151 Henry paid homage to the king of France for Normandy.

Less than a month later Geoffrey died at the age of thirty-nine. Henry FitzEmpress had to travel to Anjou to take homage from his vassals. He was then embroiled in an affair of the heart[ii], kept secret as his future wife was the wife of his liege lord; Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France. In a fraught divorce it was finally agreed that Louis would keep custody of the two French princesses, their daughters and on 18th May 1152 Henry married the heir of William X, Duke of Aquitaine[iii].

Louis then took sides with Stephen and Eustace in a futile attempt to drive out Henry from his lands in Normandy. Henry FitzEmpress saw off the attacks but time was marching on and his supporters in England were crying out for his return. By the time Henry FitzEmpress returned to England the war had turned in Stephen’s favour; he was besieging Wallingford Castle having taken Newbury in 1152.

Malmesbury Abbey
Henry FitzEmpress arrived on 6th January 1153 bringing 140 knights and 3,000 foot soldiers carried in 36 ships. He was hastily followed over the Channel by Eustace. Henry made his way to Malmesbury where the castle was surrendered to him after a stand-off.

Henry then rode to Stockbridge to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Winchester, Bath, Salisbury and Chichester. The purport of the meeting was to discuss the return of Devizes Castle to the control of the Bishop of Salisbury. This done the bishops agreed to use their best efforts to reach a consensus between the warring parties.

Coming to Terms

Wallingford Castle
Stephen was now over sixty and had lost his appetite for war. He had relied a lot on Matilda of Boulogne and her death the previous summer had knocked away one of his main supports. Of his supporters the Earl of Leicester had transferred his support to Henry FitzEmpress who was taking control of the midlands. William d'Aubigny, Earl of Arundel argued the futility of further fighting.

By July Henry arrived at Wallingford where Stephen was once again besieging Brian Fitzcount’s castle. Henry’s forces in turn besieged Stephen’s wooden siege-castle at Crowmarsh Gifford. Stephen and Henry were ambushed by their own supporters who persuaded the two men to meet and agree a temporary truce.

Stephen's son Eustace opposed any rapprochement with the enemy, he clearly felt betrayed by his father’s actions;

Eustace for his part, greatly vexed and angry because the war, in his opinion, had reached no proper conclusion, left his father and went out of sight of the court, and met his death from grief within a few days.’[iv]

but he died suddenly in the August, allegedly struck down by the wrath of God while plundering church lands near Bury St Edmunds. Eustace’s death left the way open for the two parties to agree peace terms.

Henry FitzEmpress and Stephen were persuaded to meet on 6th November 1153 at Winchester. Stephen announced the Treaty of Wallingford at Westminster Cathedral at Christmas: he recognised Henry FitzEmpress as his adopted son and successor in return for Henry paying homage to him.

‘The king first acknowledged….the hereditary right which the duke had in the kingdom of England. And the duke generously conceded that the king should hold the kingdom for the rest of his life, if he wished.’[v]

Other conditions included:
  • Stephen promising to listen to Henry's advice, but he retained all his royal powers; Henry conceded that;
  • Stephen's remaining son, William, would do homage to Henry and renounce his claim to the throne, in exchange for promises of the security of his lands;
  • Key royal castles would be held on Henry's behalf by guarantors, whilst Stephen would have access to Henry's castles;
  • The numerous foreign mercenaries would be demobilised and sent home.
Cathedral cloister
Stephen and Henry sealed the treaty with a kiss of peace in the cathedral. The treaty was signed at a later date at Westminster.

Henry less than a year to wait; the young FitzEmpress became Henry II on 25th October 1154 when;

‘[Stephen] was suddenly seized with a violent pain in his gut, accompanied by a flow of blood.’[vi]

Matilda did not attend the coronation but it was one of the two crowns of gold that Matilda brought back from Germany with her that Henry wore that day.

A Mother’s Influence

Matilda had set up household in Rouen in a residence built by her father at his park at Quevilly, on the banks of the River Seine. The house was near to the priory of Notre Dame du Pré[vii].
It was from here that Matilda acted as her son’s surrogate when Henry was on his travels across his vast domains. Henry trusted his mother’s judgement; one royal mandate, issued in England to the justices in Normandy in the late 1150s said;

‘If you do not do this let my lady and mother the empress see that it is done.’[viii]

Matilda appears to have persuaded Henry not to invade Ireland which he wanted to bestow upon his younger brother William. William was given lands in England in lieu.

In 1156 Matilda was forced to preside over a bitter family conference in Rouen, after the twenty two year old Geoffrey rose up in rebellion against his elder brother. Henry was immovable and Geoffrey stormed off to wage war. Henry took less than six months to take Chinon, Mirebeau and Loudun. Geoffrey ceded his claim to Anjou and settled for an annuity He died two years later, an embittered and humiliated young man. William died in Rouen six years later, his mother by his side.

Frederick Barbarossa
In 1157 Matilda was probably involved in the negotiations with Emperor Frederick Barbarossa over the fate of the mummified hand of St James which Matilda had brought to England after the death of her first husband. The emperor wanted the relic returned to the imperial treasury while Henry was determined to keep it at Reading Abbey. Frederick was eventually persuaded to drop the matter following the receipt of numerous gifts including four great falcons and a magnificent campaigning tent that struck awe into its beholders.

Old Age

In 1160 Matilda suffered a serious illness and her influence over Henry waned when she advised against the appointment of Chancellor Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury[ix]. Matilda was involved in attempts to mediate between Henry and his Chancellor Thomas Becket when the two men fell out in the 1160s.

Henry II and Beckett
When the Prior of Mont St Jacques asked Matilda for a private interview on Becket's behalf to seek her views, she provided a moderate perspective on the problem Matilda explained that she disagreed with Henry's attempts to codify English customs, which Becket was opposed to. She also condemned poor administration in the English Church and Becket's own headstrong behaviour.

Throughout her retirement Matilda still continued her role as peacemaker; as late as 1167 she was trying to de-escalate the problems between her son and Louis VII, this time a quarrel over crusading funds. A truce was agreed in August and Henry then launched on an invasion of the Duchy of Brittany.

Weeks later Henry was recalled by the death of his mother. Matilda died on 10th September 1167 surrounded by monks from the monastery of Bec. She was buried in the Abbey, in a service led by Rotrou, the Archbishop of Rouen. Whether she would have approved of the inscription on her tomb is moot;

‘Great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring, here lies the daughter, wife and mother of Henry.’[x]

Matilda left the abbey the contents of her private chapel, having already donated much of the treasure she had brought back from Germany.


The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216 – Frank Barlow, Pearson Education Ltd 1999

Gerald of Wales – Robert Bartlett, Tempus Publishing Ltd 2006

Stephen and Matilda – Jim Bradbury, The History Press 2005

She Wolves – Helen Castor, Faber and Faber 2010

Early Medieval England – MT Clanchy, Folio Society 1997

The Plantagenets – Dan Jones, William Collins 2013

King Stephen – Edmund King, Yale University Press 2010

Doomsday to Magna Carta – AL Poole, Oxford University Press 1987

Early Medieval England – Christopher Tyerman, Stackpole Books 1996

Henry II – WL Warren, Yale University Press 2000


[i] In 1158 a treaty between Henry and Louis agreed that Henry’s son Henry and Louis’ daughter Margaret would marry and the Vexin would be her dowry
[ii] It is equally likely that Henry had his eye on Eleanor’s vast inheritance. It was alleged by Gerald of Wales (a chronicler hostile to the Angevins) that Eleanor had an affair with Geoffrey of Anjou
[iii] Henry failed to gain Louis’ consent to the marriage, as by right he should have done as one of Louis’ vassals
[iv] King Stephen - King
[v] Henry II - Warren
[vi] She-Wolves - Castor
[vii] An offshoot of the Abbey of Bec that Matilda had long supported
[viii] She-Wolves - Castor
[ix] Henry must later have rued the day that he did not follow his mother’s advice
[x] She-Wolves - Castor

Monday, 18 July 2016

Matriarch of the Plantagenets - the Empress Matilda VI

Matilda's seal as Queen of England
Dual Loyalties

Young Henry was returned to the safety of Anjou while his uncle held the south west of England and his father completed his conquest of Normandy which had been left without effective leadership after Henry I’s death. Once Normandy was under Angevin control troops could be ferried to Wareham. Rouen surrendered in 1144 and henceforth Geoffrey’s domination of the duchy was virtually uncontested. Louis VII recognised Geoffrey as Duke of Normandy in the same year[i].

The potential loss of their Norman estates gave those of Stephen’s supporters, who held lands both sides of the Channel, pause for thought; even Waleran of Beaumont;

‘Superior to all the rest of the Norman nobles in castles, wealth and the number of his connections’[ii]

joined the successful Geoffrey[iii]. Geoffrey for his part let it be known that as soon as Henry was old enough Geoffrey would step aside and let his son rule as Duke of Normandy.

Walden Castle
Another former supporter of Stephen’s Geoffrey de Mandeville, was infuriated by the enforced loss of his role as Constable of the Tower of London and the loss of his castles at Saffron Walden and Pleshey. His attempts to regain his former possessions was made possible by the foment ensuing from the civil war.

Stephen was now fighting on two fronts; against Geoffrey de Mandeville as well as Robert of Gloucester. Geoffrey de Mandeville’s rebellion fell apart shortly after his death in September 1144, when his son Ernulf was captured and banished. Stephen could now turn his attention to Robert of Gloucester.

When Christ and His Saints Slept

Many of the belligerents prayed for an end to the hostilities which were devastating the countryside and made life a misery for those who worked the land.

‘The whole of this year was embittered by the horrors of war. There were many castles throughout England, each defending their neighbourhood, but, more properly speaking, laying it waste. The garrisons drove off from the fields, both sheep and cattle, nor did they abstain either from churches or church-yards. Seizing such of the country vavassours as were reputed to be possessed of money, they compelled them, by extreme torture, to promise whatever they thought fit. Plundering the houses of the wretched husbandmen, even to their very beds, they cast them into prison; nor did they liberate them, but on their giving every thing they possessed or could by any means scrape together, for their release.’[iv]

Stephen’s lack of control over the barons led to the building of many unlicensed castles[v]. His nobles did not want to fight; the earls of Chester and Leicester went so far as to take out mutual insurance policies[vi], they were not the only ones.

One of Robert’s senior commanders, Miles of Gloucester, had been killed in a hunting accident on Christmas Eve 1143. This advantage to Stephen was offset by the expiry of Henry of Winchester’s[vii] appointment as Papal Legate in September 1143; much of his power over the clergy was lost.

Two Cousins

The two sides were at a stalemate as Stephen leant less and less on his barons, who drifted towards supporting the Angevins. Stephen now placed more reliance on the professionals he placed in positions of power; William of Ypres, Richard de Lucy, William Martel and Gervase of Cornhill. Stephen hoped that the barons would reconcile themselves to the loss of their estates in Normandy and support him in the war.

In 1147 Henry decided to take action himself and the fourteen year old hired mercenaries and, along with a group of companions, took sail for England where his small force attempted to take the king’s strongholds at Cricklade and Purton. The inexperienced group were beaten off; eventually Henry was forced to ask Stephen to give him the money to pay off his mercenaries and return home; his mother not having provided the wherewithal[viii].

Stephen’s control over the country was precarious; he wanted his son Eustace crowned during his own lifetime[ix]. But this required papal consent and in 1145 a new pope, Eugenius III, had been elected. Eugenius’ mentor Bernard of Clairvaux had denounced Henry of Winchester as

Bernhard of Clairvaux
‘The man who walks before Satan, the son of perdition, the man who disrupts all rights and laws.’[x]

Eugenius disputed Stephen’s right to interfere in episcopal appointments and refused permission for Eustace’s crowning.

Dealings with the Church

Unlike Stephen Matilda was more careful in her relations with the church. When Bishop Joscelin de Bohun demanded[xi] the return to church care and control of Devizes castle previously held by Roger of Salisbury[xii], Matilda made the effort to placate de Bohun. In the summer of 1148 Matilda left England to return to Normandy, travelling to Falaise to meet with him; she left the castle garrisoned by loyal soldiers.

Matilda departed the country knowing that Henry was poised to take her place in opposing Stephen. She wrote to her son explaining that she did not want to oppose the church and left managing the vexed question of Devizes to him.

The sixteen year old arrived at Devizes at Easter 1149, where he was met by a number of his supporters before dutifully returning the outlying properties to Bishop de Bohun. Henry then explained that he needed to hold onto the castle until God brought victory to his cause.

‘With the exception of the castle of Devizes…and the service of the knights of that manor I retain in my hand because of my great need, until God has shown me that I may give it back to him.’[xiii]

Carlisle Cathedral
By the end of 1149 Henry had been knighted by his Great-Uncle David in a ceremony in Carlisle attended by the Earl of Chester who finally came to terms with his old rival. Miles of Gloucester’s son Roger was knighted at the same time. Henry Murdac, Abbot of Fountains Abbey was also present. Stephen had refused to accept his nomination as Archbishop of York[xiv].


After leaving Carlisle Henry made his way south, seized the town of Bridport and evaded all Stephen’s attempts to capture him, despite a pincer movement between Stephen and Eustace. Father and son undertook a scorched earth policy in the south west. Eustace attacked Henry at Devizes, almost breaking beyond the outer defences.

Despite Henry’s presence Stephen, in the north, and Eustace, based in Oxford, had the upper hand and Henry’s advisers suggested that he return home and beg support from his father. He was not to return to England until 1153. On Henry’s return to Normandy, true to his word, Geoffrey handed over control of Normandy to his eldest son. In England the two parties were content to lick their wounds and refrain from attacking one another.

The charismatic new duke was to pose a problem for Stephen; henceforth his opponent was a forceful, vigorous young man of twenty, grandson of Stephen’s predecessor. Stephen meanwhile was no longer able to count on the support of the church; his brother Henry was out of favour in Rome[xv].

By the summer of 1153 the war had dragged on for nearly fifteen years, a period described at the time as being ‘When Christ and his saints slept.’


The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216 – Frank Barlow, Pearson Education Ltd 1999

Stephen and Matilda – Jim Bradbury, The History Press 2005

She Wolves – Helen Castor, Faber and Faber 2010

Early Medieval England – MT Clanchy, Folio Society 1997

The Plantagenets – Dan Jones, William Collins 2013

King Stephen – Edmund King, Yale University Press 2010

Doomsday to Magna Carta – AL Poole, Oxford University Press 1987

At the Edge of the World – Simon Schama, BBC 2002

Early Medieval England – Christopher Tyerman, Stackpole Books 1996

Henry II – WL Warren, Yale University Press 2000

[i] Following Geoffrey’s concession to the crown of the key fortress of Gisors in the Vexin
[ii] Stephen and Matilda - Bradbury
[iii] Waleran never opposed Stephen directly after pledging allegiance to Geoffrey; he escaped the difficulties of a divided allegiance by going on crusade in 1147
[iv] http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50778/50778-h/50778-h.htm#BOOK_IF nb this note of William of Malmesbury’s refers to 1140, but the sorry state of the villeins then was as dire as it was now
[v] By 1153 there were believed to be over 1,115 of these
[vi] If they were forced to fight each other they would take no more than 20 knights each and any captured property would be returned.
[vii] His attempts to have the commission renewed were unsuccessful despite a personal visit to Rome
[viii] Opinion is divided as to whether Matilda was being parsimonious or whether she was hoping that Henry would return to the safety of Normandy
[ix] A custom that had been practised by the kings of France to ensure an orderly succession
[x] She-Wolves - Castor
[xi] With the backing of the pope
[xii] De Bohun was Roger’s successor
[xiii] King Stephen - King
[xiv] The church revenues were being paid into the royal coffers
[xv] And Henry of Winchester was at odds with Archbishop Theobald who resented his being Papal Legate. Stephen needed to keep Theobald onside, as he would be needed to crown Eustace

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Matriarch of the Plantagenets - the Empress Matilda V

Matilda (15th century)
Taking Sides

Of the nobility there were only two defectors to Matilda; Brian Fitzcount[i] and Miles of Gloucester, an able military tactician who was henceforth to keep Stephen’s forces running from one castle under the threat of siege to another. Miles immediately launched an attack on Stephen’s troops besieging Brian Fitzcount’s castle at Wallingford. He broke the siege which freed Fitzcount to do his worst.

Miles then appeared to have London in his sights. Stephen broke off his attack on Bristol; William of Malmesbury wrote;

‘He [Stephen]also approached Bristol, and going beyond it, burnt the neighbourhood around Dunstore, leaving nothing, as far as he was able, which could minister food to his enemies, or advantage to any one.’[ii]

Stephen turned his army about to protect his capital. Miles then wrong-footed Stephen by turning back and attacking Worcester, now the property of Waleran de Beaumont. Miles left the city devastated.

Ranulf de Gernons coat of arms
Stephen’s position was further weakened by his falling out with Ranulf de Gernons, Earl of Chester. Stephen failed to conciliate de Gernons, preferring instead to promote the Beaumont twins who were vying with de Gernons for control of much of the midlands. De Gernons also felt slighted by the handing over of Carlisle castle[iii] to David of Scotland in the peace that followed the second Scottish incursion. De Gernons’ wife was the daughter of Robert of Gloucester, but her husband did not espouse Matilda’s cause.

A Sea Change

At the end of the year Roger of Salisbury died of a quartan ague[iv]; it cannot have been long before many of his countrymen wished they could join him.

‘The whole of this year [1140] was embittered by the horrors of war. There were many castles throughout England, each defending their neighbourhood, but, more properly speaking, laying it waste. The garrisons drove off from the fields, both sheep and cattle, nor did they abstain either from churches or church-yards.’[v]

This was a harbinger for the years to come.

East gate of Lincoln Castle
Late in 1140 de Gernons seized the royal castle of Lincoln and Stephen realised that he needed to conciliate de Gernons. Stephen allowed de Gernons extensive concessions to keep him onside. But a few weeks later changed his mind and attacked de Gernons at his new Lincoln stronghold.

De Gernons called for help from his father-in-law who brought troops up, surrounding the besieging army. The battle on 2nd February 1141 saw Stephen taken captive; many of the nobility had deserted, but that did not mean that they were keen for Matilda to take the throne. Negotiations for support among the various stakeholders meant that Matilda’s coronation was delayed.

Stephen’s wife Matilda of Boulogne called for her husband’s release. She was supported by her brother-in-law, Henry of Winchester who saw a chance to claw back power and position lost to the Beaumont twins.

A Rash and Proud Woman

Henry of Winchester, as Papal Legate, summonsed a church council, demanding that the prelates honour their original oaths of allegiance to Matilda and that they join him in setting Stephen aside. Matilda of Boulogne sent an emissary of her own asking for Stephen’s release and for his return to the throne. The king’s supporters were excommunicated and Matilda of Boulogne’s plea ignored.

Matilda of Boulogne was Countess of Boulogne in her own right and had access to funds and men to keep control of her lands in Essex. In addition the captain of Stephen’s mercenaries, William of Ypres, stayed loyal to Stephen’s cause and held Kent with the assistance of more mercenaries paid for with money from Boulogne.

Matilda meanwhile was having problems gaining control of the capital. The Londoners’ sympathies were with Stephen and his wife. Until Matilda was able to persuade them to change their loyalties it would be difficult, if not impossible, for her to be crowned. The Londoners had sent representatives to the church council with;

‘A request that their lord the king should be released from captivity.’[vi]

Matilda took a leaf out of Stephen’s book by buying support; she created a number of new earldoms, making Geoffrey de Mandeville earl of Essex, giving him control over London and Middlesex as well. With Geoffrey de Mandeville’s help Matilda entered the city of London in the summer of 1141.

But by now her headstrong, overbearing and extremely tactless behaviour had alienated many of the nobility and clergy. Matilda was even arrogant when dealing with her close relations, her brother Robert and her uncle King David of Scotland.


Coat of arms of the Counts of Boulogne
Henry of Winchester’s rapprochement with Matilda was short-lived; she refused to assist having the hereditary estates of Blois settled on Henry’s nephew Eustace[vii]. She also broke her undertaking to take Henry’s advice on church affairs. In retaliation Henry of Winchester ensured that

‘His complaints against the empress were disseminated through England, that she wished to seize his person; that she observed nothing which she had sworn to him; that all the barons of England had performed their engagements towards her, but that she had violated hers, as she knew not how to use her prosperity with moderation.’[viii];

In early summer Matilda demanded an enormous sum of money from the city of London. The Londoners then made a pact with Matilda of Boulogne after her men had run amok in the capital. Matilda was forced to flee the city when she was set upon at a banquet on 24th June by armed citizens. Matilda made for Winchester to secure the treasury. She was followed by the news that Henry of Winchester had returned to the fold at his sister-in-law’s urging.

Escaping Oxford

Winchester Cathedral
William of Ypres moved his men down to Winchester with such speed that Matilda’s men were taken by surprise and almost completely encircled. Robert of Gloucester fought a delaying action to allow his half-sister to escape. He was then captured and Matilda found herself forced to exchange Robert for Stephen.

Many of Matilda’s wavering supporters had wavered back to Stephen’s side, while others of her supporters had lost horse and armour in a desperate attempt to escape. Robert of Gloucester travelled over to see Geoffrey of Anjou with pleas that he come to his wife’s aid. Robert of Gloucester was met with the answer that Geoffrey was too busy taking Normandy to worry about England. Instead, in November 1142, he sent his 9 year old son as his proxy along with over 300 knights and 52 ships. The young Henry was to be the standard bearer of the Angevin cause.

Oxford Castle
Henry’s mother was besieged in Oxford Castle[ix] where she had taken refuge while her champion was in Normandy. Matilda was able to free herself from captivity, crossing the frozen River Thames and then walking through the snow covered Oxfordshire countryside to reach the safety of Wallingford;

‘The empress, with only four soldiers, made her escape through a small postern, and passed the river. Afterwards….she went to Abingdon on foot, and thence reached Wallingford on horse-back…. the soldiers who had remained at her departure, after delivering up the castle, had gone away without molestation, and the holidays admonished them to repose awhile, they resolved to abstain from battle, and retired to their homes.[x]

Robert’s troops enabled him to halt Stephen’s fresh offensive and gained control of key fortresses in Dorset and Somerset. Robert seems to have decided over the next few months to throw his weight behind putting young Henry on the throne, rather than his discredited mother.

In the aftermath of the retreat from Winchester, Matilda rebuilt her court at Devizes Castle, one of the properties formerly belonging to Roger of Salisbury that had been confiscated by Stephen. Matilda established her household knights on the surrounding estates, supported by Flemish mercenaries, ruling through the network of local sheriffs and other officials. Many of her supporters who had lost lands in the regions held by the King travelled west to take up patronage from Matilda.


The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216 – Frank Barlow, Pearson Education Ltd 1999

Stephen and Matilda – Jim Bradbury, The History Press 2005

She Wolves – Helen Castor, Faber and Faber 2010

Early Medieval England – MT Clanchy, Folio Society 1997

The Plantagenets – Dan Jones, William Collins 2013

King Stephen – Edmund King, Yale University Press 2010

Doomsday to Magna Carta – AL Poole, Oxford University Press 1987

At the Edge of the World – Simon Schama, BBC 2002

Early Medieval England – Christopher Tyerman, Stackpole Books 1996

Henry II – WL Warren, Yale University Press 2000


[i] Also known as Brian of Wallingford
[iii] Carlisle had been a de Gernons stronghold until 1120, when Henry I had removed it from their control.
[iv] Malaria
[vi] King Stephen - Bradbury
[vii] Stephen’s son born in 1129; he later inherited the count-ship of Boulogne from his mother
[ix] Held by Robert D’Oyley the Younger, a former supporter of Stephen’s