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] 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

1 comment:

  1. It's no surprise it was later called 'The Anarchy'