Skip to main content
Select Source:

Stephen

Stephen

Stephen (c. 1096-1154) was king of England from 1135 to 1154. His claim to the throne was contested by his cousin Matilda, and his reign was disturbed by civil war. He eventually accepted Matilda's son Henry as his heir.

Stephen was the third son of Stephen, Count of Blois and Chartres, and Adela, daughter of William I of England. His uncle, King Henry I of England, gave him lands in England and Normandy and in 1125 arranged his marriage to Matilda, heiress of the Count of Boulogne. She brought him not only her rich and strategically important county but also large estates in England; Stephen became one of the most powerful men in England.

In December 1126 King Henry, having no legitimate male heir, made the nobility do homage to his daughter, Matilda, widow of Emperor Henry V, as Lady (Domina) of England and Normandy. Stephen was the first to swear, but on King Henry's death (Dec. 1, 1135) he hurried to England, gained the support of the citizens of London, and at Winchester, where his brother was bishop, won over the heads of the administration, the justiciar and the treasurer. On December 22 Stephen was crowned by the archbishop of Canterbury. Stephen bought, or rewarded, support by issuing a charter of liberties, promising reforms, and confirming to the bishops "justice and power" over the clergy.

At first Stephen appeared secure. His rival, Matilda, seems to have been unpopular, and she was now married to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, a hereditary enemy of the Normans. Stephen marched against Geoffrey in 1137, but his army was demoralized by the defection of the powerful Earl of Gloucester, illegitimate son of King Henry, who soon declared openly for Matilda, his half sister. Stephen left Normandy, and it was conquered piecemeal by Geoffrey.

In 1138 King David I of Scotland, Matilda's uncle, launched an attack on England; though defeated at the Battle of the Standard in August, he remained a rallying point for the opposition. In 1139 Stephen arrested (by trickery) the heads of the royal administration: Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, his son, and his two nephews. The Church was upset by the incident because three of the four were bishops; the nobility, because it made the King seem untrustworthy.

On Sept. 30, 1139, Matilda landed at Arundel, and Stephen quixotically gave her safe conduct to the Earl of Gloucester's castle at Bristol. She had little success until, in February 1141, Stephen was captured by the earl in battle at Lincoln. Matilda was recognized by the Church as Lady of England, but she was driven from Westminster before her intended coronation, and in September the earl was captured. The earl and the King were then exchanged, and from that time a stalemate was established. The southwest was controlled by the earl for Matilda; most of the rest of England was ruled by Stephen. But everywhere new castles were built from which landowners could defend their property and defy authority, and there were pockets of resistance throughout the country which Stephen could not eliminate; Wallingford was held for Matilda during the whole of his reign, and Framlingham from 1141 onward. Though the royal chancery functioned and the Exchequer may have met, orders could not always be enforced or money collected. Traitors could not be punished or violence controlled.

In these circumstances, the decisive factor was the conquest of Normandy by the Count of Anjou, who made over the duchy to his son Henry in 1150. The nobles of England were mostly Normans; they were anxious for a negotiated peace so that they could preserve their Norman properties. At the same time the bishops refused to consecrate Stephen's elder son Eustace as coruler and heir to the throne unless they had permission from the Pope, and the Pope was hostile. After the death of Eustace (Aug. 17, 1153) Stephen met Henry at Winchester and on November 6 recognized his hereditary right to the throne of England, retaining the kingdom for himself for life. He adopted Henry as his "son and heir," thus excluding his younger son from the succession. Stephen died on Oct. 25, 1154, and Henry took peaceful possession of England (as Henry II).

Further Reading

R. H. C. Davis, King Stephen, 1135-1154 (1967), is a short and lucid biography. H. A. Cronne, The Reign of Stephen (1970), is more detailed; for the general reader there is a good account by John Tate Appleby, The Troubled Reign of King Stephen (1970). For general historical background see Austin Lane Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216 (1951; 2d ed. 1955).

Additional Sources

Davis, R. H. C. (Ralph Henry Carless), King Stephen, 1135-1154, London; New York: Longman, 1990.

Stringer, K. J. (Keith John), The reign of Stephen: kingship, warfare, and government in twelfth-century England, London; New York: Routledge, 1993. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Stephen." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Stephen." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephen-0

"Stephen." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephen-0

Stephen

Stephen (c.1096–1154), king of England (1135–54) and duke of Normandy (1135–44), was the third son of Stephen, count of Blois, and Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror. During his reign England plunged into a civil war in which neither side possessed the resources or the ability to achieve outright victory. Stephen was brought up at the court of his uncle Henry I, becoming one of the wealthiest of the Anglo-Norman magnates. Although he was among the first to take the oath to accept Henry's daughter Matilda as heir to the throne, he used the opportunity created by the confusion which followed Henry's death to seize the kingdom in December 1135. Subsequently accepted in Normandy, he seemed at first to have secured his rule over the entire Anglo-Norman realm and was able to obtain papal confirmation of his right. The reasons for the subsequent decline in his fortunes have been much discussed. He seems to have lacked the capacity to command the loyalty of the magnates, and he faced very large problems which, in strategic terms, were certain to be difficult to overcome. Symptomatic of the former were the sporadic revolts which took place early in his reign, the rivalries at court which led to the defection of Earl Robert of Gloucester in May 1138 and the attempt to arrest Bishop Roger of Salisbury and his brothers in 1139. Manifestations of the latter were the secure bases available to his rival Matilda provided in Anjou by her husband Geoffrey and in western England by Robert of Gloucester, disturbances in Wales, and the fact that her supporters included the king of Scots, David I. Stephen always appears to have been needed in too many places at the same time; in 1137, for example, he had to abandon his only campaign in Normandy because he believed that he ought to be in northern England to confront the Scots. Stephen's cause declined once Matilda was established in England from 1139 and—dramatically—after his capture at the battle of Lincoln in 1141. Although he was sustained in 1141–2 by his queen Matilda and was released from prison in 1142 after the capture by his supporters of Robert of Gloucester, his position was already seriously compromised. His enemies controlled western and parts of northern England and Count Geoffrey completed the conquest of Normandy in 1144–5; subsequent campaigns in England in the 1140s, mostly in the Thames valley, only confirmed the stalemate. The existence of two established centres of power in England and Normandy created an impossible dilemma for the Anglo-Norman magnates, especially for those with land in both territories. Most sought increasingly to withdraw from the conflict and many tried to protect their local power by treaties with their neighbours; this has wrongly been described as ‘the Anarchy’, when it was in fact often the only way in which some kind of order could be kept. Stephen also fell foul of the papacy because of a disagreement over the succession to the archbishopric of York, which had serious consequences when the pope ( Eugenius III) refused to accept Stephen's son Eustace as his heir in 1152, and instead transferred his support to Matilda's son, the future Henry II, as the direct descendant of Henry I. Henry's cause was further strengthened when he succeeded to the duchy of Normandy in 1150–1. In 1153, with the magnates refusing to fight a pitched battle which would have been decisive, Stephen accepted Henry as his heir by the treaty of Winchester. Henry's succession followed peacefully after Stephen's death on 25 October 1154, a sign that all were weary of the civil war. Stephen deserves admiration for the way he sustained a difficult cause for so long; he besieged castles successfully and he established (not always reliable) supporters in earldoms to cement local power. But he lacked the ruthlessness required to prosecute his cause successfully; in particular, the way in which he allowed Matilda and Henry respectively to escape his grasp in 1139 and 1147 did his prospects no good at all.

David Richard Bates

Bibliography

Chibnall, M. , The Empress Matilda (Oxford, 1991);
Crouch, D. B. , The Beaumont Twins (Cambridge, 1986);
Davis, R. H. C. , King Stephen (3rd edn. 1990);
Stringer, K. J. , The Reign of Stephen: Kingship, Warfare and Government in Twelfth-Century England (1993).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Stephen." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Stephen." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephen

"Stephen." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephen

Stephen

Stephen, 1097?–1154, king of England (1135–54). The son of Stephen, count of Blois and Chartres, and Adela, daughter of William I of England, he was brought up by his uncle, Henry I of England, who presented him with estates in England and France and arranged his marriage to Matilda, daughter and heiress of Eustace III, count of Boulogne. Stephen was among the English nobles who in 1127, and again in 1131 and 1133, swore fealty to Henry's daughter, Matilda, as Henry's successor to the throne. On Henry's death (1135), however, Stephen hastened to London, secured support, and was proclaimed king. He secured papal ratification, but his attempt to build up support by unprecedented concessions to the church and barons seriously weakened his authority, and his reign was one long struggle to retain his throne. In 1138, Matilda's half-brother Robert, earl of Gloucester, renounced his allegiance to Stephen, and David I of Scotland invaded England. Stephen defeated the Scots in the Battle of the Standard (although the ensuing treaty was entirely favorable to Scotland) and managed to wage an effective campaign against the insurrection in S and W England. However, in 1139 he made a fatal blunder in arresting his justiciar, Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and the latter's nephews, the bishops of Lincoln and Ely. This step not only threw the royal administration into confusion but alienated the church. Within a month Matilda had landed in England, and a long era of internal strife began. While besieging Lincoln Castle in 1141, Stephen was captured, and Matilda reigned for a short time. Her arrogance, however, soon cost her many supporters, and after Robert's capture later in the year she was forced to exchange Stephen for him. Stephen regained his throne and drove Matilda back into the western counties (1142). Virtual anarchy followed for five years; W and central England were devastated, while in France Matilda's husband, Geoffrey IV of Anjou, conquered Normandy. In 1147, however, Robert died, and Matilda soon (1148) left England. In 1149, Henry of Anjou (later Henry II), Matilda's son, crossed to England and attempted unsuccessfully to further his mother's (and his own) cause. Stephen had again offended the clergy by quarreling with Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, and the clerics refused to confirm his son, Eustace IV, count of Boulogne, as successor to the throne. When Eustace died (1153), Stephen bowed to the inevitable and concluded a treaty by which Henry was named as his heir. Stephen was a courageous soldier and a generous man, but he had neither the ability nor the strength of character necessary to deal with the turmoil of his reign.

See biographies by R. H. C. Davies (1967) and J. T. Appleby (1969).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Stephen." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Stephen." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephen

"Stephen." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephen

Stephen

Stephen (1097–1154) King of England (1135–54), nephew of Henry I. Stephen usurped the throne on Henry's death, despite an earlier oath of loyalty to Henry's daughter, Matilda. A long civil war (1139–48) began when Matilda's forces invaded. He received support from most of the English barons, who were unwilling to accept a female sovereign. Stephen was captured in 1141, but exchanged for the Duke of Gloucester. After the death of his son, Eustace, in 1153, Stephen accepted Matilda's son, the future Henry II, as heir to the throne.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Stephen." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Stephen." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephen

"Stephen." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stephen