Stephen, King of England

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Stephen, king of England (11351154, born before 1101). Stephen was the third son of Count Stephen of Blois and his wife, Adela, a daughter of William the Conqueror. By 1113, Stephen had joined the court of his uncle, King Henry I of England. He and his brother, Count Theobald of Blois, became the king's most trusted allies in Henry's struggle to hold Normandy against the machinations of his nephew, William Clito, and King Louis VI of France. Stephen was rewarded for his loyalty with the honors of Eye and Lancaster, the county of Mortain, and a splendid marriage to Matilda, the daughter and heiress of Count Eustace III of Boulogne.

Since Henry I's son, William, had perished in the wreck of the White Ship in 1120, the king named his daughter, the widowed Empress Matilda, as his heir and forced the barons to swear an oath to support her claim. Stephen gave his word at that time, even indulging in a friendly quarrel with the king's illegitimate son, Robert of Gloucester, for the honor of being the first to swear.

However, when Henry died unexpectedly in 1135, Stephen rushed to England, where he had himself crowned king on December 22. One of Stephen's first acts as king was to grant an unprecedented charter of liberties to the English Church, guaranteeing ecclesiastical rights and property and promising to curb the abuses of royal officials.

But while Stephen was establishing himself in England, his cousin, Matilda, and her husband, Count Geoffrey of Anjou, invaded Normandy to secure Matilda's inheritance. In addition, Stephen immediately faced rebellions in the West Country and in Wales, and invasions by King David I of Scotland. While Stephen concentrated on the siege of Exeter, he dispatched lieutenants to deal with the situation in Wales. This decision proved to be a costly mistake, for their failure to accomplish anything alienated the Marcher lords, including Earl Robert of Gloucester.

Stephen made another crucial mistake in 1139, when he arrested bishops Roger of Salisbury, Alexander of Lincoln and Nigel of Ely on charges of treason, alienating the English episcopacy, including his own brother, Bishop Henry of Winchester. In the same year, the empress invaded England. For two years the parties skirmished unsuccessfully, but in February 1141 the empress defeated the royal army at Lincoln and captured Stephen himself. While the king languished in prison, the Empress Matilda enjoyed a triumphal entry into Winchester, escorted by the bishop of Winchester. She then traveled to London for her coronation, but the Londoners, remembering their long and mutually beneficial relationship with Stephen as count of Boulogne, and spurred on by the pleas of Stephen's wife, Matilda, rose in rebellion and drove the empress from their city. This event caused Henry of Winchester to rejoin the royal party. The angry empress besieged the bishop in his castle at Winchester, but the royal army, commanded by Queen Matilda and the Flemish mercenary, William of Ypres, routed her supporters and captured Robert of Gloucester. Faced with this fatal loss, the empress agreed to an exchange of prisoners, so King Stephen regained his freedom in November 1141, and the political situation returned to what it had been before the battle of Lincoln.

Although Geoffrey of Anjou succeeded in conquering Normandy in 1148, the stalemate in England continued, with sporadic fighting, until Geoffrey and Matilda's son, Henry Plantagenet, invaded in 1153. King Stephen, grieving for the sudden death of his son, Eustace, and pressured by his barons to make peace, readily agreed to the Treaty of Winchester. The agreement allowed him to retain the crown during his lifetime, but stipulated that upon his death, Henry of Normandy was to become king. When Stephen died in 1154, the terms of the treaty were honored, and Duke Henry succeeded to the English throne as henry ii.

Bibliography: d. crouch, The Reign of King Stephen, 11351154 (Harlow, England 2000). e. king, The Anarchy of Stephen's Reign (Oxford 1994). k. j. stringer, The Reign of Stephen: Kingship, Warfare and Government in Twelfth Century England (London 1993). r. h. c. davis, King Stephen, 11351154 (London 1990). k. r. potter, Gesta Stephani (Oxford 1976). m. chibnall, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, v. 6 (Oxford 1978). e. king and k. r. potter, William of Malmesbury: The Historia Novella (Oxford 1998).

[j. truax]

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Stephen, King of England

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