Stephen of England
Stephen was born at Blois in France, the son of Stephen, Count of Blois, and Adela, daughter of King William I of England, and thus the brother of Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester. He became Count of Mortain in about 1115, and married Matilda, daughter of the Count of Boulogne, in about 1125, who shortly after became Countess of Boulogne. Stephen became joint ruler in 1128. In 1150 he ceased to co-rule, and in 1151, the County was given to his son, Eustace IV. When Eustace died childless, Stephen's next living son, William inherited the territory.
Before the death of King Henry I of England in 1135, the majority of the barons of England swore to support Empress Maud, Henry's daughter, and her claim to the throne. However, Stephen of Blois, who was a grandson of William the Conqueror through his mother, Adela, and had been raised at Henry's court, laid claim to the throne. He also claimed his uncle Henry had changed his mind on his deathbed, and named Stephen as his heir. Once Stephen was crowned, he gained the support of the majority of the barons as well as Pope Innocent II. The first few years of his reign were peaceful, but by 1139 he was seen as weak and indecisive, setting the country up for a civil war, commonly called The Anarchy.
Stephen had many traits that made him seem superficially fit for kingship: his high birth, his descent from the Conqueror, his handsomeness, his bravery and good nature. But he possessed none of the ruthlessness necessary for the ruthless times he lived in; indeed, Walter Map says of Stephen: "He was adept at the martial arts but in other respects little more than a simpleton."
Bad omens haunted him before the Battle of Lincoln. Stephen was facing his rebellious barons Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester and the Earl of Chester. He fought so bravely in the battle that his battle-axe shattered. He drew a sword and continued fighting until it broke as well, as he was captured by a knight named William de Cahagnes. Stephen was defeated and he was brought before his cousin, Maud.
In April, 1141, Stephen was defeated and imprisoned at Bristol. His wife, Matilda, kept faith, and Empress Maud was forced out of London. With the capture of her most able lieutenant, her illegitimate half-brother, the Earl of Gloucester, Maud was obliged to release Stephen from captivity, and he was restored to the throne in November of the same year. In December 1142, Empress Maud was besieged at Oxford, but she managed to escape.
In 1147, Empress Maud's adolescent son, Henry, decided to assist in the war effort by raising a small army of mercenaries and invading England. Rumors of this army's size terrified Stephen's retainers, although in truth the force was very small. Having been defeated twice in battle, and with no money to pay his mercenaries, the young Henry appealed to his uncle Robert for aid but was turned away. Desperately, and in secret, the boy then asked Stephen for help. According to the Gesta Stephani, "On receiving the message, the king, who was ever full of pity and compassion, hearkened to the young man..." and bestowed upon him money and other support. Despite this generosity, there is no evidence for the rumors that Stephen was Henry's biological father.
Stephen maintained his precarious hold on the throne for the remainder of his lifetime. However, following the death of his son and heir, Eustace, in 1153, he was persuaded to reach a compromise with Maud whereby her son, Henry (from her second marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou), would succeed Stephen on the English throne.
Besides Eustace, Stephen and Matilda had two other sons, Baldwin (d. before 1135), and William of Blois, Count of Mortain and Boulogne and Earl of Surrey or Warenne. They also had two daughters, Matilda and Marie of Boulogne. As well as these children, Stephen fathered at least three bastards, one of whom, Gervase, became Abbot of Westminster.
- "In the days of this King there was nothing but strife, evil, and robbery, for quickly the great men who were traitors rose against him. When the traitors saw that Stephen was a good-humoured, kindly, and easy-going man who inflicted no punishment, then they committed all manner of horrible crimes . . . And so it lasted for nineteen years while Stephen was King, till the land was all undone and darkened with such deeds, and men said openly that Christ and his angels slept".
The monastic author says, of The Anarchy, "this and more we suffered nineteen winters for our sins."
| Preceded by:|
| King of England|
| Succeeded by:|
| Duke of Normandy|
|Count of Boulogne|
with Matilda I