Stephen of England

Stephen of England

Infobox British Royalty|majesty
name = Stephen
title = King of the English; Duke of the Normans

imgw = 218
reign = 22 December 1135 – April 1141
November 1141 – 25 October 1154
reign-type = 1st Reign
2nd Reign
coronation = 26 December 1135
predecessor = Henry I
Empress Matilda
successor = Empress Matilda
Henry II
spouse = Matilda I of Boulogne
issue = Eustace IV of Boulogne
William of Blois
Marie of Boulogne
titles = King of England & Duke of Normandy
Count of Boulogne "(jure uxoris)"
Count of Mortain
royal house = Norman dynasty
father = Stephen II, Count of Blois
mother = Adela of Normandy
date of birth = c. 1096
place of birth = Blois, France
date of death = death date|1154|10|25|df=yes
place of death = Dover, Kent
place of burial = Faversham Abbey, Kent

Stephen, often referred to in history as Stephen of Blois, (c. 1096 – 25 October, 1154), was the last Norman King of England. He reigned from 1135 to 1154 and was succeeded by his rival's son Henry II, the first of the Angevin or Plantagenet kings. Stephen was also the Count of Boulogne "jure uxoris".

Early life

Stephen was born at Blois in France, the son of Stephen, Count of Blois, and Adela of England, (daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders). One of ten children, his surviving brothers were Count Theobald II of Champagne, Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester, and William of Sully. He also had four sisters, including Eléonore of Blois who married Raoul I of Vermandois and had a son, Hugh II of Vermandois.

Stephen was sent to be reared at the English court of his uncle, King Henry I, in 1106. 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. Their marriage was a happy one and his wife was an important supporter during the struggle for the English crown. Stephen became joint ruler of Boulogne in 1128.


King of England

There were three principal contenders for the succession of Henry I and one 'fancied outsider'. The least popular of these was Empress Matilda, not only because she was a woman, but also because her husband Geoffrey Count of Anjou was an enemy of the Normans. The other contenders were two men of royal birth, Robert, Earl of Gloucester and Stephen himself. The 'outsider' was the elder brother of Stephen, Theobald, Count of Blois. However, Theobald did not want the kingdom, at least not badly enough to contend for it. [Davis,R.H.C "King Stephen: 1135-1154, 1967, p14-15"] Before the death of King Henry I of England in 1135, the majority of the barons of England swore to support Henry's daughter Maude, (The Empress Matilda) (granddaughter of William the Conqueror), and her claim to the throne. However, upon the king's death, Stephen—also a grandchild of The Conqueror—laid claim to the throne, stating that Henry had changed his mind on his deathbed and named Stephen as his heir. Once crowned, Stephen gained the support of the majority of the barons as well as Pope Innocent II and the first few years of his reign were peaceful, notwithstanding insurgence by the Welsh, a rebellion by David King of Scotland, and another by Baldwin de Redvers.

The Anarchy: War with Matilda

By 1139 Stephen had lost much support and the country sank into a civil war, commonly called The Anarchy. Stephen faced the forces of Empress Matilda at several locations throughout the Kingdom including the Battle of Beverston Castle and the Battle of Lincoln. Bad omens haunted him before the Battle of Lincoln where Stephen was facing the powerful Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester (the Empress' illegitimate half-brother) and Ranulph, the Earl of Chester. According to chroniclers Stephen fought bravely in the battle but was captured by a knight named William de Cahaignes (a relative of Ranulph, ancestor of the Keynes family). Stephen was defeated and he was brought before his cousin, the Empress Matilda. He was imprisoned at Bristol.

Stephen's wife rallied support amongst the people from London and the barons. The Empress Matilda was, in turn, forced out of London. With the capture of her most able lieutenant, the Earl of Gloucester, she was eventually obliged to release Stephen from captivity, and he was restored to the throne in November of the same year.

In December 1142, the Empress was besieged at Oxford, but she managed to escape, dressed in white, across the snow to Wallingford Castle, held by her supporter Brien FitzCount.

In 1147, Empress Matilda's adolescent son, Henry (the eventual King Henry II), decided to assist in the war effort by raising a small army of mercenaries and invading England. Rumours 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...hearkened to the young man..." and bestowed upon him money and other support.

Reconciliation and death

Stephen maintained his precarious hold on the throne for the remainder of his lifetime. However, after a military standoff at Wallingford with Henry, and following the death of his son and heir, Eustace, in 1153, he was persuaded to reach a compromise with Empress Matilda (known as the Treaty of Wallingford or Winchester), whereby her son would succeed Stephen to the English throne as King Henry II.

Stephen died in Dover, at Dover Priory, and was buried in Faversham Abbey, which he had founded with Countess Matilda in 1147.

Besides Eustace, Stephen and Queen 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. In addition to these children, Stephen fathered at least three illegitimate children, one of whom, Gervase, became Abbot of Westminster.

An unfavourable thumbnail sketch of Stephen is given by Walter Map (who wrote during the reign of Matilda's son Henry II): "A man of a certain age, remarkably hard-working but otherwise a nonentity ["idiota"] or perhaps rather inclined to evil." [Walter Map, "De nugis curialium" 5.6.]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (the Peterborough Chronicle, second continuation) provides a more favourable picture of Stephen, but depicts a turbulent reign:-:"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 said, of The Anarchy, "this and more we suffered nineteen winters for our sins."


Fictional portrayals

Stephen has rarely been portrayed on screen. He was played by Frederick Treves in the BBC TV series "The Devil's Crown" (1978) and by Michael Grandage in "One Corpse Too Many", the first episode of the television adaptation of the "Cadfael" novels by Ellis Peters (1994).

He was also portrayed in Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth".

In fiction, he is a prominent character in Sharon Kay Penman's novel "When Christ And His Saints Slept," portrayed as a loving husband and good warrior, but an indecisive monarch who cannot control his barons.

English Royal descendents

Through his granddaughter Maud of Boulogne, who married Henry I of Brabant, Stephen is the ancestor of some English royals. Through a marriage of Louis d'Évreux, a descendent of the Brabant line, to the Queen of Navarre, Stephen is an ancestor of some monarchs of France and Navarre, including Marguerite of France, second wife of King Edward I of England; however, Edward's heir was already born to a previous wife. Edward and Marguerite's descendents include Joan of Kent, first Princess of Wales and mother of King Richard II of England; Richard was also descended from Stephen through his paternal grandmother, Philippa of Hainault, the wife of Edward III. Since all later English monarchs are direct descendents of Edward III and Philippa, all kings and queens of England [That is, of England until 1707 and of Great Britain since.] since 1377 could claim King Stephen as an ancestor.

This is the descent of the English royal line from Stephen:

# Stephen
# Marie of Boulogne
# Maud of Boulogne
# Matilde of Brabant
# Adelaide of Holland
# John II, Count of Holland
# William I, Count of Hainault
# Philippa of Hainault, married King Edward III of England

The monarchs of Navarre also became Kings of France when Henri III of Navarre became King Henry IV of France, so all Bourbon Kings of France and subsequent pretenders to the defunct throne from 1589 are descended from Stephen too.



*"Gesta Stephani"
*Walter Map, "De nugis curialium"
*"Anglo-Saxon Chronicle"
*Genealogics name|id=00012367


*Crouch, David. "The Reign of King Stephen", 2000
*Davis, R H C. "King Stephen, 1135-1154", 1967

F=Stephen II
Count of Blois

FF=Theobald III of Blois
FM=Gersende of Maine
M=Adela of Normandy
MF=William I of England
MM=Matilda of Flanders

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