Thursday, October 27, 2016


STEPHEN 1135 - 1154  (More from the Kings and Queens of England and Scotland).

Born:  1097

Succeeded as King of England (not Duke of Normandy) 1 December, 1135, aged about 38.

Nephew of his predecessor Henry, being the third son (and not eldest surviving son) of Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror.

Married:  Matilda of Boulogne, granddaughter of Malcolm III of Scotland.

Children:  Baldwin,  Matilda, Eustace Count of Boulounge (died 1153), Mary, William Count of Boulougne (died 1160).

Died:  Of dysentry, intestinal obstruction and haemorrhoids at Canterbury on 25 Ocober, 1154, aged about 57, having reigned 19 years.

Buried: At Faversham Abbey.

Stephen lunged for the throne on the death of Henry almost as purposefully as Henry had done on the death of Rufus, and he had himself crowned by Christmas, before the Empress Matilda could rally the many English nobles who supported her claim, or that of her two-year-old son Henry.  (Stephen had been the first to swear future allegiance to Matilda when Henry I demanded this of his barons).

Stephen's great prop  in the early years was his powerful and wealthy younger brother, Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester and Abbot of Glastonbury.  But Henry I had successfully weakened the power of the prelates, so that the authority of the Bishop of Winchester, even as Papal Legate, was not enough to fill the vacuum created by an incompetent king.  Stephen failed to measure up to the standards of strength and ruthlessness demanded of a twelfth-century monarch,  He reigned, but did not rule.  In his weakness he allowed barons and parvenus to increase their privileges and military power at the expense of the old royal prerogative - where comparative despotism at least spelt out basic law and order - but not to such an extent that an effective real sovereignty emerged.  The result was anarchy, and misery amid the collapse of central power in the land.

Stephen briefly reoccupied a recalcitrant Normandy in 1037, but abandoned it for ever when Empress Matilda's husband Count Geoffrey of Anjou, took it as his share of the intended partition of English territories.  At the same time Matilda invaded England itself.  With a safe base within the western strongholds of Robert, Earl of Gloucester, Henry I's able illegitimate son, Matilda skirmished around the country for nine years, during part of which she held Stephen himself a prisoner.  His episcopal brother said that the capture represented God's judgement that the king's cause was, after all, was not just, and Matilda was now the true sovereign.  But Matilda quarrelled with the bishop so tactlessly that he soon took a fresh consultation, and declared that God was backing Stephen after all.   In 1149 Empress Matilda's son, Henry, then 16, was handed the Dukedom of Normandy by his victorious father, and prepared to launch his third invasion of England.  At the height of the turmoil Stephen's heir, Eustace. died, and an agreement was reached that Henry should succeed to the throne on Stephen's death.  This occurred in the following year, and the likeable young man who had been miscast as king through 19 cold winters of English misery was buried in Faversham Abbey, which he had built to supplant his predecessor Henry's monastery at Reading.

Several years ago there was a documentary on TV about the lives of Stephen, Matilda etc and the all the intrigue really amazed me.  It was good to recall it all as I typed this.


  1. Now that is a rousing story. How difficult to be a king, or any nobleman, cleric or courtier and to keep your head on your shoulders. "Miscast as king", that was a hard situation.

  2. I didn't know there were any Stephens in the line. Interesting that one cause of death was intestinal obstruction; in the novel I just finished reading much was said about Henry VIII' permanent constipation. After reading about the vast amounts of meats and pastries the man ate, I'm not at all surprised.