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Stephen, King of England

Background Information

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King of the English; Duke of the Normans
Reign 22 December 1135 – April 1141
November 1141 – 25 October 1154
Coronation 26 December 1135
Predecessor Henry I
Empress Matilda
Successor Empress Matilda
Henry II
Spouse Matilda of Boulogne
Eustace IV of Boulogne
William of Blois
Marie of Boulogne
Father Stephen II, Count of Blois
Mother Adela of Normandy
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 cousin Henry II, the first of the Angevin or Plantagenet Kings. Stephen was also the Count of Boulogne by marriage.

Early life

Stephen was born at Blois in France, the son of Stephen, Count of Blois, and Adela (daughter of William the Conqueror). His brothers were Count Theobald II of Champagne and Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester.

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 his chief 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 being 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. Before the death of King Henry I of England in 1135, the majority of the barons of England swore to support Henry's daughter 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.

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 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."

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."


Stephen's ancestors in three generations
Stephen of England Father:
Stephen II, Count of Blois
Paternal Grandfather:
Theobald III, Count of Blois
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Odo II, Count of Blois
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Ermengarde of Auvergne
Paternal Grandmother:
Garsinde du Maine
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Herbert, Count of Maine
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Adela of Normandy
Maternal Grandfather:
William I of England
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Robert II, Duke of Normandy
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Maternal Grandmother:
Matilda of Flanders
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Baldwin V, Count of Flanders
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Adela of France, Countess of Flanders
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