Civil War Stephen and Matilda

Stephen chosen by the barons

Stephen of Blois, with the approval of the Norman barons, claimed the English throne in 1135 after the death of Henry I, king of England. Henry had chosen his own daughter Matilda as heir to the English throne and had initially gained the agreement of the Norman barons but after his death the barons chose Stephen instead. The barons wanted a Norman to rule England and not an English woman like Matilda. When Stephen became king, Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou, her husband, fled the country for their own safety.

The Barons take control

Stephen was not a particularly strong king and the barons used this time to build more castles from which they could harshly rule their lands both in Normandy and in England.

Support for Matilda

Not all the barons supported King Stephen. In Scotland King David, Matilda's uncle, gave his full support to her cause and in the summer of 1138 invaded the north of England travelling as far south as Lincolnshire. The Scottish army was met by the Normans at Northallerton on the 22nd of August in Yorkshire. The battle is known as the Battle of the Standard because at the centre of the English army was a cart displaying important religious banners. The Scots were defeated and King David returned to Scotland.

Matilda also had support from her half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester. Robert was an illegitimate son of Henry I and had a weak claim to the English throne. Initially Robert had supported Stephen but in 1138 changed sides and began to fight for Matilda.

Matilda's brief success

Matilda arrived in England in 1139 to lead her supporters. With the help of Robert of Gloucester her supporters had great success and at the Battle of Lincoln in February of 1141 King Stephen was captured. Matilda rode into London to become Queen of England but she did not receive the support she had hoped for and left the city for Oxford without being crowned. In September of 1141 Robert was captured at the Rout of Winchester and Matilda agreed to a swap, King Stephen for Robert. Stephen, now back in power, surrounded Matilda at Oxford and lay siege to the city over the winter.

Matilda's escape

The winter was harsh and the siege lasted long enough for the citizens of Oxford to run out of supplies to eat and burn. The situation was hopeless and Matilda planned her escape. Dressed in white robes to travel unnoticed across the snow, Matilda and a small number of knights escaped from the city. The river had completely frozen and they were able to cross over the ice. In October of 1147 Robert of Gloucester died and in February of the next year Matilda left England for Anjou. Without the support of Robert her personal fight for the English throne was over.

Matilda's son continues the fight

Henry was the eldest son of Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou. Henry made several attempts to overthrow Stephen and in 1153 a treaty was signed at Wallingford on the banks of the River Thames. Stephen's son Eustace had recently died and Stephen was happy for the fighting that had damaged the country so much to come to an end. It was agreed that when Stephen died Henry should become king as Henry II. Stephen died in October 1154 and in December Henry II was crowned at Westminster Abbey.


Matilda was the daughter of Henry I, King of England. Henry died in 1035 leaving only Matilda as heir to the English throne. William Audlin, Henry's son, had been killed in 1120 when his ship ran aground. Henry had realised there would be a problem if he died without leaving a male heir and had sought assurances from the barons that they would accept Matilda as Queen of England when he died. Although the barons agreed at the time, after Henry's death Stephen of Blois, his nephew, claimed the throne. Matilda fought back leading to the civil war between her supporters and supporters of King Stephen.

Henry, Duke of Normandy was the son of Matilda. Henry assisted his mother in the civil war against King Stephen. Eventually King Stephen was forced to recognise Henry as the rightful heir to the English throne and when Stephen died Henry became king as Henry II.

Robert, Earl of Gloucester was the illegitimate son of Henry I, King of England and a chief supporter of his step-sister Matilda's claim to the English throne during the civil war.

David I, King of Scotland had been educated at the court of Henry I and gave important support to Matilda during the civil war. David assisted Matilda's son Henry and knighted him. David was defeated by Stephen at the Battle of the Standard in August of 1138.

Stephen of Blois

Stephen of Blois was the grandson of William the Conqueror and the nephew of Henry I, King of England. Stephen's mother was Henry's sister. When Henry I died Stephen had rushed to England and claimed the throne for himself as Stephen I, King of England.

Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex was a powerful baron who took advantage of the chaos of the civil war to cause as much destruction as possible to further his own power and wealth. At first Mandeville sided with King Stephen but when Matilda took the upper hand in the war he changed sides. When King Stephen later regained power Mandeville changed sides again. All these changes of loyalty finally caught up with the Earl and he was banished.

Related Information

Stephen of Blois
Reign FromDecember 22, 1135
CoronationDecember 26, 1135
Reign ToOctober 25, 1154
SucceededHenry I
PrecededHenry II
Royal HouseNorman
Between April and November of 1141, Matilda became Queen of England but she was not crowned.
Henry II
Reign FromDecember 19, 1154
CoronationDecember 19, 1154
Reign ToJuly 6, 1189
PrecededRichard I
Royal HouseNorman


1136 King Stephen captures Bampton
   Bampton Castle in Devon captured by King Stephen.
Feb Treaty of Durham
   A peace treaty signed by King David of Scotland and King Stephen. The Scottish King had invaded northern England in January and had captured many of the major towns including Carlisle and Newcastle. In response, Stephen had raised a large army and marched north to Durham. King David agreed to talk rather than fight and an arrangement was agreed allowing the Scots to keep Carlisle in return for stopping their advance. David refused to do homage to the English King as his loyalties rested with Matilda, King Henry's daughter. King David's son did pay homage to Stephen and received the Earldom of Huntingdon in return.
1138 Start of Civil War
   Robert, the Earl of Gloucester and half brother to Matilda (daughter of Henry I) rebels against King Stephen, supporting Matilda's claim to the throne of England.
Arundel Castle siege
   Matilda was given refuge by William de Albini at Arundel Castle. King Stephen built siege works around the castle in response but was unable to break the castle's defences. Matilda escaped but was later captured.
Shrewsbury Castle captured by Stephen
   Stephen captured the castle at Shrewsbury. Henry (II) would capture back the castle before the end of Stephen's reign.
Dudley castle attacked by Stephen
   The Castle and lands around Dudley were attacked by King Stephen during the early part of his war against Matilda.
Ludlow castle siege
   Ludlow Castle was captured on behalf of Matilda in 1138 and King Stephen besieged the castle in an attempt to regain it. During the siege the King bravely saved Prince Henry of Scotland from being injured by a grappling hook thrown from the castle.
Jan The Scots invade Northumbria
   King David of Scotland took an army across the border and attacked Northumbria. He wanted Northumbria for his son Henry.
Feb Stephen marches north
   In response to the Scottish attack in the north, Stephen took an army into Scotland but the two kings did not meet and Stephen returned to England.
May Robert sides with Matilda
   Robert, the Earl of Gloucester announces that he will assist Matilda, his step-sister in her claim for the English throne.
Aug 22 Battle of 'the Standard'
   David I of Scotland was defeated at the battle of 'the Standard' in Yorkshire. The name for the battle came from the banners that were carried into battle by the English.
1139 Wallingford Castle siege
   After Brian fitz Count the owner of the castle at Wallingford sided with Matilda, king Stephen built two siege castles to force him out.
Corfe Castle siege
   In 1139 Baldwin de Redvers took the castle for Matilda. King Stephen besieged the castle but was unable to take it back.
Leeds Castle siege
   King Stephen besieged Leeds Castle which was being held against him by supporters of Matilda. The castle fell to the King and he took control of it.
Jun Roger, Bishop of Salisbury is arrested
   King Stephen arrested Roger, the Bishop of Salisbury. Bishop Roger was a powerful landowner and had several castles. Stephen also arrested Alexander, the bishop of Lincoln and had him imprisoned. Stephen wanted to take control to bishop Roger's castles and the bishop was taken to his castle at Devizes where he was held captive outside the walls and starved until the castle surrendered. Roger's son was also captured and tortured until the castle finally fell to the King. Roger's castle at Sherborne was also captured by Stephen. The castles at Newark and Sleaford in Lincolnshire belonging to bishop Alexander were forced to surrender to the King using the same underhand tactics.
Sep 30 Matilda arrives in England
   Matilda arrives in England to further her attempts to take the throne from king Stephen. She was assisted by Robert of Gloucester, the illegitimate son of Henry I, King of England and a chief supporter of his step-sister Matilda's claim to the English throne.
1140 Woodstock held by Matilda
   The Palace of Woodstock was held by Matilda's supporters during the conflict with Stephen. Henry (II) spent much of his time there.
Dec Stephen besieges Lincoln
   Lincoln, held by Matilda's supporters, was besieged by King Stephen. The siege would continue until February the next year.
1141 Winchester Castle burns down
   The castle was destroyed during the civil war.
Feb 2 Battle of Lincoln
   Matilda's forces defeated and captured King Stephen at the battle of Lincoln. Stephen was held captive until September when Matilda's forces were defeated at Winchester.
Apr Matilda is elected Queen
   After Stephen had been captured at Lincoln, Matilda was elected as Queen of England at Winchester. Her new position as ruler of England was not to last for long
Jun Matilda enters London
   Matilda and her supporters entered London for her coronation. Her supporters included David I, king of the Scots. Geoffrey de Mandeville who controlled the Tower of London, abandoned his king as he saw Matilda had the upper hand. He joined her side and offered her the Tower of London. He did this to ensure he kept the Earldom of Essex which made him one of the most powerful barons of the time.
Sep 14 Rout of Winchester
   Matilda's forces were besieging a royalist held castle at Wolvesey near Winchester and were attacked and defeated by a royalist relief army. King Stephen who was being held captive at the time was exchanged for Robert, earl of Gloucester one of Matilda's supporters who was captured in the defeat.
Dec 25 Stephen's second coronation
   After his release Stephen insisted on a second coronation so that the barons would swear their loyalty to him. The coronation took place at Canterbury Cathedral.
1142 Mandeville and Matilda
   Secret negotiations between Matilda and Mandeville take place.
Sep Henry (II) land in England
   Henry of Anjou, the future King of England landed on the south coast of England with his uncle Earl Robert of Gloucester and several knights, Henry spent a year in England at Bristol being taught by Master Matthew. Soon after landing in England Earl Robert captured Lulworth Castle, Rufus Castle on Portland and Wareham Castle.
Oct - Dec Oxford siege and Matilda's escape
   Oxford was besieged by King Stephen trapping Matilda inside the city. But just before Christmas Matilda managed to escape across the snow and ice of the frozen Thames dressed in white so that she would not be seen. Matilda escaped to Wallingford Castle and Oxford fell to the King.
1143 Sep Mandeville is arrested
   King Stephen arrested Geoffrey de Mandeville at a meeting of the Royal Court. Mandeville had tried Stephen's patience with his disloyalty and the king did not want the Tower of London (which Mandeville controlled) fall into the hands of Matilda. Mandevilles castles and title of Earl of Essex were taken from him, and he became an outlaw.
1144 Construction of Faringdon Castle
   Built by Robert, Earl of Gloucester. The castle soon came under siege by King Stephen who after four days took the castle and destroyed it.
Jan Geoffrey Plantagenet captures Normandy
   After several years of conflict between the Angevins and the Barons of Normandy Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou, captured Rouen and took control of the whole of the duchy of Normandy. Geoffrey also took the title of Duke of Normandy.
1145 Stephen takes Farringdon Castle
   King Stephen captures the castle at Farringdon from Matilda.
1147 Pevensey Castle siege
   King Stephen leys siege to Pevensey castle and has to wait for the castle's reserves to run out before the castle falls.
Henry arrives in England
   Henry landed in England with a small army intent on attacking Stephen. Unfortunately, Henry's army of mercenaries was small and they were not being paid enough. Stephen gave Henry money to pay the mercenaries and for Henry to return to Normandy. Henry left England.
Oct 31 Robert, Earl of Gloucester dies
   The death of Robert was a blow to Matilda's attempts to fight for the English throne. Matilda was to leave England shortly afterwards.
1148 Feb Matilda leaves England
   Without the support of the Earl of Gloucester, who died the previous year, Matilda left England for Normandy.
1149 May 22 Henry (II) knighted by David
   Henry the future king of England (Henry II) was knighted at Carlisle by David, King of the Scots.
1150 Worcester siege
   King Stephen besieged then plundered the city of Worcester but was unable to capture the castle due to its strong defences.
1152 Newbury Castle Siege
   Besieged and captured by King Stephen in 1152 (or 1153).
Apr 6 Theobald refuses to crown Eustace
   King Stephen had several lords swear to have Eustace, his son, as the next king of England. Theobald the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had to accept as well, refused to crown Eustace favouring Henry II's claim to the throne instead.
1153 Reading Castle destroyed
   Reading Castle destroyed by Henry II.
Jan Henry invades England
   Henry and a fleet of 30 to 40 ships landed on the south coast of England. Henry chose to attack Malmesbury, one of Stephen's outposts. The Winter weather took its toll on Stephen's troops and a truce was agreed. The truce agreement was to have the castle at Malmesbury destroyed but this was not carried out and Henry took control of the fortress. Henry then went in search of supporters. In the Midlands, the Earl of Leicester took Henry's side and this gave Henry control of large number of castles in the area.
Jun Henry lays siege to Tutbury Castle
   The Earl of Ferrers was a supporter of King Stephen and Henry of Anjou laid siege to his castle at Tutbury. The castle fell to Henry when the Earl decided to join Henry's fight against King Stephen.
Aug 17 Stephen's son Eustace dies
   Eustace wanted to continue the fight against Henry and had started attacking areas around Cambridge and East Anglia. He ransacked the Abbey at Bury St. Edmunds but died very shortly afterwards from a sudden illness.
Nov 6 Treaty of Wallingford
   Henry had besieged a fort that Stephen had built at Crowmarsh on the banks of the Thames opposite Wallingford Castle. An agreement of succession of Henry II after Stephen was concluded and witnessed by the English Knights Templars. King Stephen accepted Henry of Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine as heir to the throne and in turn Henry recognised Stephen as king. Stephen made his barons do homage to Henry (Jan.1154).
1154 Jan Meeting at Oxford
   At a meeting at Oxford the barons accepted Henry as the rightful heir to the English throne and paid homage to him. Henry was displeased because in the terms of the treaty of Wallingford many of the castles that had been built during the civil war were supposed to have been destroyed but were still standing.
Spring Henry returns to Normandy
   A triumphant Henry returned to Rouen in Normandy to a warm reception from his family including Eleanor and his eight month old son William.
Oct 25 Stephen dies
   Stephen had agreed that Henry should become King on his death. Henry was in Normandy at the time.
Dec Henry II succeeds Stephen
   Henry became king of England upon the death of King Stephen.
Dec 8 Henry lands in England
   Although the English Channel was stormy, Henry needed to get to England as it had been without a King since the end of October. His ship landed somewhere near Southampton and he went straight to Winchester where he received the Royal treasures and the homage of the English barons.
Dec 19 Henry crowned at Westminster Abbey
   Henry of Normandy crowned Henry II of England, and Eleanor of Aquitaine crowned Queen, at Westminster.

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