henry england death king matilda
STEPHEN (1105-1154), king of England, the second son of Stephen, earl of Blois, and Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, was born at Blois in 1105. He obtained the county of Mortain by the gift of his uncle Henry I. and that of Boulogne by marriage with Maud, daughter of Count Eustace. As one of the chief barons of Normandy he had sworn to aid in securing the succession to the crown of England for his cousin the empress Matilda and her infant son, afterwards Henry II. Nevertheless, on the death of Henry I. in 1135, Stephen at once crossed over to England, and was welcomed by the citizens of London as king. Aided by his brother Henry, bishop of Winchester, and the justiciar, Bishop Roger of Salisbury, lie made himself master of the royal treasure, and was formally elected and crowned on St Stephen's clay, December 26, 1135. In a brief charter issued at the time of his coronation he promised to observe the laws and liberties of the land. A fuller charter, the second of our great charters of liberties, was issued early in 1136. In this document, which was based on that of Henry I., each of the three estates came in for its share of promises, but the leading position of the church and the importance of the aid which it gave the king are shown by the predominant attention paid to ecclesiastical privileges. So far all seemed going well, but the troubles of the reign soon began. A false report of Stephen's death in the summer of 1136 caused revolts to break out in the east and west of England. Roger Bigot seized Norwich, and Baldwin of Redvers occupied Exeter. Stephen, who possessed considerable military skill, speedily put down these rebellions, but the outbreak showed the lightness of the feudal bond and the defectiveness of Stephen's title. In 1137 he crossed over into Normandy to defend his dominions there from Geoffrey of Anjou, and was successful enough to make a satisfactory peace, but he returned to find England aflame. A mysterious conspiracy was hatched in the diocese of Ely, where the fenlands may have still concealed some remnants of the opposition to Stephen's grandfather. David, king of Scotland, who had already taken up arms on behalf of his niece Matilda, but had been bought off by the surrender of Carlisle, marched an army into England and advanced as far as Yorkshire. Robert, earl of Gloucester, the strongest of the English nobles, raised the standard of rebellion at Bristol. Against these numerous enemies Stephen contrived at first to make head. The conspiracy at Ely was nipped in the bud ; the Scotch invasion was checked in the battle of the Standard, near Northallerton, in 1138, and even against Robert of Gloucester Stephen won some success. But his own weakness and folly proved his ruin. In order to conciliate the barons who remained true to him, he allowed them to build castles, each of which became a centre of petty but intolerable tyranny. Instead of relying on the support of his English subjects, Stephen surrounded himself with a body of foreign mercenaries, who pillaged all alike. He granted earldoms at random, thereby splitting up the royal authority and diminishing the royal revenues. Lastly, - and this was the worst mistake of all, - he broke with the church, and especially with the great family of Bishop Roger, who had the administrative machinery in their hands. On the ground that they had no right to fortify their castles he arrested the bishops of Lincoln and Salisbury, together with Roger the chancellor, son of the latter. He thus enforced the surrender of the castles, but the church, with the new archbishop, Theobald, and Stephen's brother, Henry of Winchester, now legate, at its head, declared against him. Henry called a council, laid formal charges against the king, and threatened to appeal to Rome. In the midst of this crisis Matilda and her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, landed in the south of England, and a civil war began. From this time forward, for fourteen dismal years, the land knew no peace. It is needless to go into details. Neither party was strong enough to deal a final blow at the other. The nobility changed sides as they pleased, fighting generally for their own interests or for plunder; bands of freebooters wandered up and down the country ; upwards of a thousand castles, each of which was a den of robbers, were erected ; the church found threats and persuasion equally ineffective to restore peace and order. "Men said openly," we are told by the chronicler, "that Christ and His saints slept." At the battle of Lincoln in 1141 Stephen was taken prisoner. After this Matilda was elected queen, but she soon forfeited the allegiance of her supporters. The Londoners revolted, the empress fled to Oxford, and the earl of Gloucester was taken prisoner. He was exchanged for Stephen, and matters went on as before. About 1147 there came a change. Matilda left the country, and her son Henry took the lead. His predominance was further secured by the death of Robert of Gloucester in 1148. Three years later Henry became count of Anjou on the death of his father, while his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine made him one of the most powerful princes in Europe. This great accession of strength enabled him to meet Stephen on more than equal terms, and Stephen on the death of his son Eustace was more inclined to peace. In November 1153 the treaty of Wallingford brought the long struggle to an end. It was agreed that Stephen should reign till his death, and that Henry should succeed him. A scheme of reform was drawn up, which Stephen endeavoured, during the short remainder of his reign, to carry out. He died on October 25, 1154. A brave man, a good soldier, merciful and generous, but devoid of moral strength and political insight, he was utterly incapable to discharge a task which demanded all the skill and energy of his great successor. His nominal reign was a period of anarchy in English history, important only as a full justification for the tyrannies of Henry I. and Henry II.
Authorities. - Onlericus Vitalis, ed. Le Prevost ; William of Malmesbury, ed. Hamilton (Rolls Series); Gesta Stephani, ed. Sewell (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Gervase of Canterbury, ed. Stubbs (Rolls Series); Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold (Rolls Series); English Chronicle, ed. Thorpe (Rolls Series); Freeman, Norman Conquest, vol. v . ; Lappenberg, Gesch. Englands, vol. iii. (G. W. P. )