King Stephen and Queen Matilda
This is the first in a series of nine monarchs who by history’s accounts were deemed badly behaved. One may disagree with the choices, but through research and many a book read, this series will cover what I will call: “The Naughty Nine, Badly Behaved Monarchs and Regents of England.” The first of my “Naughty Nine” is Stephen.
Had things worked out right, King Henry I’s daughter Matilda would have been the first reigning queen of England in 1135. Matilda descended from Norman, Scottish, and English (Saxon) kings. She is known today as the Empress Matilda, having been married for a short time to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V. After her younger brother, William, the heir to the throne of England, died when the White Ship capsized in 1120, Henry I named Matilda his heir and gained the confirmation of that claim by the nobles of the kingdom. Enter Stephen, who felt his royal lineage as the grandson William the Conqueror gave him carte blanch to take the throne. Stephen appropriated the throne from his Cousin Matilda following Henry’s death.
Stephen on at least two instances assured Henry of his support for Matilda as Queen of England. But after Henry died, Stephen claimed these promises were made under duress and that Henry had named Stephen as his successor. The nobility and the Pope supported Stephen’s claim and he became King of the English and Duke of Normandy. Stephen was not a strong ruler nor ruled wisely; within four years, Matilda had assembled a force to challenge Stephen for the crown and she had serious political backing from other disgruntled nobles. To solidify her support, her second husband was one of the most powerful nobles in France; Geoffrey, the Count of Anjou.
Stephen tried to bargain for the friendship of King David of Scotland by giving Cumberland to David’s son Henry. As King David notice the flaws and weaknesses of Stephen’s reign, he planned to take Northumberland as well. He invaded England in 1138. On 22 August 1138, The Battle of the Standard commenced. The Scots were headed by King David and his son, Henry. The English were led by Archbishop Thurston of York. The Scottish armies charged the English line, but were stopped by the archers, and then retreated after the onslaught by the well-organized armed men and their spears. The limited Scottish mounted troops tried to outmanoeuvre the English but the English cavalry stunned them after bitter fighting. King David and Prince Henry bolted.
Civil War began in 1139. The actual war could not have taken place without Matilda’s several key supporters. Robert of Gloucester decided to lend his support to his half-sister Matilda’s right to the throne. From 1139 until his death in 1147, Robert would remain at the forefront of the war as Matilda’s main general and commander of her forces.
By this time, Matilda was in London set to be crowned. But within a few months, Stephen had regained power and support, thereby driving Matilda out before the coronation occurred. Her supporters were unrelenting in pursuing her claim by battling Stephen. In the end, neither she nor they could ever get the support needed. To make matters even worse, her husband Geoffrey at no time sent any military force to England to assist. Nevertheless, Geoffrey did manage to remove Stephen’s Norman Dukedom and bestowed the title upon himself.
Matilda and Geoffrey’s son Henry II was named Duke of Normandy in 1150. He inherited the titles and lands as Count of Anjou following his father’s death a year later. Now an adult, and with the support of his mother, Henry claimed the English throne from Stephen. In time, Henry and King Stephen signed The Treaty of Wallingford naming Henry as the heir to the throne after Stephen’s death despite the claims of Stephen’s son Eustace as rightful heir. Within two years, Eustace was dead, and Stephen was forced to accept the succession of Henry. In 1154, Stephen died of natural causes and was succeeded by Matilda’s son, King Henry II.
As one can ascertain, Stephen was a mildly naughty monarch. His was weak and had minimal control over the kingdom and incompetence to enforce laws or intermediate between warring nobles proved his inability to rule. It was the usurping of the rightful heir Matilda that has Stephen placed first on the list of “The Naughty Nine.” Can you guess who might be next?
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