The anarchy

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The anarchy
Contemporary depiction of the Battle of Lincoln
Contemporary depiction of the Battle of Lincoln
date 1135 to 1154
place England , Normandy
output Henry Plantagenet , son of Matilda and Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou , is to succeed Stephen of Blois says
Peace treaty Wallingford Treaty
Parties to the conflict

Follower of Stephan of Blois

Followers of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey Plantagenet


Stephan by Blois
Mathilda of Boulogne

Empress Matilda
Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester
Geoffrey Plantagenets
Henry II

In English historiography, the civil war after the death of Henry I , which lasted from 1135 to 1154, is called The Anarchy . The leaders of the two opposing parties were Matilda (called Kaiserin Matilda, English Empress Maud ), the daughter of Henry I, and Stephan , a nephew of Henry, who fought for the English throne . The civil war was ended by the Treaty of Wallingford , in which Henry Plantagenet , son of Matildas and Geoffrey Plantagenets, the Count of Anjou , was declared successor to Stephen.


Henry I of England, depiction from the Chronica maiora by Matthew Paris from the 13th century.

King Henry I , the youngest son of William the Conqueror , had two children, a son, William , and a daughter, Matilda , from his marriage to his wife Matilda , a descendant of Alfred the Great . Despite numerous illegitimate sons of Henry, the descendants of Wilhelm the Conqueror died out in the male line when William was killed in a shipwreck off the Norman coast in 1120 . Heinrich hoped for more legitimate heirs to the throne through a second marriage to Adelheid von Löwen , but the marriage remained childless. Despite widespread rejection then he took his widowed daughter Matilda to England, she began as heir, leaving his barons her oath swear. In 1128 Matilda married Geoffrey Plantagenet , the Count of Anjou , for the second time . The majority of the Norman aristocracy rejected a future rule by Geoffrey, as the Angevins had long been the main opponents of the Normans in northern France . This wedding therefore increased the nobility's aversion to Matilda.

1135: The usurpation

Heinrich's nephew Stephan von Blois as king, fantasy by an unknown artist from the 17th century.

After Heinrich's death on December 1, 1135, Matilda's cousin Stephan von Blois , who was a son of Heinrich's sister Adela , hurried to England . He took advantage of the absence of Matilda and the reservations of the barons against the rule of a woman and against her husband. Stephan moved into London , winning over its urban population by granting generous privileges. The citizens of London saw the election of a king as their old right and appointed Stephen king.

Then Stephan went to Winchester , where, with the help of his younger brother Heinrich von Blois , who was bishop there, he secured the castle, the state treasure and very soon the support of important prelates . These high-ranking clergy included the Archbishop of Canterbury , William of Corbeil , the Chief Justiciar and Bishop of Salisbury , Roger , and the nephews of the latter, the Bishop of Lincoln and the Bishop of Ely . Initially, the Archbishop of Canterbury was reluctant to crown Stephan because of his earlier oath to Matilda, but was eventually persuaded by the argument that this oath was made under duress. Stephen's supporters also claimed that shortly before his death, Heinrich I had regretted his oaths because of his disappointment in his daughter.

So Stephan was able to have himself crowned the new king by Wilhelm von Corbeil on December 22nd, 1135 in Winchester. The majority of the barons agreed to the usurpation and paid homage to him on March 22, 1136 in Westminster Abbey . In April 1136 a synod was held in Oxford , at which Stephen made important concessions to the clergy and also achieved homage from Matilda's half-brother Robert of Gloucester , who was an illegitimate son of the late King Henry I.

Stephen won the prelates of England, among other things, by confirming the freedoms of the church and by putting an end to abuses such as the right to revert to the movable inheritance of deceased bishops, and the new king had concluded individual contracts with many secular princes and made large concessions to them in return for their support .

On December 11, 1136, Stephen also received the approval of Pope Innocent II (who was otherwise bound by his fight against his rival Anaklet II ), who addressed him as Stephen, King of England . This legitimation by the highest ecclesiastical authority was particularly important so that Stephan and the English barons could not be accused of breaking the oath.

1136–1144: The war in Normandy


Matilda and her husband Geoffrey Plantagenet gave the conquest of Normandy as a neighbor of the Anjou higher priority than the reclamation of England. The Norman border fortresses of Argentan , Exmes and Domfront , which were part of Matilda's dowry, recognized the empress's rule. In safe Argentan, Matilda gave birth to their third son, William FitzEmpress , on July 22, 1136 . In September 1136 Geoffrey besieged Le Sap but was wounded. The next month, Matilda brought in auxiliaries to support her husband, but the couple were unable to take the fortress. The Count of Anjou also failed to win the support of the nobles of Cotentin or Upper Normandy , where Galéran de Beaumont , Count of Meulan and Stephen's son-in-law, led the resistance.

Among the followers of Matilda was Baldwin de Redvers, exiled from England , 1st Earl of Devon , who controlled the area around Bricquebec from his castle Néhou. Mathilde also received support from her half-brother Reginald de Dunstanville, 1st Earl of Cornwall .

On February 25, 1137 Stephan went ashore in France, to the French King Louis VI through his son Eustace . to pay homage to Normandy. But he could not achieve any major successes against his rivals on a campaign in Normandy. In July he therefore had to agree a two-year armistice with Anjou and return to England without any results, where he had to fight rebellious barons.

Meanwhile, Matilda's supporters Baldwin de Redvers, Reginald de Dunstanville and Humphrey II. De Bohun invaded the Cotentin, which was defended by Viscount Roger of Saint-Sauvour for King Stephen. After Roger's death, much of the Cotentin fell into the hands of the Empress's party.

At Easter 1138 Robert of Gloucester moved to his half-sister's camp. He decisively strengthened their position on the continent; he already had the castles of Caen and Bayeux , as well as the diocese of Bayeux in his hand (where his son Richard was bishop) and also brought the Bessin with him on Matilda's side. In response, Galéran IV von Meulan and Wilhelm von Ypres , the commander of the mercenaries, entered the battle. Geoffrey von Anjou withdrew to his principality. Stephen's supporters attacked Caen, could not conquer it and were content with the plundering of the surrounding area.


In 1141 Geoffrey Plantagenet attacked Normandy. He captured the castles of Le Teilleul and Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët in the counties of Mortain, Falaise and Lisieux , devastated Le Perche and invaded the Vexin . At the same time, Coutances and Saint-Lô were besieged. With the capture of Stephen (see below), Normandy passed entirely to Matilda and Geoffrey.

In July 1142, when Stephan was back on the throne and there was a truce in England, he met Geoffrey in Caen. On April 3, 1143, the Anjou-friendly Bishop of Bayeux Richard of Gloucester died; Bayeux went to Philippe d'Harcourt , a follower of Stephen, whom Geoffrey refused to take his seat. In the same year, Geoffrey's father Fulko V died , making Geoffrey Plantagenet Count of Anjou and Maine . On January 19, 1144 he conquered Rouen and was enthroned the next day in the cathedral as Duke of Normandy. The garrison at Rouen Castle did not surrender until three months later. Geoffrey paid homage to Louis VII of France and ceded Gisors Castle to him .

When Geoffrey granted Philippe d'Harcourt the office of bishop in Bayeux, peace came in Normandy. In 1147 and 1148 the conflict over Bayeux flared up again, but now Geoffrey and the bishop restored peace.

Geoffrey Plantagenet died a little later, in 1151. His and Matilda's son Henry Plantagenet (* 1133) became Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine.

1138–1141: The war in England


After Robert of Gloucester had switched sides on Easter 1138, Stephan confiscated all of his property, including above all the important fortress Bristol , which was defended by Philip, Robert's eldest son. Stephan hesitated to attack the city of Gloucester , instead turning on Hereford , who submitted.

From 22 to 27 August 1138, Stephan besieged Shrewsbury , which was defended by William FitzAlan, a nephew of Robert of Gloucester. The place held out for a week before William FitzAlan fled.

Mathilde's greatest hope, her uncle, the Scottish King David I , invaded Northumberland - allegedly in support of her - but was defeated in the standard battle on August 22, 1138 after some skirmish by Thurstan , the Archbishop of York , and escaped forced to Cardiff , another castle Robert of Gloucesters.


At the same time, Stephan made a number of decisions that alienated his followers. He had Bishop Roger of Salisbury and his episcopal nephews arrested on June 24, 1139; Although the Bishop of Ely, one of the nephews, managed to escape, this action ended with the three bishops ceding their castles to the king. In doing so, Stephan had turned the high English clergy against him. Even his own brother, Bishop Heinrich von Winchester, turned against him because he saw the arrest as an attack on the church: on August 22, 1139, at a synod in Winchester, the latter withdrew his support.

A few days later, on August 30, 1139, Matilda came to England and settled at Arundel Castle , where she met her opponent on September 30 or October 1 - which did not prevent him from occupying Malmesbury and South Cerney . Mathilde's supporters sacked Worcester at the same time and on November 7, 1139 Robert of Gloucester seized the city of Winchester and with it the state treasure.


Towards the end of the year, Ranulph de Gernon , the Earl of Chester , who had remained neutral so far - although also Robert of Gloucester's son-in-law - joined Matilda. With his half-brother William de Roumare , the Earl of Lincoln , he occupied Lincoln Castle in early 1141 . Stephan initially agreed with Ranulph, but then responded to a request from the townspeople and prepared the attack on the castle. Ranulph was able to escape the siege and together with his father-in-law Robert of Gloucester put up an army of knights. On February 2, 1141, the first battle of Lincoln took place in the streets of the city, in which Stephan was defeated and taken prisoner. He was imprisoned in Bristol and on March 3, 1141 Matilda was proclaimed Domina Anglorum , mistress of the English. On April 7th, Stephen was deposed at a synod in Winchester by his own brother, Bishop Henry of Winchester, and since 1139 papal legate. On the same day the Synod recognized Matilda as Angliae Normanniaeque domina , mistress of England and Normandy.

In June Matilda traveled to London intending to be crowned. She entered Westminster on about June 20, but could not stay there long: she immediately collected heavy taxes in the city and is said to have behaved extremely haughty. The advantage she had gained from winning at Lincoln quickly faded because of her character. When King Stephen's wife, who was also called Matilda , appeared with an army outside London, on June 24 the citizens attacked the candidate for the crown in Westminster, who was forced to leave the capital and move to Oxford .

Bishop Heinrich von Winchester changed sides again and rejoined his brother Stephen. Matilda went to Winchester in late July to reinforce her claim to the throne. There she besieged Bishop Heinrich, whom she wanted to force into submission. Stephen's wife and his mercenary leader Wilhelm von Ypres advanced to Winchester to support Bishop Heinrich and surrounded the other side. The skirmishes that are now known as the Battle of Winchester broke out .

Robert of Gloucester, who had given his half-sister military support in Winchester, suggested the withdrawal from Winchester in view of the now untenable situation. This took place on September 14th, but only succeeded Matilda, while Robert, who had covered her back, was captured in Stockbridge . Matilda agreed to an exchange - Stephan for Robert - that took place on November 3rd. The released Stephen was proclaimed king again on December 7, 1141 by another synod under the leadership of his brother Henry, the coronation ceremony took place on December 25 in Canterbury Cathedral .

The end of the fighting

Matilda turned in vain to her husband Geoffrey of Anjou for help, as he was too busy maintaining his rule in Normandy. Ranulph of Chester allowed himself to be dragged over to Stephen's camp, but since the king did not trust him, he later switched back to Matilda's side. While Robert of Gloucester helped Matilda's husband militarily in Normandy for some time from June 1142, Stephan, taking advantage of Robert's absence, attacked Oxford in September 1142, where Matilda was staying. The city fell on September 26th, and Oxford Castle , where Matilda was staying, held up. On December 20, Matilda managed to escape across the snow-covered Thames to Wallingford in an adventurous way . In the difficult to conquer castle of Devizes she stayed the rest of the time in England (until early 1148).

In 1143 Stephan planned to interrupt Matilda's supply lines by taking Wilton . Robert of Gloucester was warned and moved troops to the site in March. When the king appeared before Wilton on July 1, he narrowly escaped recapture.

As a result, Matilda fought less for her own claim to government than for her son Henry to succeed in the throne. In the next few years, there was a loss of a small war in which neither Stephan nor Matilda could achieve a decisive victory.

Although Matilda returned to France on October 31, 1147 after Robert's death, there was no peace in England. The Peterborough Chronicle reports that Stephen was “softe and gode” who did no justice (“no iustice didde”) while Christ and all saints slept (“Crist and alle his sayntes slept”) - this and “mare thanne we cunnen sæin, we tholeden xix wintre for ure sinnes ”(“ more than we can say, we atone for our sins 19 winters ”). From 1139 until the end of the war in 1153, conditions were chaotic and sometimes lawless, so that one can actually speak of an age of "anarchy".

The decision

Henry II of England in a depiction from the 17th century.

Matilda's son Henry Plantagenet , who grew up in a military environment and under Stephen's opponents, came to England in 1153 with the aim of conquering the country. When the adversaries faced each other on a battlefield near Wallingford , the confrontation was ultimately prevented by a number of nobles revolting against these endless and fruitless battles. Stephan was persuaded, negotiations began and a truce was agreed.

Stephan's eldest son Eustace de Boulogne , whom Stephan had wanted to have crowned his successor during his lifetime, but which the Pope had forbidden under threat of an interdict , got so angry about the negotiations that he left. Eustace died shortly afterwards, on August 10, 1153, under unknown circumstances.

After the death of Stephen's eldest son, the Wallingford armistice was expanded to a treaty that was formulated in Winchester and presented at a meeting of the nobility at the same location in late November 1153; on December 25, 1153 the contract was signed at Westminster Abbey , which is why the agreement is called both the Wallingford Treaty, the Winchester Treaty and the Treaty of Westminster . This treaty ended the 17-year civil war. Henry was recognized as heir to the throne, which was formally done through adoption.

At the beginning of 1154 Henry received the homage of the barons in Oxford in the presence of Stephen. Stephan, who had been ailing for a long time, only survived the conclusion of the contract by a few months and died on October 25, 1154 in Dover . On December 19, his successor was crowned Henry II in Westminster, establishing the Plantagenet family , whose representatives would sit on the throne of England for the next 250 years.

The civil war in literature

The civil war has been the backdrop for a number of novels in recent years:

  • Cecelia Holland's The Earl , also published as Hammer for Princes (1971), describes the final years of the argument, Henry's invasion and his recognition as heir
  • Ellis Peters has the civil war as a background for her detective novels about the monk Cadfael (published 1977-1994).
  • Ken Follett's novel The Pillars of the Earth (published 1989) also takes place during this period. The civil war is vital in the plot.
  • In Tanja Kinkel's novel Lioness of Aquitaine , the end of the civil war is described from the point of view of Eleanor of Aquitaine .
  • Sharon Kay Penman's novel When Christ and His Saints Slept (published 1995) gives an overview of the entire dispute.
  • Jean Plaidy's Passionate Enemies (around 1976) from the multi-volume treatise on the British monarchy describes the mood of the time and the characters of Matilda and Stephan.
  • Rebecca Gablé's novel Job's Brothers (2009) mainly describes the final phase of the dispute.
  • Beate Sauer: At the lioness's court . 1st edition. Goldmann, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-442-46826-3 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl-Friedrich Krieger : History of England, Vol. 1: History of England from the beginnings to the 15th century . 2nd edition Beck Verlag, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-406-33004-5 , p. 99f .; Karl Rudolf Schnith: Empress Mathilde . In: Derselbe (Ed.): Women of the Middle Ages . Verlag Styria, Graz 1997, ISBN 3-222-12467-1 , pp. 189-213, here: pp. 197f.