Post-classical history



The civil war of Stephen’s reign is an unusual war. The general rule of war is to the winner, the spoils, but in this case, King Stephen seems to have won the war but lost the peace. Stephen, as we have seen, was neither overthrown by Matilda in England by 1148, when the empress retired from the conflict, nor militarily defeated by Henry of Anjou during the 1153 campaign. The peace was a compromise, by which Stephen kept his throne for life, but had to agree to yield the rights of his son to succeed him as king. Since the war had in essence been one of succession, the agreement cannot be viewed as anything but an eventual defeat for Stephen. The major puzzle is why, if he did not lose the war, he agreed to losing the peace.


Further to clarify the situation, we need to re-examine the settlement of 1153. There has been much historical debate around this settlement in recent years, but we are left still with some uncertainties, and even perhaps some inaccuracies. It is now clear that the settlement was the result of several meetings and prolonged negotiations. These were pressed upon the contestants by churchmen, as was often the case.

There was a series of meetings between the two sides during 1153, and clearly much negotiation. Twice battle was avoided, when the two armies faced each other across rivers and seemed prepared to test the issue by conflict. At several points, truces were agreed and discussions about peace held. While Matilda was still in the field, peace discussions had taken place, though they came to nothing.

Throughout the war churchmen sought to bring the sides together. To some extent the ambivalent attitude of Henry of Blois, as demonstrated at Arundel and later, stemmed from a genuine wish to follow the teachings of the church and prevent Christians from fighting each other. As was usual in the period, clerics took on the role of negotiators for peace. And often men who might have been expected to have attachments to one side, seem truly to have acted as mediators; thus Henry of Blois argued for Matilda’s release from the trap at Arundel, and thus Theobald of Canterbury, despite being refused permission to attend a church council and disobeying that refusal, still argued with the Pope against Stephen being penalized.

The armies of Henry and Stephen faced each other at Malmesbury, when a battle was avoided and a truce agreed, whereby Stephen was to demolish his castle there. In the event it was not demolished, but handed to Henry and the war continued. After this, a number of royalist barons ‘sent envoys by stealth and made a compact with the duke’.1 The two sides met again at Wallingford in August 1153, when both armies still wanted to avoid a battle.

The nobility ‘had no inclination for war’, and pressed the truce upon their respective leaders. Henry of Huntingdon suggests it was because they were traitors and enjoyed the division of power in the country, but more likely they were tired of war and wanted greater stability. Churchmen approached both leaders, seeking a halt to the conflict.2 There were discussions regarding peace, and a short truce was arranged. Neither leader could trust his troops for a battle. This was the occasion when Stephen and Henry had a ‘private discussion’ about peace, and complained to each other about the loyalty of their own men. Henry of Huntingdon specifically says that there was a beginning of the peace negotiation, but it was decided to postpone its completion to another time.3 TheGesta Stephani says that Stephen wished to continue the conflict, but his brother, Bishop Henry, ‘made himself a mediator between the duke and the king for the establishment of peace’. Henry of Huntingdon adds that Theobald of Canterbury was also seeking to persuade Stephen to agree a peace, and was also in touch with Henry. Theobald had frequent meetings with the king ‘in which he urged him to come to terms with the duke’.4

The peace was finally made at Winchester in November. There were further meetings, at Westminster, and in 1154 the two leaders came together several times: at Oxford, where the royalist magnates did homage to Henry, saving only their allegiance to the king; at Dunstable in January, and later at Canterbury and Dover.

But however much discussion there was before and after, the settlement was reached in its essentials late in the year 1153 at Winchester. Here, according to Gervase of Canterbury, in a ‘public assembly’ (conventu publico), the agreement was made. He says this ‘concord’ was later confirmed. One chronicler saw this as the key moment; ‘what a happy day’.5 The chroniclers describe this event, but the main evidence of the detailed agreement survives in a charter issued later in the year by Stephen at Westminster. It would seem that in this charter, some of the more controversial declarations at Winchester were quietly omitted, including the treatment of castles, and the restoration of lands to those holding under Henry I. Such things in the end had to be dealt with on individual merits, not by broad policy.

It has been argued that the terms were made early in 1153, before the meeting at Winchester, and that Eustace reacted against them after Wallingford. Leedom claimed that Eustace’s death ‘came after peace had already been made’. However, the evidence does not show this. Eustace reacted against a peace negotiation between his father and Henry at Wallingford. He reacted angrily, which suggests he did not like what was happening, but this does not prove what terms, if any, had been agreed. The Gesta Stephani says he raged ‘because the war, in his opinion, had reached no proper conclusion’; that is, against a truce rather than against peace. He went off in a fury, took to arms, and did his best to break up the peace, ravaging Cambridgeshire, but then suddenly died on 17 August 1153.

Before the death of Eustace there had been negotiations but no settlement; the sides were still at odds, the truce at Wallingford which had caused Eustace’s anger was only for five days. Both sides continued the war afterwards, albeit somewhat desultorily. Both leaders rejected peace at this stage, Henry besieging Stamford where he took the town, but the castle resisting for a time, and Stephen capturing Ipswich from Hugh Bigod. The agreement at Wallingford was only a truce, and Eustace’s death was a major step towards resolving the conflict.6 It was only at Winchester that we hear of concrete terms agreed by Stephen, and it seems wiser to revert to an earlier view of these events, which sees the death of Eustace as vital in the process. William of Newburgh clearly states that the death of Eustace ‘offered a great opportunity of creating peace’, a peace which had been impossible during his lifetime because of his ‘youthful aggression’.7 Only after Winchester in November 1153 was peace established, and it was ‘firmly settled that arms should be finally laid down’.8 It may be that Stephen knew something of his son’s illness.


The peace made at Winchester was confirmed by Stephen’s well known charter issued at Westminster. But it must be stressed that the formal peace had already been made at Winchester, which Stephen marked by leading the duke in a procession through the streets, as he would later do also in London.9 It is from chroniclers’ descriptions of Winchester, and from Stephen’s Westminster charter, that we know what was agreed. The charter was a document for action to those who must enforce the new arrangements; it was not a formal treaty at all. It was a confirmation of what had already been agreed. There is no ‘treaty’ of Westminster. The tone of the charter is of agreement made in the past, that is, at Winchester.10

It was settled that both sides should lay down their arms. The main agreement was that Henry should become Stephen’s adopted son and heir, and therefore succeed him on the throne. Henry of Huntingdon says that he ‘adopted’ Henry. Robert of Torigny makes a point, which could well have been significant had things turned out differently, that Henry would succeed Stephen to the throne ‘if he were the survivor’.11 Stephen was recognized as king for life by all, including Henry, who had never done so before. Recently built castles were to be demolished. Those holders of land who had been disinherited since the time of Henry I were to have their estates reinstated. Law and order was to be restored at a national level, with ‘laws and enactments made binding on all according to the old custom’. Mercenary troops, who were seen as a plague, were to be sent home, and according to William of Newburgh, they ‘slid off’.12

The agreement was repeated in Stephen’s charter issued at Westminster, probably in December of 1153.13 This is an official document, as opposed to the descriptions given above by various chroniclers. It has also moved us on a month or so, and one or two of the more contentious issues agreed at Winchester have been quietly dropped, perhaps because they could not be administered in a cut and dried manner, including the demolition of recently built castles and the restoration of lands to those disinherited. But otherwise, we have here the details of the peace.

In the charter, Stephen recognizes Henry as ‘successor to the kingdom of England and my heir by hereditary right, and thus to him and to his heirs I have given the kingdom of England, and confirmed it’. As a result, in return, Henry has done him homage and made an oath as guarantee to keep the ‘agreements [conventiones] made between us, which are contained in this charter’. It says that William of Blois, Stephen’s son, has done homage to Henry and recognizes that William will be able to hold the personal lands that Stephen now holds or has held, in England and Normandy, and those gained by his marriage to the Warenne heiress. William is also to have the castle of Norwich, much desired by Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. All the magnates, of either party, will both recognize Stephen as king and Henry as his successor. Certain key castles will be held by named individuals, who guarantee to hand them over to Henry at his accession, namely the Tower of London, Windsor, Oxford, Lincoln, Winchester and Southampton. The leading churchmen would also take an oath to recognize Henry. In the conduct of his government, Stephen promised to take the advice of Henry. He also declared that from now on he would do justice in all parts of the realm, royalist and Angevin. These were the terms on which the civil war came to an end.

The feeling of relief throughout the country was great. Late in 1153 Osbert of Clare, prior of Westminster, wrote to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, congratulating him for his part in making the peace: ‘you have restored order to our distracted country’. He wrote also to Henry of Anjou, calling him ‘the new light … a leader given to us by God … [who] shall found a new Jerusalem’.14


Again, in order to understand the outcome, we must look at the results of the peace for those who had been engaged in the war. The peace mattered to the church, to citizens, to peasants, to traders, but politically it was its effect on the nobles concerned, which most dictated the settlement.

If we review those who lost lands or position, it is a fairly short list. In the remaining year of Stephen’s life, and in the first few years of the new reign, very few great figures actually lost their lands and positions through royal action. This was partly because Henry was not vindictive. Those who submitted to him were usually not hounded. They might be penalized, and some certainly received less than they hoped for, but in most cases the key family lands were retained.

Henry abided by certain principles in the settlement: that there should be a return to the position as under Henry I, and that those who had been unlawfully dispossessed should be repossessed. He also claimed that adulterine, or at least recently built, castles, should be demolished. William of Newburgh rather glibly says they ‘melted away like wax before a flame’, but in practice none of these three principles was pursued consistently or with vigour.15

Many developments which had occurred under Stephen were allowed to remain undisturbed. Few men who had gained from Stephen were dispossessed; few castles of any kind were actually destroyed. Robert of Torigny’s figure of 1,115 castles has been widely quoted as the number destroyed by Henry II, but this has never been substantiated by research. His figure in another manuscript of 126 sounds more probable, and is still a greater number than any which have been shown to have been demolished. Robert of Torigny also gives a figure of 375 castles, a figure erased from one of the manuscripts.16 These widely differing estimates, even by one chronicler, suggest much uncertainty in the minds of contemporaries over this matter. Undoubtedly, some new castles had been built during the anarchy, and often defensible buildings had been employed in emergencies. In some cases, the military purpose no longer existed, and clearly once there was peace, no one would maintain a church as a castle. Equally, castles with only a temporary purpose, such as a counter castle, would be abandoned. In this sense, with study, one might accumulate a number of ‘castles’ which disappeared, but these were not all demolished. Of useful and used castles, very few were actually permanently dismantled.

In a careful and localized study, Emilie Amt showed how few castles were destroyed, for example in Gloucestershire (Angevin) or Oxfordshire (divided). Even in Essex, where a large number of new castles had been built, only a handful were demolished, and those mainly belonged to Geoffrey de Mandeville. Amt has pointed out, that allowing the castles to stand proved a useful form of patronage. As the pendulum of opinion swings on this issue, it has even been suggested recently, that Stephen may have been more successful in demolishing castles than Henry. William of Newburgh suggests the true picture when he remarks that those new castles which were ‘conveniently located’, were to be kept by ‘[Henry] himself or his partisans for the defence of the kingdom’.17

After the initial revolts caused by the royal efforts to recover castles from his own followers, Roger of Hereford (Gloucester and Hereford), Hugh Mortimer (Bridgnorth, Wigmore, and Cleobury –the latter was destroyed), Henry used his discretion and let the matter drop. The truth is that almost no one was a loser, at least in any comprehensive way.

Few leading royalists of the civil war lost everything in the new reign. Some even recovered their positions. Stephen kept the throne, and his son, William of Blois, retained all the family lands, and even the broad estates gained from his marriage to the Warenne heiress. He became the wealthiest magnate in England. Henry seems to have treated him with caution at first, holding fire over remitting his Danegeld payments.18 Henry demanded that he hand over a number of castles, and backed down on his generosity of 1153. But William remained loyal to Henry II, and was knighted by him in 1158. William of Blois was to die in 1159 on the return journey from Henry II’s Toulouse expedition, on which he had fought for the king. William, as a younger son, had not expected the throne while his brother Eustace lived, and so far as we know made no effort to gain it thereafter. The settlement excluded him from the throne, but he was much better off after 1153 than he had been before. We have no evidence that he ever expressed any regret over the agreement. It may be that not everyone wishes to be a king.

It is not always easy to categorize magnates as being ‘royalist’ or ‘Angevin’. Many had changed sides during the course of the war, others had not seemed to have a very strong attachment to either side. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile attempting to make some distinction between the lords on either side, and how they fared in the peace that was now made. The main question in our minds must be whether the royalists were greatly penalized as a result of their commitment.

Let us first consider a group of royalists, who stayed with the king at least until 1153. William of Blois may well be considered as a member of this group. One consistent supporter of Stephen had been Simon de Senlis, made Earl of Northampton by the king. Like many of the main contestants, he died before the end of the reign, in 1153. But we should include such men, by considering whether or not their allegiance affected the inheritance of their heirs. Simon was seen at the time as Henry’s most determined enemy, along with Eustace. Yet his son was not a loser, since Henry split the old earldom of Huntingdon and gave him part of it with the title Earl of Northampton. This was not a loss, since although Simon had maintained a claim to the earldom of Huntingdon, Stephen had given that earldom to the son of the King of Scots. Henry II maintained that situation.

William of Aumale had been made Earl of York by Stephen in 1138. He did not relish Henry II’s policy of taking back royal castles into his own hands, and rebelled at the beginning of the new reign. William was forced to submit and had to give up Scarborough. But this should be seen as a punishment for his rebellion after the new rule had begun, not as punishment for his previous allegiance. Henry II’s policy with regard to royal castles was applied just as rigorously to pro-Angevin magnates, and it must be said, with similar results.

Alan of Penthièvre (Alan II, the Black) had been a consistent supporter of Stephen, becoming Earl of Richmond, and dying in 1146. He had also been made Earl of Cornwall by Stephen, in opposition to the Angevin Earl Reginald, but had not been able to win the conflict. Alan’s son, Conan, did not of course get the earldom of Cornwall, but he was recognized by Henry as Earl of Richmond, the only position which his father had held in practice. Henry’s toleration towards his former opponents did not in this case pay off. When Conan pursued his claims in Brittany, he took over the county of Nantes in defiance of Henry, and as Duke of Brittany (1156–70) acted largely in opposition to the king.

William Peverel of Nottingham, the father-in-law of the Earl of Derby, had been a supporter of Stephen, and was an enemy of Ranulf, Earl of Chester. Indeed, he was one of the few barons forced out of England after the change of dynasty, but again, not as a result of his activities in the war, but because he was accused of poisoning or trying to poison (accounts vary) Ranulf of Chester. The exile seems to have been his own choice in the first place, and was not in any case the consequence of any action of Henry II because of William’s allegiance in the civil war.

William de Chesney was a lesser lord, but an interesting example for our purposes, being one of Stephen’s favoured followers. Gilbert Foliot was his nephew, and holding a different political persuasion, Bishop Gilbert tried to encourage William to good works, warning his uncle that when he died he would have to leave his castles behind him, but that his sins would follow him to heaven.19 It is not clear that the bishop’s exhortations had any effect. In the last year of the reign, anticipating losses for William from the settlement, Stephen compensated him with new grants.20 He did not lose those lands in the new reign, nor was his castle at Deddington demolished. In fact he received grants from Henry II and Danegeld exemptions, even for Deddington, after a delay, in 1157. William’s niece and heiress was married to a royal chamberlain, Henry fitz Gerold, which might be taken as a sign of favour to her, as well as to the chamberlain.21 Other Stephen supporters were generally treated well. Hugh de Lacy, for example, had Pontefract restored to him. Henry dealt with the disputes and problems empirically. He had made some general declarations about his policy, but none of them were adhered to strictly. The policy, never declared, which seems to have been most consistently followed, was to leave things as they were in 1153, whenever possible.

Henry of Essex is an interesting example of a lord below the very top rank. He was a significant figure in the county for Stephen, holding the castle of Rayleigh, which he himself had rebuilt, but if anything, Henry of Essex bettered himself under the new king, becoming sheriff of Hertfordshire, and later of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. Even in Essex, which had been a mainly royalist county, no major landholders were disinherited. Henry of Essex even became royal standard bearer, but apparently fulfilled his duty poorly during the first of Henry’s Welsh wars. In a minor battle in Wales in 1157, when there was a rumour that the king had been killed, Henry of Essex is said to have thrown away the standard and fled, leaving the Welsh to believe that the English were cowards.22Even then Henry II took no action against him, and Henry of Essex was taken with the king on the Toulouse campaign. It was only a private accusation over his actions in Wales, made by Robert de Montfort in 1163, leading to a judicial duel between them, which made public Henry’s alleged cowardice. Henry of Essex was defeated in the duel, which was equivalent to a verdict of being guilty of cowardice, and he was left for dead on the jousting field. His lands and his castle at Rayleigh were declared forfeit, though the castle was not demolished. The monks of Reading Abbey picked up the wounded man, and saved his life. He lost his lands and retired into the abbey as a monk. Henry of Essex ended as a loser, but not because of his support of Stephen, or even through any action of Henry II.

William of Ypres was one of the few losers by the settlement. His had been a torrid career. He was an illegitimate descendant of the Counts of Flanders, and during the political crisis in that county, which saw the fall of one dynasty and the rise of another, he had twice sought to win Flanders for himself, and twice failed. He had then gone into exile and become a mercenary captain in the employ of King Stephen, soon recognized as his main military lieutenant. William of Ypres received rich rewards, including estates in England; virtually the whole of Kent. He was Earl of Kent in all but name.

William of Ypres was the scapegoat of Henry II’s promises; a mercenary, a Fleming, the military commander in chief under the king throughout the Matildine war, a dedicated opponent. But he was also, by 1154, something of a back number, not having been active for some time. William had been seriously ill, and by the end of the reign had for some time been blind. He had not been a witness in charters for Stephen since 1148, and had played no part in the Henrician phase of the war. Rough treatment by the new king against the now enfeebled and largely friendless William of Ypres was not likely to have any serious repercussions.

Henry could afford to be tough, and had no mercy on William, confiscating his lands. Even then, Henry did not press for immediate possession – the lands in Kent were not repossessed for two years. William had never been made earl, so there was no title to lose. In fact we are not clear about the details of his removal from England, which might even have been voluntary, with the death of his long-time master, Stephen. In any event, William of Ypres left England to go to Loo, that is to return to retirement in the castle of Loo in Flanders. There he gave alms to the poor, restored churches, and made pious foundations before his death, which was probably in 1162.23

Faramus of Boulogne is an interesting counter to the tale of William of Ypres, if we assume the latter lost out under Henry because he had been a foreign mercenary loyal to Stephen. William was a loser and a scapegoat, but Faramus was in a similar position, a continental mercenary who had been very valuable to Stephen, particularly militarily. He was descended from an illegitimate line of the comital family of Boulogne, and was probably closely attached to Stephen’s queen. He had been castellan for Stephen of the key castle at Dover. The difference was that in 1153 he was still active, and serving William of Blois. The new king treated Faramus much more cautiously than he had William of Ypres. Henry took over Dover Castle for himself, but early in his reign granted lands to Faramus in compensation, including estates to the value of £60 in Buckinghamshire. Faramus held these lands to his death in about 1183, when they passed to his heir. So, apart from William of Ypres, even Stephen’s foreign mercenaries did not all lose in the new set-up.

An understanding of Henry’s attitude to those who had been engaged against him and his mother in the civil war, may be found by examining his actions over royal demesne lands. Although Henry was generally prepared to let all and sundry keep their family lands, and rarely disinherited anyone completely, he was less generous with former demesne lands. It was certainly a sign of favour that men such as Richard de Lucy and Richard de Camville were permitted to keep such lands.

Whenever opportunity offered, Henry recovered former demesne, for example from royalists like William of Blois and William of Ypres. But it was not a purely anti-royalist policy, since Angevin supporters such as Earls Patrick of Salisbury and Roger of Hereford were also subject to demands of the same kind. To demonstrate the impartiality of this policy, it should be noted that some former royalists benefited from the few grants from demesne that were made, including Faramus of Boulogne. The overall policy of Henry II was one of recovering royal demesne rather than of punishing former enemies. Incidentally, he followed the same policy in Normandy, by reclaiming ducal demesne.24

Lower down the ranks there were some changes, but certainly at first Henry ‘made shift with such sheriffs as were already in place’.25 There was a purge of sheriffs in 1155, but those then introduced were often men with experience from the previous reign. The replacement sheriff in Essex, even in 1157, was still Maurice de Tilty, who had been a sheriff under Stephen. Ralph Picot had been Stephen’s sheriff for Kent, and took over for Henry there in 1154, and also in Sussex in 1157. Very few of the early sheriffs for Henry II were new men. Most of Henry’s early sheriffs were either inherited from Stephen, or had experience of administration under that king. Richard de Camville had been a Stephen supporter, but was used by Henry as sheriff of Berkshire in 1156 and 1157. He kept his own holdings, kept his castle at Middleton Stoney – which passed on to his son – and received exemptions from Danegeld and taxation.

Not surprisingly, in administration, Henry introduced some of his own servants. Some of Stephen’s men were dropped, including William Martel as chief steward and Baldric de Sigillo as keeper of the seal, though William continued till 1155 as sheriff of Surrey, which suggests that Henry was seeking a loyal man in the administrative office, rather than intending to punish a royalist.26 Only one of Stephen’s scribes has been identified as continuing under Henry (perhaps incorrectly), but then by the end of the reign there were few operating anyway. And in practice, Henry did make heavy use of men with experience of administration under Stephen, including most notably, Richard de Lucy.

The above examination of royalist magnates, and leading figures, does not suggest that many suffered in the change of 1154. With very few exceptions they had kept their family lands. Those few who suffered serious losses nearly all did so for reasons other than their wartime allegiance. Let us now consider a group of less committed men, those who had stood apart or changed over to the Angevin side late in the war. How were they treated by Henry II?

Geoffrey II de Mandeville had hardly been a fervent Angevin. It was Stephen who had allowed him to recover the family’s fortunes and improve upon them. He had gone over to Matilda only briefly, during the period when it was prudent to do so, with Stephen in prison. He had been brought down by his own king, Stephen, perhaps for reasons other than those which divided England, and had never really fought for the Angevin cause. In fact, the Mandeville family recovered much under Henry II. His son Ernulf is now known to have been illegitimate, and so was not disinherited as used to be thought.27 The legitimate sons, Geoffrey III and William II, in turn succeeded as Earls of Essex, the latter later becoming a royal justiciar.

Aubrey II de Vere was a lesser magnate with lands in Essex. He had died in 1141. His son, Aubrey III, had become an earl through defecting to Matilda in 1141, but had returned to Stephen’s court and had never been very active in the civil war. He paid Henry to take up his father’s office, and seems to have continued in virtually the same position.

Richard de Lucy was a long-time supporter of Stephen who only deserted to Henry in the last year of the reign. Like Robert of Leicester, he received his rewards at the time of desertion. Henry was more generous during the uncertain times of 1153, when he needed to win over men to his cause, than he ever was after he became king. Richard’s rise had depended on Stephen’s favour, and on his usefulness as an administrator. He became equally useful to Henry, and was quickly trusted, holding the Tower and Windsor to guarantee their passing to Henry on the accession. He shared the leading role under the king in the new regime, along with Robert of Leicester. Richard was also made sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire and farmed several royal manors.

Another family with a mixed history of allegiance during the war, was that of the Beaumonts. Waleran of Meulan is difficult to categorize; he had early been an enthusiastic pro-Stephen lord, and at the end of the reign had deserted his new friends, the Angevins, for the King of France. The hesitancy and illness of Louis VII undermined the attack on Normandy, and Waleran lost his grip in Normandy. In 1153 he was captured by his nephew, Robert de Montfort, and from then on his former authority was gone. Waleran was at any rate a loser in Normandy, and in England his earldom of Worcester was retained by the crown. But thanks to the timely desertion to Henry of his twin brother, Robert of Leicester by 1153, the family fortunes did not suffer drastically. Waleran was pardoned for his activities against Henry in Normandy when in alliance with France by 1162, and lived quietly until his death in 1166, becoming at the last a monk at Préaux.

His brother Robert, Earl of Leicester, became a figure of great importance during the early years of the new reign, apparently trusted and given high office, no doubt partly in recognition of his abilities, but also perhaps as a reassurance that there was some continuity, and that the new ruler would not destroy all that had been of value in the old regime. It has also been suggested recently that Robert of Leicester, along with William of Albini, had been the chief lay figures responsible for making the 1153 peace.28Henry II showed that he would be more generous to new recruits to his side than Stephen had been. Robert was to act as justiciar for the new king until his death in 1168, when he became an Augustinian.

What was the consequence of the peace for the committed Angevin supporters? One might expect them to make considerable gains. But unless Henry was to confiscate vast estates from his former opponents, there would not be a great deal to grant out, especially by a king who was very careful about letting go royal demesne land. In the event, not all the pro-Angevins of the war period gained enormously from its outcome.

Of the leading figures during the Matildine war, many had died before the new reign, including of course Robert, Earl of Gloucester, in 1147, but also Miles, Earl of Hereford, in 1143, and Brian fitz Count in about 1151, and Roger, Earl of Warwick, in 1153, Baldwin de Redvers (1155) and Gilbert de Gant (1156) early in the new reign.29 Ranulf of Chester saved Henry much anxiety by dying in December of 1153, allowing him to think again about the over-generous grants made to win his support. The roll call of deaths eased Henry II’s problems very considerably. He had made some very extravagant promises in 1153, which thanks to the number of deaths of expected beneficiaries, did not have to be kept in 1154. The heirs of these newly deceased Angevins did not receive the larger grants promised in 1153. The Angevin supporters often had more cause for disappointment or resentment over the settlement than their royalist counterparts.

Robert of Gloucester had been the prime supporter of Matilda, ‘the chief of the king’s enemies’.30 His younger son, Philip, had deserted to Stephen late in the war, ‘in rather mysterious circumstances’, making a pact of peace and concord with the king, which muddies a little the picture of allegiance.31 But the elder son and heir, William of Gloucester, had remained with the Angevins, and inherited the earldom of Gloucester.32 He also married the daughter of Robert of Leicester, one of those marital connections which greatly helped to heal old wounds and restore a more harmonious feeling among the Henrician aristocracy. Earl William’s daughter married Richard of Clare, Earl of Hertford, and thus into another previous royalist family. Two recently discovered charters show Henry granting favours to William and also to his son, Robert, in 1153 and 1154. It may be that Henry, in his early years as king, showed some ‘reservations’ over Earl William of Gloucester, delaying the pardons over tax and Danegeld which he might have expected, but William kept the earldom.33 The king’s reservations may have arisen from the activities of William’s brother, Richard, who had rebelled against Henry in Normandy in 1154.

David, King of Scots, had been the most consistent of all the Angevin supporters, of both Matilda and Henry. It was King David who had been by Matilda’s side at Winchester, who had knighted Henry and helped to keep the Angevin cause alive during its period of greatest weakness. Both David and his son might be seen as English magnates through their holdings in the north and in Huntingdon, though the northern territories were treated as Scottish. Like Ranulf, David had been generously rewarded by Henry while still duke. Like Ranulf, he also died conveniently before the promises had to be fulfilled.


David died on 24 May 1153. His son, Henry of Scots, had already died in 1152, and therefore David’s grandson succeeded as Malcolm IV (The Maiden). He was only eleven years old, and Henry had little compunction in reneging on these promises too. The old earldom of Huntingdon was broken in two, though Malcolm did retain the title. The other half went to the son of Simon de Senlis. Malcolm proved no match for Henry II. His nickname seems to have derived from his mother’s unsuccessful efforts to make him a man. She sent a nubile maiden to his room, but rather than bed her, Malcolm chose to spend the night sleeping alone on the floor. Whatever the truth of this story, he was forced to acquiesce in the loss of much that his grandfather had gained in the north of England. Later, this led to a return to the traditional attitude of hostility between the Scottish and English kings, and the invasion of England by William the Lion. William was then defeated in 1174 and the Scottish losses confirmed. Allegiance to the Angevin cause during the civil war of Stephen’s reign had not brought much gain to the Scots.

Miles of Gloucester had become Earl of Hereford, and his son Roger inherited the earldom. Roger may be seen largely as pro-Angevin, but was less devoted to the cause than his father had been. Roger’s allegiance had been in doubt in 1152, when he made approaches to Stephen ‘to enter upon a pact of inviolable peace and friendship’ in order to recover Worcester, but he had earlier accompanied Henry for his knighting, and became perhaps his main supporter in 1153–4.34 Roger rebelled against Henry II, when Henry went back on his early promises and demanded the handing over of Gloucester and Hereford Castles. Roger rebelled but was persuaded to submit by his relative, Gilbert Foliot. He was reconciled to the king, but could never become one of his most trusted men, and on his death the earldom was not continued.

The reduction of earldoms, like the recovery of royal castles, was not aimed against previous supporters of Stephen; it was pursued where chance allowed against friend and foe alike. When Earl Roger himself died in 1155, Henry took the opportunity of taking back the acquisitions, and did not renew the earldom for his heir, Walter.35

The last of the trio of original Angevin supporters of 1139, Brian fitz Count, had died during Stephen’s reign, probably in 1151. He had died without heir, and the fate of his honor of Wallingford is not entirely clear, but it seems to have been taken into the hands of Henry II. Another of the early Angevin partisans, Reginald, Earl of Cornwall, was Henry II’s uncle. He was trusted with protecting Henry’s interests during the vital period between the making of the peace and his nephew’s accession. Thereafter, he was a trusted man at the centre of affairs; his earldom of Cornwall was even excused the normal payments to the exchequer right up until his death in 1175.36

Ranulf, Earl of Chester, had spent more time in the later years of the reign as an opponent than a friend of the king.37 Stephen’s arrest and seizure of his castles had forced him back into the Angevin camp, whereupon he became ‘the enduring enemy of the king’.38 Ranulf had even swallowed his pride over Carlisle in order to make his peace with Henry, probably with little option, and yielded his rights in it to the Scots, receiving the honor of Lancaster with Lancashire north of the Ribble, in exchange. But in the words of Gervase of Canterbury: ‘he did little for the duke unless it fitted in with his own designs’. After 1146, the Angevins can have placed little trust in Ranulf, but he was useful during 1153. He died at the end of that year, on 16 December.39 No one was allowed to inherit his vast power. His son, Hugh, retained the lands held in 1135 and the earldom, but again the larger promises of 1153 were revoked.

Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, had been a constant trouble to Stephen, and was not all that easy an ally for Henry. Matilda had given him his earldom, which included Suffolk. At several points in the later part of Stephen’s reign he had provided welcome relief for the Angevins by his troublemaking in East Anglia. Stephen’s very last military success was to wrest Ipswich from Bigod after the truce at Wallingford had ended. In 1155 Henry had issued a charter confirming Hugh’s earldom and his possessions, but William of Blois kept Norwich, the natural caput for an earldom of Norfolk. Henry demanded castles from him, and Bigod remained a discontented and difficult magnate until his death at the ripe age of eighty-three in 1177. Like many other pro-Angevins, he had not gained a great deal by the change, and had lost one of his major strongholds.

Some other Angevin supporters were also to be disillusioned. Not all would get what they hoped. In Essex, a largely royalist county, William de Helion had sacrificed the family possessions in order to support Matilda, going with her to Normandy, and accompanying Henry from 1151, but he gained nothing at all in England, and died a disappointed man in 1156.40

However, many lesser Angevin supporters either retained what they had recently gained, or made some gains from the new king. One example was the family of Eustace fitz John, who had gone over to Matilda in 1138. He had been associated with Ranulf, and had made considerable territorial gains after 1141. His son did homage to Henry, and the gains were confirmed.41 Henry insisted on the need to confirm all gains made during the previous reign, but he did not reverse many of them. Emilie Amt’s recent study of three regions in detail, shows that changes were generally few, whether the area be royalist or Angevin. She concluded that below the level of the magnates, holdings remained stable: ‘the tempus werre had left the tenurial geography essentially unchanged’.42

R.H.C. Davis has written: ‘one of the most puzzling features of Stephen’s reign is the way in which it came to an end’. The main question is why did Stephen give up so much in the 1153 settlement? The answer is not because he had been militarily defeated. He had won the war against Matilda, or at least had come out of it stronger than she did. He was not defeated by Henry, and in terms of military force and land in England, was always stronger than Henry. What then is the explanation of his apparently feeble acceptance of defeat in the peace?

Why did he agree to his descendants losing the English throne? Of course, he might not have believed this would happen. No one knew in 1153 how long Stephen would live or what events might intervene to change affairs. It might have been Henry who died; indeed he became seriously ill in 1154. Everyone knew that Henry had serious problems on the continent: hostility from France, a potential difficulty with his brother, Geoffrey, a lack of experience in England where many great men had still remained loyal to Stephen.43 The acquisition of all the lands which we know as the Angevin Empire was by no means inevitable.

But if we accept that Stephen was prepared to see through the agreement, is there an explanation for his acceptance of it? There are in fact many explanations, and history shows that is the way of the world. There were many pressures upon the king, and upon his nobles. Stephen had suffered personal tragedy, and no one can be completely unaffected by such things. He was ageing – fifty-seven in 1153 – his wife, Queen Matilda, had died on 3 May 1152, his eldest son and intended heir, Eustace, had died on 17 August 1153, when Stephen ‘grieved beyond measure’.44 Stephen himself had been wounded towards the end of the war, and had been ill on more than one occasion; he also had to endure the aggravation of piles. His surviving son, William, suffered a serious accident when riding his horse too fast, ‘as young people do’, and had broken his leg at the thigh, news of which had badly upset his father.45 Such events may have pushed Stephen towards despair.

Perhaps he reflected upon the constant barrage of criticism about how he had gained the throne, by breaking a solemn oath, an act condemned by many churchmen. Perhaps Stephen pondered upon this and his misfortunes, as old age crept upon him and death approached. One sometimes questions the significance of the religious element in decisions, but oaths and beliefs did matter in the twelfth century. One only needs to consider the number of magnates, however worldly their careers, who chose to end their days in religion: Robert of Leicester as an Augustinian, his brother Waleran as a monk at Préaux, Henry of Essex as a Benedictine at Reading. The monasteries were truly the last refuges of every rogue of the day. It may seem to us an unworthy kind of Christianity, even a form of superstition, which allowed a life of bloodshed and political trickery, so long as the last moments were spent after penance under the protection of a monastic life, but it does demonstrate that such men believed in the afterlife and thought that such practices mattered. The family deaths and constant misfortunes were seen by others as judgments of God upon the king, perhaps even by the monarch himself. Henry’s constant claim to be the lawful heir might have had some effect upon Stephen; it certainly seems to have persuaded the chroniclers.

The church had become quite uncooperative with Stephen over recent years; there had been a number of difficult disputes over elections to positions in England. When Stephen sought for the recognition of Eustace’s rights as his heir, the church had refused the sort of confirmation which it had agreed to for other rulers in the past. This was partly misfortune. Briefly there was greater papal cooperation, but the early death of the more amenable Lucius II in 1145, was followed by the election of the Cistercian Eugenius III, and a hardening of attitude towards Stephen. The matter of Stephen’s oath-breaking in order to gain the throne was raised again. Certainly chroniclers often saw such deaths as that of Eustace as a judgment of God. But for all the pressures, Stephen had clearly wanted his son Eustace to succeed him, and briefly, in fury, imprisoned all the bishops concerned in the refusal to associate him in the kingship in 1152, confiscating their possessions.

One point which seems to have been neglected is the attitude of Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois. Henry has generally been seen as tougher and shrewder than his brother. Davis says he ‘had the qualities his brother lacked’, and was ‘the real grandson of the Conqueror’. Henry, however, had been largely responsible for one of the oddest decisions Stephen ever made: to escort Matilda in safety from Arundel to the west country in 1139, and thus lose an excellent chance of nipping the civil war in the bud. The bishop’s actions during the war speak more of self interest than loyalty. He had condemned Stephen’s arrest of the bishops in 1139 at a church council, and had joined the empress’ side when his brother was in prison.

Now in 1153, Bishop Henry was largely responsible, with Theobald of Canterbury, for the peace negotiations, and hence for the settlement, and has been credited with it. But he was Stephen’s brother, and so he too was accepting the loss of the English crown to his family, and was more enthusiastic than Stephen for the peace, by all accounts. Henry of Huntingdon says that it was the bishop who suggested the terms. The Gesta Stephani says that Stephen ‘yielded to the advice of the Bishop of Winchester’. The Hexham chronicler even says that Henry ‘exerted himself to promote the interests of Duke Henry’.46 There is no certain answer as to why both Stephen and Henry were prepared to give up the succession, though Henry of Huntingdon says that Henry repented of helping Stephen to get the crown in the first place.47

The position of the house of Blois in France would seem to be relevant. In addition to the personal losses of Stephen, already mentioned, one might add that his older brother, Theobald IV, Count of Blois and Champagne, had died in 1152. On his death Blois and Champagne were separated in the hands of two of his sons: Theobald V and Henry the Liberal. These two brothers made spectacular matches to two sisters, Mary and Alice, none other than the daughters of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor, therefore, became their mother-in-law, and she was now the wife of Henry of Anjou. The need for the house of Blois to have a personal representative on the English throne was rather less than it once had been. Indeed, to support the candidature of the unenthusiastic William of Blois, would obviously have antagonized Eleanor and Henry. There was at least some reason for the house of Blois to accept what almost everyone now seemed to desire – the succession of Henry II to the throne of England. Henry himself was eager at the time to have the acceptance of his succession by the French crown, and that seemed to require the acceptance by the house of Blois and its four powerful brothers: Theobald V, Henry the Liberal, William, Archbishop of Reims, and Stephen, Count of Sancerre. The sister of these brothers, Adela, became Louis VII’s new queen, and indeed the mother of his only son, Philip Augustus. Compromise was on the cards, not war and battle. The Bishop of Winchester gained little by his part in the peacemaking, at any rate immediately. He chose to go into exile, back to his old abbey at Cluny, but without the king’s permission, giving Henry the opportunity to demolish some of his castles. A reconciliation was eventually made.

Yet for all the personal reasons and all the pressures, Stephen had continued to show signs of resistance up till the last moment; he had made Eustace, Count of Boulogne in 1147, had attempted to get him associated in the kingship in 1152, and clearly, therefore, wanted his son to succeed him. Stephen had attacked and taken Ipswich after the peace negotiations at Wallingford in 1153. Even after Winchester, he could annoy Henry by apparently treating the recently built castles in a partisan fashion. And during his last year, Stephen exercised his new authority with energy, dealing promptly with trouble at Drax. He was not acting like a man ready to give up his own, or his family’s, claims.

One of the most notable developments was in the standing of Henry of Anjou. Within three years, he had moved from being simply a youth with no wealth and some expectations, to being a man of wealth and power. He had been associated in the government of Normandy by his father, Geoffrey. On his father’s death in 1151, Henry had taken over not only the duchy of Normandy, but also his father’s other possessions in greater Anjou – giving him a solid block of territory in north-western France. Then, when Eleanor of Aquitaine had been divorced by Louis VII in 1152, ‘a dislike having sprung up between them’, she had turned to Henry – perhaps by prior agreement, ‘either suddenly or deliberately’, according to Robert of Torigny.48 They married, and through her, he laid claim to Aquitaine. Virtually all of western France had dropped into his hands. Nor had this happened simply by accident. Henry had been forced to struggle and fight for his rights. He had shown himself to have courage and good sense. Men now knew that he was a person of weight, a ruler to be reckoned with. He also showed a streak of adventure and opportunism; he was ambitious.

Among those who watched these developments were the barons of England. What were their thoughts? Suppose now they were to fight against Henry. They knew that he might become King of England. They would, therefore, be risking their own futures. And no one in this period lightly wanted to take the field against their own ruler.49 It was not only Stephen who avoided a fight. Henry himself on several occasions showed that he respected authority and allegiance. He insisted that his overlord, the King of France, should have the superior accommodation in 1158; he refused to fight against the King of France in Toulouse, and he was violently angry when his own rights were ignored and his son’s supporters tried to kill him. Even if Stephen was a usurper, he was, nevertheless, the anointed king. Beyond that Henry could not be sure of any military outcome. King Stephen had the greater resources, the greater territorial area from which to draw feudal forces, the greater access to mercenary forces, and the greater support from urban militias – including that from London.

Henry had been able to raise only a tiny force from the continent for his expeditions, even in 1153, hardly big enough to talk in terms of invasion. It is true that some of Stephen’s men, even some of his greatest and most trusted, had deserted to Henry, which certainly helped to alter the balance. But in 1153 no really major magnate had left the fold, except perhaps Robert, Earl of Leicester, who had probably in fact already changed his allegiance. Henry could not be sure of victory. There were many pressures towards making a settlement rather than fighting it out. Henry also had to worry about his French territories, where his marriage to Eleanor on 18 May 1152 had for once roused Louis VII to anger. Henry had left Normandy in a state of some tension. Robert of Torigny reported that many there ‘thought that Duke Henry would rapidly lose all of his possessions’.50

The general feeling of economic malaise in the 1150s could not have helped. Writing of 1150, Robert of Torigny spoke of four hard winters in a row, and of famine and pestilence. Even the grape harvest failed in 1151, and according to Robert, the French were reduced to consuming a beverage other than wine: ‘even in France, there sprang up taverns for the sale of beer and mead’. The Walden Chronicle speaks of ‘days of grief and want’ in England. There were several bad harvests, droughts, floods, and famine, as well as the results of the ‘devastation of almost the whole of the country’ by war.51 There had also been a Norse invasion by Eystein Haraldson in 1151, which Stephen had beaten off, but which had done damage to Whitby and elsewhere. In 1153 the Gesta Stephani speaks of a hard winter which had brought ‘severe famine’. The high figures for waste in the early years of Henry II’s reign, though surely made more acute by it, need not all have been caused by war. Henry of Huntingdon described the misery, in verse:

  Gaunt famine following wars, wastes away

  Whom murder spares, with slow decay.

Accepting the return to the view that waste generally meant what it said, then the high figures for certain areas such as the midlands and Yorkshire may speak of economic difficulties in the early part of Henry II’s reign, as well as destruction by war.52

Much recent work has also been done on the agreements made between magnates in England during the later years of Stephen’s reign; the concords or private treaties. These show that the magnates of England were prepared to make peace, desirous of keeping stability in their own territories. The details of what they agreed in the concords say a good deal about their attitude to war. William of Newburgh wrote that the struggle subsided as they ‘wearied of lengthy conflict and their efforts slackened’.53 The magnates were, it might be said, already practised in arranging their own peace-keeping. An overall national peace would be well in line with such desires. The concords which had been made, also meant that those we see as opponents in the civil war, had in fact already been learning to live with each other.

The chronicles suggest that it was not so much the two commanders, as their troops, who insisted on peace rather than battle. The concords became almost commonplace, both between allies and between enemies, between laymen and between laymen and ecclesiastics. An early example was that between Robert of Gloucester and Miles of Hereford, perhaps in 1142: a confederatio amoris; they agreed not to do separate deals with their enemies, and Miles put his son in Robert’s care as a hostage.54 Their sons, William of Gloucester and Roger of Hereford, made a similar agreement in about 1149.

Such agreements were also made by other lords, for example, between Ranulf of Chester and Robert of Leicester, as a ‘final peace and concord’.55 Ranulf granted the castle of Mountsorrel to his fellow magnate. The two earls promised not to use more than twenty knights against each other if forced into hostilities through their respective liege lords. They made detailed arrangements to restrict hostility between each other, should they become embroiled in struggles through allies. They promised not to erect new castles in sensitive areas which lay between their respective territories. They pledged themselves to keep the agreement to the Bishop of Lincoln, giving him and the Bishop of Chester, the power to put right any breach of the concord.

There were treaties also between the earls of Derby and Chester, Chester and Leicester, Leicester and Northampton, Leicester and Hereford, Gloucester and Hereford, and others, making what Davis called the ‘Magnates’ Peace’.56 This method of assuring peace did not end with Winchester, and there are examples of similar agreements in the early part of Henry’s reign, for example between Reginald of Cornwall and Richard de Lucy.

Not many great lords went over to Henry in the key period at the end of the reign, but those who did were important and influential, including Robert of Leicester and Richard de Lucy. It must have undermined support for Stephen. One significant factor was the knowledge that unless one went over to Henry, family lands in Normandy would be lost, now that Henry’s grip on the duchy seemed firm.

It must also be said that if Stephen was never able to crush his opponents completely, then neither was Henry an out and out victor in the peace. He too had to compromise; he suffered losses. He had submitted to the King of France as predecessors never had, going to Paris to give homage, promising vital lands in the Vexin to France. To gain the support of English magnates he had made promises which would have been very hard to keep had most of them not conveniently died before the bets were called in. It was his good fortune that some of the greatest beneficiaries from his generosity died and so released him from his potentially most damaging promises. Henry had also recognized Stephen as the properly anointed king, and agreed to his rule for life, and this too was a gamble which paid off, but which could have turned out otherwise. In fact, in October 1154, some doubts must have arisen in people’s minds when Henry fell ill of a ‘dangerous sickness’, only shortly before the death of Stephen.57

It was indeed what has been called ‘a precarious peace’.58 For a year, Henry was in a dubious position. Given Stephen’s previous record over promises, Henry could have had few moments of certainty that all would be his, that given half a chance Stephen would not renege on the Treaty of Winchester. At Dunstable in 1154, Henry had already complained about Stephen’s failure to implement the agreement on castles, and then, when Stephen showed himself less than pleased about the complaint, had to drop the matter for fear ‘lest it should disturb their concord’.

Already it seemed that the Count of Flanders was involved in some conspiracy with Stephen against Henry.59 The chronicler says that some sought to sew seeds of discord between king and duke while the latter was out of the country, ‘and some thought he was already yielding to them’. Meanwhile, Stephen was taking full advantage of the peace to recover his position; he ‘enjoyed very powerful royal authority’; he ‘had taken the whole kingdom into his hand’.60 In March 1154 Henry returned to Normandy, but could hardly have been easy in his mind about the future in England.

On 25 October 1154, Stephen died. He was buried at his own foundation, Faversham Abbey, alongside his wife, Matilda, and his son, Eustace. It was again fortunate for Henry that the death came so soon after the agreement of 1153. The actions of the king since the agreement do not suggest that he was tired of ruling. He had demolished castles, perhaps too many Angevin ones, rather than too few royal ones, for Henry’s liking. He organized a recoinage, and ‘enjoyed very powerful royal authority’.61

Because of the short space of time between the Treaty of Winchester and Stephen’s death, the peace arrangements were still dominant in the thoughts of all those who mattered in England. There had been no major development to alter that agreement, and no one who seemed to prefer any other settlement. William of Blois made no attempt to gain the throne. There can be no doubt that in England there was a general desire to escape from war, and says William of Newburgh, ‘the people hoped for better things from the new monarch’.62 Henry did not come to England for some time, largely because the weather prevented him sailing, and he was again fortunate that there was no opposition to his succession. He sailed on 7 December from Barfleur, and was crowned at Westminster on 19 December. His reception, with crowds shouting ‘long live the king’, sounds remarkably like a modern celebration.63

The conclusion must be that events, rather than planning, dominated the final outcome. Stephen had not wished to lose the throne or to disinherit his sons. He had been gradually forced into giving away more than he wished by the pressure of a growing support of Henry, and the hostility to war of the English barons. Personal tragedy and the approach of death no doubt helped him to yield, but it had been with reluctance. Henry had sought the throne, had failed to win it by force, but used the opportunities of negotiation, and the wishes of the barons and the church, to further his own ends.

Henry had not won a war, but he had survived one, and was there for all to contemplate – a young ambitious, energetic man contrasted with the ageing monarch. The prospect was of the Matildine war all over again, unless some settlement could be reached. By backing down from war, Henry no doubt won much gratitude and respect from the barons and the church. In the end it was enough to bring him the throne; it was a gamble which paid off.

The reason the pressure against battle was so great soon became clear. It is now a commonplace to point out that medieval commanders normally tried to avoid battle, largely because of the potentially enormous penalties of defeat. It must be said that medieval lieutenants and subordinates had much the same fears. The barons who had pressured Henry and Stephen into avoiding battle reaped the rewards of their policy. There were very few losers. Most of the great men of Stephen’s reign who survived into the new reign kept their lands and their position. Where those great men had died, their sons normally kept the family lands. Where families did lose, it was usually through natural wastage rather than vindictive royal policy, or as a result of new opposition to the crown which brought its own punishment. Few men could have regretted that Henry’s accession came about peacefully and through a settlement rather than through another military conflict.

The warfare of Stephen’s reign had, in the end, been indecisive. It was not inevitable that the peace settlement turned out as it did. The Treaty of Winchester, and the concomitant individual baronial agreements with Henry, were made for the mutual benefit of practically all. The royalist barons had sought a settlement without fighting in Henry’s favour, and he kept the gentleman’s agreement by not turning his success into a punishment for losers. The civil war of Stephen’s reign had an outcome more in line with that of the commoner conflicts of medieval war, the sieges, than with the usually more drastic outcome of battles. The war was settled by agreement, so that suffering was moderated and both sides had some compensation. The pro-Angevin barons do not seem to have gained much in the way of territories, but they had gained the stability desired by all of their class, and were apparently satisfied that it be so.


As we look back over the years of struggle, we must to some extent share the chroniclers’ regrets at nineteen years which had seen so much damage done to the country. They described famine, burning, death, torture, atrocities. We cannot doubt that these occurred. Henry of Huntingdon thought that the new reign was like dawn coming after ‘a night of misery’.64 Since that age men have read the chronicle accounts and believed that this was one of the worst periods in our history, and they dubbed it ‘The Anarchy’, the only period in our whole history to be given the title. Was it, therefore, worse than any other period, and was it truly a time of anarchy?

The west country writer of the first section of the Gesta Stephani paints a bleak picture of the effects of the war in his region. Everywhere, he wrote, was in a turmoil, and ‘reduced to a desert’. Some chose to go into exile abroad rather than remain. Some built new shacks near the churches so they could flee into them for protection when necessary. Food was short: ‘a terrible famine prevailed all over England.’ Men were forced to eat dogs and horses, or raw herbs and roots. People died in droves from famine; fields and villages were empty, ‘the peasants of both sexes and all ages were dead, fields whitening with a magnificent harvest … but their cultivators taken away through the devastating famine’. Mercenaries pillaged the poor, while lords imposed ‘forced levies and taxes’. Churches were robbed and clerics abused and beaten up or flogged.65

William of Malmesbury, another west country writer, described soldiers disturbing graveyards, presumably when they built castles in churchyards, seizing herds and flocks, bringing devastation to the countryside. Clearly the needs of campaigning armies had a harmful, sometimes disastrous effect upon ordinary folk. William also speaks of tenants and peasants being tortured or ransomed in order to get their wealth.66

During the Scottish invasions, those on the northern border had suffered even worse atrocities, and again we have a band of writers from the region: Ailred of Rievaulx, and the Hexham chroniclers. The Scots were accused of being barbarians, who ‘ripped open pregnant women, [and] tossed children on the points of their spears’.67 Mercenaries in general were viewed in England as wolves who brought nothing but death and destruction, who were merciless to the ordinary population of the land, who often in the course of the wars destroyed crops and homes.

The East Anglian chroniclers, Henry of Huntingdon and the author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, give an equally depressing view of the reign. The Peterborough chronicler describes the oppression perpetrated by those holding castles: they confiscated men’s goods, they destroyed, they captured and tortured:

[they] put them in prison and tortured them with indescribable torture to extort gold and silver… . They were hung by the thumbs or by the head, and chains were hung on their feet. Knotted ropes were put round their heads and twisted till they penetrated to the brains. They put them in prisons where there were adders and snakes and toads, and killed them like that. Some they put in a torture chamber, that is in a chest which was short, narrow and not deep, and they put sharp stones in it and pressed the man in it so that he had all his limbs broken… . [There were chains] fastened to a beam, and they used to put a sharp iron around a man’s throat and neck so that he could not sit or lie or sleep in any direction.68

The writer claimed that thousands were starved to death. He also described the way taxes were levied illicitly upon villages in the form of protection money. There was collection of the arbitrary tax of taille by local lords, and demands for a food and money rent, known as tenserie.69 He spoke of deserted villages, land not tilled. He said that food became expensive because of the shortages: corn, meat, butter and cheese. Many had to turn to begging. ‘There had never been greater misery in the country.’ In a famous passage the anonymous monk wrote: ‘men said openly that Christ and his saints were asleep … we suffered nineteen years for our sins’.

A letter in The Book of Ely also mentions tenserie being collected in that area in 1144, and Gilbert Foliot condemns the ‘tyrannical exactions’ made by William Beauchamp.70 Taille and tenserie also appear at Sherborne, and Miles of Gloucester was excommunicated for his tax collecting. One notes, though, that some of these complaints were against Angevin lords, who no doubt had to improvise in order to maintain some revenues. And one suspects in East Anglia that the causes of complaint were more likely to be Geoffrey de Mandeville and Hugh Bigod, than the king.

We cannot doubt that at times and in some places the situation was truly awful. But we can receive an exaggerated picture if we do not approach our evidence with a certain number of questions. One would expect damage from the nature of twelfth-century war, but how widespread was the war and the damage? It so happens that nearly all the major writers who provide us with our information were based in areas at the centre of the troubles: Peterborough, Malmesbury, the west country, Worcester, the Scottish border. Inevitably they described the damage which they knew about, perhaps even were inspired to write because they were in the middle of such dramatic events.

But elsewhere, many places saw little of the fighting; some counties may have escaped altogether, others saw at the worst, intermittent conflict. H.W.C. Davis wrote that as for Surrey, it enjoyed ‘uninterrupted peace’.71 The amount of waste in several of Stephen’s firmly held counties was very low, only 0.4 per cent in Kent.72 As we have seen, the nature of the war was largely one of royal offensives against Angevin strongholds, so naturally those strongholds were at the centre of the worst damage. It is interesting that the pipe rolls of the reign of Henry II show that the areas where there was most waste, and which might have suffered worst, were not in the west country or East Anglia, but in the midlands. This is not difficult to explain, and may be highly significant. In the first place, much of the very last campaign of the war had been fought in the midlands, by Henry of Anjou, and the pipe rolls no doubt reflect this. It also suggests that damage elsewhere caused by the war, may have been less long lasting than is sometimes assumed, otherwise surely counties like Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire would have been at the top of the list.

There is other evidence that the war may not have been as damaging as some have assumed. We have the baronial concords which make it clear that the magnates were making considerable efforts to restrict fighting within their own territories. We also have some facts and figures about damage done to churches and monasteries. Not only was this less than might be expected, but it was far from being the whole story. A good deal was already provided during Stephen’s reign for repairs, apart from what was given under Henry II, and there was in fact a steady process of new church building and extensions to existing churches through Stephen’s reign.

Ten per cent of the monasteries suffered some harm, though the wealthiest were more likely to suffer, than the humbler houses.73 It has been calculated that of fifty known damaged churches, some 44 per cent were given compensation. Even at Peterborough, the home of the writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, who painted such a damning picture of conditions, the abbey itself seems to have prospered, and a new vineyard was built there. Over a hundred new houses for religious orders were begun. The artistic and architectural achievements of Stephen’s reign are a useful antidote to the belief that all was chaos and destruction.

And what do we really mean by anarchy? The word literally implies that there was no government. The evidence is clear and growing that this was simply not the case under Stephen. There are no exchequer records, no pipe rolls, but then only a single one exists for all the period before Henry II, so it is almost certainly an accident of survival, rather than evidence that none were produced or that no exchequer existed. How did Stephen raise the money to pay his mercenaries?74 And how did the exchequer get going again so quickly in the new reign, when pipe rolls survive from the second year of the reign onwards? The exchequer buildings needed some repair, but only of a minor nature.75 Clearly there was an exchequer operating under Stephen and he was able to draw upon the revenues it produced. He also had a large personal income from his own estates. One notes that when Henry of Anjou could not find the money to pay his own mercenaries, and neither Robert of Gloucester or Matilda seemed able to fund him, it was Stephen who provided the cash.

More positive are the records of a writing office. For the whole Anglo-Norman period the major evidence of governmental activity rests on the surviving charters. These were mainly letters sent by the king with instructions for action to be taken, or to confirm action which had already been undertaken. Stephen lost control of certain areas of England to the Angevins, so there would be little point in him sending charters to such areas. One would, therefore, expect a reduction in the number of charters issued during his reign, against what had gone before. But what is the case? If one divides the number of charters per reign by the number of years in the reign, one finds that more charters survive per annum for Stephen’s rule than for any previous reign.76 Of course, this is partly from a better survival rate, but it is our chief evidence, and it does not speak of a completely inactive or ineffective government. Not only were charters issued, but their form developed and improved during the reign.77

The answer is that not only was there not anarchy, but there was a properly organized and operating government able even to make improvements on the methods of its predecessors. Indeed, some of Henry II’s ‘innovations’ were preceded by methods of Stephen’s, for example in the use of the writ for mort d’ancestor, and in bringing cases from local baronial jurisdiction to royal.78 Stephen had certainly been careful over keeping his own rights and lands, and had alienated less crown land in his region than did Matilda in hers.79 Therefore, one cannot believe there was anarchy in the areas which Stephen firmly ruled.

There is also coinage evidence, which has received much attention in recent times, and which suggests, from the placing of royal mints, that there were areas in which royal government was operating: around London, in the south-east, Canterbury, Bedford, Colchester, Ipswich, Norwich, – and that despite the trouble from Hugh Bigod. Henry II’s much vaunted work on the coinage is now seen as ‘only continuing what Stephen had begun’.80 Some coins once thought to be Angevin products are now less certainly so, and the view of a restricted Angevin territory is confirmed. The same conclusion comes from consideration of the allegiance of the great prelates and the bishops, the great majority of whom remained loyal to Stephen. The same is true if one considers the allegiance of the great towns and ports.

But what of the areas held by his opponents, or by more or less independent magnates like Ranulf of Chester? The Angevin areas were taken almost entirely out of royal control, in particular the country west of say Malmesbury, to the Welsh border. But there was no more anarchy in Angevin areas than in royal areas. The magnates there, especially Robert of Gloucester, treated Matilda as their ruler, themselves took on certain normally royal functions, and maintained a governmental system. They issued charters, they collected revenues, they maintained order, even issued coins. In the north a similar situation prevailed. Once David of Scots’ position had been worked out, after the Standard and Lincoln, David ruled the far north of England as if it were part of his own realm.81

More difficult to assess is the position in the territories of the great magnates who deserted the king but were not firmly attached to the Angevins. The main example of these men must be Ranulf, Earl of Chester. The concords give an insight to the situation here, and again the answer is not anarchy. Ranulf ruled his own lands, and was not a man to be easily crossed within them but he sought to keep them as orderly and peaceful as possible. Hence the numerous agreements with bordering magnates and prelates, restricting the degree of warfare, giving guarantees where royal protection was failing. The number of prelates involved in these concords, demonstrates that the church gave its approval to this method of peace-keeping. One could mention the agreements between Jocelyn, Bishop of Salisbury, with the Earls of Cornwall, Devon and Gloucester, or of the Bishop of Chichester with his local earl. The great magnates involved in the war, whose lands were in danger of suffering, made agreements with their neighbours in order to reduce the risk. They were intent on keeping order within their own territories. And, as the concords show, and their role in making the 1153 peace, they preferred peace to war, order to anarchy.

The answer to the question of what system of government, if any, prevailed in England during the civil war, has been given by a number of historians in recent times, none of whom any longer care to use the word ‘anarchy’ loosely. Dr Chibnall, for example, has written: ‘if the situation is to be described as anarchy, it is a modified anarchy; a type of regionalism more characteristic of France at a slightly earlier date.’82 The conclusion of H.W.C. Davis retains much validity; the anarchy for him was ‘organised government which broke down for short periods in particular places’.83 We cannot escape from the popular historical label of ‘The Anarchy’ for the period, but we are becoming clearer all the time that it was not truly a period without government or one of utter chaos. It was a period when the area in the grip of central government was reduced, but what remained were a number of more or less separate governments: English royal, Scottish royal, Angevin, and magnate. It was not an ideal situation, but then neither is civil war. In a condition of civil war, it is impossible for one government to rule a whole country, as in the seventeenth-century English Civil War, or in the American Civil War; separate governments emerge for each participating power in the struggle. The wars of Stephen, Matilda, and Henry, were on a par with these struggles in regard to the form of government which was forced upon the country: divided but not neglected, and certainly not non-existent. There was no anarchy in The Anarchy.


It may be true that anarchy did not take over, but there was certainly much disturbance and disruption of the normal state of affairs. Government, the economy, the rural and urban populations, the church, all suffered to some degree. The recorded waste in the pipe rolls of Henry II, however interpreted, leaves a clear impression of a damaged nation and economy.

But the damage was temporary. Henry II benefited from the fear of war which the civil war had engendered. He did face one major rebellion in 1173–4, led by his sons and encouraged by his wife, but the fear of new civil wars was a major contributory factor in giving him victory. He was able to restore law and order in England and elsewhere, and is indeed remembered as one of our great monarchs in this respect. He may not have destroyed all the newly built castles, but he greatly lessened any threat to the monarchy from them. His court became a symbol of the new stability, with its contribution to the cultural achievement of the twelfth-century renaissance. Henry was a patron of poets, historians, and political thinkers, men of the calibre of John of Salisbury.

The outcome of the war had given the throne to Henry, already Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and claimant to the duchy of Aquitaine. His success marked the formation of the Angevin Empire. It was never so called in its time, and it may never have been governed entirely as a political unit, but it was a remarkable accumulation of territories all under the control of an individual ruler, whether it be as king, duke or count, and it made Henry II one of the most powerful men in the Europe of his day. It also gave England a new place in Europe, with connections not only to Normandy but to all of western France. The melding of English and Angevin cultures was one of the glories of the period of the twelfth-century renaissance. During the so-called Anarchy, there were developments in art, manuscript illumination, sculpture, architecture, the growth of towns and of the new monastic orders; a firm foundation for further achievements under Henry II.


Henry II’s Angevin Empire.

The less positive effect of the civil war, in the long run, was the new threat which this growth of power under one man, posed for the kingdom of France. The French and English royal families were very closely connected and inter-related, and this did not end at once. But the powers of the French monarchy were also expanding at this time, and would do so more obviously after the accession of Philip Augustus in 1180. The clash between France and the Angevin Empire was inevitable, and it marked the history of England for a century. At the end of it, the English kings had lost virtually all their French territories, which Henry III accepted by the Treaty of Paris of 1258. The clashes of that century did not heal easily, and left wounds which were eventually reopened in a new major struggle between the monarchies in the Hundred Years War. In a sense, therefore, the outcome of the civil war of Stephen’s reign led to a lengthy conflict with France which scratched a bloody gash across the whole Middle Ages. Had Stephen won the war more convincingly and left the throne to his son, to rule England alone, who can say what would have happened in Europe?


  1.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 234–5.

  2.  Robert of Torigny, in Stevenson, p. 71; Torigny, in Howlett, iv, pp. 173, 177; Henry of Huntingdon, EHD, ii, p. 336; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, pp. 287–8.

  3.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 238–9; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 293; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 288.

  4.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 240–1; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 294; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 289.

  5.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 294; in EHD, p. 311; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 289: ‘quam beata dies’; Gervase, Opera, i, p. 154.

  6.  Leedom, ‘The English Settlement’, pp. 347–64, p. 347.

  7.  William of Newburgh, eds. Walsh and Kennedy, p. 126.

  8.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 240–1.

  9.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 294; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 289.

10.  J.C. Holt, ‘1153: the Treaty of Winchester’, in King, pp. 291–316.

11.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 294; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 289; Robert of Torigny, in Stevenson, p. 73; Torigny, in Howlett, p. 177.

12.  Gesta Stephani, p. 240: ‘castella nova’; William of Newburgh, p. 444; William of Newburgh, in Howlett, i, p. 101: ‘dilapsi sunt’.

13.  RRAN, pp. 97–9, no. 272.

14.  The Letters of Osbert of Clare, ed. and trans. E.W. Williamson, Oxford, 1929, pp. 122, 130.

15.  William of Newburgh, eds. Walsh and Kennedy, p. 131: ‘munitiones adulterae’.

16.  Robert of Torigny, in Stevenson, p. 73; Robert of Torigny, RS, pp. 177, 183; William of Newburgh, i, pp. 94, 102.

17.  C. Coulson, ‘The castles of the anarchy’, in King, pp. 67–92, pp. 69, 71; William of Newburgh, in Stevenson, p. 444; William of Newburgh, in Howlett, p. 102: ‘in locis opportunis sita, quae vel ipse retinere, vel a pacificis ad regni munimen retineri voluit’; E. Amt, The Accession of Henry II in England, Royal Government Restored, 1149–1159, Woodbridge, 1993, pp. 27, 78.

18.  Amt, Henry II, p. 27.

19.  E. King, ‘The anarchy of Stephen’s reign’, TRHS, 5th ser., xxxiv, 1984, p. 153; Amt, Henry II, p. 52; Letters of Gilbert Foliot, pp. 54–5.

20.  RRAN, p. 64.

21.  Amt, Henry II, p. 60.

22.  Gervase, Opera, i, p. 163.

23.  E. de Borchgrave, ‘Guillaume d’Ypres’, Biographie Nationale, vol. viii, Brussels, 1884–5, col. 436–9.

24.  Robert of Torigny, in Stevenson, p. 74; Torigny, in Howlett, p. 179; ‘coepit revocare … in jus proprium sua dominica’.

25.  Amt, Henry II, p. 113.

26.  G. White, ‘Continuity in government’, in King, pp. 117–43, p. 136.

27.  Holt, ‘1153’, in King.

28.  King, ‘Introduction’, p. 35.

29.  Amt, Henry II, p. 24.

30.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 210–11.

31.  Davis, Stephen, p. 90; Warren, Henry II, p. 35.

32.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 210–11.

33.  Amt, Henry II, p. 36.

34.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 226–7.

35.  D. Crouch, ‘The March and the Welsh kings’, in King, pp. 255–89, p. 286.

36.  Amt, Henry II, p. 115.

37.  On Ranulf, see P. Dalton, ‘In neutro latere: the armed neutrality of Ranulf II Earl of Chester in King Stephen’s reign’, ANS, xiv, 1991, pp. 39–59; Cronne, ‘Ranulf’ pp. 103–34; Round, ‘King Stephen’, pp. 87–91.

38.  William of Newburgh, eds. Walsh and Kennedy, pp. 74–5.

39.  Gervase, Opera, i, pp. 154, 159, 63.

40.  Amt, Henry II, p. 75.

41.  Holt, ‘1153’, in King, pp. 301–02.

42.  Amt, Henry II, p. 60.

43.  White, ‘The end of Stephen’s reign’, emphasises the uncertain outcome of events.

44.  William of Newburgh, eds. Walsh and Kennedy, p. 126.

45.  Ibid., p. 127.

46.  John of Hexham, in Stevenson, p. 32.

47.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 294; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 289; ‘nunc autem poenitentia motus’.

48.  Robert of Torigny, in Stevenson, p. 66; Torigny, in Howlett, p. 164.

49.  See M. Strickland, ‘Against the Lord’s anointed: aspects of warfare and baronial rebellion in England and Normandy, 1075–1265’, Law and Government in Medieval England and Normandy Essays in Honour of Sir James Holt, eds. G. Garnett and J. Hudson, Cambridge, 1994, pp. 56–79.

50.  Robert of Torigny, RS, pp. 165–6.

51.  Robert of Torigny, in Stevenson, p. 68; Torigny, in Howlett, pp. 167–8: ‘quod nostra memoria in retroactis temporibus non fuit auditum’; Walden Chronicle, p. 83.

52.  On waste meaning waste, for example E. Amt and C.W. Hollister, ‘Magnates’.

53.  William of Newburgh, eds. Walsh and Kennedy, p. 99.

54.  Earldom of Gloucester Charters, ed. R.B. Patterson, Oxford, 1973, p. 95, no. 95, p. 97, no. 96.

55.  F.M. Stenton, The First Century of English Feudalism, 1066–1166, 2nd edn, Oxford, 1961, pp. 250–3.

56.  Davis, Stephen, p. 108.

57.  Robert of Torigny, in Stevenson, p. 75; Torigny, in Howlett, p. 180.

58.  White, ‘End’, p. 12.

59.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 295; White, ‘End’, p. 13.

60.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 296; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 290; Gesta Stephani, pp. 240–1.

61.  On coinage, see M. Blackburn, ‘Coinage and Currency’, in King, pp. 145–205.

62.  William of Newburgh, EHD, p. 323; William of Newburgh, in Howlett, p. 101.

63.  William of Newburgh, in Stevenson, p. 444; William of Newburgh, in Howlett, p. 101.

64.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 294; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, pp. 291–2.

65.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 154–7.

66.  William of Malmesbury, pp. 40–1.

67.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 266.

68.  Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 199.

69.  King, ‘Anarchy’, pp. 133–53, pp. 135, 142; Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, pp. 414–16, who suggests the idea of blackmail is involved, or protection money.

70.  King, ‘Anarchy’, p. 136–7; The Letters and Charters of Gilbert Foliot, eds. A. Morey and C.N. L. Brooke, Cambridge, 1967, no. 3. Liber Eliensis, p. 326. Davis, ‘King Stephen’, p. 80, n. 16.

71.  H.W.C. Davis, ‘The Anarchy of Stephen’s reign’, EHR, xviii, 1903, pp. 630–41, p. 634.

72.  K.J. Stringer, The Reign of Stephen, 1993, p. 58.

73.  T. Callahan, jr, ‘The impact of anarchy on English monasticism, 1135–1154’, Albion, vi, 1974, pp. 218–32; C.W. Hollister has commented on this with regard to the greater houses.

74.  J. le Patourel, ‘What did not happen in Stephen’s reign’, History, lviii, 1973, pp. 1–17, points out that Stephen was not hard up, p. 4.

75.  Cronne, Stephen, p. 224.

76.  Bradbury, ‘Early Years’, p. 25; RRAN shows 1,500 charters for Henry I and 900 for Stephen. The average number per annum is William I: 14.7; William II: 15.3; Henry I: 42.5; Stephen: 47.3.

77.  E.J. Kealey, ‘King Stephen: government and anarchy’, Albion, vi, 1974, pp. 201–17, p. 207.

78.  Cronne, Stephen, p. 280.

79.  Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, p. 267.

80.  White, ‘End’, pp. 3–22, p. 20.

81.  Stringer strongly makes this point, for example on p. 49.

82.  M. Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England, 1066–1166, Oxford, 1986, p. 98.

83.  Davis, ‘Anarchy’, p. 630.

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