When Henry I died on 1 December 1135, Stephen was superbly placed to seize the throne. He was the son of Stephen, count of Blois, and Adela, the Conqueror’s daughter, and was thus of illustrious descent. True he was only a younger son (his elder brother Theobald became count of Blois), but the patronage of Henry I had none the less made him the greatest baron in the Anglo-Norman world. On one side of the Channel he held the counties of Mortain and Boulogne, the latter in particular strategic and valuable. In England he was lord of the honours of Lancaster and Eye as well as other lands. His brother Henry was bishop of Winchester. It was in Boulogne that Stephen heard the news of Henry’s death, while the Empress, the old king’s daughter and chosen successor, was far away in Anjou. He immediately crossed the Channel, won over the Londoners, and then hurried to Winchester where, with the help of Bishop Henry, he secured the late king’s mammoth treasure and the crucial support of Bishop Roger of Salisbury, head of the administration. On 22 December Stephen was crowned king in Westminster Abbey. In the words of the old dictum, ‘one cannot serve two masters’, success in England carried the day in Normandy, where the Empress and Geoffey of Anjou advanced up the well-trodden route from the south as far as Argentan, but got no further. Stephen’s Coronation Charter was the briefest of affairs, in sharp contrast to Henry I’s tissue of promises, and next year he received confirmation from the pope.
From then on it was steadily downhill. In 1136 royal and baronial power in Wales was shaken by a native revival; in 1139 King David secured much of northern England, while the Empress invaded and thereafter held sway over significant parts of the country. By 1144 Normandy was lost to Geoffrey of Anjou. ‘In this king’s time there was nothing but disturbance, wickedness and robbery,’ declared the Peterborough chronicler. Some challenge to Stephen’s position was always likely. His title, based on election by clergy and people together with papal confirmation, might always seem inferior to that of the Empress, derived from hereditary right. The force of the oath to the Empress continued to prick consciences, despite stories of Henry’s deathbed change of mind. Yet Henry’s own title to England had been open to challenge, and he had virtually no title to Normandy. Stephen’s failure was partly because of the formidable problems he inherited, sketched at the end of the last chapter. It was also because of his character and his mistakes.
‘Everyone ought to regard the king as an angry lion,’ remarked the chronicler John of Worcester, but no one could see Stephen in that light. As a count he had been famed for his amiability and he continued in the same vein as king. According to the Gesta Stephani, the best chronicle of the reign, on occasion he forgot his exalted rank and treated those around him very much as equals The expectation of such behaviour after Henry I’s intimidating conduct was one reason for making him king in the first place. ‘He was a man of energy but little judgement, active in war, of extraordinary spirit in undertaking any difficult task, lenient to his enemies and easily appeased, courteous to all; though you admired his kindness in promising, still you felt his words lacked truth and his promises fulfilment,’ wrote William of Malmesbury in his brilliant sketch of the king.
Stephen’s difficulties, culminating in his captivity, created space for one person in particular: his own queen, Matilda. On her marriage she had no expectation of queenship, though she was of impeccable pedigree. Through her father, count Eustace of Boulogne, she was descended from Charlemagne, and through her mother (a daughter of Queen Margaret and King Malcolm of Scotland) from the line of the Wessex kings. Astute, loyal and courageous, and with Boulogne a great heiress (unlike her predecessors since the Conquest), she came to play a major part in diplomacy, politics and warfare. Without her Stephen might not have survived.
At once Stephen faced trouble across his frontiers. On 15 April 1136, Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare of Ceredigion was ambushed and killed by Morgan and Iorwerth, rulers of Gwynllwg in east Glamorgan. They then went on to seize Caerleon and Usk, together with other parts of lowland Gwent, recovering much of the kingdom held by their grandfather King Caradog. The killing itself was a signal for a general rising led by the dynasties of Gwynedd and Deheubarth. The sons of Gruffudd ap Cynan from the north, Owain and Cadwaladr, and Gruffudd ap Rhys and his sons from the south, fell upon Ceredigion, burned Aberystwyth, defeated a force of Normans and Flemings outside Cardigan, and then returned home with ‘captives, costly raiment and fair armour’, the Brutrecounts. There was no royal response, even when in the next year, 1137, the marcher lord and sheriff, Payn fitz John, was also killed. So later in 1137, in a highly significant shift of tactics, plunder turned to political control, the rulers of Gwynedd seizing Ceredigion. Meanwhile the sons of Gruffudd ap Rhys (not at all set back by Gruffudd’s murder) secured much of Dyfed, parts of Ystrad Tywi and, triumph of triumph, the royal castle of Carmarthen, with help from the rulers of Gwynedd. What a contrast to the one miserable commote to which Gruffudd ap Rhys had been reduced in the 1120s!
Apart from the loss of Gwynedd in the 1090s, these were the most significant defeats suffered by the Normans in Wales. Miles of Gloucester still held Brecon, Earl Robert of Gloucester Cardiff and parts of southern Glamorgan, and Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare (brother of the murdered Richard) Chepstow and parts of Gwent. But Stephen had lost Carmarthen and in effect Pembroke too, for in 1138, powerless to give it assistance, he had made Gilbert fitz Gilbert earl with virtually royal rights. Given Stephen’s preoccupations elsewhere, his failure to respond was understandable. For the same reason, Robert of Gloucester, whose advances in Glamorgan had done much to provoke the trouble, recognized the conquests of Morgan and Iorwerth and added to them, thus securing valuable allies. But Stephen, unlike Henry I, never had the opportunity to reassert his authority. Indeed the earl of Chester’s disaffection and Earl Robert’s rebellion soon shut him out of Wales.
In the north, Stephen’s losses were even more catastrophic. Early in 1136 King David of Scotland, having recently seen off internal rebellion, moved south and seized Carlisle and Newcastle, the two great royal bases in the north of England. In the west his aim was to make good longstanding Scottish claims to Cumbria south of the Solway (or Cumberland and Westmorland as it was coming to be called). To the east, ancient claims to Northumbria were given added force by his marriage to the daughter of Waltheof, Northumbria’s last Anglo-Saxon earl. Stephen responded with more vigour than he was to show in Wales. With a large mercenary army hired from the treasure of Henry I, he marched north to Durham and in February 1136 agreed terms. David abandoned his Northumbrian conquests. In return, his son Henry did homage to Stephen, for his father’s earldom of Huntingdon, and for Carlisle and southern Cumbria as well. Nominally the latter were still within the English realm; in practice they were now part of the Scottish kingdom. Whether David had ever acknowledged Henry’s overlordship of that kingdom is unclear. He certainly never acknowledged Stephen’s.
David, however, soon felt he could improve on the 1136 settlement. In 1138, professing support for the Empress, he launched no less than three invasions into England. Stephen marched north to counter the first, but, with tension rising elsewhere in the kingdom, ignored the second, which ravaged the lands of the bishopric of Durham and penetrated as far south as Craven in Yorkshire. The Scots and Galwegians in the armies committed appalling atrocities (tossing babies on the points of their spears, according to one testimony), and drove long columns of naked and fettered women off to prostitution and slavery. All this was but the prelude to the third invasion which began in late July and soon progressed across the Tees into Yorkshire. A sizeable chunk of the northern nobility supported David, but faced with the atrocities, and with his long-held views about the integrity of the English realm, the aged Archbishop Thurstan of York saw resistance as a holy cause. His forces made their stand on 22 August at Northallerton, under the standards of the northern saints (hence the battle of the Standard) and won what seemed a God-given victory.
The battle saved Stephen’s throne, but failed to drive David from the north. He retained Carlisle and by November had forced the surrender of Walter Espec’s castle at Wark on Tweed. With Eustace fitz John at Alnwick in David’s allegiance, Northumbria lay open. So at Durham in the April of 1139 another settlement was brokered by Stephen’s queen, Matilda, David’s niece and friend. Stephen confirmed David and Henry his son in possession of Carlisle, Cumbria south of the Solway and the earldom of Huntingdon. He then gave way on the main issue, and granted Henry Northumbria between the Tweed and the Tyne, saving the castles of Bamburgh and Newcastle upon Tyne, although these too were soon in Scottish hands. In return, David and Henry promised Stephen their fealty. Stephen had eliminated the danger from the north. In the next year Henry fought for him, while David watched the Empress and Earl Robert struggle in choppy waters until their victory at Lincoln in 1141 and then hurried south to encumber them with help. Yet the price was momentous. In practice Northumbria and southern Cumbria were now part of King David’s realm. Would it indeed expand even further south? After all, Stephen’s troubles had hardly begun.
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Fundamentally, Stephen had abandoned Wales and the north because of anxieties about his English heartland. But here, floated by Henry’s treasure, he had enjoyed initial success. At Easter 1136 he received the homage of Robert of Gloucester, momentarily impressed by the mercenary forces which had just confronted King David. This was a major coup. Robert, illegitimate son of Henry I and thus the Empress’s half-brother, was by far her greatest potential supporter. He was lord of Glamorgan and had wide lands in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and the west country, centered on Bristol and its castle. He also held Bayeux and Caen in Normandy. Robert was well educated, phlegmatic in adversity, self-mocking with his intimates, ruthless, stubborn and daring; if he remained on side, Stephen was safe.
Already, however, there were signs of trouble. In April 1136 Stephen issued a new charter, one far more comprehensive than that vouchsafed at his coronation. He promised to abandon the areas which Henry I had taken into the royal forest, extirpate the oppressions of the sheriffs and deal justly in law cases, all concessions which reflected the unpopularity of Henry’s rule. Stephen also promised neither to interfere in appointments nor exploit vacant bishoprics. On the face of it, royal control over the church had been abandoned. Stephen was also hit by a great wave of demands for ‘estates, castles, anything which took their fancy’ (as William of Malmesbury put it) from potential supporters, many of whom, as we have seen, had felt thwarted or disinherited by Henry. For many the whole point of King Stephen was to look favourably on such petitions. Stephen wisely sought to build up his own party of supporters, gaining the loyalty of Gilbert de Lacy by restoring his honour of Pontefract (confiscated by Henry in 1114), something Lacy’s men had facilitated by murdering the ‘new man’, William Maltravers, whom Henry I had installed there.
Stephen also added spectacularly to the number of earldoms: in 1135 there were seven; by 1140 at least twenty-two. Some were largely titular. Others were associated with grants of all the royal castles, lands and forests in the shire, and even the homage of the tenants-in-chief. Stephen hoped that the beneficiaries ‘would be bound the more straightly to [his] service’, as John of Worcester put it of a later grant, and act as powerful local agents who could stand up to the mounting trouble. To this end, after the battle of the Standard Stephen gave William d’Aumale the earldom of York in order to block further advance from King David. Likewise his installation of Waleran of Meulan in Worcestershire was designed as a counter-weight to Robert of Gloucester. Waleran and his twin brother, Robert, were the sons of Henry I’s great minister Robert de Beaumont, earl of Leicester, who died in 1118. Waleran, a fiery, swaggering, jesting soldier, had inherited his father’s lands in central Normandy as well as Meulan in the French Vexin. Robert, staid and statesmanlike, a future justiciar of England under Henry II, inherited the English lands with the earldom of Leicester, though he was also through marriage lord of Breteuil in Normandy. The twins also had powerful relations. Earl William de Warenne III was their half-brother, their first cousin was the earl of Warwick, their brother-in-law, Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare, earl of Pembroke (through Stephen’s grant) and their younger brother, Hugh Poer, castellan and earl of Bedford. It was on the Beaumonts and their kin that much of Stephen’s early rule rested both in England and Normandy.
One trouble with all this, as William of Malmesbury noted, was that when Stephen refused patronage on the grounds that the possessions of the crown would be depleted, those who were disappointed resorted to violence. In 1136 Hugh Bigod seized Norwich castle and had to be ejected; Baldwin de Redvers, hoping perhaps for the earldom of Devon, put his men into Exeter and it took a three-month siege throughout the summer to remove them. Given the complex web of competing family claims to land and office, patronage to one man often meant thwarting the claims of another. Bedford castle had to be besieged to get Miles de Beauchamp out and Hugh Poer in. Waleran of Meulan’s installation at Worcester antagonized William de Beauchamp who had his own claims to its castle and sheriffdom. No wonder people doubted the worth of some of Stephen’s promises.
Stephen’s handling of the early troubles also damaged his reputation. He brought the siege of Exeter to an end and conciliated Robert of Gloucester who urged clemency by allowing the garrison to go free. But the lesson was obvious. ‘When the traitors understood that he was a mild man and gentle and good and did not exact the full penalties of the law, they perpetrated every enormity,’ commented the Peterborough abbey chronicler. Meanwhile, Stephen’s one campaign in Normandy in 1137 succeeded in gaining recognition from Louis VI of France, but failed to dislodge Geoffrey of Anjou from Argentan in the south of the duchy. Stephen was also running out of money, as the chronicler William of Newburgh later noted. This shortfall was due to his heavy expenditure on the armies of 1136–7 and the decline in his cash revenues, the latter the inevitable downside of the endowment of earldoms with ‘landed estates and revenues which had belonged to the king in his own right’, as William of Malmesbury perceptively put it. Waleran of Meulan, indeed, as earl of Worcester, referred specifically to the ‘geld of the king which belongs to me’ and forest rights ‘which before were the king’s and afterwards mine’.
As the number of Stephen’s mercenaries declined in parallel with his cash resources, so the loyalty of Robert of Gloucester came increasingly into question. If Stephen could not trust him, as clearly was the case, then the best policy was his elimination, just as Henry I had eliminated the Bellêmes. During the Norman campaign of 1137 Stephen attempted just that, but the ambush designed to kill or, more likely, capture Robert miscarried. Stephen disclaimed responsibility, but Robert thenceforth began to plot the Empress’s bid for the throne.
The war began in 1138 with a series of co-ordinated actions, partly fuelled by private disputes over land and office. In May, while David ravaged the north, Geoffrey Talbot, alienated by Stephen’s preference for Roger, son of Miles of Gloucester’s claims to the honour of Weobley, seized Hereford. Then William fitz Alan asserted his supposed rights to the castle and sheriffdom of Shrewsbury by seizing the town. Soon after 22 May Robert of Gloucester in Normandy formally defied Stephen, only for his arrival in England to be delayed for over a year by the initial failure of Geoffrey of Anjou’s invasion of the duchy. This should have given Stephen his opportunity to take Bristol, ‘almost the richest city in the country’, and break Robert’s power at its heart, just as Rufus had broken the 1088 rebellion by taking Rochester. He did indeed commence operations but then, in the words of John of Worcester, ‘weary of the tedious blockade he went away to besiege the earl’s other castles’. It was the greatest mistake of his career. If he could not take Bristol when it was commanded by one of Robert’s sons, he would never do so once Robert and the Empress were installed there.
Before that happened in September 1139, Stephen had been further weakened, again partly through his own mistakes, understandable though they were. At the end of 1138, he secured the election of Theobald, abbot of Bec, as the new archbishop of Canterbury, thus rewarding Waleran of Meulan, Bec’s patron, for his sterling defence of Normandy. But the appointment alienated the man whose early support had been so critical, Stephen’s brother, Bishop Henry of Winchester, who coveted the position for himself. And next year Henry’s power was increased when he became papal legate. Within the context of obedience to the pope, Theobald was quite aware of the duty he owed the king, but he was no Stephen man, as later events were to show.
By 1139 Stephen was bracing himself to meet invasion, hence his momentous concessions to King David that April; hence too the extraordinary events of the Oxford council in June. There Stephen suddenly arrested Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and his nephew Alexander, bishop of Lincoln. By this means he rid himself of suspected traitors, gained castles which would have taken months to siege, and destroyed the family’s spidery hold over central government which was so much resented by the Beaumonts and other baronial families. The chancery continued to function normally and no bishops joined the Empress before 1141. Altogether an effective coup de main. But there were humiliating consequences. According to canon law, ecclesiastics and their properties should be subject to the jurisdiction of the church, not the king, and Stephen had promised as much under his 1136 charter. Bishop Henry himself convoked a legatine council at Winchester and demanded action against his brother. In the event, no action was taken and Bishop Roger died at the end of the year. But Stephen was forced to appear and plead his case. The whole episode reflected the advance in ecclesiastical independence since the trials of Bishop Odo and William of St Calais of Durham in the 1080s, when the idea (which Stephen tried to advance) that the king acted against bishops as barons and not as churchmen had been universally accepted and Lanfranc himself had acted as chief accuser.
On 30 September 1139, only a month after the synod at Winchester, the Empress and Robert of Gloucester landed at Arundel. Robert, apparently with Bishop Henry’s acquiescence, rode on to Bristol. Stephen surrounded Arundel only to allow the Empress a safe conduct to join her brother. This was another turning-point in the war, for surely Stephen should have captured the Empress and imprisoned her for life, just as Henry I had imprisoned his brother Robert. As it was, seduced (so Henry of Huntington thought) by ‘perfidious’ council, he believed it would be much easier to overcome Robert and his sister when they were together in one part of the country – a remarkable testimony to the pathetic quality of his decision-making. In fact, Miles of Gloucester immediately went over to the Empress (who made him earl of Hereford) and the base at Bristol became impregnable. Miles was followed more altruistically, for he was much more vulnerable, by Brian fitz Count, a protégé of King Henry, whose castle at Wallingford thereafter remained the Empress’s eastern outpost and a constant thorn in Stephen’s side. With castles proliferating, the fighting in 1140 was inconclusive. It took a great battle in 1141 to break the deadlock.
The bouleversement of 1141 turned on baronial ambitions of long standing. Ranulf, earl of Chester and his half-brother William de Roumare had long nourished claims to Lincoln since their mother was probably the daughter of a pre-Domesday sheriff. At the end of 1140 through a trick, played by their wives (an intriguing glimpse of noble-women in politics), they had seized its castle. The following January Stephen marched north to recover it. Up to this point Ranulf had shown scant regard for either side, but now he made terms with Robert of Gloucester. And Robert saw his chance. He marched to Lincoln, placed the disinherited in the van of his army, and on 2 February won a comprehensive victory. Stephen, who had fought to the last, was taken off to captivity at Bristol.
The Empress now moved to enter her own. In April 1141 she was proclaimed by Bishop Henry as ‘Lady of England and Normandy’, a title which indicated immediate royal authority and heralded an imminent coronation. There was certainly no precedent in England for female succession, but neither contemporary ideas nor practice ruled it out. The Anglo-Norman elite were well aware that Melisende and her husband Fulk of Anjou, Count Geoffrey’s father, had succeeded to the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1131. Indeed, on Fulk’s death in 1143 Melisende had governed by herself until superseded by her son in 1152. She had earlier successfully resisted Fulk’s bid to ignore her, itself an encouraging precedent for those, like Robert of Gloucester, who supported the Empress but had little brief for Geoffrey of Anjou. There were also biblical precedents for female succession (Robert cited the case of the daughters of Zelophehad) and for women as rulers, for example Esther and Judith. And then there were models from classical mythology, for instance the virago, the man-woman, and the Amazons, that legendary race of martial women. Both terms were applied to twelfth- and thirteenth-century women in complimentary fashion. To be sure, in these stereotypes women only succeeded by adopting male characteristics. As St Bernard put it in a letter to Melisende, ‘although a woman you must act as a man… so that all may judge you from your actions to be a king rather than a queen’. Yet he could also be more positive, encouraging her to be a ‘strong woman’ and a ‘great queen’.
The Empress gained control of Oxford and Devizes, received the congratulations of King David (who hurried south), entered London, and made plans for her coronation. It was at this juncture, however, that another woman stood forth in heroic fashion: Stephen’s queen, Matilda. With the mercenary captain William of Ypres she held Kent and ‘by prayer and price’ did all she could to gather an army. This gave comfort to the Londoners who, from the start, had been reluctant to desert King Stephen, both because of their trading links with Boulogne, and his reduction of the farm, the annual payment they rendered to the exchequer. The Empress’s entry into the city had been facilitated by the Londoners ‘mortal enemy’ Geoffrey de Mandeville who controlled the Tower, and whom she quickly confirmed as earl of Essex. But to secure Geoffrey’s complete loyalty a further grant of the sheriffdoms and local justiciarships of London and Middlesex (held by his grandfather) was required. That, however, would antagonize the Londoners even more since these very offices had been granted them by Henry I.
This then was a situation which required that mixture of strength and astuteness which Bernard recommended to Melisende and for which Stephen’s queen was praised. But the Empress was not astute. ‘She alienated nearly all hearts by her intolerable pride,’ wrote Henry of Huntingdon. Unlike the affable Stephen, she was haughty and aloof. Unlike the generous Stephen, she believed in being tight with patronage; as she said, one trains a hawk by keeping it hungry. Doubtless she modelled herself on her father, but what was acceptable for a king of immense power was quite unacceptable for a prospective queen in a fragile political situation. Thus the Empress alienated Bishop Henry, in part by refusing to confirm Boulogne to Eustace, Stephen’s son and Henry’s own nephew. And she infuriated Londoners by replacing Stephen’s easy regime by demands for taxation. On 24 June, with the city in tumult, she fled to Oxford. At the end of July she occupied Winchester, only to be besieged there by Queen Matilda and Geoffrey de Mandeville with a formidable army. On 14 September the Empress fled again, reaching Gloucester strapped to a litter ‘like a corpse’. Earl Robert, travelling more slowly to cover her retreat, was captured. On 1 November 1141, in return for his release, Stephen too was freed.
With the release of Stephen and Robert the game resumed, but with Stephen now down more pieces. As soon as he heard of the king’s capture, Geoffrey of Anjou invaded Normandy. By this move he weakened Stephen’s position in England, for those who deserted in the duchy naturally did so in the kingdom also. In the latter half of 1141 Waleran of Meulan himself went over to the Empress, acting as one of Geoffrey’s commanders during the final conquest of Normandy in 1144. In England his defection meant that he now held Worcestershire, where Stephen had installed him with virtually regal powers, in the interests of the Empress. With the latter’s authority radiating out from Bristol and Devizes while Stephen was strong in the south-east, the conflict ebbed and flowed along the routes from London to the west, but with neither side able to gain a decisive advantage. In 1142 Stephen took the Empress’s eastern headquarters at Oxford, but the Empress herself, disguised in white, escaped on foot across the snow to Wallingford. Next year Stephen was defeated by Earl Robert in a battle at Wilton, and lost control of Sherborne.
Spewed out in the wake of this struggle for the throne were a whole series of dark, swirling vortexes, composed of the private demands and disputes which had confronted Stephen during his brief peace, and now twisted round both candidates with all the intensity of war. Both were forced into auctions to gain support. At the end of 1141 Stephen tried to buy the loyalty of Geoffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex, by confirming all the Empress had given him in a last belated attempt to keep his loyalty. In 1146 he granted his own honour of Lancaster, as well as Lincoln castle, to the earl of Chester, giving way on that tender point. Yet he continued to suspect both men and resent the way they usurped royal rights. He arrested both at court, Mandeville in 1143, Chester later in 1146, much as he had earlier arrested Bishop Roger. As a result the Tower was regained, and so was Lincoln. Yet Stephen lacked the strength to detain either noble, in contrast to Henry I who imprisoned Robert of Bellême for the rest of his life after seizing him at court in 1112. Mandeville, by the time of his death in September 1144, had devastated the area around Ely and Ramsey, while Chester took his trade elsewhere and secured opulent concessions from the Empress’s son, Henry fitz Empress, the future Henry II.
The numerous private disputes were one reason why the conflict was so hard to settle. When a magnate deserted to the Empress, his rival had every incentive to remain with Stephen, or to return to him. Just as Stephen’s support for Miles of Gloucester’s claim to the honour of Weobley had been a major factor in the rebellion of his rivals, the cousins Gilbert de Lacy and Geoffrey Talbot, so Miles’s reconciliation with the Empress led eventually to Gilbert’s return to Stephen’s side. Likewise King David’s relations with the Empress secured Stephen the unshakeable loyalty of the rival claimant to the Waltheof inheritance, Simon de Senlis, who was rewarded from 1141 with David’s earldom of Huntingdon. If Robert, earl of Leicester, remained at least nominally on Stephen’s side despite the defection of his twin brother Waleran, it was partly because of his dispute with Miles of Gloucester over control of Herefordshire. The brothers kept a foot in both camps, Robert looking after their interests in England and Waleran those in Normandy.
Other factors worked against a military solution. Old castles were strengthened and at least forty new ones (including fifteen siege works) built. Geoffrey of Anjou remained fearful of rebellion in Normandy and never came to England, despite pleas to do so. He sent Henry fitz Empress over on three occasions between 1142 and 1149, but without enough troops to make a decisive breakthrough. Meanwhile the rebellion had reduced Stephen’s resources even further, indeed catastrophically so. He continued to control London and the counties of the south and east (Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Essex and East Anglia), where he held most of his private lands from the honours of Eye and Boulogne. Outside these heartlands Stephen’s hold was at best intermittent. After 1142 there was a dramatic decline in the number of writs produced by his chancery and most were now issued within sixty miles of London. Even in areas still nominally subject to his control, his authority was often non-existent. In Yorkshire the earl, William d’Aumale, took over both royal and private hundreds and seemed, in the words of William of Newburgh, ‘more truly king beyond the Humber than King Stephen’. In a treaty regulating their respective spheres of influence in the midlands, the earls of Chester and Leicester did not refer to the king at all, merely to the ‘liege lord’, and then they placed limits on service they owed him.
Such magnates were not reluctantly shouldering burdens forced on them by the collapse of central authority. Rather, they often were realizing longstanding ambitions incompatible with Henry I style centralized rule. In the charters he extracted, Geoffrey de Mandeville stipulated that he was to hold the sheriffdoms of London–Middlesex and Essex–Hertfordshire in hereditary right in return for the same annual farms as those given by his grandfather, thus preventing additional payments like those which Henry I had demanded from eleven counties in 1130. Likewise he stipulated that no justices were to enter his sheriffdoms to hold pleas except with his permission, in this way restricting the activities of justices in eyre. He secured the pardon of all his debts, getting the exchequer off his back. Such men might well covet a place at the king’s or the Empress’s court, but the influence they gained made it all the easier to combine earldoms, sheriffdoms and private hundreds with their own castles and honours to construct, however shakily and temporarily, spheres of power and influence largely outside central control.
The most striking testimony to the decentralization of this period lies in the state of the coinage. Stephen’s first coinage had been issued by mints throughout the country from dies produced in London. Stephen’s second and third types, which ran between 1145 and 1154, although they maintained their weight were minted only in the south and east. Elsewhere, the Empress issued coins in her own name from Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and Wareham; so did some great barons, for example Earl Robert of Leicester from Leicester, and Eustace fitz John from York. King David minted coins in the north. There were also some thirty-five coin types minted in Stephen’s name but from unauthorized dies, doubtless by magnates nominally loyal but outside his effective control. The royal monopoly of coinage, the greatest achievement of the pre-Conquest kings, had utterly broken down.
What all this meant in financial terms is suggested by the early pipe rolls of Henry II (none survives between 1130 and 1156). Stephen had alienated some £3,000 of royal demesne. He must also have pardoned numerous debts and failed to generate others to replace them: in 1155–6 the money the crown could claim from old debts incurred in previous years (that is under Stephen) was under £500. In 1130 it had been £42,000. In 1130 total cash income was £23,000. In the first two full years of Henry II’s reign it averaged £7,032. Stephen’s income must have been much smaller. He was cataclysmically less powerful than Henry I.
The weakening of Stephen’s authority made it more difficult to control ecclesiastical affairs where developments, becoming apparent before 1135, were already working against him. Papal power was growing as were notions concerning freedom of the church. Both were championed by the new Cistercian order with its charismatic leader, Bernard of Clairvaux. By the end of Stephen’s reign, England had fifty Cistercian houses. Bishop Henry of Winchester, however, with whom Stephen was reconciled after 1141, was a Cluniac, and his legatine authority, which had lapsed in 1143, was certainly not going to be renewed by the Cistercian Pope Eugenius III (1145–53). In 1147 the pope consecrated the Cistercian abbot of Fountains, Henry Murdac, as archbishop of York, having deposed Stephen’s candidate, his nephew William fitz Herbert – a novel demonstration of papal power. Next year, in best Henrician fashion, Stephen allowed only three bishops to attend the papal council at Lyons, but was defied by Archbishop Theobald who went too, although forbidden to do so. In response to these challenges, Stephen was able to exclude both Theobald and Murdac from their sees, only then to allow both back. With Murdac he established a working relationship; with Theobald he did not. Meanwhile, other elections to abbeys and bishoprics (like Gilbert Foliot’s to Hereford in 1148) often went through with little reference to the king; hence in part the reform-minded prelates faced by Henry II.
The chroniclers of this period, all ecclesiastics, were clear that the withering of central authority had led to anarchy in the sense of a breakdown of law and order. Modern historians have been more cautious. Whatever the tensions within Stephen’s diminished realm, for example in Kent, for much of the time he maintained reasonable order within it. In Essex, at least after the fall of de Mandeville, he retained control over the forest which covered much of the county, despite promises of deforestation in his charter of 1136. In Suffolk he was able to enforce payment of a £20 amercement on a knight ‘for a certain enormity committed in the locality’. The exchequer continued to function and justices went out to hear royal pleas. Chroniclers themselves praised both King David and Earl Robert, in varying degrees, for establishing peace and issuing laws in their dominions. Individual barons certainly exploited the disorder, but they had clear political objectives in the recovery and retention of land, office and rights. They wanted to exercise local rule, not create an anarchy which would destroy their estates and shake the allegiance of their knightly tenants. Private attempts were made to limit the violence, such as the treaty between the earls of Chester and Leicester, a treaty which itself reveals Leicester’s problems in asserting authority over one of his tenants, William de Launay. The chroniclers do not always sing the same tune; that of Peterborough, having given the most lurid of all the descriptions of the anarchy, added that ‘during all this evil time’ Abbot Martin rebuilt the church, planted vineyards, held great commemoration feasts and generally provided the monks and guests with everything they wanted. According to one calculation 171 religious houses of all types were founded in Stephen’s reign, a 50 per cent increase in the number existing in 1135. The thirty-two founded in Yorkshire between 1140 and 1154 suggest the relative stability of the area under the count of Aumale.
Yet there is another side. Religious houses could be founded precisely as acts of atonement. Ailred, as abbot of Revesby south of Lincoln, was eager to accept grants of land from knights, because otherwise how would they be saved ‘in times so chaotic with slaughter and harrying’? The treaty between the earls of Chester and Leicester, referred to above, still allowed them to attack specified enemies and each other after fifteen days’ notice, while the earl of Chester could use the castle of Mountsorrel in Leicestershire to make war on whoever he liked. There were certainly places and periods of intense violence and destruction, especially at the points between London and the west where Stephen and the Empress confronted each other. This may well explain why an average 32 per cent of the sums demanded for the geld early in the reign of Henry II from Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire were pardoned because of ‘waste’. In Leicestershire the figure was 51 per cent. Armies did not destroy for destruction’s sake. They plundered for supplies and then burnt fields and villages, so that, as Stephen’s advisers put it in 1149, ‘reduced to the extremity of want, [your enemies] might at last be compelled to surrender’. But the political purpose did not make the result seem any the less appalling. ‘You could easily go a whole day’s journey and never find anyone occupying a village, nor land tilled… Wretched people died of starvation,’ wrote the Peterborough chronicler. Towns were particular targets. Hereford, Worcester, Tewkesbury, Wilton, Winchester, Nottingham and Lincoln were all sacked. The local chronicler, John of Worcester, gives a graphic account of the assault on his city by a force from Gloucester: the citizens rushing with their possessions into the cathedral; the enemy rabble repulsed at one quarter, breaking in at another; the burning of the north of the town; the seizure of immense quantities of booty, and the sad columns of people strung together in couples ‘like hounds’ led away to captivity and ransom.
Above all, letters, miracle stories and chronicles all testify to this being the great age of the castellans. ‘We suffer as many kings as the castles which burden us,’ ran a letter of Gilbert Foliot when abbot of Gloucester in the 1140s. It took the miraculous intervention of St Germanus to protect the area round Selby abbey in Yorkshire from the tyranny of knights based in a nearby castle. ‘When the castles were built, they filled them with devils and wicked men’ (the Peterborough chronicler). In order to supply such garrisons and assert their local rule, castellans, often with scant allegiance to either side, routinely engaged in imprisonment and torture in order to exact ransoms and tenserie (a kind of protection money) from the surrounding population. Some castellans were knights who were escaping the jurisdiction of their lords. William de Launay, for example, from his castle of Ravenstone, was waging his own private plundering war in Leicestershire. And not all the violence was coolly political. These men enjoyed what they did. Robert fitz Hubert, who seized Devizes for a time in 1140, boasted (to the horror of William of Malmesbury) that he had once seen eighty monks burnt to death in a church, and would do the same again and again in England: ‘May God never be grateful to me!’ Waleran of Meulan boasted after an attack on Tewkesbury ‘that he had scarcely ever, in Normandy or in England, accomplished such a burning’. At certain times and in some areas anarchy was very real, and the peasantry, ‘the wretched people’, were the main sufferers.
There was no point, the chronicler Henry of Huntingdon opined of this period, in recording where the king spent Christmas or Easter, for his treasure had gone and the solemnities at court had wholly evaporated. It was very different in the realm of King David in the north.
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The situation in England gave David ample opportunity to build on his earlier success. He consolidated his hold over southern Cumbria and asserted overlordship over northern Lancashire, extending his realm in the west to the Ribble. In the east, according to the northern chronicler William of Newburgh, he ruled in peace as far south as the Tees.
Fuelling the southern expansion, and being fuelled by it, was the transformation David brought about in the government and society of Scotland itself. If never a dashing knight in the Stephen mould, he was plausible and pious, the piety being the result of his mother’s upbringing. Around forty when he came to the throne in 1124, he was also experienced and impatiently ambitious. Above all, through his time at the court of his brother-in-law, Henry I, and his tenure of the earldom of Huntingdon, he was steeped in everything Anglo-Norman. He introduced to Scotland Anglo-Norman nobles and structures of government, giving his kingship an altogether new power.
Even before Henry I’s death David had made important advances. His own accession meant that Cumbria north of the Solway, with key lands around both Ayr and Lanark, which his brother Alexander I had granted him as an appanage, now came directly under the king. He had also reasserted royal authority in Moray, the region running westwards from the Spey, where there were strong separatist tendencies. In 1130 its ruler, Angus, appears as earl of Moray in Anglo-Norman sources, which was doubtless David’s view, but as its king in Irish annals. Angus also had claims to the Scottish throne itself for he was the grandson of Lulach, king briefly in 1058, the son of Macbeth. In 1130, with David away at the English court, Angus sought to make good these claims. He was joined by Malcolm MacHeth, of royal blood according to Orderic Vitalis and perhaps the son of a ruler of Ross, the province to the north-west of Moray, certainly a man of high status and married to a sister of Somerled, lord of Argyll. The upshot was a great Davidian victory. In 1130 Angus was killed, in 1134 Malcolm captured and imprisoned. David now seized control of the fertile coastal plain where Moray’s wealth lay. He recovered the royal thanages in the area, abolished the earldom and granted some of its lands to trusted followers. Other lands he retained and these became the base for a string of castles. All this was decisive in at last anchoring Moray into the kingdom.
Meanwhile significant changes were taking place in the structure of government. After the death of his wife (the Conqueror’s niece) in 1130–31, leaving a son, David did not re-marry and it was to be over fifty years until the next Scottish queen. There is no sign of a Scottish exchequer, but David’s court and household, with its steward, constable, marshal and chamberlain (responsible for keeping and spending the king’s money), must have seemed very much like that of Henry I’s in miniature, especially when these posts were themselves held by Anglo-Normans. A chancellor and a seal had both appeared in the reigns of David’s brothers. But David almost certainly increased the output of documents, issuing writs (brieves) very much on the English model in order to govern his expanding realm. David also maintained a substantial body of household knights, who were Anglo-Norman. One, Alexander de St Martin, was granted ten marks a year from the king’s chamber, until his half fee in land was made up to a whole one; an arrangement (probably learnt from Henry I) which shows David’s canny use of patronage, his cash resources, and his general wealth.
David’s household knights (like Henry’s) may also have been employed as sheriffs and castellans in the localities. Sheriffs were ultimately to spread throughout royal Scotland as the king’s chief local agents and they appear for the first time under David, being based south of the Forth at Berwick, Roxburgh and Edinburgh, and north of it at Perth. The thanages and the thanes who ran them, collecting the traditional renders in kind due to the king, survived, but they did so within the jurisdiction of the sheriffs. Many sheriffs, though not all, were based in castles, and it was almost certainly David who introduced the castle to Scotland. His local agents had far more power than before; they may also have been more active in holding courts for the settlement of land disputes, and also for the punishment of crime if, as seems likely, the isolation of certain serious crimes as being crown pleas (much as in England) began in David’s reign. Related to these developments was another royal official who appears intermittently under David, namely the justiciar (justitia), who may have fulfilled a role similar to that of the English local justiciar. David was also active on his own account. He intervened to command the hearing of law cases, and as he travelled the realm heard those of the old and poor sitting at the entrance to his hall.
David’s ecclesiastical work was important in ‘modernizing’ Scotland. His command that ‘teinds’ (tithes) be paid to local churches was central to the establishment of parishes through endowing the priests and determining boundaries, the latter a necessary condition for deciding which church should receive the teinds. David was also a patron of the religious orders. In the heart of the old kingdom he built the church at Dunfermline, with its great columns reminiscent of Durham, and raised it from a priory to an abbey. He completed the introduction, begun by his brother, of Augustinian canons to serve the cathedral at St Andrews. He founded religious houses in the north and south of his kingdom, well aware of their importance as bases of royal authority. He placed a daughter house of Dunfermline at Urquhart in Moray, while in Lothian he established the highly successful Tironensian monastery at Kelso and the first Cistercian house in Scotland at Melrose. Since the latter was colonized from Rievaulx in Yorkshire, David thereby reduced the significance of the Tweed border.
It was not only for monks that David looked south. By far the most important development in his reign was the establishment of Anglo-Norman nobles in Scotland. This was the point at which the histories of Scotland and Wales fundamentally diverged. In Wales the Normans came as conquerors. They created their own areas of rule, and never integrated within the native kingdoms. In Scotland it was the opposite. The Anglo-Normans came as royal invitees. They became part of the existing kingdom, in the process transforming its structure and ultimately creating a new Scottish race. Many of those introduced, like Hugh de Moreville, were tenants of David’s honour of Huntingdon. Others were men he had probably befriended at the royal court, like Henry I’s protégé Robert de Bruce, ancestor of the line of kings. Bruce (now Brix) was in western Normandy, Henry I’s base before his accession. In Lothian and along the eastern coastal plain between the Forth and the Dee, the grants of land were usually quite small, like the half fee near Haddington given to Alexander de St Martin. In places between the Solway and the Clyde, some large provincial lordships were established. Walter fitz Alan was placed in Renfrew and Kyle, Hugh de Moreville in Cunningham, and Robert de Bruce in Annandale, where he controlled the key route from Cumberland to the north. The aim was to establish men with sufficient power to combat the independent rulers of Galloway and Argyll while at the same time tying the periphery to the centre; for all these men had also places at David’s court: Robert de Bruce until 1138 was the leading counsellor, Hugh de Moreville the constable and Walter fitz Alan (ancestor of the Stewarts) the steward. Meanwhile the lands of the earldom of Moray were granted to Freskin, probably a Fleming, the first of a great dynasty, whose tenure of other lands in Lothian prevented him ‘going native’. Such great lords in their turn enfeoffed their own followers, so that between 1160 and 1241 one can trace around 100 vassals, tenants and dependants of the fitz Alans, many from their family lands in Shropshire. It was these new lords, great and small, and their descendants who were largely responsible for the encastellation of Scotland. As many as 318 possible motte sites have been revealed, the great majority between the Clyde and the Solway, but also considerable numbers in the east between the Firths of Forth and Moray.
The terms on which David granted land were the ‘feudal’ ones he knew in England. Although evidence is lacking he probably received homage, demanded inheritance fines, and controlled wardships and marriages. He certainly exacted knight service, and the contingents brought by his barons probably served with the forces of the royal household. At the battle of the Standard, according to John of Worcester, these were 200 strong, a respectable number given that Henry I’s household knights at the battle of Bourgthéroulde were only a hundred more. Scottish armies, hitherto largely ‘bare-buttocked’ foot, as Henry of Huntingdon had called them, were now potentially far more formidable.
David, therefore, as a Scottish chronicler put it, ‘wisely taking thought for the future had furnished his kingdom with castles and weaponry’. He had brought his kingdom’s military technology into line with that of the rest of western Europe. Just where the land to endow the new aristocracy came from is, in the absence of an equivalent to Domesday Book, one of the unsolved mysteries of Scottish history. The large enfeoffments between the Solway and the Clyde may well have come in part from the lands which David had held before his accession. In Moray the lands of the fallen earl were employed, while between the Forth and Aberdeen earldom lands were also perhaps the key, since the earldom of Gowrie at some unknown time had come into the king’s hands, as had some of the lands of the earldoms of Mearns and Angus. But the endowment must also have involved the expropriation of native landholders. David himself acknowledged that others might have just claims to the land he was granting to Walter of Ryedale, near Jedburgh in Lothian.
David was able to contain tensions (which broke out on several occasions under his successors) because much of old Scotland remained in place. The royal thanages of the south and east were neither destroyed by the sheriffdoms nor used to endow the incomers. Just as well, since many native thanes aspired to hold their offices in hereditary right. Around the thanages the ‘outer ring’ of native earldoms – Menteith, Strathearn, Atholl, Mar and Buchan – were left undisturbed. David seems rarely to have visited those regions or issued writs concerning matters within them. Apart from expanding southwards to take in Newcastle and Carlisle, his itinerary, although evidence is limited, was largely confined to the area between the Tay, the Clyde and the Tweed, with Scone, Perth, Edinburgh, Stirling and Dunfermline being the most favoured centres. David did not, however, simply ignore the native Scots. If he had, he could scarcely have mobilized ‘the common army’ so effectively for his southern expeditions. The bishops, outside St Andrews and Glasgow, remained Scottish. One of the earls within the core of the kingdom, Duncan of Fife, became a leading councillor. If there was to be a standard-bearer for the disaffected, the obvious candidate was William fitz Duncan, whose descendants indeed made several bids for the throne. He was the son of David’s half-brother Duncan, who had been king briefly in the 1090s. But fitz Duncan’s loyalty was totally secured by David’s judicious favours. Another potentially dangerous kinsman, Madad, earl of Atholl, David married to a daughter of the earl of Orkney, recognizing their son, Harald Maddadson, as earl of Caithness. It was thus through diplomacy and conciliation that David sought to extend his influence in the far north, and protect his conquest of Moray.
David’s expansion southwards made an essential contribution to his ability to transform Scotland. He gained the resources to hold down resentment at home and offset his loss of royal and earldom lands in the great endowment of his followers. The farms of Northumberland and Cumberland alone were worth around £350 a year, judging from later figures. The Cumberland mines at Alston provided the silver for the first coins struck by a Scottish king. These, minted at Carlisle, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Perth, were of a full 22-grain standard, in marked contrast to the debased private issues elsewhere in England. Apart from bringing him an altogether new prestige, which was why he minted at Perth in the heart of the old kingdom, the new coins helped David to pay household knights with money from his chamber. His income was no longer simply in kind. Southern cash and silver were also part and parcel of a much wider commercial expansion in Scotland which produced cash income from the burghs David had established (see above, p. 48).
In striving to consolidate his rule in the south, the new technology was vital. King Malcolm had ravaged and departed. King David built castles and stayed: he constructed, or completed, the great keep at Carlisle and perhaps also built those at Lancaster, Warkworth and Bamburgh. But the old methods could be equally effective The prospect of further barbaric visitations, like those of 1138, was a powerful incentive to accept David’s rule, especially when David himself (getting the best of both worlds) seemed so apologetic about it. When Abbot Richard of Hexham came to Carlisle at the end of 1138 to complain, almost before he could open his mouth, David was promising reparations.
David also did all he could to foster cross-border landholding. In 1135 only one of the northern barons held land in Scotland – Robert de Bruce, who combined Annandale with Skelton in north Yorkshire. Quite probably Henry I had forbidden such cross-border holdings on the principle that one cannot serve two masters. Now David installed his constable, Hugh de Moreville, in Westmorland, gave Gilbert de Umfraville, lord of Prudhoe in Northumberland, land in Lothian and Stirlingshire, and, most striking of all, married William fitz Duncan to the heiress of the honours of Egremont in Cumberland and Skipton in Craven, the latter strategically placed astride the east–west pass through the Pennines. David was also ‘one of us’ and made every effort to demonstrate it. At the end of 1138, having taken Wark, he allowed the garrison to go free with their arms and gave them twenty-four horses: the right chivalric stuff. It was likewise to seem conciliatory that David’s son, Henry, acted as earl in Northumberland so that the area seemed less directly subject to Scottish rule.
It was not all plain sailing, however. The failure to make Durham a base (he never controlled its mint) was a serious weakness. In 1141 David had supported the candidacy of his former chancellor, William Cumin, for the bishopric, but this thoroughly alienated the cathedral monks; Cumin never gained possession and was finally removed by the pope in 1144. In 1152 the monks elected as bishop Stephen’s nephew, Hugh de Puiset. While few of the northerners had extensive landholdings either in England or in Normandy, their lands in Yorkshire made them hesitate before joining David if they calculated his rule might fail to reach so far south. Thus in 1138 while Eustace fitz John sided with David in order to secure his great lordship of Alnwick in Northumberland, Walter Espec plumped for Stephen, losing Wark on Tweed but keeping Helmsley in Yorkshire with its adjoining monastery at Rievaulx, which he had founded. Robert de Bruce himself, lord of Annandale in Scotland and Skelton in North Yorkshire, was similarly torn and begged David to make peace, much as the Anglo-Norman barons had tried to keep the peace between king and duke. But when there was war he chose Stephen. The solution here in the next generation was a division of the properties between Robert’s sons.
Another threat to David’s realm in the 1140s was presented by Ranulf, earl of Chester, who was pressing his own claims to Lancaster and still made something of his father’s loss of Carlisle. And then there was the Empress’s son Henry, the future Henry II, who was gradually assuming the leadership of his cause. Since 1141 David had remained nominally within the Empress’s allegiance. But if Henry one day gained the crown, would he accept all David’s conquests? In 1149 David tried to solve these problems. He welcomed Henry to Carlisle along with Earl Ranulf and Henry Murdac, whom Stephen was excluding from the archbishopric of York. Ranulf surrendered his claims to Carlisle, and received instead the honour of Lancaster which extended as far south as the Ribble. A swap, but one which left David as Lancaster’s overlord. At the same time Henry fitz Empress promised that he would never deprive David’s heirs of ‘any part of the lands which had passed from England to his dominion’, a definitive recognition, or so it seemed, that Northumberland, Cumbria south of the Solway and the honour of Lancaster were now in David’s kingdom. After these agreements, the plan was to march to York, install Murdac and then go south to put Henry on the throne. But Stephen acted with his normal decision. He hurried to York himself and the hostile invasion fell apart. In 1151 he came to terms with Murdac, removing the archbishop from David’s camp. Yet David, old though he was, was not finished. In the same year he marched south and put William fitz Duncan firmly in possession of Skipton, characteristically giving silver chalices to the churches robbed by the Scots along the way.
David had created a new realm in the north of Britain. To the core of the Scottish kingdom (including Lothian) he had bound or re-bound both Moray and Cumbria north of the Solway. He had then expanded his realm to take in the whole of the far north of England. To secure the future, David had, perhaps as early as 1136, made his son Henry ‘king designate’, in imitation of Capetian practice. The harmony in which Henry was groomed for kingship, in such stark contrast to the quarrels of the Conqueror and Henry II with their sons, was not the least of David’s achievements. And then in 1152 Prince Henry died. David was now nearly seventy. He ordered Duncan, the native earl of Fife (an astute choice), to take Malcolm, Henry’s eldest son, around the realm and proclaim him heir. He himself went to Newcastle and persuaded the leading men of Northumberland to accept the over-lordship of Henry’s second son, William – ominously having to take hostages as security. Next year David himself, the greatest of all the Scottish kings, died at Carlisle. Malcolm was only twelve. The future of the newly-expanded realm would depend very much on events in England.
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The turmoil in England after 1141 also benefited the Welsh rulers. They consolidated the gains made between 1136 and 1138, and advanced beyond them. True, in 1144 Hugh de Mortimer of Wigmore re-established his position in Maelienydd and Elfael in the area between Wye and Severn. In 1147 the pope pronounced against Bishop Bernard’s passionate attempt to establish a metropolitan see at St Davids. His successor, like the new bishops of Bangor and Llandaff (in 1139–40), all professed obedience to Canterbury. However, in 1146 the rulers of Deheubarth and Gwynedd combined to see off a formidable effort by Gilbert de Clare, earl of Pembroke and lord of Chepstow, to establish himself at Carmarthen and recover his family’s hold over Ceredigion. In 1147, when Gilbert might have renewed the struggle, he was embroiled in Stephen’s quarrel with the earl of Chester. He died in 1148 or 1149, leaving a teenage son, and the pressure was off. In 1150 it was Cadel ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth who rebuilt the castle at Carmarthen ‘for the strength and splendour of his kingdom’. Advances were likewise made by Madog ap Maredudd, who held sway in Powys from 1132 to 1160, the greatest of its rulers and a ‘firm anchor in a deep sea’, as the poet sang. In 1149 Madog moved beyond the border into Shropshire and built a castle at Oswestry, an advance made possible by the enfeeblement of its lord, William fitz Alan, in the civil war. The ‘county now called Shropshire once belonged to Powys,’ wrote Gerald of Wales. Perhaps it might again.
In the north Owain ap Gruffudd ap Cynan of Gwynedd also moved east. He captured the earl of Chester’s castle at Rhuddlan and in 1146 destroyed the castle at Mold, which guarded the pass through the mountains from the Clywd valley to the Cheshire plain. Earl Ranulf’s reaction was to seek help from Stephen. But the result was not an expedition to Gwynedd but his arrest at Northampton, whereupon the Welsh invaded Cheshire. Although Owain was driven back, his power now embraced the whole of the Four Cantrefs from the Conwy to the Dee. Ranulf’s death in December 1153, leaving a six-year-old son as heir, seemed to make this enlarged Gwynedd secure. But by this time Owain’s position had been shaken by family strife: between 1150 and 1152 he imprisoned his son Cynan, drove his brother Cadwaladr into exile, and blinded and castrated a nephew. This turmoil probably explains how the rulers of Deheubarth at this time wrested Ceredigion from Gwynedd, expelling Owain’s son Hywel, and securing their conquest with castles. By 1155 three princes dominated Wales: Owain of Gwynedd, Madog of Powys and Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth. Would they be able to keep their gains in the new world after 1154?
Some of the signs were encouraging. The Welsh had learnt from the Anglo-Normans, and not merely militarily. Stephen had consoled himself after his early disasters, according to the Gesta Stephani, with the thought that the Welsh would soon begin slaughtering each other. Yet in fact political conduct in native Wales was beginning to imitate that in the Anglo-Norman realm where murders and political executions were rare. Indeed there were none at all, so far as great nobles were concerned, in the whole of Stephen’s reign. Tensions certainly existed within Gwynedd in the 1150s, as elsewhere in Wales, but the bloodletting and competition paled before that of the past. The rulers of Gwynedd and Deheubarth co-operated effectively in the campaigns of 1136–7 and 1146, and again in the 1160s. In Powys the killings within the ruling house earlier in the century cleared the way for the long and stable rule of Madog ap Maredudd. In Deheubarth, the four sons of Gruffudd ap Rhys each held sway in turn. The brothers Morgan and Iorwerth, grandsons of King Caradog, co-operated effectively as they recovered Caerleon and other family lands in Gwent. Their careers illustrate another point. The Welsh were nothing if not pragmatic; if they were enemies of the Anglo-Normans, they were also their allies. Morgan and Iorwerth’s early success depended on their agreement with Robert of Gloucester, Morgan even fighting for the earl at the battle of Lincoln. Later Morgan was recognized as a king by Earl Roger of Hereford and (here masquerading as a marcher baron) he was confirmed in possession of ‘the honour of Caerleon’ by Henry II himself.
In all this the Welsh were fired by an increasingly self-confident patriotism, the product in part of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s rediscovery of their history and re-invention of their greatest king – King Arthur himself (see above, p. 20). Caerleon, which King Morgan had recovered, had hosted courts of Arthur. In the north, the biography of Gruffudd ap Cynan saw its hero specifically as another Arthur, ‘king of the kings of the isle of Britain’. No wonder an Anglo-Norman survey of Britain in the 1150s lamented how the Welsh ‘threaten us… openly they go about saying, by means of Arthur they will have [the island] back… They will call it Britain again’. All this was very different from the apprehensive mood in which the Scottish court faced the accession of Henry II.
* * *
There was nothing inevitable about Henry’s emergence, however. In 1147 Stephen had knighted his young and warlike son Eustace. There was therefore a clear potential heir. Meanwhile death had removed the Empress’s chief supporters, Miles of Gloucester in 1143, and Earl Robert himself in 1147. Of their sons, Roger, earl of Hereford, played his own hand while William, earl of Gloucester, proved more a knight of the bedchamber than the battlefield. Then in February 1148 the Empress retired to Normandy. Her long, lonely, courageous sojourn at Devizes after 1141, where she had consolidated support by the judicious use of patronage, had been the most impressive part of her career.
None of this exactly cleared the way for Stephen and Eustace. The issue was no longer the succession of the crusty Empress, but of her dynamic and dextrous sixteen-year-old son, the future Henry II. Henry’s plans in 1149 had been thwarted by Stephen’s swift march to York. But across the Channel, by his father’s concession, he had become duke of Normandy, and then in 1152, in a remarkable coup, duke of Aquitaine, this through his momentous marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the divorced wife of Louis VII of France. The match altered the political shape of Europe with results that lasted for 200 years. But in the short term it threw Louis, shocked at his wife’s re-marriage, into the arms of Eustace. In 1152 they campaigned together in Normandy, while in England Stephen was able to take Newbury. There, with characteristic humanity and humour, he saved the boy William Marshal, a future regent of England, from being catapulted into the castle when his father refused its surrender, and took him off to play in his tent.
In 1153 Henry arrived in England, but with Normandy’s resources depleted by his father’s concessions, he brought no overwhelming force. There were stand-offs at Malmesbury (where rain stopped play) and at Wallingford. The fact was that the magnates were reluctant to fight a decisive battle. They too had suffered from the disorder, which had weakened their hold over some of their knightly tenants. They wanted peace, but not some dominant victor who might retrieve their gains from the crown and threaten their local power. They preferred, as Henry of Huntingdon put it, to keep Stephen and Henry ‘in fear of each other’ so that ‘the royal authority should not be effectively exercised against them’. In these circumstances it was vital for Stephen to secure Eustace’s coronation, but this the pope and Archbishop Theobald refused to sanction. Building on a papal ruling of 1143, they were doubtless influenced too by their own clashes with the king. But Theobald equally did not declare for Henry, for that would only have infuriated Eustace and ensured the continuation of the war. Fundamentally the church sat on the fence and waited for a victor.
In the end, a stalemate war could only end in a compromise peace, and the way for that was opened by Eustace’s sudden death in August 1153. In terms of conduct and attitudes, Stephen himself had never really made the transition from count to king, and William, his surviving son, was very ready to go back to being a count. A settlement, the Treaty of Winchester, was agreed on 6 November 1153. Henry confirmed William in all Stephen’s possessions before 1135, and granted him Norwich castle, all the king’s rights in Norfolk and much else besides. Then a dispute which had raged for twenty-four years was settled in a few crisp lines. Stephen made Henry his heir and successor, and granted him the kingdom in hereditary right. Henry on his part accepted Stephen as king for the rest of his life.
But what then of the magnates’ disputes with one another, and the royal lands and offices which they had extracted from Stephen, the Empress and indeed from Henry himself? At Winchester it was agreed that the new castles built during the war should be demolished, a necessary condition of peace. It was agreed too, according to the chronicler Robert of Torigny, that ‘possessions seized by invaders’ should be restored to the ‘legitimate possessors’ in place under Henry I. This, of course, might prove highly contentious, but no mechanisms were set up to bring it about. In any case what constituted ‘invasion’ and ‘legitimate possession’? Henry probably felt the settlement licensed him to recall all grants of crown property since 1135, but Stephen was not going to act in that spirit. There was no way he would resume the grants to his own supporters. Fundamentally everything was still to play for. The peace threatened a continuation of the war by other means. Henry was not to succeed at once as a mighty conqueror, but at some unknown time in the future with all Stephen’s pieces still on the board. This was indeed a magnates’ peace.
Stephen enjoyed a brief Indian summer in which he dismantled some of the new castles and issued a coinage once again from mints throughout the country. He died on 25 October 1154. Henry succeeded without difficulty but faced a monumental task in rebuilding royal power.