7 – The Anarchy!

The keep at Goodrich in Herefordshire in the Welsh Marches, an example of the style of fortification slowly beginning to replace wooden motte and bailey castle designs by the late 1130s

Civil war is something that humans have seen all-too often – it still goes on today when one faction disputes the authority of another and the sides go to battle. It has happened all to often in Africa, Europe and even the United States of America had their own civil war.

When Henry I’s only son, William Adelin, died in the White Ship disaster of 1120, this left the English throne without a male heir.

Henry had plans for his daughter, the Empress Matilda, to take over but without the support of the nobles, his nephew Stephen of Blois claimed the throne in 1135 and this brought to bare the period known as The Anarchy.

The Anarchy was a war of succession between Stephen and the Empress Matilda from 1138 till 1153, which resulted in the complete breakdown of law and order.

Stephen’s seizure of the English throne was helped by his brother Henry of blois, who was the bishop of Winchester. His early reign saw fierce fighting with disloyal English Barons, rebellious Welsh leaders and Scottish invaders.

Following a major rebellion in the south-west of England, Matilda invaded in 1139 with the help of her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester.

The country was split in three, with Matilda controlling the south-west, Stephen the south-east and the rest of the country controlled by barons who refused to support either camp.

The conflict was a war of attrition and comprised mainly of sieges, raiding and skirmishes because the castles of those days were easily defensible.

Stephen was captured at the battle of Lincoln in 1141 but when Matilda tried to have herself crowned queen in London, she was chased away by angry crowds. In return, Robert was captured at the rout of Winchester but the sides agreed to a prisoner-swap.

The Battle of Lincoln, 1141; A – Welsh forces; B – Robert of Gloucester; C – Alan; D – Stephen; E – William; F – Fosse Dyke; G – Lincoln Castle; H – Lincoln Cathedral; I – City of Lincoln; J – River Witham

Matilda herself was almost captured in Oxford but managed to escape across the frozen River Thames. During this period, Robert had conquered most of Normandy in Matilda’s name but the war in England was going nowhere.

Matilda left England in 1148 and left the campaigning to her son, Henry FitzEmpress. In 1152, Stephen tried to have his son, Eustace, recognised by the Catholic Church as the next heir but they refused to do so. The barons, by this time, were war weary and favoured a negotiated peace.

St George’s Tower at Oxford Castle, where Stephen almost captured the Empress Matilda

Henry FitzEmpress invaded England in 1153 but neither side were keen for a fight. After a few skirmishes, the sides faced each other at the siege of Wallingford but the church brokered a peace. During negotiations between Stephen and Henry, Eustace died of illness, leaving Stephen with no direct heir to the throne.

The Treaty of Wallingford allowed Stephen to remain on the throne but recognized Henry as heir to the throne. Stephen began to reassert his authority over the kingdom but died of disease in 1154.

Henry was crowned as Henry II, the first Angevin king of England, which began a long period of reconstruction.

The king of Scotland and Welsh rulers took advantage during the long English civil war, seizing disputed lands. But Henry set about turning this around and in 1157, King Malcolm of Scotland returned lands in the north of England to Henry, with Henry refortifying the northern frontier.

Wales proved different with Henry having to embark on two campaigns in the north and south of Wales in 1157 and 1158 before the Welsh princes Owain Gwynedd and Rhys ap Gruffydd submitted to his rule.

Henry would face his own revolt in 1173, known as the Great Revolt in which his sons, led by young Henry. The conflict lasted until 1174 before Henry II and his son held negotiations which offered a lenient peace.

Henry died on 6 June 1189 while on campaign in Anjou form a bleeding ulcer.

Henry was not a popular king and few expressed much grief upon news of his death.

Henry’s son, Richard, was crowned king of England on 3 September 1189 and became known as Richard I – or Richard the Lionheart!

Author: Brendon

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