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Stephen (1092 or 1096 – October 25, 1154), often referred to as Stephen of Blois, was King of England from December 22, 1135 to his death in 1154.

Stephen was a younger son of the Stephen Henry, Count of Blois and Adela of Normandy. Stephen’s mother, Adela, was the daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, famous amongst her contemporaries for her piety, wealth and political talent.

Stephen was married to Matilda of Boulogne. Her father was Count Eustace III of Boulogne. Her mother, Mary, was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland and Saint Margaret of Scotland. Through her maternal grandmother, Matilda was descended from the Anglo-Saxon kings of England.

This made Stephen, was Count of Boulogne jure uxoris (by right of his wife) from 1125 until 1147 and Duke of Normandy from 1135 until 1144. His reign was marked by the Anarchy, a civil war with his cousin and rival, the Empress Matilda, whose son, Henry II, succeeded Stephen as the first of the Angevin kings of England.

Empress Matilda (c. February 7, 1102 – September 10, 1167), also known as the Empress Maude, was one of the claimants to the English throne during the Anarchy. The daughter of King Henry I of England, she moved to Germany as a child when she married the future Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich V.

Matilda travelled with her husband into Italy in 1116, was controversially crowned in St Peter’s Basilica, and acted as the imperial regent in Italy. Matilda and Heinrich V had no children, and when he died in 1125, the imperial crown was claimed by his rival Lothair of Supplinburg.

Matilda’s younger brother, William Adelin, died in the White Ship disaster of 1120, leaving Matilda’s father and realm facing a potential succession crisis. On Emperor Heinrich V’s death, Matilda was recalled to Normandy by her father, who arranged for her to marry Geoffrey of Anjou to form an alliance to protect his southern borders.

Stephen, King of England and Count of Blois

Henry I had no further legitimate children and nominated Matilda as his heir, making his court swear an oath of loyalty to her and her successors, but the decision was not popular in the Anglo-Norman court. Henry died in 1135, but Matilda and Geoffrey faced opposition from Anglo-Norman barons. The throne was instead taken by Matilda’s cousin Stephen of Blois, who enjoyed the backing of the English Church.

In the ensuing civil war a decisive battle, The Battle of Lincoln, or the First Battle of Lincoln, occurred on February 2, 1141 in Lincoln, England between King Stephen of England and forces loyal to Empress Matilda. Stephen was captured during the battle, imprisoned, and effectively deposed while Matilda ruled for a short time.

The forces of King Stephen of England had been besieging Lincoln Castle but were themselves attacked by a relief force loyal to Empress Matilda and commanded by Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, Matilda’s half-brother.

The Angevin army consisted of the divisions of Robert’s men, those of Ranulf, Earl of Chester and those disinherited by Stephen, while on the flank was a mass of Welsh troops led by Madog ap Maredudd, Lord of Powys, and Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd. Cadwaladr was the brother of Owain, King of Gwynedd, but Owain did not support any side in the Anarchy. Stephen’s force included William of Ypres; Simon of Senlis; Gilbert of Hertford; William of Aumale, Alan of Richmond and Hugh Bigod but was markedly short of cavalry.

As soon as the battle was joined, the majority of the leading magnates fled the king. Other important magnates captured with the king were Baldwin fitz Gilbert; Bernard de Balliol, Roger de Mowbray; Richard de Courcy; William Peverel of Nottingham; Gilbert de Gant; Ingelram de Say; Ilbert de Lacy and Richard fitzUrse, all men of respected baronial families; it had only been the Earls who had fled.

Even as the royal troops listened to the exhortations of Stephen’s lieutenant, Baldwin fitz Gilbert, the advancing enemy was heard and soon the disinherited Angevin knights charged the cavalry of the five earls.

On the left Earl William Aumale of York and William Ypres charged and smashed the poorly armed, ‘but full of spirits’, Welsh division but were themselves in turn routed ‘in a moment’ by the well-ordered military might of Earl Ranulf who stood out from the mass in ‘his bright armour’.

The earls, outnumbered and outfought, were soon put to flight and many of their men were killed and captured. King Stephen and his knights were rapidly surrounded by the Angevin force.

Then might you have seen a dreadful aspect of battle, on every quarter around the king’s troop fire flashing from the meeting of swords and helmets – a dreadful crash, a terrific clamour – at which the hills re-echoed, the city walls resounded. With horses spurred on, they charged the king’s troop, slew some, wounded others, and dragging some away, made them prisoners.

No rest, no breathing time was granted them, except in the quarter where stood that most valiant king, as the foe dreaded the incomparable force of his blows. The earl of Chester, on perceiving this, envying the king his glory, rushed upon him with all the weight of his armed men. Then was seen the might of the king, equal to a thunderbolt, slaying some with his immense battle-axe, and striking others down.

Then arose the shouts afresh, all rushing against him and him against all. At length through the number of the blows, the king’s battle-axe was broken asunder. Instantly, with his right hand, drawing his sword, well worthy of a king, he marvellously waged the combat, until the sword as well was broken asunder.

On seeing this William Kahamnes [i.e. William de Keynes], a most powerful knight, rushed upon the king, and seizing him by the helmet, cried with a loud voice, “Hither, all of you come hither! I have taken the king!”

After fierce fighting in the city’s streets, Stephen’s forces were defeated. Stephen himself was captured and taken to Bristol, where he was imprisoned. He was subsequently exchanged for Robert of Gloucester, who was later captured in the Rout of Winchester the following September. This ended Matilda’s brief ascendancy in the wars with Stephen.