Matilda (1101-69), Queen of England 1141 (Page 8)

Matilda born 1101, was her father Henry I's heiress as his sole surviving legitimate issue. The barons of England and Normandy, at Henry's insistence, swore to uphold her right to the throne, but when her father died and her cousin Stephen landed in England, most of them backed him instead. The civil war which ensued, lasted for many years before Stephen finally agreed to make Matilda's son Henry, his own heir.


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Matilda (1101-69), Queen of England 1141
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Civil War 1137-41

Stephen proved to be a soft, ineffectual ruler.  Not punishing harshly enough, and being prone to using gifts to gain adherence.  Wales had essentially broken away, and Scotland kept launching border raids.  The largest blow however was perhaps when Henry's eldest natural son Robert, Earl of Gloucester broke off his allegiance to Stephen, and backed Matilda and Geoffrey.  "Shortly after Pentecost" in 1139 says Malmesbury, Robert "...renounced his fealty, and disannulled his homage". (Source)  Rumors had been spreading that Robert might do such a thing, and perhaps it was with an eye to this that certain bishops in England had been building and fortifying their own castles.  Certainly Stephen, with just or unjust reasons seized these castles, and the bishops themselves, whom he kept in close confinement.  This was a decisive blunder, as his own brother Henry Bishop of Winchester, his strongest supporter, after trying to dissuade him, called a canonical council to denounce Stephen.  Stephen was keeping the bishops in confinement, and had taken their lands, built with church monies and given them to laymen.  Stephen felt perhaps that this was part of a just campaign to weaken strong leaders, but contemporary writers, like Malmesbury, perhaps echoing ecclesiastical sentiment, saw this as a great affront to the church.  Stephen needed the support of the church and he had now cut that branch.

Matilda seeing her chance, arrived with Robert and "not more than 140 horsemen" in England in October 1139 (Source), thereby inaugurating a period of inconclusive civil war.  Robert gave Matilda into the safe keeping of her stepmother Adelicia, now the wife of William d'Albini, at Arundel.  But Adelicia, Malmesbury tells us, was not faithful to her oath, and Matilda was forced to quit that place whereupon she was given to the safe keeping of Henry Bishop of Winchester and Waleran Earl of Mellent.  Stephen arrived with an armed force to capture Matilda, but then allowed her to go to Bristol under escort, to join her brother Robert of Gloucester.  This was his second decisive blunder.  If he had banished her back acrost the sea, she wouldn't have been able to form a local center for resistance, which she now began to do.  She then made her way to Gloucester where she was received by Milo who held the castle of that city.  Working from the power base of her half-brother, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, in the West Country, this inaugurated a period of inconclusive civil war.

After three years of armed struggle, she at last gained the upper hand at the Battle of Lincoln where an army led by her half-brother Robert of Gloucester, in February 1141, captured King Stephen, and sent him in chains, to imprisonment at the castle of Bristol which Matilda controlled.


Civil War 1141-52

She then began a triumphal procession through various important towns.  In midsummer 1141 she entered London to take up her residence at Westminster.  However, despite being declared "Lady and Queen of the English" at Winchester and winning over Stephen's brother, Henry of Blois, the powerful Bishop of Winchester, Matilda alienated the citizens of London with her arrogant manner. She failed to secure her coronation and the Londoners joined a renewed push from Stephen's queen and laid siege to the Empress in Winchester. She managed to escape to the West, but while commanding her rearguard, her brother Robert was captured by the enemy.

Stephen was swapped for Robert on 1st November 1141, and while one source claims that this was at Matilda's bidding, another claims it was done without her knowledge.  King Stephen soon reimposed authority over part of England.  The dramatic part of the story is over and the two sides now engage, in various small maneuvers over many years, dragging out the war with no resolution in sight.  One more dramatic scene however occurs in 1142.  A delegation had been sent to Anjou to try to persuade Matilda's husband Geoffrey to lend his personal presence to the campaign.  Geoffrey replied that he would listen if Robert came to him. (Source)  Robert at first dissembled, but finally agreed, and in June 1142 went oversea, leaving Matilda in Oxford castle.  While in Normandy, Geoffrey made excuses why he could not go to England, chief being that the castles of Normandy would revolt, if he were to leave.  So Robert assisted Geoffrey in subduing ten castles there.  Geoffrey made fresh excuses, but did allow their eldest child, the future King Henry II to go with his half-uncle back to England.

Meanwhile, Matilda is in her stronghold at Oxford when Stephen makes a surprise attack 26 Sep.  The place is laid under siege and after some time, Matilda determines to make her escape.  It is just before Christmas, the ground is white, being covered with snow, and Matilda clad all-in-white is lowered from a tower and steals across the lines, escaping on-foot to Abingdon six miles away where she obtains horses and rides to safety at Wallingford.  Stephen takes Oxford, but the great advantage he could have had, had he captured Matilda, is now gone.  Robert joins her at Wallingford and has brought with him, her son Henry, now ten years old, who would remain in the stronghold at Bristol under a tutor for the next four years.

Geoffrey has now gone on the offensive in Normandy and after a rapid campaign, the remainder of that county, not previously under his control, falls into his hands, with Rouen surrendering Jan 1144.  Robert of Gloucester dies on Halloween night 31 Oct 1147.  Matilda losing her last strong backer, in 1148 finally returns  to Normandy, leaving her son, who, in 1154, would become Henry II, to fight on in England.  Henry was knighted in 1149 by her uncle, King David of Scotland and they with the Earl of Chester were going to attack Stephen, but the Earl's allegiance had again been bought back by Stephen and so this came to nothing.  Henry returned to Normandy.  Upon his return, his father handed over to him the duchy of Normandy and retired to his own county of Anjou.  Geoffrey died on his way home from the court of French king Louis, 7 Sep 1151.

Stephen took this time to try to get Pope Eugenius to consecrate Stephen's son Eustache as King of England.  The Pope however rejected this attempt on the grounds of the original violated oath (to Matilda).  Henry again invaded England, Stephen's heir Eustache went mad and died in 1153 and shortly afterward, that same year, Stephen and Henry agreed to the Treaty of Wallingford which recognized Henry as Stephen's heir to the throne, even though Stephen had another living son.


See Also

Matilda (1101-69), Queen of England 1141
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