1153-54: A Treaty and Death Comes

Henry of Anjou returned to England in January 1153, his own situation much changed. He was now Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine, and in the right of his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, ruler of the duchy of Aquitaine. He had also become a skilled military tactician. Both clergy and barons alike seem to have accepted that peace would only come if Henry was recognised as Stephen’s heir, even if Stephen himself didn’t quite see it that way. The challenge was to convince the King.

This task was made unexpectedly simple when Eustace suddenly died in August 1153 while he was pillaging church lands in Bury St Edmunds. Stephen’s younger son, William, had not expected to be king and the way for negotiations had now been opened. In the Treaty of Wallingford (also called Westminster) it was agreed that Stephen would remain king until his death, William was to inherit all of his baronial lands, and Henry would be nominated as Stephen’s heir, effectively ending the dispute over the English throne and the subsequent civil war.

Some credit is also due to William d’Aubigny, 1st Earl of Arundel. Stephen had built counter castles near Wallingford in order to attack Brian Fitzcount, one of Matilda’s key supporters, at Wallingford Castle. Henry had determined to launch attacks on Stephen’s fortifications and a battle had been expected. William successfully argued that further fighting was futile and a truce was reached on the banks of the Thames which infuriated Eustace as he was opposed to a settlement. After his death it appears that a more formal agreement was written in November 1153 and signed in Westminster.

King Stephen died on 25th October 1154 at Dover and was buried alongside his wife, Matilda of Boulogne, and eldest son Eustace in their foundation church, Faversham Abbey, in Kent. Today next to nothing remains of the church and the area is now a school sports field. Like many others it suffered during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

In stark contrast to most of his Norman predecessors the transition of Henry II as King of England when smoothly and he wasn’t immediately required to rush straight from Normandy to London for his coronation. Among Henry’s first actions as King was to the demolish all of the unlicensed castles that had been built in King Stephen’s time. He also rewarded Wallingford for its loyalty and assistance by the issue of its royal charter in 1155.

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Stephen Meddles in Church Affairs

As already noted in previous blog entries Stephen’s actions toward the clergy in England had dire consequences for his kingship particularly his treatment of Roger, Bishop of Salisbury in the year 1139. In addition, his appointment of Theobald of Bec as Archbishop of Canterbury caused further ill feeling between the king and his brother, Bishop Henry. We also know that the last few years of Stephen’s reign were dominated by his unsuccessful attempts to have his son Eustace crowned his in own lifetime.

Two letters, one written by Bernard of Clairvaux in about 1140 and one by Pope Eugene III in 1147, provide further evidence of Stephen’s sometimes awkward handling of church affairs. Both letters were addressed to his Queen, Matilda of Bolougne, and both requested her intervention with the King.

The first letter concerned the appointment of William Fitzherbert to the See of York. He was a relative of Stephen’s and the King had not only suggested his appointment but invested him after an election which was fiercely contested. This caused a dispute that continued for six years and during this episode Bernard also wrote a strongly worded letter to Stephen which appears to have gone unheeded.

The subject of the second letter was in regard to the episcopacy of London. Matilda, The Empress, had selected Robert de Sigillo and he had been canonically elected in 1141. After Stephen had been restored to his position as king he demanded an oath of fealty from Robert which he refused to give. Stephen persecuted him and in his letter the Pope urged the Queen to intervene and persuade the King to accept a promise instead of the oath.

1142-49: Discord Lingers On

Stephen’s resumption of his duties as king in no way meant that everything from here on in went smoothly.

In June 1142 Robert crossed from Wareham to Normandy to discuss matters with Geoffrey of Anjou. However, Geoffrey was still committed to the fight in Normandy and declined to supply the troops and resources Robert sorely needed. Surprisingly though, he did allow Robert to return to England in October with young Henry, he and Matilda’s eldest son.

In the meantime, Stephen had taken advantage of Robert’s absence and had, after a rather skillful diversionary tactic, besieged Matilda at Oxford Castle which was held by Robert D’Oyly who was the son of Nigel D’Oyly. He appeared determined not to let her escape this time and pressed the siege relentlessly. However, in a move that has become legendary, Matilda escaped after being lowered by rope from the castle walls at night. With four companions, all of them wrapped in white cloaks to disguise themselves against the snow, she escaped to Wallingford which was held by Brian Fitzcount.

• 1142-44: Dealing with a Rebellious Baron
In amongst all the twists and turns of the skirmishes between the forces of the King and those of Robert of Gloucester, Stephen was also called upon to deal with the rebellious activities of Geoffrey de Mandeville. He was another baron who switched sides at will. Stephen had made him Earl of Essex in late 1139 or during 1140 and then in 1141 appointed him custodian of the White Tower in London. He, like many barons, supported Matilda after Stephen’s defeat at the Battle of Lincoln and she reconfirmed his possessions and granted him the Norman lands of his paternal grandfather, Eudo de Rie (Dapifer), and appointed him sheriff of Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and London. After Stephen’s release he turned his support back to the King but it must have been short-lived because he rebelled and Stephen confiscated his castles in 1143. During 1143 and 1144 Geoffrey set up his headquarters in the fen country of East Anglia and used the Isle of Ely and Ramsey Abbey as a base for his rebel operations. From this position it was difficult for the King to effectively contain Geoffrey’s activities, although he was eventually besieged by Stephen. Geoffrey died in September 1144, the result of an arrow wound he had received in a skirmish while attacking Burwell Castle in August 1144.

Turning his full attention back to the ongoing struggle to hang onto his crown, Stephen slowly to pushed towards Robert’s strongholds in Bristol as Robert continued the fight on behalf of Matilda, The Empress, although the chance of either side gaining overall victory were slim.

Matilda lost one of her supporters when Miles of Gloucester was killed in a hunting accident in 1143. At the end of 1145 Robert suffered a major blow when his son Philip changed his allegiance to Stephen. Philip took with him the strategic castles of Cricklade and Cirencester. Robert realised Gloucester and Bristol were under threat and in 1146 he opened negotiations which, given his unsuccessful attack on Farnham in Surrey in 1147, must have proven fruitless. It was when he returned to Bristol to gather new forces that he became ill and died on 31st October 1147.

At this point Matilda appears to have become disheartened, realising perhaps that without her mainstay and military commander the fight really was now unwinnable. She returned to Anjou and Normandy, leaving the struggle to be taken up by her son Henry. However, unrest would continue throughout the remainder of Stephen’s reign.

In 1149 Henry arrived in England with a small force but lacked the resources to change the situation. Oddly, it seems that Stephen met with Henry and gave him the necessary aid to return to Normandy after he had been refused assistance by his own supporters. It was another gesture on his part which no doubt raised a few eyebrows amongst some of the barons.

The last few years of Stephen’s reign were dominated by his attempts to have his son Eustace crowned in his own lifetime. The clergy, particularly Theobald of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury, had stubbornly refused. He was prepared to recognise Stephen as king but it would seem he had no desire to prolong the civil war which surely would have continued on had Eustace been crowned. In this decision Theobald had Papal backing so he refused to grant Stephen’s request.