Biographies – King Stephen

• Stephen of Blois and Matilda of Boulogne

Reign: 1135-1154
Birth: c.1096, Blois, France
Death: 25 October 1154, Dover Castle, Kent
Burial: Faversham Abbey, Kent
Father: Stephen II, Count of Blois and Champagne
Mother: Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror
Marriage: 1125, Westminster, London – Matilda of Boulogne
Eustace, Count of Boulogne
William, Count of Boulogne, Earl of Surrey
Mary, Countess of Boulogne

Stephen was the grandson of William the Conqueror, nephew and favourite of Henry I, who became the wealthiest landowner under Henry’s patronage. He became Count of Mortain in Normandy and held estates in Lancaster, Suffolk, and Essex in England. Via his marriage to Matilda of Boulogne he added the important port of Wissant and title Count of Boulogne to his estates, though she held them in her own right.

Stephen was the son of Count Stephen II of Blois (sometimes called Stephen Henry) who participated in the First Crusade. His mother was the formidable, domineering, and pious Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror who, after her husband’s death in 1102, chose to administer Blois and settle her children’s futures herself. She bypassed her eldest son William and appointed Theobald as heir of Blois, arranged for Stephen to be sent to Henry’s court to make his own good fortune, and younger son Henry was sent to Cluny and the monastic life. It is not certain exactly when Stephen arrived at the court of Henry I but he was in attendance by c.1113.

I don’t want to give away too much information about Stephen’s actions until the discussion of events during his reign. Suffice to say for now that after Henry I’s death in 1135, Stephen convinced the clergy to crown him King of England, effectively usurping the throne and breaking his oath of fealty to his cousin Matilda, The Empress.

King Stephen died on 25 October 1154 and was buried alongside his wife and his son Eustace in their foundation church, Faversham Abbey in Kent. Like so many others this church fell into disrepair at the time of the Dissolution during the reign of Henry VIII, and their bones were apparently thrown into a nearby river or creek. A Victorian era inscription on a tomb in a local parish church states that it is the final resting place of Stephen and his wife but without opening the tomb who can say for sure? The original abbey is gone and the area is now a school sports field.

Matilda of Boulogne
Born: c.1105 Boulogne, France
Died: 3 May 1152, Hedingham Castle, Essex
Burial: Faversham Abbey, Kent
Father: Eustace III, Count of Boulogne
Mother: Mary of Scotland

Matilda, Countess of Boulogne, Queen consort and wife of King Stephen, was descended from the pre conquest English kings through her maternal grandmother. She was the daughter of Count Eustace III of Boulogne and his wife Mary of Scotland, who was the daughter of King Malcolm III and Margaret of Scotland. She was therefore also a cousin of Matilda, The Empress, whose mother was Edith of Scotland.

Matilda married Stephen of Blois, who at the time held the title of Count of Mortain, in 1125. She had succeeded as Countess of Boulogne after the death of her father and ruled this area jointly with her husband until it was passed onto to her eldest son Eustace. Matilda proved to be her husband’s strongest supporter and, indeed, Stephen owed much to the loyalty and courage of his wife.

Matilda died at Hedingham Castle, Essex, in 1152 and was buried at Faversham Abbey in Kent. It would be easy to speculate that Stephen must have badly missed the support of his loyal wife in his last two years as king.

• A Note about Eustace, Count of Boulogne c.1130-1153:
Eustace was the second son of King Stephen and assumed the title Count of Boulogne by right of his mother, Matilda of Boulogne, in c.1146. He paid homage for Normandy to Louis VII of France in 1137 and married the French king’s sister, Constance, in c.1140. Eustace was knighted in 1147 and in 1151 he joined Louis in a failed raid on Normandy. Meanwhile, Stephen was unsuccessfully attempting to have Eustace crowned in his own lifetime. Backed by the Pope, Theobald of Bec steadfastly refused to perform the ceremony. Eustace died unexpectedly on 17 August 1153 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and was buried at Faversham Abbey in Kent. Legend tells he was struck down or choked on his food after plundering church lands near Bury St Edmunds.

The chronicler’s assessment of Eustace weren’t kind. From The Peterborough Chronicle:  “He was an evil man and did more harm than good wherever he went; he spoiled the lands and laid thereon heavy taxes.”

• A Note about William, Count of Boulogne, Earl of Surrey c.1137-1159:
William was the third son of King Stephen and assumed the title Count of Boulogne after his elder brother’s death in 1153. He had married Isabel de Warenne, 4th Countess of Surrey, in 1148. They had no children before his death on 11 October 1159 in Toulouse, France.

Stephen’s surviving son had never expected to be king and provision was made for him to inherit all of Stephen’s baronial lands in the Treaty of Wallingford. When Henry II came to the throne he confirmed William’s status as Earl of Surrey by right of his wife. William was succeeded by his sister Mary as Countess of Boulogne after his death.

• A Note about Mary (Marie) of Boulogne 1136–1182:
Mary had apparently been placed in a convent at an early age but after the death of her brother William in 1159 she became the heiress to Boulogne. Forced to leave the convent, Mary was married to Matthew of Alsace who was the second son of Thierry, Count of Flanders and Sibylla of Anjou. Although they ruled Boulogne together, unsurprisingly perhaps the marriage was troubled and after their divorce in 1170 Mary entered St Austrebert, Montreuil and became a nun for the second time. The marriage however did produce two daughters, Ida, who inherited Boulogne after her father’s death in 1173, and Mathilde, who was married to Henry I, Duke of Brabant in 1179.

Ida of Boulogne c.1160–1216, Countess of Boulogne
Ida was married firstly to Count Gerard III of Guelders and then Berthold IV of Zähringen. Both marriages were brief and ended with the men’s deaths. By her third husband, Count Renaud de Dammartin, Ida had one daughter, Matilda II of Boulogne. Matilda (also known as Mahaut or Mathilde, Maud de Dammartin) married Philippe Hurepel, Count of Clermont-en-Beauvais, an illegitimate son of King Philip II of France, who died in 1235. In 1238 she married Afonso, the younger brother of King Sancho II of Portugal. He became King Afonso III in 1248. This marriage did not produce any children and he divorced Matilda in 1253.

Matilde of Flanders 1170–1210, Duchess of Brabant
Matilde was only nine years old when she married Henry I, Duke of Brabant in 1179. In due course they went on to have six children including a daughter, Adelaide, who inherited Boulogne after the death of Matilda II in 1260. Adelaide was at that time the widow of William X of Auvergne and their son, Robert of Auvergne, eventually succeeded his mother in Boulogne.

Stephen’s lineage reappeared in the English monarchy when Philippa of Hainault married Edward III in 1328.


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