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.


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.

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.