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Stephen

Stephen, 1097?–1154, king of England (1135–54). The son of Stephen, count of Blois and Chartres, and Adela, daughter of William I of England, he was brought up by his uncle, Henry I of England, who presented him with estates in England and France and arranged his marriage to Matilda, daughter and heiress of Eustace III, count of Boulogne. Stephen was among the English nobles who in 1127, and again in 1131 and 1133, swore fealty to Henry's daughter, Matilda, as Henry's successor to the throne. On Henry's death (1135), however, Stephen hastened to London, secured support, and was proclaimed king. He secured papal ratification, but his attempt to build up support by unprecedented concessions to the church and barons seriously weakened his authority, and his reign was one long struggle to retain his throne. In 1138, Matilda's half-brother Robert, earl of Gloucester, renounced his allegiance to Stephen, and David I of Scotland invaded England. Stephen defeated the Scots in the Battle of the Standard (although the ensuing treaty was entirely favorable to Scotland) and managed to wage an effective campaign against the insurrection in S and W England. However, in 1139 he made a fatal blunder in arresting his justiciar, Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and the latter's nephews, the bishops of Lincoln and Ely. This step not only threw the royal administration into confusion but alienated the church. Within a month Matilda had landed in England, and a long era of internal strife began. While besieging Lincoln Castle in 1141, Stephen was captured, and Matilda reigned for a short time. Her arrogance, however, soon cost her many supporters, and after Robert's capture later in the year she was forced to exchange Stephen for him. Stephen regained his throne and drove Matilda back into the western counties (1142). Virtual anarchy followed for five years; W and central England were devastated, while in France Matilda's husband, Geoffrey IV of Anjou, conquered Normandy. In 1147, however, Robert died, and Matilda soon (1148) left England. In 1149, Henry of Anjou (later Henry II), Matilda's son, crossed to England and attempted unsuccessfully to further his mother's (and his own) cause. Stephen had again offended the clergy by quarreling with Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, and the clerics refused to confirm his son, Eustace IV, count of Boulogne, as successor to the throne. When Eustace died (1153), Stephen bowed to the inevitable and concluded a treaty by which Henry was named as his heir. Stephen was a courageous soldier and a generous man, but he had neither the ability nor the strength of character necessary to deal with the turmoil of his reign.

See biographies by R. H. C. Davies (1967) and J. T. Appleby (1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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