Crusaders, Condottieri, and Cannon: Medieval Warfare in Societies around the Mediterranean

By Donald J. Kagay; L. J. Andrew Villalon | Go to book overview

DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY:
STEPHEN OF BLOIS IN ENGLAND
Steven Isaac

When Stephen of Blois rushed across the English Channel in 1135 to claim his uncle's throne, the speed of his action bought him several years of relative security. His opponents found their position severely undermined within the space of a few weeks. However valid Matilda's claims might have been to her father's English crown, Stephen had the benefit of being the anointed king. His acquisition of the duchy of Normandy left her with Anjou as her only base of support, and the long-standing animosity between Normans and Angevins only precluded her attracting large number of sympathizers within the duchy. Yet it was only a matter of time before the business of kingship meant that Stephen was going to anger certain of his subjects. Matilda naturally attracted these, like Baldwin de Redvers or Eustace fitz John, who suffered losses under the new monarch.1 Her cause received its greatest boost in the spring of 1138 when Matilda's half-brother Robert, earl of Gloucester, renounced his fealty to Stephen and officially joined her cause. With him Matilda gained a capable military leader and, through his properties, a necessary foothold in England itself.2 And with Robert of Gloucester's defection, the incidence of rebellion picked up its pace.

The conflict between Stephen and Matilda has naturally attracted much attention from historians. Starting with John Horace Round's dominating picture of Geoffrey de Mandeville as a professional traitor, always ready to sell himself for an ever-growing list of powers, privileges, and immunities, interpretations of Stephen's reign have

____________________
1
GS, pp. 30–45, Redvers fled to the Angevin court after Stephen crushed his 1136 revolt and gave his castles to his own supporters; according to Richard of Hexham, Church Historians of England, trans. Joseph Stevenson (London, 1856), p. 46, fitz John joined the Scottish invasion of 1138 and apparently lost his castle of Alnwick after the Battle of the Standard.
2
William of Malmesbury, HN, p. 23, who is usually reliable with dates, puts Robert's diffidatio immediately after Whitsuntide, or Pentecost.

-263-

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