[Source: Who's Who in the Middle Ages, John Fines, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1995]
Stephen, future king of England, was born about the year 1096. Hismother was Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, and heir to all his strength of will and temper. His father was Stephen Count of Blois and Chartres, a boastful character who had made himself the laughing stock of Europe by running away from the siege of Antioch after having been made commander-in-chief there.
Adela's two favored sons, Stephen and Henry, were both to find their fortunes in England. Henry, a Cluniac monk, quickly accumulated Glastonbury, the richest abbey, and Winchester, the second richest diocese in England, and set out on his career of financial wizardry and ecclesiastical statesmanship. A man of rare power, vision and tact, he was infinitely more attuned to great responsibilities than his brother.
Stephen had a ready charm, and his gay and seeminglyopen nature made him a great success at court. His uncle Henry I loaded favours on him: he was given estates in England of some half a million acres, and made a favourable marriage to the rich heiress of the Count of Boulogne. Matilda was to be both a loyal and an able wife.
In 1136 Henry died, and though he had made all his barons swear fealty to his daughter Matilda before his death, Stephen now moved speedily to get himself accepted as King in England. His brother swayed the Church to his side, the Londoners were bought with a substantial grant of privileges, and the Norman barons were persuaded that a woman ruler of well-known arrogance and intractability, married to the leader of the Normans' traditional enemies, the Angevins, would be no good prospect for England.
Stephen's dash and promises carried him through for a while, but quickly enough people discovered his faults: he was tricky, changeable, often stupidly weak; hesimply could not be relied upon, nor could he trust others. In 1139 Matilda landed, and her bastard brother Robert of Gloucester opened the West to her. During the next eight years she was to win defectors from Stephen's bad government.
In 1141, at Lincoln, Stephen's barons deserted him in battle, and he fell prisoner to Matilda. But she proved as unhappy a mistress as Stephen had been master, and many people were glad when Robert of Gloucester was captured by Stephen's Queen at the rout of Winchester, and Matilda was forced to release Stephento get him back.
Many barons favoured this dual situation in which they could bargain for their services, and live as war-lords. Castles sprung up all over the land, and in many parts a dreadful anarchy reigned, so that many people openly declared that Christ and his Saints were asleep, and the Devil ruled.
Matilda's son Henry had twice invaded and been repulsed in 1147 and 1149, but when he came again in 1153 he was backed by a tremendous accumulation of continental power. The death of Stephen's son Eustace prompted him to negotiate with the young Duke, and he was encouraged in this by the urgings of the Church and of the Norman barons who wished to regain their continental estates now under Henry's control. So Matilda's son was made heir, and for a further year Stephen ruled, in peace at last, until his death in October 1154. He was buried in his abbey of Faversham.