The Anarchy or The Nineteen-Year Winter refers to a period of English history during the reign (1135–1154) of King Stephen, which was characterised by civil war and unsettled government. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes it as a time during which "Christ and his saints slept".
The period was marked by a succession crisis between the supporters of Stephen and those of his cousin, the Empress Matilda. Though Stephen was crowned king, the state of war prevented effective government in England for much of his reign. The issue was resolved only shortly before Stephen's death, when he signed the Treaty of Wallingford, which named Matilda's son Henry Curtmantle as his heir. Henry was crowned king upon Stephen's death in 1154, establishing the Plantagenet dynasty as Kings of England.
Stephen was a favourite nephew of King Henry I of England (reigned 1100–1135), whose only legitimate son died in 1120 in the "White Ship" disaster. Henry then named his daughter Matilda as heir to his throne and forced his barons, including Stephen, to swear allegiance to her several times. No woman had ever ruled England in her own right and Matilda's second husband Geoffrey of Anjou did not enjoy a good reputation in England as he hailed from Anjou, whose rulers were resented by the Normans for their attempts to conquer the duchy of Normandy.
Conflict between Stephen and Maud
On Henry's death in 1135 Stephen rushed to England. Although the barons seemed to be leaning towards his elder brother, Theobald, Count of Blois, Stephen entered London and was acclaimed king by the townspeople. At Winchester, with the support of his younger brother Henry, who was bishop there, he secured the treasury and the support of both Archbishop William Corbeil and the future Chief Justiciar Roger of Salisbury. The barons ratified the usurpation, with the opposition of Matilda's illegitimate half-brother Robert of Gloucester. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Innocent II sided with Stephen. Matilda's best hope, her uncle, King David I of Scotland, invaded Northumberland, nominally on her behalf. Little actual fighting took place, but Thurstan, Archbishop of York, won the Battle of the Standard on Stephen's behalf in August 1138.
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