The Anarchy

The Anarchy (1135-1154) was a civil war in England and Normandy. It is most often associated with a breakdown in law and order. The conflict was a result of a dispute over the succession of the Empress Matilda as Henry I’s successor.

Henry’s only legitimate male heir, William Adelin, died aboard the White Ship which sank off the Normandy coast in 1120. With William’s death, Henry made every effort to ensure that upon his death that the Crown would pass to his daughter, Matilda.

Upon the death of Henry in 1135, Henry’s nephew Stephen of Blois seized the English throne with the help of his brother, Henry of Blois (also known as Henry of Winchester). He was crowned Stephen I, King of England.

During the early years of the conflict Stephen had to deal with rebellious barons, Welsh revolts and Scottish invaders and attacks on his lands in Normandy. Many of these conflicts were incited by the Empress Matilda, as was the case with Scottish invaders where David I, King of Scotland supported Matilda’s claim to the English throne.

In 1139, a revolt broke out in the South West of England. With the help of her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, the Empress Matilda invaded England.

Over the coming years, neither side was able to achieve an advantage over the other. As the war dragged on, the Empress Matilda came to control much of the South West with King Stephen controlling much of the South East. However, Matilda’s husband was able to seize control of all of Normandy.

King Stephen was captured at the Battle of Lincoln by the Empress Matilda’s forces in 1141, which caused a collapse of his authority across the country. With the capture of Stephen, the Empress Matilda gained advantaged over Stephen. Though before Matilda could be crowned Queen she was forced to retreat from London due to a revolt. Matilda’s forces were then defeated at the Rout of Winchester where her half-brother Robert was captured.

The two sides agreed to exchange their valuable prisoners. By agreeing to exchange Stephen for Robert, the Empress Matilda effectively gave away her best chance of becoming queen. In 1148 Matilda returned to Normandy leaving her son Henry, later to become Henry II, in charge of the war in England.

During this period, barons across England vied for control of lands in East Anglia and Northern England, causing widespread devastation. One such baron was Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex who the Empress Matilda had bribed to join her cause.

King Stephen attempted to have his son, Eustace recognised as his rightful successor. However this was unsuccessful. By the early 1150s, with the country in ruins, there was a widespread desire for a long term peace.

In 1153, Robert of Gloucester re-invaded England. With both sides neither eager nor wanting a prolonged conflict, they agreed to a negotiated peace. As part of the Treaty of Winchester, Stephen recognised Henry as his heir. Stephen died the following year and Henry was named king (Henry II).

Castles of the Anarchy

During the Anarchy, many castles (known as adulterine castles) were built by either side in order to control territory. These castles were built without a licence to crenellate (licence to fortify). Many were initially built out of wood but would then have been improved by the wood being replaced by stone.

Many of the castles of the period were never completed. Examples of Anarchy castles are as follows:

Brampton, Oxfordshire
Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire
Caxton Castle, Cambridgeshire
Ely (Cherry Hill), Cambridgeshire
Lidgate, Suffolk
Periwinkle Hill, Hertfordshire
Toot Hill, Hertfordshire
Rampton Castle (Giant’s Hill), Cambridgeshire
Booth’s Hill, Cambridgeshire
Swavesey Castle, Cambridgeshire
Therfield Castle, Hertfordshire
Truro Castle, Cornwall
Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire
Walden Castle, Essex
Walkern Castle, Hertfordshire
Winchcombe, Gloucestershire
Woodwalton Castle, Cambridgeshire


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