-- from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (the Peterborough Chronicle, second continuation)
I mentioned in a previous post that I was inspired to set my medieval paranormal erotic romance, Seeking Truth, in medieval England during the reign of King Stephen because I'd watched the Brother Cadfael Mysteries.
I was totally confused the first time I watched one though. They kept talking about King Stephen - and I didn't remember any English King named Stephen. Then came the whole "Empress Maud" stuff. I thought it was totally bogus. Obviously, I didn't know my English history very well. To remedy that, I started reading historical books on the topic. It took a lot of reading in order to NOT make an idiot of myself. Even so, with my book coming out May 29, I realized I hadn't gotten the whole story. I have one little line near the end wrong - now I hope no one notices. Darn.
I started with trying to figure out what side my hero would choose. Ultimately, I decided he was a "king's man" like Sir Hugh Beringer. So then I had to figure out what that meant.
It took some work, but I discovered the bare bones of Stephen's reign. Henry I's only legitimate heir was a daughter, Matilda. Her unpopular marriage to Geoffrey, count of Anjou, did her no favors. Although Henry obtained fealty oaths to Matilda by many barons, there were objections to her because she was a woman and because she was married to an Angevins. Unfortunately for Matilda, when her father died in December of 1135 she made no effort to travel to England to assume the throne, but her cousin Stephen of Blois did.
Stephen acted decisively to hold London and was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This audacious action is one my hero would approve, so I knew that my feeling that Eaduin would be a King's man was the right one. Of course, being crowned and keeping it on your head are two very different things. This began one of the most tempestuous lengthy periods in English history. Stephen reigned from 1135 to his death in 1154. Throughout almost all of his reign, civil war and anarchy covered Britain. Queen Matilda, or Empress Maud as she was also called, didn't let Stephen's actions stand. She, along with her bastard half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester waged war on Stephen and at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141 captured him.
What intrigued me about this was that rather than kill him and claim the throne outright for Maud, they held him hostage and left a rallying point for the opposing forces. Forces led my Stephen's wife, Matilda. Yeah, not much in the way of creative naming back then. It was REALLY confusing when I started my research.
In March of 1141, Matilda/Maud was recognized as Queen in Winchester but still had the formidable task of holding London and being formally crowned. By all accounts she was a strong and forceful woman - in modern terms we'd probably call her a "bitch on wheels." Being a strong female is admirable in modern views, but in 1141, not so much. She wasn't remotely conciliatory with her new subjects or with Stephen's son, Eustace or Stephen's Queen, Matilda.
Maud should have known better. She might have won through if she hadn't ticked off Stephen's wife, Queen Matilda by planning to disinherit her son, Eustace and being rude to her. The turning point of this story is two strong willed Matildas going at it. Queen Matilda (Stephen's that is) decided that she'd had it with "diplomacy" and decided to wage war to retrieve her spouse from his prison. I like her...a lot. Queen Matilda raised a large force and marched on London.
Maud had complete confidence, until the people of London rose up against her. You see, she wasn't particularly popular with them. She'd been as unpleasant to them as she'd been to Queen Matilda. The Empress and her half-brother Robert left London...at a run. Queen Matilda (Stephen's wife) then turned her army to Winchester. Empress Maud was inside besieging a bishop and was in turn besieged from outside. Empress Maud managed to escape, but her brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester did not. Maud needed her brother's support desperately and ultimately, Stephen was swapped for Robert.
Even after these calamities the war continued. My books are set after the critical battles of Lincoln and Winchester. I chose to set things during the slightly more stable period of 1146. But I continue to learn more about this time period so I hope I don't find I've made any huge errors. No doubt, readers will tell me if I do.
Looking for books on this troubled period? Here are some of my go-to books. If you know more, please share! I'm always looking for more information on this time period.
Stephen and Matilda: The Civil War of 1139-53 by Jim Bradbury
The Troubled Reign of King Stephen 1135-1154 by John T. Appleby
The Anarchy of King Stephen's Reign edited by Edmund King
The Reign of Stephen: Kingship, Warfare, and Government in Twelfth-Century England by Keith J. Stringer
The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother, and Lady of the English by Marjorie Chibnall
King Stephen's Reign edited by Paul Dalton and Graeme J. White
The Reign of King Stephen, 1135-1154 by David Crouch
Additionally, check out this VERY COOL blog by Teresa Eckford about the relationship between King Stephen and his lady, Queen Matilda titled Romantic Couples in History: King Stephen and Queen Matilda of Boulogne. (Link corrected per Teresa's Comment)