Conflict and Reconciliation between King Stephen and the English Church Assistant Dr. Monica Oancă
The civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda was an Anglo-Norman crisis with deep implications both for the English aristocracy and for the ecclesiastical authority within the realm. Although the political repercussions of the splintering of the Anglo-Norman ruling elite have often been discussed, the position of the Church and its bishops has been usually overlooked although during medieval times the Church had a durable influence in both political and social life, especially because the Christian teaching was central to everyone’s experience.
1. The Chroniclers and their depiction of the relationship between the king and the Church When Henry I died he left behind him several children, of whom only a daughter, Matilda (or Maud) was legitimate. His illegitimate son, Robert, the Earl of Gloucester, who was an important political figure (respected, competent, and extremely wealthy), was not considered able to inherit the crown, due to his illegitimacy. Obviously this had not been the case in 1035, when William the Conqueror, who had been the illegitimate offspring of the Duke of Normandy, had been named heir by his father and had inherited the duchy when his father died, although he was also a minor at the time. Such a practice was not acceptable 100 years later and Henry I left his kingdom to his only legitimate child, Matilda. So in 1135, notwithstanding the excruciating dilemma of the death of a king without legitimate sons, the possibility of the late king’s bastards inheriting the throne seems to have been ruled out (Bartlett 9). The King was well aware of this and, in 1127, he ordered his most important nobles to swear an oath of allegiance to Matilda in order to assure this rather unique succession (although there have been many daughters to inherit their fathers’ domains, this had not happened for the kingdom of England). Stephen of Blois, the king’s nephew, had been one of the first barons to swear allegiance to Matilda, since he was one of the most powerful magnates at the English court, with domains on both sides of the Channel. Stephen took advantage of the fact that, at King Henry’s death, Matilda and her husband were in a state of war against him and claimed the English crown after having seized the treasury, with his brother Henry of Winchester’s help. His position at court had been strengthened by his marriage to Matilda of Boulogne, Henry’s niece by marriage, in 1125, which was encouraged by Henry I. Matilda of Boulogne’s mother was Mary of Scotland, the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland, and younger sister of Henry’s first wife, Matilda (Edith) of Scotland. Thus the King David I of Scotland, who succeeded his brother to the throne of Scotland, having Henry I’s support, was faced with the dilemma of supporting one niece Empress Matilda (daughter of Henry I and Matilda (Edith), David’s sister), queen of England suo jure, against another niece Matilda of Boulogne, queen of England, by right of her husband. It could be argued that his constant harassment of the northern English shires was a consequence of his support for Empress Matilda (Henry’s rightful heir) against Stephen. It is what he actually claimed repeatedly and his assertion was proven by the fact that he was the one to knight Henry, Matilda’s son in 1148, when he was sixteen. On the other hand historians noticed his constant fight to strengthen his kingdom, and to assert his domination in the earldom of Northumbria, which he was entitled to by right of his wife, whose father had been Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria. In other words his invading and plundering of the North of England could have been the result of his typically medieval acquisitive temper. All the events that were recorded in medieval times had a more or less religious tone, not only because the mentality of the...
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