The Next Generation

Matilda’s departure did not signal the end of the civil war. It was now left to her son and heir, Henry, to continue the struggle for the Angevin succession. Though still in his youth, Henry made a third visit to England in 1149 where he was knighted by his uncle, King David of Scotland, at Carlisle on 22 May. Ranulf of Chester, newly returned to the Angevin party, joined David and Henry in the north and was eager to launch an expedition against Stephen. The trio planned an attack on the city of York, but were repelled by Stephen and his army and forced to disband. Henry left Yorkshire and made straight for the southwest. This was no easy journey. At every turn he encountered traps and ambushes, laid not by Stephen but by Eustace – the rising star in the Royalist camp.

As Matilda had done with Henry, so Stephen had spent the late-1140s paving the way for the succession of his son and heir, Eustace. He was four years older than his Angevin rival, Henry, had been knighted and then invested as the count of Boulogne, in 1146–7. The chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon, described Eustace as ‘a man of high character’, who ‘excelled in warlike exercises, had great natural courage and stood high in military fame.’ He now pursued Henry across the southwest, raiding towns in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, while his father remained in the north. Equipped with lands, money, and a private army, Eustace posed a serious threat to Henry’s safety and to the future of the Angevin succession. For the third time in the civil war, the Angevins appealed to Geoffrey of Anjou for help only to be rebuffed. Having achieved little, Henry returned home to Normandy.

Henry of Anjou

Though the struggle for supremacy in England went on for years, Normandy had been brought under Angevin control in 1144 when Geoffrey of Anjou assumed the title of duke. Now a peaceful and prosperous place, Geoffrey and Matilda handed over control of Normandy to Henry on his return from England. In the summer of 1151 Henry paid homage for Normandy to the French King, Louis VII; a move that thwarted Stephen and Eustace’s plan to recapture the Duchy. For the first time since war broke out, Geoffrey was free to concentrate his efforts on taking the English throne. Any hopes of organising an invasion were quickly dashed with Geoffrey’s sudden death on 7 September 1151. As the new count of Anjou and Maine, Henry now had the responsibility of two new territories, leaving little time to concentrate on his English campaign.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Since becoming a knight in 1149, Henry’s political strength and prestige had grown significantly. As the result of his father’s death, he was not only the duke of Normandy but also the count of Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. But the following year, 1152, bought great changes to his personal life too, through his union to one of the best-known women of the Middle Ages, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Henry met Eleanor during the proceedings of her divorce from King Louis of France. Described by contemporaries as a woman ‘without compare’, Eleanor was not only beautiful and charming but she was also the Countess of Aquitaine – a vast territory in the southwest of France. Their marriage in May 1152 added Aquitaine to his already long list of territories and transformed him into one of the greatest landholders of the era.

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Eleanor of Aquitaine

While Henry continued with his plans to invade England, King Louis formed an alliance against him with several French magnates and Stephen’s son, Eustace. Louis, no doubt feeling bitter about his ex-wife’s new marriage and threatened by Henry’s rising power, incited rebellion in Normandy and Anjou, forcing Henry to abandon the English expedition. But Louis had underestimated his rival’s military prowess and by September, Henry had crushed any opposition in his territories. His focus now returned to England.

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