The Legacy of the Anarchy

There was nothing but disturbance and wickedness and robbery

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Historians have questioned whether the civil war was truly a time of ‘anarchy’ in England. Contemporary chroniclers paint a picture of widespread lawlessness and disorder, characterized by pillaging, raiding, and castle warfare. It is true that some areas, such as Wiltshire and the Thames Valley, experienced unprecedented levels of violence during the troubled reign of King Stephen while others, like the southeast, were virtually untouched. Either way, such violence had a very real and enduring impact on the local communities in which it took place. Whether or not it was ‘anarchic’, it was certainly a time of weak kingship. Embroiled in the fight for his throne, Stephen was distracted from the business of ruling and lost control over much of the northern and southwestern parts of his realm, not to mention the Duchy of Normandy.

Henry’s accession in 1154 ushered in a new era for England, characterized by law, order, and prosperity. Moreover, with the Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Maine, Anjou, and Touraine, as its king, England now stood at the heart of the vast Angevin Empire – an area that would eventually stretch from Ireland to the Pyrenees in the east. His marriage to Eleanor would also produce some of the most memorable figures of the Middle Ages, including Richard the Lionheart and the infamous King John. In the middle of it all stands Matilda. She tirelessly campaigned for herself and her successor. She may not have ruled as England’s queen but without her, Henry may have been a very different monarch, if he had ever ruled at all.

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