Henry I c. 1068/9–1135
King Henry I of England was born at Selby, the youngest son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. He ascended to the throne only three days after the death of his brother, King William II, while his other brother, Robert, was on crusade. As a result Robert invaded England in 1101 and Henry was forced to cede to him his Lordship of Normandy. The pair met again in 1106 – this time on the battlefield at Tinchebrai. Henry was the victor and quickly re-conquered Normandy. Robert, however, spent the next twenty-eight years as Henry’s prisoner.
In 1100 Henry married the Scottish princess, Edith, creating an alliance that would bring peace to the Anglo–Scottish border. The pair had two children: Matilda, born 1102, and William, born 1103, but Henry also fathered around twenty-five illegitimate children, a record among British kings. After the White Ship disaster and death of his heir, William, in 1120, Henry became increasingly preoccupied with the succession. Now a widow, he remarried and recalled his daughter, Matilda, from Germany, in a bid to secure the futures of England and Normandy. He urged his barons to support Matilda’s succession and had them swear three separate oaths of fealty to her. He died on 1 December 1135 after eating lampreys and is buried at Reading Abbey.
Empress Matilda 1102–1167
The only legitimate daughter of King Henry I and Edith of Scotland, Matilda was born on 7 February 1102 at Sutton Courtenay. She was betrothed to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, at her father’s Whitsun Court on 13 June 1109 and left England in the following year. The marriage took place in February 1114, less than one month before her twelfth birthday, and she was crowned Queen of the Romans in a ceremony at Mainz shortly after.
Matilda spent the next twelve years in the Empire, referring always to herself as Empress, but was unable to produce an heir that would secure the succession. After Henry’s death in 1125, Matilda was left in the care of his nephew, Friedrich, only to be recalled to England by her father to be recognized as heir to the English throne and Duchy of Normandy.
A second marriage was arranged, this time to the young and handsome Geoffrey of Anjou. Though the pair quarrelled soon after the ceremony, they were reconciled at her father’s council in 1131 and went on to have three sons: Henry, born 1133; Geoffrey, born 1134; and William, born 1136. When her father died in 1135, Matilda was in Anjou, leaving Stephen of Blois free to usurp the throne. In 1139, with the support of her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, she sailed to England and began a nine-year campaign to reclaim her rightful inheritance.
During the ensuing civil war Matilda came close to the throne only once, at London in 1141, and returned to Normandy after the death of her beloved Gloucester in 1147. Matilda actively championed the cause of her eldest son, Henry, who ascended to the English throne and Duchy of Normandy in 1154. She spent her later years in Normandy, tirelessly supporting her son and often intervening in political affairs on his behalf, including his famous quarrel with Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. She died on 10 September 1167 and is buried at Bec Abbey in Normandy.
Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou 1113–1151
Born 24 August 1113, Geoffrey was the son of Fulk V, Count of Anjou and King of Jerusalem, and Erembourg, Countess of Maine. Nicknamed ‘le bel’ (handsome), Geoffrey was renowned for his good looks and military prowess. He married Matilda, daughter of Henry I and heir to the English throne, in 1128. He had three sons with Matilda and also three illegitimate children by one or more mistresses.
After the death of Henry I in 1135, he supported his wife’s campaign to reclaim her inheritance and worked tirelessly to bring Normandy under Angevin control. By 1144 he had conquered the Duchy and assumed the title of Duke of Normandy – an honour he later ceded to his son, Henry. He died unexpectedly at Château-du-Loir on 7 September 1151 whilst making preparations to invade England. He is buried at St Julien’s in Maine.
King Stephen c. 1092–1154
The third son of Etienne, Count of Blois, and Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, Stephen was born in Blois in central France. He was raised at the English court of his uncle Henry I, soon becoming his favourite, and was given in marriage, Matilda of Boulogne, in 1125. After the death of William Adelin, Stephen supported Matilda’s accession but in fact usurped the throne in 1135. Immediately after his coronation, the Scottish king invaded England and Stephen was forced to cede much of his northern territory.
A further invasion in 1138 resulted in an English victory at the Battle of Standard, but was followed by the defection of Robert of Gloucester and the beginnings of civil war in England. Throughout the course of his reign, Stephen was never able to overcome Matilda and was in fact captured by her forces at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141. Matilda’s son, Henry, continued the fight after her departure from England in 1147. Henry’s invasion and the sudden death of Stephen’s son, Eustace, in 1153 paved the way for a peace settlement under which Matilda’s son, Henry, inherited the throne. Stephen died on 25 October 1154 and is buried with his son at Faversham Abbey.
David I, King of Scotland c. 1085–1153
The youngest son of Malcolm III, David spent much of his youth at the court of his brother-in-law, Henry I. In 1113 he married Matilda, daughter of the Earl of Huntingdon, and succeeded to the Scottish throne on the death of his brother, Alexander, in 1124. While he promoted religious revival in Scotland, he also played an active role in English politics.
He was the first person to swear an oath of fealty to his niece, Empress Matilda, in 1127 and went to war against Stephen after the death of Henry I. Although he was defeated at the Battle of the Standard, he gained control over much of Northern England and took part in the Siege of Winchester, narrowly escaping Stephen’s forces during the rout. His support for the Angevin cause continued after Matilda’s departure from England and he knighted her eldest son, Henry, at Carlisle in 1149. David died on 24 May 1153 at Carlisle Castle and was succeeded by his twelve-year-old grandson, Malcolm.
Robert, Earl of Gloucester c. 1100–1147
Probably the eldest of King Henry I’s illegitimate children, Robert was born some time before his father’s accession in 1100. His mother’s name is unknown but she was likely a member of the Gay family from Oxfordshire. A favourite of his father, Robert was given in marriage the heiress, Mabel, who brought him extensive lands in the West Country, and was made earl of Gloucester in 1121. He was a leading figure in Henry’s court and actively supported the accession of his half-sister, Matilda, being one of the first men to swear loyalty to her in 1127.
When his father died in 1135, he escorted the body to Rouen and was still in Normandy as Stephen usurped the throne. Although he initially accepted Stephen’s accession, he switched allegiance in 1138 and accompanied Matilda to England in the following year. From then on Robert became Matilda’s military commander, masterminding her campaigns. He was captured by royal forces at the Rout of Winchester on 14 September 1141 and later released in an arrangement that also freed King Stephen. He crossed the Channel in the following year on a relief mission to Count Geoffrey but instead returned with Henry, his adolescent nephew. As the war raged on, Robert was unable to gain the upper hand over Stephen or even negotiate a peaceful settlement. He died from a fever on 31 October 1147 at Bristol and is buried at the priory church of St James.
Brian FitzCount c. 1090–?
Loyal supporter of the Empress Matilda, Brian FitzCount was the illegitimate son of Alan Fergant, Duke of Brittany. Little is known of FitzCount’s early life but by 1114 he was a central figure in Henry I’s household and was given in marriage Matilda, Lady of Wallingford. FitzCount swore an oath of fealty to Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, in January 1127 and escorted her to Anjou in May for her marriage to Count Geoffrey.
After the death of Henry I in 1135, FitzCount attended Stephen’s Easter court but switched allegiance to Matilda when she landed in England in 1139. He was said to be ‘delighted’ at her arrival and would later write a treatise justifying his actions in her support. He defended his castle at Wallingford against Stephen and the Royalist army in 1139 and travelled with Matilda to London after the Battle of Lincoln. He also escorted the Empress to safety after the Battle of Winchester and spent some time with her at Oxford in 1142. He fended off another Royalist attack on Wallingford in 1146 but is rarely mentioned in the sources after this date.
Details of his final years are scant; the Abergavenny chronicler states FitzCount went on crusade in 1147 and died in Jerusalem shortly after, while modern historians have suggested that he retired to Bec Abbey with his wife where he died in c. 1149.
Miles of Gloucester c. 1100–1143
Son of Walter, Sheriff of Gloucester, Miles was an active supporter of the Empress Matilda and he rose to prominence under Henry I. In 1121 he married Sybil, daughter of the Lord of Brecon, and inherited the title of sheriff in 1127. Miles paid homage to Stephen after his coronation in 1135 and worked in his service as a sheriff and royal justice. He also joined Stephen at the Siege of Shrewsbury in 1138.
With some persuasion from Robert of Gloucester, Miles sided with the Empress in 1139 and was an active figure in many of her campaigns, including the attack on Worcester and the relief efforts during the Siege of Wallingford. He brought Hereford under Angevin control and received it from Matilda as an earldom in 1141. During the same year he famously avoided capture by shedding his clothes and armour at the Rout of Winchester. Miles died on Christmas Eve 1143, after being struck with a stray arrow while hunting in the Forest of Dean.
Ranulf de Gernons, Earl of Chester before 1100–1153
The second earl of Chester, Ranulf was a loyal supporter of Henry I, swearing an oath to Matilda, in 1131, but he flitted between the Angevins and Royalists during the civil war. Though he married Robert of Gloucester’s daughter in c.1135, he accepted Stephen’s accession to the throne and was present at his Easter court in 1136.
He first rose to prominence in 1140 when he and his half-brother, William de Roumare, seized the royal castle at Lincoln. Ranulf escaped during the ensuing siege and fought against Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln. He then returned to the Royalist camp, joining Queen Matilda at the siege of Winchester, but was treated with such suspicion that he went over to the Angevins. He made peace with Stephen at Stamford in 1146, helping him capture Bedford and besiege Wallingford Castle, but was once again treated with much suspicion. Such attitudes among Stephen’s barons may have contributed to his sudden arrest later that year and the surrender of his property. After his release, he mounted an armed campaign to reclaim his property, which led to four separate encounters with King Stephen and Eustace.
Ranulf sided with Henry of Anjou after the death of his father-in-law and Matilda’s retirement from England. He was present at Henry’s knighting ceremony at Carlisle in 1149 and played an active role in the expedition of 1153. He did not live to see Henry’s accession, however, and died at Derbyshire on 17 December 1153 after drinking poisoned wine.
Henry II 1133–1189
The eldest son of Empress Matilda and Count Geoffrey of Anjou, Henry was born at Le Mans on 5 March 1133. He experienced The Anarchy during three visits to England in the 1140s when he unsuccessfully launched his first military campaign against King Stephen and was knighted by his uncle, King David. Back in France, he became Duke of Normandy in 1149 and married the French king’s ex-wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in 1152. A final expedition to England in 1153 resulted in the Treaty of Winchester and brought the civil war to a peaceful end.
He was crowned King of England on 19 December 1154. Though he spent only thirteen years of his reign in England, he reorganized the judicial system and extended his Lordship into neighbouring Ireland. Henry did not become king but became overlord of Ireland – he held a significant amount of land there and therefore extended Angevin influence and control. The murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170, however, would bring him into direct conflict with the English Church and result in public penance for his sins.
Henry ruled a significant empire, stretching from Ireland to the Pyrenees, but his succession policy of dividing up his territories brought him into direct conflict with his family on several occasions. The revolt of his wife and sons in 1173–4, for example, propelled his empire into outright civil war and resulted in Eleanor’s arrest and permanent imprisonment. Such succession disputes continued until Henry’s death on 6 July 1189 with his sons, Richard and John, in rebellion against him. He is buried at Fontevrault Abbey in Anjou.
Eleanor of Aquitaine c. 1122–1204
Eleanor was the elder daughter of Guillaume, Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine. His sudden death in 1137 transformed Eleanor into the wealthiest and most desirable heiress in Medieval Europe. She married Louis VII in July 1137 but the pair were ill-matched and Louis initiated divorce proceedings in early 1152. Within months of her divorce, however, she remarried Henry of Anjou and became Queen of England on his succession in 1154.
During the early years of the marriage, Eleanor bore five sons and three daughters and played an active role in the political affairs of her husband’s great empire. After her participation in the Revolt of 1173–4, Eleanor was imprisoned by her husband and released only after his death in 1189. She resumed her political role in England and acted as regent for her son, Richard, while he was away on crusade. After his death and the succession of her youngest son, John, in 1199, she left England and spent her final years in Aquitaine, still active in family and political affairs. She died on 1 April 1204 and is buried beside Henry at Fontevrault Abbey.