The Children of King Stephen

King Stephen of England and his wife, Matilda of Boulogne, had 3 children who survived infancy, and yet – on his death – Stephen left his throne to Henry, Count of Anjou and son of Stephen’s bitter enemy, Empress Matilda.

Stepan_Blois
King Stephen

The Empress was Henry I’s only surviving legitimate child, and designated heir – but she was a woman  and England’s nobles were reluctant to be ruled by a woman. Stephen was Henry I’s nephew, one of his closest male relatives and in the confusion following Henry’s death it was Stephen who acted quickly and decisively, and took the crown.

What followed was a period known as the Anarchy, almost 20 years of conflict and bloodshed as Stephen and Matilda battled for supremacy. Ultimately, Stephen managed to retain control of England but Matilda’s eldest son, Henry, was eager to win back his birthright.

Following several incursions by Henry – whilst still in his teens – he and Stephen came to an agreement: Stephen would hold the throne until his death, but Henry would succeed him.

So, what happened to Stephen’s children?

Eustace IV, Count of Boulogne, was the eldest son of Stephen and Matilda, to survive into adulthood. Eustace was an unpleasant character, by all accounts. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called him ‘an evil man’ who ‘robbed the lands and laid heavy taxes upon them’.

Eustace was married in Paris, in 1140, to Constance, the only daughter of Louis VI of France and his 2nd wife, Adelaide of Savoy. Constance ‘was a good woman but enjoyed little happiness with him’; following their marriage, she was kept as a virtual prisoner at Canterbury Castle.

330px-matilda_of_boulogne
Matilda of Boulogne

Stephen made attempts to have Eustace crowned, in his own lifetime, as heir-designate, but this was blocked by the Papacy, who backed Henry’s claim to the crown.

Although Eustace had been recognised, as Stephen’s heir, by the secular baronage, I can’t help thinking that it was a real stroke of luck for England when Eustace died of a seizure or ‘in a fit of madness’ in August 1153. Rumours of poisoning are not surprising; Eustace’s death paved the way for an ‘understanding’, over the succession, between Stephen and Henry of Anjou.

Stephen’s youngest son was William, who was born around 1134. In 1149 he was married to Isabel de Warenne, sole heiress to William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey, in order to bring the vast de Warenne lands within the influence of the crown. William would succeed to the County of Boulogne in 1153, on the death of Eustace.

Shortly after his brother’s death, and with the help of the clergy, William made an agreement with Henry of Anjou, whereby he waived his own rights to the crown in return for assurances explicitly recognising his rights to his lands, as Count of Boulogne and Earl of Surrey. Although, it is not known whether he did this willingly, or was persuaded by others, the agreement was an essential tool for the peaceful accession of Henry.

William was implicated in a plot against Henry in early 1154 – or he at least knew about it – and there may have been a tit-for-tat attempt as William’s leg was broken in an ‘accident’ at about the same time. However, when his father died, he made no attempt to oppose Henry’s accession and even accepted a knighthood from the new king.

William died, without issue, in 1159, during the Siege of Toulouse and was buried in the Hospital of Montmorillon in Poitou, France.

188px-blason_courtenay-svg
Arms of the county of Boulogne

He was succeeded in the County of Boulogne by his sister, Mary, the 3rd surviving child of Stephen and Matilda. Mary was born around 1136 and placed in a convent at an early age, first at the Priory of Lillechurch, Kent, and then at Romsey Abbey, where she was elected Abbess sometime before 1155.

Five years later – shortly after William’s death – Mary was abducted by Matthew of Alsace, 2nd son of the Count of Flanders, and forced to marry him. There was outrage among the clergy – the incident was even discussed by the Pope – but the marriage was allowed to stand. Mary and Matthew had 2 children – Ida and Mathilde – and it was after the birth of Mathilde that the couple were divorced, in 1170.

Matthew would continue to rule Boulogne and be succeeded by Ida on his death in 1173. Mary returned to the convent life, becoming a Benedictine nun at St Austrebert, Montreuil. She died there in July 1182, aged about 46.

The abduction and forced marriage of Mary may well have been a political move. Although there does not appear to be any proof that Henry II sanctioned it, he certainly benefited from Mary being safely married to a loyal vassal. She was, after all a great heiress and – through her father – a rival claimant to the throne of England.

*

My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

51-rI5I47ML

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

*

Further reading: Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Robert Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; David Williamson, Brewer’s British Royalty; the History Today Companion to British History; Dan Jones, the Plantagenets; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

28 thoughts on “The Children of King Stephen

  1. karrrie49 19/01/2015 / 14:48

    Another interesting snippet Sharon, often wonder about where certain children to major players ended up… Thanks learned something new again…often wonder what Stephen was like… East ace sounds a charmer.

    Like

  2. atravelguru 19/01/2015 / 17:57

    Love this, Sharon. Great job.

    Like

  3. Gail 19/01/2015 / 19:23

    Thank you Sharon. Lots of information in bite size chunks. Love it.

    Like

    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 19/01/2015 / 20:07

      You’re welcome Gail. And thank you. I’m trying my best to keep the posts short and to the point – trying not to go off on too many tangents.

      Like

      • Geraldine Barton. 30/06/2016 / 15:23

        I enjoy your posts very much. I too often wonder about what happened to the children of major characters. I have read Elizabeth Chadwick’s books but don’t remember everything so it is good to be reminded of these things. Short comments are good. Sometimes on other posts if they go on too long I have to stop as I just don’t have the time. I have often saved them but then do not get around to catching up with them. So carry on the good work.

        Like

  4. evelynralph 30/06/2016 / 14:52

    Reblogging this on my blog site , thank you Sharon. Evelyn.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s