Seal of Stephen's brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester
Seal of Stephen's
brother Henry,
Bishop of Winchester
Stephen and Maud
Henry I's son and heir, also named Henry, died in the wreck of the "White Ship" while returning from France. Henry then settled his inheritance on Matilda (Maud), his daughter. Many barons, disliking the idea of being ruled by a woman, or perhaps trying to expand their own power, threw their support behind Henry's nephew Stephen.

Stephen and Maud played cat and mouse with the throne for 19 years of civil war. At one point Stephen was captured but had to be exchanged for Maud's military commander. Maud actually gained the seat of power in London, but she so enraged the inhabitants by her arrogance that the city rose in arms and she had to flee.

Maud's Escapes
Maud had a couple of thrilling escapes from Stephen's men during the fighting. In 1141 she escaped from Devizes tied to a funeral bier as a corpse. The next year she escaped from besieged Oxford Castle, being let over the walls on a rope. Her white cloak blended with the snow and she was able to slip through Stephen's troops to safety.

End of the Civil War
Eventually a sensible compromise was reached between the two parties. Stephen was to have the throne for the rest of his life after which it would revert to Maud's son, Henry. This time of anarchy was, curiously, also one of tremendous ecclesiastical building, and many surviving parish churches date from the period of Stephen's reign.

For an entertaining and vivid look at this troubled era, read Ellis Peter's "Brother Cadfael mysteries". If you love Britain, its history, a good mystery, or all three, you'll get a thrill out of these books.

MORE Medieval Britain:
Back: William II and Henry I
Next: Henry II and Thomas a Becket

Medieval Britain - from 'A History of the British Nation' (1912)
Medieval attractions in Britain (places to see tagged with 'medieval')

Also see Medieval London in our London History guide.