Sussex Castles




The King, the Queen and the Empress


26 December 1135 - Stephen Takes the Throne

Despite swearing an oath to King Henry I that he would support Empress Matilda's succession to the throne of England, Stephen took the throne of himself. He had the support of English barons, who weren't keen on the idea of being ruled by a woman. While barons of this period were well known for their strong sense of ethics and justice, it may just be possible that some of them were influenced by the land and money Stephen had offered them in exchange for their support.

King Stephen lacked the leadership, judgment and sternness of character required of a king in the middle-ages. He quickly lost control and the country descended into 20 years of wars and lawlessness, known as the anarchy.

Late summer 1139, Arundel

In the late summer of 1139, the Empress Matilda landed at Arundel to claim the throne she had been promised by her father King Henry I. The usurper, king Stephen besieged Arundel, but inexplicably granted Matilda safe passage to Bristol. The Empress took the opportunity to join forces with her half brother Robert of Gloucester. Together they raised an army to fight Stephen.

2 February, 1141 - The Battle of Lincoln

Stephen was besieging Lincoln castle in a routine property rights dispute with Ranulf, the Earl of Chester. During the siege, Stephen’s army was surprised by the forces of the Empress Matilda. Stephen was captured and imprisoned in Bristol. The empress rode to London with her army. She was initially welcomed and accepted as ruler by the Londoners, although she was never crowned. King Stephen’s wife, Matilda of Boulogne, retreated to Kent where she continued resistance to the Empress, ably supported by William of Ypres. 

14 September 1141 - The Battle of Winchester

The Empress’s arrogance caused her to loose support of the Londoners quickly, although it may be that she was no more autocratic than male rulers of the age. While such behavior was accepted in a man, it was not considered seemly in a woman. She moved her army to besiege the Bishop of Winchester (Henry of Blois) who had been somewhat unenthusiastic in his support of the Empress.  Queen Matilda and William of Ypres led their army to Winchester and the bishops aid.

The two armies faced each other and after some initial skirmishing a battle was fought. At the end of the day Queen Matilda had defeated the Empress Matilda. The empress escaped, but her brother Robert of Gloucester was captured. Queen Matilda was able to swap Robert for the return of her husband, although one does wonder why.

25 October, 1154 - Stephen Dies 

King Stephen was taken ill and died. He was buried in Faversham next to his wife and son. He was succeeded by Henry II, the Empress Matilda's son. The Empress had ensured her father Henry’s line of succession to the throne.

Sussex Timeline