Can you trust your cousin? Not always - as Matilda discovered to her cost. The civil war between Stephen and Matilda went on for 20 years and became known as "the Anarchy". But was Stephen a good king? Find out below...

King Stephen


  • Born 1092 or 1096
  • Ruled from 1135
  • Died 1154

Who was he?

  • Grandson of William I (William the Conqueror).
  • Son of Adela (William I’s daughter)
  • First cousin of Matilda

What is he most remembered for?

  • Taking the throne from his cousin Matilda
  • Being a kind and gracious but weak king

What happened next?

When Stephen died in 1154, the throne passed to his successor Henry II (his cousin Matilda’s son).

Points of interest:

  • Stephen narrowly escaped drowning with Henry I’s son, William Adelin, when the royal boat, The White Ship, sank in the English Channel in 1120.
  • When Stephen was young, his father died. He was sent to England to be raised at the court of his uncle, King Henry I.

Henry the First, surnamed ‘Beauclerc’,
Lost his only son William at sea,
So when Henry died it was hard to decide
Who his heir and successor should be.

There were two runners-up for the title –
His daughter Matilda was one,
And the other, a boy, known as Stephen of Blois,
His young sister Adela’s son.

A Short Biography of Stephen

Stephen was born in Blois, France, the son of the Count of Blois and Adela (William I’s daughter).

Stephen steals the crown
When Henry I died in 1135, Matilda was his only legitimate heir (having lost his son William Adelin who drowned at sea). Stephen, who was Matilda’s first cousin, took the crown while Matilda was still in France. With the help of his brother Henry (Bishop of Winchester and Abbot of Glastonbury) he claimed that the stability of the country was more important than earlier promises made to Henry I by his lords and barons to support Matilda’s succession. Matilda was a strong and brave character, but they thought girls were too weak to rule. They were also wary of being controlled by her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou.

Was Stephen a push-over?
The people also preferred Stephen to Matilda. He gave in to their demands, while Matilda was proud and difficult. The nobles thought they’d get a better deal with Stephen, and, if he resisted, they could threaten to turn their allegiance to Matilda and support her instead.

Stephen failed to consolidate his power and civil war followed. He wasn’t a natural leader, showing weakness and indecision. Unable to enforce the law or stand up to the growing power of the nobles, he had limited control over his kingdom and began to lose the support of the Church.

Matilda returns
Matilda had the support of her half-brother, Robert Earl of Gloucester, and her uncle King David of Scotland. She invaded England in 1139 and, two years later, her supporters captured Stephen at the battle of Lincoln. His supporters continued to fight for his cause and eventually captured Robert of Gloucester. An agreement was made to exchange the two men. Meanwhile, Matilda went to take the crown in London, but the people thought she was rude and arrogant. Without their support, she was never crowned.

Civil war - the Anarchy
The civil war dragged on for nearly 20 years and became known as the Anarchy. Matilda controlled most of the south-west of England; Stephen the south-east and the Midlands. Other parts were controlled by local barons. When Robert of Gloucester died in 1147, Matilda lost her greatest supporter and she gave up the fight. She retired to France and left her son Henry to take on her battles.

An agreement is reached
Stephen hoped that his son Eustace would become his heir, but the Pope refused. Instead, Stephen and Henry began to discuss a peace settlement. The two men agreed that Stephen could rule for the rest of his life, as long as Henry (instead of Eustace) was named heir. Eustace was furious and tried to raise troops to defend his claim. Then Eustace suddenly died in August of that year. Some say he was struck down by the wrath of God, others say he died of a broken heart or in a ‘fit of madness’. Or perhaps there was foul play involved? His death certainly made the succession simpler. Ironically, Stephen died the following year. He was buried at Faversham Abbey. Matilda's son Henry took the throne.

Our Stephen Printables

Stephen and Matilda Colouring Page

Stephen and Matilda Colouring Page

Stephen stole the crown from Matilda, and Matilda tried to steal it back again ... and so civil war raged in England for 20 years! Here's a fun colouring page for the kids that will help them to remember about "the Anarchy" and the reign of Stephen.

Stephen Fact Sheet

Stephen Fact Sheet

Here's a printable version of our fun facts and short biography of King Stephen, written with children in mind.

Stephen I Booklet

Stephen I Booklet

Write about Stephen, Medieval King of England, in this booklet, or you could choose the blank version and draw some pictures (you'll need our folding instructions for both).

Succeeded By:

Henry II
Henry II

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