A civil war broke out in England in 1135. The conflict between England and Normandy led to a period of lawlessness called “the anarchy” which lasted until 1154. The White Ship disaster in 1120 set the stage for the collapse of civilization when the heir to the throne drowned. Henry I attempted to install his daughter as successor to the crown, but she was not accepted. In the end, power hungry nobles plunged the kingdom into chaos.
The Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, added England to his possessions in 1066 tying the island to the continent. Henry I took the throne in 1100. By 1120, he sired one legitimate male heir, William Adelin. The heir apparent drowned in the White Ship disaster throwing Henry’s plans into disarray. Henry’s only other legitimate child was Matilda. Sexist views of the period worked against her authority. However, Henry declared her his new heir and the nobles accepted it while the king lived.
Henry took another wife hoping to sire a son to solve the succession problem. However, he failed and Matilda married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, in 1128. Geoffrey’s possessions bordered Normandy, so the marriage had the potential to expand the kingdom. However, his polity was the traditional enemy of the Normans. This created as much friction as the thought of a queen. In response to aristocratic misgivings, Henry demanded the nobles swear loyalty to Matilda on at least three occasions.
The Normans rebelled against England in 1135. Geoffrey and Matilda rallied to the rebel cause in the hopes of strengthening their power base on the continent. Henry died the same year. Stephen of Blois claimed the throne despite swearing loyalty to Matilda. Both were descended from William the Conqueror. However, Matilda was in a dangerous position. She supported Norman rebels and was a female.
Geoffrey and Matilda quickly seized as many castles as possible. Afterward, they stopped and surveyed their situation. The English people supported Stephen once he appeared in London. Then, the church swung its support to the new king and freed the new monarch from his fealty oath to Matilda. In return, Stephen granted the church new privileges.
While the English rallied to Stephen, the Normans debated Matilda’s claim. Stephen’s lightning fast move to secure the throne left the Norman claimants out. The Norman nobility threw their support to Stephen. In return, the king compensated another claimant Theobald. Matilda appeared to have been outmaneuvered. However, Matilda’s uncle, David I of Scotland, launched an invasion of England on her behalf. This move led to civil war and anarchy.
The White Ship disaster led to civil war and anarchy in England. Henry I tried to compensate for the loss of his son, but his efforts were thwarted by Stephen of Blois. Stephen’s seizure of the throne and Matilda’s claim brought forth the conflict. Neither side realized the consequences until it was too late.