England’s Henry I died without a male heir. He attempted to prop up his daughter Matilda prior to his death. However, the nobles refused to accept a queen and they distrusted her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou. Stephen of Blois disavowed his loyalty oath to Matilda and seized the throne while she was on the continent. Matilda’s uncle, King David I of Scotland, invaded England to support her position and grab territory. The invasion initiated the spiral to civil war between Matilda and King Stephen.
David I of Scotland viewed Henry I’s death as an opportunity. King Stephen had seized the throne and spent time consolidating his power. Meanwhile, Empress Matilda was embroiled in a war in France. David was Matilda’s uncle and invaded Northern England to claim territory disputed between the two kingdoms and weaken Stephen should Matilda strike.
Stephen marched to meet David. The English and Scottish armies did not fight. Instead, the two monarchs hammered out an agreement. David kept Carlisle, Newcastle, but returned the rest of the captured lands to Stephen. In return, the English recognized Prince Henry’s land claims in England. Stephen’s adroit recognition in favor of David’s son ended the threat.
The new English monarch returned to Westminster to consolidate power. The king initiated some reforms to increase his popularity. Meanwhile, Pope Innocent II legitimized King Stephen’s position with his blessing. However, a rebellion in Wales and the return of Geoffrey and Matilda threatened his position.
Stephen put down a number of revolts to his rule while leaving Wales to simmer. In 1136, matters became more complicated when Geoffrey of Anjou struck Normandy. He fought against the English throne in favor of his own interests prior to Henry’s death. This put Matilda in a negative light and undercut her royal claim.
The English king used diplomacy to blunt his continental rivals. He negotiated a deal with Louis VI which allied the two kingdoms. Then, he broached Geoffrey with a peace agreement. England paid the upstart 2,000 marks a year if Geoffrey behaved. Stephen had put out another brush fire.
Despite achieving peace with Anjou, securing his borders, and consolidating his rule, Stephen still faced other challenges. Henry I’s illegitimate son, Robert of Gloucester launched a rebellion. Robert was very powerful and a formidable enemy. He announced his desire to enthrone Matilda. In response, Geoffrey of Anjou struck into Normandy. Then, David I of Scotland moved southward into England to put Matilda on the throne.
David gobbled up much of Northern England. Robert traveled to Normandy to convince Matilda to invade England. Stephen focused on England and left Normandy for later. The king managed some progress on his island. He negotiated yet another peace deal with Scotland while Normandy awaited.
Stephen’s England-only focus allowed Matilda and Robert time to arm for invasion. They had nearly pacified Normandy and prepared to take the war to England. At the same time, she appealed to the Pope to counter Stephen’s royal claim. By 1141, the two rivals had consolidated and were ready to strike.
King Stephen seemed to do everything right to win the English throne. However, competing claims undercut his ability to achieve peace. He faced rebellions throughout his kingdom, invasion from Scotland, and royal rivals. Some skirmishing occurred between 1135 and 1139, but the real war had not yet broken out. By 1141, Matilda and Stephen were ready for a showdown.