Friday, November 9, 2012

The Anarchy, Part 1 (of 3)

When the White Ship sank in 1120, drowning King Henry I's son and heir, William Adelin, England was in crisis. Henry decided that his daughter, Empress Matilda (1102-1167), should inherit the throne. She was called "Empress" because she had been betrothed as a child to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V; they were married in 1114. She had actually spent some years as Henry's regent in Italy, gaining some political and administrative experience.

That came later, however. Her father, King Henry I, had about 20 illegitimate children, but none of them would have been acceptable as king, so he tried to gain himself a legitimate heir to replace William by marrying again in 1121 (to Adeliza of Louvain), but no male heir was forthcoming. Henry V died in 1125, and Henry I summoned his daughter from Germany—awkward for her, since she had essentially become a German, having grown up there since childhood, learned the language, and ruled its people. Still, she had not produced an heir for Henry V, and so that dynasty ended and the throne went to someone who had no use for the widow of his predecessor. Matilda spent a year in Normandy, becoming re-acquainted with her father, and in 1126 went to England.

Even though Henry had his Court swear oaths to accept her status, however, not everyone was pleased with the choice. King Louis VI of France suggested William Clito, Henry's eldest illegitimate son, in order to create conflict in the English court. Through a sudden and advantageous marriage, Louis managed to make Clito's status more important and potentially more disruptive to Henry's plans.

Then, in 1135, Henry I died. Matilda was in Anjou with her new husband, Geoffrey of Anjou—too far from England to take control of the situation. Her cousin, Stephen of Blois, rushed to seize the Crown, breaking—along with a majority of barons—the oath he had sworn years earlier. His action started a period of civil war that lasted for almost 20 years.

[to be continued]

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