Stephen usurped the English throne from Matilda in 1135, but failed to consolidate his power during the ensuing civil strife.
Stephen was born in around 1097 in Blois, France, the son of the Count of Blois and Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror. He was sent to England to be raised at the court of his uncle, Henry I. Although Stephen and other nobles pledged to support Henry's daughter, Matilda, as Henry's successor there was widespread unhappiness at the thought of a woman ruler. Consequently, after Henry I died in December 1135, the leading lords and bishops welcomed Stephen as the new king. He was not a natural leader, rapidly making concessions that exposed his weakness. He appointed large numbers of new earls, an expensive act that brought little reward and alienated his nobles with his desperate measures to build support and with the lawlessness of his Flemish mercenaries.
In 1138, Matilda's half brother, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, took up arms on her behalf. Early victories for Stephen faded when he lost the support of the church. Seizing her opportunity, Matilda invaded England in September 1139. With foolish chivalry, Stephen had Matilda escorted to Bristol, whereupon she proceeded to take control of western England. Early in 1141, Matilda's supporters captured Stephen in a battle at Lincoln. In November, he was exchanged for Gloucester, who had been captured by forces loyal to the king. Over time, Stephen gained the upper hand and in 1148 Matilda left England.
But Stephen had only nominal control over most of the kingdom and was unable to enforce the law or mediate between warring nobles. He hoped only to secure the succession for his son, Eustace. Matilda's son Henry invaded England in 1153 to claim his royal inheritance. When Eustace died in August, under the Treaty of Wallingford, Stephen agreed that Henry should be his successor. When Stephen died in October 1154, Henry ascended the throne as Henry II.
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