The Anarchy ~ Civil War

In August 1139, the Angevin invasion finally arrived.

Empress Matilda

Baldwin de Redvers crossed over from Normandy to Wareham in an initial attempt to capture a port to receive the Empress Matilda’s invading army, but Stephen’s forces forced him to retreat into the south-west.

Dowager Queen Adeliza
Dowager Queen Adeliza

However, the following month, Matilda was invited by the Dowager Queen Adeliza, second wife of Henry I of England, to land at Arundel instead, and on 30 September 1139, Robert of Gloucester and Matilda arrived in England with 140 knights.

While Matilda stayed at Arundel Castle, Robert of Gloucester marched north-west to Wallingford and Bristol, hoping to raise support for the rebellion and to link up with Miles of Gloucester, who renounced his fealty to Stephen.

Once Stephen heard of the news, he promptly moved south, besieging Arundel and trapping Matilda inside the castle. He then agreed to a truce proposed by his brother, Henry of Blois. The full details of the truce are unknown, but the results were that Stephen released Matilda from the siege and then allowed her and her household of knights to be escorted to the south-west, where they were reunited with Robert of Gloucester. The reasoning behind this, a somewhat ludicrous decision, remains unclear. Contemporary chroniclers suggested that Henry of Blois argued that it would be in Stephen’s own best interests to release Matilda and concentrate on attacking Robert of Gloucester, Stephen may have also seen Robert of Gloucester instead of Matilda as his main opponent.

Another theory is that Stephen released Matilda out of chivalry. Stephen was certainly known for having a generous, courteous personality, and women were not normally expected to be targeted in Anglo-Norman warfare.

Stephen of Blois
Stephen of Blois

Stephen faced a military dilemma at Arundel, the castle was considered almost impregnable, and he may have been worried that he was tying down his army in the south whilst Robert of Gloucester roamed freely in the west.

Although Matilda had a few defections, she now controlled a compact block of territory stretching out from Gloucester and Bristol south-west into Devon and Cornwall, west into the Welsh Marches and east as far as Oxford and Wallingford, threatening London.

She had also established her court in Gloucester, close to Robert’s stronghold of Bristol, but far enough away for her to remain independent of her half-brother.

Stephen’s mission was to reclaim back the region. He started by attacking Wallingford Castle, which controlled the Thames corridor. Held securely by Brien FitzCount, Stephen found it too well defended. He left behind some forces to blockade the castle and continued west into Wiltshire to attack Trowbridge, taking the castles of South Cerney and Malmesbury en route.

Meanwhile, Miles of Gloucester marched east to Wallingford, attacking Stephen’s rear-guard forces and threatening an advance on London. This led to Stephen giving up on his western campaign and returning east to stabilise the situation and protect his capital.

At the beginning of 1140 Nigel, Bishop of Ely, who castles Stephen had confiscated the previous year, rebelled against Stephen as well. Nigel hoped to seize East Anglia and establishing a base of operations in the Isle of Ely.

Stephen responded quickly, taking an army into the fens and using boats lashed together to form a causeway that allowed him to make a surprise attack on the isle. Even though Nigel escaped to Gloucester, his men and castle were captured. Order was once restored temporarily in the east. Nothing is permanent.

Henry of Blois
Henry of Blois

Robert of Gloucester’s men retook some of the territory that Stephen had taken in his 1139 campaign. In an effort to negotiate a truce, Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois, held a peace conference at Bath, where Robert of Gloucester represented Empress Matilda, while Matilda of Boulogne and Archbishop Theobald represented Stephen. The conference collapsed over the insistence by Henry of Blois and the clergy that they should set the terms of any peace deal, which Stephen found unacceptable.

Ranulf, 3rd Earl of Chester, was still upset that his rights to Carlisle and Cumberland were handed over to David I of Scotland’s son, Henry. So he devised a plan for dealing with the problem by ambushing Henry of Scotland whilst he was travelling back from Stephen’s court to Scotland after Christmas. However, Stephen responded to these rumours by escorting Henry of Scotland personally north, this proved to be the last straw for Ranulf.

Under the guise of a social visit, Ranulf seized Lincoln Castle in a surprise attack. Ranulf had actually claimed previously that he had rights to the castle.

Stephen then set out to Lincoln where they agreed to a truce, probably to keep Ranulf from joining Empress Matilda. Ranulf was allowed to keep the castle.

However, once Stephen had returned to London he received news that Ranulf, his brother and their family were relaxing in Lincoln Castle with a minimal guard force, a ripe target for a surprise attack. Abandoning the truce, Stephen saw this opportunity gathering his army again and sped north, but not quite fast enough. Ranulf must’ve got wind, escaping Lincoln Castle and declared his support for Empress Matilda. Stephen was forced to place the castle under siege.

Battle Plan

While Stephen and his army were besieging Lincoln Castle at the start of 1141, Robert of Gloucester and Ranulf advanced on Stephen’s position with a somewhat larger force. When news of this reached Stephen, he held a council to decide whether to give battle or withdraw to gather more soldiers. Stephen decided to stay and fight, resulting in the Battle of Lincoln on 2 February 1141.

Stephen commanded the centre of his army, with Alan of Brittany on his right and William of Aumale on his left. Robert of Gloucester and Ranulf’s forces had superiority in cavalry and Stephen dismounted many of his own knights to form a solid infantry block; he joined them himself, fighting on foot in the battle.

Stephen wasn’t a gifted public speaker, so that was delegated to Baldwin of Clare, who delivered a rousing declaration.

After an initial success in which William of Aumale’s forces destroyed the Angevin’s Welsh infantry, the battle went badly for Stephen. Robert of Gloucester and Ranulf’s cavalry encircled Stephen’s centre, which he found himself surrounded by the enemy army.

Many of Stephen’s supporters, including Waleron de Beaumont and William of Ypres, fled from the field at this point, but Stephen fought on. Defending himself first with his sword then when that broke, with a borrowed battle axe. Finally, he was overwhelmed by Robert of Gloucester’s men and captured. He was then taken from the field into custody.

Robert of Gloucester took Stephen back to Gloucester where Empress Matilda was. He was then moved to Bristol Castle, traditionally used or holding high-status prisoners. At the beginning to his imprisonment he was left in relatively good conditions, but his security was later tightened and he was kept in chains.

After the capture of Stephen, Empress Matilda now began to take the necessary steps to have herself crowned Queen, which would require the agreement of the church and her coronation at Westminster.

Before Easter Henry of Blois summoned a council at Winchester, where he made a private deal with the Empress Matilda that he would deliver the support of the church, if she agreed to give him control over church business in England. He handed over the royal treasury, rather depleted except for Stephen’s crown, to the Empress, and excommunicated many of Stephen’s supporters who refused to switch sides as easily as Stephen’s own brother.

However, Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury was unwilling to declare Empress Matilda Queen of England so rapidly. A delegation of clergy and nobles, headed by Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, travelled to see Stephen in Bristol and consult about their moral dilemma. Should they abandon their oaths of fealty to Stephen? Given the circumstances, Stephen agreed he was prepared to release his subjects from their oath of fealty to him.

After Easter, the clergy gathered again in Winchester to declare the Empress “Lady of England and Normandy” as a precursor to her coronation. However, while Empress Matilda’s own followers attended the event, few other major nobles seem to have attended and a delegation from London prevaricated.

Stephen might be losing some support, but not from the one who mattered. His wife, Matilda, wrote to complain and demand Stephen’s release. Empress Matilda advanced to London to stage her coronation in June, where her position became dangerous. Despite securing the support of Geoffrey de Mandeville, who controlled the Tower of London, forces loyal to Stephen and his wife Matilda, remained close to the city and he citizens were fearful about welcoming the Empress Matilda.

On 24 June, shortly before the planned coronation, the city rose up against Empress Matilda and Geoffrey de Mandeville. They just fled in time making a chaotic retreat to Oxford.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey of Anjou invaded Normandy again and, in the absence of Waleran of Beaumont who was still fighting in England, Geoffrey of Anjou took all the duchy south of the River Seine and east of the Risle.

Unfortunately, no help was coming from Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, who appears to have been preoccupied with his own problems with France. The new French King, Louis VII, had rejected his father’s regional alliance, improving relations with Anjou and taking a more aggressive line with Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, which would result in war the following year.

Geoffrey of Anjou’s success in Normandy and Stephen’s weakness in England began to influence the loyalty of many Anglo-Norman barons, who feared losing their lands in England to Robert of Gloucester and Empress Matilda, and their possessions in Normandy to Geoffrey of Anjou. Many started to leave Stephen’s faction.

His friend and advisor Waleron de Beaumont, was one of those who decided to defect in mid-1141, crossing into Normandy to secure his ancestral possessions by allying himself with the Angevins, and bringing Worcestershire into the Empress Matilda’s camp.

Waleron de Beaumont’s twin brother, Robert of Leicester, effectively withdrew from fighting in the conflict at the same time.

Other supporters of Empress Matilda were restored in their former strongholds, such as Bishop Nigel of Ely, and others still received new earldoms in the west of England. The royal control over the minting of coins broke down, leading to coins being struck by local barons and bishops across the country.

Like I said earlier, Stephen’s wife, Matilda, played a critical part in keeping his cause alive during his captivity. Matilda gathered Stephen’s remaining lieutenants around her and the royal family in the south-east, advancing into London when the population rejected Empress Matilda. Stephen’s long-standing commander, William of Ypres, remained with Matilda in London; William Martel, the royal steward, commanded operations from Sherborne in Dorset, and Faramus of Boulogne ran the royal household.

Matilda appears to have generated genuine sympathy and support from Stephen’s more loyal followers. To say a woman cannot rule alone, were idiots when it came to both the Matildas.

Henry of Blois’ alliance with Empress Matilda proved short-lived, as they soon fell out over political patronage and ecclesiastical policy; the bishop met Stephen’s wife Matilda at Guildford and transferred his support to her. Personally, I wouldn’t trust someone who can easily change sides.

Empress Matilda’s position was transformed by her defeat at the rout of Winchester. Following their retreat from London, Robert of Gloucester and Empress Matilda besieged Henry of Blois in his papal castle at Winchester in July.

Matilda was using the royal castle in the city of Winchester as a base for her operations, but shortly afterwards herself and William of Ypres then encircled the Angevin forces with their own army, reinforced with fresh troops from London. Empress Matilda decided to escape from the city with her close associates, Fitz Count and Reginald of Cornwall, while the rest of her army delayed the royal forces. In the subsequent battle, Empress Matilda’s forces were defeated and Robert of Gloucester himself was taken prisoner during the retreat, although Empress Matilda herself escaped, exhausted, to her fortress at Devizes.

With both Stephen and Robert of Gloucester held prisoner, negotiations were held to try to agree a long-term peace settlement, but Matilda was unwilling to offer any compromise to Empress Matilda, and Robert of Gloucester refused to accept any offer to encourage him to change sides to Stephen. Instead, in November the two sides simply exchanged the two leaders, Stephen returning to his wife, and Robert of Gloucester to Empress Matilda in Oxford.

Henry of Blois held another church council, which reversed its previous decision and reaffirmed Stephen’s legitimacy to rule, and a fresh coronation of Stephen and Matilda occurred at Christmas 1141.

At the beginning of 1142 Stephen fell ill, and by Easter rumours had begun to circulate that he had died. Possibly this illness was the result of his imprisonment the previous year, but he finally recovered and travelled north to, not only assure people of his health, but to raise new forces and to successfully convince Ranulf of Chester to change sides once again. Stephen then spent the summer attacking some of the new Angevin castles built the previous year including Cirencester, Bampton and Wareham.

During the middle of 1142 Robert of Gloucester returned to Normandy to assist Geoffrey of Anjou with operations against some of Stephen’s remaining followers there, before returning in the autumn.

St George's Tower at Oxford Castle
St George’s Tower at Oxford Castle

Meanwhile, Matilda came under increased pressure from Stephen’s forces and had become surrounded at Oxford. Oxford was a secure town, protected by walls and the River Isis, but Stephen led a sudden attack across the river, leading the charge and swimming part of the way. Once on the other side, Stephen and his men stormed into the town, trapping Empress Matilda in the castle. Oxford Castle, however, was a powerful fortress and, rather than storming it, Stephen had to settle down for a long siege, albeit secure in the knowledge that Empress Matilda was now surrounded. Just before Christmas, Empress Matilda sneaked out of the castle, crossed the icy river on foot and made her escape past the royal army to safety at Wallingford, leaving the castle garrison free to surrender the next day. Empress Matilda stayed with Fitz Count for a period before re-establishing her court at Devizes.

The war between the two sides in England reached a stalemate in the mid-1140s, while Geoffrey of Anjou consolidated his hold on power in Normandy.

1143 started precariously for Stephen when he was besieged by Robert of Gloucester at Wilton Castle, an assembly point for royal forces in Herefordshire. Stephen attempted to break out and escape, resulting in the Battle of Wilton.

Once again, the Angevin cavalry proved too strong, and for a moment it appeared that Stephen might be captured for a second time. On this occasion, however, William Martel, Stephen’s steward, made a fierce rear guard effort, allowing Stephen to escape from the battlefield. Stephen valued William Martel’s loyalty sufficiently to agree to exchange Sherborne Castle for his safe release. This was one of the few instances where Stephen was prepared to give up a castle to ransom one of his men. That just shows his loyalty.

In late 1143, Stephen faced a new threat in the east, when Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Earl of Essex, rose up in rebellion against him in East Anglia. Stephen had disliked the baron for several years, and provoked the conflict by summoning Geoffrey de Mandeville to court, where Stephen arrested him. Stephen threatened to execute Geoffrey de Mandeville unless the baron handed over his various castles, including the Tower of London, Saffron Walden and Pleshey, all important fortifications because they were in, or close to, London.

 Geoffrey de Mandeville gave in, but once free he headed north-east into the Fens to the Isle of Ely, from where he began a military campaign against Cambridge, with the intention of progressing south towards London. With all of his other problems and with Hugh Bigod still in open revolt in Norfolk, Stephen lacked the resources to track Geoffrey de Mandeville down in the Fens and made do with building a screen of castles between Ely and London, including Burwell Castle.

For a period, the situation continued to worsen. Ranulf of Chester revolted once again in the middle of 1144, splitting up Stephen’s Honour of Lancaster between himself and Prince Henry. In the west, Robert of Gloucester and his followers continued to raid the surrounding royalist territories, and Wallingford Castle remained a secure Angevin stronghold, too close to London for comfort. Meanwhile, Geoffrey of Anjou finished securing his hold on southern Normandy and in January 1144 he advanced into Rouen, the capital of the duchy, concluding his campaign. Louis VII recognised him as Duke of Normandy shortly after. By this point in the war, Stephen was depending increasingly on his immediate royal household, such as William of Ypres and others, and lacked the support of the major barons who might have been able to provide him with significant additional forces. After the events of 1141, Stephen made little use of his network of earls. It seems Stephen’s rule was conflict after conflict. But do not despair, things are about to look up for Stephen.

After 1143 the war ground on but progressing slightly better for Stephen. Miles of Gloucester, one of the most talented Angevin commanders, had died whilst hunting over the previous Christmas, relieving some of the pressure in the west. Geoffrey de Mandeville’s rebellion continued until September 1144, when he died during an attack on Burwell. The war in the west progressed better in 1145, with Stephen recapturing Faringdon Castle in Oxfordshire. In the north, Stephen came to a fresh agreement with Ranulf of Chester, but then in 1146 repeated the ruse he had played on Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1143, first inviting Ranulf of Chester to court, before arresting him and threatening to execute him unless he handed over a number of castles, including Lincoln and Coventry. As with Geoffrey de Mandeville, the moment Ranulf was released he immediately rebelled, but the situation was a stalemate: Stephen had few forces in the north with which to prosecute a fresh campaign, whilst Ranulf of Chester lacked the castles to support an attack on Stephen. By this point, however, Stephen’s practice of inviting barons to court and arresting them had brought him into some disrepute and increasing distrust. Also, how many times is he going to realise, they are just going to go back on their word once they are free.

The character of the conflict in England gradually began to shift, the civil war was coming to an end.

In 1147 Robert of Gloucester died peacefully, and the next year Empress Matilda defused an argument with the Church over the ownership of Devizes Castle by returning to Normandy, contributing to reducing the tempo of the war. The Second Crusade was announced, and many Angevin supporters, including Waleran of Beaumont, joined it, leaving the region for several years. Many of the barons were making individual peace agreements with each other to secure their lands and war gains. Geoffrey of Anjou and Empress Matilda’s son, the future King Henry II, mounted a small mercenary invasion of England in 1147 but the expedition failed, not least because Henry lacked the funds to pay his men.

 Surprisingly, Stephen himself ended up paying their costs, allowing Henry to return home safely. His reasons for doing so are unclear. One potential explanation is his general courtesy to a member of his extended family, another is that he was starting to consider how to end the war peacefully and saw this as a way of building a relationship with Henry.

Many of the most powerful nobles began to make their own truces and disarmament agreements, signing treaties between one another that typically promised an end to mutual hostilities, limited the building of new castles, or agreed limits to the size of armies sent against one another. Typically, these treaties included clauses that recognised that the nobles might, of course, be forced to fight each other by instruction of their rulers. A network of treaties had emerged by the 1150s, reducing, but not eliminating, the degree of local fighting in England.

Empress Matilda remained in Normandy for the rest of the war, focusing on stabilising the duchy and promoting her son’s rights to the English throne. The young Henry FitzEmpress returned to England again in 1149, this time planning to form a northern alliance with Ranulf of Chester. The Angevin plan involved Ranulf agreeing to give up his claim to Carlisle, held by the Scots, in return for being given the rights to the whole of the Honour of Lancaster; Ranulf of Chester would give homage to both David and Henry FitzEmpress, with Henry having seniority.

Future King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine
Future King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine

Following this peace agreement, Henry and Ranulf of Chester agreed to attack York, probably with help from the Scots. Stephen marched rapidly north to York and the planned attack disintegrated, leaving Henry to return to Normandy, where he was declared Duke by his father. Although still young, Henry was increasingly gaining a reputation as an energetic and capable leader. His prestige and power increased further when he unexpectedly married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152. Eleanor was the attractive Duchess of Aquitaine and the recently divorced wife of Louis VII of France, and the marriage made Henry the future ruler of a huge swathe of territory across France.

In the final years of the war, Stephen too began to focus on the issue of his family and the succession. Stephen had given his eldest son, Eustace, the County of Boulogne in 1147, but interestingly it remained unclear whether Eustace would inherit England. Stephen’s preferred option was to have Eustace crowned while he himself was still alive, as was the custom in France, but this was not the normal practice in England, and Celestine II, during his brief tenure as pope between 1143 and 1144, had banned any change to this practice. The only person who could crown Eustace was Archbishop Theobald, who may well have seen the coronation of Eustace only as a guarantee of further civil war after Stephen’s death. The Archbishop refused to crown Eustace without agreement from the current pope, Eugene III, and the matter reached an impasse.

Stephen’s situation was made worse by various arguments with members of the Church over rights and privileges. Stephen made a fresh attempt to have Eustace crowned during Easter of 1152, gathering his nobles to swear fealty to Eustace, and then insisting that Theobald and his bishops anoint him King. When Theobald refused yet again, Stephen and Eustace imprisoned both him and the bishops and refused to release them unless they agreed to crown Eustace. Theobald escaped again into temporary exile in Flanders, pursued to the coast by Stephen’s knights, marking a low point in Stephen’s relationship with the church.

Henry FitzEmpress returned to England again at the start of 1153 with a small army, supported in the north and east of England by Ranulf of Chester and Hugh Bigod. Stephen’s castle at Malmesbury was besieged by Henry’s forces and Stephen responded by marching west with an army to relieve it. Stephen unsuccessfully attempted to force Henry’s smaller army to fight a decisive battle along the River Avon. In the face of the increasingly wintry weather, Stephen agreed to a temporary truce and returned to London, leaving Henry to travel north through the Midlands where the powerful Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, announced his support for the Angevin cause. Despite only modest military successes, Henry and his allies now controlled the south-west, the Midlands and much of the north of England. A delegation of senior English clergy met with Henry and his advisers at Stockbridge shortly before Easter.

Many of the details of their discussions are unclear, but it appears that the churchmen emphasised that while they supported Stephen as King, they sought a negotiated peace. Henry reaffirmed that he would avoid the English cathedrals and would not expect the bishops to attend his court.

Over the summer, Stephen intensified the long-running siege of Wallingford Castle in a final attempt to take this major Angevin stronghold. The fall of Wallingford appeared imminent and Henry marched south in an attempt to relieve the siege, arriving with a small army and placing Stephen’s besieging forces under siege themselves. Upon news of this, Stephen gathered up a large force and marched from Oxford, and the two sides confronted each other across the River Thames at Wallingford in July. By this point in the war, the barons on both sides seem to have been eager to avoid an open battle. As a result, instead of a battle ensuing, members of the church brokered a truce, to the annoyance of both Stephen and Henry.

In the aftermath of Wallingford, Stephen and Henry spoke together privately about a potential end to the war. Stephen’s son Eustace, however, was furious about the peaceful outcome at Wallingford. He left his father and returned home to Cambridge to gather more funds for a fresh campaign, where he fell ill and died the next month. That to me just seems a bit convenient. Not pointing fingers, but they are sure twitching.

Eustace’s death removed an obvious claimant to the throne and was politically “convenient” for those seeking a permanent peace in England. It is possible, however, that Stephen had already begun to consider passing over Eustace’s claim. Historian, Edmund King, observes that Eustace’s claim to the throne was not mentioned in the discussions at Wallingford, for example, and this may have added to Stephen’s son’s anger.

Fighting continued after Wallingford, but in a rather half-hearted fashion. Stephen lost the towns of Oxford and Stamford to Henry while Stephen was diverted fighting Hugh Bigod in the east of England, but Nottingham Castle survived an Angevin attempt to capture it. Meanwhile, Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois and Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, were for once unified in an effort to broker a permanent peace between the two sides, putting pressure on Stephen to accept a deal.

Stephen and Henry FitzEmpress’s armies met again at Winchester, where the two leaders would ratify the terms of a permanent peace in November. Stephen announced the Treaty of Winchester in Winchester Cathedral. He recognised Henry FitzEmpress as his adopted son and successor, in return for Henry doing homage to him. Stephen promised to listen to Henry’s advice, but retained all his royal powers. Stephen’s remaining son, William, would do homage to Henry and renounce his claim to the throne, in exchange for promises of the security of his lands. Key royal castles would be held on Henry’s behalf by guarantors whilst Stephen would have access to Henry’s castles. And finally, the numerous foreign mercenaries would be demobilised and sent home.

Stephen and Henry sealed the treaty with a kiss of peace in the cathedral.

Stephen’s decision to recognise Henry as his heir was, at the time, of course was not necessarily a final solution to the civil war. Despite the issuing of new currency and administrative reforms, Stephen might potentially have lived for many more years, whilst Henry’s position on the continent was far from secure. Although Stephen’s son, William, was young and unprepared to challenge Henry for the throne in 1153, the situation could well have shifted in subsequent years. There were widespread rumours during 1154 that William planned to assassinate Henry, for example. Nonetheless, Stephen burst into activity in early 1154, travelling around the kingdom extensively. He began issuing royal writs for the south-west of England once again and travelled to York where he held a major court in an attempt to impress upon the northern barons that royal authority was being reasserted. After a busy summer in 1154, however, Stephen travelled to Dover to meet the Count of Flanders. Some historians believe that Stephen was already ill and preparing to settle his family affairs. Stephen fell ill with a stomach disorder and died on 25 October 1154.

Henry did not feel it necessary to hurry back to England immediately. On finally landing on 8 December 1154, however, Henry quickly took oaths of loyalty from some of the barons and was then crowned alongside Eleanor at Westminster. The royal court was gathered in April 1155, where the barons swore fealty to the new King and his sons. Henry presented himself as the legitimate heir to Henry I and commenced rebuilding the kingdom in his image. Although in reality, Stephen had tried to continue Henry I’s method of government during the war, the new government characterised the 19 years of Stephen’s reign as a chaotic and troubled period, with all these problems resulting from Stephen’s usurpation of the throne. Henry was also careful to show that, unlike his mother Empress Matilda, he would listen to the advice and counsel of others.

Various measures were immediately carried out, although, since Henry spent six and a half of the first eight years of his reign in France, much work had to be done at a distance.

England had suffered extensively during the war. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded how “there was nothing but disturbance and wickedness and robbery”. Certainly in many parts of the country, such as the South-West, the Thames Valley and East Anglia, the fighting and raiding had caused serious devastation.

The previously centralised royal coinage system was fragmented, with Stephen, Empress Matilda and local lords all minting their own coins. The royal forest law had collapsed in large parts of the country. Some parts of the country, though, were barely touched by the conflict, for example, Stephen’s lands in the south-east and the Angevin heartlands around Gloucester and Bristol were largely unaffected, and David I of Scotland ruled his territories in the north of England effectively.

Stephen’s overall income from his estates, however, declined seriously during the conflict, particularly after 1141, and royal control over the minting of new coins remained limited outside of the south-east and East Anglia. With Stephen often based in the south-east, increasingly Westminster, rather than the older site of Winchester, was used as the centre of royal government.

Among Henry’s first measures was to expel the remaining foreign mercenaries and continue the process of demolishing the unauthorised castles. Robert of Torigni recorded that 375 were destroyed, without giving the details behind the figure. Recent studies of selected regions have suggested that fewer castles were probably destroyed than once thought and that many may simply have been abandoned at the end of the conflict. Henry also gave a high priority to restoring the royal finances, reviving Henry I’s financial processes and attempting to improve the standard of the accounts. By the 1160s, this process of financial recovery was essentially complete.

The post-war period also saw a surge of activity around the English borders. The King of Scotland and local Welsh rulers had taken advantage of the long civil war in England to seize disputed lands, Henry set about reversing this trend.

In 1157, pressure from Henry resulted in the young Malcolm IV of Scotland returning the lands in the north of England he had taken during the war. Henry promptly began to refortify the northern frontier, restoring Anglo-Norman supremacy in Wales proved harder, and Henry had to fight two campaigns in north and south Wales in 1157 and 1158 before the Welsh princes Owain Gwynedd and Rhys ap Gruffydd submitted to his rule, agreeing to the pre-civil war division of lands.

I feel like this just shows, that even if you have the crown, doesn’t mean there will be peace.


The Anarchy ~ The Road to War

In the 11th and 12th centuries, north-west France was controlled by a number of dukes and counts, frequently in conflict with one another for valuable territory.

In 1066, Duke William II of Normandy mounted an invasion to conquer the rich Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England, pushing on into south Wales and northern England in the coming years.

William would be known as; William the Conqueror.

William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror

After Williams death, the division and control of these lands were problematic, his children fighting multiple wars over the spoils.


Henry I
Henry I of England

When William’s son, William II of England, died on 2 August 1100, his younger brother Henry I seized power. Henry then went on to invade and capture the Duchy of Normandy, which was controlled by his elder brother, Robert Curthose, defeating Robert’s army at the Battle of Tinchebray.

Henry’s intention for his lands was to be inherited by his only legitimate son, seventeen-year-old William Adelin.

The White Ship
The White Ship

On 25 November 1120, the “White Ship” sank en route from Barfleur in Normandy to England. Around three hundred passengers died, including Henry’s only legitimate son, William Adelin.

With William Adelin dead, the inheritance to the English throne was in doubt.

Rules of succession in western Europe at the time were uncertain. In some parts of France, male primogeniture, in which the eldest son would inherit a title, was becoming more popular. In other parts of Europe, including Normandy and England, the tradition was for lands to be divided up, with the eldest son taking the most valuable lands, and the younger sons being given smaller, or more recently acquired, partitions or estates.

The problem was further complicated by the sequence of unstable Anglo-Norman successions over the previous sixty years: there had been no peaceful, uncontested successions.

Empress Matilda

Henry I had only one other legitimate child, Matilda, but during this time, female rights of inheritance were unclear. Despite Henry taking a second wife in 1121, Adeliza of Louvain, it became increasingly unlikely that Henry would have another legitimate son.

Instead, he looked to Matilda as his intended heir.

Matilda was married to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1144 when she was twelve-years-old. Henry V died in 1125 without any children.

Three years later in 1128, Matilda, now twenty-six-years-old, was then married to fifteen-year-old Geoffrey V of Anjou, whose county bordered the Duchy of Normandy. Geoffrey was unpopular with the Anglo-Norman elite: as an Angevin ruler, he was a traditional enemy of the Normans.

During this time, tensions continued to grow as a result of Henry’s domestic policies, in particular, the high level of revenue he was raising to pay for his various wars.

Because of the power of the King’s personality and reputation, conflict was prevented.

Henry attempted to build up a base of political support for Matilda in England and Normandy, demanding his court take oaths, first in 1127, again in 1128 and 1131. This oath was to recognise Matilda as his immediate successor and recognise her descendants as the rightful ruler after her.

Stephen of Blois, who was nephew to Henry I through his mother, Adela of Normandy, was amongst those who took this oath in 1127. He will later play a very significant role.

Adela of Normandy
Adela of Normandy

Towards the end of Henry I’s reign, relations between himself, Matilda and Geoffrey became increasingly tense. In 1135, suspecting they lacked genuine support in England, Matilda and Geoffrey proposed to Henry that he should hand over the royal castles in Normandy to Matilda whilst he was still alive, and insist the Norman nobility swear their immediate allegiance to Matilda, thereby, giving Matilda and Geoffrey a more powerful position after Henry’s death. Henry angrily declined, perhaps out of concern that Geoffrey would try to seize power in Normandy somewhat earlier than intended.

A fresh rebellion broke out in southern Normandy, and Geoffrey and Matilda intervened militarily on behalf of the rebels. In the middle of this confrontation, on 1 December 1135, Henry I fell ill and died near Lyons-la-Foret.

Stephen of BloisAfter Henry’s death, the English thrones was taken, not by his daughter Matilda, but by Stephen of Blois, resulting in civil war.

Stephen was the son of Stephen-Henry of Blois, one of the powerful counts of northern France, and Adela of Normandy, daughter of William the Conqueror. He was born either in 1092 or 1096.

Stephen’s parents allied themselves with Henry, and Stephen, as a younger son without lands of his own, became Henry’s client, travelling as part of his court and serving in his campaigns. In return for his deeds, he was granted lands and in 1125, was married to Matilda of Boulogne, daughter and only heiress of the Count of Boulogne, owning the important continental port of Boulogne and vast estates in the north-west and south-east of England.

Stephen was a well-established figure in Anglo-Norman society by 1135, while his younger brother, Henry, had also risen in prominence becoming the Bishop of Winchester and the second-richest man in England after the King. Henry of Winchester was keen to reverse what he perceived as encroachment by the Norman Kings on the rights of the church.

When news began to spread of Henry I’s death, many of the potential claimants to the thrones were not well placed to respond.

Geoffrey and Matilda were in Anjou, supporting the rebels in their campaign against the royal army, which included a number of Matilda’s supporters such as Robert of Gloucester. Many of these barons had taken an oath to stay in Normandy until Henry I was properly buried, which also prevented them from returning to England.

Geoffrey and Matilda took the opportunity to march into southern Normandy and seize a number of key castles; there they stopped, unable to advance futher. Stephen’s elder brother, Theobald, who had succeeded his father as count, was futher south still, in Blois.

Stephen was conveniently placed in Boulogne, when news reached him of Henry I’s death, he left for England accompanied by his military household.

Robert of Gloucester had garrisoned the ports of Dover and Canterbury and some accounts suggest that they refused Stephen access when he first arrived, but Stephen reached his own estate on the edge of London by 8 December 1135. Over the next week he began to seize power in England.

The crowds in London traditionally claimed a right to elect the King of England, and they proclaimed Stephen the new monarch, believing that he would grant the city new rights and privileges in return.

Stephen was able to advance to Winchester because of his support of the church from his brother, Henry Bishop of Winchester, and Roger, who was both the Bishop of Salisbury and the Lord Chancellor, instructed the royal treasury to be handed over the Stephen.

On 15 December 1135, Henry, Bishop of Winchester, delivered an agreement under which Stephen would grant extensive freedoms and liberties to the church, in exchange for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Papal Legate supporting his succession to the throne.

There was a small problem of the oath that Stephen had taken in 1127 to support the Empress Matilda, but Henry, Bishop of Winchester, convincingly argued that Henry I had been wrong to insist that his court take the oath, and had only insisted on that oath to protect the stability of the kingdom. In light of the chaos that might now ensue, Stephen would be justified in ignoring it.

Henry, Bishop of Winchester, was also able to persuade Hugh Bigod, the late King’s royal steward, to swear that Henry I had changed his mind about the succession on his deathbed, nominating Stephen instead.

On 22 December 1135, Stephen’s coronation was held at Westminster Abbey.

Stephen's Coronation
Stephen’s Coronation

In Le Neubourg, Normandy, the Norman nobility gathered to discuss declaring Theobald King, Stephen’s elder brother, following news that Stephen was gathering support in England. Normans argued that the count, as the eldest grandson of William the Conqueror, had the most valid claim over the kingdom and the duchy, and was certainly preferable to Matilda.

On 21 December 1135, Theobald met with Robert of Gloucester and the Norman barons at Lisieux, Normandy, but discussions were interrupted by the sudden news from England that Stephen’s coronation was to occur the next day.

Theobald then agreed to the Normans’ proposal that he should be King, only to find out that his supporters immediately ebbed away. The barons were not prepared to support the division of England and Normandy by opposing Stephen.

Stephen subsequently financially compensated Theobald, who in return remained in Blois and supported his brother’s succession.

Immediately after his coronation, Stephen had to intervene in the north. David I of Scotland, brother of Henry I’s first queen, Matilda of Scotland, and maternal uncle of Matilda, invaded the north on the news of Henry’s death, taking Carlisle, Newcastle and other key strongholds.

At this time, England was a disputed territory, with the Scottish Kings laying a traditional claim to Cumberland, and David also claiming Northumbria by virtue of his marriage to the daughter of the former Anglo-Saxon earl Waltheof.

Stephen speedily marched north with an army, meeting David at Durham. An agreement was made; David would return most of the territory he had taken, with the exception of Carlisle. In return, Stephen confirmed David’s son, Prince Harry, possession in England, including the Earldom of Huntingdon.

Returning south, Stephen held his first royal court at Easter on 29 March 1136. It was a lavish event with a large amount of money spent on the event itself, clothes and gifts. Stephen also gave out grants of land and favours to those present, and endowed numerous church foundations with land and privileges.

A wide range of nobles gathered at Westminster for the event, including many of the Anglo-Norman barons and most of the higher officials of the church. Confirming the promises he had made to the church, Stephen issues a new royal charter and promising to reverse Henry I’s policies on the royal forests and to reform any abuses of the royal legal system. Stephen portrayed himself as the natural successor to Henry I’s policies, and reconfirmed the existing seven earldoms in the kingdom on their existing holders.

Stephen’s accession to the throne still needed to be ratified by the Pope. Henry, Bishop of Winchester, appears to have been responsible for ensuring that testimonials of support were sent both from Theobald and from the French King, Louis VI.

Pope Innocent II confirmed Stephen as King by letter later that year. His advisers then circulated copies of the letters widely around England to demonstrate and confirm Stephen’s legitimacy.

After the Welsh victory at the Battle of Llwchwr in January 1136 and the successful ambush of Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare in April that same year, south Wales rose in rebellion, starting in east Glamorgan and rapidly spreading across the rest of south Wales during 1137. Owain Gwynedd and Gruffydd ap Rhys captured considerable territories, including Carmarthen Castle.

Stephen responded by sending Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare’s brother, Baldwin, and the Marcher Lord Robert Fitz Harold of Ewyas into Wales to pacify the region. The mission was a failure, and by the end of 1137, Stephen appears to have abandoned attempts to put down the rebellion.

He did end up putting down two revolts in the south-west led by Baldwin de Redvers (who was released after his capture and travelled to Normandy, where he became increasingly vocal critic of Stephen), and Robert of Bampton.

geoffrey of anjou
Geoffrey of Anjou

In early 1136, Geoffrey of Anjou attacked Normandy, and after a temporary truce, invaded later the same year, raiding and burning estates rather than trying to hold the territory. Certain events in England prevented Stephen from travelling to Normandy himself, so he appointed Waleran de Beaumont as the lieutenant of Normandy, and Theobald led the efforts to defend the duchy.

In 1137, Stephen himself returned to the duchy where he met with Louis VI and Theobald to agree to an informal regional alliance, organised by Henry, Bishop of Winchester, to counter the growing Angevin power in the region. Louis VI, as part of this deal, recognised Stephen’s son, Eustace, as Duke of Normandy in exchange for Eustace giving fealty to the French King.

Stephen, however, was less successful in regaining Argentan province along the Normandy and Anjou border, which Geoffrey of Anjou had taken at the end of 1135. Even though Stephen formed an army to retake it, the frictions between his Flemish mercenary forces led by William of Ypres and the local Norman barons resulted in a battle between the two halves of his army. The Norman forces then deserted the King, forcing Stephen to give up his campaign.

This resulted in Stephen agreeing to another truce with Geoffrey of Anjou, promising him 2,000 marks a year in exchange for peace along the Norman borders.

stephen 1Stephen’s beginning years as King can be interpreted in different way.

Seen positively, Stephen stabilised the northern border with Scotland, contained Geoffrey of Anjou’s attacks on Normandy, in peace with Louis VI of France, enjoyed good relations with the church (thanks to his brother Henry), and had the broad support of his barons.

The negative side is, the north of England was now controlled by David I of Scotland and Prince Henry, Stephen had abandoned Wales, fighting in Normandy had considerably destabilised the duchy, and an increasing number of barons felt that Stephen had given them neither the lands nor the titles they felt they deserved of were owed.

To top it all off, Stephen was rapidly running out of money. Henry I’s considerable treasury had been emptied by 1138, due to the costs of running Stephen’s more lavish court, and the need to raise and maintain his mercenary armies fighting in England and Normandy.

During 1138, fighting broke out on several fronts.

Robert of Gloucester rebelled against King Stephen, starting the descent into civil war in England. Robert of Gloucester was an illegitimate son of Henry I and the half-brother of Empress Matilda, he was one of the most powerful Anglo-Norman barons, controlling estates in Normandy as well as the Earldom of Gloucester.

In 1138, Robert of Gloucester renounced his fealty to Stephen and declared his support for Matilda, triggering a major regional rebellion in Kent and across the south-west of England, although, Robert of Gloucester remained in Normandy.

Matilda had not been particularly active in asserting her claims to the throne since 1135, and in many ways, it was Robert of Gloucester that took the initiative in declaring war in 1138.

In France, Geoffrey of Anjou took advantage of the situation by re-invading Normandy. David I of Scotland also invaded the north of England once again, announcing that he was supporting the claim of his niece, Matilda, to the throne, by pushing south into Yorkshire.

Matilda of Boulogne
Matilda of Boulogne

Stephen responded to the revolts and invasions, focusing primarily on England rather than Normandy. His wife, Matilda of Boulogne, was sent to Kent with ships and resources from Boulogne, with the task of retaking the key port of Dover, under Robert of Gloucester’s control.

A small number of Stephen’s household knights were sent north to help the fight against the Scots, where David I’s forces were defeated on 22 August 1138 at the Battle of the Standard, by the forces of Thurstan, Archbishop of York. Despite this victory, David I still occupied most of the north.

Stephen himself went west in an attempt to regain control of Gloucestershire, first by striking north into the Welsh Marches, taking Hereford and Shrewsbury, before heading south to Bath.

The town of Bristol itself proved too strong for him, which Stephen contented himself with raiding and pillaging the surrounding area. The rebels expected Robert of Gloucester to intervene with support, but he remained in Normandy throughout the year, trying to persuade the Empress Matilda to invade England herself.

Stephen’s military campaign in England had progressed well, he took the opportunity of this advantage to forge a peace agreement with Scotland. His wife, Matilda of Boulogne, was sent to negotiate another agreement between Stephen and David, called the treaty of Durham. Northumbria and Cumbria would effectively be granted to David I and his son Henry of Scotland, in exchange for their fealty and future peace along the border.

Ranulf, Earl of Chester, considered himself to hold the traditional rights to Carlisle and Cumberland, and was extremely displeased to see them being given to the Scots, a problem which would have long lasting implication in the war.

Carlisle Castle
Carlisle Castle

By 1139, it appeared an invasion of England by Robert of Gloucester and Matilda was imminent. Geoffrey and Matilda had secured much of Normandy, and together with Robert of Gloucester, spent the beginning of the year summoning forces ready for their voyage.

Also, at the start of the year, Matilda appealed to the papacy, putting forward her legal claim to the English throne. Unfortunately, the pope declined to reverse his earlier support of Stephen, but Matilda saw this as Stephen’s claim was disputed.

Back in England, Stephen prepared for the coming conflict by creating a number of additional earldoms. Under Henry I’s reign, only a handful of earldoms had existed which were largely symbolic in nature. Under Stephen, however, creating earldoms with men he considered to be loyal and capable of military commanders in the more vulnerable parts of the country.

Waleran de Beaumont, 1st Earl of WorcesterBecause of Stephen being heavily influenced by his principal advisor, Waleran de Beaumont, twin brother of Robert of Leicester, the Beaumont twins and their younger brother and cousins received the majority of these new earldoms. From 1138 onwards, he gave them the earldoms of Worcester, Leicester, Hereford, Warwick and Pembroke. Combined with the possessions of Stephen’s new ally, Henry of Scotland, in Cumberland and Northumbria, he created a wide block of territory to act as a buffer zone between the troubled south-west, Chester and the rest of the kingdom.

Under Henry I, the royal administration had been headed by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, supported by Roger’s nephews, Alexander and Nigel, Bishops of Lincoln and Ely respectively, and Roger’s son, Roger le Poer, who was the Lord Chancellor. These men were powerful landowners as well as religious rulers, building new castles and increasing the size of their military forces. This led Stephen to suspect that they were about the defect to the Empress Matilda, so he took steps to remove them.

It could also be they were enemies of Waleran de Beaumont, who disliked their control of the royal administration.

Stephen held his court in Oxford in June 1139, where a fight erupted between Alan of Brittany and Roger’s men broke out, all orchestrated deliberately by Stephen. This led to Stephen demanding Roger and the other bishops to surrender all their castles in England. They only surrendered after Stephen besieged the castle and threatened to execute Roger Le Poer.

The incident removed any military threat from the bishops, but it also damaged Stephen’s reputation with the senior clergy, one in particular, his brother Henry.

Both sides were not ready for war.

Knights in the 1140s still closely resembled those of the previous century, depicted here in the Bayeux Tapestry


Matilda of Boulogne

The first time I heard about Matilda of Boulogne was when I was researching on the Anarchy. Then there was an article in BBC History Magazine. Once I read that, I needed to a whole blog just on this amazing woman.

In c.1105, Matilda was born in Boulogne, France to Eustace III, Count of Boulogne and Mary of Scotland.

Mary of Scotland was sister to Matilda of Scotland, who married Henry I of England. Their daughter, Empress Matilda, will come into play later on in life for a contestant to the crown of England.

Stephen of Blois
Stephen of Blois

At the age of around twenty in 1125, Matilda married Stephen of Blois, Count of Mortain. Even though it was an arranged marriage it was a happy one, with much evidence to prove the couple’s affection for one another.

When Matilda’s father, Eustace III, abdicated and retired to a monastery that same year, his title of Boulogne was inherited by Matilda. Later on in the year, Eustace III passed away leaving Matilda and Stephen as joint rulers of Boulogne.

During the reign of Henry I of England, Matilda and Stephen were granted a residence in London. There, they gave birth to two children, Baldwin after Matilda’s uncle, King Baldwin I of Jerusalem, and a daughter named Matilda.

Sadly Baldwin died in early childhood and the young Matilda is thought to have died during her childhood too, although she lived long enough to be espoused to Waleran de Meulan, Earl of Worcester.

Henry I of England
Henry I of England

On 1 December 1135 Henry I of England died from possible food poisoning. Stephen, through his mother Adela of Normandy who was sister to Henry I of England, took this advantage to sail to England to be crowned King of England on 22 December.

Henry I had only one surviving child, Matilda, who was Empress from her first marriage to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. To not get everything confused, I’ll refer to this Matilda as Empress Matilda.

Matilda of Boulogne was heavily pregnant at that time. After she gave birth to a son, Eustace, she crossed the Channel to England. She was crowned Queen at Easter on 22 March 1136.

She gave birth to two more children, Marie in c.1136 and William in c.1137.

Matilda was a big supporter of the Knights Templar, founding Cressing Temple in Essex in 1137 and Temple Cowley in Oxford in 1139. Like her predecessor, Matilda of Scotland (wife of Henry I), she has a close relationship with the Holy Trinity Priory at Aldgate. Two of her children were buried there.

In the civil war that followed known as the Anarchy, Matilda proved to be Stephen’s strongest supporter.

In 1138 England was invaded, Matilda called troops from her hometown of Boulogne and its ally, Flanders. They besieged Dover Castle with success and then went north to Durham where she made a treaty with David I of Scotland in 1139.

On 2 February 1141 at the Battle of Lincoln, Stephen was captured by the enemies. Matilda rallied the Stephen’s partisans, raising an army with the help of William of Ypres.

Empress Matilda
Empress Matilda

While Empress Matilda waiting in London to prepare for her coronation, Matilda and Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois, had her chased out of the city. Empress Matilda went on to besiege Henry of Blois at Winchester, leading Matilda then commanded her army to attack the besiegers.

There was a rout in which Empress Matilda’s half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, was captured. Both the Matilda’s then agreed to exchange their prisoners, Stephen for Robert.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on what ensured next, you can read all about this civil war in part one and two of my blog, the Anarchy.

On 3 May 1152 Matilda died from a fever at Hedingham Castle, Essex, England, Stephen by her side. She was buried at Faversham Abbey, which she and Stephen founded.

Matilda proved a strong Queen, feisty and indefatigable in her support of Stephen.

Matilda of Boulogne



Joan of Arc by Helen Castor (Non-Spoiler Review)

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“We all know the story of Joan of Arc. A peasant girl who hears voices from God. A warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believes women cannot fight. The Maid of Orleans, and the saviour of France. Burned at the stake as a heretic at the age of just nineteen. Five hundred years later, a saint. Her case was heard in court twice over. One trial, in 1431, condemned her; the other, twenty-five years after her death, cleared her name. In the transcripts, we hear first-hand testimony from Joan, her family and her friends: a rare survival from the medieval world. What could be more revealing?

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It’s books like this that remind me that I’m not reading a character, but a person.



Joan of Arc by Helen Castor is in three parts; before Joan, during and after. I loved how before Joan showed up on the “scene”, we got to know what France was like at this time period.

Reading about Joan, her passion to see her message from god to become a reality, for someone who doesn’t believe in this faith, I was starting to believe she had a vision.

It’s really hard for me to put into words what I’m feeling on this matter. I might not actually believe she saw saints or heard god speak to her, but I do believe her belief on seeing Charles solely on the throne of France.

It wasn’t just her at this time period, but a lot of commoners wanted the war to be finished and France united as one.

Well, that’s my theory anyway.

Helen Castor’s writing is perfection. It’s like she is talking to you personally, instead of to a general audience. I found this totally refreshing.

The amount of research she would’ve had to do must have been extent. I knew a brief overview of Joan (mainly from films that are false), but I didn’t know she was injured during the battles, and how much of a figurehead she was to the soldiers she was fighting with. Plus, she didn’t kill anyone personally.

I cannot wait to read more from Helen Castor.

My star rating is:


Battle of Hastings (1066)



In 911 Charles III, also called “the simple”, King of West Francia and Lotharingia allowed a group of Vikings, let by Rollo, to settle in Normandy. Their settlement proved a success, with the Vikings quickly adapting to the indigenous culture, renouncing paganism and converting to Christianity, and intermarrying with the local population. Over time, the boundaries of the duchy extended to the west.

Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor

King Æthelred II “the unready” of England married Emma of Normandy, sister of Richard II, Duke of Normandy, in 1002. Their son, Edward the Confessor, spent many years in Normandy, then in 1042 he finally succeeded to the throne of England. Edward drew heavily on his former hosts for support, bringing in Norman courtiers, soldiers, and clerics, appointing them to positions of power, particularly in the Church.

On 23 January 1045, Edward married Godwin, Earl of Wessex’s daughter, Edith, but their union would be childless. Edward would also embroil in conflict with Godwin, Earl of Wessex and his sons. There is dispute that at this time, especially with no children, Edward encouraged William of Normandy’s ambitions for the English throne.

On 5 January 1066 Edward died leaving no clear heir, this led to several contenders to lay claim to the English throne. After the death of Godwin, Earl of Wessex on 15 April 1053, his eldest son Harold, the now Earl of Wessex was Edward’s immediate successor. Harold was the richest and most powerful of the English aristocrats.

Harold was elected King by the Witenagemot of England and on 6 January, was crowned by Archbishop of York, Ealdred, although Norman propaganda claimed that the ceremony was performed by the uncanonically elected Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury. Probably to say that his coronation didn’t “technically” happen.

Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson

At once, Harold was challenged by two powerful neighbouring rulers.

William of Normandy claimed that he had been promised the throne of England by Edward, and that Harold had actually sworn agreement to this.

Harald III of Norway, commonly known as Harald Hardrada, was the other contender. His claim to the throne was based on an agreement between his predecessor, Magnus I of Norway, and the earlier King of England Harthacanute, whereby, if either died without heir, the other would inherit both English and Norway.

William of Normandy and Harald Hardrada immediately set about assembling troops and ships for separate invasions.

In early 1066 Harold’s exiled brother, Tostig Godwinson, raided south-eastern England with a fleet he had recruited in Flanders, later joined by other ships from Orkney. Threatened by Harold’s fleet, Tostig moved north and raided in East Anglia and Lincolnshire. He was driven back to his ships by the brothers Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria. Deserted by most of his followers, he withdrew to Scotland, where he spent the middle of the year recruiting fresh forces.

Harald Hardrada invaded northern England in early September, leading a fleet of more than 300 ships carrying perhaps 15,000 men. Harald Hardrada’s army was further augmented by the forces of Tostig, who supported the Norwegian King’s bid for the throne. Advancing on York, the Norwegians occupied the city after defeating a northern English army under Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria on 20 September at the Battle of Fulford.

Battle of Fulford
Battle of Fulford

The English army was organised along regional lines, with the fyrd, or local levy, serving under a local magnate – whether an earl, bishop, or sheriff.

The fyrd was composed of men who owned their own land and were equipped by their community to fulfil the king’s demands for military forces. For every five hides, or units of land nominally capable of supporting one household, one man was supposed to serve. It appears that the hundred was the main organising unit for the fyrd. As a whole, England could furnish about 14,000 men for the fyrd, when it was called out. The fyrd usually served for two months, except in emergencies. It was rare for the whole national fyrd to be called out; between 1046 and 1065 it was only done three times, in 1051, 1052, and 1065. The king also had a group of personal arms-men, known as housecarls, who formed the backbone of the royal forces. Some earls also had their own forces of housecarls. Thegns, the local landowning elites, either fought with the royal housecarls or attached themselves to the forces of an earl or other magnate. The fyrd and the housecarls both fought on foot, with the major difference between them being the housecarls’ superior armour. The English army does not appear to have had a significant number of archers.

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Harold had spent mid-1066 on the south coast with a large army and fleet waiting for William to invade. The bulk of his forces were militia who needed to harvest their crops, dismissing them and the fleet on 8 September, Harold dismissed the militia.

Learning of the Norwegian invasion, he rushed north gathering forces as he went. On 25 September at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold took the Norwegians by surprise and defeating them.

Both Harald and Tostig were killed, leaving the Norwegians with such a great loss that only 24 of the original 300 ships were required to carry away the survivors. The English victory came at a great cost, as Harold’s army was left in a battered and weakened state. Perfect for William.

Battle of Stamford Bridge
Battle of Stamford Bridge

William spent almost nine months preparing and assembling a large invasion fleet and an army gathered from Normandy and the rest of France, including large parties from Brittany and Flanders. It took him this long because he had to construct a fleet from nothing.

According to some Norman chronicles, he also secured diplomatic support, although the accuracy of the reports has been a matter of historical debate. The most famous claim is that Pop Alexander II gave a papal banner as a token of support, which only appears in William of Poitier’s account, and not in more contemporary narratives.

Whatever Williams prerogative was, he mustered his forces at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and was ready to cross the English Channel by 12 August. However, the crossing was delayed, either because of unfavourable weather or to avoid being intercepted by the powerful English fleet.

A few days after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the Normans crossed to England and landed at Pevensey in Sussex on 28 September. A few ships were blown off course and landed at Romney, where Normans fought the local fyrd. After landing, William’s forces built a wooden castle at Hastings, from which they raided the surrounding area. More fortifications were erected at Pevensey.

The exact numbers and composition of William’s forces are unknown. A contemporary document claims that William had 776 ships, but this may be an inflated figure. Figures given by contemporary writers are highly exaggerated, varying from 14,000 to 150,000. Modern historians have offered a range of estimates for the size of William’s forces, either 7,000–8,000 men, 1,000–2,000 of them cavalry, or 10,000–12,000 men, or 10,000 men 3,000 of them cavalry, or 7,500 men.

William’s army consisted of cavalry, infantry and archers or crossbowmen, with about equal numbers of cavalry and archers and the foot soldiers equal in number to the other two types combined.

chainmail hauberks
Chainmail Hauberks

The main armour used was chainmail hauberks, usually knee-length with slits to allow riding, some with sleeves to the elbows. Some hauberks may have been made of scales attached to a tunic, with the scales made of metal, horn or hardened leathers. Headgear was usually a conical metal helmet with a band of metal extending down to protect the nose. Horsemen and infantry carried shields. The infantryman’s shield was usually round and made of wood, with reinforcement of metal. Horsemen had changed to a kit-shaped shield and were usually armed with a lance. The couched lance, carried tucked against the body under the right arm, was a relatively new refinement as was probably not used at Hastings, the terrain was unfavourable for long cavalry charges. Both the infantry and cavalry usually fought with a straight sword, long and double-edged. The infantry could also use javelins and long spears. Some of the cavalry may have used a mace instead of a sword. Archers would have used a self bow or a crossbow, and most would not have had armour.

You can see in the picture to the left of a tapestry of what the soldiers looked like.

After the victory of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold let much of his forces in the north including Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, and marched the rest of his army south to deal with the Norman invasion. Harold stopped in London and was there for about a week before arriving in Hastings. On the night of 13 October, Harold camped at Caldbec Hill near what was described as a “hour-apple tree”. This location was about 8 miles (13 kilometres) from William’s castle at Hastings.

Although Harold was hoping to surprise the Normans like he did the Norwegians, William’s scouts reported the English arrival to William. The exact events preceding the battle are obscure, with contradictory accounts in the sources, but all agree that William led his army from his castle and advance towards Harold. Harold had taken a defensive position at the top of Senlac Hill (present-day Battle, East Sussex), about 6 miles (9.7 kilometres) from William’s castle.

The exact number of soldiers on Harold’s side is unknown. Of course, contemporary records do not give reliable figures. Some Norman sources give 400,000 to 1,200,000 men on Harold’s side, while the English sources generally give very low figures, perhaps to make the English defeat seem less devastating.

Recent historians have suggested figures of between 5,000 and 13,000 for Harold’s army at Hastings, and most historians argue for a figure of 7,000-8,000 English troops. These men would have been a mix of the fyrd and housecarls.

Few individual Englishmen are known to have been at Hastings, about 20 named individuals can reasonably be assumed to have fought on Harold’s side, including Harold’s brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine, and two other relatives.

Harold’s army consisted entirely of infantry. The core of the army was made up of housecarls, full-time professional soldiers. Their armour consisted of a conical helmet, a mail hauberk, and a shield, which might be either kite-shaped or round. Most housecarls fought with the two-handed Danish battle-axe, but they could also carry a sword. The rest of the army was made up of levies from the fyrd, also infantry but more lightly armoured and not professionals. Most of the infantry would have formed part of the shield wall, in which all the men in the front ranks locked their shields together to block the opposition from advancing. Behind the shield wall would have been axemen and men with javelins as well as archers. You can imagine what they do. It is also possible that some of the higher-class members of the army rode to battle, but when battle was joined, they dismounted to fight on foot.

With many of the primary accounts contradicting each other, it is impossible to provide a description of the battle that is beyond dispute. It is known that the winning side can exaggerate and the losing side can down play an event.

The only undisputed facts are that the fighting began at 9am on Saturday 14 October 1066, and that the battle lasted until dusk.

On the day of this battle, sunset was at 4:54pm, making the battlefield mostly dark by 5:54pm and in full darkness by 6:24pm. Moonrise that night wasn’t until 11:12pm, so once the sun set, there was little light on the battlefield.

William of Jumieges, one of the earliest writers on the subject of the Norman Conquest, reports that William of Normandy kept his army armed and ready against a surprise night attack for the entire night before.

The battle took place 7 miles (11km) north of Hastings at the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex, between two hills – Caldbec Hill to the north and Telham Hill to the south. The area was heavily wooded, with a marsh nearby.

The name traditionally given to the battle is unusual since there were several settlements much closer to the battlefield than Hastings. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called it the battle “at the hoary apple tree”. Within forty years, the battle was described by the Anglo-Norman chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, as “Senlac”, a Norman-French adaptation of the Old English word “Sandlacu”, which means “sandy water”. This may have been the name of the stream that crosses the battlefield. However, by 1087, the battle was referred to as “bellum Hasestingas” or “Battle of Hastings” in the Domesday Book.

Sunrise was at 6:48am that morning, and reports of the day record that is was unusually bright. Unfortunately, the weather conditions are not recorded or found. Also, not to our knowledge is the which route that the English army took to the battlefield. Several roads are possible, one could be an old Roman road that ran from Rochester to Hastings, has long been favoured because of a large coin hoard found nearby in 1876. Another possibility is a Roman road between London and Lewes and then over local tracks to the battlefield.

Some accounts of the battle indicate that the Normans advanced from Hastings to the battlefield, but the contemporary account of William of Jumieges, places the Normans at the site of the battle the night before.

Historians have gone back and forward to what was exactly true. We might know 100%, until then, only the men from then will only know.

Battle Dispositions
Battle Dispositions

Harold’s forces deployed in a small, dense formation at the top of steep slope, with their flanks protected by woods and marshy ground in front of them. The line may have extended far enough to be anchored on a nearby stream. The English formed a shield wall, with the front ranks holding their shields close together or even overlapping to provide protection from attack. And of course, sources differ on the exact site that the English fought on. Some sources state the site of the abbey, but some newer sources suggest it was Caldbec Hill.

However, more is known about the Norman deployment. William appears to have arranged his forces in three groups, or “battles”, which roughly corresponded to their origins. The left units were the Bretons, along with those from Anjou, Poitou and Maine. This division was led by Alan the Red, a relative of the Breton court. The centre was held by the Normans under the direct command of William, and with many of his relatives and kinsmen grouped around the ducal party. The final division, on the right, consisted of the Frenchmen, along with some men from Picardy, Boulogne, and Flanders. The right was commanded by William fitzOsbern and Count Eustace II of Boulogne. The front line was made up of archers with a line of foot soldiers armed with spears behind. There were probably a few crossbowmen and slingers in with the archers. The cavalry was held in reserve, and a small group of clergymen and servants situated at the base of Telham Hill was not expected to take part in the fighting.

William’s disposition of his forces implies that he planned to open the battle with archers in the front rank weakening the enemy with arrows, followed by infantry who would engage in close combat. The infantry would create openings in the English lines that could be exploited b a cavalry charge to break through the English forces and pursue the fleeing soldiers.

The opening of the battle saw the Norman archers shooting uphill at the English shield wall, to little effect. Shooting at an uphill angle meant that the arrows either bounced off the shields of the English or overshot their targets and flew over the top of the hill. Since the English lacked archers this in turned effected the Normans archers, as there were few English arrows to be gathered up and reused.

View of the battlefield looking towards Senlac Hill
View of the battlefield looking towards Senlac Hill

After the attack from the archers, William sent the spearmen forward to attack the English. They were met with a barrage of missiles, not arrows but spears, axes and stones. Since the infantry were unable to force openings in the shield wall, the cavalry advanced in support. Just like the infantry, the cavalry also failed to make headway, and a general retreat began, blamed on the Breton division on William’s left.

William lifting his helmet at the Battle of Hastings to show that he still lives
William lifting his helmet at the Battle of Hastings to show that he still lives

A rumour started that William had been killed, which added to the confusion. However, when the English forces began to pursue the fleeing invaders, William rode through his forces, showing his face and yelling that he was in fact still alive. William then led a counter-attack against the pursuing English forces.

It is unknown if the English pursuit was on the orders of Harold or if it was spontaneous.

The Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the death of Harold’s brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine, occurring just before the fight around the hillock. This may mean that it was the brothers who led the English pursuit.

However, in the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (Song of the Battle of Hastings), it tells a different story of the death of Gyrth. It says the William slew Gyrth in combat, perhaps thinking that Gyrth was actually Harold.

Another theory is from William of Poitiers, who states that the bodies of Gyrth and Leofwine were found near Harold’s, implying that they died late in the battle. However, if they did die early in battle, their bodies could’ve been taken to Harold, thus accounting for their bodies being found near his body after the battle.

Whenever they died, the known fact is, they died.

Just like his brothers, the exact moment of Harold’s death is also up for debate. It appears that he perished late in the battle, although accounts in the various sources are contradictory. William of Poitiers only mentions his death without giving any details on how it occurred. The Tapestry isn’t helpful, as it shows a figure holding an arrow sticking out of his eye next to a failing fighter being hit with a sword. Over both the figures is a statement, “Here King Harold has been killed”. That’s great, but which one, one or the other or both?

king harolds death
“Here King Harold has been killed”

The earliest written mention of the traditional account of Harold dying from an arrow to the eye, dates to the 1080s written by an Italian monk, Amatus of Montecassino.

However, the means of Harold’s death, the fact remains, Harold’s death left the English forces leaderless so they began to collapse. Many of them fled, but the brave soldiers of the royal household gathered around Harold’s body and fought to the end.

The Normans began to pursue the fleeing troops, and except for a rearguard action at a site known as the “Malfosse”, the battle was over. Exactly what happened at “Malfosse”, or “Evil Ditch”, and where it took place, in unclear. It occurred at a small fortification or set of trenches where some Englishmen rallied and seriously wounded Eustace of Boulogne, before being defeated by the Normans.

Two days after the battle Harold’s body was identified, either by his armour or marks on his body. His personal standard was presented to William, later sent to the papacy. The bodies of the English dead, including some of Harold’s brothers and housecarls, were left on the battlefield, although some were removed by relatives at a later date. The Norman dead were buried in a large communal grave, which has not been found.

There is one story of Harold’s mother, Gytha, offered William the weight of Harold’s body in gold for its custody, but was refused. It is also said that William ordered Harold’s body to be thrown into the sea, but whether that took place is unclear. Another story states that Harold was buried at the top of a cliff. Waltham Abbey, which had been founded by Harold, later claimed that his body had been secretly buried there. And of course, there are legends that Harold didn’t die at all, but escaped and became a hermit of Chester…

On 25 December 1066, William was acclaimed King of England and crowned by Ealdred, Archbishop of York.

Despite the submission of the English nobles, resistance continued for several years, but that’s is another story.


Brothers Grimm

We all know who the Grimm Brothers are, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers and together authors of a collection of folklore stories during the 19th century.

I usually post on Saturday a myth or legend, but I thought this time I would post about the people behind the story. Starting with everyone’s (mine anyway) favourite, Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

On 4 January 1785 Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was born, followed a year later on 24 February 1786 Wilhelm Carl Grimm was born. Both boys were born in Hanau in Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel within the Holy Roman Empire (present-day Germany), to Philipp Wilhelm Grimm and Dorothea Grimm. They were second and third eldest of nine children, three of whom died in infancy. In 1791 when their father, Philipp Wilhelm Grimm, a jurist, was employed as a district magistrate in Steinau, the family moved with him to the countryside. They became prominent members of the community, residing in a large home surrounded by fields.

Biographer Jack Zipes writes that “the brothers were happy in Steinau and clearly fond of country life”.

The Grimm children were educated at home by private tutors, receiving strict instruction as Lutherans that instilled in both a lifelong religious faith. Later on, they would attend local schools.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm lived in this house in Steinau from 1791 to 1796.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm lived in this house in Steinau from 1791 to 1796.

On 10 January 1796 Philipp Wilhelm Grimm dies of pneumonia, plunging his family into poverty forcing them to relinquish their servants and large house. Their mother, Dorothea Grimm, became depended on financial support from her father and sister, who was first lady-in-waiting at the court of William I, Elector of Hesse.

At the age of eleven and being the eldest son, Jacob was forced to assume adult responsibilities, shared with Wilhelm, for the next two years. The two boys obeyed the advice from their grandfather, who continually encouraged them to be hardworking.

In 1789, Jacob and Wilhelm left Steinau and their family to attend the Friedrichsgymnasium (a school) in Kassel, paid and arranged by their aunt. That year their grandfather died, so they were without a male provider, this forced them to start relying on each other resulting in the brothers to become exceptionally close.

The two brothers differed in personality; Jacob was introspective while Wilhelm was outgoing, although he often suffered from ill-health. In Kassel, they became highly aware of their inferior social status comparative to “high-born” students who received more attention. However, sharing a strong work ethic, they excelled in their studies, each brother graduating at the head of his class. Jacob in 1803 and Wilhelm in 1804.

After graduation, the brothers attended the University of Marburg, which was small with about 200 students. The brothers became painfully aware that students of lower social status were not treated equally. They were disqualified from admission because of their social standing and had to request dispensation to study law. Wealthier students received stipends, but the brothers were excluded even from tuition aid. Their poverty kept them from student activities or university social life. Ironically, however, their outsider status worked in their favour, also pursuing their studies with extra vigour.

Friedrich Carl von Savigny
Friedrich Carl von Savigny

While at the university, the brothers were inspired by their law professor, Friedrich Carl von Savigny, who awakened in them an interest in history and philology, and they turned to studying medieval German literature. They also shared Friedrich Carl von Savigny’s desire to see unification of the 200 German principalities into a single state.

Through Friedrich Carl von Savigny and his circle of friends, German romantics such as Clemens Brentano and Ludwig Achim von Arnim, the brothers were introduced to the ideas of Johann Gottfried Herder, who though that German literature should revert to simpler form, which he defined as “Volkspoesie” (natural poetry) as opposed to “Kunstpoesie” (artistic poetry).

The brothers dedicated themselves with great enthusiasm to their studies, even Wilhelm wrote in his autobiography, “the ardour with which we studied Old German helped us overcome the spiritual depression of those days”.

Jacob was still financially responsible for his mother, brother, and younger siblings in 1805, so he accepted a post in Parish as research assistant to Friedrich Carl von Savigny. On his return to Marburg, he was forced to abandon his studies to support the family, whose poverty was so extreme that food was often scarce, so he took a job with the Hessian War Commission.

Wilhelm wrote a letter to his aunt at this time of their circumstances, “We five people eat only three portions and only once a day”.

Jacob found full-time employment in 1808 when he was appointed court librarian to the King of Westphalia and went on to become librarian in Kassel. After their mother passed away that year, he became fully responsible for his younger siblings. He arranged and paid for his younger brother, Ludwig Emil Grimm’s studies at art school and for Wilhelm’s extended visit to Halle to seek treatment for heart and respiratory ailments, following which Wilhelm joined Jacob as librarian in Kassel.

About this time, Jacob and Wilhelm began collecting folk tales in a cursory manner and on Clemens Brentano’s request. According to biographer Jack Zipes, “the Grimms were unable to devote all their energies to their research and did not have a clear idea about the significance of collecting folk tales in this initial phase”.

During their employment as librarians, which paid little but afforded them ample time for research, Jacob and Wilhelm experienced a productive period of scholarship, publishing a number of books between 1812 and 1830. They published their first volume of 86 folk tales, “Kinder – und Hausmarchen”, followed quickly by two volumes of German legends and a volume of early literary history. They also went onto publish works about Danish and Irish folk tales and Norse mythology, while continuing to edit the German folk tale collection.

These works became so widely recognised that the brothers received honorary doctorates from universities in Marburg, Berlin and Breslau (now Wroclaw).

In 1825 Wilhelm married a long-time family friend, Henriette Dorothea Wild, who also supplied the brothers with stories. Jacob never married but continued to live in the household with Wilhelm and Henriette. You can see that the brothers had a very close bond, it might be due to their upbringing, but to continue into their adulthood, shows how close they really were.

In 1830, Jacob and Wilhelm were overlooked when the post of chief librarian came available, which disappointed them greatly. They moved the household to Gottingen in the Kingdom of Hanover where they took employment at the University of Gottingen, Jacob as a professor and head librarian and Wilhelm as a professor.

Jacob Grimm lecturing
Jacob Grimm lecturing

During the next seven years, Jacob and Wilhelm continued to research, write and publish. In 1835 Jacob published the well-regarded “Deutsche Mythologies” (German Mythology). Wilhelm continued to edit and prepare the third edition of “Kinder – und Hausmarchen” for publication.

Jacob and Wilhelm taught German studies at the University of Gottingen, becoming well-respected in the newly established discipline.

After joining in protest with the Gottingen Seven, in 1837 they lost their university posts.

The 1830s were a period of political upheaval and peasant revolt in Germany, leading to the movement for democratic reform knows as “Young Germany”. Jacob and Wilhelm weren’t directly aligned with the Young Germans, but five of their colleagues reacted against the demands of King Ernest Augustus I, who dissolved the parliament of Hanover in 1837 and demanded oaths of allegiance from civil servants, including professors at the University of Gottingen. For refusing to sign the oath, the seven professors were dismissed and three were deported from Hanover, including Jacob who went to Kassel. Wilhelm, Henriette and their four children later joined him there.

Friedrich Carl von Savigny and Bettina von Arnim appealed successfully to Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1840 on behalf of the Grimm brothers, who were offered posts at the University of Berlin. In addition to teaching posts, the Academy of Sciences offered them stipends to continue their research.

Once they had established their household in Berlin, they directed their efforts towards the work on the German dictionary while continuing to publish their research.

Jacob turned his attention to researching German legal traditions and the history of the German language, which was published in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Wilhelm began researching medieval literature while editing new editions of “Kinder – und Hausmarchen”.

After the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, Jacob and Wilhelm were elected to the civil parliament. Jacob becoming a prominent member of the National Assembly at Mainz. However, their political activities were short-lived, as their hope dwindled for a unified Germany and their disappointment grew.

Also, in the late 1840s, Jacob resigned his university position and saw the publication of “Geschichte der deutschen Sprache” (The History of the German Language). Wilhelm continued at his university post until 1852. After retiring from teaching, Jacob and Wilhelm devoted themselves to the German Dictionary for the rest of their lives.

On 16 December 1859 Wilhelm died of an infection in Berlin. Jacob became increasingly reclusive, deeply upset at his brother’s death. And no doubt, it’s obvious by the love they had for each other. Jacob continued to work on the dictionary until his death on 20 September 1863.

Biographer Jack Zipes writes on the Grimm brothers’ dictionary and of their very large body of work, “Symbolically the last word was Frucht (fruit)”.

The graves of the Brothers Grimm in Schöneberg, Berlin
The graves of the Brothers Grimm in Schöneberg, Berlin.


House of Normandy

The House of Normandy is the family that were the Counts of Rouen, Dukes of Normandy and Kings of England.

They were Kings of England immediately following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, until the House of Plantagenet came to power in 1154.

Arms of the duchy of Normandy
Arms of the duchy of Normandy

Norman Counts of Rouen

Rollo ~ 911-927

William Longsword ~ 927-942

Norman Dukes of Normandy

Richard I ~ 942-996

Richard II ~ 996-1027

Richard III ~ 1026-1027

Robert I ~ 1027-1035

William II ~ 1035-1066

(became King of England as William the Conqueror in 1066)

Norman Monarchs of England and Normandy

William the Conqueror ~ 1066-1087

William II ~ 1087-1100

(not Duke of Normandy)

Robert II ~ 1087-1106

(not King of England)

Henry I ~ 1100-1135 (KoE) 1106-1135 (DoN)

William Adelin ~ 1120

(not King of England)

Matilda I ~ 1135-1153

Stephen ~ 1135-1154

(actually a member of the House of Blois)


Norman Count of Flanders

William Clito ~ 1127-1128

Family Tree.PNG




Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland

I thought I might take it back to the man, who by marrying the Scottish Kings’ daughter, started the House of Stewart.

His name is Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland.

Coat of arms of High Steward of Scotland
Coat of Arms of High Steward of Scotland

There isn’t a lot about Walter, actually there isn’t any pictures of him. He was the son of James Stewart, 5th High Steward of Scotland and Giles de Burgh, daughter of Walter de Burgh, 1st Earl of Ulster. He was born around 1292 in Dundonald, Scotland.

At the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Walter fought on the Scottish side commanding with James Douglas, Lord of Douglas, the left wing of the Scots’ Army.

According to another version however, Walter was the minor leader of one of the four Scottish schiltrons (a compact body of troops forming a shield wall), but because of his youth and inexperience, its effective leader was James Douglas, Lord of Douglas. This is however disputed as some claim that there were only three Scottish schiltrons at Bannockburn.

For his service at Bannockburn, Walter was appointed Warden of the Western Marches and rewarded with a grant of lands of Largs, which had been forfeited by John Balliol, who was King of Scotland from 1292 to 1296.

In 1316, Walter gifted these lands to Paisley Abbey.

Paisley Abbey
Paisley Abbey

Upon the liberation of Robert the Bruce’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh and their daughter Marjorie Bruce, from their long captivity in England, Walter was sent to receive them at the Anglo-Scottish Border and bring them back to the Scottish court. He would later in 1315 marry Marjorie Bruce, receiving the Barony of Bathgate in Linlithgowshire as part of Marjorie’s dowry.

While Robert the Bruce was absent in Ireland, Walter and James Douglas, Lord of Douglas managed government affairs and spent much time defending the Scottish Borders.

Upon the capture of Berwick-upon-Tweed from the English in 1318, Walter got command of the town which, on 24 July 1319, was laid siege to by King Edward II of England. Several of the siege engines were destroyed by the Scots’ garrison and the Steward suddenly rushed in force from the town to drive off the enemy.

In 1322, with James Douglas, Lord of Douglas and Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, he made an attempt to surprise Edward II of England at Byland Abbey, near Malton, Yorkshire. However, Edward II escaped by being pursued towards York by Walter and 500 horsemen.

Walter and Marjorie only had one son before Marjorie passed away on 2 March 1316. Some say she died from falling from a horse while she was pregnant, bringing on a premature birth. Some say it was a year later.

Whenever Marjorie died, Robert, later Robert II of Scotland, was born on 2 March 1316.

Walter remarried to Isabel de Graham, they had three children. John, Andrew and Egidia.

On 9 April 1326 at Bathgate Castle, Walter passed away. He was buried at the Abbey Church of Paisley, alongside Marjorie and the previous five high stewards of Scotland. An engraved memorial on the floor of the abbey reads in part:

In everlasting memory of the high stewards of Scotland.

Here rest their bodies where stood the high alter of this Abbey Church of Paisley.

memorial plaque


Anne of Denmark

If you’ve read my previous blog on James VI + I of Scotland and England, you would know who Anne of Denmark was. For those who didn’t, she is his wife.

But who is this Queen of Scotland and England?

Frederick II of Denmark and Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow
Frederick II of Denmark and Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow

On 12 December 1574 Anne was born at Skanderborg Castle, Denmark. Another daughter to King Frederick II of Denmark and Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow. Another girl was a blow to her father, who so desperately wanted a son, like all monarchs it seems. Don’t despair for King Frederick II, a son was born three years later, the future Christian IV of Denmark.

Anne along with her sister, Elizabeth of Denmark, were sent to be raised by her maternal grandparents, Ulrich, Duke of Mecklenburg and Elizabeth of Denmark, Duchess of Mecklenburg at Gustrow in Germany. Unlike the Danish court, where Frederick II was notorious for large meals, heavy drinking and marital infidelity, Gustrow provided Anne and Elizabeth with a prudent and stable life during her early childhood. Later their younger brother, Christian, was sent to be brought up at Gustrow, but two years later in 1579, the Danish Privy Council called the Rigsraad, successfully requested his removal to Denmark, along with Anne and Elizabeth.

Largely due to Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow, Anne enjoyed a close and happy family upbringing in Denmark.

James VI of Scotland
James VI of Scotland

James VI of Scotland was looking for a future bride. At first, he looked towards Catherine de Bourbon, sister of the Huguenot King Henry III of Navarre, even though she was eight years his senior she was also favoured by Elizabeth I of England.

Then he set his eyes towards Denmark, who he favoured as a kingdom reformed in religion and a profitable trading partner. Scottish ambassadors had at first concentrated their suit on Elizabeth of Denmark, but Frederick II betrothed her to Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, promising the Scots instead “for the second [daughter] Anna, if the King did like her, he should have her”.


On 4 April 1588 King Frederick II of Denmark died, which left Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow in a difficult position, when she found herself in a power struggle with the Rigsraad (Danish Privy Council) for control of the nearly eleven-year-old King Christian IV of Denmark.

However, Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow proved a more diligent marriage negotiator than Frederick II. Overcoming obstacles on the amount of the dowry and the status of Orkney, she sealed the agreement by July 1589.

It also seems that Anne was thrilled by the match. On 28 July 1589, an English spy, Thomas Fowler, reported that Anne was “so far in love with the King’s Majesty as it were death to her to have it broken off and hath made good proof divers ways of her affection which his Majestie is apt in now way to requite”. Thomas Fowler’s claim that James preferred men over women would have been hidden from the now fourteen-year-old Anne.

Whatever the rumours were, James required a royal match to preserve the Stuart line. He explained, “God is my witness, I could have abstained longer than the weal of my country could have permitted, [had not] my long delay bred in the breasts of many a great jealousy of my inability, as if I were barren stock”.


On 20 August 1589, Anne was married by proxy to James at Kronborg Castle. The ceremony ending with James’ representative, George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, sitting next to Anne on the bridal bed.

Ten days after the proxy wedding, Anne set sail for Scotland. Unfortunately, due to fierce storms, was forced to the coast of Norway, then traveling by land to Oslo for refuge. She was accompanied by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal and other of the Scottish and Danish embassies.

On 12 September 1589, Richard Preston, 1st Earl of Desmond, had landed at Leith reporting that “he had come in company with the Queen’s fleet three hundred miles, and was separated from them by a great storm: it was feared that the Queen was in danger upon the seas”.

Alarmed, James called for national fasting and public prayers. He also sent out a search party to find Anne, carrying a letter he had written to her in French, “Only to one who knows me as well as his own reflection is a glass could I express, my dearest love, the fears which I have experienced because of the contrary winds and violent storms since you embarked…”.

When James was informed that the Danes had abandoned the crossing for the winter, in what now James’s one romantic episode of his life, he sailed to Leith with a three-hundred-strong retinue to fetch his wife personally. On 19 November 1589, James arrived in Oslo after travelling by land from Flekkefjord via Tonsberg. According to a Scottish account, James presented himself to Anne, “with boots and all”, and disarming her protests, gave her a kiss in the Scottish fashion.

On 23 November 1589, James and Anne were formally married at the Old Bishop’s Palace in Oslo, “with all the splendour possible at that time and place”. Leith minister David Lindsay conducted the ceremony in French so both Anne and James could understand. Leith minister David Lindsay described Anne as “a Princess both godly and beautiful… she giveth great contentment to his Majesty”. After a month of celebrations, the newly married couple Kronborg Castle in Elsinore on 22 December 1589, where they were greeted by Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow, twelve-year-old King Charles IV, and his four regents. On 7 March 1590, they moved onto Copenhagen and attended the wedding of Anne’s sister, Elizabeth to Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick, then two days later, sailing for Scotland.

On 1 May 1590, Anne finally arrived in Scotland. After a welcoming speech in French by James Elphinstone, 1st Lord Balmerino, Anne stayed in the King’s Wark while James went alone to hear a sermon by Patrick Galloway in the Parish Church. Anne made her state entry into Edinburgh five days later in a solid silver coach brought over from Denmark, while James rode alongside her on horseback.

Coat of arms of Anne of Denmark as Queen consort of Scotland

On 17 May 1590, Anne was crowned in the Abbey Church at Holyrood, the first Protestant coronation in Scotland. During the seven-hour ceremony, her gown was opened for presiding minister Robert Bruce to pour “a bonny quantity of oil” on “parts of her breast and arm”, anointing her as Queen. This ceremony was objected fervently as a pagan and Jewish ritual, but James insisted that it dated from the Old Testament. James handed the crown to Chancellor John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane, who placed it on Anne’s head. She then declared an oath to defend the true religion and worship of God and to “withstand and despise all papistical superstitions, and whatsoever ceremonies and rites contrary to the word of God”.

Henry Fredrick
Henry Fredrick

It seems like all marriages of this time, Anne was under pressure to provide James and Scotland with an heir, preferably a male one even though there has been Queens of England and Scotland. With the passing of time and still no sign of pregnancy, this provoked renewed Presbyterian libels on the theme of James’ fondness for male company. There were also whispers against Anne, “for that she proves with no child”.

There was a sigh of relief when Anne gave birth to a boy on 19 February 1594, Henry Frederick.

By all accounts James and Anne were infatuated with each other in their early years of marriage, however, this evaporated quickly and the couple often found themselves at disagreements. In 1593 James was romantically linked with Anne Murray, whom he addressed as “my mistress and my love”, until her marriage to Patrick Lyon in 1595.

In “Basilikon Doron” (“Royal Gift”), James described marriage as “the greatest earthly felicitie or miserie, that can come to a man”. This was a book he had written for his four-year-old son, Prince Henry.

Not only did Anne face her husbands’ infidelity, but she also learned soon after Henry Fredrick’s birth that she would have no say in his care. James appointed as head of the nursery his former nurse, Helen Little, who installed Henry in James’ own oak cradle. In keeping with Scottish royal tradition, James insisted on placing Prince Henry in the custody of John Erskine, Earl of Mar at Stirling Castle, much to the distress of Anne.

In late 1594 Anne began a campaign for custody of Henry, recruiting a faction of supporters to her cause including John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane. Worried of the lengths to which Anne might go to, James formally charged John Erskine, Earl of Mar in writing to never surrender Henry to anyone except on orders from James himself, “because in the surety of my son consists my surety”, also never to hand over Henry to his mother even if James died. Anne demanded for this to be referred to the Council which James refused to hear about.

After James publicly reduced Anne to rage and tears over the matter, Anne was so distraught that in July 1595, she suffered a miscarriage. Even though Anne outwardly abandoned her campaign, the events would thereafter have a permanent damage on their marriage.

In August 1595 John Colville wrote, “There is nothing but lurking hatred disguised with cunning dissimulation betwixt the King and the Queen, each intending by slight to overcome the other”.

They might not have loved each other anymore, but they did have six more children together.

Anne 1600
Anne 1600

After the “Gowrie Conspiracy” on 5 August 1600, in which the young John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie and his brother, Alexander Ruthven, were killed by James’ attendants for a supposed assault on James, triggered the dismissal of their sisters, Beatrix Ruthven and Barbara Ruthven, as ladies-in-waiting to Anne, with whom they were “in chiefest credit”. Anne, who was five months pregnant at the time, refused to get out of bed and eat unless the Ruthven sisters were reinstated. When James tried to command her, she warned him to take care how he treated her because she was not John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie.

To placate Anne, James hired a famous acrobat to entertain her, but she never gave up. Her stubborn, yet courageous, support for the Ruthven sisters over the next three years was finally taken seriously enough by the government to be regarded as a security issue.

In 1602, after the discovery that Anne smuggled Beatrix Ruthven into Holyrood, James carried out a cross-examination of the entire household. In 1603 he finally decided to grant Beatrix Ruthven a pension of £200.

Henry Fredrick 1608
Henry Fredrick 1608

When James left for London with John Erskine, Earl of Mar, to assume the English throne following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, Anne saw a belated opportunity to gain custody of Henry Frederick in 1603. Pregnant at this time, Anne descended on Stirling with a force of “well-supported” nobles, intent on removing the now nine-year-old Henry Frederick, who she hasn’t seen for five years. Unfortunately, John Erskine, Earl of Mar’s mother and brother would allow only Anne and no more than two attendants to enter the castle. Again, this sent Anne into such a fury that she suffered yet another miscarriage. According to David Calderwood, a Scottish divine and historian, Anne “went to bed in anger and parted with child the tenth of Mary”.

When John Erskine, Earl of Mar returned to Stirling Castle his instructions from James was that Anne should join him in the Kingdom of England. She informed James by letter that she refused to do so unless allowed custody of Henry Frederick. Maybe seeing how determined she was to have custody of her son at all costs, James finally obliged, though he reproved Anne for “forward womanly apprehensions” and described her behaviour in a letter to John Erskine, Earl of Mar as “wilfulness”.

After a brief recovery from her second miscarriage, Anne duly travelled south with Henry Frederick, which their progress causing a sensation in England.

Lady Anne Clifford, 14th Baroness de Clifford recorded that she and her mother, Lady Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland had killed three horses in their haste to see Queen Anne, and that when James met Anne near Windsor, “there was such an infinite number of lords and ladies and so great a Court as I think I shall never see the like again”.

In Scotland, Anne sometimes exploited court factionalism for her own ends, most prominently by supporting the enemies of John Erskine, Earl of Mar. As a result of this, James did not trust her with secrets of state. Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, active in the highly secret diplomacy concerning the English succession, subtly reminded James that though Anne possessed every virtue (a compliment), Eve was corrupted by the serpent (an insult). In reality, Anne had little interest in high politics unless they touched on the fate of her children or friends.

In England, Anne turned from political to social and artistic activities. Though she participated fully in the life of James’ court and maintained a court of her own, often attracting those not welcomed by James, she rarely took political sides against her husband. Whatever her private quarrels with James, in public she proved a diplomatic asset to him in England. Conducting herself with discretion and graciousness. Anne played a crucial role in conveying to ambassadors and foreign visitors the prestige of not only the Stuart dynasty, but its Danish connections.

The Venetian envoy, Nicolo Molin, wrote this description of Anne in 1606;

“She is intelligent and prudent; and knows the disorders of the government, in which she has no part, though many hold that as the King is most devoted to her, she might play as large a role as she wished. But she is young and averse to trouble; she sees that those who govern desire to be left alone, and so she professes indifference. All she ever does is to beg a favour for someone. She is full of kindness for those who support her, but on the other hand she is terrible, proud, unendurable to those she dislikes”.

Anne 1614
Anne 1614

While Anne adopted a cosmopolitan lifestyle in London, James preferred to escape the capital, most often at his hunting lodge in Royston, Hertfordshire. Anne chaplain, Godfrey Goodman, later summed up James and Anne’s relationship, “The King himself was a very chaste man, and there was little in the Queen to make him uxorious; yet they did love as well as man and wife could do, not conversing together”.

Anne moved into Greenwich Palace and then Somerset House, which she renamed “Denmark House”. After 1607, James and Anne rarely lived together, by which time she had borne seven children and suffered at least three miscarriages. After narrowly surviving the birth and death of her last baby, Sophia Stuart in 1607, Anne’s decision to have no more children may have widened the gap between her and James.

The children of James and Anne:

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales

19 February 1594 – 6 November 1612

Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia

19 August 1596 – 13 February 1662

Margaret Stuart

24 December 1598 – March 1600

Charles I of England

19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649

Robert Stuart

18 January 1602 – 27 May 1602

Mary Stuart

8 April 1605 – 16 September 1607

Sophia Stuart

22 June 1606 – 23 June 1606

The death of Henry Frederick on 6 November 1612 at the age of eighteen-years-old, probably from typhoid, and the departure of sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Stuart in April 1613, after marrying Elector Frederick V of the Palatine, further weakened the ties between Anne and James.

Henry Frederick’s death hit Anne particularly hard. The Venetian envoy, Nicolo Molin, was advised not to offer condolences to Anne “because she cannot bear to have it mentioned; nor does she ever recall it without abundant tears and sighs”.

From this moment on, Anne’s health started to deteriorate, withdrawing from the centre of cultural and political activities. She staged her last known masque in 1614 and no longer maintaining a noble court. This downfall in health and lack of participation in court led to her influence over James visibly wane and James’ dependency on powerful favourites.

Although James had always had male favourites among his courtiers, he now encouraged them to play a role in the government. Anne reacted very differently to the two powerful favourites who dominated the second half of James’s English reign, Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

Anne detested Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, but she encouraged the rise of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, whom James knighted in her bedchamber. Anne developed friendly relations with George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, even calling him her “dog”. Even so, after George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham rise, he increasingly ignored her, which she became a lonely figure towards the end of her life.

Anne 1617
Anne 1617

By late 1617 Anne’s illness had become debilitating. John Chamberlain, a letter writer, recorded, “The Queen continues still ill disposed and though she fain lay all her infirmities upon the gout yet most of her physicians fear a further inconvenience of an ill habit or disposition through her whole body”.

Prince Charles
Prince Charles

In January 1619 royal physician, Sir Theodore de Mayerne, instructed Anne to saw wood to improve her blood flow, but the exertion served to make her worse. During her illness, James visited her only three times, though Prince Charles often slept in the adjoining bedroom at Hampton Court Palace and was beside her during her last hours when she had lost her sight. With her also was her personal maid, Anna Roos, who had arrived with her from Denmark in 1590.

On 2 March 1619 at the age of forty-four, Queen Anne died of a dangerous form of dropsy. Dropsy is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the interstitium, located beneath the skin and in the cavities of the body, which can cause severe pain.

Despite his years of neglect towards Anne, James was emotionally affected by her death. He did not visit her during her dying days, nor did he attend her funeral, being sick himself, but James, according to Sir Theodore de Mayerne, was “fainting, sighing, dread, incredible sadness…”.

After a prolonged delay, on 13 May 1619, Anne was buried in the King Henry’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey. The catafalque, designed by Maximilian Colt, placed over her grave was destroyed during the civil war.

As he had done before he ever met her, James turned to verse to pay his respects;

So did my Queen from hence her court remove
And left off earth to be enthroned above.
She’s changed, not dead, for sure no good prince dies,
But, as the sun, sets, only for to rise.


The Tragic Muder of Sylvia Likens

It was called the most terrible crime ever committed in Indiana, and half a century later, that title still holds. On October 26, 1965, police found Sylvia Likens’s emaciated corpse—covered with more than 150 wounds ranging from burns to cuts—sprawled on a filthy mattress in the Indianapolis home of 37-year-old Gertrude Baniszewski, mother of seven and the architect of the girl’s gruesome death.

Sylvia Likens

The Beginning….

Sylvia Marie Likens (January 3, 1949 – October 26, 1965) was the third child of carnival workers Lester Cecil Likens and his wife Elizabeth (Betty) Frances. She was born between two sets of fraternal twins: Diana and Danny (two years older), and Jenny and Benny (one year younger, Jenny disabled by polio).

Likens’ parents’ marriage was unstable. The family moved frequently, and the parents had financial difficulties. Likens and her sister Jenny were often boarded out or forced to live with relatives, such as their grandmother, so that their schoolwork would not suffer while their parents were on the road. To earn money, Likens babysat and ironed the same kind of work that was done by Gertrude Baniszewski.

In July 1965, Sylvia and Jenny Likens were living with their mother, Betty, in Indianapolis, Indiana. During that time, Betty was arrested and jailed for shoplifting. Lester Likens, who had recently separated from his wife, arranged for his daughters to board with Gertrude Baniszewski, the mother of the girls’ new friend Paula Baniszewski (aged 17) and Paula’s six siblings Stephanie (15), John (12), Marie (11), Shirley (10), James (8), and few-months-old Dennis Lee Wright Jr.

Although the Baniszewskis were poor, Lester “didn’t pry” into the condition of the house (as he reported at the trial), and he encouraged Baniszewski to “straighten his daughters out.”

Abuse and Death

Lester Likens agreed to pay Gertrude $20 a week in exchange for her care of the Likens girls. When his payment arrived late, Gertrude beat the Likens girls on their bare buttocks with paddles.

Gertrude soon focused her abuse exclusively on Sylvia. She accused her of stealing candy that she had bought, and humiliated her when she admitted that she once had a boyfriend. Gertrude’s daughter, Paula, who was pregnant at the time, kicked Sylvia in the genitals and accused her of being pregnant. Later medical examination proved that Sylvia was not pregnant and could not have been. Gertrude began allowing her older children to beat Likens and repeatedly push her down stairs for entertainment. During a church function, she force-fed Sylvia a hot dog overloaded with condiments. She vomited afterwards, which she was later forced to consume. Gertrude also accused Sylvia of prostitution and delivered misogynistic sermons about the filthiness of prostitutes and women in general.

Sylvia was later accused of spreading rumors within Arsenal Technical High School that Paula and Stephanie Baniszewski were prostitutes. This supposedly provoked Stephanie’s boyfriend, Coy Hubbard, to physically attack Sylvia. Afterwards, Coy, and several other classmates and local boys visited the Baniszewski residence to assist Gertrude in abusing Sylvia. Gertrude encouraged Coy, her children, and neighborhood children to torment Sylvia, including, among other things:

  • Beating her
  • Starving her
  • Tying her up
  • Extinguishing lit cigarettes on her body over 100 times.
  • Forcing her to eat feces and drink urine
  • Clubbing her with objects such as hair spray cans, dishes and bottles
  • Clawing her back
  • Using her as a “practice dummy” during violent Judo sessions
  • Injuring her vagina
  • Lacerating her
  • Burning her with scalding water
  • Rubbing salt into her wounds
  • Forcing her to strip naked and insert an empty glass Coca-Cola bottle into her vagina

Paula Baniszewski once beat Likens in the face with such force that she broke her own wrist. She later had to wear a cast, which she used to further beat Likens.

Gertrude Baniszewski later forced Jenny to hit her sister, beating her if she did not comply.

Meanwhile, Raymond and Phyllis Vermillion, a middle-aged couple who moved next door, saw Gertrude to be an ideal caretaker for their two children. They visited the Baniszewski residence on two occasions, where they witnessed Paula, with Gertrude’s approval, abusing Sylvia and boasting about it in front of them. The Vermillions refused to report the abuse to the authorities out of fear on both occasions.

Gertrude eventually forbids Sylvia to attend school after she confessed to having stolen a gym suit from the school when Gertrude would not buy a gym suit for her. She brutally beat and whipped Sylvia and did the same for Jenny after remembering that she supposedly stole a tennis shoe. Baniszewski then switched the topic to the “evils” of premarital sex and brutally kicked Sylvia multiple times in her vagina. She also burned all of her fingers with matches and further whipped her.

Likens eventually became incontinent due to the severity of the torture. She was denied access to the bathroom and thus, was forced to urinate herself. As punishment for her incontinence, Gertrude threw and locked her in the basement. Throughout her captivity, Gertrude frequently, with the assistance of her children and their friends, restrained Sylvia in a bathtub filled with scalding water and rubbed salt onto her burns. She was often kept naked and rarely fed. At times, Gertrude and her twelve-year-old son John Jr. would make Sylvia eat her own feces, as well as urine and feces from the diaper of Gertrude Baniszewski’s one-year-old son. She also made abusing Sylvia a pastime, charging the neighborhood children five cents to see the “display” of Sylvia’s naked body and tie, beat, burn and mutilate her. Sylvia attempted to alert the neighbors for help by screaming and hitting the walls of the basement with a spade, ultimately to no avail.

The Likens sisters had no way to contact other family members to inform them of the abuse. Jenny, especially, struggled to do this since she was constantly threatened by Gertrude that she would be abused and tortured next like her sister. She was also bullied by the neighborhood girls and beaten whenever she alluded to Sylvia’s situation. Early that summer, they saw their older sister, Diana, a couple of times at the local park. Diana was then 18 years old, married, and estranged from the rest of her family. Their parents had forbidden contact between the two. When her sisters finally had the chance to tell Diana about the punishments they were receiving, she assumed that seeing her was the reason why. They wished they could all live together, but at the time, they did not know they lived less than a mile-and-a-half apart. Diana eventually learned that Sylvia and Jenny were staying at a home, which was not their parents, and she attempted to visit them. She did not know the woman who answered the door, but later learned it was Gertrude Baniszewski. Baniszewski told her that the girls were not allowed to see her, and ordered Diana off her property. At one point, Diana secretly gave a starving Sylvia a sandwich. Sylvia remained silent about the matter but after Marie Bansizewski revealed it, Paula and Gertrude choked, paddled and subjected Sylvia to another scalding bath. Shortly thereafter, a neighbor made an anonymous report, which prompted an in-home visit by a public health nurse. The nurse entered the home, made inquiries, and had no choice but to leave without further investigation. She told Gertrude the report was about Sylvia; Gertrude replied she had kicked Sylvia out of her house, and her whereabouts were unknown. The nurse had no way of knowing that the subject of her inquiry was right below her in the basement.

Sylvia was often deprived of water. Jenny later speculated, during her court testimony, that Sylvia was unable to produce tears due to dehydration.

On October 22, Sylvia was forced by John to eat a bowl of soup with her fingers. John quickly took away the bowl when she attempted to eat it. Gertrude eventually allowed her to sleep upstairs, under the condition that she learned not to wet herself. That night, Sylvia whispered to Jenny to give her a glass of water before falling asleep. On October 23, Gertrude discovered that Sylvia had urinated herself. As punishment, she was forced to masturbate with an empty glass Coca-Cola bottle in front of Baniszewski’s children. After that, she stripped Sylvia naked and carved the words “I’M A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD OF IT” onto Sylvia’s abdomen with a heated needle. When Gertrude was unable to finish the branding, she had Richard Hobbs finish. Hobbs continued to brand Sylvia as Gertrude calmly took Jenny to the groceries. Richard Hobbs and 10-year-old Shirley Baniszewski then used an iron poker in an attempt to burn the letter “S” into Sylvia’s chest; the burn scar ended up looking like the number “3.” Gertrude later taunted Sylvia about how she would never be able to marry a man due to the words carved onto her stomach. Sylvia was taken back to the basement, where Coy Hubbard arrived to tie her up and slam her body against the walls six to seven times. That night, Likens confided to her sister, “I’m going to die. I can tell”. The next day, Gertrude woke Likens, and then dictated a letter to her, intending to mislead her parents into believing that she had run away. The letter also tried to frame a group of anonymous boys for abusing and mutilating Likens after she supposedly agreed to have sexual relations with them. After Sylvia finished the letter, Gertrude formulated a plan to have John Jr. and Jenny take Sylvia to a nearby forested area and leave her there to die.

Words carved onto Sylvia

On October 25, Sylvia tried to escape after overhearing Gertrude’s plan to blindfold her and dump her body in Jimmy’s Forest, a wooded area nearby. Sylvia fled to the front door but due to her extensive injuries, Gertrude caught her in time. Sylvia was provided with toast but was unable to eat it due to her severe dehydration. Baniszewski shoved the toast into her mouth and struck her face several times with a curtain rod. She violently threw Sylvia into the basement and with the assistance of Coy Hubbard; she tied and bludgeoned her until she was unconscious. Sylvia managed to recover but was unable to speak intelligibly and move her limbs properly. She tried to exit the basement but collapsed before she could make it to the stairs. Gertrude crushed her head with her feet and stood there for several moments.

On October 26, after multiple beatings, burnings, and scalding baths, Sylvia Likens died of a brain hemorrhage, shock, and malnutrition. She was 16 years old.

Sylvia Likens after she died

When Stephanie Baniszewski and Richard Hobbs realized that Sylvia was not breathing, Stephanie tried to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Banzisewski, however, shouted at them that Likens was “faking it”.

When she realized that Sylvia was dead, Gertrude sent Richard Hobbs to call the police from a nearby pay phone. When police arrived, Gertrude Baniszewski handed them the letter she had forced Sylvia to write a few days previously. Before the police officers left the house, however, Jenny Likens approached them and said, “Get me out of here and I’ll tell you everything.” Her statement, combined with the discovery of Sylvia’s body, prompted the officers to arrest Gertrude, Paula, Stephanie and John Baniszewski, Richard Hobbs, and Coy Hubbard for murder. Other neighborhood children present at the time—Mike Monroe, Randy Lepper, Darlene McGuire, Judy Duke, and Anna Siscoe—were arrested for “injury to person”.


Baniszewski, her children, Hobbs, and Hubbard were held without bail pending their trials.

An examination and autopsy of Sylvia’s body revealed numerous burns, bruising, and muscle and nerve damage. All of her fingernails were also broken backwards and most of the skin’s outer layer peeled off. Her severely mutilated body led authorities to initially believe that it was the work of an “anonymous madman”. In her death throes, Likens bit through her lips, partially severing each of them. Her vaginal cavity was nearly swollen shut, although an examination of the canal determined that her hymen was still intact, which meant it was possible she was still a virgin, discrediting Gertrude’s assertions that Sylvia was a prostitute and her insistence that she was pregnant. The official cause of death was brain swelling, internal hemorrhaging of the brain, and shock from severe and prolonged damage to her skin.

During the highly publicized trial, Gertrude Baniszewski denied being responsible for Sylvia’s death. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. She claimed that she was too distracted by her ill health and depression to control her children.

Four minors who took part in the abuse of Likens were also put on trial. They were:

  • Paula Baniszewski, aged 17
  • John Baniszewski, aged 13
  • Richard Hobbs, aged 15
  • Coy Hubbard, aged 15

The attorneys for the minors claimed that they had been pressured by Gertrude.

When Gertrude’s 11-year-old daughter, Marie Baniszewski, was called to the stand as a witness for the defense, she broke down and admitted that she had been forced to heat the needle with which Richard Hobbs had carved Sylvia’s skin. She also testified that she had seen her mother beating Sylvia and forcing her into the basement.

In his closing statement, Baniszewski’s lawyer said: “I condemn her for being a murderess … but I say she’s not responsible because she’s not all here!” He tapped his head to make his point about her state of mind.

On May 19, 1966, Gertrude Baniszewski was convicted of first-degree murder. She was spared the death penalty and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Paula Baniszewski, who had given birth to a daughter during the trial, was convicted of second-degree murder. She was also sentenced to life imprisonment.

Richard Hobbs, Coy Hubbard, and John Baniszewski Jr. were all convicted of manslaughter and given to 2-to-21-year prison sentences.

52 years later…..

Gertrude Baniszewski

Originally found guilty of first-degree murder, Gertrude (or Gertie, as she was sometimes called) was sentenced to life in prison—a judgment confirmed by a 1971 retrial. During her years at the Indiana Women’s Prison, she was considered a model prisoner and earned the nickname of “Mom.” In spite of widespread public outcry, she was paroled in 1985. She moved to Iowa, changed her name to Nadine Van Fossan, and died of lung cancer on June 16, 1990. She never took responsibility for her crimes, claiming she “couldn’t remember” her actions. “I never thought she was insane,” Bumppo says. “I thought she was a downtrodden, mean woman.”

Paula Baniszewski

When Gertrude, a sickly asthmatic, didn’t feel up to “disciplining” Sylvia, she relied on her oldest child, Paula, to help out, which she did, enthusiastically. She was 17 at the time, and it was rumored that she and Sylvia disliked each other from the start. In 1966, Paula was convicted of second-degree murder, but when her conviction was overturned in 1971 on a technicality, she pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter rather than face a retrial. She got 2-to-21 years but, in spite of attempting a prison break, was paroled in March 1972 and released completely in March 1974. She changed her name to Paula Pace and wasn’t heard from again until 2012, when she was discovered living in the small Iowa hamlet of Marshalltown and working for the school system in the neighboring town of Conrad. Pace/Baniszewski, the mother of two grown sons, wasn’t charged with any additional crimes but was fired from her job for providing false information on her employee application. Since then, she has once more slipped off the grid.

Stephanie Baniszewski

The second-oldest of the Baniszewski children, Stephanie was 15 at the time of the crime. Though she admitted to participating to some degree in Sylvia’s abuse, she was granted a special trial and then all charges against her were dropped, likely because she agreed to turn state’s evidence against her family. She reportedly changed her name, married, had children, worked as a teacher, and now lives in Florida.

John Baniszewski

The third-oldest of the Baniszewski children and an active participant in Sylvia’s torture, John was 12 when she died. Convicted of manslaughter, he became the Indiana State Reformatory’s youngest inmate, serving just two years before being released. He changed his name to John Blake and drifted aimlessly before experiencing a religious epiphany that, he said, helped him see the error of his ways. Allegedly the only member of the Baniszewski clan to show public remorse for his deeds, he made no attempt to hide his past and even spoke about it publicly on occasion. Reportedly a lay minister and real-estate agent with a wife and three children, he died of cancer in 2005 at age 52. In a masterpiece of understatement, he once told a reporter that “My mom was a very selfish, self-centered woman.”

Marie Baniszewski
Marie Baniszewski

Fourth-oldest of the Baniszewski children, Marie was 11 when the torture took place. No charges were brought against her. She testified during the trial, becoming the sole member of the Baniszewski family to cry on the stand during questioning. She reportedly still lives in Indiana.

Shirley Baniszewski

Fifth-oldest of the Baniszewski children, Shirley was the youngest of the family to actively participate in Sylvia’s torture. Although the 10-year-old heated a needle that was used to burn the victim, she was never charged with any crime. Her whereabouts today are unknown.

James Baniszewski (could not find a picture)
Because he was only 8 at the time, James was not arrested nor called to testify, although some reports suggested he played a role in the crime. Of all the Baniszewski offspring, the least is known about him

Dennis Lee Wright Jr. (no picture)
The youngest of the Baniszewski children, Dennis was a newborn when Sylvia met her fate. He was the son of Gertrude’s lover, Dennis Lee Wright Sr., who abandoned the family shortly after his namesake’s birth. Supposedly, he was placed in foster care and was later adopted by the White family, who changed his name to Denny Lee White. He died in 2012 in California.

Coy Hubbard

A neighborhood kid and Stephanie Baniszewski’s boyfriend, Hubbard was a full participant in Sylvia’s torture. His “contributions” included using her as a practice dummy for judo flips and punches and shoving her down the basement stairs. Convicted of manslaughter, he served only two years before being released. His attorney, Forrest Bowman Jr., remembers running into him in the early 1970s when he stopped at a near-downtown gas station where Hubbard happened to work. “He was very effusive and said, ‘Come inside, I want to introduce you to my boss,’” Bowman recalls. “I said sure. That was the last contact I had with him.” Oddly, Hubbard never changed his name and reportedly remained in the Indianapolis area most of his adult life. He was tried for another murder in 1982 but acquitted. He also reportedly lost his job in 2007 when the movie An American Crime, about the Sylvia Likens case, debuted. He died in June of that year in Shelbyville.

richard hobbs
Richard Hobbs

Another neighborhood kid who tortured Sylvia, Hobbs performed the infamous act of helping to carve the words “I am a prostitute and proud of it” into her stomach with a large needle. The macabre task was begun by Gertrude, but when she became too fatigued to finish, Hobbs stepped in. Convicted of manslaughter, he served a short sentence and died of cancer in 1972 at age 21.

Lester C. Likens
Sylvia’s father was a carnival worker who decided to leave his kids with a third party while he and his wife, Betty, were on the road. His only “crime” was that he didn’t vet the Baniszewski home more thoroughly before leaving two of his daughters in Gertrude’s custody. “We [he and Gertrude] got to talking, and she said she would take care of the children and treat them like her own,” he recalled at the trial. Lester apparently believed her, because during several subsequent trips to the house—the last on October 5, just weeks before his daughter’s death—he noticed nothing out of order. Not that there was much to see, considering the only portions of the Baniszewski abode he ever entered were the living room and, once, the kitchen. He reportedly died in February 2013 at the age of 86 in Fontana, California.

lester and betty
Lester and Betty Likens at the trial

Betty Likens
Visibly devastated, Sylvia’s mother gave only short responses on the witness stand at the trial. She divorced Lester in 1967, remarried, and died on May 29, 1998, at age 71. She was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, where she shares a headstone with her brother.

Dianna Likens

In the midst of the ordeal, Sylvia’s sister Jenny—who was also boarded at the Baniszewskis’—reportedly called their older sister Dianna for help. Believing that the girls were simply grumbling, Dianna initially ignored the plea. But her suspicions were raised when Gertrude wouldn’t let her in the house for a visit. She then spotted Jenny, who said she wasn’t allowed to talk to her and ran away. Dianna contacted social services, but when a worker showed up at the Baniszewski residence, Jenny told her (on threat of punishment from Gertrude) that Sylvia had run away. No further action was taken. Dianna made headlines recently when she and her husband, Cecil “Paul” Knutson, both diabetics, got lost in the California backcountry and were stranded in their car for two weeks with nothing to sustain them but rainwater, a pie, and some oranges. Knutson didn’t survive the ordeal, dying of a heart attack after the first week. Dianna, near death, was discovered and rescued by off-roaders.

Jenny Likens

Perhaps because she was crippled by polio, Jenny didn’t suffer nearly as much abuse as her sister Sylvia did. From the beginning, she had opportunities to tell neighbors what was going on, but she didn’t because she feared she would make things worse. Indeed, one of the enduring mysteries of the case is why neither she nor Sylvia sought help before things escalated. “I speculate that there was never any experience in Sylvia’s life, up to the time she went into Gertie’s house, when she learned that people would come to her aid,” says Bowman, Hubbard’s attorney. “She wasn’t conditioned to believe that anyone would help her.” Sylvia finally succumbed to her injuries after months of torture. Hobbs, the neighborhood kid, contacted the police to report the death. When the police arrived to collect her sister’s body, Jenny reportedly told them, “You get me out of here, and I’ll tell you everything.” A Beech Grove resident, she died in 2004 at the age of 54.

My thoughts….

This story broke my heart. I mean most true crime stories break my heart but this one was horrific. I am appalled at the sentences they received. Also I feel like the younger kids got off way too easy. While they shouldn’t have had life sentences they should have been detained in centers for psychological help. Maybe they did get that but I don’t know for sure. The ones who were put on trial should have all had life without parole and Gertrude should have gotten the death sentence. I have been curious about Daniel and Benny Ray Lester. There is not a whole lot of information on them. I know Benny died in 1999 but there is no information on Daniel. Where were they? What happened to them?

Reading Material….

Non-fiction/True Crime book:

  • House of Evil: The Indiana Torture Slaying by John Dean. I read this book a couple years back and it was very well done but very hard to read. Have tissues.

house of evil

There is a movie that was made based of the true crime book called An American Murder. Highly recommended. It was fantastically done. Once again it is heart breaking and sad. Have tissues.


Realistic fiction book:

  • The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. I have not read this yet but I have heard it’s good. It’s loosely based off the story of Sylvia Likens.

girl next door

There is also a movie with the same title. I have watched the movie. It was well done. Obviously it’s been fictionalized and some things have been changed but I would still recommend watching it. I am hoping to get to the book sometime this year.