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King Stephen: Government and Anarchy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2014

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The remote and rather dreary reign of King Stephen recently has had great appeal to contemporary historians and several distinguished scholars have carefully analyzed it. Indeed, who would have thought that a study of medieval government in a troubled time, always interesting on its own terms, would seem so pertinent, especially to concerned Americans? Since the Watergate revelations, nearly everyone observed a declining confidence in our national leadership. Journalists, politicians, and private citizens continually asked whether the president had lost the ability to govern. Barons, bishops, and burgers discussed similar questions in King Stephen's time—in 1135, in 1139, in 1141, and in 1153—and yet their king and country survived. Our nation also surmounted its series of crises and the consoling lesson of both trying periods may well be that the salvation of necessary administrative institutions and the preservation of relative prosperity depend far more upon the loyalty, dedication, and service of barely visible, self-effacing governmental bureaucrats than it does upon any one leader's personal skill, principal advisors, or private morals.

Generations of young men have grown old safely categorizing King Stephen's days as “The Anarchy” and their professors still regale other eager students with the Peterborough chronicler's description of that time in England when “Christ and His angels slept” and “we suffered nineteen winters for our sins.”

Research Article
Albion , Volume 6 , Issue 3 , Fall 1974 , pp. 201 - 217
Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1974

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1 Davis, R.H.C., King Stephen (Berkeley, 1967)Google Scholar; Appleby, John T., The Troubled Reign of King Stephen (New York, 1970)Google Scholar; Cronne, H. A., The Reign of Stephen, 1135-1154, Anarchy in England (London, 1970)Google Scholar; LePatourel, John, “What Did Not Happen in Stephen's Reign,” History 58 ( 1973): 117CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hollister, C. Warren, “The Misfortunes of the Mandevilles,” History 58 (1973): 1828CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The full texts of the charters and writs of Stephen, the Empress Matilda, and Duke Henry are printed in Cronne, H. A. and Davis, R.H.C., Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, Vol. 3 (Oxford, 1968), and Vol. 4 (Facsimiles) (Oxford, 1969)Google Scholar. Johnson, Charles and Cronne, H. A. had previously calendared the writs of Henry I, Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, Vol. 2 (Oxford, 1956).Google Scholar

2 Whitelock, Dorothy, Douglas, David C., and Tucker, Susie I., eds. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (New Brunswick, 1961), pp. 199200Google Scholar. For a recent treatment of the faceless bureaucrats who surrounded President Nixon see Hebers, John, “The Other Presidency,” New York Times Magazine, (March 3, 1974): 16-17, 3041.Google Scholar

3 Le Prévost, August, ed., Orderici Vitalis Historiae Ecclesiasticae Libri Tredecim (5 vols.: Paris, 18381855), IV:164Google Scholar. For Henry I's use of patronage and the loyal service of his ministers, see Southern, R. W., “The Place of Henry I in English History,” Proceedings of the British Academy, 48 (1962): 127170.Google Scholar

4 See Kealey, Edward J., Roger of Salisbury, Viceroy of England (Berkeley, 1972).Google Scholar

5 Regesta, 2, nos. 1102, 1183, 1243, 1245, 1338, 1588, 1740, 1757, 1761, 1795, 1830, 1932, 1934. 1941. Stephen's attestation also appears on forged charters, nos. 783, 1436, 1794, and 1991. Four royal charters were addressed to him, nos. 1337, 1356, 1406. 1869 and four other mentioned him, nos. 1544, 1546, 1904, 1973. Three of his own early charters were also calendared, nos. 1545, 1547, 1676.

6 Davis, , King Stephen, pp. 33, 48, 69.Google Scholar

7 Davis, , King Stephen, p. 87Google Scholar; Cronne, , Reign of Stephen, p. 219Google Scholar. These scholars did not attempt any breakdown of charter figures and used only general averages of the total production divided by the total regnal years.

8 Bishop, T.A.M., Scriptores Regis (Oxford, 1961), p. 31Google Scholar, estimates that about 40% of Henry M's writs were issued in the first seven years of his thirty-five year reign. Based on my table, about 26% came from Henry I's first seven and one half years, but about 52% came from Stephen's first seven years. Professor Bishop also indicates that Henry I had from 2 to 4 known scribes working in his earliest years; Stephen had 11 in 1135-1141, and Henry II had 15 known chancery hands in 1155-1161. He further suggests that, while Stephen's decline in scribes may be accountable by a breakdown in the central government, Henry I I's apparent decline suggests that a few privileged scribes obtained something of a monopoly of chancery work. The numbers of Henry I's scribes seem to have increased slightly over his long reign; Ibid., pp. 2, 10, 30. Naturally, there is no way of knowing how many scribes and their work vanished entirely.

9 King Henry I issued an average of 62 writs for each of the first three and one-half years of his reign.

10 Bishop, , Scriptores Regis, p. 13.Google Scholar

11 Regesta, 3, pp. xvxviiGoogle Scholar. For a photograph of Stephen's seals see Regesta, 4, plates, 1, 2.

12 From Normandy Duke Geoffrey of Anjou, Henry's father, sent out an average of six writs a year in the period 1144-1151. His issue has not been included in the table.

13 These scribes have been identified and analyzed by Professor Bishop in Scriptores Regis. See also Cronne, , Reign of Stephen, pp. 201221Google Scholar; Regesta, 3, pp. ixxvGoogle Scholar, and all of Regesta, 4.

14 For Roger the Pauper, see Kealey, , Roger of Salisbury, especially pp. 272273.Google Scholar

15 It was the author of the Gesta Stephani, ed. and tr. Potter, K. R. (London, 1955), p. 52Google Scholar, who called young Roger “the king's chief secretary” (Summusque illius antigraphy). This is a good description of the early twelfth century chancellorship which was not yet the great office it would soon become.

16 Ordericus Vitalis, V: 120:121; Kealey, , Roger of Salisbury, pp. 173189.Google Scholar

17 Arnold, Thomas, ed., Historia Iohannis Priorts Hagustaldensis Ecdesiae, in Symeonis Monachis Opera Omnia, Rolls Series 75 (2 vols.; London, 1855), II:310.Google Scholar

18 In fifteen years Robert de Gant attested only nineteen of Stephen's charters. His subordinate. Baldric, the keeper of the royal seal, attested seventeen; Regesta, 3, pp. xxi.Google Scholar

19 Round, John Horace, “Bernard, the King's Scribe,” English Historical Review, 14 (1899):415430.Google Scholar

20 His hand was first detected in Regesta, 2, no. 866 (1100-1107).

21 Bishop, Scriptores Regis, plate 17a, said 11, but Regesta, 4, plates 6 and 8, added another, Regesta, 3, no. 800, for King Stephen.

22 See Regesta, 4, plates 5-11, for the varities of his work.

23 Regesta, 3, no. 143, may be 1135-1141, but the editors suggest 1137 is the most likely date.

24 Regesta, 4, plate 11.

25 Ibid., p. 5.

26 Ibid., pp. 7-8.

27 Ibid., p. 11.

28 Ibid., p. 6, plates 48-50.

29 For Scribe 14, see Bishop, , Scriptores Regis, pp. 2425, plate 16bGoogle Scholar; Regesta, 3, pp. xivxvGoogle Scholar; Regesta, 4, p. 19Google Scholar, plates 12-18; Saltman, Avrom, Theobald Archbishop of Canterbury (London, 1956), nos. 21, 23, 35, 36, 40, 42, 43, 46, 86, 99, 107, 1 14, 122, 123, 154, 157, 162, 168, 187, 194, 209, 250, 276Google Scholar. One wonders if Peter the scribe, or this imitator, is also identifiable with Peter a clerk of St. Martin (le-Grand ?) to whom King Henry I had given property at Mara in Wilton in Bishop Roger's diocese; Kealey, , Roger of Salisbury, p. 237Google Scholar. Under the empress Peter gave this land to Heytesbury to enhance the prebend of of Ramsbury, Roger, Regesta, 3, nos. 792, 793Google Scholar; Jones, W. H. Rich, ed., Vetus Registrum Sarisberiense, or Registrum S. Osmundi Episcopi (Rolls Series 78; 2 vols.; 18831884), I:337.Google Scholar

30 Regesta, 3, no. 543.

31 Ibid., nos. 539, 540, 545, 547, 549, 552, 558, 559; Saltman, Theobald, no. 170.

32 Three writs of the “real” Scribe 14. Regesta, 3, nos. 525, 543, and Saltman, Theobald, no. 168, are also for St. Martin's. Adam the clerk, the recipient of another of Peter's royal writs, Regesta, 3, no. 15, may have been a canon of St. Martin, ibid., p. xi. Thus, 14 of a possible total of 62 writs, or more than 20% of this man and his imitator's extant production, would have been for a single church. It should be noted, however, that an unusually high percentage of St. Martin's original writs have been preserved intact.

33 Saltman, Theobald, no. 168.

34 Another talented scribe from Salisbury, Richard of Salisbury, was for a time the chief clerk of Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of Hereford (1148-1163) and of London (1163-1187). There is also the possibility that a Robert of Salisbury (but maybe of Selby), who had known John of Salisbury, was the chancellor of Roger the Great of Sicily; see Morey, Dom Adrian and Brooke, C.N.L., The Letters and Charters of Gilbert Foliot (Cambridge, 1967), pp. 2829Google Scholar. John of Salisbury believed that the capture of the bishops in 1 1 39 was the worst act of Stephen's reign, the beginning of all the king's evil deeds; Policraticus, VI: 18Google Scholar, Dickinson, John, tr., The Statesman's Book of John of Salisbury (New York, 1927), p. 235.Google Scholar

35 Saltman, Theobald, no. 209; Bishop, , Scriptores Regis, p. 76 (S25)Google Scholar. The letter is datable by Theobald's title which here excludes his papal legateship and thus falls in 1145-1150 or 1159-1160. Bishop and Regesta, 3, p. xiGoogle Scholar, suggest he may have kept Stephen's seal late in the reign, and surely that is conceivable, but his active service as archdeacon also suggests he kept aloof from government until 1154. Nicholas appears in Hunter, Joseph, ed., Pipe Roll 2 Henry II (London, 1844), pp. 25, 32, 33, 55, 56Google Scholar; from Southampton he issued a charter in his own name (1155-1177) written by Scribe 35, Bishop, , Scriptores Regis, pp. 27, 78, plate 2d.Google Scholar

36 Ross, E. D., ed., The Cartulary of Cirencester Abbey, Gloucestershire (2 vols.; London, 1964), II:566, no. 676Google Scholar (about c.1129-1142), that is, after Athelelm became archdeacon of Dorset and before he was chosen dean of Lincoln.

37 For Atheleltn's, or Adelelm's, career see Kealey, , Roger of Salisbury, especially, p. 274.Google Scholar

38 For examples of Nicholas' attestation and writs involving him see Gibbs, Marion, Early Charters of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul's, London, Royal Historical Society Publications, 3rd Series 58 (London, 1939), p. 121, no. 145, c. 1145Google Scholar; Foster, Charles Wilmer and Major, Kathleen, The Registrum Antiquissimum of the Cathedral Church of Lincoln, 9 vols., Lincoln Record Society, 27, 28, 29, 32, 34, 41, 46, 51, 62 (Hereford, 19311968), II:38, no. 346 (about 1151-1155)Google Scholar, this was also witnessed by Dean Athelelm and Roger d'Ameri (see below): British Museum Manuscript, Lansdowne Charter 679 (c. 1162), this was also witnessed by Dean Athelelm and Baldric de Sigillo (see below); Saltman, Theobald, no. 234. When Nicholas became archdeacon, his friend, John of Salisbury, wrote to tease him about accepting such an appointment. He reminded Nicholas that he had once lamented that archdeacons were so venal and self-serving that all roads to salvation were closed to them; quoted in Brooke, C.N.L., The Twelfth Century Renaissance (London, 1969), p. 68.Google Scholar

39 Greenway, Diana, John Le Neve Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1066-1300, 1 [St. Paul's, London] (London, 1968), p. 51Google Scholar. He held Harleston prebend. Bernard the Scribe, who was so active in his own behalf under Henry I had a brother named Nicholas; Regesta, 2, nos. 1675, 1851. Bernard's center at Winchester was not far from Southampton. Moreover, in 1133 a St. Paul's charter involving Nicholas the Scribe was attested by Bernard; Round, , “Bernard, the King's Scribe,” p. 424Google Scholar. One wonders, then, if Nicholas of Southampton might not have been a royal scribe, perhaps Scribe 13, or the Salisbury scribe, Scribe C, who sometimes wrote like him; Regesta, 4, plates 48-50. Other prebends at St. Paul's were held by government officials. Nigel of Ely, and later his son, Richard Fitznigel, held Chiswick. Everard of Calne, a chancery clerk under Henry I, a Salisbury archdeacon, and later bishop of Norwich, held Mora prebend, as did his nephew, William of Calne, thereafter, and then Henry, the son of Robert de Sigillo; Greenway, , Fasti, pp. 41, 62.Google Scholar

40 He held Langford in Oxfordshire; Registrum Antiquissimum, nos. 139, 179.

41 Saltman, Theobald, no. 157; Bishop, , Scriptores Regis, p. 76, S22Google Scholar. See also, Salt-man, Theobald, no. 209; Regesta, 3, no. 366; Cirencester Cartulary, no. 676; Gibbs, Early Charters, no. 156; Registrum Antiquissimum, 2:38, no. 346Google Scholar; Lansdowne Charter 679; Salter, H.E., The Thame Cartulary, Oxfordshire Record Society 25–26 (Oxford, 19471948) I:2Google Scholar. Many of these attestations are in conjunction with Athelelm and Nicholas; see notes 37-39 above.

42 Regesta, 3, p. xGoogle Scholar; Registrum Antiquissimum, II:317, 553.Google Scholar

43 Regesta, 3, p. xi and nos. 478, 479, 480Google Scholar. The circumstances of Stephen's grams to Baldric suggest he was simply using Lincoln as a convenient resource to support his official. Baldric later became archdeacon of Leicester.

44 Kealey, , Roger of Salisbury, pp. 273274.Google Scholar

45 Warner, G.F., Giraldus Cambrensis Opera (Rolls Series 21, 8 vols., London, 18611891), VII:156Google Scholar. Roger of Berkshire died before 1166.

46 Rich-Jones, W.H. and Macray, W. Dunn, Charters and Documents Illustrating the Cathedral, City, and Diocese of Salisbury in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Rolls Series 97; London, 1891), p. 19Google Scholar. His witness is given as “Robert of Berkshire.” but this must be a scribal error for Roger of Berkshire. Unidentified archdeacons named Roger appear a few times in this period, e.g., ibid., p. 30; Regesta, 3, no. 88. Then too. writs were sometimes addressed to an unnamed archdeacon of Berkshire, e.g., Kealey, , Roger of Salisbury, p. 258, no. 22 (1135-1139).Google Scholar

47 Regesta, 3, no. 705.

48 Writ of novel disseisin, Regesta, 3, no. 257 ( 1136-1138) by Scribe 13 for Durham cathedral; writ of right, ibid., no. 260 (1136-1140) by Scribe 14 for Ely cathedral; writ for the execution of judgement, ibid., no. 543 (December 1139-March 1 140) by Scribe 14 for St. Martin-le-Grand; Scribe 21 also prepared a similar type writ for St. Martin's sometime in the vague period 11 39-1152, as did Scribe 14 or his imitator in 1143-1154, ibid., nos. 537, 552; writ of course, ibid., no. 682 (1141 ) by Scribe 14 for Oseney abbey; this was a writ of the Empress Matilda. Scribe 14, or his imitator, also prepared a somewhat similar writ for St. Martin's in 1145-1147, ibid., no. 539. A possible precursor for the writ of mort d'anscestor is, ibid., no. 536 (1139-1154), written in an unidentified hand for St. Martin's. For a discussion of these experiments see Regesta, 4, pp. 3, 1718Google Scholar, and plate 12a (no. 260 for Ely cathedral).

49 Richard, Son of Nigel, The Course of the Exchequer, ed. and trans. Johnson, Charles (London, 1950), p. 50.Google Scholar

50 Cronne, , Reign of Stephen, p. 200Google Scholar. Although he attested only ten times between 1135 and 1139, about the same number as he had under King Henry, after 1139 William appears 171 times and is Stephen's most faithful witness and, perhaps, most faithful supporter.

51 Ibid., pp. 184-205. The son returned to Stephen's allegiance four years later, but remained of little consequence.

52 Gesta Stephani, pp. 100-101. This author referred to mercenaries as “a savage horde of barbarians,” ibid., p. 102. Another treasury chamberlain, William Mauduit, served under Henry I, was in a somewhat similar capacity early in Stephen's reign, went over to the empress after 1139, apparently sat out the further confusions, and then regained his office under Henry II; Regesta, 3, pp. xviii-xxi, xxvii.Google Scholar

53 Cronne, , Reign of Stephen, pp. 221282.Google Scholar

54 Quoted in ibid., p. 263.

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