The ‘Anarchy’ of Stephen’s Reign and Scotland

Published on: Author: Harriet Gaston Leave a comment

A guest post by Dr Steve Marritt, Lecturer in History, University of Glasgow. 

Stephen’s reign saw the first Scottish coins, after King David I seized silver mines at Alston in Cumbria. Stephen had close ties to Holy Trinity Priory London, the cartulary of which is held by our Library’s Special Collections and which was founded by Queen Matilda II of England, daughter of King Malcolm III Canmore. Her brother David, the same David I, was also a benefactor of the house. David was himself a key player in the civil war of Stephen’s reign, and both Scotland and Scotland’s relationship with England are often said by historians to have developed considerably during the civil war.

Before David I became King of Scotland, he spent a considerable amount of time, like his brother kings (Duncan, Edgar and Alexander I), at the court of the English king. In his case, this was Henry I, whose wife was David’s sister, Matilda. Henry had married Matilda less because of her Scottish father, more because of her mother: Queen Margaret of Scotland was an Anglo-Saxon princess, sister to the royal family claimant to the English throne of 1066, Edgar Aethling. David was therefore the Empress’s uncle. He was also closely related to Stephen’s wife. Queen Mathilda III. Her mother, Mary, was a daughter of Malcolm III Canmore and Queen Margaret, who had married Eustace III Count of Boulogne. David was therefore Queen Matilda III’s uncle too, and the Empress Matilda, her cousin. This civil war was very much a family civil war.

David became a favourite of Henry I and married him to a leading aristocratic heiress and widow, Matilda de Senlis, whose lands made him Earl of Huntingdon This Matilda was the daughter of an Anglo-Saxon earl and a niece of William the Conqueror. One of her sons from her first marriage to Simon de Senlis I, Waldef, would become abbot of Melrose in 1148. The eldest son from that marriage, Simon de Senlis II, would be a constant threat to David’s English estates, claiming them with the title, Earl of Northampton, and would be consistently loyal to Stephen. This English political context to David’s involvement in the civil war shouldn’t be forgotten.

David’s first appearance in the politics of Stephen’s reign came when Henry I first asked his barons to swear that they would accept his daughter, the Empress Matilda, as his heir in 1126. One chronicler, William of Malmesbury, tells us that David and Stephen got into a row about who should swear first (though we shouldn’t trust Malmesbury on this, he was trying to make out that Stephen in seizing the throne had betrayed an oath he’d taken to the Empress. Other chroniclers suggest that all the barons were much more wary of swearing the oath than Malmesbury allows).

David became King of Scotland in 1124 on the death of his brother, Alexander I. He had already been given ‘Scottish’ Cumbria by his brother and had held it alongside his English earldom of Huntingdon for a considerable time. Like Huntingdon, this had an English political context too: the border between England and Scotland was pretty vague in this period and Cumbria had long been a relatively autonomous region with perhaps more internal similarities and connections than to either kingdom. ‘English’ Cumbria, like Huntingdon, had Norman claimants. Lothian and Northumbria in the east are often considered to have been very similar in this respect. As King of Scots, David is credited with developing the kingdom into a medieval state. Much of medieval Scotland as we know it, including Norman and Breton families such as the Bruces, Balliols and the Stewarts, is down to him. He has a very good claim to being considered the greatest Scottish king, but is usually overshadowed by Robert the Bruce.

In terms of King Stephen’s reign, on the death of his brother in law, Henry I (who he seems to have been genuinely close to), David began to launch raids into northern England, the borders of which we’ve already noted were not necessarily well defined in both west and east. These took place across the first few years of Stephen’s reign. There’s an interesting national divide in how historians have sometimes interpreted these ‘raids’. For some English historians, these have been opportunistic irritants aimed at gaining concessions from King Stephen, who had many other problems to deal with. For some Scottish historians, they have been invasions intended at substantiating Scottish royal claims to Cumbria and Northumbria. It is possible they were both. As a result of these ‘raids’, a series of negotiated agreements resulted which saw David’s son Henry of Scotland made Earl of Northumberland, with Carlisle and ‘English’ Cumbria added as part of later agreements. Henry held these lands as an English earl and did fealty to Stephen for them. He would attend Stephen’s court, marry a Norman aristocrat, Ada de Warenne (interestingly the aunt of the wife of Stephen’s own second son, William) and be a member of the English royal army, all before 1141. At one point, Norman claimants to ‘English’ Cumbria complained of his prominence at Stephen’s court and his father called him home.

At this point, around 1140, there seems to be no sign of the integration of Northumberland or English Cumbria into Scotland. Nor is there clear evidence that David I or Henry of Scotland were backing the Empress Matilda’s claim to the English throne. Only in the aftermath of Stephen’s capture at the Battle of Lincoln in February 1141 do David and Henry seem to have begun the integration of Cumbria and Northumberland into Scotland, and to engage with minting coins in their names in Carlisle, Newcastle and Roxburgh. While these coins aren’t represented in the In Focus case display ‘Anarchy?’ Coins of King Stephen’s Reign, you can find details of them on relevant Hunterian webpage.

David went south to advise his niece, the Empress, as she prepared for her coronation, but when her army was broken by forces loyal to Stephen, he had to bribe royalist knights to let him go and was smuggled back north. Thereafter he rarely engaged in the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, concentrating instead on developing his control of northern England. We find him engaged in elections to the bishoprics of Durham and York, and in 1149 he would knight the Empress’s son, the future Henry II and develop a plan with him and others to seize York though that came to nothing.

What the status of David and Henry’s rule in Cumbria and Northumberland was in the 1140s has been difficult for historians to determine. Local chroniclers praise them, and they were well known to local families and local religious houses, so there may well have been much more stability than in many other parts of Stephen’s England in the same period. However, Henry’s death in 1152, followed shortly by that of David himself in 1153 and the succession of Henry’s son Malcolm IV, who was only twelve allowed the new King of England Henry II to reverse David and Henry’s advances into northern England within a few years.

Perhaps a much longer lasting legacy of David’s involvement in England in Stephen’s reign than his rule in the north of the country, has been the major battle between English and Scottish forces of the first few years of the period, the Battle of the Standard fought just outside Northallerton (now in North Yorkshire) in 1138. Here, Scottish forces (including Normans such as the local baron Eustace fitzJohn whose coin features in ‘Anarchy?’ Coins of King Stephen’s Reign) were routed by local militias led by the banners of the key saints of the Yorkshire Church (St Peter, York; Wilfrid, Ripon; John, Beverley) supported by a small force of local knights sent by Stephen, including a Bruce and a Balliol and likely Robert de Stuteville (whose coin is also on display). All of these men, on both sides, were well known to each other, but it was the conduct of some elements of the Scottish army, most especially the Galwegians (Galloway) which left the legacy: Contemporary local English chroniclers often very friendly towards David I himself were horrified by the atrocities committed by the Galwegians and, in invented speeches given to the participants in the battle, contrasted these barbaric figures with the civilised Normans and English, now considered as one, who defeated them. For some historians, these chronicles played an important role in making the Normans ‘English’, but, more importantly or this blog, they are the original source of much of the negativity of some English commentators on Scots ever since.

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