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Stephen (Penguin Monarchs): The Reign of Anarchy



By: Carl Watkins(Author)

Language: English

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Allen Lane; UK ed. edition (27 Aug. 2015)

Format: pdf doc docx mobi djvu epub ibooks (*An electronic version of a printed book that can be read on a computer or handheld device designed specifically for this purpose.)

The original title of the book: Stephen (Penguin Monarchs): The Reign of Anarchy

Known as 'the anarchy', the reign of Stephen (1135-1141) saw England plunged into a civil war that illuminated the fatal flaw in the powerful Norman monarchy, that without clear rules ordering succession, conflict between members of William the Conqueror's family were inevitable. But there was another problem, too: Stephen himself.

With the nobility of England and Normandy anxious about the prospect of a world without the tough love of the old king Henry I, Stephen styled himself a political panacea, promising strength without oppression. As external threats and internal resistance to his rule accumulated, it was a promise he was unable to keep. Unable to transcend his flawed claim to the throne, and to make the transition from nobleman to king, Stephen's actions betrayed uneasiness in his role, his royal voice never quite ringing true.

The resulting violence that spread throughout England was not, or not only, the work of bloodthirsty men on the make. As Watkins shows in this resonant new portrait, it arose because great men struggled to navigate a new and turbulent kind of politics that arose when the king was in eclipse.

Carl Watkins is Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. His books include History and the Supernatural in Medieval England and, most recently, The Undiscovered Country: Journeys Among the Dead. He appears regularly on BBC radio and television.

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  • By L38. on 24 May 2017

    Excellent reading to learn a brief history behind this monarch.

  • By Tweedledum on 7 March 2016

    Carl Watkins succinctly tells the story of the tumultuous 19 years of King Stephen's reign, usually relegated to approximately two lines in school history books in various unintentionally comical ways. For example: "King Stephen spent his reign chasing his wife Empress Matilda around the country but he never caught her. "!The Cadfael chronicles raised my interest in the period and Watkins outlines the chief protagonists. Dealing with two Matildas is very confusing and some authors manage this by designating Henry I's designated heir, Empress Matilda, as Maud for some reason or simply ignoring the fact of Stephen's wife... the eponymous Queen Matilda! In Watkins interpretation she seems worthy of more recognition than history has given her.Empress Matilda appears almost as a byline in the story as it was the changing loyalties of the various barons and Bishops who kept the family squabble going. Then there is the sad story of Stephen's eldest son Eustace, who was to inherit but who was rejected by his father just when his inheritance should have seemed secure. Eustace died an angry and rejected heir, predeceasing his father and effectively disappeared from the history books while the name itself fell out of usage too.. (I always wondered where CS Lewis got the name from but Lewis' Eustace of course overcomes his resentment and selfish ways. )Watkins ascribes Stephen's failure to consolidate his reign in part to the fact that Norman castles were pretty much impregnable by the weapons available at the time and so things went on from seige to seige with no overall victory. He also suggests that Stephen was basically a chivalrous knight who, having become king failed to step up to the required level of tyranny, instead continuing to treat his former peers with equal respect. From the C21 we would think this a good thing but in C11 it was a disaster. A man out of time perhaps.

  • By DN PERKS on 2 July 2016

    This is another volume in the increasingly laudable Penguin Monarchs series. There is something inherently mysterious, nay even wrong about King Stephen- even the name jars and sounds wrong -King S t e p h e n ????? Was there a King Stephen? Was he even king? The answer is of course yes and yes but you would be forgiven for thinking not after reading this excellent volume by Carl Watkins. The mystery is compounded in part because it is the reign (or rather non reign?) of this king that Ellis Peters chose to set the Cadfael novels and mysterious murders, not to say violence were a muffled and blurred feature of the reign. The reign of Stephen also saw two Matilda's one being his clever and capable wife- a sort of dual metaphor for the duality of the reign which saw both claim the throne.Watkins begins with a prologue in old fashioned storyteller mode telling the tale off the white ship. this in part reminds us of an empire on both sides of the channel.Carl Watkins has a thesis- in part it is that Stephen could not get used to being king and act in a consistently kingly way- he could not adopt a consistent persona and therefore was a witness to his own fakery- my words, not Watkins's. He also seemed to lack a ruthless streak, being hidebound by chivalric codes- during the reign of "anarchy" ( a label that Watkins questions) both Stephen and Matilda manage to capture each other at various points only to release said prisoner or see them escape into the night. Once again this seems careless and mysterious adding to the mix. Stephen was careful to build up and enhance castles for defensive reasons only to end up trading said castles for the return of prisoners. He tried to avoid sieges of castles- ironically ones he himself had strengthened but the set piece battles and skirmishes were often ones that put his liberty directly in peril.Watkins tells all this in an engaging tone. He is in complete command of his material. Indeed, this is one of the best of this series that I have read.Would be queen Matilda perhaps deserves a bit more attention coming across as something of a cipher but Stephen remains rightly the focus both enigmatic and ever so slightly comical as he fights personal demons and potential national anarchy. He was fortunate to have a structure of government made strong and familiar by King Henry 1 and leant on this heavily. Whilst acknowledging recent work by other scholars on Stephen Watkins rightly points out that "anarchy" was not necessarily the right word- government of a sort continued and some areas were unaffected. This is a difficult story to tell encompassing the empire across the channel as well as a large cast of characters and regional areas.That Watkins makes you want to read more on Stephen is to his credit and the book- as ever comes with scholarly notes and a decent bibliography all beautifully encased in the now familiar white binding with a striking colour picture in profile of Stephen.More than just an introduction Watkins writes with style and élan and I may seek out other work by him as well- it might also send me back To Cadfael. Recommended for those who like their kings to be complex and occasionally human with flaws to boot.

  • By Mr Tim Cole on 6 November 2016

    This is the latest Penguin Monarchs title on the anarchic reign of the last Norman King Stephen. Stephen is a man clearly misunderstood and maligned by many historians over several centuries, largely because he usurped the throne swiftly and successfully in 1135. There followed a bitter and bloody Civil War which lasted many years with King henry I's only surviving legitimate child Matilda of Anjou. This bloody and protracted war left England prostrate and torn apart by feuding nobles and a devastation that destroyed much of England. As Author Carl Watkins, explains Stephen did not lose the first war and certainly won the second war which saw his rival beaten and returning home to the continent her dreams destroyed it seemed irrevocably. Stephen's judgement ,that is usually regarded by historians as notoriously incompetent, Watkins argues is in fact very far from the truth. Indeed, he had many qualities and was a truly heroic fighter and a born leader of men. His failure lay in his inability to bring peace to his kingdom and his unsuccessful efforts at winning the loyalty of his rebellious and unruly barons. Just when Stephen had achieved his victory his son and heir Eustace dies and Stephen is forced to deal with the Angevin's and finally recognises Matilda's son Henry Fitz-Empress as his heir after his death. Thus finally ended the toxic and imploding Civil war. Stephen is a complex and fascinating character who was a far tougher warrior and statesman than history would suggest. This is a fascinating little book, superbly written and well worth reading. You will not be disappointed.

  • By Guest on 31 October 2016

    excellent, would recommend

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