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Stephen and Matilda's Civil War (ePub)

Cousins of Anarchy

P&S History > British History P&S History > Medieval World > Medieval History P&S History > Royal History

By Matthew Lewis
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
File Size: 26.4 MB (.epub)
Pages: 260
Illustrations: 32 illustrations
ISBN: 9781526718358
Published: 4th November 2019


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The Anarchy was the first civil war in post-Conquest England, enduring throughout the reign of King Stephen between 1135 and 1154. It ultimately brought about the end of the Norman dynasty and the birth of the mighty Plantagenet kings. When Henry I died having lost his only legitimate son in a shipwreck, he had caused all of his barons to swear to recognize his daughter Matilda, widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, as his heir and remarried her to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. When she was slow to move to England on her father’s death, Henry’s favourite nephew Stephen of Blois rushed to have himself crowned, much as Henry himself had done on the death of his brother William Rufus.

Supported by his brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester, Stephen made a promising start, but Matilda would not give up her birthright and tried to hold the English barons to their oaths. The result was more than a decade of civil war that saw England split apart. Empress Matilda is often remembered as aloof and high-handed, Stephen as ineffective and indecisive. By following both sides of the dispute and seeking to understand their actions and motivations, Matthew Lewis aims to reach a more rounded understanding of this crucial period of English history and asks to what extent there really was anarchy.

'A thoroughly researched yet accessible account of the civil war of the twelfth century; Matthew Lewis takes an even-handed approach to his two protagonists while rightly questioning how ‘anarchic’ the Anarchy really was. The result is an informative, pacy and compelling read about an exciting period of English history' - Catherine Hanley, author of Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior (Yale University Press, 2019).

As featured in: 'What if... Empress Matilda had Defeated King Stephen?'

BBC History Revealed

I like the structure of this book, alternating between chapters focusing on Stephen and chapters focusing on Matilda. This helps give some balance to the story (although Stephen tends to emerge as a more sympathic character than Matilda), and means that Matilda’s side gets more coverage than is normally the case in straightforward narratives – during the long periods of stalemate in the main conflict Stephen is normally the more active of the two and thus tends to dominate. The result is a compelling account of this prolonged period of civil war.

Read the full review here

History of War

"Stephen and Matilda's Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy" was an interesting read because I liked learning more about such a famous part of British history.

NetGalley, Sarah Wirth

This book was a very comprehensive and an easy read for those who do not know much about the Matilda and Stephen’s Civil War. I recommend this to those that have forgotten about Empress Matilda and her accomplishments!

NetGalley, Lauralee Jacks

Reviewed by Stephen Ede-Borrett

If you want to know more about early medieval England then I would thoroughly recommend this book.

The Pike and Shot Society

Considering that most of European royalty is related, it's kind of entertaining to read just how far back their family back-stabbing goes! This is a good read for those interested in early English history. It's well researched and with lots of insights I haven't read or heard of in earlier books, or even remembered from my own history classes.

NetGalley, Catherine Hankins

Matthew Lewis manages to write a balanced and well-researched book about a confusing time in England. As Matilda battles for her rights and eventually her son’s rights, we also see Stephen’s side of the story. I also enjoyed the alternating chapters and the many images included.

Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis is one book you should not miss.

Read the full review here

History of Royal Women

When I wrote my underground thesis on Empress Matilda, there was only one biography on her. Since then, I've enjoyed seeing what new research comes out of Empress Matilda and the Anarchy period of medieval English history. This is a well researched contribution to the subject.

NetGalley, Melisa Safchinsky

Author article on Stephen & Matilda and The Anarchy as featured by

BBC History Magazine

A totally absorbing read, this book is enjoyable and informative, analysing the actions of both sides in a critical but sympathetic light.

Read the full review here


Stephen and Matilda's Civil War is an exceptionally researched historic look at The Anarchy. The author is able to describe in detail the look and feel of the era, as if you were standing there observing it in real time. The battles, both political and literal are played out across the pages of this manuscript. A great read for anyone who is interested in medieval England.

NetGalley, Nemo Nemo

This was a great introductory book to the conflict known as The Anarchy and the colorful characters of King Stephen and Empress Matilda. Lewis was able to combine well-researched information and an easy to understand writing style to bring this conflict to life. As someone who did not know a whole lot about The Anarchy before I read this book, I found it rather enlightening. The only qualm that I did have with this book was that I was getting confused about the barons and clergy who were helping either side and which side they were on. I do wish that Lewis included a table of names of the people involved to help clear the confusion. Overall, I did enjoy this book. If you want a great book that introduces you to the tumultuous time in English history known as The Anarchy, I recommend you read, “Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy” by Matthew Lewis.

Read the full review here

Adventures of a Tudor Nerd

Author interview on The Tudor Dynasty Podcast

Tudors Dynasty

I have never heard of this particular civil war being called The Anarchy, but Matthew Lewis's expert probing and research uncovers the truth, as Matilda, daughter of Henry 1, and Stephen of Blois went head to head from 1135-1154. This is a period of English history that is rarely looked at, and Matthew is right to bring it to the fore, as he examines the end of the Norman conquest and the beginning of Plantagenet rule of England. Superb treatise on what was probably the first English civil war.

Books Monthly

We highly recommend this book for anyone coming new or looking for a refreshing reappraisal of the Anarchy.

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Clash of Steel

I've read many books on the war for the English crown between Stephen and Matilda and really enjoyed this one and recommend it.

NetGalley, Shelly Myers

This book made me want to read further into the subjects, and like a good book, it re-kindled my passion for this bit of history and wanting to learn more. This book would be ideal at this time of year, as you would be able to snuggle down and really get into it on these dark evenings. I enjoyed the book very much and compliment the author on his work, I am going to give this book a very good indeed 4 out of 5 stars.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

This book goes into fine detail about the battles that raged over this bloody period in English history, which gives The Anarchy context and fleshes out the realities of what happened to the country, and how the people suffered over the period of 1135 – 1154. With the book covering both Stephen and Matilda, it makes it hard to decide who you want to win. Matilda was an extraordinary woman in English history, so to hate Stephen for taking her throne should be an easy task. Instead, Stephen is a liked and capable man who makes the right decision at crucial moments. Despite the 19 years in which the civil war spanned, there were times of peace in all areas of the country. Neither Stephen nor Matilda made the battle for the crown personal, neither wished to kill the other, or at least it seemed. When it fell to Henry II to rebuild after the fighting, rebuilding the country and her finances took only around a decade, and went on to rule much of France, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. To suggest England was in anarchy under Stephen isn’t the full picture, which Lewis details meticulously. However, with the coinage debased and law and order a mess, the battle had done much harm to the general population in the south, while northern areas were largely untouched. The fortunes of England raised and fell with every move Matilda and Stephen made.

I expected to read this book, cheering for Matilda’s success, despite knowing the ultimate outcome already, and yet that didn’t happen. Lewis has written the book in a way that the reader can see the battle from both points of view and I liked Stephen more than I wanted to. There is much to cover in The Anarchy, and yet the author fits it all in without wasting any time. While I was already a very big Matthew Lewis fan, this book has left me better for reading it, learning about a period I probably wouldn’t have bothered with if not for him.

Read the full review here

Caroline Angus

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is excellent. Well written, researched, detailed and engaging. This book sheds light on a fascinating but rarely written about period of English history.

NetGalley, Rebecca B

Lewis portrays both Stephen and Matilda evenly, and this will provide a good introduction into the period.

NetGalley, Melisende d'Outremer

There is a great use of contemporary evidence used and the book is clearly well researched. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, The Gesta Stephani and an the account of William of Malmesbury have clearly been researched in detail to provide this highly detailed account of The Anarchy.

I enjoyed the book immensely in particular the direct quotes and the images provided at the end of the book.

NetGalley, Amy McElroy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Civil War between Stephen and Matilda has long captivated historians and readers alike. Cousins fighting over who the crown truly belonged to - and the issues of a woman being on the throne - makes for captivating reading.
This book is no different, and you are going to get sucked in from the beginning! Get ready for the best game of thrones you will ever read!

On the death of King Henry I, the throne should have passed to Matilda, his daughter. While she was not the first choice, she was what the king had left after the White Ship disaster. However, her cousin Stephen swooped in and claimed the crown for himself, setting off decades of a civil war that threatened to tear England apart. While England was not truly ready for a woman to rule, Stephen might not have been the best choice - he was rather soft in several areas (although thank goodness, because we got William Marshall through his softness).
The years of war did not lessen the duties that Matilda had as a wife and mother, and her sons grew up under the banners of war, both from their mother and father. While this could have raged indefinitely, the final resolution was brought about after the death of Stephen's son Eustace (who if we are being completely honest, would have been a horrible king), and put Henry, Duke of Normandy on the throne.

I cannot say enough good things about this book! While I know the ins and outs of this Civil War, Matthew Lewis brought it around in a few ways that I had not considered before. I found myself going back and forth, and comparing different theories through his writing.
Absolutely loved it - and I will be adding this book to my student approved reading list for future semesters!

NetGalley, Rebecca Hill

About Matthew Lewis

Matthew Lewis trained in law and is now a full-time author of historical fiction and non-fiction. He also blogs on his website, Matt’s History Blog, and can be found on Twitter as @mattlewisauthor. His main interest is medieval history and he has written several books on that topic, including Stephen & Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy, Richard, Duke of York: King by Right and Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me.

Birth of Matilda

7th February 1102

Matilda was born 7 February 1102. Matilda refused to give up on her birth right and the decade of civil war between she and her cousin Stephen saw England split apart.

View all events View all anniversaries

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