Featured Stephen and the 'Anarchy'

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Jun 3, 2016.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    On November 25, 1120, The security of the Norman Kings of England suffered a significant blow. The only legitimate son and heir to King Henry I, William "Audelin," died at sea in what has become known as 'The White Ship Disaster.' Historian W.L. Warren likened the White Ship to the Titanic of its day. The loss of the ship, the heir to the English throne, plus numerable noble heirs would set in motion a series of events which would effect both England and France.

    Manuscript page illuminating Henry I's line and his descendants being interrupted by the White Ship Disaster. Photo, and an interesting piece about the White Ship taken from Medievalist.net

    With Henry losing his heir, he attempted to ensure the loyalty of the nobles of England to his daughter, Matilda. Matilda had essentially been raised at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, and was wed to the Emperor at a young age. Consequently, she also became a widow at a relatively young age, but would forever be known as the 'Empress.' Henry had recalled his daughter from Germany with the thought of her marrying Geoffry, the count of Anjou, and thus eliminating a threat to Normandy by way of a marriage alliance. This had already been attempted with William marrying Matilda of Anjou, but after the White Ship, a new avenue towards an alliance was needed.

    Normandy and Anjou had traditionally been enemies, and as many Normans made up the new Baronage of England, they were likely dissatisfied with the idea of Matilda's husband being able to claim overlordship of England, and likely Normandy as well (Which would not have been the case with William Audelin's marriage). This is the situation when King Henry died.

    The counties of France, as seen during the expansion of the "Angevin Empire." The result of which is due partly to the Civil War in England. This shows the counties and Duchies of France in the 12th century. From Wikipedia Commons

    Almost immidiatly, Stephen of Blois, grandson of William the Conquerer through his daughter Adela and her husband the Count of Blois, took the treasury of England and began to gain allies in England against the Empress being crowned. Stephen likely took quick action to prevent his elder brother, the heir to the county of Blois, from claiming the kingship himself, but he would find aid in the person of Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. Bigod claimed to be present at Henry's deathbed, and said that Henry had released the barons of England from their oath to support Matilda. This paved the way for Stephen, the more popular (and male) option to be crowned king.

    Stephen, r. 1135-1154 (c. 1136-45)
    London Mint, AR Watford Type Penny, 19.47mm x 1.1 grams
    Obv.: Bust right holding sceptre
    Rev.: ADEL_ _ _ : _ _ : _ _ _ (Adelard on Lun), Cross Moline
    Ref. SCBC 1278

    This coin is obviously struck off-centered on an odd-shaped planchet. This is not too unusual for Stephen's reign. The coins tend to be rather crude in shape and strike. However, this coin does have a very well struck portrait which is often hard to find. I had seen a theory that the blundered lettering was due to the moneyers purposefully trying to remove their names or other identification from the coins, either to not show favoritism towards Stephen or Matilda (Spoiler Alert: the two will engage in a civil war, hence why later historians called this era the 'Anarchy'), or so the moneyer could not be linked to underweight and/or clipped coins. You can see this coin has clearly been clipped, with the 'serrated' edge to the right of the obverse. It's a nice theory, but poorly executed on this coin if that were the case. The Moneyer's name is clearly seen on the reverse, although Adelard may have been banking on other mintners out there with a similar enough name, just not in London.

    To return to the story, it seems initially the barons of England accepted Stephen as King. Even Robert of Gloucester, the half brother of Matilda and illegitimate child of Henry I, seems to have accepted Stephen as King. That is, until Stephen's impulsiveness caused him to turn his back on promises made to the church, and the arrest of several bishops also harmed the administrative capabilities of the early English government. This would embolden Robert of Gloucester to support his sister's claim to the throne, and begin the civil war.

    I won't get into details about the war. Suffice to say, the balance of power shifted from one party to the other, often times with Stephen having the upper hand. He was captured at the Battle of Lincoln however, but Matilda failed to have herself crowned in London. Matilda would be forced to release Stephen after Robert of Gloucester was himself captured, and at one point Matilda narrowly escaped capture at the Siege of Oxford when she daringly climbed down the castle walls under cover of night and walked across the frozen moat to freedom. When the Empress's party was in ascension, or in their strongholds of the south west, they too would issue coins, but these are much rarer (and consequently more expensive) than those issued by Stephen.

    A penny of Matilda's, minted at Oxford. Held by the British Museum.

    To make matters worse for Stephen, Matilda's husband, Geoffry of Anjou, had succeeded in conquering Normandy. This left the Norman Barons of England rattled, as they may have been cut off from their Norman estates. Plus, they were tiring of the war. The obvious solution was to support Matilda's son, Henry Plantagenet, as the successor to Stephen (Henry had already joined in the war). Henry would also prove himself in war, but also political maneuvering by quickly marrying the recently divorced Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Duchess of a large and wealthy Duchy of France, and former wife to King Louis VII of France. This would place Henry not only as the Duke of Normandy, and eventual Count of Anjou, but also the Duke of Aquitaine (from which he would issue coinage).

    02-AAqu-Henry II-BL-D-1.jpg
    Henry II, r. 1152-1168
    Bordeaux Mint, BL Denier, 16.57mm x 0.8 grams
    Obv.: +hENRICVS REX, cross pattée
    Rev.: º+º / AQVI / TANI / ºEº, in four lines
    Ref.: SCBC 8001, Elias 1
    ex R.D. Frederick Collection. ex. A.H. Baldwin

    Henry's tale is best left for another post. Sorry for the long one guys- I just love this stuff. And you know how I love the 12th century, so let's see anything from that period, or from the Kings of England!

    Personae Dramatis
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2016
    Orfew, Jimski, TheRed and 32 others like this.
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  3. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Not in my collecting area, but I enjoyed the writeup!
    gregarious and TIF like this.
  4. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Interesting coins and a great writeup. I am also interested in this period of history.
  5. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    Well done! I wish I had something to contribute.:oops:
  6. Magnus Maximus

    Magnus Maximus Dulce et Decorum est....

    Very interesting!
  7. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Time to go buy some medievals! On second thought, maybe I shouldn't be encouraging competition...
    Craig Z and TypeCoin971793 like this.
  8. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    Haha ya, careful what you wish for! Threads like these turned me on to ancients.
  9. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Super ditto.
  10. Mikey Zee

    Mikey Zee Delenda Est Carthago

    I love your passion---wonderful write-up and interesting coin!!
  11. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Thanks guys - I know the medieval stuff is sometimes out of place in the ancients section, but it feels more out of place in the world coins (at least to me...)
    Andres2, Jwt708 and Sallent like this.
  12. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Cool stuff @FitzNigel ! Maybe I need to sign up for some coursework! Only have a couple Medieval, as I am busy elsewhere...but there are some interesting coins there...
    FitzNigel likes this.
  13. Sallent

    Sallent Live long and prosper

    Excellent account. One of the best I've read in a long time. And I agree, medieval coins kind of fit more in here than World Coins. That forum is pretty much 1600's to present, and I don't think there is as much appreciation for hammered coins, studying the talent of die engravers, quality of planchet/flan, and the other subtleties of hand-made coins people here care about. You can't really appreciate that stuff when you focus on machine struck coins using modern processes.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  14. Magnus Maximus

    Magnus Maximus Dulce et Decorum est....

    Bro, that place is a graveyard!
    FitzNigel likes this.
  15. ziggy9


    Excellent reading with a special personal interest as I, like many others, have traced my lineage directly back to Henry Plantagenet...
  16. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Very nice, Ziggy! Afraid I'm a commoner through and through. Still love Henry II though. Now I just need one of his coins that's not from Aquitaine...
  17. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Great writeup and coins!
    FitzNigel likes this.
  18. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    great write up FN, i'm glad it was featured as i missed it somehow.

    this time period is very confusing to me. so the normans were vassals to the french king, but ruled england, and set up their own vassal states in france...which is ruled by their king....correct?
    Ancientnoob and FitzNigel like this.
  19. JeffM-Houston

    JeffM-Houston Active Member

    I don't have anything that early in British, but loved the write-up. My earliest (non-Roman) British piece is this Edw. II 1307-27 Halfpenny. Edward II was descended from Mathilda by way of her son Henry II and was the 5th ruler of the Plantagenet line.

  20. Henry Mints

    Henry Mints New Member

    Anyone interested in Plantagenet Henry III long-cross pennies and wanting to identify the different classes should take a look at www.henry3.com
  21. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Welcome @Henry Mints and thanks for the link. Lots of great information on the site. I have bookmarked it for my own reference.
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