King Stephen / The Empress Matilda

Stephen’s Wars with Scotland and Wales

Drawing of a silver penny of King David of Scotland [Yorkshire Museum, York] From the beginning of Stephen’s reign in 1135 King David of Scotland, who supported the claim of his niece Matilda, adopted an aggressive attitude on the border with England with the aim of securing the earldom of Northumbria.

In 1138 David mounted a series of raids in the border area. Stephen was, however, called away from England to deal with a revolt in Normandy by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, half brother and supporter of MatildaDurham: the Norman motte with a later stone keep on top seen from the cathedral tower [Photo: Patrick Ottaway] who had allied himself with her husband Geoffrey of Anjou. The Scots, meanwhile, were faced by an army of the northern barons led by Archbishop Thurstan of York and Walter Espec, lord of Helmsley castle. On 22nd August 1138 the English army defeated the Scots near Northallerton at the ‘Battle of the Standard’, so-called because the English flew the banners of St Peter of York, St John of Beverley and St Wilfrid of Ripon fixed to a ship’s mast. A treaty at Durham in 1139 led to peace on the border and also gave Stephen the support of most northern barons.

In Wales Anglo-Norman lords, faced by the capable Welsh leader, Owain Gwynedd, lost land in many areas in Stephen’s reign including Ceredigion, where Cardigan castle remained a lonely outpost. Recovery of territory was slow because, during the civil war with the Empress Matilda, Stephen lost places like Gloucester and Hereford which were traditionally used as bases from which to attack Wales.

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