The Anarchy

1 Nov, 2012 940 History of Europe

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The Anarchy, the civil war that took place in mid-twelfth century England. The war began as a succession dispute between the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and her cousin, Stephen of Blois. On Henry’s death Stephen seized the English throne and held it for a number of years before Matilda wrestled it from him, although she was chased out of London before she could be crowned. The Anarchy dragged on for nearly twenty years and is so called because of the chaos and lawlessness that characterised the period. Yet only one major battle ever took place, the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, and any other fighting associated with the conflict was fairly localised. This has led historians to question the accuracy of labelling the civil war as The Anarchy, a name only bestowed on the era in the 19th century. But why did Matilda fail to become the monarch, and what impact did it have on the way England was ruled in centuries to come?

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • John Gillingham 2 episodes
    Emeritus Professor of History at the London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Louise Wilkinson 3 episodes
    Reader in Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church University
  • David Carpenter 3 episodes
    Professor of Medieval History at Kings College London

Reading list

  • Stephen and Matilda: The Civil War of 1139-1153
    J. Bradbury (Sutton, 2005) Google Books →
  • The Penguin History of Britain: The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284
    David Carpenter (Penguin, 2004) Google Books →
  • The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English
    Marjorie Chibnall (Wiley-Blackwell, 1993) Google Books →
  • The Reign of King Stephen, 1135-54
    David Crouch (Longman, 2000) Google Books →
  • King Stephen, 1135-54
    R. H. C. Davis (Longman, 1990) Google Books →
  • The Angevin Empire
    John Gillingham (Bloomsbury, 2000) Google Books →
  • King Stephen
    Edmund King (Yale University Press, 2012) Google Books →
  • King Stephen
    Donald Matthew (Hambledon, 2007) Google Books →
  • The Reign of Stephen: Kingship, Warfare and Government in Twelfth-Century England
    Keith Stringer (Routledge, 1993) Google Books →

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Programme ID: b01nl963

Episode page:

Auto-category: 942.03 (Norman period, 1066-1154)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, here's a quotation from a 12th century source.