Violent disorder in King Stephen’s England: A maximum argument

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2 Scopus citations


RECENT WORKS on Stephen and his reign have added great depth and nuance to our understanding of England's history from 1135 to 1154. They give us a better sense of Stephen's abilities and the difficulties he faced, the degree to which his government remained functioning, and the role of the magnates in the civil war that engulfed his reign. Unfortunately, the scholars responsible have also sanitized the reign, unduly minimizing the amount of violence and disorder in their efforts to prove that Stephen was not such a bad king, that magnates were not mindless feudal anarchists, and that the reign should not be labelled 'the Anarchy'. Though I accept many of their arguments, I believe that they are far too eager to dismiss or downplay contemporary accounts of disorder, violence and suffering because these accounts seem to support outdated historiographic approaches to the reign. In contrast, I would argue that recent work on military history suggests that a prolonged civil war could lead directly to the kind of wide-spread suffering and the sorts of atrocities that the sources describe. There were exaggerations in the lamentations about the reign, but recent scholarship has badly overcorrected for such excesses. It is time to restate and improve the case for viewing Stephen's reign as a deeply violent and disorderly period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationKing Stephen's Reign (1135-1154)
PublisherBoydell and Brewer Ltd
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9781846156519
ISBN (Print)9781843833611
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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