|Location||Kingdom of England 1135-1153|
|Followers of Stephen of Blois
|Followers of Matilda
|Followers of Robert, Duke of Normandy
Following the death of Henry I of England in 1135, a war, known in Britain as the Anarchy or the 19 Years Winter broke out between rival contenders Stephen of Blois, the king's nephew, and Matilda, wife of the Count of Anjou, the kings daughter. From across the Channel, however, the jealous eyes of Robert, brother of the late Henry and Duke of Normandy, watched the proceedings with interest. Being the oldest son of William I of England, he believed that, by right of primogeniture, he was entitled also to the throne of England. Therefore, a year after his brother's death, Robert laid claim to the English throne.
Of course, preparations for an invasion of this scale took time, and it was two years before he could secure a sizeable force. With him, he had the good will of the King of France, the newly crowned Louis VII, and the support of two of the king's adherents, Robert de Bourbon and the Duc de Alencon. It was a bad move to invite Frenchmen onto English soil, and not one that Robert was to forget.
In the Spring of 1138, Robert's force landed at Deal on the coast of Kent. It was poor timing; Stephen's own forces had just won a major battle against David, King of the Scots, an ally of Matilda. Therefore, Stephen was able to make conjunction with his lieutenant, Earl Bigod, who was stationed before St Edmundsbury in East Anglia. Unphased by this apparent show of force, Robert left his son William to besiege Canterbury, whilst he took the main part of his force, including French contingents, up to the Thames. Robert, rightly, suspected that his claim would be strengthened if he controlled England's capital.
A Foothold in the South
Stephen, who had since returned to London, now found himself in a bit of a dilemma. With Robert to his rear, and a newly strengthened pro-Matilda party in the North - led by the turncoat baron, Robert of Gloucester, he had to act - and act fast. His wife, also a Matilda, and her Flemish Captain, William of Ypres, held Wessex (notably Winchester and Salisbury), and Thurstan, Archbishop of York, ruled unchallenged in the extreme north. Stephen accordingly marched against his real enemy Matilda, and besieged her and Robert of Gloucester in Bristol. This left the Norman Duke and his adherents to continue their leisurely pillage of Kent and Sussex. Canterbury fell in December 1138, followed by Lewes Castle, Dover and most other places of strength in the area in the early weeks of 1139. However, a show of strength made by Matilda of Boulogne (Stephen's wife) in the fortified areas west of Chichester made Robert think twice about expanding westward - and though he beat Earl Bigod at a minor engagement south of the Thames, all attacks on London were repulsed by the tenacious defence of the London Aldermen.
Robert the 'Englishman'
Robert remained unsubdued in his camp south of the river Medway for the next year, making preparations for his dominance of Southern England.