Stephen was born in or around 1097; anyway it is safe to assume his birth took place at the end of the 11th century. His mother was Adela, a daughter of William I, a.k.a. ‘The Conquerer’, and his father was Stephen, Count of Blois in France. Stephen had promised to accept a daughter of Henry I King of England as Queen of that country. She was the Empress Matilda, ‘Empress’ because she was the widow of Emperor Henry V of Germany (also known as Maud, which brings on the problems we have with confusing Maud with Maud!)
When Henry I died in 1135 Stephen became Duke of Normandy and seized the crown of England in a sudden surge of ambition, but was defeated and captured in the Battle of Lincoln in 1141. His opponent was of course the Empress Matilda; instead of shortening him by a head which might have been wiser from her point of view, she had him released from captivity 9 months later, after she had been routed at Winchester by Stephen’s loyal supporters – the barons as usual.
While Matilda strengthened her hold over the West Country, David I of Scotland entered the fray as Scots tend to do, by annexing most of the English northern counties, despite tepid opposition from marcher lords. Meanwhile Matilda’s spouse Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, was busy conquering Normandy, which he had achieved by 1145. Ordinary people in England and Normandy sat in their bothies transfixed by the murderous outrages committed in both places in the name of Power, but there were no real civil wars as such, merely battles between mercenaries hired by both sides.
Stephen was King for eighteen years, constantly interrupted by attempts to oust him. In 1153 the barons forced him to accept Empress Matilda’s (or Maud’s) son the future Henry II as his rightful heir. Meanwhile he married Matilda, also known as Maud of Boulogne, a determined lady who supported him as a good wife. Hence the confusion over Matildas and Mauds.
Historians have mostly described Stephen as incompetent, but he does not deserve this reputation. He certainly was tenacious in securing what he thought of as kingly rights, and one could find few holes in his battle strategy. He could not manage to defend the Norman Empire as he would have liked, because of the weight of his military burdens – the Scots for example – who were already, in the early Middle Age, always prepared to cause trouble if they thought they would succeed. Stephen also had a great deal of trouble with the Angevins (q.v.). He died in 1154, worn out with strain, at nearly fifty years of age.