His overthrow of Britanny on the field of Conquereux was followed by the gradual absorption of Southern Touraine, while his restless activity covered the land with castles and abbeys. The very spirit of the Black Count seems still to frown from the dark tower of Durtal on the sunny valley of the Loire. A victory at Pontlevoi crushed the rival house of Blois; the seizure of Saumur completed his conquests in the south, while Northern Touraine was won bit by bit till only Tours resisted the Angevin. The treacherous seizure of its count, Herbert Wake-dog, left Maine at his mercy ere the old man bequeathed his unfinished work to his son. As a warrior Geoffry Martel was hardly inferior to his father. A decisive victory left Poitou at his mercy, a second wrested Tours from the Count of Blois; and the seizure of Le Mans brought him to the Norman border. Here however his advance was checked by the genius of William the Conqueror, and with his death the greatness of Anjou seemed for the time to have come to an end.
Stripped of Maine by the Normans and weakened by internal dissensions, the weak administration of the next count, Fulk Rechin, left Anjou powerless against its rivals. It woke to fresh energy with the accession of his son, Fulk of Jerusalem. Now urging the turbulent Norman nobles to revolt, now supporting Robert's son William against his uncle, offering himself throughout as the loyal supporter of France, which was now hemmed in on all sides by the forces of the English king and of his allies the Counts of Blois and Champagne, Fulk was the one enemy whom Henry the First really feared. It was to disarm his restless hostility that the king gave to his son, Geoffry the Handsome, the hand of his daughter Matilda. No marriage could have been more unpopular, and the secrecy with which it was effected was held by the barons as freeing them from the oath which they had sworn; for no baron, if he was without sons, could give a husband to his daughter save by his lord's consent, and by a strained analogy the nobles contended that their own assent was necessary to the marriage of Matilda. A more pressing danger lay in the greed of her husband Geoffry, who from his habit of wearing the common broom of Anjou (the planta genista) in his helmet had acquired, in addition to his surname of " the Handsome," the more famous title of "Plantagenet." His claims ended at last in intrigues with the Norman nobles, and Henry hurried to the border to meet an expected invasion; but the plot broke down at his presence, the Angevins retired, and the old man withdrew to the forest of Lions to die.
"God give him," wrote the Archbishop of Rouen from Henry's deathbed, "the peace he loved." With him indeed closed the long peace of the Norman rule. An outburst of anarchy followed on the news of his departure, and in the midst of the turmoil Earl Stephen, his nephew, appeared at the gates of London. Stephen was a son of the Conqueror's daughter, Adela, who had married a Count of Blois; he had been brought up at the English court, and his claim as nearest male heir, save his brother, of the Conqueror's blood (for his cousin, the son of Robert, had fallen in Flanders) was supported by his personal popularity. Mere swordsman as he was, his good-humour, his generosity, his very prodigality made him a favourite with all. No noble however had as yet ventured to join him, nor had any town opened its gates when London poured out to meet him with uproarious welcome. Neither barons nor prelates were present to constitute a National Council, but the great city did not hesitate to take their place. The voice of her citizens had long been accepted as representative of the popular assent in the election of a king; but it marks the progress of English independence under Henry that London now claimed of itself the right of election.
Undismayed by the absence of the hereditary counsellors of the crown, its "Aldermen and wise folk gathered together the folkmoot, and these providing at their own will for the good of the realm, unanimously resolved to choose a king." The solemn deliberation ended in the choice of Stephen; the citizens swore to defend the King with money and blood, Stephen swore to apply his whole strength to the pacification and good government of the realm.
If London was true to her oath, Stephen was false to his. The nineteen years of his reign are years of a misrule and disorder unknown in our history. Stephen had been acknowledged even by the partizans of Matilda, but his weakness and prodigality soon gave room to feudal revolt. In 1138 a rising of the barons, planned by Earl Robert of Gloucester, in southern and western England was aided by the King of Scots, who poured his forces over the northern border. Stephen himself marched on the western rebels, and left them few strongholds save Bristol. The pillage and cruelties of the wild tribes of Galloway and the Highlands roused the spirit of the north; baron and freeman gathered at York round Archbishop Thurstan, and marched to the field of Northallerton to await the foe. The sacred banners of S. Cuthbert of Durham, S. Peter of York, S. John of Beverley, and S. Wilfrid of Ripon hung from a pole fixed in a four-wheeled car which stood in the centre of the host. "I who wear no armour," shouted the chief of the Galwegians, "will go as far this day as any one with breastplate of mail;" his men charged with wild shouts of "Albin, Albin," and were followed by the Norman knighthood of the Lowlands. The rout, however, was complete; the fierce hordes dashed in vain against the close English ranks around the Standard, and the whole army fled in confusion to Carlisle.
But Stephen had few kingly qualities save that of a soldier's bravery, and the realm soon began to slip from his grasp. Released from the stern hand of Henry, the barons fortified their castles, and their example was necessarily followed, in self-defence, by the great prelates and nobles who had acted as ministers to the late King. Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, the justiciar, and his son Roger the Chancellor, were carried away by the panic. They fortified their castles, and appeared at court followed by a strong force at their back. The weak violence of the king's temper suddenly broke out. He seized Roger with his son the Chancellor and his nephew the Bishop of Lincoln at Oxford, and forced them to surrender their strongholds. Shame broke the justiciar's heart; he died at the close of the year, and his nephew Nigel of Ely, the Treasurer, was driven from the realm. The fall of Roger's house shattered the whole system of government. The King's violence, while it cost him the support of the clergy, opened the way for Matilda's landing in England; and the country was soon divided between the adherents of the two rivals, the West supporting Matilda, London and the East Stephen. A defeat at Lincoln left the latter a captive in the hands of his enemies, while Matilda was received throughout the land as its " Lady." But the disdain with which she repulsed the claim of London to the enjoyment of its older privileges called its burghers to arms, and her resolve to hold Stephen a prisoner roused his party again to life.