Was the ‘anarchy’ of King Stephen’s reign a reaction to Anglo-Norman government?
The first thing to note regarding the turbulent period of 1139-53 is that the ‘anarchy’ described by many people never took the form of a general uprising against the principle of monarchy or royal government. Instead the ‘disturbance and wickedness and robbery’ which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes dogged Stephen’s reign was a deliberate act of rebellion by ‘the powerful men who were traitors against him’ And, indeed, it is difficult to find any participant who rose up because of the system of Anglo-Norman government up to that point. Henry I’s authority was in sharp contrast, supreme, and even Orderic Vitalis was driven to comment that ‘I confidently assert that no king of the realm of England was ever richer or more powerful in that which pertains to worldly glory than Henry.’ Up to a point, however, that stability was dependent of Henry’s leadership. It was his legacy, or rather (since 1120) lack of it, which had a major impact on destabilising England after 1138. In common with many strong leaders, his successor was unable to command the prestige of the old regime.