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The Place of Battle in the Context of Civil War, c.1100 – c.1217

The Place of Battle in the Context of Civil War, c.1100 – c.1217

Paper by Matthew Strickland

Given at the Mortimer History Society Conference in Ludlow, on February 15, 2020

Abstract: The gravest decision faced by any medieval commander was whether or not to commit his army to a pitched battle, for the risks were enormous and the outcome always uncertain. But the circumstances of civil war made the question of whether to avoid battle or engage in one still harder. One the one hand, rulers who had been challenged by dynastic rivals for the throne could not avoid major engagements without being seen to be shying away from the judgment of God through trial by battle, thereby damaging their credibility. Yet on the other, defeat could be a grave blow to their authority and prestige, and capture – as happened to King Stephen in 1141 and Henry III in 1264 – might be catastrophic. Civil war added further problems. Even if rival contenders mutually sought battle, they might be prevented from a decisive engagement by the nobles on both sides, who were reluctant to engage in mutual destruction. In other cases, kings might aim for a decisive victory in the field but yet not be able to commit to battle because they feared disloyalty and betrayal by elements of their own nobility. This paper will explore these questions in relation to the civil wars of the Anglo-Norman and Angevin period during the twelfth century, notably the conflicts between Henry I and his brother Robert Curthose, and the struggle between King Stephen and the Angevins.

Matthew Strickland is a Professor of History at the University of Glasgow. Click here to view his web page at the University of Glasgow

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Top Image: Dijon BM MS 14 fol. 191r

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