Henry Plantagenet Arrives in England

January 6th, 1153

When a surfeit of lampreys carried off Henry I of England in 1135, he left no son to succeed him. He had made his barons recognise as his heir his daughter Matilda, wife of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. In the event, however, many lords could not accept a woman as ruler and Henry I’s nephew Stephen, Count of Blois, was crowned king within weeks. The resulting civil war dragged on for years. Matilda and Geofffrey took control of Normandy, but in 1148 Matilda recognised that she would never rule England and retired from the fray, leaving her claim to her eldest son by Geoffrey, Henry Plantagenet, now in his teens.

Geoffrey died in 1151 and Henry succeeded him in Anjou and Normandy. The following year he married Eleanor of Aquitaine and planned to invade England. Hoping to forestall Henry by attacking and demoralising his supporters, Stephen laid siege to Wallingford Castle on the Thames, a dozen miles south-east of Oxford. It was the stronghold of Brian FitzCount, a notable warrior baron and a faithful adherent of Matilda. Late in 1152 the defenders sent word to Henry in Normandy that they would be compelled to surrender if he did not come to their aid.

Henry acted with characteristic energy. Borrowing the money to hire some 3,000 mercenaries, he crossed the Channel in a howling gale. Instead of making for Wallingford, however, he turned the tables by attacking Malmesbury in Wiltshire, a key stronghold that Stephen could not afford to lose.

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