Medieval Battles > The Anarchy
FIRST BATTLE OF LINCOLN (1141)
Looking for a different Battle of Lincoln? Try the Second Battle of Lincoln (1217).
Henry I died in 1135 without leaving a male heir prompting a civil war, known as the Anarchy, between his daughter Matilda and nephew Stephen. When Ranulf, Earl of Chester seized Lincoln Castle on behalf of former, Stephen responded by besieging the fortification. At the subsequent Battle of Lincoln (1141) he was defeated and captured.
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Henry I died in 1135 without leaving a male heir and, although the leading magnates of the realm had sworn to support his daughter Matilda, the country immediately slipped into civil war over the succession. A significant portion of the nobility supported King Stephen, a grandson of William I, and Lincoln Castle was initially held for him. However, it was cunningly taken by Ranulf de Tailebois, Earl of Chester on behalf of Matilda. Selecting a time when the garrison was widely dispersed around the country, he sent his wife to the castle under the pretence of a friendly visit. Later Ranulf and three Knights arrived, seemingly to escort her home, at which point they dispatched the guards and enabled an armed force to enter and take the castle. Stephen, alerted by loyal members of the populace, sped north and quickly captured the town including a number of Knights who were quartered there. Ranulf himself was in the castle which was besieged by the King. Despite this, Ranulf managed to escape and went to seek support from his father-in-law Robert, Earl of Gloucester who deployed with a large force.
Robert advanced on the town from the west gathering with him a force comprised of those former nobles who had been disinherited by Stephen. He also had significant numbers of Welsh troops led by the brothers Maredudd and Cadwaladr which a contemporary chronicler described as a “dreadful and unendurable mass of Welsh”.
The battle was fought to the west of the walled town. Many of the King's Earls started the battle on horseback expecting to fight a non-lethal melee with lances rather than swords (prompting the battle to become known as the 'Joust of Lincoln') - but this was to be no tournament.
- Stage 1: Deployment
The two forces deployed in three divisions with King Stephen dismounting to fight on foot alongside his men.
- Stage 2: Gloucester Attacks
Gloucester attacked first, possibly whilst the King was still deploying, with a cavalry charge aimed directly at the Royalist frontline.
- Stage 3: William of Ypres Attacks Welsh
William of Ypres launched an assault on the Welsh and initially had some success, driving the enthusiastic but poorly equipped forces back.
- Stage 4: William Flees
Chester attacked William of Ypres routing his force and forcing him to flee the field. Having seen the ferocity of the hand-to-hand fighting – and that the battle was being fought with swords rather than lances – the Earls left the field abandoning King Stephen.
- Stage 5: Stephen Overwhelmed
The Angevin forces overwhelmed the Royalists capturing King Stephen. The remaining forces broke and fled with many killed in the subsequent pursuit. Lincoln was then sacked by the victorious forces.
King Stephen spent six months as a prisoner of Matilda confined (in chains) within Bristol Castle and in the short term it looked as though the Queen would be victorious. Even Stephen’s brother - Henry, Bishop of Winchester – abandoned the King. However, Matilda alienated the city of London and was forced from the capital. In November 1141, whilst at Winchester Castle, a large Royalist force led by William of Ypres attacked ultimately capturing Robert, Earl of Gloucester. The Queen was incapacitated without her key military advisor and accordingly a prisoner exchange saw King Stephen released. The pointless civil war would drag on until 1154.
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The site of the 1141 battle is not known but is almost certainly buried under modern housing and there is no monument commemorating the event. Nevertheless Lincoln Castle, which was being besieged by Stephen, is a major tourist attraction with an excellent wall walk, a Magna Carta exhibition and Victorian prison. Nearby are ruins of the Roman East Gate, Newport Arch (scene of the 1217 battle) and the medieval entrance to the Cathedral Close at Pottergate.