The Place of Battle in the Context of Civil War and Rebellion under the Anglo-Norman Kings, c. 1100–c.1154

Professor Matthew Strickland from the University of Glasgow will hold a guest lecture on the following topic: Bella plus quam civilian? The Place of Battle in the Context of Civil War and Rebellion under the Anglo-Norman Kings, c. 1100-c. 1154


The Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History welcomes you to yet another guest lecture in the lecture series connected with the research project Civil Wars in a Comparative Perspective.

All are welcome!


The extent to which commanders either pursued a conscious strategy of battle avoidance, in line with the teachings of the late Roman military writer Vegetius, or conversely followed a battle-seeking strategy, has been a central and ongoing debate in the recent historiography of medieval warfare. Yet beyond purely military considerations, cultural factors, and in particular the nature of the enemy, might exert as much influence on the decision as to whether or not to commit forces to a major engagement. Nowhere was this more true than in the context of civil war.

This paper uses the civil wars between Henry I, king of England, and his brother Robert, duke of Normandy (both sons of William the Conqueror), and the civil war been King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, as two key case studies to explore the circumstances in which battle was either avoided or decided upon. Moral qualms about shedding the blood of relatives and friends on the opposing side exercised a powerful influence for restraint, yet conversely leaders might attempt to break a protracted political deadlock between contending factions by achieving a major victory on the battlefield. I will argue that another complicating factor in a commander’s ability or willingness to commit to battle was often the fear of treachery or uncertainty regarding the support of nobles in such a moment of crisis. Yet pitched battle was seen as a judicial ordeal, the judicium Dei, in which God would give victory to the contender with the most just cause. To refuse battle, especially during war fought for contenting claims to legitimate rule, thus ran the risk of undermining a leader’s authority by highlighting his lack of confidence in the justness of his claim. Still worse, a commander might suffer defeat or even capture – as happened to Robert, duke of Normandy, at Tinchebrai in 1106, and to King Stephen at Lincoln in 1141. How did such events affect the status of these defeated leaders, and how was their capture perceived by contemporaries? Finally, I will suggest that in situations of civil war, even a victory in battle could be problematic. Thus, for example, Henry I’s defeat of his brother Robert at Tinchebrai was strategically decisive and gained him the control of Normandy, but the lengths to which he went to justify the battle and the capture of his own brother sharply reveal the trauma that the event caused within Anglo-Norman elite.


Published Mar. 18, 2019 1:58 PM - Last modified Mar. 18, 2019 1:59 PM