This introductory chapter outlines the historiography of the reign of King Stephen (1135–54), highlighting how study has been dominated by documentary history while archaeological and other material evidence has played a marginal role. It identifies landmark studies of the period, summarises the principal chroniclers that cover Stephen’s reign and discusses charters as another cornerstone of the evidence base. A major debate has centred on whether or not the period should continue to be styled as ‘the Anarchy’, with scholars taking maximalist and minimalist views of the violence and disturbances of the period. The final part of the chapter explains the approach and structure of the volume: after a chronological outline of the civil war (Chapter 2), the book covers conflict landscapes and siege warfare (Chapter 3), castles (Chapter 4), artefacts and material culture (Chapter 5), weaponry and armour (Chapter 6), the church (Chapter 7), settlements and landscape (Chapter 8), and a detailed case study of the fenland campaigns (Chapter 9), while Chapter 10 presents a self-contained concluding essay that reflects on what the material evidence can and cannot us about the conflict and its consequences.
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