During Stephen’s Anarchy, the power of the Earl grew tremendously. It happened that the Second Earl, who had ruled under King Henry, died shortly after Stephen’s accession.

The Third Earl was the first who was “born to the purple,” as it were, as his great-grandfather the First Earl had been elevated by William the Conqueror and his grandfather the Second Earl had known early years of hardship in Normandy before the Conquest.

The Third Earl, though, had long been the favored and only scion of the line, and doted upon by relatives after the early and consumptive death of his father, who would have been the Third Earl had he lived. When he acceded in 1137, his personal popularity among his vassals and serfs was high.

That soon changes as the Third Earl revealed himself to be of a vainglorious temperament, obsessed with the idea of his divine right to rule and the absolute autocracy such right provided him over vassals. Ordinarily such a noble would have had their power swiftly checked by the Crown, but Stephen was a weak ruler and distracted by war and intrigue.

By 1153, the situation was such that the earldom had begun to resemble a personal cult in the Eastern mold, with everything that was “of the Earl” celebrated in word and song and anything deemed “not of the Earl” scorned and attacked.