Page images

the land ; " whose miseries were in no slight degree aggravated,” says the chronicler Gervase, “by the arrival of these hunger-starved wolves, who completed the destruction of the land's felicity.”

It was during the absence of queen Matilda and her son princk Eustace, that the battle, so disastrous to her husband's cause, was fought beneath the walls of Lincoln, on Candlemas-day, 1141. Stepher had shut up a great many of the empress Matilda's partisans and thei families in the city of Lincoln, which he had been for some time besieg ing. The earl of Gloucester's youngest daughter, lately married to he cousin Ranulph, earl of Chester, was among the besieged; and se determined were the two earls, her father and her husband, for hej deliverance, that they encouraged their followers to swim, or ford, the deep cold waters of the river, behind which Stephen and his army were encamped, and fiercely attacked him in their dripping garments, --and all for the relief of the fnir ladies who were trembling within the walls of Lincoln, and beginning to suffer from lack of provisions. These were the days of chivalry, be it remembered. Speed gives us a descrip tive catalogue of some of the leading characters among our valiant king Stephen's knights sans peur, which, if space were allowed us, we would abstract from the animated harangue with which the earl of Gloucester endeavoured to warm his shivering followers into a virtuous blaze indignation, after they had emerged from their cold bath. His satirical eloquence was received by the partisans of the empress with a tremendous shout of applause; and Stephen, not to be behindhand with his foes in bandying personal abuse as a prelude to the fight, because his own powers of articulation happened to be defective, deputed one Baldwin Fitz-Gilbert, a knight who was blessed with a stentorian voice, to thunder forth his recrimination on the earl of Gloucester and his host in the ears of both armies. Fitz-Gilbert, in his speech, laid scornful stress on the illegitimacy of the empress's champion, whom he desiga nated “ Robert, the base-born general.”

The battle, for which both parties had prepared themselves with such a sharp encounter of keen words, was, to use the expression of contemporary chroniclers, “a very sore one ;" but it seems as if Stephen had fought better than his followers that day. “A very strange sight it was," says Matthew Paris, “ there to behold king Stephen, left almost alone in the field, yet no man daring to approach him, while, grinding teeth and foaming like a furious wild boar, he drove back with his battle-axe the assailing squadrons, slaying the foremost of them, to the eternal renown of his courage. If but a hundred like himself bad been with him, a whole army had never been able to capture person; yet, single-handed as he was he held out, till first his battleWm. of Malms. Rapin. Speed. * Rog. Hov. H. Hunt. Polychronicon.

3 Rog. Hov. H. Hunt. Speed.

[ocr errors]




bury says,

Defeat and Capture of Stephen.

145 2 axe brake, and afterwards his sword shivered in his grasp with the force of his own resistless blows, and he was borne backward to his

knees by a great stone, which some ignoble person flung at him. A 1 stout knight, William of Kames, then seized him by the helmet, and

holding the point of his sword to his throat, called upon him to sur

Tender.” Even in that extremity, Stephen refused to give up the -- fragment of his sword to any one but the earl of Gloucester, his valiant

kinsman, who, coming up, bade his infuriated troops refrain from further violence, and conducted his royal captive to the empress Matilda, at Gloucester. The earl of Gloucester, it is said, treated Stephen with some degree of courtesy; but the empress Matilda, whose hatred appears to have emanated from a deeper root of bitterness than mere rivalry of power, loaded him with indignities, and ordered him into the most rigorous confinement in Bristol-castle. According to general historians, she caused him to be heavily ironed, and used the royal captive as ignominiously as if he had been the lowest felon ; but William of Malmes

" this was not till after Stephen had attempted to make his escape, or it was reported that he had been seen several times beyond the bounds prescribed for air and exercise.”.

The empress Matilda made her public and triumphant entry into the city of Winchester February 7, where she was received with great state by Stephen's equally haughty brother, Henry de Blois, bishop of Winchester and cardinal-legate. He appeared at the head of all the clergy and monks of the diocese ; and even the nuns of Winchester 2 (a thing before unheard of) walked unveiled in the procession, to receive and Welcome the rightful heiress of the realm, the daughter of the great and learned Henry Fitz-Conqueror, and of Matilda, the descendant of the Atheling. The English had also the satisfaction of seeing the male representative of their ancient monarchs on that occasion within the walls of Winchester ; for David of Scotland, the son of Margaret

was present to do honour to his niece—the victorious rival of

crown. Henry de Blois resigned the regal ornaments, and the paltry residue of her father's treasure, into the hands of the empress. The next day he received her with great pomp in his cathedral-church, where be excommunicated all the adherents of his unfortunate brother, and promised absolution to all who should abandon his cause and join In this melancholy position did queen Matilda find her husband's Cause, when she returned from her successful negotiation of the marriage between the French king's sister and her son the little count of Boulogne, whom she had left, for the present, established as duke of Normandy. The peers and clergy had alike abandoned the luckless

· H. Hunt. Speed. Rapin.
3 Gesta Stephani. Gervase. Wm of Malms. Rapin.


Atheling, Stephen's

the empress.

[ocr errors]

2 Rudborne's Winchester.


Stephen in his adversity ;' and the archbishop of Canterbury, being a man of tender conscience, had actually visited Stephen in his prison, to request his permission to transfer his oath allegiance to his victorious rival the empress Matilda. In this predicament, the faithful consort of the fallen monarch applied herself to the citizens of London, with whom she had ever maintained a great share of popularity. They knew her virtues, for she had lived among them; and her tender affection for her royal spouse in his adversity was well pleasing to those who had witnessed the domestic happiness of the princely pair, while they lived in Tower-Royal as count and countess of Boulogne. The remembrance of Stephen's free and pleasant conduct and affable association with all sorts and conditions of men, before he wore the thorny diadem of the disputed sovereignty of England, disposed the magistracy of London to render every assistance in their power to their unfortunate king. So powerfully, indeed, had the personal influence of queeu Matilda operated in that quarter, that when the magistrates of London were summoned to send their deputies to a synod at Winchester, held by Henry de Blois, which had predetermined the election of the empress Matilda to the throne, they instructed them to demand the liberation of the king in the name of the barons and citizens of London, as a preliminary to entering into any discussion with the partisans of his enemy. Henry de Blois replied, “That it did not become the Londoners to side with the adherents of Stephen, whose object was to embroil the kingdom in fresh troubles."

Queen Matilda, finding that the trusty citizens of London werc baffled by the priestly subtlety of her husband's brother, Henry de Blois, took the decided, but at that time unprecedented step, of writing in her own name an eloquent letter to the synod, earnestly entreating those in whose hands the government of England was vested to restore the king, her husband, to liberty. This letter the queen's faithful chaplain, Christian, delivered, in full synod, to the legate Henry de Blois. The prelate, after he had silently perused the touching appeal of his royal sister-in-law, not only refused to communicate its purport to the assembly, but, exalting his voice to the highest pitch, proclaimed “ that it was illegal and improper to be recited in that great assembly, for, among other objectionable points it was witnessed by the signature of a person who had at a former council used insulting language to the bishops.” Christian was not thus to be baffled: he boldly took his royal mistress's letter out of the imperious legate's hand, and exalting his voice in turn, so as to be distinctly heard by all present, he read it aloud to the astonished conclave, in spite of the anger and opposition

of him who was at that time virtually the ruling power in the realm. 3. The following brief abstract is all that William of Malmesbury, who

1 Wm. of Malms. H. Hunt. 2 Wm. of Malms. Rapin.

3 Ibid.


Queen's letter to the Synod.

147 dedicates bis history to the leader of the adverse party, Robert, earl of Gloucester, thinks proper to give of Matilda's letter: “The queen earnestly entreats the whole clergy assembled, and especially the bishop of Winchester, the brother of her lord the king, to restore her said lord to his kingdom, whom abandoned persons, even such as were under homage to him, have cast into chains.”

The legate endeavoured to frustrate any good effect which this conjagal appeal from the faithful consort of his unfortunate brother might have produced, by dissolving the assembly, having first excommunicated the leading members of the royal party. He then declared that the empress Matilda was lawfully elected as the domina or sovereign lady of England." The following are the words of the formula in which the declaration was delivered : “ Having first, as is fit, invoked the aid of Almighty God, we elect as lady of England and Normandy the daughter of the glorious, the rich, the good, the peaceful king Fenry

, and to her we promise fealty and support.” No word is here of the good old laws-the laws of Alfred and St. Edward, or of the great charter which Henry I. agreed to observe. The empress was the leader of the Norman party, and the head of Norman feudality, which, in many instances, was incompatible with the Saxon constitution. The imperial “ domina” bore her honours with anything but meekness ; she refused to listen to the counsel of her friends; she treated those of her adversaries whom misfortune drove to seek her clemency with insolence and cruelty, stripping them of their possessions, and rendering them perfectly desperate.

The friends who had contributed to her elevation frequently met with a harsh refusal when they asked favours; “and,” says an old historian," when they bowed themselves down before her, she did not rise in return." Meantime, the sorrowful queen Matilda was unremitting in her Csertions for the liberation of her unfortunate lord, who was at this time heavily iro ned and ignominiously treated, by order of the empress. Not only England, but Normandy was now lost to the captive monarch, her husband, and their young heir, prince Eustace; for Geoffrey of

as soon as he received intelligence of the decisive battle of Lincoln

, persuaded the Norman baronage to withdraw their allegiance from their recently invested duke, and to transfer it to his wife, the empress, and her son Henry, certainly the rightful heirs of William the Conqueror. The loss of regal state and sovereign power was, however, regarded by the queen of Stephen as a matter of little moment. In the season of adversity it was not the king, but the man, the husband of her youth, and the father of her children, to whom the tenderhearted Matilda of Boulogne clung, with a devotion not often to be met with in the personal history of royalty. It was for his sake that "Gesta Stephani.



3 Wm. of Malms. Speed.

% lbid. Thierry.

she condescended to humble herself by addressing the most lowly entreaties to her haughty cousin, the empress Matilda,—to her who, if the report of contemporary chroniclers is to be credited, had betrayed her husband into a breach of his marriage vow. The insulting scorn with which the empress rejected every petition which the wedded wife of Stephen presented to her in behalf of her fallen foe, looks like the vindictive spirit of a jealous woman; for not only the virtues of Matilda of Boulogne, but the high rank and near relationship to herself, demanded some degree of consideration and respect.

There appears even to be a covert reference to the former position in which these princesses had stood, as rivals in Stephen's love, by the proposal made by his fond queen. She offered, if his life were but spared, to relinquish his society, and that he should not only for ever forego all claims upon the crown and succession of England and Normandy, but taking upon himself the vows and habit of a monk, devote himself to a religious life, either as a pilgrim or a cloistered anchorite,' on condition that their son, prince Eustace, might be permitted to enjoy, in her right, the earldom of Boulogne, and his father's earldom of Mortagne, the grant of Henry I. This petition was rejected by the victorious empress with no less contempt than all the others which Stephen's queen had ventured to prefer, although her suit was backed by the powerful mediation of Henry de Blois. This prelate, who appear to have thought more of peace than of brotherhood, was not only desirous of settling public order on such easy terms for his new sovereign, but willing to secure to his nephew the natural inheritance of his parents, of which the empress's party had obtained possession. So blind, hotever, was the empress in pursuing the headlong impulse of her vindio tive nature, that nothing could induce her to perceive how much it was her interest to grant the prayer of her unhappy cousin ; and she repulsed the suit of Henry de Blois so rudely, that, when next summoned to her presence, he refused to come. Queen Matilda improved this difference between her haughty rival and her brother-in-law to her own advantage; and having obtained a private interview with him at Guildford, she prevailed on him by the eloquence of her tears and entreaties, to absolve all her husband's party whom, as pope's legate, he had a few days before excommunicated, and to enter into a negotiation with her for the deliverance of his brother."

Nor did queen Matilda rest here. In the name of her son, prince Eustace, aided by William of Ypres, Stephen's able but unpopular minister of state, she raised the standard of her captive lord in Kent and Surrey, where a strong party was presently organized in his favour ; and finding that her obdurate kinswoman would listen to no terms

· Y.Podigma Neustria. Speed. Speed. 'Tyrrell.


« PreviousContinue »