Featured post


(1)  1066 was a very important year for Anglo-Saxon England. There were 3 Kings, 2 Battles and a comet. There hasn't been another y...

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


Empress Maud
Empress Maud
(7) Matilda’s campaign for the English throne was starting to pick up speed, now that her brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester had joined her cause. Many of the barons who were supporting Stephen, were also plotting against him, paving the way for Matilda’s return to England.

Roger, bishop of Salisbury was in secret correspondence with Matilda, on the expectation of her arrival in England, he never went abroad or attended court. As Henry’s chancellor, he had accumulated vast riches and although enjoying some of the highest offices bestowed on him, under King Stephen, he nevertheless supplied the castles of Devizes, Sherborne, Malmesbury and Salisbury, with provisions, weapons and ammunition, for the service of Matilda. His nephew Alexander, bishop of Lincoln; and Nigel, bishop of Ely followed the example of their uncle and never attended court without a body of armed men by their side. This dazzling display on the part of the three bishops seriously angered the Count of Meulan and other friends of the King. They accused the bishops of:
‘Enjoying their pre-eminence in the realm, their wealth and power for their own vain, glory and gratification, not for the honour of the sovereign, of raising splendid castles and towers, not to secure the kingdom to the king, but to deprive him of his royal dignity.’
They advised the King to order the arrest of the bishops and compel them to surrender their castles. If the King would agree to deliver them into custody, as violators of his peace, he would himself be more secure and the realm more tranquil.

On 24th of June 1139 an assembly of the magnates (VIPs, aristocrats) of the Kingdom was held at Oxford, which was attended by the three bishops. A quarrel soon erupted between the retainers of the bishops and those of Alan, Count of Brittany. Many of the bishop’s men were wounded and at least one was killed, while the followers of Alan were quickly dispersed. The bishops themselves, being aware of what had taken place, were contemplating their escape, when a band of armed satellites appeared, arrested the bishops of Salisbury and Lincoln and marched them straight to the King. Nigel, bishop of Ely, having intelligence of what was occurring, managed to escape and took refuge in his uncle’s castle of Devizes.

Church of St. John the Baptist Devizes
Church of St. John the Baptist Devizes
On hearing of Nigel’s escape, the King immediately adopted measures for gaining possession of the castles of the three bishops. He took with him the other two bishops and proceeded to the castle of Devizes, which is described as having extraordinary strength and beauty. They were built for ornamental purposes only, according to the bishops, but in truth, these fortresses caused great injury to the Church. Some would say:
“They ought to be preachers of peace, not builders of structures that might serve as asylums to criminals.” 
By the King’s order, the captive bishops were kept apart from each other in abominable conditions. One was contained in the stall of a cow-house, the other in a vile hovel, they were also kept from obtaining any food.  He ordered for Chancellor Robert of Salisbury to be brought forward, with a halter round his neck, threatening to hang him before the gates of the castle, unless the bishop of Ely surrendered forthwith. After three days Nigel finally surrendered the castle. All three bishops then submitted and surrendered their secular offices and castles. They were, however, allowed to retain their dioceses.

This bold move on the part of Stephen, was viewed in very opposite lights. By some it was said that the bishops were justly deprived of the castles, which they had erected in defiance of the prohibition of the canons. This was the firm believe of Stephen’s closest friend, Hugh archbishop of Rouen. Others believed, among who was the King’s brother, Henry bishop of Winchester, that if bishops swerved from the path of right, judgement on them, was not of the King, but of the canons. Without a public ecclesiastical council, they should not be deprived of any possessions. It was said that the King had not acted from any love of right, but solely for his own advantage, by not restoring the castles to the churches, at whose cost and on whose lands they were erected. This had caused a huge divide between King and Church. Henry bishop of Winchester, given that his words made little impact on the King, summoned him to answer for his conduct before a council, which he appointed to be held on the 29th of August at Winchester.

On that day, Theobald archbishop of Canterbury and almost all the bishops assembled at Winchester, where, after reading the decree of Pope Innocent II, conferring on him the legitimate authority, the bishop of Winchester addressed the meeting in a Latin speech. He expressed his indignation at the seizure of the bishops of Salisbury and Lincoln. On finishing his speech, the bishop of Winchester concluded by informing the bishops that Stephen, after repeated warnings to atone for his outrage, had displayed no objection to the summoning of a council. He therefore called on the archbishop and others to deliberate as to the steps necessary to be taken, adding that, although brother to the King and running the risk of losing his possessions or even his life, he would not fail in the execution of their decree.

While the bishop was speaking the King sent some of his earls into the assembly, to inquire why he had been cited? They were answered by the bishop that it was unsuitable of anyone, who remembered he was a follower of the faith of Christ, to be aggrieved if summoned by the ministers of Christ to atone for a crime such as the one witnessed. The King should now act wisely and either justify his deed, or submit to a canonical sentence and that it was his duty to show favour to the Church, by supporting it and not with the aid of an army. The earls departed, but returned shortly, accompanied by Aubrey of Vere, a man well skilled in legal knowledge.

Aubrey reported the King’s answer and with his utmost power, while abstaining from the use of violent language, aggravated the cause of  Bishop, Roger of Salisbury. 
The king, he said, had suffered numerous insults at the hands of that bishop, who rarely came to court, but his followers, taking for granted the power of that bishop, caused an altercation, as recently as Oxford. They had assailed men and the nephew of count Alan of Brittany, also the retainers of Herve of Leon, a man of very high nobility and pride on the account of an old grudge that the Bishop of Lincoln had against count Alan of Brittany. 
He reported on the fact that the Bishop of Salisbury was secretly favouring the King’s enemies, though for a time he had succeeded in disguising his treachery. It was widely known that as soon as Matilda landed, he and his nephews, with their castles, would be at her disposal. Aubrey also claimed that Roger of Salisbury was not arrested as a bishop, but as a servant of the King, who had the administration of his affairs and received his pay. He explains that the King had not seized the castles by violence, but that both bishops had gladly surrendered them, to escape from the consequences of having excited a riot in the Kings court. The money that was found by the King in the castles, it was said, was lawfully his, Roger of Salisbury, in the time of King Henry, had amassed it from the returns of the royal revenue. Both the monies and the castles had been delivered up from fear of the consequences of their acts against the King.

In response to these words of Aubrey, Roger of Salisbury loudly exclaimed that he had never been an official of King Stephen nor received any wages. Moreover, he threatened that if justice was not done for him, with respect to what had been taken from him, he would seek it in a higher court. Aubrey observed the fact that Roger of Salisbury seemed more concerned about his possessions rather than trying to prove that he and the other bishops have acted appropriately in the eyes of the church.

Aubrey concluded by saying: It had reached the ears of the King that the bishops were holding out threats and preparing to send some of their numbers to Rome, to plead against him.
“And this,” added he, “the king advisers you not to do because if anyone, contrary to his will and the dignity of the realm, departs from England, he may, perhaps, find it difficult to return. Moreover, the king feeling himself aggrieved, spontaneously appeals against you to Rome.”
The meeting went on for a few days, with Stephen constantly making excuses as to why he could not attend. The council was finally dismissed on the 1st of September without deciding anything. The King refused to submit to the canons and the bishops made the sensible decision not to pronounce any judgement on him, either because they thought it dangerous to excommunicate a King without the sanction of the Pope, or because they could see and hear swords being drawn around them. Part of the problem facing the bishops was that Stephen had not removed Roger of Salisbury’s family from their ecclesiastical offices, only their secular ones. Nevertheless, the Bishop of Winchester and Archbishop Theobald making a last effort to fulfil their duty, threw themselves at the King’s mercy, pleading with him to show pity on the church and on his own soul and reputation. Their attempt at this proved futile. The King stood his ground against the Church, which can be a dangerous thing to do in medieval England, but before long the King would have more important things to worry about.

William of Mohun had erected the castle of Dunster, on the coast of the Bristol channel, in Somersetshire. He had assembled a considerable body of knights and soldiers to oppose Stephen’s authority. From the stronghold of the castle they laid waste and plundered the surrounding country, putting to the sword and burning all who shown any resistance. He inflicted hideous torture on those suspecting on having wealth, renewing the horrors that these lands have already suffered.

Dunster Castle
Dunster Castle
Stephen, on hearing of these enormities, quickly raised a large army to repress William of Mohun, but on arriving at the castle, he soon realised that this was not going to be so easy. Dunster castle was a huge structure, washed by the sea on one side and its walls strongly guarded, on the other sides. The castle was also surrounded by many outworks and deep trenches. On listening to the advice of others, Stephen ordered for a fort to be erected in front of the castle, where he could keep watch and give greater security to the surrounding areas.

Before long, Stephen was needed elsewhere, so he delegated his authority to Henry of Tracy, an experienced and valiant soldier and ordered him to vigorously come down on the enemy at whatever cost. From his hometown of Barnstaple, Henry of Tracy carried out his orders with such energy, not only did he repress the garrison at Dunster, but on one occasion captured a hundred and four knights, in an encounter of cavalry and reduced William of Muhun to humble himself and cease from any further hostilities against the King. Thereupon, the surrounding land was restored to a comparative degree of tranquillity and immune from all causes of unrest.

However, William of Mohun was not the only one who Tracy forced into obedience, William Fitz-Odo was also forced to submit to the King’s authority after being weakened by various conflicts with Tracy. One-night, Tracy received intelligence from his spies that the castle of William Fitz-Odo was deserted by its defenders, who had gone on a plundering expedition. In the dead of night, Tracy made his way to the castle and having eluded the watch, he ordered for lighted torches to be thrown through the windows of a tower, whereby the interior was soon engulfed in flames. The Lord of the castle was badly burnt and eventually he was carried off by Tracy, together with all his treasures. Henry of Tracy made it quite clear that his loyalties lie with the King and anybody who rose up against him would feel his wrath.

During this state of unrest, Baldwin of Redvers, who Stephen had exiled from Exeter back in 1136, had fled to Anjou and jointed forces with Matilda. At the beginning of August 1139 he landed in England with a considerable body of men. His orders were, to establish a maritime base for Matilda’s planned invasion. On arriving at Wareham and being unable to take it, he soon headed for Corfe castle, where the garrison turned traitor and allowed him and his men to enter. The news of this, soon reached the ears of other supporters of Matilda, and they too rose up in revolt.

Baldwin prepared to oppose Stephen, who was fast approaching the castle. It is unknown how many men arrived at Corfe with Stephen, but Stephen was fully aware of the castle’s massive fortified strength and its superb defensive positioning. He ordered his troops to construct a ‘counter-castle’, just 320 yards west of Corfe castle and settled in for a long siege. After a considerable time passed, the King had expected to overcome his enemy, either by means of military engines or by hunger, but Baldwin held out. Stephen then received some very worrying intelligence. He eventually conceded to the advice of his followers and allowed Baldwin to withdraw unharmed.

The intelligence that Stephen had received was to have dire consequences on the country. The Empress Matilda and her brother Earl of Gloucester, were on the eve of invading England. Stephen had ordered for all the ports to be closely watched, day and night before his march on Corfe, but this did not prevent the Empress from landing at Arundel on the 30th of September 1139 (arguable).

Matilda landed on the coast of Sussex with a small body of knights, accompanied by Guy of Sableuil. She found safety in the castle of Arundel which belonged to William of Aubigny, who had married Adela, the Queen dowager, and step-mother of Matilda.

Arundel Castle
Arundel Castle
Matilda’s supporters were ‘alert and eager’ to  rise up against the King, while Stephen’s supporters felt ‘depressed and thunder-stricken’, the Earl of Gloucester was a powerful man and they knew it. This was the major beginnings of the civil war, some would say.


The King stood alone, unshaken amid all the wars and dissensions in which he was involved. Without a moment to lose, he gathered together a body of veterans and headed for Arundel. On arrival, Stephen received intelligence from his scouts that the Earl, along with his followers, had fled in the dead of night and was heading to Bristol. The Earl was to place himself at the head of ten thousand Welsh and other adversaries of the King. Matilda on the other hand was still in the castle, along with her Angevin followers. Stephen left part of his army guarding the castle, to prevent Matilda from escaping and directed his efforts to the capture of Earl Robert. However, Stephen soon became frustrated, as Robert, avoiding the beaten road, had followed a more devious course, across country and soon reached Bristol safely. Thereupon, Stephen returned to the castle of Arundel and resumed the siege.

The Bishop of Winchester on hearing of the arrival of the Earl, gave the word for all the by-ways to be guarded by soldiers. He then met with Earl Robert in secret and entered into a pact to allow the Earl to depart without injury. The Bishop then, as if he had not met with the Earl, joined his brother, the King, accompanied by a large body of knights.  On finding that the King was no nearer in resolving the siege at Arundel, the bishop advised him that continuing with this would be futile and not good for the kingdom. For if he undertook to besiege Matilda in one part of England, her brother would only raise an insurrection in another. Consequently, it would be more advisable, both for himself and the realm, to permit her, unharmed, to join her brother, so that the forces of both could be confined in one spot. The King could more easily direct all his efforts to their destruction and would be better enabled to pursue them with his whole power. Stephen foolishly followed this advice and pledges being given and received, permitted Matilda to join her brother.

The Bishop accompanied Matilda until she was met by her brother with an armed force, who conducted her to Bristol. On reaching Bristol she gave notice of her arrival to all the barons of the realm, imploring their aid, to the promise of gifts, to others she promised lands. All those who had only pretended to support her course, broke their oaths of homage to the King and hastened to her standard. After which, she withdraws to Gloucester castle, which was held under Earl Robert, by Miles the constable.

Releasing Matilda to join her brother was a huge mistake on behalf of Stephen, what the barons saw as weakness, Stephen saw as compassion, which at a later date would not be reciprocated, now the civil war was here to stay. There are too many petty battles to account for in the chronicles, which continued until the end of Stephen’s reign. Among the leading barons who declared in the favour of Matilda was Brian Fitz-Count. On hearing intelligence of her arrival, he immediately supplied his strong castle of Wallingford with a large garrison and openly rose up against the King. Miles of Gloucester, also, in violation of his oath to Stephen, rose in open rebellion against him and gave an asylum to all the enemies of the King who flocked to him. They proceeded to desolate the surrounding counties.

civil war stephen en matilda

Stephen, undeterred, collected his forces and headed to Wallingford. His first intention was to blockade the castle, but he was diverted from this action by his council, on the grounds of the vast strength of the place and its stores being full to sustain life within the walls, for a long period of time. Far more advisable, added his council, would it be to erect two forts in front of it, placing inside a number of men sufficient to continue the blockade and proceed immediately to the suppression of other adversaries. Following this counsel, Stephen ordered for two forts to be erected before the castle and then with speed proceeded to Trowbridge.

On his march there the King was fortunate to take by assault, the castle of Cerney, which Miles had erected against him, he also gained by surrender, the strong castle of Malmesbury. Miles with a chosen band of men, made an attack by night on the forts erected by Stephen at Wallingford and forced the garrisons to surrender. Miles now gathered at Gloucester all those whose possession had been laid waste by the King, whereupon he committed the most horrible devastation over the surrounding country.

In the meantime the King had arrived at Trowbridge, where he found a fort of the most formidable size and strength. He used vast and powerful machines for the capture of the place, but the garrison withstood everything thrown at it. While his barons grew weary of the siege, they having to be on constant guard for the approach of the Earl, Stephen decided to return to London, leaving a military force at Devizes, to hold the garrison of Trowbridge in check.

Stephen next proceeded to Worcester, which had sustained considerable damage from Miles of Gloucester. There, he deprived Miles of the office of constable and bestowed it on William, the Sheriff of Worcester, son of Walter of Beauchamp. Miles responded to this, by capturing, with great might and main, Hereford, Winchcomb and Cerney castle.

About this time, Bishop Robert of Salisbury died, which can only ease the pressure between King and church, as many cause for disagreements might be more easily removed and the favour of the clergy towards him rendered more available, Stephen thought. Stephen had lost a lot of his fortune due to his feud with the Bishop. In the eyes of Roger of Salisbury, the King had committed unpardonable crimes in offering violence to members of the church, in defiance of the scriptural command:
‘Touch not mine anointed.’
Stephen’s defiant attitude angered the bishop and the feud between King and Church rolled on. The clergy had finally acknowledged Matilda. However, Roger of Salisbury was not to live long enough to see himself avenged. Also, the Bishop’s wealth fell to Stephen, which consisted of 40,000 marks of silver and a large quantity of gold and ornaments.

From Worcester the King proceeded to Oxford and then, with his court, to Salisbury, where he celebrated Christmas according to royal custom. Here, the canons presented him with 2000 pounds of silver, in return for which he granted them an exemption from all taxes on their lands, besides 20 marks for their own use and 40 for the covering of their church. Moreover, the King promised them that, if he obtained peace, he would restore what they had given him.

When Bishop, Nigel of Ely received intelligence of his uncle’s death, he was determined to reap vengeance on the King for the injury inflicted on his uncle, by aiding to the utmost of his power, Matilda, in her struggle for the throne. Casting away, therefore, all his evangelical duties of self-control, hope and faith, he abandoned the pastoral discipline of the church and took up arms against the King. After hiring soldiers in Ely, he cruelly acted in deeds of violence and became the terror of all around him. 

When informed of the rebellion of the bishop, the King immediately headed towards Ely, at the head of a considerable force. When seeing the extraordinary natural strength of the place, the King held an anxious council with his followers, as to the best method of attack. It was finally resolved to join a number of boats together in a part where the water appeared shallow and form a bridge across to the isle. The plan was executed and the army reached the edge of the isle. They now found themselves in an area consisting of muddy bogs, the men needed to find some way of crossing, quickly. A monk of Ely pointed out a ford that could easily be crossed, who for that service was made Abbot of Ramsey. Stephen then advanced into the isle. Of the Bishop's men, some were taken, together with many valuable possessions. The Bishop himself with difficulty escaped to Gloucester, but the monks were treated by Stephen with that unchangable kindness of which, in the midst of all his troubles, he ever preserved. Hence, his contemporaries and even tradition have justly separated Stephen's individuality from the cruelties committed during his reign, which, moreover, were for the most part perpetrated by his enemies.

In February 1140, the King of France, Lois VII betrothed his sister, Constance to Stephen’s son Eustace. While the Queen, with numerous barons of both realms, was in France, enjoying the festivities on this occasion, Stephen unexpectedly arrived in Cornwall. William Fitz-Richard, who the King had discussed the government of that province with, had, in a traitorous violation of his oath, received into one of the royal castles Reginald of Dunstanvile, an illegitimate son of the late King Henry. William Fitz-Richard had given him his daughter in marriage and delivered the entire county into his hands, but as soon as Reginald found himself possessed of great power, when he begins to bend things to his will. He strengthen the castles throughout the county and severely oppresses the followers of the King in the vicinity. Sparing neither churches nor church property, Reginald brought on himself the penalty of excommunication by the Bishop of Exeter.

When apprised of this state of things in Cornwall, Stephen, as we have said, unexpectedly appeared, where, having recovered the castles that had been seized by Reginald, he impulsively committed them to the keeping of Count Alan of Brittany, a man notorious for extreme cruelty, ordering him to quash the rebellion and drive Reginald from the county.

On hearing that Stephen had entered Cornwall, Earl Robert and his followers were overjoyed at the situation presented to them. Stephen was now shut up in a remote county and separated from the main body of his army, it would not be difficult to attack and overcome him thought the Earl. Having, therefore, collected a numerous body of soldiers, the Earl hastened towards Cornwall, when some unwelcome news reached him. The King had not only quelled the rebellion, but was close at hand, on his return, at the head of a powerful force. The fact was that Stephen, apprised of Earl Robert’s movements, had summoned to his aid all the barons of Devonshire, and made preparations to join in battle with his adversary on that day. A battle would have definitely ensued, had not Earl Robert, conceding to the advice of his friends, made a speedy retreat towards Bristol. On his return from Cornwall, Stephen destroyed many lawless castles, completely clearing and calming those parts that had long suffered under the tyranny of their possessors.

In the March of 1140 Robert Fitz-Hebert, a mercenary of the Earl of Gloucester and a truly unscrupulous man, having with some of his followers secretly slipped away from the Earl’s army. With the aid of ladders made of leather, they made their way to the castle of Devizes, which the King had taken from the Bishop of Salisbury. After eluding the watch and surprising the sleeping garrison Robert Fitz-Herbert takes control of the castle. Robert then inflicts cruel deeds on his fellow barons, by rubbing his prisoners with honey and exposing them, naked to the sun.

When word of this brave act reached Earl Robert, he sent his son, at the head of a large force, in support of Robert Fitz-Hebert’s daring enterprise. Robert, having now obtained Devizes, refused to allow the Earl’s son entry and drove him from the gate, back to his father, saying that he had won the castle, so he would hold it. From thereon, he commenced with the devastation of the neighbouring countryside. Robert Fitz-Herbert had now declared himself an independent force intending to seize everything from Winchester to London.

At this time, the neighbouring castle of Marlborough was being held against the King by another crafty baron, John Fitz-Gilbert, a man as unscrupulous as Robert himself. Robert Fitz-Herbert had a great desire to be Lord of that castle also, so in his quest, he sent messages to John Fitz-Gilbert proposing a friendly league between them. The proposal was accepted and Robert Fitz-Herbert was invited as a guest, to Marlborough. No sooner, however, had he entered the castle, when the gates were closed behind him and Robert found himself a prisoner rather than a guest. He and his followers were immediately thrown into the dungeon, to perish from hunger and torture.

Upon this Earl Robert, accompanied by the ex-constable Miles, came in force for revenge against his treacherous ally, Robert Fitz-Herbert. A sum of five hundred marks was offered to John Fitz-Gilbert for the delivery of Robert, into his hands, promising to render him back within a fortnight. To this proposal John accepted and the Earl, with Robert in his custody, returned to Gloucester. When required to surrender the castle of Devizes, Robert Fitz-Herbert refused, on the plea of the oath he and his associates had sworn, never to deliver up the place, but on being threatened with the gallows, he promised compliance, provided his life was spared. 

On the day fixed, Robert Fitz-Hebert was conducted back to Marlborough, where the Earl proposed to proceed with Robert to Devizes, promising that if the castle were surrendered, it would be placed under John's authority. To this proposal John agreed, but secretly sent letters to Robert Fitz-Hebert's followers at Devizes, in which he swore that neither himself nor the Earl contemplated any injury to Robert and encouraged them to keep their oath by holding out to the last extremity. This ensured the end of Robert Fitz-Herbert, to the satisfaction of John Fitz-Gilbert. 

Leaving Miles and others at Devizes, Earl Robert returned to Gloucester, but not before commanding them to hang Robert Fitz-Hebert, if he refused to surrender the castle. As was to be expected, Robert's followers refused and Robert was then of course hung outside the castle that he so strongly fought over. The associates of Robert, notwithstanding their oath, finally consented to deliver up the castle to the King, for a considerable sum of money, who then entrusted the custody of it to his son-in-law, Herve the Breton.

In May of 1140 a negotiation for peace was now set in motion, at Bath, conducted on the part of Matilda by her brother, the Earl of Gloucester, while Stephen was represented by his untrustworthy brother, the legate, with whom the Queen and Archbishop accompanied, for the sake probably of keeping a watch over him. 

The legate, in the previous September, went to France, where he spent the months of October and November, with the object of gaining over to his views, King Louis VII, Theobald Count of Blois and a number of the clergy. The proposals he brought back were, as was to be expected, readily accepted by Matilda, but which the King could not, but totally reject.

No comments:

Post a Comment