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(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...

Thursday, 31 January 2013


Empress Maud and King Stephen
Empress Maud and King Stephen
(8) During these wars, on the whole, the immediate sufferers were generally the men doing battle, nevertheless, on occasions the citizens’ were the ones that suffered immensely. The rich town of Nottingham, which had been spared from harm in every preceding civil strife since the Conquest, was at the suggestion of Ralf Paganel, attacked and plundered by the Earl of Gloucester, the inhabitants fleeing to the churches for refuge from the slaughter. One of the wealthiest inhabitants was seized and led strongly bound to his dwelling, where he was compelled to hand over his treasures. Leading the plunderers into a vault, in which his wealth was deposited, he withdrew sharply, closing all the doors and then set fire to the dwelling. More than thirty people are said to have perished in the vault, it was even asserted that the fire spread from that house to every other house and soon the whole town was a burning inferno. The people who had not made it to the churches, were soon rounded up and carried away as prisoners, those who had sought shelter within the sacred structures, men, women and children, perished in the fires that had swept through the town.

The sense of feeling among the people, against Matilda, was growing, her followers showing no consideration as they plundered and burnt down the towns. They turned to their King, but with no avail, Stephen had problems of his own.

The court of Stephen was exhibiting a series of ever increasing disagreements. Throughout which the King was allowing himself to be guided more by personal favour than by the desire for peace and quiet of his kingdom. The choosing of a new bishop of Salisbury gave way to some belligerent altercations between the Bishop of Winchester and the King. The Bishop demanded the vacant see for his nephew, Henry of Sully, but failing to obtain it, withdrew from the court absolutely outraged. Stephen strove to calm him, by bestowing on the nephew the rich abbey of Fecamp. Count Waleram of Meulan desired the bishopric for his chancellor, Philip of Harulfcour, Archdeacon of Bayeux. The legate and clergy offered so strong an opposition, that the see of Bayeux was at length bestowed on Philip, while that of Salisbury continued vacant for some years, until it was given to Joscelyn of Bailleul. This action by Stephen alienated himself from the clergy and when he celebrated the festival of Whitsuntide in the Tower of London, only one prelate, the bishop of Seez appeared at his court.

A great war was now emerging  between the King and Ranullf, Earl of Chester, resulting from a previous grievance over land.


King Stephen at the battle for Lincoln castle
King Stephen at the battle for Lincoln castle
Ranullf was married to Maud, daughter of Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester and inherited the Earldom of Chester in 1128. In 1136 David I of Scotland invaded England as far as Durham, but was forced by Stephen to negotiate treaties that involved granting Ranulf's lands to Scotland. Stephen granted, along with Carlisle, much of Cumberland and the honour of Lancaster, lands that belonged to Ranulf’s father that had been surrendered by agreement to Henry I, in return for the Earldom of Chester. Ranulf claimed that his father had at that time, been disinherited. When he heard of the concessions made to the Scottish King, Ranulf left Stephen's court in a rage. In the second Treaty of Durham (1139), Stephen was even more generous to King David, granting the Earldom of Northumbria (Carlisle, Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire north of the Ribble) to David’s son Prince Henry. Ranulf was prepared to revolt in order to win back his lordship of the north.

Prince Henry was due to attend the English court, on Michaelmas (29th Sept), Ranulf put a plan together to overwhelm him on his return to Scotland. When word reached Queen Matilda (Stephen’s wife), of this plot, she persuaded Stephen to escort Henry back to Scotland. With his plan foiled, Ranulf and his brother William de Roumare, thought of a way to gain access to Lincoln Castle and lay siege. They tricked their way into the castle by sending their wives to visit the Constable’s wife.

The garrison at Lincoln had no reason to suspect the Countess of Chester nor her sister-in-law of any plots to seize the castle and were busy playing sports at the time of their arrival. The ladies were, ‘talking and joking’ with the unsuspecting Matron, when the Earl of Chester came in, ‘without his armour or even his mantle’ (ordinary clothes), presumably to collect the ladies and was attended only by three soldiers. His men-at-arms then suddenly overpowered the unsuspecting guards and the gates were thrown open to Earl William and his numerous followers. They seized all the weapons in the castle and throw out the royal garrison.

The Earls held the castle against the King, who speedily marched to Lincoln, but Ranulf devised a way of escaping and went to round up more men from Chester and to confer with Earl Robert of Gloucester.

To Earl Robert and other supporters of Matilda, this was great news as Ranulf was a powerful and influential man. Without disclosing his intentions, Earl Robert swiftly raised an army. He called on the Welsh, the outlaws and the rebels from all sides to march to the Trent, which due to heavy rains, they crossed with great difficulty. Earl Robert joined up with Ranulf on the way to Lincoln and on the 2nd of February 1141 this huge, impending force appeared unexpectedly, in front of the King. The appearance of a large force of Welsh troops as far east as Lincoln was obviously a terrifying prospect. As described in the chronicles:
a dreadful and unendurable mass of Welsh’
Stephen held a council of war at which his barons advised that he should leave a force and depart to safety, but Stephen disregarded the odds and decided to fight. Waleram of Meulan and his brother, William of Warenne, plus William Earl of York, Gilbert of Clare and Earl Alan of Richmond, renounced, together with their followers, before the beginning of the battle, both the King and the contest. Only a few valiant knights, Baldwin Fitz-Gilbert, Richard Fitz-Urse, Engelram of Sai, and Ilbert of Lacy, stood without fear, at the side of the King.

The Royal force was divided into three divisions, the first of which consisted of the Flemings, under William of Ypres; and the Bretons, under Count Alan of Brittany. Opposite these stood the soldiers of Earl Ranulf and the Welsh foot soldiers, under two Princely brothers, Meredith and Cadwalader, who made up around a third of the Earls’ total force.

Before the battle started, speeches were made by the leaders of the two armies. Earl Robert’s speech was full of passion and anger for his sister’s cause. That of Baldwin Fitz-Gilbert’s, who had undertaken to speak for the Royal army, instead of the King, who was suffering from hoarseness, was spoken with dignity on the justice of Stephen’s cause.

Stephen immediately sent some of his troops ahead to prevent Earl Robert from crossing a nearby bridge, but the outlaws, in their numbers, charged his lines, seized the bridge and proceeded to engage in a fierce hand to hand battle with the main body of the Royal army. The Royals were outnumbered and soon overpowered, as almost instantaneously the line broke in many places and the most respected of the Royal soldiers, who were too closely packed together, were compelled to flee. Among them, after it became clear Stephen was in danger of losing, were, Count Alan of Brittany and William of Ypres, who fled with such a disgraceful precipitation and cowardice. The barons, to avoid committing themselves to the losing side, left a means of retreat open, by also securing themselves to Earl Robert. It was said:-
In that battle treachery ran wild. Some of the magnates joined the king with only a handful of their men and sent the main body of their retainers to secure the victory for their adversaries.”
Stephen, however, battled on with a few faithful knights, Baldwin Fitz-Gilbert, Richard Fitz-Urse, Engelram of Sai, and Ilbert of Lacy, who fought courageously with him to the end. With a Norwegian battle-axe, given to him by a man from Lincoln, the King brought down every foe that approached him. He smashed the helmet of Earl Ranulf, but without killing him.On trying to retreat, the King was then struck by a stone which brought him to the ground. A valiant knight, William of Cahaines, seized the King by his helmet and with a loud voice announced the prize he had taken. Stephen now had no option, but to yield himself a prisoner to Earl Robert along with Baldwin Fitz-Gilbert and Richard Fitz-Urse. Earl Robert naturally handed over his valuable prize to his half-sister Matilda, who consigned Stephen to captivity in Bristol Castle.


When the citizens of Lincoln heard of the King's defeat, many of them abandoned their homes and fled towards the nearby river and sought to escape by boat across the water, but many drowned when their boats capsized in the general panic to escape. As soon as the battle was over, Earl Ranulf and the other victors entered the city and sacked it like barbarians. They slaughtered like cattle, all the rest of the citizens they could find or capture, putting them to death in different ways without mercy or humanity.

The earls, Waleram of Meulan, William of Warenne, Simon of Northampton and William of Ypres, now hastened to the side of Queen Matilda (Stephen's wife) who had found refuge in Kent. Earl Ranulf was using his powers to gain possession of more castles, partly by treachery and partly by the threat of hunger and violence. Stephen had now lost control of Cornwall and the castle of Devizes which was surrendered to the Empress. The town of Nottingham was taken from William Peverel and given to William Paganel. From the knights that had been captured, vast ransoms were extorted without any goodwill towards the fact that Stephen had already taxed them greatly. 

Matilda now turned her attention to Roger, bishop of Winchester, knowing he was one of the most powerful men in the land, she declared:-
'If he would attach himself to my party, honours should await him; if, on the other hand, he proved adverse and rebellious, the whole armed force of England should be directed against him.'
Bishop Roger's position was a difficult one; on the one hand, to defend the cause of the King seemed an almost hopeless task, while on the other, it was painful to him and must have appeared indecent and unnatural to others, to declare in favour of Matilda, while his brother was still alive. He avoided making a decision or committing himself in order to gain time. Outwardly he entered on terms of peace and friendship with the enemy, in the hope that when an opportunity presented itself, he could come forward in support of his brother. 

Accompanied by the Bishop of Ely and other high ranking clergy, Matilda made her way to Winchester to meet with Bishop Roger where the most distinguished ecclesiastics, the nobles of her party, the mercenaries and others had assembled on this wet and foggy morning.

The meeting took place on the 2nd of March on an open plane near the city. Here Matilda swore to Bishop Roger;- 
'that all the most important concerns of the realm, particularly the disposal of vacant bishoprics and abbacies, should be according to his will, if he and the holy Church would receive her as their sovereign lady and ever observe fealty to her.' 
Bishop Roger made no hesitation to acknowledge her as Queen of England as long as her word was pure, he would stay faithful to her.


Queen Matilda
On the following day, attended by the Bishop and other clergy, Matilda went in procession to the cathedral, where the crown and the scanty treasure left there by Stephen was delivered to her, she was proclaimed Queen of England, the Bishop cursing those who cursed her, and blessing those who blessed her.

From Winchester she proceeded to Wilton, where the Archbishop Theobald swore allegiance to her, which he had till then withheld, deeming it derogatory to his office and character to take that step until he had consulted and obtained a release from the king. His example was followed by the majority of the clergy and some of the ordinary folks.

A few days after, on 7th of April, a council of the Archbishop Theobald and all the bishops of England, with many abbots and archdeacons, was held at Winchester, at which the Bishop Roger presided. With each of these legates and prelates the Bishop held a private conference, were he explained to them his views and intentions.

On the following day he addressed them in a speech, reminding them of the peaceful state of the country under the late King Henry; how some years before his death he had caused all the bishops and barons of England and Normandy to swear fealty to his sole surviving offspring, should no male successor be born to him by his second consort:
"This was not granted to him, and he died in Normandy without male issue. To await the coming of a lady, whose departure from Normandy was delayed from various causes, seemed tedious, and the peace of the country was provided for by allowing my brother to reign."
"Alas!" continued he, "although I became his surety before God, that he would honour and exalt the holy Church, maintain good laws, and abrogate bad ones, it grieves me to call to mind, I feel shame in uttering it, how he has conducted himself in the kingdom, how he has neglected to execute justice on the contumacious, how all peace, from the very beginning of his reign, has been at an end; bishops being held in captivity and compelled to deliver up their possessions, abbacies sold, churches despoiled of their treasures, the counsels of the wicked listened to, those of the good either delayed, or treated with scorn. You know how often I have addressed him, both directly and through the medium of bishops ; more particularly at the council lately held, and that I have thereby gained nothing but odium. To all who rightly think it will be manifest, that while it is my duty to love my brother, of far greater moment is the cause of our everlasting Father. Therefore, since God has pronounced judgement on my brother, and allowed him to fall into the hands of his adversaries, lest the realm be convulsed if it lack a ruler, I have, in virtue of my legatine authority, summoned you all to meet me here. Yesterday the subject was discussed in private before a considerable number of the clergy of England, whose province it especially is to elect and ordain princes ; therefore, in the first place, invoking the divine assistance, as is meet, we choose the daughter of our late glorious king for our sovereign lady, and promise her our fealty and support."
When all present had, either by acclamations testified their approval of the bishop's rant, or, by holding silence, not objected to it, he added:-
"The citizens of London — who are, as it were, nobles, by reason of the magnitude of the city — we have summoned by our messengers, and sent them a safe-conduct, and 1 trust they will not defer their coming beyond this day." 
The Londoners arrived the following day. They announced that they were here for the first time not in the spirit of hostility, but to pray that their Lord the King might be released from his captivity. They also pleaded to the Bishop and Archbishop on behalf of the barons who had been captured, to obtain their liberty. Bishop Roger answered their petition in great length, repeating the substance of his speech of the preceding day, and adding:
'That it ill became the Londoners, who were regarded as nobles in England, to espouse the cause of those who had forsaken their lord in battle, at whose instigation, too, he had dishonoured the holy Church, and who made a show of favouring the Londoners, merely that they might wheedle them out of their money'.
When the Bishop had finished speaking, a certain clerk stood up, 'a chaplain,' it is said, of the Queen's, named Christian and presented a letter to the Bishop. Having read the letter in silence, the Bishop returned, saying aloud;
'that it was not genuine, nor ought it to be read before an assemblage of such exalted and religious persons; for, in addition to the objectionable matter contained in it, there was the name of a witness attached to it, who a year or two ago had, in the very chapter in which they were then sitting, applied the most opprobrious language to the venerable bishops.'
The clerk however, was not discouraged, but with admirable confidence read the letter to the council, the substance of which was:
"The Queen earnestly entreats the clergy assembled in general, and the Bishop of Winchester, the brother of her Lord, in particular, to restore her said Lord to his kingdom, whom wicked men, his own liege subjects, have cast into bonds."
To this letter the Bishop returned an answer similar to that which he had given to the Londoners, who, after having deliberated together, said they would communicate the decree of the council to their fellow citizens and as far as they were able, be answerable for their goodwill. Within a day, the council was dissolved, after it had excommunicated many followers to the royal cause, among whom was William Martel, who had formerly been cup-bearer to King Henry, but was then sewer (a medieval household officer often of high rank in charge of serving the dishes at table and sometimes of seating and tasting) to Stephen. Bishop Roger was bitterly incensed towards William, for having intercepted and plundering many of his private properties.

Matilda had celebrated Easter at Wilton, from there she proceeded to Reading on the 4th May, where she was received with great honour. Robert of Oilli agreed to deliver up the castle of Oxford, of which Stephen had appointed him constable. From Oxford, after receiving the homage of that city and the surrounding country, she directed her course with great joy and exultation to St. Alban's, where she was met by a deputation of the citizens of London, who entered into a compact with her for the delivery of the Capital. With a great military pomp at Westminster she was received with a solemn procession. 

The greater part of England now acknowledged her authority, but while all things seemed to promise the speedy reduction of the whole kingdom to her rule, all became changed, a storm was ready to burst over her head.

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