History of England, Part I For the use of Middle Forms of Schools

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER IV: Stephen of Blois 1135-1154

1. As soon as was dead, his nephew hastened to London to try and get the crown, for was a woman, and there had probably never been a queen ruling in England in her own right; moreover, her husband was foreign-born, and was greatly misliked. The nobles, therefore, "badly mindful of their oaths," were willing, rather than obey her, to choose her cousin; the citizens welcomed him; and the churchmen, among whom 's brother Henry Bishop of had great influence, were also in his favour. [1] On Midwinter Day he was crowned, vowing that he would never oppress the Church as had, nor take his barons' woods and hunting like , nor lay on Danegild any more. He also sent round these promises in a charter, but none of them were kept in the end. began by scattering 's treasure in trying to bind the great men to him by gifts, and in hiring foreign soldiers, who flocked over sea from Flanders at the report of his riches. Although the Pope confirmed the election of , the turbulent barons that hated the peace of King rose in arms before the new king was firm in his throne, but as usual the Church and the English stood by the crown and put them down.

2. [2] The invasion of England in by King David of Scotland was a more serious danger. With two hundred knights, a host of footmen, and many wild Galwegians, he pillaged the land, killing all the men, carrying off the women and children as slaves, and burning the houses. Thurstan, the aged Archbishop of , called out the levies of the northern shires, and they met the Scots at Allerton Moor. In their midst was a cart with a tall mast fixed on it bearing the king's standard and the banners of the saints of the north, S. John of Beverley, S. Wilfred of Ripon, and S. Peter, and the sacrament in a casket. Round this were arrayed the mail-clad English knights on foot after the old fashion with sword and lance, and the yeomen with bows and axes. The Scottish king wished his mounted knights to charge them, but the Galloway-men clamoured for the honour of beginning the fight, their earl boasting that though he wore no mail he would fight as far forward as any steel-clad knight of them all. Stripped to the waist, armed only with sword and buckler, the Gallowaymen rushed upon the English shouting their war-cry, Alban ! Alban ! [Scotland !] but a deadly shower of arrows from the yeomen broke their ranks before they reached the firm line of knights, who, advancing on their unsteady enemies, swept them before them

"like a spider's web."

David's son made a gallant charge with his knights, but the main body of the Scots were too disordered to rally, and soon took to flight. The pursuit was hot, for the English had fearful wrongs to revenge; ten thousand Galwegians were killed, and only nineteen of all the Scots knights escaped death or captivity. David was glad to make peace. This battle of the Standard, in which the English yeomen first used the longbow (a weapon the South Welsh taught them to ply), showed that spearmen and archers on foot could withstand and defeat the hitherto unconquered mailed horsemen.

3. [3] Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, 's faithful minister, had helped to get the crown, and hitherto the king had delighted to honour him, saying that Roger should tire of asking favours ere he tired of granting them. In an evil hour he began to mistrust the bishop, and demanded the surrender of the castles he and his nephews the bishops of and were building. They refused, whereupon the king put Roger in irons and threatened to hang his son unless the fortresses were at once given up. Roger's men, however, held out till their master, fearing for his son's life, vowed neither to eat


nor drink till they opened their gates to the king. He was then released, but he never got over the sudden fall from his high estate, and soon after died of a broken heart. Henry of was furious that a bishop should have been so badly used, and calling a council of clergy at Windsor, he laid the case before them, showing his appointment as legate or lieutenant for the Pope in England, and begging them to pay no heed to his own kinship with the king, but only to do justice. The king thereupon forbade them to proceed further, and they broke up in fear of him. But within a month the Empress Maud and her half-brother the Earl of Gloster landed in England, and sure of the support of the clergy, who had angrily turned from the king they had chosen, and of all who disliked or hoped for

"the unholy gains of civil strife,"

began the war; while 's mercenaries were nothing loath to fight in such a rich country.

The Monk of Peterborough, who wrote the last piece of the , says of the English lords:

"They forswore themselves and broke their troth, for every nobleman made him a castle and held it against the king, and filled the land full of castles. They put the wretched countryfolk to sore toil with their castle-building, and when the castles were made they filled them with devils and evil men. Then they took all those that they deemed had any goods, both by night and by day, men and women alike, and put them in prison to get their gold and silver, and tortured them with tortures unspeakable, for never were martyrs so tortured as they were."

" Many thousand they slew with hunger. I cannot nor may not tell all the horrors and all the tortures that they laid on wretched men in this land. And this lasted nineteen winters while


was king, and ever it was worse and worse. They laid taxes on the villages continually, calling it tenserie, and when the wretched folk had no more to give them, they robbed and burned all the villages, so that thou mightest easily fare a whole day's journey and shouldest never find a man living in a village nor land tilled. Then was corn dear, and flesh, and cheese, for there was none in the land. Wretched men starved for hunger, and some went begging alms that were once rich men, and some fled out of the land."

And of the king's hired soldiers he says:

" There was never yet more wretchedness in the land, nor did ever heathen men worse than they did, for they neither forbore church nor churchyard, but took all the goods that were therein, and then burned the church and all together. Nor did they forbear

bishop's land, or abbot's, or priest's, but robbed monks and clerks and every other man they could. If two men or three came riding to a village, all the village-folk fled before them, deeming them to be robbers. The bishops and clergy were ever cursing them, but they cared nought therefor, for they were all forcursed and forsworn, and forlorn. Wheresoever men tilled, the earth bore no corn, for the land was all fordone with such deeds, and they [the wicked] said openly that Christ and His saints slept. Such, and more than we can say, we suffered nineteen winters for our sins!"

4. Only the main story of the war need be told. The great barons of the west and north fought for the empress, while 's greatest strength lay in London and the other big towns of the east and south, and among the yeomen of and Norfolk, the richest and most civilized parts of England. By the help, however, of Robert of Gloster, her half-brother, whose heart and head were worthy of a better cause, and of Randolf, Earl of Chester, a bold and crafty man, Robert's son-in-law, 's party gained ground.[1]  In laid siege to Castle, but Randolf, who held it, contrived to get out secretly and bring up Robert with a large army to raise the siege. The king resolved to fight them, though they far outnumbered his forces. His hired soldiers were soon put to flight by the two earls, but himself would neither fly nor yield. He stood on foot, hemmed round by foes, only three faithful guardsmen staying by him, till his, sword-blade snapped, when a man handed him a Danish axe, with which he fought, beating off Randolf of Chester, who attacked him, and striking down every man that came near him, until the axe-helve broke in his hand. Still no one dared lay hands on him till he was felled to the ground by a great stone, when William de Kaims sprang forward and seized him by the helmet, crying,

"Here! here! I have got the king,"

whereupon he yielded himself prisoner. He was then put in ward at Bristol, and a great council being called at , Henry of Blois proposed to choose as queen, and to this, in spite of the protest of 's queen, Maud of Boulogne, and the Londoners, who, as

"almost barons of the realm,"

were of course present, the meeting agreed. The clergy then excommunicated all of 's party who should not lay down their arms at once, and the empress went to London to be crowned. But her haughty behaviour disgusted her best friends; she would listen to no man's advice, despising


even the counsels of her uncle David, who had again marched into England to help her; she refused to let 's kinsmen have their rights, took back the grants he had made to the Church, and fining the Londoners heavily, denied them the Law of King , which her father had promised them for ever. The end of all this was that one day as she was sitting down to dinner the city bells rang the alarm, and the Londoners swarmed out sword in hand like angry wasps from their comb, resolved to take her prisoner and slay her followers. She had only time to fly on a swift steed, leaving all her jewels, dress, and plate behind her, to . The Londoners now sent for 's queen, swore to be true to her, and sent a thousand mail-clad men under the city banner, the standard of S. Paul, with her to the siege of . For Henry of Blois, moved by the prayers of his brother's wife, the folly of , and the cruel treatment she gave his brother, now forsook the party he had so warmly taken up, and joined 's queen also. The empress beleaguered his castle with a great host, in which were the King of Scots, eight great earls, and many barons. 's queen, however, after several skirmishes, obliged the empress to retreat, and attacking her army as it left the town, threw it into a panic, and turned the retreat to a rout. The country-folk rose upon the flying barons, while the Londoners sacked and gained great spoil. The King of Scots and Earl Robert were taken. The empress fled on horseback to Devizes, whence, fearing the people, her followers having covered her with grave-clothes bore her on a bier to Gloucester. Robert was now exchanged for , and the empress was hard pressed by the king, and in blockaded in Castle. After three months' close siege, food began to fail, and it was clear the place must fall; therefore, one dark night, had herself let down from the great tower by ropes with four knights, all dressed in white to escape being seen, for the snow was thick on the ground. They passed the sentinels unchallenged, and crossing the frozen made their way on foot down the river to Abingdon, where horses were waiting for them, and so reached their friends safely.

5. [4] Earl Robert's death and the empress's departure from England in put an end to the hopes of her party, but there was still no peace, every baron fighting for his own hand, and the king too weak to put them down. In , , Duke of Normandy, landed in England. Well schooled, able, and rich, for he was the pupil of


his uncles Robert and David, had learned war in defending his duchy against 's son, and was become, by his late marriage with Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine (whom the King of France had put away), one of the greatest princes in Europe, he might hope to win back all his mother had lost and more. But he was too wise to risk a pitched battle, and when Eustace died in (the brave queen was already dead), he was willing to listen to the wishes of good men, who, yearning to put an end to the long war, and alarmed by the attack of Eystein, King of Norway (who ravaged the coast of shire, burned and Langton, and boasted that he had revenged ), besought him to make terms with . Peace was agreed between them at Wallingford. The king was to rule while he lived, but was to be his heir; the courts, laws, and money of the old days were to be restored, and the land to be set at peace; all evil-doers being brought to justice, all the castles which had been built without licence being plucked down, and the hired soldiers sent out of England. The duke stayed for a while in England as 's Justiciar, helping him to carry out the treaty, and then went home. In died, October 25, and his body was laid at Feversham, in the abbey he had founded, by the side of his wife and son. Handsome, tall, and strong, a gallant knight, a cheerful companion, a pious, merciful, and mild-hearted man, 's unfitness for the office to which he was chosen is yet most certain. England has never been worse ruled, and the awful verdict of the chronicler can neither be gainsaid nor appealed against-

" In his days was nought but war and wickedness and waste."


[1] Stephen chosen king.

[2] Battle of the Standard, 1138.

[3] Quarrel with Church. Civil war, 1139.

[] [1139-1141.]

[1] Battle of Lincoln, and routs of London and Winchester.

[] [1141-1154.]

[4] Peace of Wallingford.

  • In-text illustrations for this text are cataloged in MS004/002.001#DO01.
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