HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
WelcomeHistoryLiteratureArtMusicPhilosophyResourcesHelp
Sort By Author Sort By Title
pixel

Resources
Sort By Author
Sort By Title

Search

Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc
FEEDBACK

(C)1998-2013
All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John
Bargaining for the Crown
by Adams, George Burton


Earls and barons, whom the rumour of his illness had drawn together, surrounded the death-bed of Henry I and awaited the result. Among them was his natural son Robert of Gloucester; but his legal heiress, the daughter for whom he had done so much and risked so much, was not there. The recent attempt of her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, to gain by force the footing in Normandy which Henry had denied him, had drawn her away from her father, and she was still in Anjou. It was afterward declared that Henry on his death-bed disinherited her and made Stephen of Boulogne heir in her place; but this is not probable, and it is met by the statement which we may believe was derived directly from Robert of Gloucester, that the dying king declared his will to be still in her favour. However this may be, no steps were taken by any one in Normandy to put Matilda in possession of the duchy, or formally to recognize her right of succession. Why her brother Robert did nothing and allowed the opportunity to slip, we cannot say. Possibly he did not anticipate a hostile attempt. At Rouen, whither Henry's body was first taken, the barons adopted measures to preserve order and to guard the frontiers, which show that they took counsel on the situation; but nothing was done about the succession.

In the meantime, another person, as deeply interested in the result, did not wait for events to shape themselves. Stephen of Boulogne had been a favourite nephew of Henry I and a favourite at his uncle's court, and he had been richly provided for. The county of Mortain, usually held by some member of the ducal house, had been given him; he had shared in the confiscated lands of the house of BellÍme; and he had been married to the heiress of the practically independent county of Boulogne, which carried with it a rich inheritance in England. Henry might very well believe that gratitude would secure from Stephen as faithful a support of his daughter's cause as he expected from her brother Robert. But in this he was mistaken. Stephen acted so promptly on the news of his uncle's death that he must already have decided what his action would be.

When he heard that his uncle had died, Stephen crossed at once to England. Dover and Canterbury were held by garrisons of Earl Robert's and refused him admittance, but he pushed on by them to London. There he was received with welcome by the citizens. London was in a situation to hail the coming of any one who promised to re-establish order and security, and this was clearly the motive on which the Londoners acted in all that followed. A reign of disorder had begun as soon as it was known that the king was dead, as frequently happened in the medieval state, for the power that enforced the law, or perhaps that gave validity even to the law and to the commissions of those who executed it, was suspended while the throne was vacant. A great commercial city, such as London had grown to be during the long reign of Henry, would suffer in all its interests from such a state of things. Indeed, it appears that a body of plunderers, under one who had been a servant of the late king's, had established themselves not far from the city, and were by their operations manufacturing pressing arguments in favour of the immediate re-establishment of order. It is not necessary to seek for any further explanation of the welcome which London extended to Stephen. Immediately on his arrival a council was held in the city, probably the governing body of the city, the municipal council if we may so call it, which determined what should be done. Negotiations were not difficult between parties thus situated, and an agreement was speedily reached. The city bound itself to recognize Stephen as king, and he promised to put down disorder and maintain security. Plainly from the account we have of this arrangement, it was a bargain, a kind of business contract; and Stephen proceeded at once to show that he intended to keep his side of it by dispersing the robber band which was annoying the city and hanging its captain.

It is unnecessary to take seriously the claim of a special right to fill the throne when it was vacant, which the citizens of London advanced for themselves according to a contemporary historian of these events.29 This is surely less a claim of the citizens than one invented for them by a partisan who wishes to make Stephen's position appear as strong as possible; and no one at the time paid any attention to it. Having secured the support of London, after what can have been only a few days' stay, Stephen went immediately to Winchester. Before he could really believe himself king, he had to secure the royal treasures and more support than he had yet gained. Stephen's own brother Henry, who owed his promotion in the Church, as Stephen did his in the State, to his uncle, was at this time Bishop of Winchester; and it was due to him, as a contemporary declares, that the plan of Stephen succeeded, and the real decision of the question was made, not at London, but at Winchester.30 Henry went out with the citizens of Winchester to meet his brother on his approach, and he was welcomed as he had been at London. Present there or coming in soon after, were the Archbishop William of Canterbury, Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, the head of King Henry's administrative system, and seemingly a few, but not many, barons. On the question of making Stephen king, the good, though not strong, Archbishop of Canterbury, was greatly troubled by the oath which had been sworn in the interest of Matilda. "There are not enough of us here," his words seem to mean, "to decide upon so important a step as recognizing this man as king, when we are bound by oath to recognize another."31

Though our evidence is derived from clerical writers, who might exaggerate the importance of the point, it seems clear from a number of reasons that this oath to Matilda was really the greatest difficulty in Stephen's way. That it troubled the conscience of the lay world very much does not appear, nor that it was regarded either in Normandy or England as settling the succession. If the Norman barons had been bound by this oath as well as the English, as is altogether probable, they certainly acted as if they considered the field clear for other candidates. But it is evident that the oath was the first and greatest difficulty to be overcome in securing for Stephen the support of the Church, and this was indispensable to his success. The active condemnation of the breaking of this oath survived for a long time in the Church, and with characteristic medieval logic the fate of those few who violated their oaths and met some evil end was pointed to as a direct vengeance of God, while that of the fortunate majority of the faithless is passed over in silence, including the chief traitor Hugh Bigod, who, as Robert of Gloucester afterwards declared, had twice sworn falsely, and made of perjury an elegant accomplishment.32

If the scruples of the archbishop were to be overcome, it could not be done by increasing the number of those who were present to agree to the accession of Stephen. No material increase of the party of his adherents could be expected before the ceremony of coronation had made him actual king. It seems extremely probable that it was at this crisis of affairs, that the scheme was invented to meet the hesitation of the archbishop; and it was the only way in which it could have been overcome at the moment. Certain men stepped forward and declared that at the last Henry repented of having forced his barons to take this oath, and that he released them from it. It is hardly possible to avoid the accumulated force of the evidence which points to Hugh Bigod as the peculiarly guilty person, or to doubt it was here that he committed the perjury of which so many accused him. He is said to have sworn that Henry cut off Matilda from the succession and appointed Stephen his heir; but he probably swore to no more than is stated above.33 That Matilda was excluded would be an almost necessary inference from it, and that Stephen was appointed heir in her place natural embroidery upon it. Nor can there be any reasonable doubt, I think, that his oath was deliberately false. Who should be made to bear the guilt of this scheme, if such it was, cannot be said. It is hardly likely that Henry of Winchester had any share in it. Whether true or false, the statement removed the scruples of the archbishop and secured his consent to Stephen's accession.

With this declaration of Hugh Bigod's, however, was coupled another matter more of the nature of a positive inducement to the Church. Bishop Henry seems to have argued with much skill, and very likely to have believed himself, that if they should agree to make his brother king, he would restore to the Church that freedom from the control of the State for which it had been contending since the beginning of the reign of Henry I, and which was now represented as having been the practice in the time of their grandfather, William the Conqueror. Stephen agreed at once to the demand. He was obliged to pay whatever price was set upon the crown by those who had the disposal of it; but of all the promises which he made to secure it, this is the one which he came the nearest to keeping. He swore to "restore liberty to the Church and to preserve it," and his brother pledged himself that the oath would be kept. Besides the adhesion of the Church, Stephen secured at Winchester the royal treasure which had been accumulated by his uncle and which was not small, and the obedience of the head of the administrative system, Roger of Salisbury, who seems to have made no serious difficulty, but who excused his violation of his oath to Matilda by another pretext, as has already been mentioned, than the one furnished by Hugh Bigod.

With the new adherents whom he had gained, Stephen at once returned from Winchester to London for his formal coronation. This took place at Westminster, probably on December 22, certainly within a very few days of that date. His supporters were still a very small party in the state. Very few of the lay barons had as yet declared for him. His chief dependence must have been upon the two cities of London and Winchester, and upon the three bishops who had come to his coronation with him, and who certainly held positions of influence and power in Church and State far beyond that of the ordinary bishop. At his coronation Stephen renewed his oath to respect the liberty of the Church, and he issued a brief charter to the nation at large which is drawn up in very general terms, confirming the liberties and good laws of Henry, king of the English, and the good laws and good customs of King Edward, but this can hardly be regarded as anything more than a proclamation that he intended to make no changes, a general confirmation of existing rights at the beginning of a new reign. The Christmas festival Stephen is said to have celebrated at London with great display. His party had not yet materially grown in strength, but he was now a consecrated king, and this fait accompli, as it has been called, was undoubtedly a decided argument with many in the next few weeks.

Throughout the three weeks that had elapsed since he had learned of his uncle's death, Stephen had acted with great energy, rapidity, and courage. Nor is there anything in the course of his reign to show that he was at any time lacking in these qualities. The period of English history upon which we enter with the coronation of Stephen is not merely a dreary period, with no triumphs abroad to be recorded, nor progress at home, with much loss of what had already been gained, temporary, indeed, but threatening to be permanent. It is also one of active feudal strife and anarchy, lasting almost a generation, of the loosening of the bonds of government, and of suffering by the mass of the nation, the like of which never recurs in the whole of that history. But this misery fell upon the country in Stephen's time, not because he failed to understand the duty of a king, nor because he lacked the energy or courage which a king must have. The great defect of Stephen's character for the time in which he lived was that he yielded too easily to persuasion. Gifted with the popular qualities which win personal favour among men, he had also the weakness which so often goes with them; he could not long resist the pressure of those about him. He could not impress men with the fact that he must be obeyed. His life after his coronation was a laborious one, and he did not spare himself in his efforts to keep order and to put down rebellion; but the situation passed irrecoverably beyond his control as soon as men realized that his will was not inflexible, and that swift and certain punishment of disobedience need not be feared. Stephen was at this time towards forty years old, an age which promised mature judgment and vigorous rule. His wife, who bore the name of Matilda, so common in the Norman house, was a woman of unusual spirit and energy, and devotedly attached to him. She stood through her mother, daughter of Malcolm and Margaret of Scotland, in the same relationship to the empress Matilda that her husband did, and her descendants would therefore be equally near akin to the old Saxon dynasty as those of the Empress.

If Stephen had seized the earliest opportunity, his cousin Matilda had been scarcely less prompt, but she had acted with less decision and with less discernment of the strategic importance of England. As soon as she learned of her father's death, she entered Normandy from the south, near Domfront, and was admitted to that town and to Argentan and Exmes without opposition by the viscount of that region, who was one of King Henry's "new men" in Normandy, and who recognized her claims at once. In a few days she was followed by her husband, Geoffrey, who entered the duchy a little farther to the east, in alliance with William Talvas, who opened to him Sees and other fortified places of his fief. So far all seemed going well, though as compared with the rapidity of Stephen's progress during those same days, such successes would count but little. Then, for some unaccountable reason, Geoffrey allowed his troops to plunder the Normans and to ravage cruelly the lands which had received him as a friend. The inborn fierceness of the Normans burst out at such treatment, and the Angevins were swept out of the country with as great cruelties as they had themselves exercised. Whether this incident had any influence on the action of the Norman barons it is not possible to say, but it must have been about the same time that they met at Neubourg to decide the question of the succession. We have no account of what they did or of what motives influenced their first decision. Theobald, Count of Blois and of Champagne, Stephen's elder brother, was present apparently to urge his own claim, and him they decided, or were on the point of deciding, to recognize as duke. At this moment a messenger from Stephen arrived and announced that all the English had accepted Stephen and agreed that he should be king. This news at once settled the question for the Norman barons. The reason which we have seen acting so strongly on earlier occasions--the fear of the consequences if they should try to hold their lands of two different suzerains--was once more the controlling motive, and they determined to accept Stephen. Theobald acquiesced in this decision, though unwillingly, and retired to his own dominions, to show but little interest in the long strife which these events began.

In England the effect of Stephen's coronation soon made itself felt. Immediately after the Christmas festivities in London he went with his court to Reading, whither the body of King Henry had now been brought from Normandy. There it was interred with becoming pomp, in the presence of the new king, in the abbey which Henry had founded and richly endowed. There Stephen issued a charter which is of especial historical value. It records a grant to Miles of Gloucester, and is signed among others by Payne Fitz-John. Both these were among Henry's "new men." Miles of Gloucester especially had received large gifts from the late king, and had held important office under him. Such men would naturally support Matilda. They might be expected certainly to hesitate until her cause was hopeless. Their presence with Stephen, accepting him as king so soon after his coronation, is evidence of great value as to the drift of opinion in England about the chance of his success. The charter is evidence also of one of the difficulties in Stephen's way, and of the necessity he was under of buying support, which we have seen already and which played so great a part in the later events of his reign. The charter confirms Miles in the possession of all the grants which had been made him in the late reign, and binds the king not to bring suit against him for anything which he held at the death of Henry. The question whether a new king, especially one who was not the direct heir of his predecessor, would respect his grants was a question of great importance to men in the position of Miles of Gloucester.

At Reading, or perhaps at Oxford, where Stephen may have gone from the burial of Henry, news came to him that David, king of Scotland, had crossed the border and was taking possession of the north of England, from Carlisle to Newcastle. David professed to be acting in behalf of his niece, Matilda, and out of respect to the oath he had sworn to support her cause, and he was holding the plundering habits of his army well in check. We are told that it was with a great army that Stephen marched against him. He had certainly force enough to make it seem wise to David, who was on his way to Durham, to fall back and negotiate. Terms were quickly arranged. David would not conform to the usual rule and become Stephen's man; and Stephen, still yielding minor matters to secure the greater, did not insist. But David's son Henry did homage to Stephen, and received the earldom of Huntingdon, with a vague promise that he might be given at some later time the other part of the possessions of his grandfather, Waltheof, the earldom of Northumberland, and with the more substantial present grant of Carlisle and Doncaster. The other places which David had occupied were given up.

From the north Stephen returned to London to hold his Easter court. He was now, he might well believe, king without question, and he intended to have the Easter assembly make this plain. Special writs of summons were sent throughout England to all the magnates of Church and State; and a large and brilliant court came together in response. Charters issued at this date, when taken together, give us the names of three archbishops--one, the Archbishop of Rouen--and thirteen bishops, four being Norman, and thirty-nine barons and officers of the court who were present, including King David's son Henry, who had come with Stephen from the north. At this assembly Stephen's queen, Matilda, was crowned, and so brilliant was the display and so lavish the expenditure that England was struck with the contrast to the last reign, whose economies had in part at least accumulated the treasure which Stephen might now scatter with a free hand to secure his position. The difficulties of his task are illustrated by an incident which occurred at this court. Mindful of the necessity of conciliating Scotland, he gave to young Henry, at the Easter feast, the seat of honour at his right hand; whereupon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, offended because his claims of precedence had been set aside, left the court; and Ralph, Earl of Chester, angered because Carlisle, to which he asserted claims of hereditary right, had been made over to Henry, cried out upon the young man, and with other barons insulted him so grievously that his father David was very angry in his turn.

Immediately after the Easter festivities, the court as a body removed to Oxford. Just after Easter Robert of Gloucester, the Empress's brother, had landed in England. Stephen had been importuning him for some time to give up his sister's cause and acknowledge him as king. So far as we know, Robert had done nothing up to this time to stem the current of events, and these events were probably a stronger argument with him than Stephen's inducements. All England and practically all Normandy had accepted Stephen. The king of Scotland had abandoned the opposition. Geoffrey and Matilda had accomplished nothing, and seemed to be planning nothing. The only course that lay plainly open was to make the best terms possible with the successful usurper, and to await the further course of events. William of Malmesbury, who looked upon Earl Robert as his patron and who wrote almost as his panegyrist, thinking, perhaps, dissimulation a smaller fault than disregard of his oath, accounted for his submission to Stephen by his desire to gain an opportunity to persuade the English barons to saner counsels. This statement can hardly be taken as evidence of Robert's intention, but at any rate he now joined the court at Oxford and made his bargain with Stephen. He did him homage, and promised to be his man so long as the king should maintain him in his position and keep faith with him.

At this Oxford meeting another bargain, even more important to Stephen than his bargain with the Earl of Gloucester, was put into a form which may be not improperly called a definitive treaty. This was the bargain with the Church, to the terms of which Stephen had twice before consented. The document in which this treaty was embodied is commonly known as Stephen's second charter; and, witnessed by nearly all those who witnessed the London charters already referred to, and by the Earl of Gloucester in addition, it had the force of a royal grant confirmed by the curia regis. Nothing could prove to us more clearly than this charter how conscious Stephen was of the desperate character of the undertaking on which he had ventured, and of the vital necessity of the support of the Church. The grant is of the most sweeping sort. All that the Church had demanded in the conflict between Anselm and Henry I is freely yielded, and more. All simony shall cease, vacancies shall be canonically filled; the possessions of the Church shall be administered by its own men during a vacancy,--that is, the feudal rights which had been exercised by the last two kings are given up; jurisdiction over all ecclesiastical persons and property is abandoned to the Church; ecclesiastics shall have full power to dispose of their personal property by will; all unjust exactions, by whomsoever brought in,--including among these, no doubt, as Henry of Huntingdon expressly says, the Danegeld, which the Church had insisted ought not to be paid by its domain lands,--are to be given up. "These all I concede and confirm," the charter closes, "saving my royal and due dignity." Dignity in the modern sense might be left the king, but not much real power over the Church if this charter was to determine future law and custom. The English Church would have reached at a stroke a nearer realization of the full programme of the Hildebrandine reform than all the struggles of nearly a century had yet secured in any other land, if the king kept his promises. As a matter of fact, he did not do so entirely, though the Church made more permanent gain from the weakness of this reign than any other of the contending and rival parties.

One phrase at the beginning of this charter strikes us with surprise. In declaring how he had become king, Stephen adds to choice by clergy and people, and consecration by the archbishop, the confirmation of the pope. Since when had England, recognized the right of the pope to confirm its sovereigns or to decide cases of disputed succession? Or is the papacy securing here, from the necessities of Stephen, a greater concession than any other in the charter, a practical recognition of the claim which once Gregory VII had made of the Conqueror only to have it firmly rejected, and which the Church had not succeeded in establishing in any European land? In reality England had recognized no claim of papal overlordship, nor was any such claim in the future based upon this confirmation. The reference to the pope had been practically forced upon Stephen, whether he would have taken the step himself or not, and the circumstances made it of the highest importance to him to proclaim publicly the papal sanction of his accession. Probably immediately on hearing the news of Stephen's usurpation, Matilda had despatched to Pope Innocent II,--then residing at Pisa because Rome was in possession of his rival, Anacletus II,--an embassy headed by the Bishop of Angers, to appeal to the pope against the wicked deeds of Stephen, in that he had defrauded her of her rights and broken his oath, as William of Normandy had once appealed to the pope against the similar acts of Harold.34 At Pisa this embassy was opposed by another of Stephen's, whose spokesman was the archdeacon of Sees. It must have started at about the same time as Matilda's, and it brought to the pope the official account of the bishops who had taken part in the coronation of Stephen.

In the presence of Innocent something like a formal trial occurred. The case was argued by the champions of the two sides, on questions which it belonged to the Church to decide, or which at least the Church claimed the right to decide, the usurpation of an inheritance, and the violation of an oath. Against Matilda's claim were advanced the arguments which had already been used with effect in England, that the oath had been extorted from the barons by force, and that on his death-bed Henry had released them from it; but more than this, Stephen's advocates suddenly sprang on their opponents a new and most disconcerting argument, one which would have had great weight in any Church court, and which attacked both their claims at once. Matilda could not be the rightful heir, and so the oath itself could not be binding, because she was of illegitimate birth, being the daughter of a nun. One account of this debate represents Matilda's side as nonplussed by this argument and unable to answer it. And they might well be, for during the long generation since Henry's marriage, no question of its validity had ever been publicly raised. The sudden advancing of the doubt at this time shows, however, that it had lingered on in the minds of some in the Church. It is not likely that the point would have been in the end dangerous to Matilda's cause, for it would not have been possible to produce evidence sufficient to warrant the Church in reversing the decision which Archbishop Anselm had carefully made at the time. But the pope did not allow the case to come to a decision. He broke off the debate, and announced that he would not decide the question nor permit it to be taken up again. His caution was no doubt due to the difficult position in which Innocent was then placed, with a rival in possession of the capital of Christendom, the issue uncertain, and the support of all parties necessary to his cause. Privately, but not as an official decision, he wrote to Stephen recognizing him as king of England. The letter reveals a reason in Stephen's favour which probably availed more with the pope than all the arguments of the English embassy, the pressure of the king of France. The separation of Anjou at least, if not of Normandy also, from England, was important to the plans of France, and the support of the king was essential to the pope.

To Stephen the reasons for the pope's letter were less important than the fact that such decision as there was was in his favour. He could not do otherwise than make this public. The letter probably arrived in England just before, or at the time of, the Easter council in London. To the Church of England, in regard to the troublesome matter of the oath, it would be decisive. There could be no reason why Stephen should not be accepted as king if the pope, with full understanding of the facts, had accepted him. And so the Church was ready to enter into that formal treaty with the king which is embodied in Stephen's second charter, which is a virtual though conditional recognition of him, and which naturally, as an essential consideration, recites the papal recognition and calls it not unnaturally a confirmation, though this word may be nothing more than the mere repetition of an ecclesiastical formula set down by a clerical hand, without especial significance.

Stephen might now believe himself firmly fixed in the possession of power. His bold stroke for the crown had proved as successful as Henry I's, and everything seemed to promise as secure and prosperous a reign. The all-influential Church had declared for him, and its most influential leader was his brother Henry of Winchester, who had staked his own honour in his support. The barons of the kingdom had accepted him, and had attended his Easter court in unusual numbers as compared with anything we know of the immediately preceding reigns. Those who should have been the leaders of his rival's cause had all submitted,--her brother, Robert of Gloucester, Brian Fitz Count, Miles of Gloucester, Payne Fitz John, the Bishop of Salisbury, and his great ministerial family. The powerful house of Beaumont, the earls of Warwick and of Leicester, who held almost a kingdom in middle England, promised to be as faithful to the new sovereign as it had been to earlier ones. Even Matilda herself and her husband Geoffrey seemed to have abandoned effort, having met with no better success in their appeal to the pope than in their attack on Normandy. For more than two years nothing occurs which shakes the security of Stephen's power or which seriously threatens it with the coming of any disaster.

And yet Stephen, like Henry I, had put himself into a position which only the highest gifts of statesmanship and character could maintain, and in these he was fatally lacking. The element of weakness, which is more apparent in his case, though perhaps not more real, than in Henry's, that he was a king by "contract," as the result of various bargains, and that he might be renounced by the other parties to these bargains if he violated their terms, was only one element in a general situation which could be dominated by a strong will and by that alone. These bargains served as excuses for rebellion,--unusually good, to be sure, from a legal point of view,--but excuses are always easy to find, or are often thought unnecessary, for resistance to a king whom one may defy with impunity. The king's uncle had plainly marked out a policy which a ruler in his situation should follow at the beginning of his reign--to destroy the power of the most dangerous barons, one by one, and to raise up on their ruins a body of less powerful new men devoted to himself; but this policy Stephen had not the insight nor the strength of purpose to follow. His defect was not the lack of courage. He was conscious of his duty and unsparing of himself, but he lacked the clear sight and the fixed purpose, the inflexible determination which the position in which he had placed himself demanded. To understand the real reason for the period of anarchy which follows, to know why Stephen, with as fair a start, failed to rule as Henry I had done, one must see as clearly as possible how, in the months when his power seemed in no danger of falling, he undermined it himself through his lack of quick perception and his unsteadiness of will.

It would not be profitable to discuss here the question whether or not Stephen was a usurper. Such a discussion is an attempt to measure the acts of that time by a standard not then in use. As we now judge of such things he was a usurper; in the forum of morals he must be declared a usurper, but no one at the time accused him of any wrong-doing beyond the breaking of his oath.35 Of no king before or after is so much said, in chronicles and formal documents, of "election" as is said of Stephen; but of anything which may be called a formal or constitutional election there is no trace. The facts recorded indeed illustrate more clearly than in any other case the process by which, in such circumstances, a king came to the throne. It was clearly a process of securing the adhesion and consent, one after another, of influential men or groups of men. In this case it was plainly bargaining. In every case there was probably something of that--as much as might be necessary to secure the weight of support that would turn the scale.

Within a few days of this brilliant assembly at the Easter festival, the series of events began which was to test Stephen's character and to reveal its weakness to those who were eager in every reign of feudal times to profit by such a revelation. A rumour was in some way started that the king was dead. Instantly Hugh Bigod, who had been present at the Oxford meeting, and who had shown his own character by his willingness to take on his soul the guilt of perjury in Stephen's cause, seized Norwich castle. The incident shows what was likely always to happen on the death of the king,--the seizure of royal domains or of the possessions of weaker neighbours, by barons who hoped to gain something when the time of settlement came. Hugh Bigod had large possessions in East Anglia, and was ambitious of a greater position still. He became, indeed, in the end, earl, but without the possession of Norwich. Now he was not disposed to yield his prey, even if the king were still alive; he did so only when Stephen came against him in person, and then very unwillingly. That he received any punishment for his revolt we are not told.

Immediately after this Stephen was called to the opposite side of the kingdom by news of the local depredations of Robert of Bampton, a minor baron of Devonshire. His castle was speedily captured, and he was sent into exile. But greater difficulties were at hand in that region. A baron of higher rank, Baldwin of Redvers, whose father before him, and himself in succession, had been faithful adherents of Henry I from the adventurous and landless days of that prince, seized the castle of Exeter and attempted to excite a revolt, presumably in the interests of Matilda. The inhabitants of Exeter refused to join him, and sent at once to Stephen for aid, which was hurriedly despatched and arrived just in time to prevent the sacking of the town by the angry rebel. Here was a more important matter than either of the other two with which the king had had to deal, and he sat down to the determined siege of the castle. It was strongly situated on a mass of rock, and resisted the king's earlier attacks until, after three months, the garrison was brought to the point of yielding by want of water. At first Stephen, by the advice of his brother Henry, insisted upon unconditional surrender, even though Baldwin's wife came to him in person and in great distress to move his pity. But now, as in Henry I's attack on Robert of BellÍme at the beginning of his reign, another influence made itself felt. The barons in Stephen's camp began to put pressure on the king to induce him to grant favourable terms. We know too little of the actual circumstances to be able to say to what extent Stephen was really forced to yield. In the more famous incident at Bridgenorth Henry had the support of the English common soldiers in his army. Here nothing is said of them, or of any support to the king. But with or without support, he yielded. The garrison of the castle were allowed to go free with all their personal property. Whether this was a concession which in the circumstances Stephen could not well refuse, or an instance of his easy yielding to pressure, of which there are many later, the effect was the same. Contemporary opinion declared it to be bad policy, and dated from it more general resistance to the king. It certainly seems clear from these cases, especially from the last, that Stephen had virtually given notice at the beginning of his reign that rebellion against him was not likely to be visited with the extreme penalty. Baldwin of Redvers did not give up the struggle with the surrender of Exeter castle. He had possessions in the Isle of Wight, and he fortified himself there, got together some ships, and began to prey on the commerce of the channel. Stephen followed him up, and was about to invade the island when he appeared and submitted. This time he was exiled, and crossing over to Normandy he took refuge at the court of Geoffrey and Matilda, where he was received with a warm welcome.

For the present these events were not followed by anything further of a disquieting nature. To all appearances Stephen's power had not been in the least affected. From the coast he went north to Brampton near Huntingdon, to amuse himself with hunting. There he gave evidence of how strong he felt himself to be, for he held a forest assize and tried certain barons for forest offences. In his Oxford charter he had promised to give up the forests which Henry had added to those of the two preceding kings, but he had not promised to hold no forest assizes, and he could not well surrender them. There was something, however, about his action at Brampton which was regarded as violating his "promise to God and to the people"; and we may regard it, considering the bitterness of feeling against the forest customs, especially on the part of the Church, as evidence that he felt himself very secure, and more important still as leading to the belief that he would not be bound by his promises.

A somewhat similar impression must have been made at about this time, the impression at least that the king was trying to make himself strong enough to be independent of his pledges, if he wished, by the fact that he was collecting about him a large force of foreign mercenaries, especially men from Britanny and Flanders. From the date of the Conquest itself, the paid soldier, the mercenary drawn from outside the dominions of the sovereign, had been constantly in use in England, not merely in the armies of the king, but sometimes in the forces of the greater barons, and had often been a main support in both cases. When kept under a strong control, the presence of mercenaries had given rise to no complaints; indeed, it is probable that in the later part of reigns like those of William I and Henry I their number had been comparatively insignificant. But in a reign in which the king was dependent on their aid and obliged to purchase their support by allowing them liberties, as when William II proposed to play the tyrant, or in the time of Stephen from the weakness of the king, complaints are frequent of their cruelties and oppressions, and the defenceless must have suffered whatever they chose to inflict. The contrast of the reign of Stephen, in the conduct and character of the foreigners in England, with that of Henry, was noted at the time. In the commander of his mercenaries, William of Ypres, who had been one of the unsuccessful pretenders to the countship of Flanders some years before, Stephen secured one of his most faithful and ablest adherents.

In the meantime a series of events in Wales during this same year was revealing another side of Stephen's character, his lack of clear political vision, his failure to grasp the real importance of a situation. At the very beginning of the year, the Welsh had revolted in South Wales, and won a signal victory. From thence the movement spread toward the west and north, growing in success as it extended. Battles were won in the field, castles and towns were taken, leaders among the Norman baronage were slain, and the country was overrun. It looked as if the tide which had set so steadily against the Welsh had turned at last, at least in the south-west, and as if the Norman or Flemish colonists might be driven out. But Stephen did not consider the matter important enough to demand his personal attention, even after he was relieved of his trouble with Baldwin of Redvers, though earlier kings had thought less threatening revolts sufficiently serious to call for great exertions on their part. He sent some of his mercenaries, but they accomplished nothing; and he gave some aid to the attempts of interested barons to recover what had been lost, with no better result. Finally, we are told by the writer most favourable to Stephen's reputation, he resolved to expend no more money or effort on the useless attempt, but to leave the Welsh to weaken themselves by their quarrels among themselves.36 The writer declares the policy successful, but we can hardly believe it was so regarded by those who suffered from it in the disasters of this and the following year, or by the barons of England in general.

It might well be the case that Stephen's funds were running low. The heavy taxes and good management of his uncle had left him a full treasury with which to begin, but the demands upon it had been great. Much support had undoubtedly been purchased outright by gifts of money. The brilliant Easter court had been deliberately made a time of lavish display; mercenary troops could have been collected only at considerable cost; and the siege of Exeter castle had been expensive as well as troublesome. Stephen's own possessions in England were very extensive, and the royal domains were in his hands; but the time was rapidly coming when he must alienate these permanent sources of supply, lands and revenues, to win and hold support. It was very likely this lack of ready money which led Stephen to the second violation of his promises, if the natural interpretation of the single reference to the fact is correct.37 In November of this year, 1136, died William of Corbeil, who had been Archbishop of Canterbury for thirteen years and legate of the pope in England for nearly as long. Officers of the king took possession of his personal property, which Stephen had promised the Church should dispose of, and found hidden away too large a store of coin for the archbishop's reputation as a perfect pastor, for he should have distributed it in his lifetime and then it would have gone to the poor and to his own credit.

Whatever opinion about Stephen might be forming in England during this first year of his reign, from his violation of his pledges, or his determination to surround himself with foreign troops, or his selfish sacrificing of national interests, or his too easy dealing with revolt, there was as yet no further movement against him. Nobody seemed disposed to question his right to reign or to withhold obedience, and he could, without fear of the consequences, turn his attention to Normandy to secure as firm possession of the duchy as he now had of the kingdom. About the middle of Lent, 1137, Stephen crossed to Normandy, and remained there till Christmas of the same year. Normandy had accepted him the year before, as soon as it knew the decision of England, but there had been no generally recognized authority to represent the sovereign, and some parts of the duchy had suffered severely from private war. In the south-east, the house of Beaumont, Waleran of Meulan and Robert of Leicester, were carrying on a fierce conflict with Roger of Tosny. In September, 1136, central Normandy was the scene of another useless and savage raid of Geoffrey of Anjou, accompanied by William, the last duke of Aquitaine, William Talvas, and others. They penetrated the country as far as Lisieux, treating the churches and servants of God, says Orderic Vitalis, after the manner of the heathen, but were obliged to retreat; and finally, though he had been joined by Matilda, Geoffrey, badly wounded, abandoned this attempt also and returned to Anjou.

The general population of the duchy warmly welcomed the coming of Stephen, from whom they hoped good things and especially order; but the barons seem to have been less enthusiastic. They resented his use of Flemish soldiers and the influence of William of Ypres, and they showed themselves as disposed as in England to prevent the king from gaining any decisive success. Still, however, there was no strong party against him, and Stephen seemed to be in acknowledged control of the duchy, even if it was not a strong control. In May he had an interview with Louis VI of France, and was recognized by him as duke, on the same terms as Henry I had been, his son Eustace doing homage in his stead. This arrangement with France shows the strength of Stephen's position, though the acknowledgment was no doubt dictated as well by the policy of Louis, but events of the same month showed Stephen's real weakness. In May Geoffrey attempted a new invasion with four hundred knights, this time intending the capture of Caen. But Stephen's army, the Flemings under William of Ypres, and the forces of some of the Norman barons, blocked the way. William was anxious to fight, but the Normans refused, and William with his Flemings left them in disgust and joined Stephen. Geoffrey, however, gave up his attempt on Caen and drew back to Argentan. In June, on Stephen's collecting an army to attack Geoffrey, the jealousies between the Normans and the hired soldiers broke out in open fighting, many were slain, and the Norman barons withdrew from the army. Geoffrey and Stephen were now both ready for peace. Geoffrey, it is said, despaired of accomplishing anything against Stephen, so great was his power and wealth; and Stephen, on the contrary, must have been influenced by the weakness which recent events had revealed. In July a truce for two years was agreed to between them.

Closely connected with these events, but in exactly what way we do not know, were others which show us something of the relations between the king and the Earl of Gloucester, and which seem to indicate the growth of suspicion on both sides. Robert had not come to Normandy with Stephen, but on his departure he had followed him, crossing at Easter. What he had been doing in England since he had made his treaty with the king at Oxford, or what he did in Normandy, where he had extensive possessions, we do not know; but the period closes with an arrangement between him and Stephen which looks less like a renewal of their treaty than a truce. In the troubles in the king's army during the summer campaign against Geoffrey, Robert was suspected of treason. At one time William of Ypres set some kind of a trap for him, in which he hoped to take him at a disadvantage, but failed. The outcome of whatever happened was, evidently that Stephen found himself placed in a wrong and somewhat dangerous position, and was obliged to take an oath that he would attempt nothing further against the earl, and to pledge his faith in the hand of the Archbishop of Rouen. Robert accepted the new engagements of the king in form, and took no open steps against him for the present; but it is clear that the relation between them was one of scarcely disguised suspicion. It was a situation with which a king like Henry I would have known how to deal, but a king like Henry I would have occupied by this time a stronger position from which to move than Stephen did, because his character would have made a far different impression.

While these events were taking place in Normandy, across the border in France other events were occurring, to be in the end of as great interest in the history of England as in that of France. When William, Duke of Aquitaine, returned from his expedition with Geoffrey, he seems to have been troubled in his conscience by his heathenish deeds in Normandy, and he made a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella to seek the pardon of heaven. In this he seemed to be successful, and he died there before the altar of the apostle, with all the comforts of religion. When he knew that his end was approaching, he besought his barons to carry out the plan which he had formed of conveying the duchy to the king of France, with the hand of his daughter and heiress Eleanor for his son Louis. The proposition was gladly accepted, the marriage took place in July at Bordeaux, and the young sovereign received the homage of the vassals of a territory more than twice his father's in area, which was thus united with the crown. Before the bridal pair could return to Paris, the reign of Louis VI had ended, and Louis the Young had become king as Louis VII. He was at this time about seventeen years old. His wife was two years younger, and Henry of Anjou, the son of Matilda, whose life was to be even more closely associated with hers, had not yet finished his fifth year.

During Stephen's absence in Normandy there had been nothing to disturb the peace of England. Soon after his departure the king of Scotland had threatened to invade the north, but Thurstan, the aged Archbishop of York, went to meet him, and persuaded him to agree to a truce until the return of King Stephen from Normandy. This occurred not long before Christmas. Most of the barons of Normandy crossed over with him, but Robert of Gloucester again took his own course and remained behind. There was business for Stephen in England at once. An embassy from David of Scotland waited on him and declared the truce at an end unless he were prepared to confer the half-promised earldom of Northumberland on Henry without further delay. Another matter, typical of Stephen and of the times, demanded even earlier attention. Stephen owed much, as had all the Norman kings, to the house of Beaumont, and he now attempted to make some return. Simon of Beauchamp, who held the barony of Bedford and the custody of the king's castle in that town, had died shortly before, leaving a daughter only. In the true style of the strong kings, his predecessors, Stephen proposed, without consulting the wishes of the family, to bestow the hand and inheritance of the heiress on Hugh, known as "the Poor," because he was yet unprovided for, brother of Robert of Leicester and Waleran of Meulan, and to give him the earldom of Bedford. The castle had been occupied with his consent by Miles of Beauchamp, Simon's nephew, and to him Stephen sent orders to hand the castle over to Hugh and to do homage to the new Earl of Bedford for whatever he held of the king. It was to this last command apparently that Miles especially objected, and he refused to surrender the castle unless his own inheritance was secured to him. In great anger, Stephen collected a large army and began the siege of the castle, perhaps on Christmas day itself. The castle was stoutly defended. The siege had to be turned into a blockade. Before it ended the king was obliged to go away to defend the north against the Scots. After a siege of five weeks the castle was surrendered to Bishop Henry of Winchester, who seems for some reason to have opposed his brother's action in the case from the beginning.

Footnotes

[29] Gesta Stephani, 5.

[30] W. Malm., Hist. Nov., sec. 460.

[31] Gesta Stefhani, 8.

[32] Henry of Huntingdon, 270.

[33] See Round, G. de Mandeville, 6.

[34] Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, 250-261; and BŲhmer, Kirche und Staat, 333-335.

[35] Freeman, Norman Conquest, Vol. V, App. DD., is right in calling attention to the fact but wrong in the use he makes of it.

[36] Gesta Stephani, 14.

[37] Ibid., 7.

Personae

Terms Defined

Referenced Works