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The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John
Feudalism Under A Weak King
by Adams, George Burton


The year 1138, which began with the siege of Bedford castle, has to be reckoned as belonging to the time when Stephen's power was still to all appearance unshaken. But it is the beginning of the long period of continuous civil warfare which ended only a few months before his death. Judgment had already been passed upon him as a king. It is clear that certain opinions about him, of the utmost importance as bearing on the future, had by this time fixed themselves in the minds of those most interested--that severe punishment for rebellion was not to be feared from him; that he was not able to carry through his will against strong opposition, or to force obedience; and that lavish grants of money and lands were to be extorted from him as a condition of support. The attractive qualities of Stephen's personality were not obscured by his faults or overlooked in passing this judgment upon him, for chroniclers unfavourable to him show the influence of them in recording their opinion of his weakness; but the general verdict is plainly that which was stated by the Saxon Chronicle under the year 1137, in saying that "he was a mild man, and soft, and good, and did no justice." Such traits of character in the sovereign created conditions which the feudal barons of any land would be quick to use to their own advantage.

The period which follows must not be looked upon as merely the strife between two parties for the possession of the crown. It was so to the candidates themselves; it was so to the most faithful of their supporters. But to a large number of the barons most favourably situated, or of those who were most unprincipled in pursuit of their own gain, it was a time when almost anything they saw fit to demand might be won from one side or the other, or from both alternately by well-timed treason. It was the time in the history of England when the continental feudal principality most nearly came into existence,--the only time after the Conquest when several great dominions within the state, firmly united round a local chief, obtained a virtual, or even it may be a formal, independence of the sovereign's control. These facts are quite as characteristic of the age as the struggle for the crown, and they account for the continuance of the conflict more than does the natural balance of the parties. No triumph for either side was possible, and the war ended only when the two parties agreed to unite and to make common cause against those who in reality belonged to neither of them.

From the siege of Bedford castle, Stephen had been called to march to the north by the Scottish invasion, which early in January followed the failure of David's embassy. All Scottish armies were mixed bodies, but those of this period were so not merely because the population of Scotland was mixed, but because of the presence of foreign soldiers and English exiles, and many of them were practically impossible to control. Portions of Northumberland down to the Tyne were ravaged with the usual barbarities of Scottish warfare before the arrival of Stephen. On his coming David fell back across the border, and Stephen made reprisals on a small district of southern Scotland. But his army would not support him in a vigorous pushing of the campaign. The barons did not want to fight in Lent, it seemed. Evidences of more open treason appear also to have been discovered, and Stephen, angry but helpless, was obliged to abandon further operations.

Shortly after Easter David began a new invasion, and at about the same time rebellion broke out in the south-west of England, in a way that makes the suspicion natural that the two events were parts of a concerted movement in favour of Matilda. This second Scottish invasion was hardly more than a border foray, though it penetrated further into the country than the first, and laid waste parts of Durham and Yorkshire. Lack of discipline in the Scottish army prevented any wider success. The movement in the south-west, however, proved more serious, and from it may be dated the beginning of continuous civil war. Geoffrey Talbot, who had accepted Stephen two years before, revolted and held Hereford castle against him. From Gloucester, where he was well received, the king advanced against Hereford about the middle of May, and took the castle after a month's blockade, letting the garrison off without punishment, Talbot himself having escaped the siege. But by the time this success had been gained, or soon after, the rebellion had spread much wider.

Whether the insurrection in the south and west had become somewhat general before, or was encouraged by it to begin, the chief event connected with it was the formal notice which Robert of Gloucester served on the king, by messengers from Normandy, who reached Stephen about the middle of June, that his allegiance was broken off. A beginning of rebellion, at least, as in England, had occurred somewhat earlier across the channel. In May Count Waleran of Meulan and William of Ypres had gone back to Normandy to put down the disturbances there. In June, Geoffrey of Anjou entered the duchy again with an armed force, and is said to have persuaded Robert to take the side of his sister. Probably Robert had quite as much as Geoffrey to do with the concerted action which seems to have been adopted, and himself saw that the time had come for an open stand. He had been taking counsel of the Church on the ethics of the case. Numerous churchmen had informed him that he was endangering his chances of eternal life by not keeping his original oath. He had even applied to the pope, and had been told, in a written and formal reply, that he was under obligation to keep the oath which he had sworn in the presence of his father. Whether Innocent II was deciding an abstract question of morals in this answer, or was moved by some temporary change of policy, it is impossible to say. Robert's conscience was not troubled by the oath he had taken to Stephen except because it was in violation of the earlier one. That had been a conditional oath, and Robert declared that Stephen had not kept the terms of the agreement; besides he had no right to be king and therefore no right to demand allegiance. Robert's possessions in England were so wide, including the strong castles of Bristol and Dover, and his influence over the baronage was so great, that his defection, though Stephen must have known for some time that it was probable, was a challenge to a struggle for the crown more desperate than the king had yet experienced.

It is natural to suppose that the many barons who now declared against the king, and fortified their castles, were influenced by a knowledge of Robert's action, or at least by a knowledge that it was coming. No one of these was of the rank of earl. William Peverel, Ralph Lovel, and Robert of Lincoln, William Fitz John, William of Mohun, Ralph Paganel, and William Fitz Alan, are mentioned by name as holding castles against the king, besides a son of Robert's and Geoffrey Talbot who were at Bristol, and Walkelin Maminot who held Dover. The movement was confined to the southwest, but as a beginning it was not to be neglected. Stephen acted with energy. He seized Robert's lands and destroyed his castles wherever he could get at them. A large military force was summoned. The queen was sent to besiege Dover castle, and she drew from her county of Boulogne a number of ships sufficient to keep up the blockade of the harbour. The king himself advanced from London, where he had apparently gone from Hereford to collect his army and arrange his plans, against Bristol which was the headquarters of Robert's party.

Bristol was strong by nature, protected by two rivers and open to the sea, and it had been strongly fortified and prepared for resistance. There collected the main force of the rebels, vassals of Robert, or men who, like Geoffrey Talbot, had been dispossessed by Stephen, and many mercenaries and adventurers. Their resources were evidently much less than their numbers, and probably to supply their needs as well as to weaken their enemies they began the ravaging of the country and those cruel barbarities quickly imitated by the other side, and by many barons who rejoiced in the dissolution of public authority--the plundering of the weak by all parties--from which England suffered so much during the war. The lands of the king and of his supporters were systematically laid waste. Cattle were driven off, movable property carried away, and men subjected to ingenious tortures to force them to give up the valuables they had concealed. Robert's son, Philip Gai, acquired the reputation of a skilful inventor of new cruelties. These plundering raids were carried to a distance from the city, and men of wealth were decoyed or kidnapped into Bristol and forced to give up their property. The one attempt of these marauders which was more of the nature of regular warfare, before the king's approach, illustrates their methods as well. Geoffrey Talbot led an attack on Bath, hoping to capture the city, but was himself taken and held a prisoner. On the news of this a plot was formed in Bristol for his release. A party was sent to Bath, who besought the bishop to come out and negotiate with them, promising under oath his safe return; but when he complied they seized him and threatened to hang him unless Geoffrey were released. To this the bishop, in terror of his life, at last agreed. Stephen shortly after came to Bath on his march against Bristol, and was with difficulty persuaded not to punish the bishop by depriving him of his office.

Stephen found a difficult task before him at Bristol. Its capture by assault was impracticable. A siege would have to be a blockade, and this it would be very hard to make effective because of the difficulty of cutting off the water communication. Stephen's failure to command the hearty and honest support of his own barons is also evident here as in almost every other important undertaking of his life. All sorts of conflicting advice were given him, some of it intentionally misleading we are told.38 Finally he was persuaded that it would be better policy to give up the attempt on Bristol for the present, and to capture as many as possible of the smaller castles held by the rebels. In this he was fairly successful. He took Castle Gary and Harptree, and, after somewhat more prolonged resistance, Shrewsbury, which was held by William Fitz Alan, whose wife was Earl Robert's niece. In this last case Stephen departed from his usual practice and hanged the garrison and its commander. The effect of this severity was seen at once. Many surrenders and submissions took place, including, probably at this time, the important landing places of Dover and Wareham.

In the meantime, at almost exactly the date of the surrender of Shrewsbury, affairs in the north had turned even more decidedly in the king's favour. About the end of July, King David of Scotland, very likely as a part of the general plan of attack on Stephen, had crossed the borders into England, for the third time this year, with a large army gathered from all his dominions and even from beyond. Treason to Stephen, which had before been suspected, now in one case at least openly declared itself. Eustace Fitz John, brother of Payne Fitz John, and like him one of Henry I's new men who had been given important trusts in the north, but who had earlier in the year been deprived by Stephen of the custody of Bamborough Castle on suspicion, joined King David with his forces, and arranged to give up his other castles to him. David with his motley host came on through Northumberland and Durham, laying waste the land and attacking the strongholds in his usual manner. On their side the barons of the north gathered in York at the news of this invasion, the greatest danger of the summer, but found themselves almost in despair at the prospect. Stephen, occupied with the insurrection in the south, could give them no aid, and their own forces seemed unequal to the task. Again the aged Archbishop Thurstan came forward as the real leader in the crisis. He pictured the sacred duty of defence, and under his influence barons and common men alike were roused to a holy enthusiasm, and the war became a crusade. He promised the levies of the parishes under the parish priests, and was with difficulty dissuaded, though he was ill, from encouraging in person the warriors on the battlefield itself. A sacred banner was given them under which to fight--the standard from which this most famous battle of Stephen's reign gets its name--a mast erected on a wagon, carrying the banners of St. Peter of York, St. John of Beverly, and St. Wilfrid of Ripon, and with a pyx at the top containing the Host, that, "present in his body with them, Christ might be their leader in the battle." The army was full of priests and higher clergy, who moved through the ranks before the fighting began, stimulating the high religious spirit with which all were filled.

The list of the barons who gathered to resist this invasion contains an unusual number of names famous in the later history of England. The leader, from his age and experience and the general respect in which he was held, was Walter Espec; the highest in rank was William of Aumale. Others were Robert of Bruce, William of Percy, Ilbert of Lacy, Richard of Courcy, Robert of Stuteville, William Fossard, Walter of Ghent, and Roger of Mowbray, who was too young, men thought, to be in battle. Stephen had sent a small reinforcement under Bernard of Balliol, and Robert of Ferrers was there from Derbyshire, and William Peverel even, though his castles were at the time defying the king in the further south. As the armies were drawing near each other, Bruce and Balliol went together to remind the Scottish king of all that his family owed to the kings of England, and to persuade him to turn back, but they were hailed as traitors because they owed a partial allegiance to Scotland, and their mission came to nothing.

The battle was fought early in the day on August 22 near Northallerton. The English were drawn up in a dense mass round their standard, all on foot, with a line of the best-armed men on the outside, standing "shield to shield and shoulder to shoulder," locked together in a solid ring, and behind them the archers and parish levies. Against this "wedge" King David would have sent his men-at-arms, but the half-naked men of Galloway demanded their right to lead the attack. "No one of these in armour will go further to-day than I will," cried a chieftain of the highlands, and the king yielded. But their fierce attack was in vain against the "iron wall"; they only shattered themselves. David's son Henry made a gallant though badly executed attempt to turn the fortunes of the day, but this failed also, and the Scottish army was obliged to withdraw defeated to Carlisle. There was little pursuit, but the Scottish loss was heavy, and great spoil of baggage and armour abandoned in their hasty retreat was gathered by the English. David did not at once give up the war, but the capture of Wark and a few border forays of subordinates were of no influence on the result. The great danger of a Scottish conquest of the north or invasion of central England was for the present over.

In a general balance of the whole year we must say that the outcome was in favour of Stephen. The rebellion had not been entirely subdued. Bristol still remained a threatening source of future danger. Stephen himself had given the impression of restless but inefficient energy, of rushing about with great vigour from one place to another, to besiege one castle or another, but of accomplishing very little. As compared with the beginning of the year he was not so strong or so secure as he had been; yet still there was no serious falling off of power. There was nothing in the situation which threatened his fall, or which would hold out to his enemies any good hope of success. In Normandy the result of the year was but little less satisfactory. Geoffrey's invasion in June had been checked and driven back by Count Waleran and William of Ypres. In the autumn the attempt was renewed, and with no better result, though Argentan remained in Geoffrey's hands. The people of the duchy had suffered as much as those of England from private war and unlicensed pillage, but while such things indicated the weakness of authority they accomplished little towards its overthrow.

During this year, 1138, Stephen adopted a method of strengthening himself which was imitated by his rival and by later kings, and which had a most important influence on the social and constitutional history of England. We have noticed already his habit of lavish gifts. Now he began to include the title of earl among the things to be given away to secure fidelity. Down to this time the policy of William the Conqueror had been followed by his successors, and the title had been very sparingly granted. Stephen's first creation was the one already mentioned, that of Hugh "the Poor," of Beaumont, as Earl of Bedford, probably just at the end of 1137. In the midst of the insurrection of the south-west, Gilbert of Clare, husband of the sister of the three Beaumont earls, was made Earl of Pembroke. As a reward for their services in defeating King David at the battle of the standard, Robert of Ferrers was made Earl of Derby, and William of Aumale Earl of Yorkshire. Here were four creations in less than a year, only a trifle fewer than the whole number of earls in England in the last years of Henry I. In the end Stephen created nine earls. Matilda followed him with six others, and most of these new titles survived the period in the families on which they were conferred. It is from Stephen's action that we may date the entry of this title into English history as a mark of rank in the baronage, more and more freely bestowed, a title of honour to which a family of great possessions or influence might confidently aspire. But it must be remembered that the earldoms thus created are quite different from those of the Anglo-Saxon state or from the countships of France. They carried with them increase of social consideration and rank, usually some increase of wealth in grants from crown domains accompanying the creation, and very probably increased influence in state and local affairs, but they did not of themselves, without special grant, carry political functions or power, or any independence of position. They meant rank and title simply, not office.

Just at the close of the year the archbishopric of Canterbury was filled, after being a twelvemonth in the king's hands. During the vacancy the pope had sent the Bishop of Ostia as legate to England. He had been received without objection, had made a visitation of England, and at Carlisle had been received by the Scottish king as if that city were a part of his kingdom. The ambition of Henry of Winchester to become primate of Britain was disappointed. He had made sure of the succession, and seems actually to have exercised some metropolitan authority; perhaps he had even been elected to the see during the time when his brother's position was in danger. But now Stephen declared himself firmly against his preferment, and the necessary papal sanction for his translation from one see to another was not granted. Theobald, Abbot of Bec, was elected by a process which was in exact accordance with that afterwards described in the Constitutions of Clarendon, following probably the lines of the compromise between Henry and Anselm;39 and he departed with the legate to receive his pallium, and to attend with other bishops from England the council which had been called by the pope. If Stephen's refusal to allow his brother's advancement had been a part of a systematic policy, carefully planned and firmly executed, of weakening and finally overthrowing the great ecclesiastics and barons of England who were so strong as to be dangerous to the crown, it would have been a wise act and a step towards final success. But an isolated case of the sort, or two or three, badly connected and not plainly parts of a progressive policy, could only be exasperating and in truth weakening to himself. We are told that Henry's anger inclined him to favour the Empress against his brother, and though it may not have been an actual moving cause, the incident was probably not forgotten when the question of supporting Matilda became a pressing one.

The year 1139, which was destined to see the king destroy by his own act all prospect of a secure and complete possession of the throne, opened and ran one-half its course with no change of importance in the situation. In April, Queen Matilda, who was in character and abilities better fitted to rule over England than her husband, succeeded in making peace with King David of Scotland, who stood in the same relation to her as to the other Matilda, the Empress, since she was the daughter of his sister Mary. The earldom of Northumberland was at last granted to Henry, except the two strong castles of Newcastle and Barnborough, and under certain restrictions, and the Scots gave hostages for the keeping of the peace. At the same date, in the great Lateran council at Rome, to which the English bishops had gone with the legate, the pope seems to have put his earlier decision in favour of Stephen into formal and public shape. In Stephen's mind this favour of the pope's was very likely balanced by another act of his which had just preceded it, by which Henry of Winchester had been created papal legate in England. By this appointment he was given supreme power over the English Church, and gained nearly all that he had hoped to get by becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. Personally Stephen was occupied during the early months of the year, as he had been the year before, in attacking the castles which were held against him; but in the most important case, the siege of Ludlow castle, he met with no success.

At the end of June the great council of the kingdom came together at Oxford, and there it was that Stephen committed the fatal mistake which turned the tide of affairs against him. Of all the men who had been raised to power in the service of Henry I, none occupied so commanding a position as Roger, Bishop of Salisbury. As a priest he had attracted the attention of Henry before he became king by the quickness with which he got through the morning mass; he was taken into his service, and steadily rose higher and higher until he became the head of the whole administrative system, standing next to the king when he was in England, and exercising the royal authority, as justiciar, when he was absent. In his rise he had carried his family with him. His nephew Alexander was Bishop of Lincoln. Another nephew Nigel was Bishop of Ely. His son Roger was chancellor of the kingdom. The administrative and financial system was still in the hands of the family. The opportunities which they had enjoyed for so many years to enrich themselves from the public revenues, very likely as a tacitly recognized part of the payment of their services, they had not neglected. But they had gone further than this. Evidently with some ulterior object in view, but with precisely what we can only guess, they had been strengthening royal castles in their hands, and even building new ones. That bishops should fortify castles of their own, like barons, was not in accordance with the theory of the Church, nor was it in accordance with the custom in England and Normandy. The example had been followed apparently by Henry of Winchester, who had under his control half a dozen strongholds. The situation would in itself, and in any circumstances, be a dangerous one. In the present circumstances the suspicion would be natural that a family which owed so much to King Henry was secretly preparing to aid his daughter in an attempt to gain the throne, and this suspicion was generally held by the king's party. To this may be added the fact that, in the blow which he now struck, we very possibly have an attempt on Stephen's part to carry further the policy of weakening, in the interest of the crown, the too strong ecclesiastical and baronial element in the state, which he had begun in refusing the archbishopric of Canterbury to his brother. The wealth of the family may have been an additional incentive, and intrigues against these bishops by the powerful house of Beaumont are mentioned. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the Beaumonts were not acting, as they had so often done, in the real interests of the king, which plainly demanded the breaking up of this threatening power. There was nothing to indicate that the present was not a favourable time to undertake it, and the best accounts of these events give us the impression that Stephen was acting throughout with much confidence and a feeling of strength and security.

Whatever may have been his motive, Stephen's first move at the beginning of the Oxford meeting was the extreme one of ordering the arrest of bishops Roger and Alexander. The pretext for this was a street brawl between some of their men and followers of the Beaumonts, and their subsequent refusal to surrender to the king the keys of their castles. A step of this kind would need clear reasons to justify it and much real strength to make it in the end successful. Taken on what looked like a mere pretext arranged for the purpose, it was certain to excite the alarm and opposition of the Church. Stephen himself hesitated, as perhaps he would have in any circumstances. The historian most in sympathy with his cause expresses his disapproval.40 The familiar point was urged that the bishops were arrested, not as bishops, but as the king's ministers; and this would have been sufficient under a king like the first two Williams. But the arrest was not all. The bishops were treated with much indignity, and were compelled to deliver up their castles by fear of something worse. In Roger's splendid castle of Devizes were his nephew, the Bishop of Ely, who had escaped arrest at Oxford, and Maud of Ramsbury, the mother of his son Roger the Chancellor. William of Ypres forced its surrender by making ready to hang the younger Roger before the walls, and Newark castle was driven to yield by threatening to starve Bishop Alexander.

The indignation of the clergy is expressed by every writer of the time. It was probably especially bitter because Stephen was so deeply indebted to them for his success and had recently made them such extensive promises. Henry of Winchester, who may have had personal reasons for alarm, was not disposed to play the part of Lanfranc and defend the king for arresting bishops. He evidently believed that the king was not strong enough to carry through his purpose, and that the Church was in a position to force the issue upon him. Acting for the first time under his commission as legate which he had received in the spring of the year, he called a council to meet at Winchester, and summoned his brother to answer before it for his conduct. The council met on August 30. The Church was well represented. The legate's commission was read, and he then opened the subject in a Latin speech in which he denounced his brother's acts. The king was represented by Aubrey de Vere and the Archbishop of Rouen, the baron defending the king's action point by point, and the ecclesiastic denying the right of the bishops to hold castles, and maintaining the right of the king to call for them. The attempt of Henry did not succeed. His demand that the castles should be given back to the bishops until the question should be settled was refused, and the bishops were threatened with exile if they carried the case to Rome. The council ended without taking any action against the king. Some general decrees were adopted against those who laid hands on the clergy or seized their goods, but it was also declared, if we are right in attributing the action to this body, that the castles of the kingdom belonged to the king and to his barons to hold, and that the duties of the clergy lay in another direction. Stephen retained the bishops' castles and the treasures which he had found in them; and when Bishop Roger died, three months later, his personal property was seized into the king's hands.

While these events were going on, the Empress and her brother had decided that the time was favourable for a descent on England. In advance of their coming, Baldwin of Redvers landed with some force at Wareham and intrenched himself in Corfe castle against the king. Matilda and Robert landed at Arundel on the last day of September with only one hundred and forty men. Stephen had abandoned the siege of Corfe castle on the news that they were about to cross, and had taken measures to prevent their landing; but he had again turned away to something else, and their landing was unopposed. Arundel castle was in possession of Adelaide, the widowed queen of Henry I, now the wife of William of Albini. It is not possible to suppose that this place was selected for the invasion without a previous understanding; and there, in the keeping of her stepmother, Robert left his sister and set out immediately on his landing for Bristol, taking with him only twelve men. On hearing of this Stephen pursued, but failed to overtake him, and turned back to besiege Arundel castle. Then occurred one of the most astonishing events of Stephen's career--astonishing alike to his contemporaries and to us, but typical in a peculiar degree of the man.

Queen Adelaide became alarmed on the approach of Stephen, and began to take thought of what she had to lose if the king should prove successful, as there was every reason to suppose he would; and she proposed to abandon Matilda's cause and to hand her over at once to Stephen. Here was an opportunity to gain a most decided advantage--perhaps to end the whole strife. With Matilda in his hands, Stephen would have been master of the situation. He could have sent her back to Normandy and so have ended the attempt at invasion. He could have kept her in royal captivity, or have demanded the surrender of her claims as the price of her release. Instead of seizing the occasion, as a Henry or a William would certainly have done, he was filled with chivalrous pity for his cousin's strait, and sent her with an escort under Henry of Winchester and Waleran of Meulan to join her brother at Bristol. The writers of the time explain his conduct by his own chivalrous spirit, and by the treasonable persuasions of his brother Henry, who, we may believe, had now reasons for disloyalty. The chivalrous ideals of the age certainly had great power over Stephen, as they would have over any one with his popular traits of mind and manners; and his strange throwing away of this advantage was undoubtedly due to this fact, together with the readiness with which he yielded to the persuasions of a stronger spirit. The judgment of Orderic Vitalis, who was still writing in Normandy, is the final judgment of history on the act: "Surely in this permission is to be seen the great simplicity of the king or his great stupidity, and he is to be pitied by all prudent men because he was unmindful of his own safety and of the security of his kingdom."

This was the turning-point in Stephen's history. Within the brief space of two months, by two acts surprisingly ill-judged and even of folly, he had turned a position of great strength, which might easily have been made permanently secure, into one of great weakness; and so long as the struggle lasted he was never able to recover what he had lost. By his treatment of the bishops he had turned against himself the party in the state whose support had once been indispensable, and whose power to injure him he was soon to feel. By allowing Matilda and her brother to enter Bristol, he had given to all the diverse elements of opposition in England the only thing they still needed; a natural leadership, and from an impregnable position. Either of these mistakes alone might not have been fatal. Their coming together as they did made then irretrievable blunders.

No sudden falling off of strength marks the beginning of Stephen's decline. Two barons of the west who had been very closely connected with Henry I and with Robert, but who had both accepted Stephen, declared now for Matilda, Brian Fitz Count of Wallingford, and Miles of Gloucester. Other minor accessions in the neighbourhood seem to have followed. About the middle of October the Empress went on to Gloucester, where her followers terrorized city and country as they had at Bristol. Stephen conducted his counter-campaign in his usual manner, attacking place after place without waiting to finish any enterprise. The recovery of Malmesbury castle, which he had lost in October, was his only success, and this was won by persuasion rather than by arms. Hereford and Worcester suffered severely from attacks of Matilda's forces, and Hereford was captured. The occupation of Gloucester and Hereford was the most important success of the Empress's party, and with Bristol they mark the boundaries of the territory she may be said to have gained, with some outlying points like Wallingford, which the king had not been able to recover. On December 11, Bishop Roger of Salisbury died, probably never having recovered from the blow struck by Stephen in August. He had occupied a great place in the history of England, but it had been in political and constitutional, not in religious history. It may very likely have seemed to him, in the last three months of his life, that the work to which he had given himself, in the organization of the administrative and financial machinery of the government, was about to be destroyed in the ruin of his family and the anarchy of civil war; but such forebodings, if he felt them, did not prove entirely true.

The year 1140 is one of the most dreary in the slow and wearing conflict which had now begun. No event of special interest tempts us to linger upon details. The year opens with a successful attack by the king on Nigel, Bishop of Ely, who had escaped at the time of his uncle's arrest, and who was now preparing for revolt in his bishopric. Again the bishop himself escaped, and joined Matilda's party, but Stephen took possession of the Isle of Ely. An effort to add Cornwall to the revolted districts was equally unsuccessful. Reginald of Dunstanville, a natural son of Henry I, appeared there in the interest of his sister, who, imitating the methods of Stephen, created him, at this time or a little later, Earl of Cornwall; but his rule was unwise, and Stephen advancing in person had no difficulty in recovering the country. The character which the war was rapidly assuming is shown by the attempt of Robert Fitz Hubert, a Flemish mercenary, to hold the strong castle of Devizes, which he had seized by surprise, in his own interest and in despite of both parties. He fell a victim to his own methods employed against himself, and was hanged by Robert of Gloucester. In the spring a decided difference of opinion arose between the king and his brother Henry about the appointment of a successor to Roger of Salisbury, which ended in the rejection of both their candidates and a long vacancy in the bishopric. Henry of Winchester was, however, not yet ready openly to abandon the cause of his brother, and he busied himself later in the year with efforts to bring about an understanding between the opposing parties, which proved unavailing. A meeting of representatives of both sides near Bath led to no result, and a journey of Henry's to France, perhaps to bring the influence of his brother Theobald and of the king of France to bear in favour of peace, was also fruitless. During the summer Stephen gained an advantage in securing the hand of Constance, the sister of Louis VII of France, for his son Eustace, it was believed at the time by a liberal use of the treasures of Bishop Roger.

At Whitsuntide and again in August the restlessness of Hugh Bigod in East Anglia had forced Stephen to march against him. Perhaps he felt that he had not received a large enough reward for the doubtful oath which he had sworn to secure the king his crown. Stephen at any rate was now in a situation where he could not withhold rewards, or even refuse demands in critical cases; and it was probably at this time, certainly not long after, that, following the policy he had now definitely adopted, he created Hugh Earl of Norfolk. A still more important and typical case, which probably occurred in the same year, is that of Geoffrey de Mandeville. Grandson of a baron of the Conquest, he was in succession to his father, constable of the Tower in London, and so held a position of great strategic importance in turbulent times. Early in the strife for the crown he seems to have seen very clearly the opportunity for self-aggrandizement which was offered by the uncertainty of Stephen's power, and to have resolved to make the most of it for his own gain without scruple of conscience. His demand was for the earldom of Essex, and this was granted him by the king. Apparently about the same time occurred a third case of the sort which completes the evidence that the weakness of Stephen's character was generally recognized, and that in the resulting attitude of many of the greater barons we have the key to his reign. One of the virtually independent feudal principalities created in England by the Conqueror and surviving to this time was the palatine earldom of Chester. The then earl was Ralph II, in succession to his father Ralph Meschin, who had succeeded on the death of Earl Richard in the sinking of the White Ship. It had been a grievance of the first Ralph that he had been obliged by King Henry to give up his lordship of Carlisle on taking the earldom, and this grievance had been made more bitter for the second Ralph when the lordship had been transferred to the Scots. There was trouble also about the inheritance of his mother Lucy, in Lincolnshire, in which another son of hers, Ralph's half-brother, William of Roumare, was interested. We infer that toward the end of the year 1140 their attitude seemed threatening to the king, for he seems to have visited them and purchased their adherence with large gifts, granting to William the earldom of Lincoln.

Then follows rapidly the series of events which led to the crisis of the war. The brothers evidently were not yet satisfied. Stephen had retained in his hands the castle of Lincoln and this Ralph and William seized by a stratagem. Stephen, informed of what had happened by a messenger from the citizens, acted with his characteristic energy at the beginning of any enterprise, broke up his Christmas court at London, and suddenly, to the great surprise of the earls, appeared in Lincoln with a besieging army. Ralph managed to escape to raise in Chester a relieving army, and at once took a step which becomes from this time not infrequent among the barons of his stamp. He applied for help to Robert of Gloucester, whose son-in-law he was, and offered to go over to Matilda with all that he held. He was received, of course, with a warm welcome. Robert recognized the opportunity which the circumstances probably offered to strike a decisive blow, and, gathering the strongest force he could, he advanced from Gloucester against the king. On the way he was joined by the Earl of Chester, whose forces included many Welsh ready to fight in an English quarrel but badly armed. The attacking army skirted Lincoln and appeared on the high road leading to it from the north, where was the best prospect of forcing an entrance to the city.

The approach of the enemy led, as usual in Stephen's armies, to divided counsels. Some were in favour of retreating and collecting a larger army, others of fighting at once. To fight at once would be Stephen's natural inclination, and he determined to risk a battle, which he must have known would have decisive consequences. His army he drew up in three bodies across the way of approach. Six earls were with the king, reckoning the Count of Meulan, but they had not brought strong forces and there were few horsemen. Five of these earls formed the first line. The second was under William of Ypres and William of Aumale, and was probably made up of the king's foreign troops. Stephen himself, with a strong band of men all on foot, was posted in the rear. The enemy's formation was similar. The Earl of Chester claimed the right to lead the attack, because the quarrel was his, but the men upon whom Robert most depended were the "disinherited," of whom he had collected many,--men raised up by Matilda's father and cast down by Stephen, and now ready to stake all on the hope of revenge and of restoration; and these he placed in the first line. Earl Ralph led the second, and himself the third. The battle was soon over, except the struggle round the king. His first and second lines were quickly swept away by the determined charge of Robert's men and took to flight, but Stephen and his men beat off several attacks before he was finally overpowered and forced to yield. He surrendered to Robert of Gloucester. Many minor barons were taken prisoners with him, but the six earls all escaped. The citizens of Lincoln were punished for their adhesion to the king's side by a sacking of the city, in which many of them were slain. Stephen was taken to Gloucester by Robert, and then sent to imprisonment in the castle of Bristol, the most secure place which Matilda possessed.

Footnotes

[38] Gesta Stephani, 42.

[39] Gervase of Canterbury, i. 109. But see Ralph de Diceto, i. 252, n. 2, and Böhmer, Kirche und Staat, 375.

[40] Gesta Stephani, 47.

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