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History of the English People - Book II England under Foreign Kings, 1071-1204
The Norman Kings--1085-1154
by Green, John Richard (M.A.)

William the Red William and Anselm
Henry the First Henry and the Barons
Henry's rule Henry's Administration
The Angevin Marriage Anjou
Fulk the Black Death of Henry
Stephen Battle of the Standard
Seizure of the Bishops     Civil War
Religious Revival Thomas of London
Treaty of Wallingford  

William the Red

With the death of the Conqueror passed the terror which had held the barons in awe, while the severance of his dominions roused their hopes of successful resistance to the stern rule beneath which they had bowed. William bequeathed Normandy to his eldest son Robert; but William the Red, his second son, hastened with his father's ring to England where the influence of Lanfranc secured him the crown. The baronage seized the opportunity to rise in arms under pretext of supporting the claims of Robert, whose weakness of character gave full scope for the growth of feudal independence; and Bishop Odo, now freed from prison, placed himself at the head of the revolt. The new King was thrown almost wholly on the loyalty of his English subjects. But the national stamp which William had given to his kingship told at once. The English rallied to the royal standard; Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester, the one surviving bishop of English blood, defeated the insurgents in the west; while the King, summoning the freemen of country and town to his host under pain of being branded as "nithing" or worthless, advanced with a large force against Rochester where the barons were concentrated. A plague which broke out among the garrison forced them to capitulate, and as the prisoners passed through the royal army cries of "gallows and cord" burst from the English ranks. The failure of a later conspiracy whose aim was to set on the throne a kinsman of the royal house, Stephen of Albemarle, with the capture and imprisonment of its head, Robert Mowbray, the Earl of Northumberland, brought home at last to the baronage their helplessness in a strife with the King. The genius of the Conqueror had saved England from the danger of feudalism. But he had left as weighty a danger in the power which trod feudalism under foot. The power of the Crown was a purely personal power, restrained under the Conqueror by his own high sense of duty, but capable of becoming a pure despotism in the hands of his son. The nobles were at his feet, and the policy of his minister, Ranulf Flambard, loaded their estates with feudal obligations. Each tenant was held as bound to appear if needful thrice a year at the royal court, to pay a heavy fine or rent on succession to his estate, to contribute aid in case of the king's capture in war or the knighthood of the king's eldest son or the marriage of his eldest daughter. An heir who was still a minor passed into the king's wardship, and all profit from his lands went during the period of wardship to the king. If the estate fell to an heiress, her hand was at the king's disposal, and was generally sold by him to the highest bidder. These rights of "marriage" and "wardship" as well as the exaction of aids at the royal will poured wealth into the treasury while they impoverished and fettered the baronage. A fresh source of revenue was found in the Church. The same principles of feudal dependence were applied to its lands as to those of the nobles; and during the vacancy of a see or abbey its profits, like those of a minor, were swept into the royal hoard. William's profligacy and extravagance soon tempted him to abuse this resource, and so steadily did he refuse to appoint successors to prelates whom death removed that at the close of his reign one archbishoprick, four bishopricks, and eleven abbeys were found to be without pastors.

Vile as was this system of extortion and misrule but a single voice was raised in protest against it. Lanfranc had been followed in his abbey at Bec by the most famous of his scholars, Anselm of Aosta, an Italian like himself. Friends as they were, no two men could be more strangely unlike. Anselm had grown to manhood in the quiet solitude of his mountain-valley, a tenderhearted poet-dreamer, with a soul pure as the Alpine snows above him, and an intelligence keen and clear as the mountain-air. The whole temper of the man was painted in a dream of his youth. It seemed to him as though heaven lay, a stately palace, amid the gleaming hill-peaks, while the women reaping in the corn-fields of the valley became harvest-maidens of its king. They reaped idly, and Anselm, grieved at their sloth, hastily climbed the mountain side to accuse them to their lord. As he reached the palace the king's voice called him to his feet and he poured forth his tale; then at the royal bidding bread of an unearthly whiteness was set before him, and he ate and was refreshed. The dream passed with the morning; but the sense of heaven's nearness to earth, the fervid loyalty to the service of his Lord, the tender restfulness and peace in the Divine presence which it reflected lived on in the life of Anselm. Wandering like other Italian scholars to Normandy, he became a monk under Lanfranc, and on his teacher's removal to higher duties succeeded him in the direction of the Abbey of Bec. No teacher has ever thrown a greater spirit of love into his toil. "Force your scholars to improve!" he burst out to another teacher who relied on blows and compulsion. "Did you ever see a craftsman fashion a fair image out of a golden plate by blows alone? Does he not now gently press it and strike it with his tools, now with wise art yet more gently raise and shape it? What do your scholars turn into under this ceaseless beating?" "They turn only brutal," was the reply. "You have bad luck," was the keen answer, "in a training that only turns men into beasts." The worst natures softened before this tenderness and patience. Even the Conqueror, so harsh and terrible to others, became another man, gracious and easy of speech, with Anselm. But amidst his absorbing cares as a teacher, the Prior of Bec found time for philosophical speculations to which we owe the scientific inquiries which built up the theology of the Middle Ages. His famous works were the first attempts of any Christian thinker to elicit the idea of God from the very nature of the human reason. His passion for abstruse thought robbed him of food and sleep. Sometimes he could hardly pray. Often the night was a long watch till he could seize his conception and write it on the wax tablets which lay beside him. But not even a fever of intense thought such as this could draw Anselm's heart from its passionate tenderness and love. Sick monks in the infirmary could relish no drink save the juice which his hand squeezed for them from the grape-bunch. In the later days of his archbishoprick a hare chased by the hounds took refuge under his horse, and his gentle voice grew loud as he forbade a huntsman to stir in the chase while the creature darted off again to the woods. Even the greed of lands for the Church to which so many religious men yielded found its characteristic rebuke as the battling lawyers in such a suit saw Anselm quietly close his eyes in court and go peacefully to sleep.


William and Anselm

A sudden impulse of the Red King drew the abbot from these quiet studies into the storms of the world. The see of Canterbury had long been left without a Primate when a dangerous illness frightened the king into the promotion of Anselm. The Abbot, who happened at the time to be in England on the business of his house, was dragged to the royal couch and the cross forced into his hands. But William had no sooner recovered from his sickness than he found himself face to face with an opponent whose meek and loving temper rose into firmness and grandeur when it fronted the tyranny of the king. Much of the struggle between William and the Archbishop turned on questions such as the right of investiture, which have little bearing on our history, but the particular question at issue was of less importance than the fact of a contest at all. The boldness of Anselm's attitude not only broke the tradition of ecclesiastical servitude but infused through the nation at large a new spirit of independence. The real character of the strife appears in the Primate's answer when his remonstrances against the lawless exactions from the Church were met by a demand for a present on his own promotion, and his first offer of five hundred pounds was contemptuously refused. "Treat me as a free man," Anselm replied, "and I devote myself and all that I have to your service, but if you treat me as a slave you shall have neither me nor mine." A burst of the Red King's fury drove the Archbishop from court, and he finally decided to quit the country, but his example had not been lost, and the close of William's reign found a new spirit of freedom in England with which the greatest of the Conqueror's sons was glad to make terms. His exile however left William without a check. Supreme at home, he was full of ambition abroad. As a soldier the Red King was little inferior to his father. Normandy had been pledged to him by his brother Robert in exchange for a sum which enabled the Duke to march in the first Crusade for the delivery of the Holy Land, and a rebellion at Le Mans was subdued by the fierce energy with which William flung himself at the news of it into the first boat he found, and crossed the Channel in face of a storm. "Kings never drown," he replied contemptuously to the remonstrances of his followers. Homage was again wrested from Malcolm by a march to the Firth of Forth, and the subsequent death of that king threw Scotland into a disorder which enabled an army under Eadgar Ætheling to establish Eadgar, the son of Margaret, as an English feudatory on the throne. In Wales William was less triumphant, and the terrible losses inflicted on the heavy Norman cavalry in the fastnesses of Snowdon forced him to fall back on the slower but wiser policy of the Conqueror. But triumph and defeat alike ended in a strange and tragical close. In 1100 the Red King was found dead by peasants in a glade of the New Forest, with the arrow either of a hunter or an assassin in his breast.


Henry the First

Robert was at this moment on his return from the Holy Land, where his bravery had redeemed much of his earlier ill-fame, and the English crown was seized by his younger brother Henry in spite of the opposition of the baronage, who clung to the Duke of Normandy and the union of their estates on both sides the Channel under a single ruler. Their attitude threw Henry, as it had thrown Rufus, on the support of the English, and the two great measures which followed his coronation, his grant of a charter, and his marriage with Matilda, mark the new relation which this support brought about between the people and their king. Henry's Charter is important, not merely as a direct precedent for the Great Charter of John, but as the first limitation on the despotism established by the Conqueror and carried to such a height by his son. The "evil customs" by which the Red King had enslaved and plundered the Church were explicitly renounced in it, the unlimited demands made by both the Conqueror and his son on the baronage exchanged for customary fees, while the rights of the people itself, though recognized more vaguely, were not forgotten. The barons were held to do justice to their undertenants and to renounce tyrannical exactions from them, the king promising to restore order and the "law of Eadward," the old constitution of the realm, with the changes which his father had introduced. His marriage gave a significance to these promises which the meanest English peasant could understand. Edith, or Matilda, was the daughter of King Malcolm of Scotland and of Margaret, the sister of Eadgar Ætheling. She had been brought up in the nunnery of Romsey where her aunt Christina was a nun; and the veil which she had taken there formed an obstacle to her union with the King, which was only removed by the wisdom of Anselm. While Flambard, the embodiment of the Red King's despotism, was thrown into the Tower, the Archbishop's recall had been one of Henry's first acts after his accession. Matilda appeared before his court to tell her tale in words of passionate earnestness. She had been veiled in her childhood, she asserted, only to save her from the insults of the rude soldiery who infested the land, had flung the veil from her again and again, and had yielded at last to the unwomanly taunts, the actual blows of her aunt. "As often as I stood in her presence," the girl pleaded, "I wore the veil, trembling as I wore it with indignation and grief. But as soon as I could get out of her sight I used to snatch it from my head, fling it on the ground, and trample it under foot. That was the way, and none other, in which I was veiled." Anselm at once declared her free from conventual bonds, and the shout of the English multitude when he set the crown on Matilda's brow drowned the murmur of Churchman or of baron. The mockery of the Norman nobles, who nicknamed the king and his spouse Godric and Godgifu, was lost in the joy of the people at large. For the first time since the Conquest an English sovereign sat on the English throne. The blood of Cerdic and Ælfred was to blend itself with that of Hrolf and the Conqueror. Henceforth it was impossible that the two peoples should remain parted from each other; so quick indeed was their union that the very name of Norman had passed away in half a century, and at the accession of Henry's grandson it was impossible to distinguish between the descendants of the conquerors and those of the conquered at Senlac.


Henry and the Barons

Charter and marriage roused an enthusiasm among his subjects which enabled Henry to defy the claims of his brother and the disaffection of his nobles. Early in 1101 Robert landed at Portsmouth to win the crown in arms. The great barons with hardly an exception stood aloof from the king. But the Norman Duke found himself face to face with an English army which gathered at Anselm's summons round Henry's standard. The temper of the English had rallied from the panic of Senlac. The soldiers who came to fight for their king "nowise feared the Normans." As Henry rode along their lines showing them how to keep firm their shield-wall against the lances of Robert's knighthood, he was met with shouts for battle. But king and duke alike shrank from a contest in which the victory of either side would have undone the Conqueror's work. The one saw his effort was hopeless, the other was only anxious to remove his rival from the realm, and by a peace which the Count of Meulan negotiated Robert recognized Henry as King of England while Henry gave up his fief in the Cotentin to his brother the Duke. Robert's retreat left Henry free to deal sternly with the barons who had forsaken him. Robert de Lacy was stripped of his manors in Yorkshire; Robert Malet was driven from his lands in Suffolk; Ivo of Grantmesnil lost his vast estates and went to the Holy Land as a pilgrim. But greater even than these was Robert of Belesme, the son of Roger of Montgomery, who held in England the earldoms of Shrewsbury and Arundel, while in Normandy he was Count of Ponthieu and Alençon. Robert stood at the head of the baronage in wealth and power: and his summons to the King's Court to answer for his refusal of aid to the king was answered by a haughty defiance. But again the Norman baronage had to feel the strength which English loyalty gave to the Crown. Sixty thousand Englishmen followed Henry to the attack of Robert's strongholds along the Welsh border. It was in vain that the nobles about the king, conscious that Robert's fall left them helpless in Henry's hands, strove to bring about a peace. The English soldiers shouted "Heed not these traitors, our lord King Henry," and with the people at his back the king stood firm. Only an early surrender saved Robert's life. He was suffered to retire to his estates in Normandy, but his English lands were confiscated to the Crown. "Rejoice, King Henry," shouted the English soldiers, "for you began to be a free king on that day when you conquered Robert of Belesme and drove him from the land." Master of his own realm and enriched by the confiscated lands of the ruined barons Henry crossed into Normandy, where the misgovernment of the Duke had alienated the clergy and tradesfolk, and where the outrages of nobles like Robert of Belesme forced the more peaceful classes to call the king to their aid. In 1106 his forces met those of his brother on the field of Tenchebray, and a decisive English victory on Norman soil avenged the shame of Hastings. The conquered duchy became a dependency of the English crown, and Henry's energies were frittered away through a quarter of a century in crushing its revolts, the hostility of the French, and the efforts of his nephew William, the son of Robert, to regain the crown which his father had lost.


Henry's rule

With the victory of Tenchebray Henry was free to enter on that work of administration which was to make his reign memorable in our history. Successful as his wars had been he was in heart no warrior but a statesman, and his greatness showed itself less in the field than in the council chamber. His outer bearing like his inner temper stood in marked contrast to that of his father. Well read, accomplished, easy and fluent of speech, the lord of a harem of mistresses, the centre of a gay court where poet and jongleur found a home, Henry remained cool, self-possessed, clear-sighted, hard, methodical, loveless himself, and neither seeking nor desiring his people's love, but wringing from them their gratitude and regard by sheer dint of good government. His work of order was necessarily a costly work; and the steady pressure of his taxation, a pressure made the harder by local famines and plagues during his reign, has left traces of the grumbling it roused in the pages of the English Chronicle. But even the Chronicler is forced to own amidst his grumblings that Henry "was a good man, and great was the awe of him." He had little of his father's creative genius, of that far-reaching originality by which the Conqueror stamped himself and his will on the very fabric of our history. But he had the passion for order, the love of justice, the faculty of organization, the power of steady and unwavering rule, which was needed to complete the Conqueror's work. His aim was peace, and the title of the Peace-loving King which was given him at his death showed with what a steadiness and constancy he carried out his aim. In Normandy indeed his work was ever and anon undone by outbreaks of its baronage, outbreaks sternly repressed only that the work might be patiently and calmly taken up again where it had been broken off. But in England his will was carried out with a perfect success. For more than a quarter of a century the land had rest. Without, the Scots were held in friendship, the Welsh were bridled by a steady and well-planned scheme of gradual conquest. Within, the licence of the baronage was held sternly down, and justice secured for all. "He governed with a strong hand," says Orderic, but the strong hand was the hand of a king, not of a tyrant. "Great was the awe of him," writes the annalist of Peterborough. "No man durst ill-do to another in his days. Peace he made for man and beast." Pitiless as were the blows he aimed at the nobles who withstood him, they were blows which his English subjects felt to be struck in their cause. "While he mastered by policy the foremost counts and lords and the boldest tyrants, he ever cherished and protected peaceful men and men of religion and men of the middle class." What impressed observers most was the unswerving, changeless temper of his rule. The stern justice, the terrible punishments he inflicted on all who broke his laws, were parts of a fixed system which differed widely from the capricious severity of a mere despot. Hardly less impressive was his unvarying success. Heavy as were the blows which destiny levelled at him, Henry bore and rose unconquered from all. To the end of his life the proudest barons lay bound and blinded in his prison. His hoard grew greater and greater. Normandy, toss as she might, lay helpless at his feet to the last. In England it was only after his death that men dared mutter what evil things they had thought of Henry the Peace-lover, or censure the pitilessness, the greed, and the lust which had blurred the wisdom and splendour of his rule.


Henry's Administration

His vigorous administration carried out into detail the system of government which the Conqueror had sketched. The vast estates which had fallen to the crown through revolt and forfeiture were granted out to new men dependent on royal favour. On the ruins of the great feudatories whom he had crushed Henry built up a class of lesser nobles, whom the older barons of the Conquest looked down on in scorn, but who were strong enough to form a counterpoise to their influence, while they furnished the Crown with a class of useful administrators whom Henry employed as his sheriffs and judges. A new organization of justice and finance bound the kingdom more tightly together in Henry's grasp. The Clerks of the Royal Chapel were formed into a body of secretaries or royal ministers, whose head bore the title of Chancellor. Above them stood the Justiciar, or Lieutenant-General of the kingdom, who in the frequent absence of the king acted as Regent of the realm, and whose staff, selected from the barons connected with the royal household, were formed into a Supreme Court of the realm. The King's Court, as this was called, permanently represented the whole court of royal vassals which had hitherto been summoned thrice in the year. As the royal council, it revised and registered laws, and its "counsel and consent," though merely formal, preserved the principle of the older popular legislation. As a court of justice, it formed the highest court of appeal: it could call up any suit from a lower tribunal on the application of a suitor, while the union of several sheriffdoms under some of its members connected it closely with the local courts. As a financial body, its chief work lay in the assessment and collection of the revenue. In this capacity it took the name of the Court of Exchequer from the chequered table, much like a chess-board, at which it sat and on which accounts were rendered. In their financial capacity its justices became "barons of the Exchequer." Twice every year the sheriff of each county appeared before these barons and rendered the sum of the fixed rent from royal domains, the Danegeld or land tax, the fines of the local courts, the feudal aids from the baronial estates, which formed the chief part of the royal revenue. Local disputes respecting these payments or the assessment of the town-rents were settled by a detachment of barons from the court who made the circuit of the shires, and whose fiscal visitations led to the judicial visitations, the "judges' circuits," which still form so marked a feature in our legal system.


The Angevin Marriage

Measures such as these changed the whole temper of the Norman rule. It remained a despotism, but from this moment it was a despotism regulated and held in check by the forms of administrative routine. Heavy as was the taxation under Henry the First, terrible as was the suffering throughout his reign from famine and plague, the peace and order which his government secured through thirty years won a rest for the land in which conqueror and conquered blended into a single people and in which this people slowly moved forward to a new freedom. But while England thus rested in peace a terrible blow broke the fortunes of her king. In 1120 his son, William the "Ætheling," with a crowd of nobles accompanied Henry on his return from Normandy; but the White Ship in which he embarked lingered behind the rest of the royal fleet till the guards of the king's treasure pressed its departure. It had hardly cleared the harbour when the ship's side struck on a rock, and in an instant it sank beneath the waves. One terrible cry, ringing through the silence of the night, was heard by the royal fleet; but it was not till the morning that the fatal news reached the king. Stern as he was, Henry fell senseless to the ground, and rose never to smile again. He had no other son, and the circle of his foreign foes closed round him the more fiercely that William, the son of his captive brother Robert, was now his natural heir. Henry hated William while he loved his own daughter Maud, who had been married to the Emperor Henry the Fifth, but who had been restored by his death to her father's court. The succession of a woman was new in English history; it was strange to a feudal baronage. But when all hope of issue from a second wife whom he wedded was over Henry forced priests and nobles to swear allegiance to Maud as their future mistress, and affianced her to Geoffry the Handsome, the son of the one foe whom he dreaded, Count Fulk of Anjou.



The marriage of Matilda was but a step in the wonderful history by which the descendants of a Breton woodman became masters not of Anjou only, but of Touraine, Maine, and Poitou, of Gascony and Auvergne, of Aquitaine and Normandy, and sovereigns at last of the great realm which Normandy had won. The legend of the father of their race carries us back to the times of our own Ælfred, when the Danes were ravaging along Loire as they ravaged along Thames. In the heart of the Breton border, in the debateable land between France and Britanny, dwelt Tortulf the Forester, half-brigand, half-hunter as the gloomy days went, living in free outlaw-fashion in the woods about Rennes. Tortulf had learned in his rough forest school "how to strike the foe, to sleep on the bare ground, to bear hunger and toil, summer's heat and winter's frost, how to fear nothing save ill-fame." Following King Charles the Bald in his struggle with the Danes, the woodman won broad lands along Loire, and his son Ingelger, who had swept the northmen from Touraine and the land to the west, which they had burned and wasted into a vast solitude, became the first Count of Anjou. But the tale of Tortulf and Ingelger is a mere creation of some twelfth century jongleur. The earliest Count whom history recognizes is Fulk the Red. Fulk attached himself to the Dukes of France who were now drawing nearer to the throne, and between 909 and 929 he received from them in guerdon the county of Anjou. The story of his son is a story of peace, breaking like a quiet idyll the war-storms of his house. Alone of his race Fulk the Good waged no wars: his delight was to sit in the choir of Tours and to be called "Canon." One Martinmas eve Fulk was singing there in clerkly guise when the French king, Lewis d'Outremer, entered the church. "He sings like a priest," laughed the king as his nobles pointed mockingly to the figure of the Count-Canon. But Fulk was ready with his reply. "Know, my lord," wrote the Count of Anjou, "that a king unlearned is a crowned ass." Fulk was in fact no priest, but a busy ruler, governing, enforcing peace, and carrying justice to every corner of the wasted land. To him alone of his race men gave the title of "the Good."


Fulk the Black

Hampered by revolt, himself in character little more than a bold, dashing soldier, Fulk's son, Geoffry Greygown, sank almost into a vassal of his powerful neighbours, the Counts of Blois and Champagne. But this vassalage was roughly shaken off by his successor. Fulk Nerra, Fulk the Black, is the greatest of the Angevins, the first in whom we can trace that marked type of character which their house was to preserve through two hundred years. He was without natural affection. In his youth he burnt a wife at the stake, and legend told how he led her to her doom decked out in his gayest attire. In his old age he waged his bitterest war against his son, and exacted from him when vanquished a humiliation which men reserved for the deadliest of their foes. "You are conquered, you are conquered!" shouted the old man in fierce exultation, as Geoffry, bridled and saddled like a beast of burden, crawled for pardon to his father's feet. In Fulk first appeared that low type of superstition which startled even superstitious ages in the early Plantagenets. Robber as he was of Church lands, and contemptuous of ecclesiastical censures, the fear of the end of the world drove Fulk to the Holy Sepulchre. Barefoot and with the strokes of the scourge falling heavily on his shoulders, the Count had himself dragged by a halter through the streets of Jerusalem, and courted the doom of martyrdom by his wild outcries of penitence. He rewarded the fidelity of Herbert of Le Mans, whose aid saved him from utter ruin, by entrapping him into captivity and robbing him of his lands. He secured the terrified friendship of the French king by despatching twelve assassins to cut down before his eyes the minister who had troubled it. Familiar as the age was with treason and rapine and blood, it recoiled from the cool cynicism of his crimes, and believed the wrath of Heaven to have been revealed against the union of the worst forms of evil in Fulk the Black. But neither the wrath of Heaven nor the curses of men broke with a single mishap the fifty years of his success.

At his accession in 987 Anjou was the least important of the greater provinces of France. At his death in 1040 it stood, if not in extent, at least in real power, first among them all. Cool-headed, clear-sighted, quick to resolve, quicker to strike, Fulk's career was one long series of victories over all his rivals. He was a consummate general, and he had the gift of personal bravery, which was denied to some of his greatest descendants. There was a moment in the first of his battles when the day seemed lost for Anjou; a feigned retreat of the Bretons drew the Angevin horsemen into a line of hidden pitfalls, and the Count himself was flung heavily to the ground. Dragged from the medley of men and horses, he swept down almost singly on the foe "as a storm-wind" (so rang the pæan of the Angevins) "sweeps down on the thick corn-rows," and the field was won. But to these qualities of the warrior he added a power of political organization, a capacity for far-reaching combinations, a faculty of statesmanship, which became the heritage of his race, and lifted them as high above the intellectual level of the rulers of their time as their shameless wickedness degraded them below the level of man. His overthrow of Britanny on the field of Conquereux was followed by the gradual absorption of Southern Touraine; a victory at Pontlevoi crushed the rival house of Blois; the seizure of Saumur completed his conquests in the south, while Northern Touraine was won bit by bit till only Tours resisted the Angevin. The treacherous seizure of its Count, Herbert Wakedog, left Maine at his mercy.


Death of Henry

His work of conquest was completed by his son. Geoffry Martel wrested Tours from the Count of Blois, and by the seizure of Le Mans brought his border to the Norman frontier. Here however his advance was checked by the genius of William the Conqueror, and with his death the greatness of Anjou came for a while to an end. Stripped of Maine by the Normans and broken by dissensions within, the weak and profligate rule of Fulk Rechin left Anjou powerless. But in 1109 it woke to fresh energy with the accession of his son, Fulk of Jerusalem. Now urging the turbulent Norman nobles to revolt, now supporting Robert's son, William, in his strife with his uncle, offering himself throughout as the loyal supporter of the French kingdom which was now hemmed in on almost every side by the forces of the English king and of his allies the Counts of Blois and Champagne, Fulk was the one enemy whom Henry the First really feared. It was to disarm his restless hostility that the king gave the hand of Matilda to Geoffry the Handsome. But the hatred between Norman and Angevin had been too bitter to make such a marriage popular, and the secrecy with which it was brought about was held by the barons to free them from the oath they had previously sworn. As no baron if he was sonless could give a husband to his daughter save with his lord's consent, the nobles held by a strained analogy that their own assent was needful to the marriage of Maud. Henry found a more pressing danger in the greed of her husband Geoffry, whose habit of wearing the common broom of Anjou, the planta genista, in his helmet gave him the title of Plantagenet. His claims ended at last in intrigues with the Norman nobles, and Henry hurried to the border to meet an Angevin invasion; but the plot broke down at his presence, the Angevins retired, and at the close of 1135 the old king withdrew to the Forest of Lions to die.



"God give him," wrote the Archbishop of Rouen from Henry's death-bed, "the peace he loved." With him indeed closed the long peace of the Norman rule. An outburst of anarchy followed on the news of his departure, and in the midst of the turmoil Earl Stephen, his nephew, appeared at the gates of London. Stephen was a son of the Conqueror's daughter, Adela, who had married a Count of Blois; he had been brought up at the English court, had been made Count of Mortain by Henry, had become Count of Boulogne by his marriage, and as head of the Norman baronage had been the first to pledge himself to support Matilda's succession. But his own claim as nearest male heir of the Conqueror's blood (for his cousin, the son of Robert, had fallen some years before in Flanders) was supported by his personal popularity; mere swordsman as he was, his good-humour, his generosity, his very prodigality made Stephen a favourite with all. No noble however had as yet ventured to join him nor had any town opened its gates when London poured out to meet him with uproarious welcome. Neither baron nor prelate was present to constitute a National Council, but the great city did not hesitate to take their place. The voice of her citizens had long been accepted as representative of the popular assent in the election of a king; but it marks the progress of English independence under Henry that London now claimed of itself the right of election. Undismayed by the absence of the hereditary counsellors of the crown its "Aldermen and wise folk gathered together the folk-moot, and these providing at their own will for the good of the realm unanimously resolved to choose a king." The solemn deliberation ended in the choice of Stephen, the citizens swore to defend the king with money and blood, Stephen swore to apply his whole strength to the pacification and good government of the realm. It was in fact the new union of conquered and conquerors into a single England that did Stephen's work. The succession of Maud meant the rule of Geoffry of Anjou, and to Norman as to Englishman the rule of the Angevin was a foreign rule. The welcome Stephen won at London and Winchester, his seizure of the royal treasure, the adhesion of the Justiciar Bishop Roger to his cause, the reluctant consent of the Archbishop, the hopelessness of aid from Anjou where Geoffry was at this moment pressed by revolt, the need above all of some king to meet the outbreak of anarchy which followed Henry's death, secured Stephen the voice of the baronage. He was crowned at Christmas-tide; and soon joined by Robert Earl of Gloucester, a bastard son of Henry and the chief of his nobles; while the issue of a charter from Oxford in 1136, a charter which renewed the dead king's pledge of good government, promised another Henry to the realm. The charter surrendered all forests made in the last reign as a sop to the nobles, and conciliated the Church by granting freedom of election and renouncing all right to the profits of vacant churches; while the king won the people by a promise to abolish the tax of Danegeld.


Battle of the Standard

The king's first two years were years of success and prosperity. Two risings of barons in the east and west were easily put down, and in 1137 Stephen passed into Normandy and secured the Duchy against an attack from Anjou. But already the elements of trouble were gathering round him. Stephen was a mere soldier, with few kingly qualities save that of a soldier's bravery; and the realm soon began to slip from his grasp. He turned against himself the jealous dread of foreigners to which he owed his accession by surrounding himself with hired knights from Flanders; he drained the treasury by creating new earls endowed with pensions from it, and recruited his means by base coinage. His consciousness of the gathering storm only drove Stephen to bind his friends to him by suffering them to fortify castles and to renew the feudal tyranny which Henry had struck down. But the long reign of the dead king had left the Crown so strong that even yet Stephen could hold his own. A plot which Robert of Gloucester had been weaving from the outset of his reign came indeed to a head in 1138, and the Earl's revolt stripped Stephen of Caen and half Normandy. But when his partizans in England rose in the south and the west and the King of Scots, whose friendship Stephen had bought in the opening of his reign by the cession of Carlisle, poured over the northern border, the nation stood firmly by the king. Stephen himself marched on the western rebels and soon left them few strongholds save Bristol. His people fought for him in the north. The pillage and cruelties of the wild tribes of Galloway and the Highlands roused the spirit of the Yorkshiremen. Baron and freeman gathered at York round Archbishop Thurstan and marched to the field of Northallerton to await the foe. The sacred banners of St. Cuthbert of Durham, St. Peter of York, St. John of Beverley, and St. Wilfrid of Ripon hung from a pole fixed in a four-wheeled car which stood in the centre of the host. The first onset of David's host was a terrible one. "I who wear no armour," shouted the chief of the Galwegians, "will go as far this day as any one with breastplate of mail"; his men charged with wild shouts of "Albin, Albin," and were followed by the Norman knighthood of the Lowlands. But their repulse was complete; the fierce hordes dashed in vain against the close English ranks around the Standard, and the whole army fled in confusion to Carlisle.


Seizure of the Bishops

Weak indeed as Stephen was, the administrative organization of Henry still did its work. Roger remained justiciar, his son was chancellor, his nephew Nigel, the Bishop of Ely, was treasurer. Finance and justice were thus concentrated in the hands of a single family which preserved amidst the deepening misrule something of the old order and rule, and which stood at the head of the "new men," whom Henry had raised into importance and made the instruments of his will. These new men were still weak by the side of the older nobles; and conscious of the jealousy and ill-will with which they were regarded they followed in self-defence the example which the barons were setting in building and fortifying castles on their domains. Roger and his house, the objects from their official position of a deeper grudge than any, were carried away by the panic. The justiciar and his son fortified their castles, and it was only with a strong force at their back that the prelates appeared at court. Their attitude was one to rouse Stephen's jealousy, and the news of Matilda's purpose of invasion lent strength to the doubts which the nobles cast on their fidelity. All the weak violence of the king's temper suddenly broke out. He seized Roger the Chancellor and the Bishop of Lincoln when they appeared at Oxford in June 1139, and forced them to surrender their strongholds. Shame broke the justiciar's heart; he died at the close of the year, and his nephew Nigel of Ely was driven from the realm. But the fall of this house shattered the whole system of government. The King's Court and the Exchequer ceased to work at a moment when the landing of Earl Robert and the Empress Matilda set Stephen face to face with a danger greater than he had yet encountered, while the clergy, alienated by the arrest of the Bishops and the disregard of their protests, stood angrily aloof.


Civil War

The three bases of Henry's system of government, the subjection of the baronage to the law, the good-will of the Church, and the organization of justice and finance, were now utterly ruined; and for the fourteen years which passed from this hour to the Treaty of Wallingford England was given up to the miseries of civil war. The country was divided between the adherents of the two rivals, the West supporting Matilda, London and the East Stephen. A defeat at Lincoln in 1141 left the latter a captive in the hands of his enemies, while Matilda was received throughout the land as its "Lady." But the disdain with which she repulsed the claim of London to the enjoyment of its older privileges called its burghers to arms; her resolve to hold Stephen a prisoner roused his party again to life, and she was driven to Oxford to be besieged there in 1142 by Stephen himself, who had obtained his release in exchange for Earl Robert after the capture of the Earl in a battle at Winchester. She escaped from the castle, but with the death of Robert her struggle became a hopeless one, and in 1148 she withdrew to Normandy. The war was now a mere chaos of pillage and bloodshed. The royal power came to an end. The royal courts were suspended, for not a baron or bishop would come at the king's call. The bishops met in council to protest, but their protests and excommunications fell on deafened ears. For the first and last time in her history England was in the hands of the baronage, and their outrages showed from what horrors the stern rule of the Norman kings had saved her. Castles sprang up everywhere. "They filled the land with castles," say the terrible annals of the time. "They greatly oppressed the wretched people by making them work at these castles, and when they were finished they filled them with devils and armed men." In each of these robber-holds a petty tyrant ruled like a king. The strife for the Crown had broken into a medley of feuds between baron and baron, for none could brook an equal or a superior in his fellow. "They fought among themselves with deadly hatred, they spoiled the fairest lands with fire and rapine; in what had been the most fertile of counties they destroyed almost all the provision of bread." For fight as they might with one another, all were at one in the plunder of the land. Towns were put to ransom. Villages were sacked and burned. All who were deemed to have goods, whether men or women, were carried off and flung into dungeons and tortured till they yielded up their wealth. No ghastlier picture of a nation's misery has ever been painted than that which closes the English Chronicle whose last accents falter out amidst the horrors of the time. "They hanged up men by their feet and smoked them with foul smoke. Some were hanged up by their thumbs, others by the head, and burning things were hung on to their feet. They put knotted strings about men's heads, and writhed them till they went to the brain. They put men into prisons where adders and snakes and toads were crawling, and so they tormented them. Some they put into a chest short and narrow and not deep and that had sharp stones within, and forced men therein so that they broke all their limbs. In many of the castles were hateful and grim things called rachenteges, which two or three men had enough to do to carry. It was thus made: it was fastened to a beam and had a sharp iron to go about a man's neck and throat, so that he might noways sit, or lie, or sleep, but he bore all the iron. Many thousands they starved with hunger."


Religious Revival

It was only after years of this feudal anarchy that England was rescued from it by the efforts of the Church. The political influence of the Church had been greatly lessened by the Conquest: for pious, learned, and energetic as the bulk of the Conqueror's bishops were, they were not Englishmen. Till the reign of Henry the First no Englishman occupied an English see. This severance of the higher clergy from the lower priesthood and from the people went far to paralyze the constitutional influence of the Church. Anselm stood alone against Rufus, and when Anselm was gone no voice of ecclesiastical freedom broke the silence of the reign of Henry the First. But at the close of Henry's reign and throughout the reign of Stephen England was stirred by the first of those great religious movements which it was to experience afterwards in the preaching of the Friars, the Lollardism of Wyclif, the Reformation, the Puritan enthusiasm, and the mission work of the Wesleys. Everywhere in town and country men banded themselves together for prayer: hermits flocked to the woods: noble and churl welcomed the austere Cistercians, a reformed offshoot of the Benedictine order, as they spread over the moors and forests of the North. A new spirit of devotion woke the slumbers of the religious houses, and penetrated alike to the home of the noble and the trader. London took its full share in the revival. The city was proud of its religion, its thirteen conventual and more than a hundred parochial churches. The new impulse changed its very aspect. In the midst of the city Bishop Richard busied himself with the vast cathedral church of St. Paul which Bishop Maurice had begun; barges came up the river with stone from Caen for the great arches that moved the popular wonder, while street and lane were being levelled to make room for its famous churchyard. Rahere, a minstrel at Henry's court, raised the Priory of St. Bartholomew beside Smithfield. Alfune built St. Giles's at Cripplegate. The old English Cnichtenagild surrendered their soke of Aldgate as a site for the new priory of the Holy Trinity. The tale of this house paints admirably the temper of the citizens at the time. Its founder, Prior Norman, built church and cloister and bought books and vestments in so liberal a fashion that no money remained to buy bread. The canons were at their last gasp when the city-folk, looking into the refectory as they passed round the cloister in their usual Sunday procession, saw the tables laid but not a single loaf on them. "Here is a fine set out," said the citizens; "but where is the bread to come from?" The women who were present vowed each to bring a loaf every Sunday, and there was soon bread enough and to spare for the priory and its priests.


Thomas of London

We see the strength of the new movement in the new class of ecclesiastics whom it forced on to the stage. Men like Archbishop Theobald drew whatever influence they wielded from a belief in their holiness of life and unselfishness of aim. The paralysis of the Church ceased as the new impulse bound prelacy and people together, and at the moment we have reached its power was found strong enough to wrest England out of the chaos of feudal misrule. In the early part of Stephen's reign his brother Henry, the Bishop of Winchester, who had been appointed in 1139 Papal Legate for the realm, had striven to supply the absence of any royal or national authority by convening synods of bishops, and by asserting the moral right of the Church to declare sovereigns unworthy of the throne. The compact between king and people which became a part of constitutional law in the Charter of Henry had gathered new force in the Charter of Stephen, but its legitimate consequence in the responsibility of the crown for the execution of the compact was first drawn out by these ecclesiastical councils. From their alternate depositions of Stephen and Matilda flowed the after depositions of Edward and Richard, and the solemn act by which the succession was changed in the case of James. Extravagant and unauthorized as their expression of it may appear, they expressed the right of a nation to good government. Henry of Winchester however, "half monk, half soldier," as he was called, possessed too little religious influence to wield a really spiritual power, and it was only at the close of Stephen's reign that the nation really found a moral leader in Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Theobald's ablest agent and adviser was Thomas, the son of Gilbert Beket, a leading citizen and, it is said, Portreeve of London, the site of whose house is still marked by the Mercers' chapel in Cheapside. His mother Rohese was a type of the devout woman of her day; she weighed her boy every year on his birthday against money, clothes, and provisions which she gave to the poor. Thomas grew up amidst the Norman barons and clerks who frequented his father's house with a genial freedom of character tempered by the Norman refinement; he passed from the school of Merton to the University of Paris, and returned to fling himself into the life of the young nobles of the time. Tall, handsome, bright-eyed, ready of wit and speech, his firmness of temper showed itself in his very sports; to rescue his hawk which had fallen into the water he once plunged into a millrace and was all but crushed by the wheel. The loss of his father's wealth drove him to the court of Archbishop Theobald, and he soon became the Primate's confidant in his plans for the rescue of England.


Treaty of Wallingford

The natural influence which the Primate would have exerted was long held in suspense by the superior position of Bishop Henry of Winchester as Papal Legate; but this office ceased with the Pope who granted it, and when in 1150 it was transferred to the Archbishop himself Theobald soon made his weight felt. The long disorder of the realm was producing its natural reaction in exhaustion and disgust, as well as in a general craving for return to the line of hereditary succession whose breaking seemed the cause of the nation's woes. But the growth of their son Henry to manhood set naturally aside the pretensions both of Count Geoffry and Matilda. Young as he was Henry already showed the cool long-sighted temper which was to be his characteristic on the throne. Foiled in an early attempt to grasp the crown, he looked quietly on at the disorder which was doing his work till the death of his father at the close of 1151 left him master of Normandy and Anjou. In the spring of the following year his marriage with its duchess, Eleanor of Poitou, added Aquitaine to his dominions. Stephen saw the gathering storm, and strove to meet it. He called on the bishops and baronage to secure the succession of his son Eustace by consenting to his association with him in the kingdom. But the moment was now come for Theobald to play his part. He was already negotiating through Thomas of London with Henry and the Pope; he met Stephen's plans by a refusal to swear fealty to his son, and the bishops, in spite of Stephen's threats, went with their head. The blow was soon followed by a harder one. Thomas, as Theobald's agent, invited Henry to appear in England, and though the Duke disappointed his supporters' hopes by the scanty number of men he brought with him in 1153, his weakness proved in the end a source of strength. It was not to foreigners, men said, that Henry owed his success but to the arms of Englishmen. An English army gathered round him, and as the hosts of Stephen and the Duke drew together a battle seemed near which would decide the fate of the realm. But Theobald who was now firmly supported by the greater barons again interfered and forced the rivals to an agreement. To the excited partizans of the house of Anjou it seemed as if the nobles were simply playing their own game in the proposed settlement and striving to preserve their power by a balance of masters. The suspicion was probably groundless, but all fear vanished with the death of Eustace, who rode off from his father's camp, maddened with the ruin of his hopes, to die in August, smitten, as men believed, by the hand of God for his plunder of abbeys. The ground was now clear, and in November the Treaty of Wallingford abolished the evils of the long anarchy. The castles were to be razed, the crown lands resumed, the foreign mercenaries banished from the country, and sheriffs appointed to restore order. Stephen was recognized as king, and in turn recognized Henry as his heir. The duke received at Oxford the fealty of the barons, and passed into Normandy in the spring of 1154. The work of reformation had already begun. Stephen resented indeed the pressure which Henry put on him to enforce the destruction of the castles built during the anarchy; but Stephen's resistance was but the pettish outbreak of a ruined man. He was in fact fast drawing to the grave; and on his death in October 1154 Henry returned to take the crown without a blow.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works