HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
WelcomeHistoryLiteratureArtMusicPhilosophyResourcesHelp
Sort By Author Sort By Title
pixel

Resources
Sort By Author
Sort By Title

Search

Get Your Degree!

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

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc
FEEDBACK

(C)1998-2013
All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John
The Last Stage of the Civil War
by Adams, George Burton


The victory at Lincoln changed the situation of affairs at a blow. From holding a little oval of territory about the mouth of the Severn as the utmost she had gained, with small immediate prospect of enlarging it, Matilda found the way to the throne directly open before her with no obstacle in sight not easily overcome. She set out at once for Winchester. On his side, Bishop Henry was in no mood to stake his position and influence on the cause of his brother. Stephen's attitude towards him and towards the Church had smoothed the way for Matilda at the point where she might expect the first and most serious check. The negotiations were not difficult, but the result shows as clearly as in the case of Stephen the disadvantage of the crown at such a crisis, and the opportunity offered to the vassal, whether baron or bishop, who held a position of independent strength and was determined to use it in his own interests. The arrangement was called at the time a pactus--a treaty. The Empress took oath to the bishop that all the more important business of England, especially the filling of bishoprics and abbacies, should be done according to his desire, and her oath was supported by those of her brother and of the leading barons with her. The bishop in turn received her as "Lady of England," and swore fealty to her as long as she should keep this pact. The next day, March 3, she entered the city, took possession of the small sum of money which had been left in the treasury by Stephen and of the royal crown which was there, entered the cathedral in solemn procession, supported by Henry and the Bishop of St. David's, with four other bishops and several abbots present, and had herself proclaimed at once "lady and queen of England," whatever the double title may mean. Certainly she intended to be and believed herself nothing less than reigning queen.41 Without waiting for any ceremony of coronation, she appointed a bishop, created earls, and spoke in a formal document of her kingdom and her crown.

Directly after these events Henry of Winchester had summoned a council, to learn, very likely to guide, the decision of the Church as to a change of allegiance. The council met in Winchester on April 7. On that day the legate met separately, in secret session, the different orders of the clergy, and apparently obtained from them the decision which he wished. The next day in a speech to the council, he recited the misgovernment of his brother, who, he declared, had, almost immediately after his accession to power, destroyed the peace of the kingdom; and without any allusion to his deposition, except to the battle of Lincoln as a judgment of God, and with no formal action of the council as a whole, he announced the choice of the Church in favour of Matilda. The day following, a request of the Londoners and of the barons who had joined them for the release of Stephen, and one of his queen's to the same effect, was refused. The Empress was not present at the council. She spent Easter at Oxford, receiving reports, no doubt, of the constant successes her party was now gaining in different parts of England. It was not, however, till the middle of June that London, naturally devoted to Stephen, was ready to receive her.

Her reception in London marks the height of her success. She bought the support of the powerful Geoffrey de Mandeville by confirming to him the price which he had extorted from Stephen, the earldom of Essex, and by bidding higher than her rival with gifts of lands, revenues, and privileges which started him on the road to independence of the crown, which he well knew how to follow. Preparations were no doubt at once begun for her coronation. Her uncle King David came down from Scotland to lend it dignity, but it was destined never to occur. Her fall was as rapid as her rise, and was due, even more clearly than Stephen's, to her own inability to rule. The violent and tyrannical blood of her uncle, William Rufus, showed itself in her as plainly as the irresolute blood of Robert Curthose in her cousin, but she did not wait to gain her uncle's security of position to make violence and tyranny possible. Already, before she came up to London, she had offended her followers by the arrogance and harshness of her conduct. Now these traits of character proved fatal to her cause. She greatly offended the legate, to whom she was as deeply indebted as Stephen had been, and whose power to injure her she might easily understand, by refusing to promise that Eustace might hold his father's continental counties of Boulogne and Mortain. Equally unwise was her attitude towards London. She demanded a large subsidy. The request of the citizens for a confirmation of the laws of King Edward, because her father's were too heavy for them, she sternly refused. Queen Matilda, "acting the part of a man," advanced with her forces to the neighbourhood of the city and brought home to the burghers the evils of civil war. They were easily moved. A sudden uprising of the city forced the Empress to "ignominious" flight, leaving her baggage behind. She retreated to Oxford, and Matilda the queen entered the recovered city. Geoffrey de Mandeville at once brought his allegiance to the new market and obtained, it is probable, another advance of price and Henry of Winchester was easily persuaded to return to his brother's side. "Behold," says the historian of the Empress's party, "while she was thinking that she could immediately possess all England, everything changed." He adds that the change was her own fault, and in this he was right.42

But Matilda was not ready to accept calmly so decided a reverse, nor to allow Winchester to remain in undisturbed possession of her enemies, and her brother Robert was not. They had been driven from London on June 24. At the end of July, with a strong force, they attacked the older capital city, took possession of a part of it, forced the bishop to flee, and began the siege of his castle. At once the leaders of Stephen's cause, encouraged by recent events, gathered against them. While the Empress besieged the bishop's men from within, she was herself besieged from without by superior forces. At last the danger of being cut off from all supplies forced her to retreat, and in the retreat Robert of Gloucester, protecting his sister's flight, was himself captured. This was a great stroke of fortune, because it balanced for practical purposes the capture of Stephen at the battle of Lincoln, and it at once suggested an even exchange. Negotiations were not altogether easy. Robert modestly insisted that he was not equal to a king, but the arrangement was too obvious to admit of failure, and the exchange was effected at the beginning of November.

Since the middle of June the course of affairs had turned rapidly in favour of the king, but he was still far from having recovered the position of strength which he occupied before the landing of Matilda. Oxford was still in her hands, and so was a large part of the west of England. The Earl of Chester was still on her side, though he had signified his willingness to change sides if he were properly received. Stephen had yet before him a hard task in recovering his kingdom, and he never accomplished it. The war dragged on its slow length for more than ten years. Its dramatic period, however, was now ended. Only the story of Matilda's flight from Oxford enlivens the later narrative. Siege and skirmish, treason and counter-treason, fill up the passing months, but bring the end no nearer, until the entry of the young Henry on the scene lends a new element of interest and decision to the dull movement of events.

At first after his release Stephen carried on the work of restoration rapidly and without interruption. London received him with joy. At Christmas time he wore his crown at Canterbury; he was probably, indeed, re-crowned by the archbishop, to make good any defect which his imprisonment might imply. Already, on December 7, a new council, assembling in Westminster, had reversed the decisions of the council of Winchester, and, supported by a new declaration of the pope in a letter to the legate, had restored the allegiance of the Church to Stephen. At the Christmas assembly Geoffrey de Mandeville secured from the king the reward of his latest shift of sides, in a new charter which increased a power already dangerous and made him an almost independent prince. In the creation of two new earls a short time before, William of Albini as Earl of Sussex or Arundel, and Gilbert of Clare as Earl of Hertford, Stephen sought to confirm a doubtful, and to reward a steady, support. No event of importance marks the opening months of 1142. Lent was spent in a royal progress through eastern England, where as yet the Empress had obtained no footing, to York. On the way, at Stamford, he seems to have recovered the allegiance of the Earl of Chester and of his brother, the Earl of Lincoln, a sure sign of the change which had taken place since the battle in which they had overcome him so disastrously a year before.

In the summer Stephen again assumed the offensive and pushed the attack on his enemies with energy and skill. After a series of minor successes he advanced against the Empress herself at Oxford, where she had made her headquarters since the loss of London. Her brother Robert, who was the real head of her party, was now in Normandy, whither he had gone to persuade Geoffrey to lend the support of his personal presence to his wife's cause in England, but he had made sure, as he believed, of his sister's safety before going. The fortifications of Oxford had been strengthened. The barons had pledged themselves to guard Matilda, and hostages had been exacted from some as a check on the fashion of free desertion. It seems to have been felt, however, that Stephen would not venture to attack Oxford, and there had been no special concentration of strength in the city; so that when he suddenly appeared on the south, having advanced down the river from the west, he was easily able to disperse the burghers who attempted to dispute his passage of the river, and to enter one of the gates with them in their flight. The town was sacked, and the king then sat down to a siege of the castle. The siege became a blockade, which lasted from the end of September to near Christmas time, though it was pushed with all the artillery of the age, and a blockade in which the castle was carefully watched day and night. Stephen seems to have changed his mind since the time when he had besieged Matilda in Arundel castle, and to have been now determined to take his rival prisoner. The barons who had promised to protect the Empress gathered at Wallingford, but did not venture to attempt a direct raising of the siege. Robert of Gloucester returned from Normandy about December 1, but Stephen allowed him to win a small success or two, and kept steadily to his purpose.

As it drew near to Christmas provisions became low in the castle, and the necessity of surrender unpleasantly clear. Finally Matilda determined to attempt a bold escape. It was a severe winter and the ground was entirely covered with snow. With only a few attendants--three and five are both mentioned--she was let down with ropes from a tower, and, clad all in white, stole through the lines of the besiegers, detected only by a sentry, who raised no alarm. With determined spirit and endurance she fled on foot through the winter night and over difficult ways to Abingdon, six miles away. There she obtained horses and rode on to Wallingford, where she was safe. The castle of Oxford immediately surrendered to Stephen, but the great advantage for which he had striven had escaped him when almost in his hands. Robert of Gloucester, who was preparing to attempt the raising of the siege, at once joined his sister at Wallingford, and brought with him her son, the future Henry II, sent over in place of his father, on his first visit to England. Henry was now in his tenth year, and for four years and more he remained in England in the inaccessible stronghold of Bristol, studying with a tutor under the guardianship of his uncle. Robert's mission of the previous summer, to get help for Matilda in England, proved more useful to Geoffrey than to his wife. During a rapid campaign the conquest of the duchy had at last been really begun, and in the two following years it was carried to a successful conclusion. On January 20,1144, the city of Rouen surrendered to the Count of Anjou, though the castle held out for some time longer. Even Waleran of Meulan recognized the new situation of affairs, and gave his aid to the cause of Anjou, and before the close of the year Louis VII formally invested Geoffrey with the duchy. This much of the plan of Henry I was now realized; Stephen never recovered possession of Normandy. But without England, it was realized in a way which destroyed the plan itself, and England was still far from any union with the Angevin dominions.

By the time the conquest of Normandy was completed, events of equal interest had taken place in England, involving the fall of the powerful and shifty Earl of Essex, Geoffrey de Mandeville. Soon after Easter, 1142, he had found an opportunity for another prudent and profitable change of sides. The king had fallen ill on his return from the north, and, once more, as at the beginning of his reign, the report of his death was spread abroad. Geoffrey seems to have hurried at once to the Empress, as a probable source of future favours, and to have carried with him a small crowd of his friends and relatives, including the equally unscrupulous Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. Matilda, who was then at Oxford, and had no prospect of any immediate advance, was again ready to give him all he asked. Her fortunes were at too low an ebb to warrant her counting the cost, and in any case what she was buying was of great value if she could make sure that the sellers would keep faith. Geoffrey, with his friends, and Nigel, Bishop of Ely, who was already on her side, controlling Essex, Hertford, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridge, could give her possession of as large a territory on the east of England as she now held on the west, and this would very likely carry with it the occupation of London once more, and would threaten to cut the kingdom of Stephen into two detached fragments. Geoffrey was in a position to drive a good bargain, and he did so. New lands and revenues, new rights and privileges, were added to those he had already extorted from both sides; the Empress promised to make no peace without his consent with his "mortal enemies," the burghers of London, towards whom she probably had herself just then no great love. Geoffrey's friends were admitted to share with him in the results of his careful study of the conditions of the market, especially his brother-in-law, Aubrey de Vere, who was made Earl by his own choice of Cambridge, but in the end of Oxford, probably because Matilda's cousin, Henry of Scotland, considered that Cambridge was included in his earldom of Huntingdon. What price was offered to Hugh Bigod, or to Gilbert Clare, Earl of Pembroke, who seems to have been of the number, we do not know.

As a matter of fact, neither Geoffrey nor the Empress gained anything from this bargaining. Stephen was not dead, and his vigorous campaign of the summer of 1142 evidently made it seem prudent to Geoffrey to hold his intended treason in reserve for a more promising opportunity. It is probable that Stephen soon learned the facts, before very long they became common talk, but he awaited on his side a better opportunity to strike. The earl had grown too powerful to be dealt with without considering ways and means. Contemporary writers call him the most powerful man in England, and they regard his abilities with as much respect as his possessions and power. Stephen took his opportunity in the autumn of 1143, at a court held at St. Albans. The time was not wisely chosen. Things had not been going well with him during the summer. At Wilton he had been badly defeated by the Earl of Gloucester, and nearly half of England was in Matilda's possession or independent of his own control. But he yielded to the pressure of Geoffrey's enemies at the court, and ordered and secured his arrest on a charge of treason. The stroke succeeded no better than such measures usually did with Stephen, for he was always satisfied with a partial success. A threat of hanging forced the earl to surrender his castles, including the Tower of London, and then he was released. Geoffrey was not the man to submit to such a sudden overthrow without a trial of strength. With some of his friends he instantly appealed to arms, took possession of the Isle of Ely, where he was sure of a friendly reception, seized Ramsey Abbey, and turning out the monks made a fortress of it, and kept his forces in supplies by cruelly ravaging the surrounding lands.

It has been thought that the famous picture of the sufferings of the people of England during the anarchy of Stephen's reign, which was written in the neighbouring city of Peterborough, where the last of the English Chronicles was now drawing to its close, gained its vividness from the writer's personal knowledge of the horrors of this time; and this is probable, though he speaks in general terms. His pitiful account runs thus in part: "Every powerful man made his castles and held them against him the king; and they filled the land full of castles. They cruelly oppressed the wretched men of the land with castle-works. When the castles were made, they filled them with devils and evil men. Then took they those men that they thought had any property ... and put them in prison for their gold and silver, and tortured them with unutterable torture; for never were martyrs so tortured as they were. They hanged them up by the feet and smoked them with foul smoke; they hanged them by the thumbs or by the head and hung armour on their feet; they put knotted strings about their heads and writhed them so that they went into the brain. They put them in dungeons in which were adders, and snakes, and toads, and killed them so.... Then was corn dear, and flesh, and cheese, and butter; for there was none in the land. Wretched men died of hunger; some went seeking alms who at one while were rich men; some fled out of the land. Never yet had more wretchedness been in the land, nor ever did heathen men do worse than they did; for oftentimes they forbore neither church nor churchyard, but took all the property that was therein and then burned the church and all together.... However a man tilled, the earth bare no corn; for the land was all fordone by such deeds; and they said openly that Christ and his saints slept."

Geoffrey de Mandeville's career of plundering and sacrilege was not destined to continue long. Towards the end of the summer of 1144, he was wounded in the head by an arrow, in an attack on a fortified post which the king had established at Burwell to hold his raids in check; and soon after he died. His body was carried to the house of the Templars in London, but for twenty years it could not be received into consecrated ground, for he had died with his crimes unpardoned and under the ban of the Church, which was only removed after these years by the efforts of his younger son, a new Earl of Essex. To the great power for which Geoffrey was playing, to his independent principality, or to his possibly even higher ambition of controlling the destinies of the crown of England, there was no successor. His eldest son, Ernulf, shared his father's fall and condemnation, and was disinherited, though from him there descended a family holding for some generations a minor position in Oxfordshire. Twelve years after the death of Geoffrey, his second son--also Geoffrey--was made Earl of Essex by Henry II, and his faithful service to the king, and his brother's after him, were rewarded by increasing possessions and influence that almost rivalled their father's; but the wilder designs and unscrupulous methods of the first Earl of Essex perished with him.

The years 1144 and 1145 were on the whole prosperous for Stephen. A number of minor successes and minor accessions from the enemy made up a general drift in his favour. Even the Earl of Gloucester's son Philip, with a selfishness typical of the time, turned against his father; but the most important desertion to the king was that of the Earl of Chester, who joined him in 1146 and made a display of zeal, real or pretended, in his service. Starting with greater power and a more independent position than Geoffrey de Mandeville, and perhaps less openly bartering his allegiance to one side and the other at a constantly rising price, he had still pursued the same policy and with even greater success. His design was hardly less than the carving out of a state for himself from western and northern England, and during much of this disjointed time he seems to have carried himself with no regard to either side. To go over to the king so soon after the fall of the Earl of Essex was, it is likely, to take some risk, and as in the former case there was a party at the court which influenced Stephen against him. His refusal, notwithstanding his zeal, to restore castles and lands belonging to the king, and his attempt to induce Stephen to aid him against the Welsh, which was considered a plot to get possession of the king's person, led to his arrest. Again Stephen followed his habitual policy of forcing the surrender of his prisoner's castles, or certain of them, and then releasing him; and again the usual result followed, the instant insurrection of the earl. His real power had hardly been lessened by giving up the king's castles,--to which he had been forced,--and it was not easy to attack him. On a later visit of the young Henry to England, he obtained from him, and even from the king of Scotland, to whom he had long been hostile, large additions to his coveted principality in the west and north; but Stephen at once bid higher, and for a grant including the same possessions and more he abandoned his new allies. On Henry's final visit, in 1153, when the tide was fairly turning in his favour, another well-timed treason secured the earl his winnings and great promises for the future; but in this same year he died, poisoned, as it was believed, by one whose lands he had obtained. Out of the breaking up of England and the helplessness of her rulers arose no independent feudalism. Higher titles and wider lands many barons did gain, but the power of the king emerged in the end still supreme, and the worst of the permanent evils of the feudal system, a divided state, though deliberately sought and dangerously near, was at last averted.

With the death of Pope Innocent II, in September, 1143, a new period opened in the relation of the English Church and of the English king towards the papacy. Innocent had been on the whole favourable to Stephen's cause. His successor, Celestine II, was as favourable to Anjou, but his papacy was so short that nothing was done except to withhold a renewal of Henry of Winchester's commission as legate. Lucius II, who succeeded in March, 1144, sent his own legate to England; but he was not a partisan of either side, and seems even--perhaps by way of compensation--to have taken steps towards creating an independent archbishopric in the south-west in Henry's favour. His papacy again lasted less than a year, and his successor, Eugenius III, whose reign lasted almost to the end of Stephen's, was decidedly unfriendly. Henry of Winchester was for a time suspended; and the king's candidate for the archbishopric of York, William Fitz Herbert, afterwards St. William of York,--whose position had long been in doubt, for though he had been consecrated he had not received his pallium,--was deposed, and in his place the Cistercian Abbot of Fountains, Henry Murdac, was consecrated by the Cistercian pope. This was the beginning of open conflict. Henry Murdac could not get possession of his see, and Archbishop Theobald was refused permission to attend a council summoned by the pope at Reims for March, 1148. He went secretly, crossing the channel in a fishing boat, and was enthusiastically received by the pope. The Bishop of Winchester was again suspended, and other bishops with him; several abbots were deposed; and Gilbert Foliot, a decided partisan of Matilda's, was designated Bishop of Hereford. The pope was with difficulty persuaded to postpone the excommunication of Stephen himself, and steps were actually taken to reopen before the Roman court the question of his right to the throne. Stephen, on his side, responded with promptness and vigour. He refused to acknowledge the right of the pope to reopen the main question. The primate was banished and his temporalities confiscated. Most of the English clergy were kept on the king's side, and in some way--there is some evidence that the influence of Queen Matilda was employed--the serious danger which threatened Stephen from the Church in the spring of 1148 was averted. Peace was made in November with Archbishop Theobald, who had ineffectually tried an interdict, and he was restored to his see and revenues. The practical advantage, on the whole, remained with the king; but in the course of these events a young man, Thomas Becket, in the service of the archbishop, acquired a training in ideas and in methods which was to serve him well in a greater struggle with a greater king.

In the spring of the next year, young Henry of Anjou made an attempt on England, and found his enemies still too strong for him. In the interval since his first visit, Robert of Gloucester, the wisest of the leaders of the Angevin cause, had died in his fortress of Bristol in 1174; and in February of 1148, Matilda herself had given up her long and now apparently hopeless struggle in England, and gone back to the home of her husband, though she seems to have encouraged her son in his new enterprise by her presence in England at least for a time.43 The older generation was disappearing from the field; the younger was preparing to go on with the conflict. In 1149 Henry was sixteen years old, a mature age in that time, and it might well have been thought that it was wise to put him forward as leader in his own cause. The plan for this year seems to have been an attack on Stephen from the north by the king of Scotland in alliance with the Earl of Chester, and Henry passed rapidly through western England to Carlisle, where he was knighted by King David. Their army, which advanced to attack Lancaster, accomplished nothing, because, as has been related, the allegiance of Ralph of Chester, on whom they depended, had been bought back by Stephen; and Stephen himself, waiting with his army at York, found that he had nothing to do. The Scottish force withdrew, and Henry, again disappointed, was obliged to return to Normandy.

Three years later the young Henry made another and finally successful attempt to win his grandfather's throne, but in the interval great changes had occurred. Of these one fell in the year next following, 1150. Soon after Henry's return from England, his father had handed over to him the only portion of his mother's inheritance which had yet been recovered, the duchy of Normandy, and retired himself to his hereditary dominions. Geoffrey had never shown, so far as we know, any interest in his wife's campaigns in England, and had confined his attention to Normandy, in which one who was still primarily a count of Anjou would naturally have the most concern; and of all the efforts of the family this was the only one which was successful. Now while still a young man, with rare disregard of self, he gave up his conquest to his son, who had been brought up to consider himself as belonging rather to England than to Anjou. On the other side of the channel, during this year 1150, Stephen seems to have decided upon a plan which he bent every effort in the following years to carry out, but unsuccessfully,--the plan of securing a formal recognition of his son Eustace as his successor in the throne, or even as king with him. At least this is the natural explanation of the reconciliation which took place near the close of the year, between Eustace and his father on one side and Henry Murdac on the other, by which the archbishop was at last admitted to his see of York, and then set off immediately for Rome to persuade the pope to recognize Eustace, and even to consecrate the young man in person.

In England the practice of crowning the son king in the father's lifetime had never been followed, as it had been in some of the continental states, notably in France; but the conditions were now exactly those which would make such a step seem desirable to the holder of the crown. By this means the Capetian family had maintained undisputed possession of the throne through turbulent times with little real power of their own, and they were now approaching the point when they could feel that the custom was no longer necessary. The decision to attempt this method of securing the succession while still in possession of power, rather than to leave it to the uncertain chances that would follow his death, was for Stephen natural and wise. It is interesting to notice how indispensable the consent of the Church was considered, as the really deciding voice in the matter, and it was this that Stephen was not able to secure. The pope--this was about Easter time of 1151--rejected almost with indignation the suggestion of Murdac, on the ground of the violated oath, and forbade any innovation to be made concerning the crown of England, because this was a subject of litigation; he also directed, very probably at this time, the Archbishop of Canterbury, it was said at the suggestion of Thomas Becket, to refuse to crown Eustace.

With his duchy of Normandy, Henry had inherited at the same time the danger of trouble with the king of France, for his father had greatly displeased Louis by laying siege to the castle of a seditious vassal of Anjou who happened to be a favourite of the king. It would seem that this state of things suggested to Eustace an attack on Normandy in alliance with King Louis, but the attempt was fruitless. Twice during the summer of 1151 French armies invaded Normandy; the first led by the king himself. Both invasions were met by Henry at the head of his troops, but no fighting occurred on either occasion. On the second invasion, Louis was ill of a fever in Paris, and negotiations for peace were begun, the Church interesting itself to this end. Geoffrey and Henry certainly had no wish for war. The king's friend, who had been captured, was handed over to him; the Norman Vexin was surrendered to France; and in return Louis recognized Henry as Duke of Normandy and accepted his homage. Henry at once ordered an assembly of the Norman barons, on September 14, to consider the invasion of England; but his plans were interrupted by the sudden death of his father a week before this date. Geoffrey was then in his thirty-ninth year. The course of his life had been marked out for him by the plans of others, and it is obscured for us by the deeper interest of the struggle in England, and by the greater brilliancy of his son's history; but in the conquest of Normandy he had accomplished a work which was of the highest value to his house, and of the greatest assistance to the rapid success of his son on a wider field.

Events were now steadily moving in favour of Henry. At the close of 1151, the death of his father added the county of Anjou to his duchy of Normandy. Early in 1152 a larger possession than these together, and a most brilliant promise of future power, came to him through no effort of his own. We have seen how at the beginning of the reign of Stephen, when Henry himself was not yet five years old, Eleanor, heiress of Aquitaine, had been married to young Louis of France, who became in a few weeks, by the death of his father, King Louis VII. Half a lifetime, as men lived in those days, they had spent together as man and wife, with no serious lack of harmony. The marriage, however, could never have been a very happy one. Incompatibility of temper and tastes must long have made itself felt before the determination to dissolve the marriage was reached. Masculine in character, strong and full of spirit, Eleanor must have looked with some contempt on her husband, who was losing the energy of his younger days and passing more and more under the influence of the darker and more superstitious elements in the religion of the time, and she probably did not hesitate to let her opinion be known. She said he was a monk and not a king. To this, it is likely, was added the fact--it may very possibly have been the deciding consideration--that during the more than fourteen years of the marriage but two daughters had been born, and the Capetian house still lacked an heir. Whatever may have been the reason, a divorce was resolved upon not long after their return in 1149 from the second crusade. The death in January, 1152, of Louis VI's great minister, Suger, whose still powerful influence, for obvious political reasons, had hindered the final steps, made the way clear. In March an assembly of clergy, with many barons in attendance, declared the marriage void on the convenient and easily adjustable principle of too near relationship, and Eleanor received back her great inheritance.

It was not likely that a woman of the character of Eleanor and of her unusual attractions, alike of person and possessions, would quietly accept as final the position in which this divorce had left her. After escaping the importunate wooings of a couple of suitors who sought to intercept her return to her own dominions, she sent a message to Henry of Anjou, and he responded at once. In the third week of May they were married at Poitiers, two months after the divorce. In a few weeks' time, by two brief ecclesiastical ceremonies, the greatest feudal state of France, a quarter of the kingdom, had been transferred from the king to an uncontrollable vassal who practically held already another quarter. The king of France was reduced as speedily from a position of great apparent power and promise to the scanty territories of the Capetian domain, and brought face to face with the danger of not distant ruin to the plans of his house. To Henry, at the very beginning of his career, was opened the immediate prospect of an empire greater than any which existed at that time in Europe under the direct rule of any other sovereign. If he could gain England, he would bear sway, as king in reality if not in name, from Scotland to the Pyrenees, and from such a beginning what was there that might not be gained? Why these hopes were never realized, how the Capetian kings escaped this danger, must fill a large part of our story to the death of Henry's youngest son, King John. At the date of his marriage Henry had just entered on his twentieth year. Eleanor was nearly twelve years older. If she had sought happiness in her new marriage, she did not find it, at least not permanently; and many later years were spent in open hostility with Henry, or closely confined in his prisons; but whatever may have been her feelings towards him, she found no occasion to regard her second husband with contempt. Their eldest son, William, who did not survive infancy, was born on August 17, 1153, and in succession four other sons were born to them and three daughters.

The first and most obvious work which now lay before Henry was the conquest of England, and the plans which had been earlier formed for this object and deferred by these events were at once taken up. By the end of June the young bridegroom was at Barfleur preparing to cross the channel with an invading force. But he was not to be permitted to enjoy his new fortunes unchallenged. Louis VII in particular had reasons for interfering, and the law was on his side. The heiress Eleanor had no right to marry without the consent of her feudal suzerain. A summons, it is said, was at once served on Henry to appear before the king's court and answer for his conduct,44 and this summons, which Henry refused to obey, was supported by a new coalition. Louis and Eustace were again in alliance, and they were joined by Henry's own brother Geoffrey, who could make considerable trouble in the south of Henry's lands, by Robert of Dreux, Count of Perche, and by Eustace's cousin Henry, Count of Champagne. Stephen's brother Theobald had died at the beginning of the year, and his great dominions had been divided, Champagne and Blois being once more separated, never to be reunited until they were absorbed at different dates into the royal domain. This coalition was strong enough to check Henry's plan of an invasion of England, but it did not prove a serious danger, though the allies are said to have formed a plan for the partition of all the Angevin empire among themselves. For some reason their campaign does not seem to have been vigorously pushed. The young duke was able to force his brother to come to terms, and he succeeded in patching up a rather insecure truce with King Louis. On this, however, he dared to rely enough--or perhaps he trusted to the situation as he understood it--to venture at last, in January, 1153, on his long-deferred expedition to recover his mother's kingdom. Stephen had begun the siege of the important fortress of Wallingford, and a new call for aid had come over to Normandy from the hard-pressed garrison.

In the meantime, during the same days when the divorce and remarriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine were making such a change in the power and prospects of his competitor for the crown, Stephen had made a new attempt to secure the possession of that crown firmly to his son Eustace. A meeting of the great council of the kingdom, or of that part which obeyed Stephen, was called at London early in April, 1152. This body was asked to sanction the immediate consecration of Eustace as king. The barons who were present were ready to agree, and they swore allegiance to him and probably did homage, which was as far as the barons by themselves could go. The prelates, however, under the lead of the Archbishop of Canterbury,--Henry of Winchester is not mentioned in this case,--flatly refused to perform the consecration. The papal prohibition of any such act still held good, and the clergy of England had been given, as they would recall the past, no reason to disobey the pope in the interests of King Stephen. The king, in great anger, appealed to force against them, but without avail. Temporary imprisonment of the prelates at the council, in a house together, even temporary confiscation of the baronies of some of them, did not move them, and Stephen was obliged to postpone his plan once more. The archbishop again escaped to the continent to await the course of events, and Stephen appealed to the sword to gain some new advantage to balance this decided rebuff. Then followed the vigorous siege of Wallingford, which called Henry into England at the beginning of January.

The force which Henry brought with him crossed the channel in thirty-six ships, and was estimated at the time at 140 men-at-arms and 3000 foot-soldiers, a very respectable army for that day; but the duke's friends in England very likely formed their ideas of the army he would bring from the breadth of his territories, and they expressed their disappointment. Henry was to win England, however, not by an invasion, but by the skill of his management and by the influence of events which worked for him here as on the continent without an effort of his own. Now it was that Ralph of Chester performed his final change of sides and sold to Henry, at the highest price which treason reached in any transaction of this long and favourable time, the aid which was so necessary to the Angevin success. Henry's first attempt was against the important castle of Malmesbury, midway between Bristol and Wallingford, and Stephen was not able to prevent its fall. Then the garrison of Wallingford was relieved, and the intrenched position of Stephen's forces over against the castle was invested. The king came up with an army to protect his men, and would gladly have joined battle and settled the question on the spot, but once more his barons refused to fight. They desired nothing less than the victory of one of the rivals, which would bring the chance of a strong royal power and of their subjection to it. Apparently Henry's barons held the same view of the case, and assisted in forcing the leaders to agree to a brief truce, the advantage of which would in reality fall wholly to Henry.

From Wallingford Henry marched north through central England, where towns and castles one after another fell into his hands. From Wallingford also, Eustace withdrew from his father, greatly angered by the truce which had been made, and went off to the east on an expedition of his own which looks much like a plundering raid. Rashly he laid waste the lands of St. Edmund, who was well known to be a fierce protector of his own and to have no hesitation at striking even a royal robber. Punishment quickly followed the offence. Within a week Eustace was smitten with madness and died on August 17, a new and terrible warning of the fate of the sacrilegious. This death changed the whole outlook for the future. Stephen had no more interest in continuing the war than to protect himself. His wife had now been dead for more than a year. His next son, William, had never looked forward to the crown, and had never been prominent in the struggle. He had been lately married to the heiress of the Earl of Surrey, and if he could be secured in the quiet and undisputed possession of this inheritance and of the lands which his father had granted him, and of the still broader lands in Normandy and England which had belonged to Stephen before he seized the crown, then the advantage might very well seem to the king, near the close of his stormy life, greater than any to be gained from the desperate struggle for the throne. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who had by some means returned to England, proposed peace, and undertook negotiations between the king and the duke, supported by Henry of Winchester. Henry of Anjou could well afford to wait. The delay before he could in this way obtain the crown would probably not be very long and would be amply compensated by a peaceful and undisputed succession, while in the meantime he could give himself entirely to the mission which, since he had landed in England, he had loudly proclaimed as his of putting an end to plundering and oppression. On November 6 the rivals met at Winchester to make peace, and the terms of their agreement were recited in a great council of the kingdom, probably the first which was in any sense a council of the whole kingdom that had met in nearly or quite fifteen years. First, the king formally recognized before the assembly the hereditary right of Henry to the kingdom of England. Then the duke formally agreed that Stephen should hold the throne so long as he should live; and king, and bishops, and barons bound themselves with an oath that on Stephen's death Henry should succeed peacefully and without any contradiction. It was also agreed under oath, that all possessions which had been seized by force should be restored to their rightful owners, and that all castles which had been erected since the death of Henry I should be destroyed, and the number of these was noted at the time as 1115, though a more credible statement gives the number as 375. The treaty between the two which had no doubt preceded these ceremonies in the council contained other provisions. Stephen promised to regard Henry as a son--possibly he formally adopted him--and to rule England by his advice. Henry promised that William should enjoy undisturbed all the possessions which he had obtained with his wife or from his father, and all his father's private inheritance in England and Normandy. Allegiance and homage were paid by Henry to Stephen as king and by William to Henry, and Henry's barons did homage to Stephen and Stephen's to Henry, with the usual reservation. The king's Flemish mercenaries were to be sent home, and order was to be established throughout the land, the king restoring to all their rights and resuming himself those which had been usurped during the disorders of civil strife.

This programme began at once to be carried out. The war came to an end. The "adulterine" castles were destroyed, not quite so rapidly as Henry desired, but still with some energy. The unprincipled baron, friend of neither side and enemy of all his neighbours, deprived of his opportunity by the union of the two contending parties, was quickly reduced to order, and we hear no more of the feudal anarchy from which the defenceless had suffered so much during these years. Henry and Stephen met again at Oxford in January, 1154; they journeyed together to Dover, but as they were returning, Henry learned of a conspiracy against his life among Stephen's Flemish followers, some of whom must still have remained in England, and thought it best to retire to Normandy, where he began the resumption of the ducal domains with which his father had been obliged to part in the time of his weakness. Stephen went on with the work of restoration in England, but not for long. The new day of peace and strong government was not for him. On October 25, 1154, he died at Dover, "and was buried where his wife and his son were buried, at Faversham, the monastery which they had founded."

Out of this long period of struggle the crown gained nothing. Out of the opportunity of feudal independence and aggrandizement which the conflict offered them, the barons in the end gained nothing. One of the parties to the strife, and one only, emerged from it with great permanent gains of power and independence, the Church. The one power which had held back the English Church from taking its share in that great European movement by which within a century the centralized, monarchical Church had risen up beside the State, indeed above it, for it was now an international and imperial Church,--the restraining force which had held the English Church in check,--had been for a generation fatally weakened. With a bound the Church sprang forward and took the place in England and in the world which it would otherwise have reached more slowly during the reign of Henry. It had been prepared by experience and by the growth of its own convictions, to find its place at once alongside of the continental national churches in the new imperial system. Unweakened by the disorganization into which the State was falling, it was ready to show itself at home the one strong and steady institution in the confusion of the time, and to begin at once to exercise the rights it claimed but had never been able to secure. It began to fill its own great appointments according to its own rules, and to neglect the feudal duties which should go with them. Its jurisdiction, which had been so closely watched, expanded freely and ecclesiastical courts and cases rapidly multiplied. It called its own councils and legislated without permission, and even asserted its exclusive right to determine who should be king. Intercourse with the papal curia grew more untrammelled, and appeals to Rome especially increased to astonishing frequency. With these gains in practical independence, the support on which it all rested grew strong at the same time,--its firm belief in the Hildebrandine system. If a future king of England should ever recover the power over the Church which had been lost in the reign of Stephen, he would do so only by a struggle severer than any of his predecessors had gone through to retain it; and in these events Thomas Becket, who was to lead the defence of the Church against such an attack, had been trained for his future work.

Monasticism also flourished while the official Church was growing strong, and many new religious houses and new orders even were established in the country. More of these "castles of God," we are told by one who himself dwelt in one of them, were founded during the short reign of Stephen than during the one hundred preceding years. In the buildings which these monks did not cease to erect, the severer features of the Norman style were beginning to give way to lighter and more ornamental forms. Scholars in greater numbers went abroad. Books that still hold their place in the intellectual or even in the literary history of the world were written by subjects of the English king. Oxford continued to grow towards the later University, and students there listened eagerly to the lectures on Roman law of the Italian Vacarius until these were stopped by Stephen. In spite of the cruelties of the time, the real life of England went on and was scarcely even checked in its advance to better things.

Footnotes

[41] See Rössler, Kaiserin Mathilde, 287 ff.

[42] William of Malmesbury, sec. 497.

[43] See the Athenaeum, February 6, 1904, p. 177.

[44] But see Lot, Fidčles ou Vassaux (1904), 205-212.

Personae

Terms Defined

Referenced Works