The History of The Kings of England 39

William of Malmesbury

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In the following week, that is, during the time of the Passion, on the seventh before the kalends of April, the forementioned barbarian, Robert Fitz-Hubert, a character well calculated for the stratagems of war, surprised the castle of Devizes: a man, by far the most cruel of any within the circle of this age’s memory: blasphemous, also, towards God. He used voluntarily to boast of having been present at a place where twenty-four monks were burnt, together with the church, declaring, that he too would frequently do the like in England, and grieve God, by the plunder of the church of Wilton; and the destruction of Malmesbury, with the slaughter of all its monks: that he would return them this good office, because they had admitted the king, to his disadvantage: for of this he accused them, though without foundation. I myself have heard, when, at any time, which was extremely rare indeed, he liberated his captives without torture, and they thanked him for it, on the part of God, I have heard him, I say, reply; “never let God owe me any thanks.” He used to expose his prisoners, naked and rubbed with honey, to the burning heat of the sun; thereby exciting flies, and other insects of that kind, to sting them. But, having now got possession of Devizes, he hesitated not to boast, that, he should gain, by means of this castle, the whole district from Winchester to London; and that he would send to Flanders for soldiers to defend him. While meditating, however, such a scheme, divine vengeance overtook him through the agency of one John Fitz-Gilbert, a man of surprising subtlety, who had a castle at Marlborough. For being thrown into chains by him, because he refused to surrender Devizes to his sovereign, the empress, he was hanged, like a common thief. Wonderful was the judgment of God on this sacrilegious wretch, that he should meet with such an ignominious end, not from the king, to whom he was inimical, but from the very persons he appeared to favour. The authors of his death ought worthily to be extolled, for having freed the country from such a pest, and justly despatched an intestine enemy.

In the same year, during Pentecost, the king resided at London, in the Tower, attended only by the bishop of Sees, for the others disdained, or feared, to come thither. Some little time after, by the mediation of the legate, a conference was appointed between the empress and the king, that, if possible, by the inspiration of God, peace might be restored. To this conference, near Bath, were sent on the part of the empress, her brother Robert, and others of her friends: on the king’s, the legate, the archbishop, and also the queen. But they wasted words and time, to no purpose, and departed without being able to conclude a peace. Nor was the ground of separation equal on both sides, as the empress, more inclined to justice, had declared, that she was not averse to the decision of the church: but the king most cautiously avoided this; fondly trusting to the counsels of those persons who loved nothing less than peace, so long as they could make their ascendency over him answer their own purposes. In the latter end of September, the legate, who knew that it was the especial duty of his office to restore peace, undertaking the toil of a foreign voyage for its accomplishment, hastened to sail over to France. Here, a long and anxious discussion, for tranquillizing England, taking place, between the king of France, earl Theobald, and many of the clergy, he returned, nearly at the end of November, bringing back counsels wholesome for the country, could they have been carried into effect. And indeed the empress and the earl assented to them immediately, but the king delayed from day to day, and finally rejected them altogether. Upon this, at last, the legate discontinued his exertions, waiting, like the rest, for the issue of events: for what avails it to swim against the stream ? and, as some one observes, “To seek odium only by one’s labours is the height of madness.”

I now attempt to give a clue to the mazy labyrinth of events and transactions which occurred in England, during the year 1141, lest posterity, through my neglect, should be unacquainted with them; as it is of service to know the volubility of fortune and the mutability of human estate, God only permitting or ordaining them. And, as the moderns greatly and deservedly blame our predecessors, for having left no memorial of themselves or their transactions since the days of Bede, I think I ought to be very favourably regarded by my readers, if they judge rightly, for determining to remove this reproach from our times.

King Stephen had peaceably departed from the county of Lincoln before Christmas, and had augmented the honours of the earl of Chester, and of his brother; of whom the earl, long since, in the time of king Henry, had been married to the daughter of the earl of Gloucester. In the mean while, the citizens of Lincoln, who wished to acquire great favour with the king, certified him by a message, when resident in London, that the two brothers had taken up their abode in security, in the castle of that city: and that, suspecting nothing less than the arrival of the king, they might be very easily surprised, while themselves would provide that he should get possession of the castle as secretly as possible. As Stephen never wished to neglect any opportunity of augmenting his power, he gladly repaired thither. In consequence, the brothers were surprised and besieged, even in the Christmas holidays. This step appeared unjustifiable to many, because, as I have observed, he had left them before the festival, without any suspicion of enmity; nor had he, even now, after ancient usage, abjured his friendship with them, which they call “defying.” However, the earl of Chester, though surrounded with imminent dangers, adroitly escaped from the castle. By what management this was accomplished I know not; whether through consent of some of the besiegers, or whether, because valour, when taken by surprise, frequently tries variety of methods, and often discovers a remedy for its emergencies. Not content with his own escape, he earnestly cast about, how to devise the safety of his brother and of his wife, whom he had left in the fortress. The more prudent mode seemed to be, to request assistance from his father-in-law, although he had long since offended him on many accounts, but principally because he appeared staunch to neither party. He sent messengers, therefore, promising eternal fidelity to the empress, if, induced more by affectionate regard than any desert of his, he would rescue those from danger, who were already in the very jaws of captivity.

Unable to endure this indignity, the earl of Gloucester readily assented. Weary of delay, too, as the fairest country was harassed with intestine rapine and slaughter, for the sake of two persons, he preferred bringing the matter to an issue at once, would God permit. He hoped, also, for the Divine assistance on his undertaking, as the king had molested his son-in-law, without any fault on his part; was at that moment besieging his daughter; and had castellated the church of the holy mother of God in Lincoln. How much ought these things to weigh in the mind of a prince ? Would it not be better to die, and fall with honour, than endure so marked a disgrace? For the sake then of avenging God, and his sister, and berating his relations, he entered on this perilous undertaking. The supporters of his party readily accompanied him; the major part of whom being deprived of their inheritances, were instigated to hostility by rage at their losses, and the consciousness of their valour. However, during the whole extended march, from Gloucester to Lincoln, he studiously concealed his intention, leaving all the army, with the exception of a very few, in suspense, by his mysterious conduct.

At length, on the day of the Purification of the blessed Mary, they arrived at the river flowing between the two armies, called the Trent, which, from its springs, together with floods of rain, had risen so high, that it could not possibly be forded. Here, at last, disclosing his intention to his son-in-law, who had joined him with a strong force, and to those he had brought with him, he added, that, “He had long since made up his mind, never to be induced to fly, be the emergency what it might; if they could not conquer, they must die or be taken.” All encouraged him to hope the best; and, wonderful to hear, though on the eve of hazarding a battle, he swam over the rapid river I have mentioned, with the whole of his party. So great was the earl’s ardour to put an end to calamity, that he preferred risking extremities to prolonging the sufferings of the country. The king, too, with many earls, and an active body of cavalry, abandoning the siege, courageously presented himself for battle. The royalists began the prelude to the fight, which they call the “joust,” as they were skilled in that exercise; but when they saw that the consular party, if they may be so called, did not attack from a distance with lances, but at close quarters with swords, and broke the king’s ranks with violent and determined onset, the earls, to a man, for six of them had entered the conflict, together with the king, consulted their safety by flight. A few barons, of laudable fidelity and valour, who would not desert him, even in his necessity, were made captive. The king, though he by no means wanted spirit to defend himself, being at last attacked on every side by the earl of Gloucester’s soldiers, fell to the ground by a blow from a stone; but who was the author of this deed is uncertain. Thus, when all around him were either taken or dispersed, he was compelled to yield to circumstances and become a captive. On which the truly noble earl of Gloucester commanded the king to be preserved uninjured, not suffering him to be molested even with a reproach; and the person, whom he had just before fiercely attacked when dignified with the sovereignty, he now calmly protected when subdued: that the tumults of anger and of joy being quieted, he might show kindness to his relation, and respect the dignity of the diadem in the captive. The citizens of Lincoln were slaughtered on all sides by the just indignation of the victors, and without commiseration on the part of the conquered, as they had been the origin and fomenters of this calamity.

The king, according to the custom of such as are called captives, was presented to the empress, at Gloucester, by her brother, and afterwards conducted to Bristol. Here, at first, he was kept with every mark of honour, except the liberty of going at large: but in succeeding time, through the presumption of certain persons, who said openly and contumeliously, that it did not behove the earl to treat the king otherwise than they chose; and also, because it was reported, that having either eluded or bribed his keepers, he had been found, more than once, beyond the appointed limits, more especially in the night-time, he was confined with fetters.

In the meanwhile, both the empress and the earl dealt by messengers with the legate his brother, that he should forthwith receive her into the church, and to the kingdom, as the daughter of king Henry, to whom all England and Normandy had sworn allegiance. This year, the first Sunday in Lent happened on the fourteenth before the kalends of March. By means of negotiators on either side, the business was so far forwarded, that they agreed to meet in conference, on an open plain on this side of Winchester. They assembled, therefore, on the third Sunday in Lent, a day dark and rainy, as though the fates would portend a woeful change in this affair. The empress swore, and pledged her faith to the bishop, that all matters of importance in England, and especially the bestowing of bishoprics and abbeys, should await his decision, if he, with the holy church, would receive her as sovereign, and observe perpetual fidelity towards her. Her brother, Eobert, earl of Gloucester, swore as she did, and pledged his faith for her, as did also Brian Fitz-count, lord Marcher of Wallingford, and Milo of Gloucester, afterwards earl of Hereford, with some others. Nor did the bishop hesitate to receive the empress as sovereign of England, and, together with certain of his party, to pledge his faith, that so long as she did not infringe the covenant, he would observe his fidelity to her. On the morrow, which was the fifth before the nones of March, a splendid procession being formed, she was received in the cathedral of Winchester; the bishoplegate conducting her on the right side, and Bernard, bishop of St. David’s, on the left. There were present also, Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, Robert of Hereford, Nigel of Ely, Robert of Bath: the abbots, Ligulf of Abingdon, Edward of Reading, Peter of Malmesbury, Gilbert of Gloucester, Roger of Tewkesbury, and some others. In a few days, Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, came to the empress at Winchester, by invitation of the legate: but he deferred promising fidelity to her, deeming it beneath his reputation and character to change sides, till he had consulted the king. In consequence, he, and many other prelates, with some few of the laity, were allowed to visit Stephen and converse with him: and, graciously obtaining leave to submit to the exigency of the times, they embraced the sentiments of the legate. The empress passed Easter, which happened on the third before the kalends of April, at Oxford; the rest returned to their respective homes.

On the day after the octaves of Easter, a council began, with great parade, at Winchester, consisting of Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, all the bishops of England, and many abbots: the legate presiding. Such as were absent, accounted for it by messengers and letters. As I was present at the holding of this council, I will not deny posterity the truth of every circumstance; for I perfectly remember it On the same day, after the letters were read by which some excused their absence, the legate called the bishops apart, and discoursed with them in secret of his design; then the abbots, and, lastly, the archdeacons were summoned. Of his intention nothing transpired publicly, though what was to be done engrossed the minds and conversation of all.

On the third day of the week, the speech of the legate ran nearly to this effect: “That, by the condescension of the pope, he acted as his vicegerent in England: wherefore, by his authority, the clergy of England were assembled at this council to deliberate on the peace of the country, which was exposed to imminent danger: that, in the time of king Henry, his uncle, England had been the peculiar abode of peace; so that by the activity, and spirit, and care of that most excellent man, not only the natives, of whatever power or dignity, dared make no disturbance; but, by his example, each neighbouring king and prince, also, yielded to peace, and either invited, or compelled, his subjects to do the like: moreover, that this king, some years before his death, had caused the whole realm of England, as well as the duchy of Normandy, to be engaged, by the oaths of all the bishops and barons, to his daughter, late the empress, who was his only surviving issue by his former consort, if he should fail of male offspring by the wife he had espoused from Lorraine: and adverse fortune,” said he, “was envious of my most excellent uncle, and suffered him to die in Normandy without male issue. Therefore, as it seemed long to wait for a sovereign who delayed coming to England, for she resided in Normandy, we provided for the peace of the country, and my brother was allowed to reign. And although I gave myself as surety between him and God, that he would honour and advance the holy church, and uphold good, but abrogate evil, laws; yet it grieves me to remember, shames me to say, how he conducted himself in the kingdom: how justice ceased to be exerted against the daring; how all peace was annihilated, almost within the year: the bishops made captive, and compelled to give up their possessions; the abbeys sold; the churches robbed of their treasures; the counsels of the abandoned regarded: while those of the virtuous were postponed or totally despised. You know how often I addressed him, both by myself and the bishops, more especially in the council held last year for that purpose, and that I gained by it nothing but odium. Every one, who shall think rightly, must be aware, that I ought to love my mortal brother, but that I should still more regard the cause of my immortal Father. Wherefore, since God has exercised his judgment on my brother, by permitting him, without my knowledge, to fall into the hands of the powerful, I have invited you all here to assemble by virtue of my legation, lest the kingdom should fall to decay through want of a sovereign. The case was yesterday agitated in private, before the major part of the English clergy, to whose right it principally pertains to elect the sovereign, and also to crown him. First, then, as is fitting, invoking God’s assistance, we elect the daughter of that peaceful, that glorious, that rich, that good, and, in our times, incomparable king, as sovereign of England and Normandy, and promise her fidelity and support.”

When all present had either becomingly applauded his sentiments, or, by their silence, not contradicted them, he added: “We have despatched messengers for the Londoners, who, from the importance of their city in England, are almost nobles, as it were, to meet us on this business; and have sent them a safe-conduct: and we trust they will not delay their arrival beyond to-morrow: wherefore let us give them indulgence till that time.”

On the fourth day of the week the Londoners came; and being introduced to the council, urged their cause, so far as to say, that they were sent from the fraternity, as they call it, of London, not to contend, but to entreat that their lord the king might be liberated from captivity: that all the barons, who had long since been admitted to their fellowship, most earnestly solicited this of the lord legate and the archbishop, as well as of all the clergy who were present. The legate answered them copiously and clearly: and, that their request might be the less complied with, the speech of the preceding day was repeated, with the addition, that it did not become the Londoners, who were considered as the chief people of England, in the light of nobles, to side with those persons who had deserted their lord in battle; by whose advice the king had dishonoured the holy church; and who, in fact, only appeared to favour the Londoners, that they might drain them of their money.

In the meantime, a certain person, whose name, if I rightly remember, was Christian, a clerk belonging to the queen, as I heard, rose up, and held forth a paper to the legate. He having silently perused it, exalted his voice to the highest pitch, and said, that it was informal, and improper to be recited in so great an assembly, especially of dignified and religious persons. For, among other offensive and singular points, the signature of a person was affixed to it, who, in the preceding year, at a similar council, had attacked the venerable bishops with opprobrious language. The legate thus baffling him, the clerk was not wanting to his mission, but, with notable confidence, read the letter in their hearing; of which this was the purport. “The queen earnestly entreated the whole clergy assembled, and especially the bishop of Winchester, the brother of her lord, to restore the said lord to his kingdom, whom abandoned persons, and even such as were under homage to him, had cast into chains.” To this suggestion, the legate answered to the same effect as to the Londoners. These conferring together, declared, that they would relate the decree of the council to their townsmen, and give it their support as far as they were able.

On the fifth day of the week the council broke up, many of the royal party having been first excommunicated; more specially William Martel, who had formerly been cupbearer to king Henry, and was at that time butler to Stephen; for he had sorely exasperated the legate, by intercepting and pilfering much of his property. It was now a work of great difficulty to soothe the minds of the Londoners: for though these matters, as I have said, were agitated immediately after Easter, yet was it only a few days before the Nativity of St. John that they would receive the empress. At that time great part of England readily submitted to her government; her brother Robert was assiduously employed in promoting her dignity by every becoming method; kindly addressing the nobility, making many promises, and intimidating the adverse party, or even, by messengers, exhorting them to peace; and already restoring justice, and the law of the land, and tranquillity, throughout every district which favoured the empress; and it is sufficiently notorious that if his party had trusted to Robert’s moderation and wisdom, it would not afterwards experienced so melancholy a reverse. The lord legate, too, appeared of laudable fidelity in furthering the interests of the empress. But, behold, at the very moment when she imagined she should get possession of all England, every thing was changed. The Londoners, ever suspicious and murmuring among themselves, now burst out into open expressions of hatred; and, as it is reported, even laid wait for their sovereign and her nobles. Aware of and escaping this plot, they gradually retired from the city, without tumult and in a certain military order. The empress was accompanied by the legate and David king of Scotland, the heroine’s uncle, together with her brother Robert who then, as at every other time, shared her fortune; and, in short, all her partisans to a man escaped in safety. The Londoners, learning their departure, flew to their residence and plundered every thing which they had left in their haste.

Not many days after, a misunderstanding arose between the legate and the empress which may be justly considered as the melancholy cause of every subsequent evil in England. How this happened I will explain. King Stephen had a son named Eustace, begotten on the daughter of Eustace earl of Boulogne. For king Henry, the father of the empress, that I may go back somewhat to acquaint posterity with the truth of these transactions, had given Mary, the sister of his wife, the mother of this lady, in marriage to the aforesaid earl, as he was of noble descent and equally renowned for prudence and for valour. By Mary, Eustace had no issue except a daughter called Matilda. When she became marriageable, after the death of her father, the same truly magnificent king gave her in wedlock to his nephew Stephen, and also procured by his care the county of Boulogne for him, as he had before conferred on him that of Moreton in Normandy. The legate had justly proposed that these counties should be bestowed on his nephew Eustace, whom I mentioned, so long as his father should remain in captivity. This the empress altogether opposed, and it is doubtful whether she had not even promised them to others. Offended at the repulse, he kept from her court many days; and though repeatedly sent for, persisted in refusing to go thither. In the meanwhile, he held a friendly conference with the queen, his brother’s wife, at Guildford, and being wrought upon by her tears and concessions, bent his mind to the liberation of Stephen. He also absolved, without consulting the bishops, all those of the king’s party whom he had excommunicated in the council, while his complaints against the empress were disseminated through England, that she wished to seize his person; that she observed nothing which she had sworn to him; that all the barons of England had performed their engagements towards her, but that she had violated hers, as she knew not how to use her prosperity with moderation.

To allay, if possible, these commotions, the earl of Gloucester, with a retinue not very numerous, proceeded to Winchester; but, failing in his endeavours, he returned to Oxford, where his sister had for some time established her residence. She therefore understanding, as well from what she was continually hearing, as from what she then learned from her brother, that the legate had no friendly dispositions towards her, proceeded to Winchester with such forces as she could muster. Being immediately admitted into the royal castle, with good intentions probably she sent messengers to the bishop, requesting that, as she was upon the spot, he would come to her without delay. He, not thinking it safe to go, deceived the messengers by an evasive manner, merely saying, “I will prepare myself:” and immediately he sent for all such as he knew were well-disposed to the king. In consequence almost all the earls of England came; for they were full of youth and levity, and preferred military enterprise to peace. Besides, many of them were ashamed at having deserted the king in battle, as has been said before, and thought to wipe off the ignominy of having fled, by attending this meeting. Few, however, attended the empress: there were David king of Scotland, Robert earl of Gloucester, Milo de Hereford, and some barons; for Ranulf earl of Chester came late, and to no purpose. To comprise, therefore, a long series of events within narrow limits: the roads on every side of Winchester were watched by the queen and the earls who had come with her, lest supplies should be brought in to those who had sworn fidelity to the empress. The town of Andover also was burned. On the west, therefore, necessaries were procured but scantily and with difficulty; some persons found on the road, being intercepted and either killed or maimed; while on the east, every avenue towards London was crowded with supplies destined for the bishop and his party; Geoffrey de Mandeville, who had now again revolted to them, for formerly after the capture of the king he had sworn fidelity to the empress, and the Londoners, lending every possible assistance, and omitting no circumstance which might distress that princess. The people of Winchester were, though secretly, inclined to her side, regarding the faith they had before pledged to her, although they had been in some degree compelled by the bishop to such a measure. In the meanwhile combustibles were hurled from the bishop’s castle on the houses of the townspeople, who, as I have said, rather wished success to the empress than to the bishop, which caught and burned the whole abbey of nuns within the city, and the monastery which is called Hyde without the walls. Here was an image of our Lord crucified, wrought with a profusion of gold and silver and precious stones, through the pious solicitude of Canute, who was formerly king and presented it. This being seized by the flames and thrown to the ground, was afterwards stripped of its ornaments at the command of the legate himself: more than five hundred marks of silver and thirty of gold, which were found on it, served for a largess to the soldiers. The abbey of nuns at Warewell was also burned by one William de Ipres, an abandoned character who feared neither God nor man, because some of the partisans of the empress had secured themselves within it.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015

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