The History of The Kings of England 40

William of Malmesbury

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In the meantime, the earl of Gloucester, though suffering, with his followers, by daily contests with the royalists, and though circumstances turned out far beneath his expectation, yet ever abstained from the burning of churches, notwithstanding he resided in the vicinity of St. Swithun’s. But unable to endure any longer the disgrace of being, together with his party, almost besieged, and seeing fortune inclining towards the enemy, he deemed it expedient to yield to necessity; and, having marshalled his troops, he prepared to depart. Sending his sister, therefore, and the rest, in the vanguard, that she might proceed without interruption, he himself retreated gently, with a chosen few, who had spirit enough not to be alarmed at a multitude. The earls immediately pursuing him, as he thought it disgraceful, and beneath his dignity to fly, and was the chief object of universal attack, he was made captive. The rest, especially the chiefs, proceeded on their destined journey, and, with the utmost precipitation, reached Devizes. Thus they departed from Winchester on the day of the exaltation of the holy cross, which at that time happened on a Sunday, having come thither a few days before the assumption of the holy mother of God. It appeared to some rather miraculous, and was matter of general conversation in England, that the king on the Sunday of the purification of our lady, and the earl on the Sunday of the exaltation of the life-imparting cross, should each experience a similar fate. This, however, was truly worthy of remark and admiration, that, no one, on this mischance, ever beheld the earl of Gloucester either dispirited or dejected in countenance. He breathed too high a consciousness of dignity, to subject himself to the caprice of fortune; and, although he was at first invited by soothing measures, and afterwards assailed by threats, he never consented to treat of his liberation, except with the privity of his sister. At last the affair was thus decided: that the king and himself should be liberated on equal terms; no condition being proposed, except that each might defend his party, to the utmost of his abilities, as before. These matters, after repeated and long discussion, from the exaltation of the holy cross, to the festival of All Saints, then came to a suitable conclusion. For on that day, the king, released from his captivity, left his queen, and son, and two of the nobility at Bristol, as sureties for the liberation of the earl; and came with the utmost speed to Winchester, where the earl, now brought from Rochester, whither he had first been taken, was at this time confined. The third day after, when the king came to Winchester, the earl departed, leaving there on that day his son William, as a pledge, till the queen should be released. Performing with quick despatch the journey to Bristol, he liberated the queen, on whose return, William, the earl’s son, was set free from his detention. It is, moreover, sufficiently notorious, that, although, during the whole of his captivity and of the following months till Christmas, he was enticed by numberless and magnificent promises to revolt from his sister; yet he always deemed his fraternal affection of greater importance than any promise which could be made him. For leaving his property and his castles, which he might have quietly enjoyed, he continued unceasingly near the empress at Oxford, where, as I have said before, fixing her residence, she held her court.

In the meantime, the legate, a prelate of unbounded spirit, who was never inclined to leave incomplete what he had once purposed, summoned by his legatine authority a council at Westminster, on the octaves of St. Andrew. I cannot relate the transactions of this council with that exact veracity with which I did the former, as I was not present. We have heard that a letter was then read from the sovereign pope, in which he gently rebuked the legate for not endeavouring to release his brother; but that he forgave him his former transgression, and earnestly exhorted him to attempt his liberation by any mode, whether ecclesiastical or secular: that the king himself entered the council, and complained to the reverend assembly, that his own subjects had both made captive, and nearly killed him by the injuries they inflicted on him, who had never refused them justice. That the legate himself, too, by great powers of eloquence, endeavoured to extenuate the odium of his own conduct: that, in truth, he had received the empress, not from inclination, but necessity; for, that, while his brother’s overthrow was yet recent, all the earls being either dispersed or waiting the issue of events in suspense, she had surrounded Winchester with her party: that she had obstinately persevered in breaking every promise she had made pertaining to the right of the churches: and that he had it from unquestionable authority, that she, and her partisans, had not only had designs on his dignity, but even on his life: that, however, God, in his mercy, had caused matters to fall out contrary to her hopes, so that he should himself escape destruction, and rescue his brother from captivity: that he commanded therefore, on the part of God and of the pope, that they should strenuously assist the king, anointed by the will of the people and with the approbation of the holy see: but that such as disturbed the peace, in favour of the countess of Anjou, should be excommunicated, with the exception of herself, who was sovereign of the Angevins.

I do not say, that this speech was kindly received by all the clergy, though certainly no one opposed it; for all bridled their tongues either through fear, or through reverence. There was one layman sent from the empress, who openly forbade the legate, by the faith which he had pledged to her, to ordain any tiling, in that council, repugnant to her honour; and said, that he had made oath to the empress, not to assist his brother, unless, perchance, by sending him twenty horsemen at the utmost: that her coming to England had been effected by his frequent letters: that her taking the king, and holding him in captivity, had been done principally by his connivance. The advocate affirmed these and many other circumstances, with great harshness of language, and by no means sparing the legate. However, he could not be prevailed upon, by any force of argument, to lay aside his animosity: for, as I have said before, he was an active perseverer in what he had once taken in hand. This year, therefore, the tragedy of which I have briefly related, was fatal, and nearly destructive, to England; during which, though conceiving that she might now, perhaps, experience some little respite, yet, she became again involved in calamity, and, unless God’s mercy shall shortly come to her relief, must there long continue.

It seems fitting that I should commence the transactions of this year, which is a.d. 1142, with certain events which were unnoticed in the former; and, at the same time, briefly recapitulate what has been said, in various places, of Robert, earl of Gloucester, son of king Henry, and submit it, thus arranged, to the consideration of the reader. For, as he was the first to espouse the just defence of his sister, so did he persevere with unshaken constancy in her cause without remuneration; I say without remuneration, because some of her supporters, either following the course of fortune, are changed with its revolutions, or having already obtained considerable benefits, fight for justice under expectation of still further recompense: Robert, alone, or nearly alone, uninfluenced by such considerations, was never swayed, as will appear hereafter, either by hope of advantage, or fear of loss. Let no one, therefore, suspect me of adulation, if I relate these matters circumstantially: for I shall make no sacrifice to favour; but pure historical truth, without any stain of falsehood, shall be handed down to the knowledge of posterity.

It has been related of the earl, how, first of all the nobility, after David, king of Scotland, he confirmed, by oath, his fealty to his sister, the empress, for the kingdom of England, and the duchy of Normandy, in the presence of his father Henry. There was some contention, as I have said, between him and Stephen earl of Boulogne, afterwards king of England, who should swear first; Robert alleging the preference of a son, Stephen the dignity of a nephew.

It has been recorded too, what reasonable causes, from December, when his father died, till after the ensuing Easter, detained him in Normandy, from coming immediately into England to avenge his sister’s injuries. And when at last he did come, with what just deliberation, and with what proviso, he consented to do homage to the king; and how justly, in the following year, and thenceforward, he abjured it.

Nor has his second arrival in England from Normandy, after his father’s death, with his sister, been omitted: where, relying on the favour of God, and his innate courage, he ventured himself, as into a desert full of wild beasts, though scarcely accompanied by one hundred and forty horsemen. Neither has it been unnoticed, that, amid such tumult of war, while anxious watch was kept on all sides, he boldly came to Bristol with only twelve horsemen, having committed his sister to safe custody, as he supposed, at Arundel: nor with what prudence, at that time, he received her from the very midst of her enemies, and afterwards advanced her in all things to the utmost of his power; ever busied on her account, and neglecting his own interest to secure hers, while some persons taking advantage of his absence, curtailed his territories on every side: and, lastly, urged by what necessity, namely to rescue his son-in-law, whom the king had besieged, he engaged in a hazardolis conflict, and took the king prisoner. This fortunate event, however, was somewhat obscured by his own capture at Winchester, as I have recorded in the transactions of the former year; though by the grace of God, he showed himself, not so much an object of commiseration, as of praise, in that capture. For, when he saw that the royalist earls were so persevering in the pursuit that the business could not be gotten through without loss on his part, he sent forward all those for whom he was under apprehension, and more especially the empress. When they had proceeded far enough to escape in safety, he followed leisurely, that the retreat might not resemble a flight, and received the attack of the pursuers himself; thus purchasing, by his own detention, the liberty of his friends. And now, even at the moment of his capture, no one, as I have said above, perceived him either dispirited, or humbled in language: he seemed so far to tower above fortune, that he compelled his persecutors, for I am loath to call them enemies, to respect him. Wherefore the queen, though she might have remembered, that her husband had been fettered by his command, yet never suffered a bond of any kind to be put upon him, nor presumed on her dignity to treat him dishonourably. And finally at Rochester, for thither he was conducted, he went freely whither he pleased, to the churches below the castle, and conversed with whom he chose, the queen only being present (for after her departure he was held in free custody in the keep) and so calm and serene was his mind, that, getting money from his vassals in Kent, he bought some valuable horses, which were both serviceable and beneficial to him afterwards.

The earls, and those whose business it was to speak of such matters, at first, tried if he would allow of the king and himself being liberated on equal terms. Though his countess, Mabil, out of solicitude for her beloved husband, would have embraced these terms the moment she heard them, being, through conjugal affection, bent on his liberation, yet he, in his wiser policy, refused: asserting that a king and an earl were not of equal importance; however, if they would allow all who had been taken with him, or for him, to be set at liberty, to this he might consent. But the earls and other royalists would not assent to these terms they were anxious indeed for the king’s liberty, but not at their own pecuniary loss: for earl Gilbert had taken William of Salisbury: and William de Ipres, Humphry de Bohun; and others had made such captures as they could, at Winchester, greedily expecting large sums for their ransom.

Next attacking the earl another way, they were anxious to allure him with magnificent promises, if so they might effect their purpose. Would he go over to the king’s side, and dismiss his sister, he should govern the whole country: all things should await his decision: the crown should be the only distinction between him and the king: over all others he should rule as he pleased. The earl rejected these unbounded promises, with a memorable reply, which I wish posterity to hear, and to admire: “I am not my own master,” said he, “but am in another’s power; when I shall see myself at my own disposal, I promise to do every thing which reason dictates on the matter you propound.”

Irritated and incensed at this, when they could do nothing by fair means, they began to menace, that they would send him over sea to Boulogne, and keep him in perpetual bondage till death. Still, however, with a serene countenance, dispelling their threats, he firmly and truly protested, that he feared nothing less. For he relied on the spirit of his wife, the countess, and the courage of his partisans, who would immediately send the king into Ireland, if they heard of any foul deed perpetrated against himself A month elapsed in these transactions; so difficult a work was it to effect the liberation of princes whom fortune had fettered with her chain. But, at length, the supporters of the empress having conferred together, entreated the earl by divers messages, that “as he could not do what he would,” according to the comic writer, “he would do what he could:” he should allow therefore, the king and himself to be set at liberty, on equal terms, “otherwise,” said they, “we fear lest the earls, inspirited by the consciousness of their great and most distinguished exploit in making you captive, should attack us one by one, reduce our castles, and even make an attempt upon your sister.”

Robert, wrought upon at length, assented to the proposal of the legate and archbishop, but still on condition that none of the castles, or territory, should be restored, which had come under the power of the empress or of any of her faithful adherents, since the capture of the king: but he could not by any means obtain the release of his friends, as he had given offence to some persons, in rejecting, with a kind of superciliousness their magnificent promises with respect to the government of the whole kingdom. And as they were extremely anxious that, for the royal dignity, the king should be first set at liberty, and then the earl; when he demurred to this, the legate and the archbishop made oath, that if the king, after his own liberation, refused to release the earl, they would forthwith deliver themselves up into Robert’s power, to be conducted wherever he pleased. Nor did he rest here; for his sagacious mind discovered an additional security. It might fall out, that the king, as often happens, listening to evil counsel, would consider the detention of his brother, and of the archbishop, as of very little consequence, so that he himself were at his ease. He demanded, therefore, from them both, separately, instruments, with their seals, addressed to the pope, to the following effect; “That the sovereign pope was to understand, that they, for the liberation of the king and the peace of the kingdom, had bound themselves to the earl by this covenant, that, if the king refused to liberate him after his own release, themselves would willingly surrender to his custody. Should it, therefore, come to this calamitous issue, they earnestly entreated, what it would well become the papal goodness voluntarily to perform, that he would release them, who were his suffragans, as well as the earl, from unjustifiable durance.” There was something more to the same effect.

These writings, received from either prelate, Robert deposited in a place of safety, and came to Winchester with them and a great company of the barons. The king also, as has been before observed, coming thither soon after, had a friendly interview with the earl. But although he, and all the earls present, eagerly busied themselves in bringing over Robert to their wishes, yet, “firm as a rock amid the ocean” in his resistance, he rendered their attempts abortive, or refuted them by argument. He affirmed, that, it was neither reasonable nor natural, that he should desert his sister, whose cause he had justly espoused, not for any benefit to himself, nor so much out of dislike to the king, as regard to his oath, which, they also ought to remember, it was impiety to violate, especially when he called to mind, that he had been enjoined by the pope to respect the oath he had taken to his sister in the presence of his father. Thus failing of peace, they severally departed.

The reason why I have not incorporated these events with the transactions of the former year is that I did not then know them; for I have always dreaded to transmit anything to posterity, through my narrative, the truth of which I could not perfectly vouch for. What, then, I have to relate of the present year will commence as follows.

The respective parties of the empress and of the king, conducted themselves with quiet forbearance from Christmas to Lent, anxious rather to preserve their own, than to ravage the possessions of others. The king went to a distant part of the kingdom for the purpose of quelling some disturbances. Lent coming on gave all a respite from war; in the midst of which the empress came with her party to Devizes, where her secret designs were debated. So much of them, however, transpired that it was known that all her partisans had agreed to send for the earl of Anjou, who was most interested in the defence of the inheritance of his wife and children in England. Men of respectability were, therefore, despatched and such as might fitly execute a business of such magnitude. Not long after, nearly on the Easter holidays, the king, while meditating, as it is said, some harsh measures, was detained by an acute disease at Northampton; so severe, indeed, that he was reported, almost throughout England, as being at the point of death. His sickness continued till after Pentecost, when returning health gradually restored him. In the meantime, the messengers returning from Anjou, related the result of their mission to the empress and the princes in a second council, held at Devizes on the octaves of Pentecost. They said that the earl of Anjou in some measure favoured the mission of the nobility, but that among them all he was only well acquainted with the earl of Gloucester, of whose prudence and fidelity, greatness of mind and industry, he had long since had proof. Were he to make a voyage to him he would, as far as he was able, accede to his wishes: but that all other persons would expend their labour in passing and repassing to no purpose.

The hopes of all the assembly being thus excited, they entreated that the earl would condescend to undertake this task on account of the inheritance of his sister and of his nephews. At first he excused himself, alleging the difficulty of the business, the perilous journey, beset with enemies on either side of the sea; that it would be attended with danger to his sister, as in his absence those persons would be hardly able to defend her, who, distrusting even the strength of their own party, had nearly deserted her during his captivity. Yielding at length to the general desire, he demanded hostages, especially from those who were considered as the chief persons, to be taken with him into Normandy, and to be pledges, as well to the earl of Anjou as to the empress; and that all, continuing at Oxford, should unite in defending her from injury to the utmost while he was absent. His propositions were eagerly approved, and hostages given him to be conducted into Normandy.

Robert, therefore, bidding adieu to his sister, and taking with him his hostages and some light troops, proceeded by safe marches to Wareham, which town and castle he had long since entrusted to his eldest son William. There, soon after the festival of St. John, committing himself, by the grace of God, to the ocean, with such vessels as he then possessed, he weighed anchor. When they were about mid-sea, a tempest arising, all except two were dispersed; some were driven back, and some carried beyond their destination. Two only, in one of which was the earl with his most faithful adherents, keeping their course, arrived in the wished-for port. Proceeding thus to Caen, he sent messengers for the earl of Anjou. The earl came without reluctance, but stated his difficulties, and those not a few, to the object of the embassy when proposed to him; among others that he should be detained from coming into England by the rebellion of many castles in Normandy. This circumstance delayed the earl of Gloucester’s return longer than he had intended: for, that he might deprive the earl of Anjou of every evasion, he assisted him in subduing ten castles in Normandy. The names of which were Tenerchebrei, Seithilaret, Brichesart, Alani, Bastenborg, Triveres, Castel de Vira, Placeit, Vilers, Moreton. Yet even by this activity, he furthered the end of his mission but little. The earl of Anjou stated fresh causes, as the former were done away, to excuse his coming into England. Indeed, as a very singular favour, he permitted his eldest son, by the empress, to accompany his uncle to England, by whose presence the chiefs might be encouraged to defend the cause of the lawful heir. The youth is named Henry, after his grandfather; may he hereafter resemble him in happiness and in power.

In England, in the meantime, the king seizing the opportunity of the earl’s absence came unexpectedly to Wareham, and finding it slightly garrisoned, he burned and plundered the town, and immediately got possession of the castle also. Not content with this, as he saw fortune inclined to favour him, three days before the festival of St. Michael, by an unexpected chance, he burned the city of Oxford, and laid siege to the castle, in which was the empress with her domestic guards. This he did with such determined resolution, that he declared no hope of advantage or fear of loss should induce him to depart till the castle was delivered up, and the empress surrendered to his power. Shortly after, all the nobility of the empress’s party, ashamed of being absent from their sovereign in violation of their compact, assembled in large bodies at Wallingford, with the determination of attacking the king if he would risk a battle in the open plain; but they had no intention of assailing him within the city, as Robert earl of Gloucester had so fortified it with ditches that it appeared impregnable unless by fire.

These rumours becoming prevalent in Normandy, Robert hastened his return. He embarked, therefore, somewhat more than three, but less than four hundred horsemen, on board fifty-two vessels; to these were added two which he took at sea on his return. God’s grace so singularly favoured his pious resolution that not one ship, out of so great a number, was separated, but all nearly close together, or gently proceeding one before the other, ploughed the calm bosom of the deep. Nor did the waves violently dash against the fleet, but rather seemed subserviently to further their passage, like that most beautiful appearance at sea when the wave gradually approaching gently breaks upon the shore. Thus making the port of Wareham, these favoured vessels restored the earl and all his companions to the wishes of their friends.

He had at first thought of landing at Southampton, at once to wreak his vengeance both on its inhabitants and on their lord: but this resolution was changed through the repeated entreaties of the Vituli, who were fearful that their dearest connexions, who resided at Southampton, would be involved in the general calamity. These are a kind of mariners, who are known by the name of Vituli; and as they are his faithful adherents he thought fit to listen to their petitions, and desist from his design. Again, it appeared more dignified to return to the place whence he had departed, and to recover by force what he had lost by a similar mode. Reducing, therefore, immediately the port and town, he laid siege to the castle, which by its strength stimulated the spirit, not to call it obstinacy, of those of the king’s choicest troops who defended it. Yet, nevertheless, soon after, the garrison, shaken in their resolution by the engines of the earl, and greatly alarmed, begged a truce, that, as is the custom of the military, they might demand assistance from the king, consenting to deliver up the castle if he refused to come by a certain day. This, though he was possessed with the utmost impatience to become master of the fortress, was very agreeable to the earl, as it led him to suppose it might draw off” Stephen from besieging his sister. We may imagine what firmness of mind this man possessed who, with little more than three hundred horsemen, and as yet joined by no succours in England, could undauntedly await the king, who was reported to have more than a thousand; for many persons had joined the siege, not so much through dislike to the empress as through the hope of plunder.

However, when it was certified that the king, from that resolution which I have before mentioned, refused assistance to the besieged at Wareham, the earl obtained the castle, and with the same attack subdued the island of Portland, which they had fortified, as well as a third castle, called Lullewarden, which belonged to a certain chamberlain, called William of Glastonbury, who had lately revolted from the empress. Robert then, at the beginning of Advent, summoned the whole of Matilda’s partisans to Cirencester: where all resolving to afford their sovereign every possible assistance, they meditated a march to Oxford; courageously determining to give the king battle, unless he retreated. But as they were on their route, the pleasing account reached them, that the empress had escaped from the blockaded castle at Oxford, and was now at Wallingford in security. Turning aside thither, then, at the suggestion of their sovereign, since the soldiers who had remained at her departure, after delivering up the castle, had gone away without molestation, and the holidays admonished them to repose awhile, they resolved to abstain from battle, and retired to their homes.

I would very willingly subjoin the manner of the empress’s liberation, did I know it to a certainty; for it is undoubtedly one of God’s manifest miracles. This, however, is sufficiently notorious, that, through fear of the earl’s approach, many of the besiegers at Oxford stole away wherever they were able, and the rest remitted their vigilance, and kept not so good a look out as before; more anxious for their own safety, in case it came to a battle, than bent on the destruction of others. This circumstance being remarked by the townsmen, the empress, with only four soldiers, made her escape through a small postern, and passed the river. Afterwards, as necessity sometimes, and indeed, almost always, discovers means and ministers courage, she went to Abingdon on foot, and thence reached Wallingford on horse-back. But this I purpose describing more fully, if, by God’s permission, I shall ever learn the truth of it from those who were present.

William of Malmesbury

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