1142-49: Discord Lingers On

Stephen’s resumption of his duties as king in no way meant that everything from here on in went smoothly.

In June 1142 Robert crossed from Wareham to Normandy to discuss matters with Geoffrey of Anjou. However, Geoffrey was still committed to the fight in Normandy and declined to supply the troops and resources Robert sorely needed. Surprisingly though, he did allow Robert to return to England in October with young Henry, he and Matilda’s eldest son.

In the meantime, Stephen had taken advantage of Robert’s absence and had, after a rather skillful diversionary tactic, besieged Matilda at Oxford Castle which was held by Robert D’Oyly who was the son of Nigel D’Oyly. He appeared determined not to let her escape this time and pressed the siege relentlessly. However, in a move that has become legendary, Matilda escaped after being lowered by rope from the castle walls at night. With four companions, all of them wrapped in white cloaks to disguise themselves against the snow, she escaped to Wallingford which was held by Brian Fitzcount.

• 1142-44: Dealing with a Rebellious Baron
In amongst all the twists and turns of the skirmishes between the forces of the King and those of Robert of Gloucester, Stephen was also called upon to deal with the rebellious activities of Geoffrey de Mandeville. He was another baron who switched sides at will. Stephen had made him Earl of Essex in late 1139 or during 1140 and then in 1141 appointed him custodian of the White Tower in London. He, like many barons, supported Matilda after Stephen’s defeat at the Battle of Lincoln and she reconfirmed his possessions and granted him the Norman lands of his paternal grandfather, Eudo de Rie (Dapifer), and appointed him sheriff of Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and London. After Stephen’s release he turned his support back to the King but it must have been short-lived because he rebelled and Stephen confiscated his castles in 1143. During 1143 and 1144 Geoffrey set up his headquarters in the fen country of East Anglia and used the Isle of Ely and Ramsey Abbey as a base for his rebel operations. From this position it was difficult for the King to effectively contain Geoffrey’s activities, although he was eventually besieged by Stephen. Geoffrey died in September 1144, the result of an arrow wound he had received in a skirmish while attacking Burwell Castle in August 1144.

Turning his full attention back to the ongoing struggle to hang onto his crown, Stephen slowly to pushed towards Robert’s strongholds in Bristol as Robert continued the fight on behalf of Matilda, The Empress, although the chance of either side gaining overall victory were slim.

Matilda lost one of her supporters when Miles of Gloucester was killed in a hunting accident in 1143. At the end of 1145 Robert suffered a major blow when his son Philip changed his allegiance to Stephen. Philip took with him the strategic castles of Cricklade and Cirencester. Robert realised Gloucester and Bristol were under threat and in 1146 he opened negotiations which, given his unsuccessful attack on Farnham in Surrey in 1147, must have proven fruitless. It was when he returned to Bristol to gather new forces that he became ill and died on 31st October 1147.

At this point Matilda appears to have become disheartened, realising perhaps that without her mainstay and military commander the fight really was now unwinnable. She returned to Anjou and Normandy, leaving the struggle to be taken up by her son Henry. However, unrest would continue throughout the remainder of Stephen’s reign.

In 1149 Henry arrived in England with a small force but lacked the resources to change the situation. Oddly, it seems that Stephen met with Henry and gave him the necessary aid to return to Normandy after he had been refused assistance by his own supporters. It was another gesture on his part which no doubt raised a few eyebrows amongst some of the barons.

The last few years of Stephen’s reign were dominated by his attempts to have his son Eustace crowned in his own lifetime. The clergy, particularly Theobald of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury, had stubbornly refused. He was prepared to recognise Stephen as king but it would seem he had no desire to prolong the civil war which surely would have continued on had Eustace been crowned. In this decision Theobald had Papal backing so he refused to grant Stephen’s request.


1141: The Aftermath

• Almost a Queen; Matilda’s Flight from London; The Rout of Winchester

With the King now captive in Bristol, the opportunity for Matilda to secure the throne had come and events moved quickly.

Firstly, Robert and Matilda secured the backing of Henry, Bishop of Winchester and now Papal Legate (Stephen’s brother) and Theobald of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In addition she also had the support of other notable barons such as Brien (Brian) Fitzcount, the illegitimate son of the Count of Brittany, and Miles of Gloucester. King David of Scotland had also stood by her claim and made an appearance by her side in London.

It was here that it all went wrong. The Londoners were never particularly supportive at any rate, but Matilda apparently angered them with her demands and high handed treatment. When Stephen’s wife, Matilda of Boulogne, rallied the king’s supporters and raised an army with the help of William of Ypres and advanced on London, the Londoners took up arms. They besieged the Empress and she and her supporters were forced to flee to Oxford Castle on 24th June. Matilda, who had styled herself Lady of the English, was never crowned.

Further misjudgements, military routs, and misfortune followed. Henry, who as always seemed adept at reading the winds of change, opportunely switched his allegiance back to Stephen, and with a small force laid siege to Winchester Castle. On 31st July a substantial army commanded by Robert arrived in Winchester. Henry and his men fled to Wolvesey Castle which was in the south east corner of the town, and it was promptly put under siege. On 2nd August the bishop’s men set fire to the city which destroyed a large portion of it.

Meanwhile, Matilda of Boulogne had assembled a well provisioned army which included mercenaries hired by Henry, the mercenary cavalry of William of Ypres, a nearly 1,000 strong London militia, and a levy of the Queen’s feudal tenants from Boulogne. The intention was to blockade Matilda and Robert’s forces in the city and it was a tactic which proved to be very successful. Robert’s forces soon began to suffer from lack of food and, in an attempt to weaken the blockade, Robert attempted to fortify Wherwell Abbey six miles to the north of the city but William of Ypres defeated them with heavy losses.

Now convinced that he must retreat from Winchester Robert planned their withdrawal. Brian Fitzcount and Reginald, Earl of Cornwall led an advance guard which protected Matilda. The main body and the baggage followed, with Robert commanding the rear guard. On 14th September 1141 they left the city and it was while Robert was fighting a rearguard action against the forces of Matilda of Boulogne at the river crossing of Stockbridge that he was captured. Robert’s actions had allowed his half- sister to escape but Robert was imprisoned for two months at Rochester Castle.

Henry and Matilda’s successful defence of Winchester proved to be a crucial turning point in the civil war. With events once again at a stalemate, there was but little choice for both parties to agree to an exchange of prisoners, Stephen for Robert. The exchange took place on 1st November 1141 at Winchester.

Stephen once more took up his duties as King and retained his position until his death. The war continued but it soon become obvious that neither side were in a winning position.

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A Note:  Today, 25th October,  is of course the anniversary of King Stephen’s death in 1154. Who’d have thought that 858 years later someone would be enthusiastically writing about his deeds in a blog on the internet using a computer? Crazy! Vale Stephen of Blois, and although Faversham Abbey is long gone, rest well, wherever your bones may be.

1141: The Battle of Lincoln (II)

• Orderic Vitalis: Account of the Battle of Lincoln 1141

“In the year of our Lord 1141, the fourth indiction, there were grievous troubles in England, and great changes occurred, to the serious loss of many persons. Then it was that Ranulf, earl of Chester, and his half-brother William de Roumare, revolted against King Stephen, and surprised the fortress which he had at Lincoln for the defence of the city. Cautiously choosing a time when the garrison of the tower were dispersed abroad and engaged in sports, they sent their wives before them to the castle, under pretence of their taking some amusement. While, however, the two countesses stayed there talking and joking with the wife of the knight whose duty it was to defend the tower, the earl of Chester came in, without his armour or even his mantle, apparently to fetch back his wife, attended by three soldiers, no one suspecting any fraud. Having thus gained an entrance, they quickly laid hold of the bars and such weapons as were at hand, and forcibly ejected the king’s guard. They then let in Earl William and his men-at-arms, as it had been planned before, and in this way the two brothers got possession of the tower and the whole city.

Bishop Alexander and the citizens sent intelligence of this occurrence to the king, who became greatly enraged at it, and was much astonished that two of his dearest friends, on whom he had lavished honours and dignities, should have acted so basely. In consequence, after Christmas, he assembled an army, and marching directly to Lincoln, took by a night surprise about seventeen men-at-arms who lay in the town, the citizens giving him their help. The two earls had shut themselves up in the castle, with their wives and most intimate friends; and finding the place suddenly invested on all sides, became very anxious, not knowing what to do.

At last, Ranulf, who being the youngest was the most active and venturesome, crept out by night with a few horsemen, and made for the county of Chester, among his own vassals. He then announced his quarrel with the king to Robert, earl of Gloucester, his father-in-law, and others his friends and relations, and raising the Welsh, with the disinherited and many others, in arms against the king, gathered forces in every quarter to enable him to bring relief to the besieged. He also sought a special interview with Matilda, countess of Anjou, and pledging his fealty to her, earnestly entreated her aid, which was most graciously granted.

The two earls, having assembled a vast body of men under arms, marched towards the besieged place, and were prepared to give battle if any resistance was offered. But the king slighted the reports which he daily received of the enemy’s advance, and could not be persuaded that they were capable of, or would venture on, such an enterprise. Meanwhile, he constructed engines and prepared for the assault of the besieged, who implored his mercy. At length, on Sexagesirria Sunday, while they were celebrating the feast of the Purification, the king in person having ascertained that the enemy was near, he called together his great lords and asked for their counsel under present circumstances. Some were of opinion that he should leave a large body of troops with the loyal citizens to defend the town, while he should march out with all honour and levy an army from every part of England; with which he should return, when opportunity offered, and reduce the castle by storm with royal severity. Others recommended him to show due reverence to the feast of the Purification of St. Mary, mother of God, and by an exchange of messages with a view to terms of peace defer the engagement; that through this delay neither party might be utterly prostrated, and human blood might not be shed to the sorrow of multitudes. However, the obstinate prince disdained to listen to these prudent counsels, and thought it dishonourable to defer the engagement for any considerations: he, therefore, gave orders for his troops to arm for battle. The armies met near the city, and being drawn up in order on both sides, battle was joined.

The king divided his army into three bodies, and the same order was observed on the other side. The front rank of the royal army was composed of Flemings and Bretons, under the command of William d’Ypres and Alain de Dinan. Opposed to them were a wild band of Welshmen, under their chiefs Meredith and Kaladrius. The king himself, with some of his men-at-arms, dismounted, and fought on foot with great resolution for his life and kingdom. In like manner, Ranulf, earl of Chester, with his cavalry, also dismounted, and encouraged the bold infantry of Chester to the work of slaughter. As for Robert, earl of Gloucester, who bore the most distinguished part in this expedition, he commanded that the men of Bath, and other disinherited gentlemen, should have the honour of striking the first blow for the recovery of their inheritances.

At first, the battle was fought on both sides with great desperation, and there was much effusion of human blood. The best knights and men-at-arms were in the king’s army; but the enemy outnumbered them in infantry and the Welsh levies. It is certain that William d’ Ypres with his Flemings, and Alain with his Bretons, were the first to give way; thereby emboldening the enemy, and spreading panic in the ranks of their confederates. This engagement was disgracefully distinguished by the most scandalous treachery; for some of the great lords, with a few of their retainers, accompanied the king, while they sent the great body of their vassals to secure the victory to his adversaries. Thus they deceived their lord, and may justly be considered as perjured men and traitors. Count Waleran and his brother William de Warrenne, with Gilbert de Clare, and other knights of high renown, both Norman and English, as soon as they saw the first rank routed, turned their backs and fled in alarm for their own safety. On the other hand, Baldwin de Clare, Richard Fitz-Urse, Engelran de Sai, and Ilbert de Lacy, stuck closely to the king during the battle, and fought stoutly by his side till the day was lost.

As for King Stephen, mindful of the brave deeds of his ancestors, he fought with great courage; and as long as three of his soldiers stood by him, he never ceased dealing heavy blows with his sword and a Norwegian battle-axe, with which some youth had supplied him. At last, worn out with fatigue and deserted by all, he surrendered to Earl Robert, his cousin; and being made prisoner, was by him soon afterwards presented to the Countess Matilda. Thus, by a turn of the wheel of fortune, King Stephen was hurled from his throne, and, alas! incarcerated in the important fortress of Bristol in anguish and misery. Baldwin de Clare and the other brave young soldiers, who dismounted with the king and fought gallantly, as I have just said, were made prisoners.

The night before, while the people of God were keeping the eve of the feast dedicated to the honour of the Virgin Mother, and waited for matins, when a high mass was to be celebrated according to the rites of the church, a great storm of hail and rain fell in the western parts, that is, in France and Britain, and terrible claps of thunder were heard, accompanied by vivid flashes of lightning.

On the very day of the battle, while the king was hearing mass before the engagement, and his mind was agitated, if I mistake not, by anxious care and thought, the consecrated wax-taper broke in his hand, and fell thrice to the ground in the presence of many witnesses. This was remarked by some judicious persons to be a manifest token of evil to come; and the fall of the prince on the same day clearly explained the omen. The king’s disaster filled with grief the clergy and monks and the common people; because he was condescending and courteous to those who were good and quiet, and, if his treacherous nobles had allowed it, he would have put an end to their nefarious enterprises, and been a generous protector and benevolent friend of the country.

The townsmen of Lincoln who had taken the king’s side, as they were bound to do, he being also the lord of the place, finding that the enemy had obtained a complete victory, abandoned their wives and houses and all that they possessed, and fled to the neighbouring river, intending to save themselves by becoming exiles. Rushing in great crowds to the boats, in their haste they so overcrowded them with their numbers, losing all order and self-possession in the imminent fear of death, and those who came latest jumping in upon those who were first, that the boats were upset in a moment, and nearly all who were embarked (some say as many as five hundred of the principal citizens) perished. William, a famous soldier and nephew of Geoffrey, archbishop of Rouen, fell on the king’s side. Of the others, as those report who were present, not more than a hundred were slain.

Count Ranulf and his victorious comrades entered the city, and pillaged every quarter of it like barbarians. As for the citizens who remained, they butchered like cattle all whom they found and could lay hands on, putting them to death in various ways without the slightest pity.

After this battle and the capture of the king, a great division arose in England. Henry, bishop of Winchester, immediately joined the party of the Angevins; and receiving the countess with respect in the royal city, entirely deserted his brother, the king, and all who were on his side. Earl Waleran, William de Warrenne, Simon, and several other lords adhered to the queen, and pledged themselves to fight resolutely for the king and his heirs. Thus the mischief spread on all sides, and England, which formerly overflowed with wealth, was now miserably desolated, and abandoned to rapine, fire, and slaughter.”

~ from Historia Ecclesiastica by Orderic Vitalis