Page images

day of his death.”Malmesbury's History. During part of this period, he was committed to the Bishop's Castle at Devizes “as to a most free and liberal prison,” an expression which indicates, that his person was placed under no further restraint than that of respectful surveillance: he was allowed to join in the pleasures of the chase, and to share the festivities of the Castle-hall. The tradition that his attempt to ride off on one of these occasions subjected him to the loss of eye-sight by the command of his brother, rests on too slender a foundation to be admitted as history. William of Malmesbury would certainly have known it, had it been true. Yet, he speaks only of Henry's humanity towards the prisoner. It' is true, that for additional security, the Duke was after a while removed from Devizes to Cardiff, a fortress of Robert Earl of Gloster, (the King's eldest illegitimate son,) but the praise of lofty virtue which Malmesbury is so fond of ascribing to this chieftain would have been totally belied by such an act of wanton cruelty, committed at a time when Robert's age and the death of his son had already bereft him of hope. Let us therefore imagine Duke Robert relieving his weary sojourn at Devizes by hunting the deer in the neighbouring park and adjacent forests; or watching the gradual completion of the grim fortress which formed his nightly asylum ; or aiding and advising his episcopal keeper in carrying out in the churches of St. John and St. Mary, a revival on a smaller scale of the masonic glories of Caen.

DUKE ROBERT'S VISION. It was at Devizes, according to the testimony of Ordericus Vitalis, that he saw in vision the final extinction of his hopes, in the fall of his son, William Clito, Earl of Flanders. The young man having formed a league with the King of France, was over-running Normandy, but after a wild career he fell in a sally made by the English party from the Castle of Atost, from the effects of a slight wound received in the ball of the

thumb. Simultaneously with this event his father had a dream in which he supposed himself struck in the right arm by a spear, by which he lost . . . . . [Here the record is defective, but it goes on to say, that Robert himself died only six years afterwards.] This dream occurred in the year 1128; and though Ordericus Vitalis places it at Devizes, it is proper to add, that the authority adopted by Mr. Foss in his * History of the Judges,' represents Duke Robert as already removed from the Bishop of Salisbury's custody to that of the Earl of Gloucester, viz., in 1126. Such might have been the date of the order for his removal, but it is quite possible that the actual change of prison did not occur till the King's return from Normandy in 1128, the Earl of Gloucester usually accompanying his father on these expeditions. See Giles's Malmesbury, p. 477.

THE FALL OF BISHOP ROGER. Henry I.'s only son William was drowned in the calamitous shipwreck of Harfleur, in 1116. His only daughter Matilda had already been given in marriage to Henry V. Emperor of Germany, who dying in the very bloom of his life and of his conquests, left her a widow in the year 1125. In the following year her father met her in Normandy and carried her back to England. He now concerted measures for securing to her the succession of his own island-crown; and summoning a council of the most influential persons in the realm, induced them to swear that after his own death, they would maintain the cause of the Empress his daughter against every usurper. All hastened to put their hand to this instrument, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops, the Abbots; and foremost among the laity, David the King of Scotland uncle to the Empress, Robert Earl of Gloucester, the King's eldest (illegitimate) son, and Stephen Earl of Moreton and Boulogne. There was a singular rivalry manifested by the two last named, each contending for the honour

of first taking the oath, Robert pleading the privilege of a son, Stephen that of a nephew. This rivalry, as we shall hereafter see, eventually took the form of deadly strife.

This affair being accomplished, Henry immediately after affianced his daughter to Geoffrey son of Fulke Earl of Anjou, the eldest son of which marriage afterwards became Henry II. of England. Thus matters remained in reference to the succession till the King's death which took place in Normandy in 1135. While his attendants were performing his obsequies at Caen, Stephen hastily passed over into England, and got himself crowned within twenty-two days after his uncle's decease. Not only could he repose on the allegiance of Henry, Bishop of Winchester, which was natural enough, as the Bishop was his brother; but he had also contrived to win over the two keepers of the late King's vast personal wealth, Roger Bishop of Salisbury and William de L'Arche. Roger's own excuse for this act of treachery towards the daughter of his benefactor, must be given in William of Malmesbury's own words, “I have often,” says he, “heard the Bishop of Salisbury say, that he was freed from the oath he had taken to the Empress, for that he had sworn conditionally that the King should not marry her to any one out of the kingdom without the consent of the nobility; that none advised the match except Robert Earl of Gloster, Brian Fitzcount, and the Bishop of Louviers. Nor do I state this because I believe the assertion of one who well knew how to accommodate himself to the varying turns of fortune, but as an historian of veracity I record the general belief of the people.”-- Malmesbury's History, A.D. 1135.

The real reason seems to have been, that Roger, in common with the other ecclesiastics, hoped to make better terms for their order with Stephen. Forthwith, therefore, they caused him to enter into a league confirmatory of their canonical rights; a vain expedient; for one of the earliest scenes in the ensuing drama brings them before us the victims of his unscrupulous jealousy. For a brief period, indeed, Roger was treated with all the consideration he had ever enjoyed, and his son Roger, surnamed “Pauper,” became Stephen's High Chancellor: but the mere possibility of the lordly owner of four castles again proffering to the Empress his “discarded faith,” brought sweeping ruin on all his house.

Touching this son Pauper, or “the poor," as he figures in the ensuing tragedy, it may be necessary to observe, that he was the son of a lady named “Matilda of Ramsbury," of whom some authors speak as though she were not the Bishop's wife. But considering the prelate's character for prudence and his high position in the State, Mr. Foss considers it hardly credible that he could have been otherwise than legally united to her, for she was openly living in his Castle of Devizes, when it was attacked. Roger, in refusing to obey the canons which were then attempted to be enforced, enjoining celibacy on priests, was only acting like the rest of the English clergy, who in 1125, chased the Pope's legate Cremensis with disgrace out of the kingdom.--See Foss's Judges, i. 151.

King Stephen's reign to all appearance opened prosperously. It was not only that his manly frankness made him personally a great favourite with the common people, whose burdens he lightened, and with whom he never disdained to associate, but his lavish disposal of lands to such of the barons whose allegiance he was most anxious to secure, gave him for awhile an undisputed ascendancy over the Empress and her brother. But the lawless licence thus fostered by the King's own hand wrought his own ultimate damage. The unscrupulous claimants for his favours every where commenced a system of castle building, which should either force him to consent to their demands, or should put into their own hands the power of robbing the country. A thousand castles, (or more properly speaking, strong houses) soon covered the fair face of England ; and the peace and plenty which had distinguished the preceding reign, were exchanged for internecine war and the cry of the oppressed. To suppress the local tyrants in these strongholds, became now to Stephen a perpetually recurring and most harassing task. It was necessary to levy armies, to surround each fortress, and to conduct the siege according to all the forms of war. The reduction of the Castle of Exeter, belonging to Baldwin de Revers Earl of Devonshire, occupied the King three months and cost him no less than 15,000 marks. This occurred in only the second year of his reign, and already was insurrection rife in every part of his dominions. As the menaces of one and another of his revolting barons reached his ear, he is said to have exclaimed, “Since they have chosen me their King, why do they now forsake me? But never will I be called an abdicated King.” David King of Scotland next declared for the Empress, but experienced at North Allerton the signal defeat known as “the Battle of the Standard.” Another rising instigated by Geoffrey Talbot declared itself in the West, and straightway Stephen is seen storming at the walls of Bath, Bristol, and Castle-Carey. The prelates turn restive. The Bishop of Lincoln fortifies himself at Newark, and the Bishop of Salisbury does the same at Devizes. The report that the Empress and her brother of Gloucester are on the eve of landing, every day assumes a more positive form. Evidently the time has arrived when Stephen must either crush the warrior-Bishops at a blow, or see their wealth and influence thrown into his rival's scale. The scheme is accomplished by the following means.

In June 1139, a council of the King's party was convened at Oxford, at which the aforesaid Bishops were strictly enjoined to attend. They went, it is true; but more with the equipment of border chieftains than in the garb of ecclesiastics. Roger had at first pleaded age and infirmity as an excuse for non-attendance, but finding the King inexorable, he invoked the additional shelter of the retinue of his son the Chancellor.

« PreviousContinue »