Page images

“By my Lady St. Mary,” he sighed forth in the presence of the Monk of Malmesbury, “I know not how it is, but my heart misgives me at the prospect of this journey. Of this I am at least sure, that I shall be of much the same service at Court, as a foal is in battle.” “Thus,” adds his chronicler, “ did his mind forbode the coming evils.”

Swarming into the city of Oxford, the retainers of the Bishops were not long in exciting the wrathful envy of the military barons around the King's person. In particular, their claims to certain quarters being resisted by the followers of a foreign nobleman named Allan Earl of Brittany, issued in a tumult of the most disastrous kind. A contest on this subject occurring among some of the inferior servants, the Bishop of Salisbury's retainers, then sitting at table, overheard it, left their meal unfinished, and rushed to the contest. Mutual reproaches were soon drowned in the clash of steel. The Bishop's men not only routed their foes and slew a nephew of Earl Allan's, but they fell on the servants of another foreigner, named Hervey of Lyons, a man described as of such high nobility and so extremely haughty, that he had never before deigned to visit England, though invited hither by Henry I. The affair was not without loss to the victors; for they had several wounded, and one of their officers “a favourite knight” of the Bishop was killed before his master's face.

The Bishops had now broken the King's peace. Whether through a pre-arranged plot of their enemies or the result of accident, the pretext for despoiling them was equally available. It was forth with resolved in council that in expiation of this high contempt nothing should be accepted short of the absolute surrender of all their castles into the King's hands; and to ensure their concurrence in a demand so unparalleled, their persons were ordered into immediate arrest. The Episcopal party were set upon and dispersed: Salisbury and Lincoln were rudely captured: Ely who seems to have been the most warlike of his family, fled with precipitation to his uncle's castle at Devizes and hastily gathered together the materials for an energetic defence. The irritated and impetuous King now broke up the council-board of Oxford, resolving to bring the affair to an immediate issue. He had already too much experience in castle-fighting to be willing at such a crisis to encounter the vexatious delays of a systematic siege; and he resorted therefore to a stratagem characteristic enough of a period when every principle of law and order was paralyzed, and when humanity had lost its every safeguard but in the fitful and irregular exercise of a grotesque system of chivalry. In the present case even chivalry was violated; though it would be unfair to infer that Stephen practised its doubtful virtues less frequently than others. It was rather an exception to his rule.

Having ascertained that the Bishop of Salisbury's lady Matilda of Ramsbury was residing in the castle, and rightly judging that she was not animated by the ambitious views of the Bishop of Ely, whose design we can hardly doubt was to hold out till the Empress's arrival, Stephen ordered a tall gibbet to be erected opposite to the main entrance, and announcement forthwith to be made to the dame that its object was for the immediate execution of her son the Chancellor unless she prevailed on the Bishop of Ely to surrender the place: she was further informed that her lord the Bishop of Sarum would be suffered neither to eat nor drink till the terms were complied with. To heighten the scene, the King caused the unhappy Chancellor to be arrayed in irons, and with a halter hanging about his neck to be led in company with his father to the very gates of the castle for the purpose of exercising their personal influence on her feelings. According to William of Malmesbury's version of the affair, the Bishop's abstinence from food was a voluntary act, adopted to subdue the spirit of the Bishop of Ely. Meanwhile the distinguished prisoners were treated with every imaginable disrespect. “The old Bishop,” says the Continuator of Florence of Worcester, “was confined in the crib of an ox-lodge in Devizes, and his nephew of Lincoln in a vile hovel more loathsome than the other.” For three days no signal of surrender appeared from the castle walls; till in the end Matilda herself contrived to deliver up the Keep or chief place of strength, thereby compelling Ely to surrender the subordinate portions of the fortress. Even these were not yielded but on certain terms. He retained his liberty, though he was ordered to quit the realm, and he relinquished to the Crown all munitions of war, together with such part of his uncle's long accumulated treasury as lay in the castle, consisting of 40,000 marks in silver, and plate and jewels to an incredible amount. Knyghton and Matthew Paris further inform us that the treasures found in this and Roger's other castles were made use of to negociate a marriage for Eustace the King's son with Constantia of France, thus securing the co-operation of the French monarch. This affair which may be termed the first siege of Devizes Castle, dates about July, 1139.

By the advice of their friends the other captive prelates acceded sub hastâ to all Stephen's demands. Lincoln purchased his liberty by the surrender of Newark and Sleaford : the castles of Malmesbury, Sarum, and Sherbourn submitted at the first summons. But this summary mode of treating Church dignitaries and reducing Bishops from the position of “bold barons” to the estate of private men, how agreeable soever to the mass of Stephen's followers, could not fail of provoking angry expostulation from a powerful minority. Henry Bishop of Winchester, although brother to the King, unhesitatingly took the side of the oppressed party; and in his capacity of Pope's Legate, summoned a court of arbitration to meet at Winchester in the approaching August; “ being deterred,” says his eulogist Malmesbury, “from the path of truth neither by fraternal affection nor the fear of danger.”

Of the debates at this council, whither repaired all the Bishops of England and the Archbishops of Canterbury and Rouen, Malmesbury has preserved a very graphic and interesting report. Entire recapitulation would be tedious, but it may be stated in the general, that Stephen's advocates claimed for the Crown the exclusive right of the military executive, especially in times of national insecurity ;-that the injured party on the other hand loudly declared that no earthly power had liberty to rob the Church of her possessions ;--that the spirited old Bishop of Salisbury in particular, scorning to supplicate the men whom he had so long patronized, announced his intention of appealing to Rome ;and that after much mutual recrimination, the muttered threats of excommunication falling upon the ears of the King's partizans, the Legate dissolved the assembly only when he saw that its prolongation was about to issue in the drawing of swords.

But the sword ecclesiastic had also an edge, which King Stephen was by no means in a position to defy. By way therefore of making expiation for the personal indignities to which he had subjected his anointed victims, he shortly after submitted to a public sentence of penance, which should, he vainly þoped, at once save his credit and his castles too. Casting off his royal robe, bruised in spirit, and with a voice which escaped only in sighs, the grim champion of a hundred battles underwent the adjudicated form of humiliation, Gesta Stephani, p. 51.

THE LANDING OF MATILDA. But the clergy were not to be hoodwinked by an act of penance. They carried with them half the barons of the realm, and Stephen's troubles began afresh. Within a single month after the above synod, Earl Robert escorted his sister the Empress into England, landing at Arundel in October 1139. He brought with him only 140 horsemen, an adventurous step which in the judgement of the Monk of Malmes

bury likened him to Julius Cæsar who according to Livy commenced the conquest of the Roman world with only five cohorts. Leaving the Empress at Arundel, he now rode with scarce a dozen of these knights across the hostile country to Bristol, a city and district which had long been in his interest. In the meantime Stephen, who was battering the walls of Marlborough when the alarming intelligence reached his ears, advanced towards Arundel; and, impelled by the gallantry which was part of his disposition, actually granted a safe-conduct to the Empress who was come to dispossess him of the crown, to enable her to pass in safety across Hampshire and Wiltshire and rejoin her brother. This trust was committed to the Bishop of Winchester and Waleran Earl of Mellent who adopted a route through Calne and may therefore reasonably be supposed to have also tarried at Devizes which was then held for the King.

We know nothing of the chieftain placed in authority here by Stephen after the ejectment of the legitimate owner, beyond a statement made at the aforesaid Synod by the Legate, that the Bishop's castles were entrusted to “laymen of no religious character," but during the autumn of this year events thickened so rapidly and assumed so sanguinary a character that the castle naturally became an object of desire to all the various belligerents, and was not long in changing hands. The Empress's party was strongest in

From this passage Mr. Giles in- flies” and were cut up to cover his fers that William of Malmesbury copy-books ;-when he relates how must have seen Livy in a more com- they were used by the sons of the plete state than it exists at present. Cavalier Colonel Stump to scour Giles's Translation of Malms. 505. their firelocks: - and how, still Doubtless here was one of the many worse! the rector of Yatton-Keynel MSS. which were scattered to the stopped therewith the bung-holes winds when the Stump family came of his strong beer barrels, exultingly into possession of the Abbey at the exclaiming as he delivered the final time of the Reformation, whose loss blow, that there was nothing served Aubrey so feelingly bewails, when his purpose so well as an old sheet he tells us that in his own school of parchment. Natural History of days “they flew about like butter- Wilts, p. 78, Britton's Edition.

« PreviousContinue »