Imágenes de página

With even darker prospect did the succeeding year dawn upon the land; Ranulph, earl of Chester, and his half brother William de Rolmara, had rebelled against Stephen, and had, by fraud, possessed themselves of the strong castle of Lincoln, one of the most important fortresses in the kingdom. Thither, in consequence, went Stephen, and with him a numerous array of native troops and foreign mercenaries; and thither to support the earl of Chester and his brother came earl Robert of Gloster, and a well-appointed army. But fear and distrust prevailed on the king's side; a great eclipse of the sun, which had taken place in the preceding March, had "perplexed men's minds with chance and change," and, according to Malmsbury, had given rise to a saying, that the king would not continue a year in the government; and of this year almost eleven months had now expired. To increase the fears of Stephen and his friends, on the eve of Candlemas day, "while the servants of God were celebrating the vigils of the Purification, and expecting the dawn, there came hail and rain, and a terrible tempest," and an omen of more dread import than the lightning and thunder, "corruscations of appalling light,"* the woe-portending aurora. In the morning, the king and his suite attended solemn service in the cathedral; but omens of ill met him even there. Thrice the pyx with the consecrated wafer fell down upon the altar; and the hallowed taper which he bore broke to pieces in his hand.

* Ordericus Vitalis.

Then came the battle of Lincoln; nor can we be surprised at its result. A general panic seems to have seized the followers of Stephen: Waleran, the brave earl of Mellent, fled away; the earl of Richmond and Britany quitted the still contested field with his Breton troops; and even the valliant William d'Ypres, chief commander of the Flemish mercenaries (and who, for his great services, had scarcely a month before been created earl of Kent), fled likewise away. Dugdale says, "he fled with purpose to reserve himself for better times thus anticipating the Hudibrastic precept. It is far more probable that these appalling and repeated omens of the storm and the aurora, and the falling pyx and the broken taper, impelled these brave and devoted men to their disgraceful flight. The sequel is well known; Stephen, after fighting most valiantly during the day, w7as captured by the earl of Gloster, and after having been brought before the empress, was "committed close prisoner to the mighty fortress of Bristowe."

This melancholy reverse of fortune seems to have rendered Stephen even more than ever the favourite of the people; and all the chronicles record their sorrow and indignation, when the news of his captivity was made known. In what part of the kingdom Maude of Boulogne was, at the period of this fatal battle, no chronicle informs us. It is not improbable that she was in London; since we find that it was not until more than three months after the empress's coronation at Winchester, that she induced her liege subjects, the citizens, to open their gates to receive her. Whether the queen, however, were residing among her faithful and attached citizens of London or not, we find that they took every opportunity of aiding her in the anxious exertions which she now made to obtain her husband's release.

On the 3rd of March the empress Maude received that guerdon which compensated her for all her anxieties—the crown, which was placed on her brow by the thrice-perjured bishop of Winchester, Stephen's own brother; and on the 7th of the following month a great council was called in that city, to which a deputation of Londoners came, charged with a petition from their fellow-citizens, imploring the release of their king. To this supplication a conciliatory answer was made by the bishop of Winchester, who however remonstrated strongly with them; wherefore "they who were considered the chief people of England, and in the light of nobles," should join with those who had deserted their lord in battle, and whose evil counsels had caused all the sorrow which had now overtaken him. He also suggested, that the sole reason of Stephen's partizans urging the Londoners to come forward was, "that they might drain them of their money/1 Then the queen's chaplain, a priest named^Christian, arose and presented a petition in her name, praying the whole body of the clergy, and especially him the most powerful of their number, and the king's own brother, to aid in endeavouring to restore the king to his kingdom, "from whence abandoned men had driven him (even such as were under homage), and had cast him into chains."* From this last expression, it would seem that Stephen, very soon after his arrival at Bristol castle, had been fettered by order of the empress, and not (as has been most generally supposed) subsequently to her expulsion from London. This petition was also refused; but Malmsbury informs us that it was a work of great difficulty to sooth the minds of the Londoners, who departed so mortified at their petition being refused, and not improbably hinting a possibility of revenge, that it was not until St. John's day that the empress dared to enter the capital of her kingdom.

There, intoxicated with her proud fortune, she determined to make the Londoners feel the weight of her vengeance; she imposed on them a heavy fine, haughtily rejecting their prayer, "to be governed according to the laws of Edward the Confessor;" and when a deputation from them were admitted to her presence, and petitioned for some remission of their heavy fine, "she, with fierce countenance, her forehead wrinkled into frowns, and all feminine sweetness exiled from her face, drove them away with intolerable indignation," reminding them that they had been always willing to expend their wealth in the king's service, and in conspiring against her; and that therefore she would neither "spare them in any thing, nor relax in the smallest matter.f From this day, "the Londoners, ever suspicious, and murmuring among themselves," says Malmsbury, "broke out into open expressions

* Gesta Stephani. f Ibid.

of hatred," as indeed they might very naturally. But too self-willed to listen to argument, and too blinded by prosperity to foresee the coming storm, the empress at the same time rejected the second and most earnest supplication of the anxious queen, whose prayer, that her husband might be released on condition of his yielding up the kingdom, and becoming a voluntary exile with her, in some far distant land (probably that land the scene of her family's proudest triumphs, Palestine,) was met, not only with scornful rejection by the empress, but with "scoffs and taunts, and harsh and injurious revilings,"* of her attendant courtiers. While yet more, to fill up the measure of her scornful folly, she refused the most powerful churchman in the kingdom—him whose hand had placed on her head his brother's crown—the trifling boon that Stephen's eldest son Eustace should possess his mother's ininheritance.

Disdaining farther supplication, and depending on the aid of her tried friends the Londoners, Maude of Boulogne now sent summonses to William d'Ypres, who was in Kent, to collect an army, and with her son Eustace be prepared to meet her; while she in the mean time "sent over from the opposite side of the river a most gallant array of soldiers ;" (these being probably part of her tenantry from the paternal estates in Essex, who crossed over into Kent to join prince Eustace and William d'Ypres) j and the united forces commenced a fierce and sanguinary warfare against the friends and ad

*Gesta Stephaiii.

« AnteriorContinuar »