Imágenes de página

ther of that king, whom she had doomed to a dungeon and fetters. After this, the same worthy prelate, ascending the pulpit, pronounced a blessing upon all her friends, and anathema upon all who might oppose her. From Winchester the empress soon after retired to Wilton ; where, after some delay, she received the homage of the archbishop of Canterbury, and the rest of the bishops ;—the primate, in this instance, with a scrupulosity that most favourably contrasted with the carelessness of his episcopal brethren, refusing to offer homage to the new occupier of the throne, until released by Stephen himself from the oath formerly taken to him. From Wilton, Maude the empress removed to Reading, and from Reading to Oxford, where she kept Easter in royal state.

But even thus early, ere the crown was firmly placed on her brow, did the empress, by her intolerable pride and haughty contempt of the people over whom she bore rule, excite the bitterest hatred of her enemies, and awaken the worst fears of her friends. Although wearing the very crown whose possession had sufficed for the towering ambition of her wise and politic father, she pertinaciously clung, in recollection, to the imperial diadem which had spanned her infant brow, and gloried more in the mere title of empress, than in the substantial dignity of queen-of England. In her grants, the title, " Mathildis Imperatrix," always appears; while on her great seal, in the only instance wherein the name " Imperatrix " is exchanged for that of "Regina," with a strange perversity she seems to have been unwilling to acknowledge her own subjects; and on the legend of this important state instrument we actually read, "Mathildis Dei gratia Rornanorum Regina.'' *

Nor were these instances of contempt for the people over whom she was placed, mere indications of passing caprice; her whole conduct toward her own countrymen proved that she considered them rather as vanquished aliens, than as native subjects; and petitions for well-recognized and chartered rights, although presented by the inhabitants of the metropolis, to which she was now hastening, in order to receive that recognition which every Norman sovereign had anxiously pressed to obtain, were rejected with haughty scorn, and menaces of future punishment.

The same extravagant pride which led the empress to commit the fatal error of irremediably offending the citizens of London, caused her to irritate, and eventually to separate from her interests, many of those who had been her warmest and most efficient friends. To these, on occasions when they approached her to solicit any boon, she was accustomed to express herself with much haughtiness, and even to suffer them (and the equally haughty bishop of Winchester was among the number) to kneel before her footstool during the whole interview. Her most ill-advised and unjust refusal of this prelate's moderate request, that his nephew Eustace might possess his mother's hereditary possessions,

* Vide the seal in Sand ford.

was "the last drop poured into the already full cup and from thenceforth "the waters of bitterness began to flow."

Passing over the events which forced her so precipitately to flee from London, we next find her occupying the castle of Winchester, and, supported by all her most powerful adherents, resolutely laying siege to the bishop's palace; while she, on her part, was besieged by Maude of Boulogne, aided by William d'Ypres, with his Flemish auxiliaries, and by a large body of the London citizens. During this long and disastrous siege the rich and extensive abbey of Hyde was destroyed by fire; and the chroniclers, with well-grounded indignation, relate how that Henry of Winchester, having discovered that the large cross * belonging to that monastery had been damaged, he stripped it of the gold and jewels with which it had been adorned, and placing the latter among his own treasures, made use of the former to pay his own troops.

Seven weeks did the siege continue. At length, on the eve of Holy-Rood-day, a cessation of hostilities for eight-and-forty hours, according to the established usage of the church, was proclaimed ; and eagerly did both the besieged and the besiegers hail this short interval of repose. At this time great distress, for want of provisions, prevailed in the castle of Winchester; and the haughty empress, yielding up all hopes of ultimate victory, now limited her desires to the mere securing a safe retreat. In

* It was said to have been the gift of Canute.

this emergency, her devoted brother-in-law, Gloster, taking advantage of this short truce, hastily summoned a chosen company of men-at-arms, on whom he could rely, and placing them under the conduct of David of Scotland and the earl of Cornwall, committed the empress to their care; and bidding them proceed by the road to Gloster, during the darkness of the night, promised to follow them with the remainder of the garrison, and thus cover their retreat. Accordingly, ere break of day, the empress and her little company cautiously quitted the castle by a postern gate, and proceeded on her way to Gloster.

Scarcely had they set out ere the bishop received intelligence of their flight; and unwilling that so important a prize should escape him, regardless of the truce proclaimed by himself, he immediately dispatched his garrison in pursuit of them. But Gloster had acted with decisive promptitude, and had already with his whole force quitted the castle. Thus, when the bishop's troops came up with the fugitives, they discovered, not a small company of men-at-arms in attendance on the flying empress, but the formidable earl of Gloster, and the whole of his brave company. It was at Stockbridge that the pursuers overtook the pursued; and there, to allow his sister yet more time to escape, that most devoted of brothers turned to give battle. But his bravest exertions were vain; his followers were nearly all killed, or taken prisoners; and he, ere evening, exulting that the empress had escaped, found himself a captive in the hands of his enemies.

In the mean time the empress arrived at the castle of Lugdershall; from whence, after but a few hours of repose, she was forced to flee. A second time, as at London, she was saved by the swiftness of her horse, and she gained Devizes. She was not, however, long permitted to remain there, and by some stratagem * she was conveyed to Gloster, where she learned the total ruin of her projects, by the captivity of her valiant and devoted brother. To obtain the release of this all-important auxiliary of her cause, the empress now bent every energy; nor, had it depended merely on the wishes of the rival queens, would nearly three months have elapsed ere their mutual exertions were crowned with success. The empress Maude would have willingly acceded to the proposal of exchanging the sovereign for the subject, and the castle of Bristol would soon have given up its royal prisoner in exchange for its illustrious master, had not the mercenary nobles, who adhered to the queen, protested against the unheard-of plan of placing a noble, however powerful, in the balance with a monarch; and anxious to secure high ransoms for those barons whom the last contest had thrown into their hands, they vehemently opposed the proposition, and from different motives seconded the generous objections of the captive earl, who refused to be set at liberty, unless his fellow-prisoners might be free also.

At length, on All-Saints'-day, the exchange was

* The common story of her being conveyed to Gloster on a bier, as it is neither mentioned by Malmsbury, nor the author of Gesta Stephani, is most probably without foundation.

« AnteriorContinuar »