Post-classical history



On 3 February 1141 it seemed that England had fallen into the hands of the Angevin party and that nothing could stop Matilda becoming ruler and queen; ‘the greater part of the kingdom at once submitted to the countess and her adherents’.1 Men recalled the fate of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy and contender for the English throne. He had been captured in 1106 at the Battle of Tinchebrai, and had been imprisoned for the rest of his life until 1134, losing his duchy in the process. And he had been captured and imprisoned by his own brother, so what chance could there be for Stephen? That indeed is how it seemed to men of the time, both in England and Normandy. The unknown monk who wrote the last part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle expressed it bluntly: ‘when the king was in prison, the earls and the powerful men expected that he would never get out again’.2

Almost at once some vendettas were settled and some men dispossessed. Some few did fight on, including Alan, Earl of Richmond, who tried to ambush Ranulf of Chester. But Alan himself was captured, put in chains and tortured in a dungeon until he submitted to Ranulf, did homage to him and handed over his castles. Another result of this humiliation for Alan, was that it also confirmed that his rival in the west country, Reginald, son of Henry I, would keep the earldom of Cornwall.

Another to continue resistance was Hervey, Earl of Wiltshire, married to Stephen’s daughter. He was holding Devizes Castle and was besieged in it. He eventually surrendered the castle to Matilda and was banished abroad. To what extent Hugh the Poor resisted is not clear, but he too was turned out of his earldom, of Bedford, and replaced by the pro-Angevin Miles Beauchamp. The Gesta Stephani says that he ‘became in a short time a knight instead of an earl and instead of a knight a very poor man’.3 A few men had stuck by Stephen, and had soon suffered for it, others drew a sharp lesson. In England they hastened to join Matilda, and come to terms with her, from Stephen’s own brother Henry of Blois, to the castellan of the Tower, Geoffrey de Mandeville. The Gesta Stephanisneers at Robert d’Oilly and the Earl of Warwick as ‘effeminate’ for the speed of their submission, but they were practically trampled in the rush.4 At first a number of magnates remained in the royalist camp, including Count Waleran and the Earls of Surrey and Northampton.5 But not for long. Following his deal with Geoffrey of Anjou in Normandy, Waleran had little option but to make his peace with Matilda in England, which he had done by September of 1141.6 There can be little doubt that Waleran had made his decision by giving priority to his estates over the Channel. For the Angevin party it was, of course, a time of rejoicing: ‘to some it was an occasion of festival and seemed the dawning of a new day, as they hoped that an end might thereby be put to strife and war’.7

The situation for Stephen was perhaps even blacker in Normandy from the threat posed by the Count of Anjou. Thus, in the end, men equally sought to make their peace with Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, as in England they did with Matilda, even those who had been Stephen’s most active supporters, such as Waleran, Count of Meulan, and Rotrou, Count of Mortagne. The church in Normandy followed the example of that in England, and John, Bishop of Lisieux, who had been the leading figure there in Stephen’s administration, made his peace with Count Geoffrey, though he would in any case die within a few weeks. Once more it is vital to view things through the eyes of the time. These men were not dyed-in-the-wool traitors, as they have often been presented, they were simply accepting political realities as they appeared to the most sober magnates. That they proved inaccurate in their forecasts, we only know with hindsight. Most men considered that Stephen was likely to remain out of the way, indeed that God had made his judgment upon the king. There was no sense in throwing away lands and position in a hopeless cause. Just as they had flocked to Stephen in 1136 once he had become king, so now they rushed to join the victors of Lincoln and their friends.

The general gloom and depression among the royalists is tellingly reflected by Orderic Vitalis, writing in his Norman monastery. At this moment, with Stephen imprisoned, Orderic felt his life drawing to an end and concluded his lengthy chronicle with a brief personal reminiscence. He tells us of his birth in England at Atcham, his early entry as a boy into the Norman house of St-Evroult, in a country where he did not even understand the language, and they could not pronounce his English name. Orderic was now sixty-six, ‘worn out with age and infirmity’, and he ruminated sadly upon the fate of kings: ‘At this very moment Stephen, King of England, languishes wretchedly in a dungeon’. He saw ‘the princes of this world overwhelmed by misfortunes and disastrous setbacks’, and took consolation in his religion. So comes to an end this great contribution to our knowledge of the period, and the rest of our tale will be the poorer for lack of his love of detail and human comment.8

The Bishop of Winchester was pressured by Matilda and Earl Robert to recognize the empress openly. His attitude before this had certainly given them reason to hope for his support. He had probably been primarily responsible for arranging Matilda’s escape from the trap at Arundel, and he had publicly denounced his brother in the church council, after the arrest of the bishops. The Gesta Stephani sees the bishop ‘dragged this way and that by different hooks’.9

The Angevins sent messages to him, and arranged a meeting outside Winchester at the beginning of March. It was on a Sunday, in truly English weather, that the meeting took place. The sky was grey, overcast with clouds, and rain pelting down ‘as though the fates portended a change for the worse in their cause’.10 William of Malmesbury says that Matilda swore ‘that all matters of chief account in England, especially gifts of bishoprics and abbacies, should be subject to his control if he received her in Holy Church as lady, and kept his faith to her unbroken’.11 Like other details given by this writer, this is open to question. If true, it seems an unwise promise, and one that as ruler she could never keep. The same writer says that all the leading magnates with her, including Earl Robert, made the same vow. Then Bishop Henry agreed to recognize her, provided she did not break the agreement. The Gesta Stephani presents Bishop Henry at this point, rather as William of Malmesbury had defended Earl Robert at the beginning of the reign: that he made peace for the time being so that later ‘he might assist his brother if a chance were offered’.12

On the following day, 3 March, Matilda came into Winchester. The bishop gave her possession of the royal treasury and the keys to the royal castle. Turstin the clerk handed over the royal crown and the money in the treasury. The bishop arranged for the citizens ‘at a public meeting in the market place to salute her as their lady and their queen’.13 So Matilda was recognized as Queen of England at least in one city. Then she entered the cathedral in a procession, accompanied by the Bishop of Winchester on her right, and the Bishop of Saint David’s on her left. The nephews of Roger of Salisbury, Bishops Nigel of Ely and Alexander of Lincoln, were also present, no doubt contemplating cheerfully how the tables had been turned. Bishop Henry was also responsible for sending to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who arrived at Winchester a few days later.

But Theobald was less easily persuaded than Bishop Henry, and deflected the request for his allegiance, saying that it would not be fitting to change so rapidly, and that he would need first to consult with King Stephen. Clearly other bishops also had reservations, and there was an ecclesiastical delegation to the king, which Matilda allowed. Seemingly, Stephen gave his permission to them to break their oaths to him – so at least says William of Malmesbury.14 Matilda’s triumphant Easter at Oxford in 1141 seemed like a repeat of Stephen’s five years before.

After Easter a church council was called to debate the situation, which William of Malmesbury himself attended. Henry of Blois, as legate, took the chair, and Archbishop Theobald, together with all the bishops and many other church dignitaries, attended. Bishop Henry held a secret conference with all the bishops, then the abbots, then the archdeacons. No report was published, but it is clear from subsequent events that they favoured acquiescing in the turn of events and accepting Matilda.

Bishop Henry excused his move by saying that his brother had failed to keep his promises to the church, and harped on the arrest of the three bishops in 1139. He told the council that he had often broached the subject with his brother, and won ‘nothing but hatred’. Somewhat pompously he declared: ‘that while I should love my mortal brother, I should esteem far more highly the cause of my immortal Father’. He argued that the kingdom could not be allowed to stagger along without a ruler, and therefore ‘we choose as lady of England and Normandy the daughter of a king who was a peacemaker … and we promise her faith and support’.15 It all sounds rather like special pleading on his own behalf. But from Matilda’s point of view, the church at least had been brought over, the first necessity if she were to be crowned.

By the time the empress reached Wilton, her journey was taking the appearance of a triumphal procession. The Archbishop of Canterbury was there to welcome her, and ‘a great crowd of people flocked together, so that the town gates were hardly wide enough for the mass which entered’.16 At Reading again people gathered together, and many came to do homage to the woman who seemed destined to be their new queen. It was at Reading that Robert d’Oilly surrendered his castle at Oxford. Again, at Saint Alban’s, great rejoicing and a queen’s welcome, and here arrived citizens from London to make arrangements for her welcome in the capital.

Stephen at first was given some comforts and freedom of movement, but was then chained up in a more humiliating fashion. One chronicler says this was because Matilda acted in revenge, ‘with a woman’s bitterness’.17 Stephen may have ruminated upon his fate, and no doubt regretted his decision to fight against the odds outside Lincoln.

But the royalist party was not altogether wiped out. This was to prove the reason for the long endurance of this civil war, neither side seemed to have the power quite to finish off the other. And no one would have a better chance of doing this than Matilda in 1141. No major magnate at first stood in the field to oppose the victors. The more enthusiastic supporters of Stephen had shared his defeat at Lincoln, and had either been captured or felt an especial need to placate the Angevins. Only a very few leading figures seem to have continued as royalists without hesitation. In the spring of 1141 that was a very risky stance to take. One of the few was the queen, Matilda, in many ways a more admirable character than her namesake the empress. If anyone saved Stephen’s cause it was his wife, even if she were only a figurehead. But she was more than this; she became an active canvasser on his behalf, and a leader of the forces assembled for him. Her partner in this dangerous project was William of Ypres, who showed that his attachment to the royal cause was greater than that of a mere mercenary captain, which is the manner in which he is usually depicted. He was a great noble, Earl of Kent in all but name, and a very experienced commander. Henry of Huntingdon wrote that ‘the whole of the people of England accepted the empress as their ruler, with the exception of the men of Kent, where the queen and William of Ypres resisted her to the utmost of their power’.18

It is also true that the capture of Stephen was not welcomed everywhere, and did not bring instant peace and prosperity. The English writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, often believed to blame Stephen for causing anarchy and disorder, considered that the king’s captivity meant that ‘all England was disturbed more than it had been before and there was every evil in the country’. Orderic reinforced the point: ‘England was filled with plundering and burning and massacres’.19 There is a good case for suggesting that the worst disturbances of the reign date from this period. Matilda had seemingly won the war, but like any new ruler she faced disorder unless she could establish herself firmly and quickly.


London had accepted the situation, and admitted Matilda’s claims.20 Henry of Huntingdon suggests that the Londoners, along with the Bishop of Winchester, were among the first to recognize her.21 Representatives of the city had attended the Winchester council, where they had requested the release of the king, but seemingly accepted that it would not be granted. At Saint Alban’s, as we have seen, a deputation from the city came to greet Matilda and arrange for her entry to London, albeit with some reluctance.22 Here, as with Stephen, Matilda sought to pass her third test. Although not yet crowned, she had won the obedience of the church so that coronation seemed but a formality; she had taken over the treasury at Winchester with very little trouble; it remained only to win over London. She entered Westminster in procession, and remained there a few days dealing with the urgent business of her new realm.

But here for the first time an aspect of her character, which had not so far been apparent, was to let her down. It may be that she had learned certain attitudes from her stay in Germany, where she had been treated with the deference due to an empress. Her retention of that title in later life suggests that she had rather enjoyed the trappings of imperial life. She had been young when sent to Germany, so it would not be surprising if she had imbibed whatever she was taught there in terms of etiquette and treatment of her subjects. It may be that this gave her the haughty appearance which served less well in England. But one senses also a touch of personal character peeping through.

Since the death of her first husband, life had not been easy for the empress. She had returned from the empire probably without any firm knowledge of what her future might be, and so far as we know, not to seek the succession to the English throne. At that time she had no children, and the move looks very much like a simple wish to return home. She could have stayed in Germany, but presumably did not feel enough attachment to her new country. On her return, she had been married off by her father, with little effort to gain her assent. A boy of Geoffrey’s years would hardly have been the choice made by a mature widowed woman.

The new marriage had begun badly and she had temporarily deserted her husband and returned to her father’s court. The reason for this separation is unknown. Professor Gillingham has suggested that Geoffrey disliked his wife, and only put up with her for the political benefits; a view which Dr Chibnall seems happy to accept, since she wishes to present Matilda as not being solely responsible for the break.23 The fact is that no one knows the reason. Some sexual difficulty seems not unlikely, given that he was only fifteen at the marriage, and she had produced no children by her first marriage, made when she also had been very young.

The separation of Matilda from Geoffrey seems to have done the trick. She had then been packed off back to her husband, seemingly against her will, as the result of a decision by an assembly called by her father. That had been a turning point in her affections, or at least in her allegiance, and she now gave her husband support against her father, and the reunited couple produced a whole string of children in quick succession – three sons in four years.

In the last year of his life, Henry I had been at war with Geoffrey of Anjou, and Matilda had taken her husband’s part. This period of her life, though, had been dominated by a series of pregnancies, one at least of which was difficult. It may have been weakness from such a pregnancy which prevented her making a stronger effort to seek the crown in 1135.

Her father had made Matilda his heir, and taken oaths from magnates and prelates in England and Normandy to support her succession. When the point came, hardly anyone had kept to their oath. Matilda had been rejected as being a woman and the wife of Count Geoffrey. At last in 1138 she was offered a new chance to claim her succession with the change of heart of Robert of Gloucester. She had been persuaded to come to England and take her chance. But again, though a few had joined her cause, most had ignored her; a second rejection by the English nobility. It was hardly surprising that in 1141 Matilda, elated by the victory of Lincoln, sought to make an immediate impact and gain some revenge for her earlier treatment. What is certain is that she was no meek and mild mouse of a woman, being described by one chronicler as a ‘virago’, with a deep masculine voice and a very strong personality. She was also ‘elated with insufferable pride’ from the recent success.24 She could not have been entirely unlikeable, and inspired strong devotion from some, such as Brian fitz Count, but she had the capacity to speak her mind and upset even those who had given her support.

One of her acts on being accepted into London, was to demand a tax. Matilda’s objectives here were almost certainly political, even admirable. They were the same policies which her son, when he became King Henry II, would employ, and which are then generally praised. She rejected Stephen’s methods of bowing to citizen desires for commune status, and wanted London to revert to a more lowly position, more amenable to monarchical control. But she upset citizen sensibilities, and pockets, though it was probably not so much the tax as the question of how it should be collected which was the prime issue. A commune controlled its own tax collection. The Worcester chronicler says that she insisted on returning to the laws of her father with regard to London, which almost certainly means she told them she would overthrow Stephen’s grant of commune status.25 The Gesta Stephani reveals her attitude to these commoners: ‘she sent for the richest men and demanded from them a huge sum of money, not with unassuming gentleness, but with a voice of authority’. The Londoners, like all those facing tax demands, pleaded poverty on account of the costs of the war, and because they had been forced to take expensive measures to combat the threat of the current famine. Later they promised, when peace had been effective and they had prospered, they would be able to pay in proportion to their prosperity. The empress then ‘with a grim look, her forehead wrinkled into a frown, every trace of a woman’s gentleness removed from her face, blazed into intemperate fury’. She shouted at them that they had paid large taxes to Stephen and had helped him against her, so it was only just that she should demand full payment and not reduce her demands by a penny: ‘The citizens went away gloomily to their homes without gaining what they had asked.’26

Another disappointed man in London was Henry, Bishop of Winchester. He made a petition on behalf of his nephew, Stephen’s son Eustace, as did Queen Matilda, but the empress would give no time to the suggestion, intending to disinherit Eustace. This was more than the bishop could stomach, and he avoided attending her court for several days.27 It did not augur well for keeping her promises to put governance of the church in his hands. He then met Queen Matilda secretly at Guildford. The empress seems to have upset a number of others, and one chronicler records that she ‘alienated from her the hearts of most men’.28 There is a common belief that she upset her uncle, David, King of Scots, during this period by her behaviour. But in fact she supported his candidate for the see of Durham, William Cumin, against the wishes of the local church, and with unfortunate results for herself in terms of church support.29

Through the brief period from the Battle of Lincoln to her stay in London, Matilda had begun to behave like a queen and to call herself a queen, as in charters issued while en route to London, though she also styled herself more commonly ‘lady of the English’ or ‘empress’.30 She began to dispose of the realm as its ruler. Interestingly she chose to follow Stephen’s policy with regard to earldoms, and appointed a number of her own earls, some as rivals to those named by Stephen, as for example William of Beauchamp to oppose Waleran of Beaumont in Worcester, Baldwin de Redvers to Devon, Geoffrey de Mandeville to Essex, Miles of Gloucester to Hereford, and William de Mohun to Somerset and Dorset, all in 1141. It suggests that she at least thought the king’s policy had merit.

Although most of the king’s supporters had yielded, his wife, Queen Matilda, and his lieutenant, William of Ypres, were still actively preparing to resist the empress. Queen Matilda had sent a request for the release of her husband from captivity to the church council at Winchester, underlining the problem his enemies faced in imprisoning an anointed king. The queen also requested that her son’s inheritance rights be respected. One suggestion was apparently that, if released, Stephen should enter a monastery.31Again, Matilda showed no restraint in her response, and the queen’s representatives were abused and insulted. As a result, Queen Matilda despaired of gaining anything by diplomacy, and sought to achieve what she could through war. From her base in Kent she raised a considerable force under the command of William of Ypres, and began to march on London.

This force then set about the traditional acts of provocation in such a situation, burning and ravaging the countryside surrounding the capital, till it became ‘a home only for the hedgehog’.32 It was enough to sway the attitude of the Londoners, upset by the tax demands, the threat to their status, and the general attitude of the empress. Her manner seemed to offer no hope of mercy or compromise. The projected rule of the Angevins had come to look like ‘the tyranny of usurpers’.33 The citizens decided to throw in their lot with Queen Matilda, who was ranging just outside their walls. They decided to seek the release of the king. They made secret negotiations with the royalists and contemplated ‘sedition’ against the empress.34

Matilda awaited the response to her demands with confidence, but it was misplaced. She was about to settle down to dinner, reclining on a couch, when she heard the sudden loud ringing of bells throughout London. It was the sign of rebellion against her. The citizens took to arms, attacked her followers and opened the city gates. The empress was informed of the situation and she and her close retinue mounted horses and fled. They had barely set out, when a London mob broke into her apartments, and plundered all they could find. Some of the lords who had been with her, sought their own safety rather than hers, and rode off to their own homes. Henry, Bishop of Winchester, was one of those who had followed Matilda to London. The Gesta Stephani suggests that the bishop had played a part in plotting with the Londoners. This may relate to the secret meeting with Queen Matilda at Guildford, mentioned by William of Malmesbury.35 Henry set off back for his diocese to have a rethink about his stance. He claimed that the empress intended to arrest him.

Matilda and Earl Robert made for the safety of Oxford. She had failed to complete the trio of necessary preliminaries to gaining the crown, she had failed to win London, and in losing London she also lost the opportunity of coronation. The Empress Matilda was never to be truly Queen of England. With the defection of Bishop Henry she looked as if she might also lose Winchester.

Queen Matilda was now welcomed into London, probably with greater warmth than her namesake had been. A number of royalists began to creep out from under their stones. It looked after all as if everything were not lost in the king’s cause. Among those she persuaded, was Henry of Winchester, who now again openly declared his allegiance to Stephen. Geoffrey de Mandeville, the castellan of the Tower of London, was another early convert back to the royal cause. All of the empress’ three needs were now at risk: she had lost London, she was threatened with the loss of Winchester and of the church at the same time. The danger must be dealt with at once if her cause was to survive.


There were two castles in Winchester: the royal castle, which Matilda had already claimed, and the bishop’s own stronghold, Wolvesey Castle, which has recently been reopened to public viewing. It was one of a series of magnificent buildings for which the bishop was responsible. Henry seems to have taken the first step in the conflict which was now to rage around his city, by besieging the royal castle, held for the empress. Then he waited to see her response. There was not long to wait. Matilda arrived with a besieging army on 31 July 1141. Bishop Henry, who had ‘often turned over in his own mind how he could rescue his brother’, had put his own castle into a position of defence in anticipation of a siege, and sent to Queen Matilda for aid.36 He did not wait to be caught there, and escaped on a swift horse from one gate, as the empress entered by another.37 But he left his men there to defy Matilda from within the town, while he, having gathered men from his own castles, joined the queen’s forces outside.

Matilda was able to enter the town, relieve the royal castle, and besiege that of the bishop. But now she became caught in her own trap. In August a second force arrived outside Winchester. Queen Matilda and William of Ypres, having claimed London, had marched on in pursuit of the Angevins. Now they proceeded to blockade the town. So there was a double siege: Wolvesey besieged by the empress, and the town surrounded by the royalists. ‘Everywhere outside the walls of Winchester the roads were being watched by the queen and the earls, to prevent provisions being brought in to the partisans of the empress.’38 Only a few supplies could be smuggled through the lines from the west, and many of those trying to sneak through, were killed or captured and tortured. The royalists on the other hand were well supplied from London and the east, and could afford to take their time.

On 2 August Winchester was fired, thus denying Matilda both shelter and provisions. Henry of Blois himself is said to have ordered the burning, which was probably started by his men from within Wolvesey Castle.39 Hyde Abbey and Saint Mary’s nunnery within the city were destroyed by the flames. A great jewel-encrusted cross given to the abbey by Cnut was roasted by the heat, and ‘began to sweat and grow black … and at the very moment of its catching fire a terrible crash of thunder cracked three times from the heavens’.40 By September the Angevins were feeling the pinch of the blockade. They were probably also outnumbered, since the queen’s army had been reinforced by volunteers from the city militia of London, as well as various barons who were returning to the royal allegiance, including Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex.

The sequence of events during the siege of Winchester has been a matter of debate, since the chronicles are not entirely in agreement, but the main outline and outcome are not in doubt. As was common, the royalists began to seek control over surrounding strongpoints which might offer help.41 Andover was fired. At some point an Angevin outpost established in the nearby abbey at Wherwell, which they had fortified, was attacked by the royalists, and also fired.

We have details of the event at Wherwell in the later poem about William the Marshal, but not an exact explanation of its role in the whole story.42 Its garrison under John fitz Gilbert, William the Marshal’s father, either set out from Wherwell in an attempt to force a diversion to help save the empress, or to break through the royalist blockade in order to relieve and supply the empress. The royalists decided to put Wherwell out of action, and set fire to it. The attackers threw burning torches inside the church where the Angevin garrison was taking shelter. Most emerged, singed, to surrender. William of Malmesbury, with his usual bias, condemns the ‘impious’ William of Ypres for setting fire to the nunnery, but not the Angevins for taking shelter within it and attempting to use it like a castle.43 The nuns themselves were forced ‘shrieking’ from their home, as the flames spread. In the blaze, the lead roof fell in on top of John fitz Gilbert. He was lucky to escape with his life, but was blinded. Some of his men were captured and tied with thongs, while others managed to get him away to safety, but the outpost had fallen.

It is not clear whether the Wherwell incident was the cover for the imperial attempt to escape. At any rate the Angevins decided their only course was to break out and retreat. They packed their baggage in preparation for an escape bid. On Sunday 14 September, Robert of Gloucester made a feint attack to divert attention from Matilda’s escape from the city, escorted by Brian fitz Count and Reginald, Earl of Cornwall. Once again a chronicler, this time the Worcester continuator, suggests that Bishop Henry was involved in some double dealing. The writer says that he arranged for the gate to be opened so that the empress could escape, which reminds one of his role at Arundel.44 The same source says that the bishop then ordered his men to join the fray on the royal side. TheAnglo-Saxon Chronicle seems to give support to this view, since it says that Bishop Henry, after the episode in London, had talks with Matilda and Earl Robert, promising never to support Stephen again, and to hand Winchester to the empress. One cannot easily dismiss the case against Bishop Henry, though there are some inconsistencies and some jealousies involved in the accusations. Most telling of all perhaps, with regard to his character, are the references shortly after this in some letters written by Brian fitz Count who said: ‘he had a remarkable gift of discovering that duty pointed in the same direction as expediency’, and wondered at the bishop’s gall in accusing Brian, ‘whose main offence consisted in refusing to change sides as often as himself’.45

The Gesta Stephani suggests that the companionship between Brian and Matilda during this escape gave rise to some, now lost, epic which celebrated their affection for each other, and which seems to be the source of the enduring tale about their relationship: ‘But she and Brian gained by this a title to boundless fame, since as their affection for each other had before been unbroken, so even in adversity, great impediment though the danger was, they were in no way divided’.46

Matilda managed to get away, first riding on a horse, astride in male fashion, in days when ladies normally rode side-saddle. ‘Sorrowing and downcast’ she found John fitz Gilbert’s castle of Ludgershall.47 Next day her journey continued to the more distant safety of Devizes. She set out again riding ‘in male fashion’ but, not surprisingly, grew tired, and completed the journey ‘nearly half dead’, carried upon a litter. She was bound to the litter as if she were a corpse, and it was borne on to Gloucester upon horses.48

She escaped, and so did David, King of Scots, who was also with the empress. The King of Scots was taken three times, but each time he got away. Miles, Earl of Hereford, made his escape by discarding his armour so he would not be recognized, and managed to get through to his town of Gloucester, albeit ‘half naked’.49 But Earl Robert did not get away. He deliberately remained at the rear of the force, keeping his men in good order, determined to keep the royal forces from pursuing Matilda. But he was outnumbered, and the royalists were able to attack from all sides. He came into conflict with the enemy at Stockbridge on the road from Winchester to Salisbury. The earl had led a sortie from the city, sending Matilda on her way while he covered her retreat. Stockbridge was about 8 miles on the route to the west away from the city, where a bridge crossed the Trent. When he reached Winchester Hill, he was forced by the pursuing royalists under William of Ypres, to turn and fight. The rear section of the Angevin army was cut off from the rest. The empress’ army was broken, knights knocked from their horses, horses running about loose. Some threw off their armour and ran for it. Some of these were captured by peasants and beaten up. Some hid wherever they could. Robert fought bravely, but was captured by the mercenaries of William of Warenne, Earl of Surrey, and sent back to be imprisoned in Rochester Castle under the guard of William of Ypres. The citizens of Winchester got little thanks for their part in helping the royalists. The London militia troops proceeded to sack the city which they now took over for the king. Homes and shops were wrecked and pillaged, as well as churches; spoils and captives were taken away.

The Rout of Winchester was as great a disaster for Matilda as Lincoln had been for Stephen. All her efforts to become queen, all her attempts to secure the necessary support, had come to nothing. During the months which followed it became clear to her, to the Angevin party, and thus to us, that her cause was hopeless without the support of Robert of Gloucester. The royalists tried to persuade Earl Robert to change his allegiance, and offered him a position of power under the king, but his refusal meant there was no other escape for him except an exchange.50 In the end the empress capitulated, and by the October 1141 Treaty of Winchester, agreed to ‘a mutual exchange’ of the major prisoners: Robert, Earl of Gloucester, for King Stephen.51 On 1 November the king was released, to ‘great rejoicings’.52 The king emerged from his prison and rode out of Bristol, leaving behind his wife, his son and two magnates. Two days later he reached Winchester and Earl Robert was released, leaving his son behind. When Robert reached Bristol, the queen was set free, and when she got to Winchester, all parties were released.53 It seemed like a return to square one, as one chronicler noted, they had returned ‘to the earlier position of the civil war’. The king was met by a crowd of his friends, with much weeping and celebration, with ‘cries of rejoicing and exultation that he was restored to them unharmed’. 54


  1.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 116–17.

  2.  Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, eds. D. Whitelock, D.C. Douglas, S.I. Tucker, 1961, p. 202.

  3.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 116–17.

  4.  Ibid., pp. 116–19.

  5.  Orderic, vi, pp. 546–7.

  6.  Crouch, The Beaumont Twins, p. 51.

  7.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 114–15.

  8.  Orderic, vi, pp. 550–7. We shall, however, find Orderic useful when we turn back to more detail of Norman affairs.

  9.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 118–19.

10.  William of Malmesbury, p. 51.

11.  Ibid., pp. 50–1.

12.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 118–19.

13.  Ibid.

14.  William of Malmesbury, p. 51.

15.  Ibid., pp. 53–4.

16.  Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 369; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, ii, p. 130.

17.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 280; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 275: ‘Irritata igitur muliebri angore’, this might, however, be taken as ‘anguish’ rather than bitterness.

18.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 280; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 275: ‘ab omni gente Anglorum suscipitur in dominam, exceptis Kentensibus’; followed by Robert of Torigny, in Stevenson, p. 53; Torigny, in Howlett, iv, p. 141.

19.  Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 201; Orderic, vi, pp. 546–7.

20.  Robert of Torigny, in Stevenson, p. 54; Torigny, in Howlett, p. 141.

21. Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 280; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 275.

22.  William of Malmesbury, p. 56.

23.  J. Gillingham, ‘Love, marriage and politics in the twelfth century’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, xxv, 1989, pp. 292–303, p. 296; Chibnall, Matilda, p. 55.

24.  William of Malmesbury, p. 56; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 280; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 275: ‘superbiam intolerabilem’.

25.  Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 370; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, ii, p. 132, where they ask instead for the laws of Edward the Confessor.

26.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 120–3.

27.  William of Malmesbury, p. 57.

28.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 280; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 275: ‘et omnium fere corda a se alienavit’.

29.  N. Pain, Empress Matilda, 1978, for example, on p. 100, says she treated David and Earl Robert badly, but gives no reference. Chibnall, Matilda, p. 104, sees the Cumin incident as ‘one of the errors of judgement that tipped the scales against her’.

30.  For example, Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, eds. H.A. Cronne and R.H.C. Davis, iii, Oxford, 1968, p. 130, no. 343, p. 258, no. 699: Anglorum regina; p. 92, no. 259, p. 99, no. 274, p. 120, no. 316a: Anglorum domina; or p. 220, no. 597: ‘imperatrix’.

31.  Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 370; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, p. 132: ‘sive monachus sive peregrinus’.

32.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 122–3.

33.  Ibid., pp. 124–5.

34.  ‘Annales Plymptonienses’, in F. Lieber-mann, Ungedruckte Anglo-Normannische Geschichtsquellern, Strasbourg, 1879, p. 29.

35.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 124–5; William of Malmesbury, p. 57–8.

36.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 281; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 271; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, p. 132; Gesta Stephani, pp. 126–7; Symeon of Durham, Opera, including the Historia Regum, 2 vols, RS no. 75, 1882–5, ii, p. 310.

37.  Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 370; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, p. 133; Gesta Stephani, pp. 126–7.

38.  William of Malmesbury, p. 59.

39.  Ibid., blames Henry of Blois for the burning and insists that the citizens were loyal; the Worcester continuator, in Stevenson, p. 370, supports the comment on the role of the bishop; Gesta Stephani, pp. 130–1, says the garrison of Wolvesey was responsible.

40.  Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 371; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, pp. 133–4.

41.  Discussions of the Rout are to be found in R. Hill, ‘The Battle of Stockbridge, 1141’, RAB, pp. 173–7; S. Painter, ‘The Rout of Winchester’, Speculum, vii, 1932, pp. 70–5; Chibnall, Matilda, pp. 113–14; J.H. Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1892, pp. 123–35.

42.  L’Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, ed. P. Meyer, 3 vols, RHF, Paris, 1891–4, i, pp. 7–11. Worcester, Stevenson, p. 372 places the attack on Wherwell after the other events, but most modern commentators now believe this is incorrect; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, p. 135.

43.  William of Malmesbury, p. 60; Gesta Stephani, pp. 130–1.

44.  Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 371; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, p. 134.

45.  Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 201; H.W.C. Davis, ‘Henry of Blois and Brian fitz Count’, EHR, xxv, 1910, pp. 297–303, p. 298.

46.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 134–5: ‘immensum per hoc, ipsa et Brienus, nacti praeconii titulum, ut sicut sese anea mutuo et indiuise dilexerant, ita nec in aduersis, plurimo impediente periculo, aliquatenus separarentur’.

47.  Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 371; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, p. 134: ‘tristis ac dolens’.

48.  Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 371; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, p. 134.

49.  Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 371; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, p. 135: ‘pene nudus’; Gesta Stephani, pp. 134–5.

50.  William of Malmesbury, p. 62; Worcester, in Stevenson, p. 372; Worcester, ed. Thorpe, p. 136.

51.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 281; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 275.

52.  Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Forester, p. 281; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold, p. 275: ‘cum magno susceptus gaudio’.

53.  William of Malmesbury, p. 61–2, details the arrangements for the exchange.

54.  Gesta Stephani, pp. 136–7.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!