Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens by Alison Weir

  Disaster struck on the very evening she arrived with her men. Geoffrey was wounded in the foot by a javelin, which prevented him from maintaining his position and obliged him to retreat. In March 1137, he was still battling to establish Maud firmly in Normandy, and being resisted by lords who hated the Angevins, when, in the third week of that month, accompanied by “a large retinue”12 that included Queen Matilda, her son Eustace and Robert of Gloucester, Stephen landed at La Hougue, determined to oust his rival.

  Matilda went to Evreux, where, in March or April, she issued the first of her own charters that survive. She took a special interest in the crusading orders of knighthood, which was to be expected, since her father had distinguished himself in the First Crusade, and his brothers, her uncles Godfrey de Bouillon and Baldwin, had become the first two crusader rulers of Jerusalem, Baldwin taking the title of king. Her father had been the first to grant land in England to the Knights Templar, who were also indebted to Matilda, as well as to Stephen, for helping them to establish themselves there, for Matilda had endowed them with lands from her honor of Boulogne. In the charter given that spring at Evreux, she granted them the manor and church of Cressing and the manor of Witham, both in Essex.13

  Cressing was the second property to be owned by a crusading Order in England, and its income was boosted in 1147–48 by a further grant by Stephen, Matilda and their son Eustace of lands in Witham.14 In 1138–39, the Queen gave four hides of land for the foundation of another preceptory, at Cowley, near Oxford, for the souls of her father and all her children, and before 1140, she granted the Templars lands at Uphall, Essex. Otto of Boulogne, Grand Master of the Order, witnessed two of her charters.15


  Stephen’s attempt to rout Geoffrey proved abortive. He got within twenty-five miles of Argentan before his army of mercenaries quarreled among themselves and succeeded in arousing the hostility of the Norman barons and people. In July, he was forced to conclude a three-year truce with Geoffrey, promising him a substantial annuity that he would struggle to pay. For Geoffrey, this was fortuitous, since his army was stricken with dysentery and he knew that, “for the present, he was unable to break through the royal forces.”16

  Matilda was with Stephen at Rouen that July, where she witnessed a charter to the abbey of Fontevrault.17 At some point the couple stayed at the hunting lodge in Lyons-la-Forêt, where Henry I had died, and here Matilda was a signatory to a charter to Mortemer Abbey.18 She also gave funds for the building of a magnificent new church19 and four guesthouses for pilgrims.20


  At a tournament at Bourges, held in the summer of 1137 to celebrate the marriage of Louis VII, the new King of France, to Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, William d’Albini (or d’Aubigny), Lord of Buckenham, Norfolk, won the prize.21 A colorful legend claimed that Adelaide of Maurienne, the forty-six-year-old widowed Queen of Louis VI of France, was much taken with Albini’s prowess and wanted to marry him herself, but he declined, telling her “that his troth was pledged to Adeliza, the Queen of England.” The story goes that Adelaide suggested he take a walk in her gardens, where—astonishingly—a famished lion had its lair in a cave. It pounced on William, as the Queen had intended, but he managed to wrap his arm in his cloak and tear out the beast’s tongue, which he handed to one of the Queen’s ladies to give to her mistress.22 The tale is obviously apocryphal, as is a similar one asserting that the Queen of France in question was Adelaide’s newly married daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

  That Albini had recently become betrothed to Adeliza is true, though. By then, she had been a widow for over eighteen months. She may have known him for some time, since his father of the same name had been Chief Butler of England under Henry I, with the right to serve the monarch at the coronation banquet;23 and his grandfather, another William d’Albini, had been cupbearer to the Conqueror. Adeliza’s William d’Albini was a pious man and a generous benefactor of religious houses. He was a patron of Wymondham Priory, Norfolk, founded by his father (where he himself would one day be buried), and he established a leper hospital near his stronghold, Castle Rising, Norfolk, which he built around 1140. His betrothal to the Queen Dowager was a brilliant coup.


  “Ties of Kinship”

  Bishop Henry may well have persuaded his brother the King that Earl Robert was not to be trusted, for while he was in Normandy, Stephen prepared an ambush for the Earl, intending to intercept and seize him. Robert was warned in time. When he accused the King of plotting his murder, Stephen admitted it and apologized, but the rivalry and distrust between the two men could now no longer be hidden.1

  On 20 November, having received reports of disturbances in England,2 the King left Normandy, never to return, carrying with him the knowledge that he had lost the hearts of his subjects there.

  Matilda was already back in England, acting as regent in concert with Bishop Roger of Salisbury.3 The King and Queen traveled to Kingsbury Palace, Dunstable, for Christmas;4 at Marlborough, on the way, Matilda witnessed a charter granted by Stephen.5 After Christmas, Stephen rode off to besiege a rebel castle at Bedford.

  In January 1138, he reneged on a promise and refused to confirm King David’s right to Cumbria or give the earldom of Northumberland to David’s son, Henry, Earl of Huntingdon. David responded by raiding across the border, plundering and laying waste the northern shires. Stephen marched north on 2 February, taking Matilda with him. At Eye Priory, she witnessed a charter.6 It is unlikely that she traveled all the way to the north, where Stephen routed the Scots.7


  Maud’s supporters, meanwhile, had taken Ralph d’Esson, a Norman lord who had resisted her rule; she imprisoned him, chained, until he agreed to surrender his castles to her.8 She remained determined to fight for her right to the crown of England, and was working hard to win support in the kingdom.

  Earl Robert had stayed at Caen and offered his support to Geoffrey. He spent the winter wrestling with his conscience, asking many churchmen if, having sworn allegiance to the King, he could renounce his oath.9 After all, had he not sworn a prior oath to the Empress?

  In May 1138, Robert decided that he could no longer support Stephen. Possibly the deciding factor had been Stephen’s failure to stem a Welsh threat to Robert’s lands in south Wales, but his change of heart may also have been influenced by Scripture, in particular a passage in the Book of Numbers: “It seemed to some that, by the weakness of their sex, women should not be allowed to enter into the inheritance of their father. But the Lord, when asked, promulgated a law that everything their father possessed should pass to the daughters.”10

  Robert “sent representatives and abandoned friendship and faith with the King in the traditional way, also renouncing homage, giving as the reason that his action was just, because the King had both unlawfully claimed the throne and disregarded, not to say betrayed, all the faith he had sworn to him.”11 Robert now offered his allegiance to Maud, promising to help her take the English throne.12 It was a great breakthrough for her, and gave her the advantage she had long needed, for Robert had great territorial power in England and could raise an army there for her.

  Robert’s action was effectively a declaration of war.13 He was to stand staunchly by his sister for the rest of his life, and was determined to see Stephen overthrown and Maud set up in his place. “He alone, or almost alone, was never swayed from his loyalty by the hope of gain or the fear of loss.”14

  After hearing of Robert’s defection, Stephen promptly sequestered his lands, but the Earl’s supporters rose on his behalf and seized the castles of Hereford, Bristol, Leeds in Kent, Castle Cary, Dudley, Dunster, Wareham, Malton, Dover and Shrewsbury.15 Robert himself ceded his strongholds of Caen and Bayeux to Count Geoffrey, and started arming for the war he knew was now inevitable.


  In June 1138, Maud and her sons Henry and William were at the recently captured château of Carrouges,16 near Argentan, when Geoffrey arrived. He had wasted no time. Being in possessi
on of Caen and Bayeux placed him in a much stronger position, and when he arrived at Carrouges he had with him a large army that he had marched into Normandy for the purpose of pressing on with the conquest of the duchy.17

  He asked his wife and sons to witness a charter he had granted at Le Mans to the people of Saumur, Anjou, who in return had given him three silver cups for his children. Having given two to Henry and William, he rode on to Saumur, where his second son Geoffrey, now four, was being raised in the house of his vassal, Goscelin Rotonard, so that the little boy could witness the charter too and receive his cup.18 It was customary for boys to be raised away from their mothers after the first few years, yet Henry, the eldest, was still with Maud. Possibly Geoffrey had kept the boy with him in Anjou, and sent him to join Maud in Normandy after Earl Robert declared for her,19 to underline the fact that Henry was her heir and that the royal blood of Henry I flowed in his veins.


  Stephen fought on, trying to break Earl Robert’s power in the west, but soon, thanks to his own lack of forethought, he would be fighting a war on another front. In the summer of 1138, Maud sought the aid of her uncle, King David, writing that “she had been disinherited and deprived of the kingdom promised to her on oath, that the laws had been made of no account, justice trampled underfoot, the fealty of her barons of England and the compact to which they had sworn broken and utterly disregarded, and therefore she humbly and mournfully besought him to aid her as a relation, since she was abandoned, and assist her as one bound to her by oath, since she was in distress.” Her request fell on receptive ears. “The King groaned deeply. Inflamed by zeal for justice, on account of the ties of kinship, and because he owed the woman the fealty he had promised, he disposed himself to set the kingdom of England in confusion, that when rebellion had been raised up everywhere against its King, he might be compelled, with God’s help, to leave one juster than himself what he had seized.”20 He was, of course, referring to Maud.

  Supporting Maud gave David a convenient pretext for invading England, sending his soldiers once more on raids across the English border. “Under cover of piety, on account of the oath he had sworn to King Henry’s daughter, he commanded his men in barbarous deeds. For they ripped open pregnant women and tore out the unborn foetuses. They tossed children on the points of their lances. They dismembered priests on their altars. They put onto the bodies of the slain the heads cut off crucifixes, and put back on the crucifixes the heads of the dead. Everywhere that the Scots attacked would be filled with horror and barbarity.”21

  David took Carlisle and Newcastle. He exacted “from the chiefs and nobles of that locality pledges of fidelity to his niece, the Empress.”22 But an English army led by the elderly Thurstan, Archbishop of York, soundly vanquished the Scots on 22 August at the bloody Battle of the Standard near Northallerton, Yorkshire. David’s invasion did Maud’s cause no good at all, for the English naturally came to associate her with the barbaric behavior of the Scots.


  “Feminine Shrewdness”

  Earl Robert’s garrison already controlled the port of Dover, and in August he sent his vassal Walchelin Maminot across from Normandy with an invading army, intending to land it there.

  Queen Matilda was, literally, up in arms. With his presence desperately needed to quell the rebels in the west, and with every confidence in his wife’s ability, Stephen deputed her to retake Dover. She faced a huge challenge, for Dover Castle, on its massive cliff commanding the sea, was a formidable bridgehead into England and well-nigh impregnable; but she had considerable resources at her command. “The Queen besieged Dover with a strong force on the land side, and sent word to her friends and kinsmen and dependants in Boulogne to blockade the foe by sea. The people of Boulogne proved obedient, gladly carried out their lady’s commands and, with a great fleet of ships, closed the narrow strait to prevent the garrison receiving any supplies.” Thanks to the strategy Matilda deployed, in concert with her commander and close kinsman Pharamus of Boulogne,1 Dover was surrounded by land and sea, with Matilda herself commanding the men who laid siege to the castle. At the end of August, or early in September, Maminot was forced to “surrender it to the Queen,”2 which he did willingly, having learned that Stephen was hanging his captives.3 With Pharamus of Boulogne firmly in control of Dover Castle, Matilda rejoined Stephen.

  Matters were not going well for Maud’s cause in Normandy either. On 1 October, Count Geoffrey besieged Falaise, the birthplace of the Conqueror, but he could not force its surrender and had no choice but to withdraw his troops the following month.4 But he was only retrenching.

  King David had retreated north, yet, undeterred, his forces continued to ravage Northumberland and hold sway over the north, and in September 1138, understanding the urgent need for a cessation of hostilities on the northern front, Queen Matilda opened peace negotiations with him, supported by the Papal legate, Alberic, Cardinal of Ostia. Alberic had been “engaged most discreetly and earnestly in treating with several persons, and especially with the Queen of England, respecting the renewal of peace between the two kings. Finding that the Queen’s mind was much set on the accomplishment of this object, with her mediation, and backed by her feminine shrewdness and address, he frequently appealed to the King himself about this matter,” and sought Matilda’s help in bringing about a truce.5 She “lent her aid to his wishes by her private entreaties, being by no means indifferent to the preservation of peace between her husband and the King of Scotland, her uncle.”6

  “They found King Stephen at first stern and apparently opposed to a reconciliation,” for his barons were firmly against it, having suffered severe losses in the fighting, “but, notwithstanding this, the zeal of a woman’s heart, ignoring defeat, persisted night and day in every species of importunity till it succeeded in bending the King’s mind to its purpose. For she was warmly attached to her uncle, David, King of Scots, and his son Henry, her cousin, and on that account took the greatest pains to reconcile them to her husband.” This was all very encouraging to Cardinal Alberic.7

  Finally, in December, a treaty was agreed, whereby Stephen was to grant to Henry of Scots the earldom of Northumberland (excepting the towns of Newcastle and Bamburgh). In return, David and Henry, “with all their dependants, were bound therefore to remain for life amiable and faithful to Stephen. They were bound also to observe unalterably the laws, customs, and statutes which his uncle, King Henry, had established in the county of Northumberland.”8

  Stephen and Matilda spent Christmas at Westminster,9 but during the festive season, Stephen committed another fatal error of judgment. He managed to alienate his brother, Bishop Henry, who had been one of his mainstays, having won him the crucial support of the Church. Henry’s great ambition was to become archbishop of Canterbury, that episcopal see having been vacant since the death of William de Corbeil in December 1136. But Stephen, probably fearing that Henry would become too powerful as archbishop, and perhaps indulging a degree of sibling rivalry, was not willing. Moreover, he doubtless wanted to please Matilda, for Theobald, Abbot of Bec-Hellouin, was the candidate of the Queen, and of two of Stephen’s favorites, the unpopular aristocratic twins, that “expert in deceit” Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan,10 and Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester. Matilda was instrumental in securing the primacy for Theobald, and in this she may have been influenced by the twins, who probably foresaw Stephen becoming his brother’s puppet, and by Bishop Roger of Salisbury, who doubtless feared that Henry would rival his political ascendancy.11

  On 24 December, in an election timed to take place while Henry was away, the King appointed Theobald archbishop of Canterbury, with Matilda looking on.12 That same day, she may have played a part in the appointment of Walter de Lucy as abbot of Battle.13 On 8 January 1139, Cardinal Alberic consecrated Theobald in the presence of the King and Queen.

  Henry was “violently indignant” at being “cheated of the much-desired honour by the King as well as the Queen,”14 and relations bet
ween him and Stephen were never the same afterward. Theobald’s appointment also led to a power struggle between him and Henry, with Henry ascendant because his authority as Papal legate—an office he secured in 1139—was greater than that of Theobald as archbishop.

  Immediately after Theobald was installed in Canterbury, Stephen, Matilda, Eustace and their court were present at the consecration of Godstow Abbey, near Oxford, by the new Archbishop, and all gave generous gifts.15

  After Cardinal Alberic left England on 13 January,16 Matilda continued to build on the foundations he and she had laid. In the spring, she traveled to Durham, where she probably stayed in the castle built by the Conqueror on a cliff south of the mighty Romanesque cathedral. Here she put pressure on David’s son, Henry, to confirm the treaty with Stephen. Her “shrewdness and eloquence triumphed,”17 for on 9 April, “at the instance of the Queen of the English,”18 Henry ratified it, “in the presence of Matilda and many earls and barons of the south of England.”19 Under the terms dictated by the Queen, David was to keep Carlisle Castle. This agreement achieved peace in the north, but it infuriated Earl Robert’s son-in-law, Ranulf de Gernon, Earl of Chester, one of the most powerful magnates in the kingdom. His father had held Carlisle Castle, and although Henry I had confiscated it, Ranulf had had hopes that it would be restored to him.

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