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

  Afterward the Queen invited Henry to court as a gesture of good faith and friendship, probably hoping to win over his father to Stephen’s cause. He rode south with her to Nottingham, where he was formally invested with his earldom and paid homage to Stephen as earl of Northumberland,20 thereby ensuring the future protection of the troubled border county.


  “Touch Not Mine Anointed”

  In April 1139, Maud appealed to Pope Innocent II to uphold her cause. That month her representative, the “venerable” Ulger, Bishop of Angers, traveled to Rome to attend the Lateran Council, to which the Pope had summoned five hundred bishops and abbots to deal with numerous ecclesiastical matters. Maud must have seen the Council as the most effective platform on which to make her appeal; the more prelates who supported her, the better. Stephen was aware of what she intended, and sent his own representatives. In 1167, the great scholar John of Salisbury, later Bishop of Chartres, wrote an account of the proceedings to explain why the Pope had persistently refused to sanction the crowning of Stephen’s son Eustace in the King’s lifetime,1 following the French custom. John himself supported Maud’s claim in his Historia Pontificalis, even though he felt that women in general were too weak to wield power.

  In the ancient basilica of St. John Lateran, Bishop Ulger declared that Maud was the rightful ruler of England by hereditary right and by virtue of the oaths sworn to her, and put forward her complaint that Stephen had sworn fealty to her and undertaken to “aid her against all men to obtain and hold England and Normandy after her father’s death.” He “argued that the King was perjured and had unlawfully seized the kingdom.”

  As leading counsel for King Stephen, Arnulf, Archdeacon of Sées (later bishop of Lisieux), “publicly alleged that the Empress was not a fit person to succeed her father because she was born of an incestuous union, and was the daughter of a nun whom Henry had dragged away from Romsey Abbey and deprived of the veil.” This was untrue, as John of Salisbury scathingly noted, but Ulger did not leap to Maud’s defense. In 1143, in a letter to Brian FitzCount, Gilbert Foliot, Abbot of Gloucester (later bishop of London), who supported Stephen but was sympathetic to Maud’s claim, and who was present, would give an account of the hearing, and claim that at this juncture Ulger had stayed silent.2

  Arnulf “admitted the oath” that the barons had made to Maud, “but maintained that it was forcibly exacted, and that it was conditional, namely that King Stephen would support the succession of the Empress with all his might, unless her father should change his mind and name another heir, for it was possible that he might have a son by his wife.” He submitted that Henry had changed his mind on his deathbed and designated Stephen as his heir, as Hugh Bigod had sworn.

  Ulger countered that: “As for your statement that the King changed his mind, it is proved false by those who were present at the King’s death. Neither you nor Hugh could possibly know his last requests, since neither was there.”3

  His protest fell on deaf ears. “Pope Innocent would not hear their arguments further, nor would he pronounce sentence or adjourn the case to a later date.” Probably he felt that it would be more harmful to dismiss or reverse Stephen’s coronation, and his own earlier recognition of Stephen’s title, than to uphold Maud’s claim, and certainly he was bribed. On 22 May, “acting against the advice of certain cardinals, he accepted Stephen’s gifts and, in letters to the King, confirmed his occupation of the kingdom of England and the duchy of Normandy.”4

  When the outcome became known in England, and word got around that some of the cardinals had disagreed with the Pope,5 opinion among the clergy was divided. The damning arguments used in St. John Lateran put paid to any hopes of the canonization of Maud’s mother, whose saintly memory had been smeared by the allegation of incest.6 That gave further injury to the Empress, whose cause had been dealt a bad blow.

  John of Salisbury expressed what Maud must have thought when she heard the news: that Stephen, by invading the kingdom, had wrongfully disinherited not only her, but her son, the Lord Henry, “the child who was still crying in his cradle,” “for whom, if there was loyalty in the man, he was sworn to die.”

  But, having gotten the Pope on his side, Stephen now proceeded to alienate the Church, and with it many of his supporters.


  Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, had enjoyed a resurgence of power under Stephen. His nephews, Alexander and Nigel, were bishops of Lincoln and Ely, and his son, Roger le Poer, served the King as Treasurer. The wealthy Roger had built “the most splendid castle in Europe” at Devizes, Wiltshire,7 and he was highly influential at court. Stephen had even declared expansively that “if Roger demanded half of the kingdom he should have it,” but since then he had been informed by the malicious and jealous Beaumont twins that the Bishop and his adherents had begun fortifying their strongholds in support of the Empress and Earl Robert.8 Stephen chose to believe them.9

  In June 1139, while the Great Council was meeting at Oxford, the Beaumonts’ men picked a fight with the bishops’ men, and a knight was killed. This gave Stephen a pretext for suddenly demanding that the three bishops surrender all their castles. When they refused, he had them arrested, and sequestered their property, including Devizes Castle.

  The clergy were outraged, for Scripture enjoined: “Touch not mine anointed.” Henry of Blois, already in no good mood with his brother, thundered that the King had infringed the Church’s authority. As newly appointed Papal legate, he summoned him to appear before a legatine council at Winchester, and demanded that Bishop Roger be set at liberty—and that the King do penance for his actions. On their knees, Archbishop Theobald and Bishop Henry begged the King “not to allow a divorce to be made between the monarchy and the clergy,” but Stephen would not listen. The matter would be settled by Bishop Roger’s death later that year, and by the Pope upholding the King’s justice, but with one rash, unjustified act, Stephen had wantonly undermined the valuable support of the English clergy—and of disgusted members of his household, many of whom would soon defect to Maud.10

  Stephen had already alienated his brother by not making him archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry saw this latest outrage as insupportable. Secretly he began sending frequent letters to the Empress and Earl Robert, urging them to invade England.11 Maud herself would later state that Henry had invited her.12

  Stephen was beset on all sides. “It was like the fabled Hydra of Hercules: when one head was cut off, two or more grew in its place.”13 By the summer of 1139, Geoffrey of Anjou was master of much of Normandy, and with his strong foothold established there, “rumours were prevalent in England that Earl Robert was on the very eve of coming from Normandy with his sister. Under such an expectation, many persons revolted from the King, for as soon as the Empress should arrive, they would immediately greet their sovereign with the surrender of their fortresses.”14


  “His Extraordinary Queen”

  Queen Adeliza and William d’Albini were married before September 1139.1 They resided mainly at Arundel Castle, and probably at Albini’s new castles at Castle Rising and Buckenham, Norfolk,2 or his hunting lodge at Stansted, Sussex.3 Castle Rising, which still stands today, an impressive ruin, was modeled on Norwich Castle and contained prestigious apartments—a hall (in which there was apparently a niche for Adeliza’s throne), a great chamber, a chapel and a kitchen. Rich arcading decorates the forebuilding housing the steep staircase to the grand entrance doorway.4

  In charters, Adeliza continued to style herself as queen.5 Before the couple wed, Stephen created Albini earl of Lincoln. It was as earl of Lincoln that he granted charters to Lewes Priory and Reading Abbey and confirmed one of Adeliza’s granting lands in Sussex to the Benedictine abbey of Affligem in Brabant. In another charter, Adeliza gave Affligem three English villages. Affligem Abbey, which lay twelve miles northwest of Brussels, had been founded in 1062, and was later refounded by Adeliza’s father and her uncle, Henry of Louvain. Thanks to a charter granted by Henry I,
prayers were already being said at Affligem for Adeliza, her parents and her sister Ida, Countess of Cleves. Adeliza’s charter was granted after the death of her father, Count Godfrey, who passed away, aged about seventy-nine, on 25 January 1139, in the abbey where he had spent his last years, and was buried there.

  These charters were all issued before Christmas 1141, when Albini resigned the earldom of Lincoln for that of Arundel, which he held in right of Adeliza’s lands in Sussex, making him a very wealthy man. He is sometimes referred to in contemporary sources as earl of Chichester, and in 1154 he would come into possession of Chichester Castle. The annalist of Waltham Abbey states that, after his marriage, Albini became “so puffed up that he looked down on every man except the King, and became arrogant and inordinately conceited, so that he could not bear anyone being his equal, and anything that our world possessed that was special, apart from the King, was worthless in his eyes.”6

  The marriage appears to have been happy. To Albini, Adeliza was his “inestimable Queen.” He and Adeliza founded and endowed an Augustinian priory dedicated to St. Mary and St. James at his manor of Buckenham, Norfolk, for the safety of their souls and those of King Stephen and his wife. In 1146, he gave his castle at Buckenham, with eighty acres of land, as well as woods and meadows, to the canons, so that they could use its stones to build a priory on the site. Albini provided for prayers to be said there for himself, Queen Adeliza, King Stephen, the Empress and the souls of their ancestors. He built a new castle two miles away.

  Adeliza had made no monastic foundations as queen, but during her marriage to Albini she founded a small Augustinian priory dedicated to St. Bartholomew at Lyminster near Arundel, which was known as Pynham Priory, or the Priory de Calceto (“of the Causeway”).7 It had a practical purpose, for the two monks provided for by Adeliza were to maintain the causeway, a wooden bridge over the River Arun, and a hospital for poor travelers.

  Adeliza was also a benefactress of Chichester Cathedral and Boxgrove Priory, Sussex, where carved heads flanking the central light of the east window of c.1220 are said to represent her, wearing her crown, and William d’Albini. Possibly she also patronized the leper hospital at Arundel. She commanded the monks of Reading not to alienate any of her gifts, and ensured that her men at Waltham paid their tithes to the abbey.8 In a charter that she granted to Reading Abbey, she gifted the church of Berkeley Hernesse, Gloucestershire, with endowments and 100s. a year from the profits of her wharf at Queenhithe,9 in return for prayers for the souls of King Henry and her father, “and also for the health of her present lord, William, Earl of Chichester, and for her own health and the health of her children.” Her husband confirmed all her gifts and charters.10

  Surprisingly, after fourteen years of barren marriage with Henry, Adeliza proved fruitful, which suggests that Henry I’s sexual powers had been on the wane in his later years. She bore Albini seven children. Robert of Torigni initially stated that there were three, William, Godfrey and a daughter, Adeliza, who married in turn John, Count of Eu, and Alvred de Saint-Martin, and died in 1188; but later he wrote that Albini left four sons: William (the 2nd Earl of Arundel), Reyner, who is mentioned in the cartulary of Wymondham Priory,11 Henry and Godfrey. There were two other daughters besides Adeliza. Albini granted undated charters giving gifts to Boxgrove Priory for the souls of his sister Olivia, his daughters Olivia and Agatha, and his wife,12 which gave rise to the incorrect assumption that Queen Adeliza too was buried there. Olivia and Agatha died unwed, probably in infancy or childhood. From Albini and Adeliza were descended the earls of Arundel and dukes of Norfolk, and two Tudor queens, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.


  “A Desert Full of Wild Beasts”

  The Empress was at last coming to England, determined to capitalize on the recent impasse between Stephen and the Church. She and Robert of Gloucester were intent on overthrowing Stephen and establishing her as queen. It was an opportune moment, for discontent with Stephen’s feeble rule was mounting and law and order were breaking down. “Though by sex a woman, yet with manly strength did she plan to attack the English, maintaining that the inheritance which was hers by right she would obtain by arms.”1 She also came “for the purpose of subduing the kingdom for Henry, her son.”2

  Geoffrey was not coming with Maud. They both evidently realized the necessity for him to secure Normandy while she focused on gaining the English throne. Their three young sons would remain with him, under the tutelage of the scholar and poet Peter of Saintes, who taught them Latin.

  For the next two years, Maud would refer to herself in documents as a “femme sole.” It was not usual for a woman to act autonomously of her husband, and there is no evidence that Geoffrey objected to Maud taking the initiative alone, or of what his plans were should she be successful. It is quite possible that, knowing how unpopular he was likely to prove in England, they had come to an arrangement that she would rule in England and he in Normandy.

  Earl Robert had already been successful in raising support for his sister in the West Country, where the lands of his earldom lay and he had a strong following, although the King had seized many of his castles. Maud herself had secured the support of several disinherited barons, men who nurtured grievances because they had not received the lands once held by their fathers. Among them were Geoffrey Talbot, Gilbert de Lacy, William Peverell of Dover and Baldwin de Redvers. Some who declared for her were motivated purely by self-interest.

  In August 1139, Maud fired the first salvo in what was soon to be an open war with Stephen for the throne, sending Baldwin de Redvers to capture Wareham, Dorset, in the hope of distracting the King—which he did successfully, although he was soon driven back to Corfe Castle by the royal forces.

  Stephen had ordered that the ports be barred, and that careful watch be kept night and day on all the harbors. Robert, having surmounted “every cause of delay,” was “relying on the protection of God and his lawful oath,” anticipating that he would be venturing “into a desert full of wild beasts.”3

  Adeliza had often sent messages to Maud in Normandy, pledging her faith to her stepdaughter’s cause.4 Robert of Torigni states that it was William d’Albini who invited Maud and Earl Robert to Arundel. Albini was outwardly a loyal adherent of Stephen, and relations between the monarch and Adeliza had been cordial.5 Therefore many historians have thought it unlikely that Maud’s adherents had been able to bring pressure to bear on him, for Stephen had only recently created Albini earl of Lincoln, and in 1138 he had been a guest at Arundel, where he had confirmed Adeliza’s grants to Reading Abbey.6 But Albini had good cause secretly to support the Empress. His family’s lands in Normandy lay in an area where her half brother, Henry I’s bastard Reginald de Dunstanville, Earl of Cornwall, and Baldwin de Redvers were active in her cause. Maud’s commander in Normandy, Alexander de Bohun, was the uncle of Ralph FitzSavaric, a close associate of Albini in Sussex.7 Critically, Stephen had recently deprived Adeliza of some of her dower lands, notably the wealthy abbey of Waltham, which he had given to Queen Matilda.8 Albini was angered at the loss of Waltham, and was doing his best to secure its restoration. So he may well have joined Adeliza in inviting Maud to Arundel.

  On 30 September 1139, Maud, accompanied by Earl Robert, 140 Angevin knights and three thousand troops, landed at Littlehampton, Sussex, and sailed five miles up the River Arun to Arundel Castle, where Robert “for a time delivered his sister and his wife, Mabel FitzHamon, into the safe-keeping, as he supposed,” of her stepmother, while he took twelve knights and “boldly” hurried off in the night through hostile country to secure Bristol,9 which, alone of his former strongholds, had held out against the King. His army was to follow.

  On the way, he met Bishop Henry, making for Arundel with “a large body of cavalry.” Henry, still outwardly loyal to his brother, had “had all the byroads blocked by guards” as soon as he heard Maud had landed, but he made no attempt to apprehend Robert. Robert would have known that Henry had secretly been urging the E
mpress to come to England, and at their meeting they agreed a firm “compact of peace and friendship.”10 Robert charged the Bishop and Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, with escorting Maud to Bristol, where he himself would place her “in safe quarters.”11 Henry gave him the kiss of peace and went on his way,12 leaving Robert to go on his, unharmed.13

  One of those who hastened to join Robert and offer his allegiance to Maud was Brian FitzCount, who was “delighted” at her arrival in England.14 As he later revealed in a letter later sent to the Bishop, it was “you yourself, who ordered me to join the daughter of King Henry, your uncle, and help her to acquire her right, which was taken from her by force,”15 which is further evidence of Henry’s duplicity.

  Around 1138–39, Brian FitzCount sent his friend Gilbert Foliot, Abbot of Gloucester, a treatise (now lost) asserting Maud’s right to her royal inheritance as Henry I’s lawfully begotten heir. Foliot wrote back, commending him for his devotion and loyalty, and bolstering the argument with quotations proving that her claim was supported by all laws natural, human and divine; they included the passage from the Book of Numbers that—Foliot said—Earl Robert was always citing. “In all this,” he declared, “you will not find any cause why she should have been disinherited.”16

  As lord of Wallingford in right of his wife, Matilda d’Oilli, Brian FitzCount would hold its strategically important castle for Maud for thirteen years, in the face of repeated attacks by the King’s forces. It had been built in 1067–71 as part of the Conqueror’s chain of defenses circling London. He proved to be one of the Empress’s staunchest supporters—and possibly more than that. According to the Gesta Stephani, Maud and Brian “gained a title to boundless fame, since as their affection for each other had before been unbroken, so even in adversity, great though the obstacle that danger might be, they were in no wise divided.” The implication perhaps was that they were closer than they should have been. The speed with which Brian had raced to Maud on hearing of her arrival in England might suggest that there was already something between them. But, had their relationship been adulterous, rather than a close bond of platonic devotion, her enemies would surely have made greater political capital out of it.

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