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Francis Lancelott Esq.    Matilda of Boulogne, Queen of Stephen

page 2

 

of large estates in Essex in addition to the county of Boulogne, and whose brothers, Godfrey and Baldwin, had successively wore the warrior crown of Jerusalem.
Matilda of Boulogne, the last of the Anglo-Norman Queens of England, was the sole offspring of the marriage, and Beauclerc, being desirous to secure to his own kindred the valuable possessions to which she was inheritrix, gave her in marriage to his favourite nephew Stephen, then Earl of Blois.
After being previously knighted by his uncle Henry, Stephen fought valiantly at the famous battle of Tinchebraye, where, having taken the Count of Mortagne prisoner, he received the titles and lands of Mortagne; and on his marriage with Matilda, which probably took place in 1113, he, in her right, became Count of Boulogne.
On the return of King Henry from Normandy, in 1120, Stephen embarked on board the fatal While Ship; but perceiving that both the passengers and the crew were young, headstrong, and addicted to riotous carousing, he, with other prudent nobles, left the vessel, declaring that such company greatly increased the perils of the voyage. Had Henry's heir, William, acted as discreetly on this occasion as his cousin, the Earl of Blois, he probably would have lived to sway the sceptre of England. His loss, however, was no unhappy event for the nation, as Brompton says he was so hardhearted and haughty minded, that he threatened if ever he became king of the English he would make them draw the plough like oxen.
The London residence of Stephen and his consort. Matilda was that impregnable fortress the Tower Royal, situate on the spot which now forms the little lane so named, lying between Cheapside and Watling Street.
When King Henry died, his daughter the Empress was in Anjou, nursing her sorely sick husband. But early in 1136, Geoffrey became convalescent, and King Stephen, to render futile the probable efforts of the Empress to recover her lost crown, now that her hands were unfettered, signed a charter confirming the rights and privileges of the church, abolishing Danegelt, repealing the severe game and forest law's of his Norman predecessors, and generally restoring the Saxon laws of King Edward. But as this liberal policy was only pursued by the newly elected monarch to secure his seat on the throne, he almost immediately afterwards restored the abominable Norman game laws, and on the demise of Corbet, Archbishop of Canterbury, seized on the princely revenues of that see. These early violations of the solemnly signed charter by the king of their own election, so greatly offended the clergy and the barons, that the latter forthwith built and fortified upwards of a thousand castles, which they filled with sturdy warriors, all ready to join in battle strife when the day should arrive, that England's circlet of royalty must be won and lost by force of arms.
Soon was Stephen convinced of the error he had committed by permitting the rude barons to thus fortify the land with strongholds, that rendered them almost independent of the crown. Maidwin de Redvers, Earl of Devonshire, to whom he had denied some slight favour, actually told him to his face that he was an usurper, whom he would no longer obey.    Irritated at this insolence, Stephen proceeded in person to chastise Baldwin, and in the meantime the Welsh carried fire and sword into the countries bordering on their territory; and David, King of the Scots, under the pretence of revenging the wrongs of his niece, the Empress, plundered the northern countries with a band of barbarians.
After concluding a hasty peace with the Welsh, Stephen marched to the North. The hostile armies met at Carlisle, but fought not, as the monarchs agreed to a truce of peace, by which Carlisle and Doncaster were resigned to the Scotch king, and the earldom of Huntingdon to his son Prince Henry, who did homage to Stephen for those fiefs in England, in lieu of David his father, who would not violate the oath he had sworn, to acknowledge no one but the Empress as successor to King Henry's crowns.
In 1137, shortly after the king and Matilda had celebrated the Easter festival, with more than ordinary splendour, at Westminster, Stephen fell into a lethargy so nearly resembling death, that it was rumoured abroad that he had ceased to exist; on which, all who espoused the cause of the Empress, and who, by promoting dissensions, hoped to enrich themselves by lawless plunder, flew to arms, and rendered both England and Normandy theatres of civil war. Not merely was the standard of revolt raised in favour of the Empress, but for individual aggrandizement, noble warred against neighbouring noble, and in these unrighteous contentions, whole towns and villages were reduced to ashes, and their inhabitants being driven to seek shelter in the forest recess or mountain fastness, formed themselves into bands of ruffians, who, making theft and murder their trade, plundered the churches and public buildings, and cruelly insulted, robbed, and slaughtered every man, woman, and child they met with. In England this horrid state of anarchy existed, with but little intermission, for more than fifteen years.
Stephen, however, on recovering from his dangerous stupor, used his best exertions to restore domestic tranquillity to his dominions. He first hastened with his infant heir, Eustace, to Normandy, where Geoffrey of Anjou, husband of the Empress, was, with a mighty army, endeavouring to obtain the dukedom for himself and his spouse. Here he subdued his foes, not by his good sword, but by the all powerful influence of wealth. By a three years' pension of two thousand marks of silver, he purchased a peace with Geoffrey, who retired to his own earldom ; and with a golden bribe he induced the King of France, as lord paramount of Normandy, to receive the liege homage of the baby boy Eustace, whose brow he had encircled with the ducal crown. During Stephen's sojourn in Normandy, his consort, Matilda, remained in England, and although we have no record of her doings at this period, we may presume she used her best exertions in furtherance of the cause of her royal lord.

 

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