Whilst Matilda was in Normandy, she sent over such a host of Breton and Flemish fighting men, that afterwards Stephen's army was composed almost wholly of foreigners. Such an array of foreign troops naturally excited the jealous alarms of the people, and greatly injured the cause they were intended to serve.
In 1139, the opposing parties endeavoured to settle matters amicably, but their efforts were vain, as both Stephen and the Empress, relying on the relative strength of their positions, which, indeed, had not yet been tested by a single encounter of importance, determined not to relinquish the highly tempting prize of England's royal circlet without a desperate struggle.
After a series of hot contests, the particulars of which belong rather to history than biography to detail, Stephen was overpowered and made prisoner, whilst fighting with lion like fury under the walls of Lincoln, on Candlemas day, being the second of February, 1141. His victorious captor, the Earl of Gloucester, led him before the haughty Empress, who, with a spirit of vengeance that will ever tarnish her fair fame, ordered him into close confinement in Bristol Castle, and shortly afterwards, under a pretence that his friends had formed a plan for his rescue, she caused him to be loaded with heavy irons, and shut up in a dark dank dungeon.
As, in those days of superstition, the hearts of men were filled with dread, and the bravest made cowards by every trifling incident believed by them to be an evil omen, it is no matter of surprise that Stephen lost the famous battle of Lincoln, preceded as it was by phenomena and events viewed at the time as boding signs of direful calamity. First came an eclipse of the sun—an alarming incident, which, says Malmesbury, perplexed men's minds sorely, and led many to believe that the king's reign was coming to a close; next succeeded a terrible tempest, accompanied by thunder and lightning so awful, that no living man had before seen the like; and this was followed by that greatly dreaded omen of war, the aurora borealis; whilst, to add to the already greatly excited terrors of the superstitious, on the morning of the battle, when the king and his suite attended divine service, those presages of impending evil—the thrice falling of the consecrated wafer from the hands of the officiating bishop, and the breaking into pieces of the hallowed taper which Stephen held in his hand —filled the minds of the congregation with awe, and caused several of the king's barons to exclaim: "Alack, alack, only evil will attend us on this day of battle and strife!" Indeed the victory on that memorable second of February would doubtless have been Stephen's, had not these fearfully viewed occurrences unnerved his trusty followers, and impelled them to a disgraceful flight.
Having secured her princely antagonist, the victorious Empress marched without delay to Winchester, where she met Stephen's brother, Henry, bishop of Winchester, outside the city walls, and gained him over, by swearing that, as cardinal legate, he should be consulted in all state affairs, and have the disposal of all the church preferments, and the control of ecclesiastical matters generally. In return, the well pleased bishop swore fidelity to the empress as queen regnant, but with that significant reservation, "so long as she fulfilled her part of the mutual contract."
On the day following, the elated Empress was met by most of the prelates and nobles of the land, accompanied by a procession of monks and nuns; and thus welcomed by chaunting voices, and saluted by the richly blazoned banners of the barons, and the hearty cheers of the populace, she entered the venerable city with all the dignity of royalty, and took up her residence at that regal home where she first drew her breath—the Castle of Winchester. Here she received the keys of the royal treasury, which, to her sorrow, she found had been already emptied by Stephen, to prop up his tottering throne, scarcely anything of value being left but the insignia of royalty. However, she caused herself immediately to be proclaimed queen in the marketplace, and afterwards went with great pomp to the cathedral, where the Bishop of Winchester, after the performance of mass, pronounced a blessing on her and her friends, and solemnly excommunicated his fallen brother Stephen, and all his adherents. Shortly afterwards, she received the homage of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the bishops; the primate, with a remarkable scrupulosity of conscience, to avoid violating his oath to his former master, having first visited Stephen, who, being a helpless prisoner, readily gave him the absolution he required.
When Matilda of Boulogne returned from Normandy, where she had left her son Eustace wearing the crown of the dukedom, she hastened to her faithful adherents, the citizens of London, and so effectually urged them to the rescue of her imprisoned lord, that on the magistrates of London being summoned to attend a synod called at Winchester, by the legate Henry, they, instead of com plying with the wish of the assembly, by giving in their adherence to the empress, actually demanded, in the name of their fellow citizens, the release*
of King Stephen before proceeding further in the matter. Their boldness greatly astonished the synod, and Henry told them, "that it did not become the Londoners to side with the barons who had basely deserted their king in battle, and were now endeavouring to drain them of their money, and embroil the kingdom in further troubles."
Provoked by this lecture, the angry Londoners, after hinting at revenge, abruptly departed, declaring they would own no other sovereign but Stephen, and further, that the church had no power by its own individual voice to choose a ruler over the nation.
Finding that her husband's brother, Henry, Bishop of Winchester, had defeated the purpose of the good magistrates of London, Matilda herself dictated a letter to the synod, earnestly entreating the release of her royal lord, let whoever might be king. This letter she entrusted to her chaplain,