swore allegiance to her and her imprisoned lord. Having driven her foe from the capital of her kingdom, the Queen next applied to her brother in-law, the Bishop of Winchester, who had already withdrawn from the Empress in disgust, and who was anxiously waiting for an opportunity to again espouse the cause of the fallen Stephen. This opportunity had now arrived, and the purged but powerful prelate, having listened with pleasure to the entreaties of the Queen, commenced the most active measures in her support. After publicly excommunicating the Domina and her adherents, and absolving Stephen and his party from the anathemas he had only a few days previously thundered against them, he secretly gained over many of the Domina's discontented but powerful supporters, and retired to Winchester, where, having garrisoned his castle with sturdy warriors, and well stored it with provisions and arms, he sent a private message to Queen Matilda, to immediately march thither with her son Eustace, and all the forces she could collect.
The Empress, on receiving intelligence of these doings, did not wait to receive the advice of her prudent half brother, Earl Robert, who was then absent, but collecting all the troops she could muster, hastily marched to Winchester, with a view to seize the Bishop by stratagem. Henry, however, was not to be so easily ensnared, for when, on reaching the city, she sent a message to him, demanding his presence on important business, he ambiguously replied, "I will prepare myself;" and as she entered one of the city gates, he retired out at another, and shutting himself up in his castle, unexpectedly attacked her with such a shower of fiery missiles, that it was with difficulty she reached the shelter of the royal residence.
Thwarted in her purpose, the Empress summoned to her standard the nobles of the land, and laid siege to the bishop's stronghold. The faithful Earl of Gloucester, her uncle, King David, of Scotland, the Earls of Cornwall, Hereford, and Chester, besides others, obeyed her call, and flew to her support, but in the meantime Matilda of Boulogne, with her numerous adherents, had arrived, and assailed the Empress from without. A hot warfare ensued, in which the miserable citizens suffered sorely. Pent up in their city, and deprived of provisions by the Queen's beleaguering host, they were famishing of want, whilst by day and by night their homes were being reduced to ashes by the inflammable missiles discharged from castle battlements against each other by the bishop's and the Domina's fiery foemen. Indeed, at the termination of the destructive contest, the city was little else but a heap of ruins, two abbeys and forty churches, beside private dwellings, having been consumed.
For seven long weeks did this hot encounter rage with unabated fury. At length, however, on the 14th of February, the feast of the Holy Cross, a truce for forty eight hours was, according to the established usage of the church, proclaimed, when, as the Empress found the ranks of her fighting men terribly thinned by fire and sword, and food so scarce, that famine was fast doing the work of death amongst her brave followers, she, overcome by a dread of falling into the hands of the Queen's party, sought shelter in flight. Escorted by a chosen band, commanded by the Scotch king and the Earl of Cornwall, she, under the cover of night's darkness, and disguised as a poor peasant, quitted that castle, where, but a few months previously, she, in the pride of her heart, had fondly hoped to wield the royal sceptre with despotic sway over the English nation. The Earl of Gloucester and the remainder of the garrison followed her in her flight at the peep of the succeeding dawn.
Scarcely had they set out, when the enraged bishop discovered that the royal prize was eluding his grasp; and, regardless of the truce that he himself had proclaimed, he sent his garrison in hot pursuit of her. The bishop's troops came up with the fugitives at Stockbridge, where the devoted Earl of Gloucester and his brave companions, with the view to gain all possible time, resisted the enemy in so determined a manner, that being overwhelmed by numbers, they were nearly all slain, and the Earl of Gloucester, after a brave defence, was taken prisoner.
Whilst this fierce melée was going on, the Empress and the Scotch King, by dint of hard riding, reached the castle of Ludgershall in safety, where, after a few hours' tarry, she was detected, and forced to flee, swift as horse could carry her, to Devizes, whither she was pursued by the Queen's troops, who so closely invested her tract, that, overcome by fatigue and terror, she, to elude their grasp, assumed the shroud of a corpse, and was borne in a coffin on the shoulders of her faithful followers, unnoticed and unsuspected, to the stronghold of her party, the city of Gloucester, where, on entering that castle which a few months previously she had left with such high hope, her sorrows were increased by the sad news of the captivity of her valiant and devoted half brother.
As the King of Scotland had come to England to assist, not at the flight, but at the expected coronation of the Domina, he was not a little annoyed at the turn matters had taken, and as he had more than once narrowly escaped being made prisoner, he gladly availed himself of the earliest opportunity of fleeing from the dangers with which his too obstinate and haughty niece had surrounded him, by recrossing the border of his own kingdom.
The Queen strenuously endeavours to exchange Robert of Gloucester for Stephen — The exchange effected — Stephen again takes the field with success — Decline of the cause of the Empress — Robert of Gloucester seeks aid from the Earl of Anjou — Stephen besieges the Empress in Oxford —Her perilous escape — Her joy at again beholding her heir, Prince Henry — Return of the Prince to the continent — Death of the Earl of Gloucester —The Empress relinquishes her efforts to obtain the crown of England — Her final return to Normandy — Her improved character — Her holy and righteous works — Her death.