OBERT OF GLOUCESTER, on being taken prisoner, was conveyed to the victorious Queen Matilda, and she, overjoyed at the prospect of Stephen's release, committed him to the charge of her able general, Sir William Ypres, who placed him in secure but not severe confinement in Rochester Castle, in Kent.
The anxiety of the Queen to unbind the fetters of her beloved lord, induced her immediately to enter into negociations with her prisoner, and offer to exchange him for the king. But as Earl Robert believed that the release of Stephen would prove fatal to the cause of the Empress, he resolutely refused his own liberation on such terms ; and when the anxious Queen proffered him place, power, and wealth, such as only a powerful sovereign can command, if he would cease to serve his half sister, and throw the weight of his influence into the cause of Stephen; he told her that no earthly offer would induce him to violate his solemnly sworn oath to protect the Empress and her rights.
Finding he was not to be won by promises, the Queen resorted to threats, but with no better success. "I am in your power," said the devoted Earl, " and if your spirit of revenge so actuates, which God grant it may not, you may torture this body till the soul is driven from the luckless clay; but that will avail you I nought, for rest assured, lady, that all the pangs of hell combined will never induce me to forego my honour, my fidelity, and my oaths, for they are sacred to "God."
Upwards of two months had passed in delays and fruitless negociations, when at length the Domina, being unable to longer keep her party together without the presence of Earl Robert, and having in vain offered a large sum in gold, and twelve of the most powerful barons that her party had captured, for his ransom, she by entreaties prevailed on him to accept the Queen's terms.
On All Saints' Day, November the first, 1141, Stephen, after a painful captivity of nine months, was again restored to liberty and his rejoicing consort, and at the same time the humanely treated Earl Robert was released from his confinement, and safely escorted to the Domina at Gloucester.
Upon Stephen's liberation, the adherents of the Domina fell off so greatly, that the Earl of Gloucester endeavoured to persuade his imperial sister that her party, weakened as it was by the defection of nearly all the powerful barons, who influenced by that wily prelate, the Bishop of Winchester, had lent their support to King Stephen, could by no possibility effectually force her rights by arms, or, indeed, render any really permanent service to her cause; but to this she would not listen, and again the trumpet of war was sounded, and under their respective leaders Englishmen slew Englishmen in battle strife.
During the winter both parties remained comparatively quiet, hut early in the spring of 1142, they flew to arms with great vigour. Whilst courageously driving his foes before him in Yorkshire, Stephen was attacked with a death like illness, resembling the stupor with which he was formerly assailed, which alarmed his friends and gave new courage to his enemies. He, however, was in a few days again restored to health, by the tender attentions of his affectionate consort, who, during his affliction, never once deserted his couch. On again taking the field, he, as before, carried every thing before him, and so overwhelmed and disheartened the adherents of the Domina, that, feeling themselves unable to longer cope with so powerful a foe without speedy reinforcements, they despatched a hasty messenger, with an application for assistance, to Geoffrey of Anjou. But the Plantagenet Earl positively refused to treat with any one in the matter save the Earl of Gloucester himself, declaring that as the Domina, his wife, had neglected to summon him to partake in her triumph, he now felt no inclination to leave his hereditary dominions to prop up her pretensions to that throne which she, in the pride of her heart, would scorn to share with her long neglected husband.
In this emergency, Earl Robert, after surrounding the Empress by a strong garrison in Oxford Castle, and placing her affairs on the best possible footing, bravely crossed the sea, then well covered with Stephen's vessels, in the hope of obtaining effectual aid. But his mission failed, as Earl Geoffrey declined to stir in the matter, and only, after much entreaty, consented to part with his son Henry. With this precious charge and a band of chosen fighting men, he embarked for England, where direful news awaited him; for in his absence Stephen had marched to the southward, and after taking fortress after fortress, at length reached Oxford, which he prepared to besiege.
At that period the city of Oxford was surrounded by water and enclosed by almost impregnable walls; the garrison, therefore, whilst carelessly repelling his approach by an occasional shower of arrows aimed at the foremost of his cavalry, defied them to ford the river, and taunted them for their folly in supposing that Oxford could ever be taken by assault. Stephen, however, soon awoke them from their dream of fancied security, for discovering a part of the river that was fordable, he and his army plunged into the stream, dashed across, and with shouts of victory so fiercely assailed the town, that the ill guarded gates were smashed in, and the garrison attacked and slaughtered on their own battlements, before they had time to assume the defensive.
The terror of the Domina was agonizing, for her foes having possessed themselves of the city, now closely invested the castle, and she was in imminent danger of falling into the hands of that cousin who but a few months before she had loaded with heavy irons and so cruelly imprisoned. Week followed week, and yet the dense masses of the king's troops, planted in every direction around the frowning battlements, which they stormed with unceasing fury, rendered it alike dangerous to remain in the castle, or to attempt flight. In this hour of anxiety, Earl Robert arrived with Prince Henry and several hundred Angevin knights and nobles, and hoping