Young Folks' History of England HTML version

10. Stephen, A.D. 1135—1154
Neither English nor Normans had ever been ruled by a woman, and the
Empress Maude, as she still called herself, was a proud, disagreeable, ill-
tempered woman, whom nobody liked. So her cousin, Stephen de Blois—
whose mother, Adela, had been daughter of William the Conqueror —thought
to obtain the crown of England by promising to give everyone what they
wished. It was very wrong of him; for he, like all the other barons, had sworn
that Maude should reign. But the people knew he was a kindly, gracious sort
of person, and greatly preferred him to her. So he was crowned; and at once
all the Norman barons, whom King Henry had kept down, began to think they
could have their own way. They built strong castles, and hired men, with
whom they made war upon each other, robbed one another's tenants, and,
when they saw a peaceable traveler on his way, they would dash down upon
him, drag him into the castle, take away all the jewels or money he had about
him, or, if he had none, they would shut him up and torment him till he could
get his friends to pay them a sum to let him loose.
Stephen, who was a kind-hearted man himself, tried to stop these cruelties;
but then the barons turned round on him, told him he was not their proper
king, and invited Maude to come and be crowned in his stead. She came very
willingly; and her uncle, King David of Scotland, set out with an army to fight
for her; but all the English in the north came out to drive him back; and they
beat him and his Scots at what they call the Battle of the Standard, because
the English had a holy standard, which was kept in Durham Cathedral. Soon
after, Stephen was taken prisoner at a battle at Lincoln, and there was
nothing to prevent Maude from being queen but her own bad temper. She
went to Winchester, and was there proclaimed; but she would not speak
kindly or gently to the people; and when her friends entreated her to reply
more kindly, she flew into a passion, and it is even said that she gave a box
on the ear to her uncle—the good King of Scotland, who had come to help
her—for reproving her for her harsh answers. When Stephen's wife came to
beg her to set him free, promising that he should go away beyond the seas,
and never interfere with her again, she would not listen, and drove her away.
But she soon found how foolish she had been. Stephen's friends would have
been willing that he should give up trying to be king, but they could not leave
him in prison for life; and so they went on fighting for him, while more and
more of the English joined them, as they felt how bad and unkind a queen
they had in the Empress. Indeed, she was so proud and violent, that her
husband would not come over to England to help her, but staid to govern
Normandy. She was soon in great distress, and had to flee from Winchester,
riding through the midst of the enemy, and losing almost all her friends by
the way as they were slain or made prisoners. Her best helper of all—Earl
Robert of Gloucester—was taken while guarding her; and she could only get
to his town of Gloucester by lying down in a coffin, with holes for air, and