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citizens, whom the devastations of war, and Stephen's exactions had reduced to such a state of distress that they were in immediate fear of a famine, implored the queen to have pity on them, and to delay the imposition of fresh taxes, until they were relieved from their present misery. “The king has left us nothing," the deputies of the citizens said to her in a submissive tone. “I understand," replied the daughter of Henry I., with a disdainful air, “you have given all to my adversary, you have conspired with him against me, and you expect me to spare you." The citizens of London being forced to pay the tax, took this opportunity of making a humble request to the queen.“ Restore to us,” was their demand, “ the good laws of thy great uncle, Edward, in the place of those of thy father, king Henry, which are bad and too harsh for us.” But, as though she were ashamed of her maternal ancestors, and had abjured her Saxon descent, Matilda was enraged at this request, treated those who had thus dared to address as if they had been guilty of the greatest insolence, and uttered terrible menaces against them. Wounded to the depths of the heart, but dissembling their vexation, the citizens returned to their hall of council, where the Normans, less suspicious than formerly, now allowed them to assemble, to arrange between themselves, by common accord, the sharing of the taxes ; for the government had adopted the custom of levying a general tax on each town, without troubling themselves as to the mode in which the demand was met by individual contributors.
Queen Matilda was awaiting in full security, either in the Conqueror's tower, or in William Rufus's palace, at Westminster, the return of the citizen's deputies, to offer her on their knees the sacks of gold that she had demanded from them, when suddenly the bells of the town sounded an alarm, and the streets and squares were filled with crowds of people. From each house sallied a man armed with the first warlike instrument on which he could lay his hand. An ancient writer compares the multitude which tumultuously gathered together, to bees issuing from the bive. The queen and her Norman and Angevin men-at-arms, seeing themselves surrounded, and not daring to risk, in the narrow crooked streets, a conflict in which superiority of arms and military science could be of no use to them, quickly mounted horse and fled. They had scarcely passed the last houses in the suburb, when a troop of English hastened to the apartments which they had inhabited, forced open the doors, and not finding them there, plundered all that they had left. The queen galloped towards Oxford, with her barons and knights; who at intervals detached themselves, one by one, from the cortège, to make their escape with greater safety, alone, by cross-roads, and by-ways ; Matilda entered Oxford, accompanied by her brother, the Earl of Gloucester, and the small number of those who had found this road the most convenient for themselves, or who had overlooked their own safety in consideration for hers.
In fact, there was little danger; for the inhabitants of London, satisfied with having chased the new queen of England from their walls, did not attempt to pursue her. Their insurrection, the result of an outbreak of indignation, with no previously concerted plan, and unconnected with any other movement, was not the first step of a national insurrection. The expulsion of Matilda and her adherents, did not turn to the advantage of the English people, but to that of Stephen's partisans. The latter quickly re-entered London, occupied the city, and filled it with their troops, under the pretence of an alliance with the citizens. The wife of the captive king repaired to London, and took up her quarters there ; and all that the citizens then gained was the privilege of enlisting to the number of a thousand men with casques and hauberks, among the troops that assembled in the name of Stephen of Blois, and of serving as auxiliaries of the Normans under William and Roger de la Chesnage.
The bishop of Winchester, seeing his brother's party regaining some strength, deserted the opposite side, and declared again for the prisoner at Bristol ; he set up Stephen's banner on Windsor Castle, and on his episcopal residence, which he had fortified and embattled like a castle. Robert of Gloucester and the partisans of Matilda came and laid siege to it. The garrison of the castle, built in the middle of the town, set fire to the houses to annoy the besiegers; and, at the same time, the army of London, attacking them unawares, obliged them to take refuge in the churches, which were then set fire to, in order to drive them out. Robert of Gloucester was taken prisoner, and his followers dispersed. Barons and knights, throwing away their arms, and marching on foot, in order not to be recognised, traversed the towns and villages under false names. But besides the partisans of the king, who pressed them closely, they encountered other enemies on their road, the Saxon peasants and serfs, who were as remorseless to them in their defeat as they had formerly been to the opposite faction. They arrested the progress of these proud Normans, who, in spite of their attempts at disguise, were betrayed by their language, and drove them along with whips. The bishop of Canterbury, some other bishops, and numbers of great lords were maltreated in this manner, and stripped of their clothing. Thus this war was to the English a cause both of misery and of joy, of that frantic joy which is experienced, in the midst of suffering, by rendering evil for evil. The grand-son of a man slain at Hastings would feel a moment's pleasure when he found the life of a Norman in his power, and the Englishwomen, who had plied the distaff in the service of the high Norman ladies, joyfully recounted the story of the sufferings of queen Matilda on her departure from Oxford : how she fled, accompanied only by three men-at-arms, in the night, on foot, through the snow, and how she had passed, in great alarm, close to the enemy's posts, hearing the voice of the sentinels, and the sound of the military signals.
59.-STEPHEN AND MAUD.
KEATS. “As soon as Keats had finished Otho,' Mr. Brown suggested to him the character and reign of King Stephen, beginning with his defeat by the Empress Maud, and ending with the death of his son Eustace, as a fine subject for an English historical tragedy. This Keats undertook, assuming to himself, however, the whole conduct of the drama, and wrote some hundred and thirty lines."
Moncton Milnes's Life of Keats.
Second Knight. Sure of a bloody prey, seeing the fens
Over head and ears,
Enter Earl Baldwin and Soldiers, as defeated.
Baldwin. No scare-crow, but the fortunate star
And which way spur for life?
[E.reunt. Alarum. SCENE II. Another part of the Field. Trumpets sounding a Victory. Enter Glocester, Knights, and Forces.
Glocester. Now may we lift our bruised visors up,
First Knight. Will Stephen's death be mark'd there, my good lord,
Enter two Captains severally.
He sole and lone maintains
And for the Duke of Bretagne, like a stag
Now our dreaded queen:
Enter Second Knight.
Whence come you ? Second Knight. From Stephen, my good prince, Stephen ! Stephen !
Glocester. Why do you made such echoing of his name?
Second Knight. Because I think, my lord, he is no man,
Glocester. A mighty soldier !-Does he still hold out ?
Second Knight. He shames our victory. His valour still
Glocester. Did no one take him at a vantage then ?
Second Knight. Three then with tiger leap upon him flew,
Glocester. Come, lead me to this man—and let us move
Exeunt Glocester and Forces.
Enter Stephen unarmed.
I'm faint-a biting sword! A noble sword !
Enter De Kaims and Knights, &c.
Stephen. Do it, De Kaims, I will not budge an inch.
How dare, against a man disarm'd ?
De Kaims. Thou shalt vail to me.
Stephen. Shall I, when I have sworn against it, sir ?
A Soldier. Is an honest yeoman's spear
Ah, dastard !
Stephen. No, not yet. I disclaim it, and demand
Trumpets. Enter the Earl of Chester and Knights.