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Strife of Stephen and Matilda

993 is said that from the moment the news was carried to King Henry, he never smiled again.

No children were born to the King, although he married again, and he decided to settle the crown on his widowed daughter Matilda. The barons were displeased at the thought of being ruled by a woman, but had to consent and swore to sustain her in the succession. Then her father compelled her to marry Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, a youth only sixteen years old. This young man was called "the Handsome," and always wore in his helmet a sprig of the broom-plant of Anjou. Because of this fact, their son Henry II. is known in history as Planta-genet, the Latin name of the plant being Planta genista.

Henry died in 1135, it is said, probably with truth, from gormandizing. Two candidates for the throne immediately came forward. One was his daughter Matilda and the other his nephew Stephen. Despite the pledge of the barons to support Matilda, the feeling against the rule of a woman was so strong that Stephen was allowed to assume the crown. Four years later Matilda landed in England, determined to see that the wish of her father was carried out. The west of England rallied to her support, while the east stood by Stephen, the allegiance of the barons being divided. Stephen himself was one of the barons who had promised to sustain the queen. The King of the Scots, who was Matilda's uncle, came over the border with an army to help her, and, since everybody, including the barons, was thinking only of his own selfish ends, you can understand what woful times came to England. The barons had built themselves strong castles, in which they lived as robber chieftains, without the slightest regard for the commands of God or the commonest rights of humanity. If one of them suspected some person had hidden wealth, he would seize the unfortunate and plunge him into a dungeon, there to live in filth, with toads and snakes crawling over him, and, if that did not force him. to tell where his wealth was hidden, the poor wretch was tortured to death. The barons hated one another and fought back and forth, and ravaged the land until the helpless people died of starvation and exposure It was unsafe to make the shortest journey over the highway, and it grew so that if a person caught sight of a stranger in the distance, he would fly from him at the top of his speed. No church, building, man, woman, or child was safe anywhere, and no wonder that many bitterly exclaimed that God and His saints slept.

It was in 1139 that Queen Matilda landed in England, and the civil war began in all its fury. At the beginning of 1141, Stephen was taken prisoner at Lincoln, was loaded with chains and shut up in Bristol Castle. Then Matilda entered London in triumph, but was so elated and scornful because of her success that every one became disgusted, and she was driven out before she could be crowned. Some months later, Stephen was exchanged for the Earl

of Gloucester, and the horrible war raged again. Matilda was besieged in Oxford Castle, from which she escaped a few days before Christmas by an audacious stratagem. The ground was white with snow, and late at night she wrapped herself in a cloak of the same color, and, accompanied by three knights, slipped past all the posts of the enemy, hurried over the river on the ice, and safely reached Wallingford Castle. The civil war was finally brought to an end by the bishops in 1153, with the agreement that Stephen should keep the kingdom for his life, and then should be succeeded by Henry, the eldest son of Matilda. Stephen died in the autumn of 1154. He was the last of the Norman kings, their combined reigns having covered almost a century.

Under the Normans, Trial by Battle was introduced in addition to the Ordeal, which prevailed among the Saxons. The former was a duel in which each combatant appealed to Heaven to give him victory. Noblemen fought in full armor on horseback, while common people fought on foot with clubs. In each instance, the combat was in the presence of judges and might last from sunrise till stargleam. When the dispute was between priests or women, they had the privilege of being represented by champions. Strange as it may seem, trial by battle was allowed, when claimed in 1817, though the combat did not take place, and the custom itself was abolished in 1819.

The Norman conquest did not materially affect the divisions of society, though nearly all the Saxons were compelled to surrender their rank and estates to the Normans. A noble was a member of the National Council, or, in the case of an earl, he represented the king in the government of a county or earldom. He was not exempted from taxation, and his rank could descend to only one of his children. As you will recall, the aristocracy in France were noble by birth, their rank passed to all their children, and they were generally exempt from taxation.

No changes were made in the organization of the Church during the Norman period, but the principal offices in it were also handed over to the Normans. Henry I. and the Archbishop of Canterbury disputed because of the provision of a special court for the trial of ecclesiastics. This law was not finally abolished until the opening of the nineteenth century. Knighthood was common, and had the knights actually been what they were in theory, they would have formed a perfect body of soldiery, and the most accomplished of gentleThe men of course fought as had the Saxons, the armor being the same, though improvements were gradually made in it. The army consisted of cavalry or knights, nearly all of whom were Normans, and of Saxon foot-soldiers, who greatly outnumbered the horsemen.


Of education there was little worthy of the name. Learning was despised by the nobility, who looked upon fighting as the highest aim of life. Since

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