The issue of the battle of the Standard might have given rest to England if Stephen had understood the spirit of his age.
Continuing Stephen Versus Matilda,
our selection from The Popular History of England by Charles Knight published in 1880. The selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Stephen Versus Matilda.
The author of the Gesta Stephani says: “Scotland, also called Albany, is a country overspread by extensive moors, but containing flourishing woods and pastures, which feed large herds of cows and oxen.” Of the mountainous regions he says nothing. Describing the natives as savage, swift of foot, and lightly armed, he adds, “A confused multitude of this people being assembled from the lowlands of Scotland, they were formed into an irregular army and marched for England.” From the period of the Conquest, a large number of Anglo-Saxons had been settled in the lowlands; and the border countries of Westmoreland and Cumberland were also occupied, to a considerable extent, by the same race. The people of Galloway were chiefly of the original British stock. The historians describe “the confused multitude” as exercising great cruelties in their advance through the country that lies between the Tweed and the Tees; and Matthew Paris uses a significant phrase which marks how completely they spread over the land. He calls them the “Scottish Ants.” The Archbishop of York, Thurstan, an aged but vigorous man, collected a large army to resist the invaders; and he made a politic appeal to the old English nationality, by calling out the population under the banners of their Saxon saints. The Bishop of Durham was the leader of this army, composed of the Norman chivalry and the English archers. The opposing forces met at Northallerton, on the 22d of August, 1138. The Anglo-Norman army was gathered round a tall cross, raised on a car, and surrounded by the banners of St. Cuthbert and St. Wilfred and St. John of Beverley. From this incident the bloody day of Northallerton was called “the Battle of the Standard.” Hoveden has given an oration made by Ralph, Bishop of Durham, in which he addresses the captains as “Brave nobles of England, Normans by birth”; and pointing to the enemy, who knew not the use of armor, exclaims, “Your head is covered with the helmet, your breast with a coat of mail, your legs with greaves, and your whole body with the shield.” Of the Saxon yeomanry he says nothing. Whether the oration be genuine or not, it exhibits the mode in which the mass of the people were regarded at that time. Thierry appears to consider that the bold attempt of David of Scotland was made in reliance upon the support of the Anglo-Saxon race. But it is perfectly clear that they bore the brunt of the English battle; and whatever might be their wrongs, were not disposed to yield their fields and houses to a fierce multitude who came for spoil and for possession. The Scotch fought with darts and long spears, and attacked the solid mass of Normans and English gathered round the standard. Prince Henry, the son of the King of Scotland, made a vigorous onslaught with a body of horse, composed of English and Normans attached to his father’s household. These were, without doubt, especial partisans of the claim to the English crown of the ex-empress Matilda; and, as the King of Scotland himself is described, were “inflamed with zeal for a just cause.” * The issue of the battle was the signal defeat of the Scottish army, with the loss of eleven thousand men upon the field. A peace was concluded with King Stephen in the following year.
[*: Scott has given a picturesque account of the battle in his Tales of a Grandfather. Writing, as he often did, from general impressions, in describing the gallant charge of Prince Henry, he states that he broke the English line “as if it had been a spider’s web.” Hoveden, the historian to whom Scott alludes, applies this strong image to the scattering of the men of Lothian: “For the Almighty was offended at them, and their strength was rent like a cobweb.”]
The issue of the battle of the Standard might have given rest to England if Stephen had understood the spirit of his age. In 1139 he engaged in a contest more full of peril than the assaults of Scotland or the disturbances of Wales. He had been successful against some of the disaffected barons. He had besieged and taken Hereford Castle and Shrewsbury Castle. Dover Castle had surrendered to his Queen. Robert, Earl of Gloucester, kept possession of the castles of Bristol and Leeds; and other nobles held out against him in various strong places. London and some of the larger towns appear to have steadily clung to his government. The influence of the Church, by which he had been chiefly raised to sovereignty, had supported him during his four years of struggle. But that influence was now to be shaken.
The rapid and steady growth of the ecclesiastical power in England, from the period of the Conquest, is one of the most remarkable characteristics of that age. This progress we must steadily keep in view if we would rightly understand the general condition of society. All the great offices of the Church, with scarcely an exception, were filled by Normans. The Conqueror sternly resisted any attempts of bishops or abbots to control his civil government. The “Red King” misappropriated their revenues in many cases. Henry I quarrelled with Anselm about the right of investiture, which the Pope declared should not be in the hands of any layman, but Henry compromised a difficult question with his usual prudence. Whatever difficulties the Church encountered, during seventy years, and especially during the whole course of Henry’s reign, wealth flowed in upon the ecclesiastics, from king and noble, from burgess and socman; and every improvement of the country increased the value of church possessions. It was not only from the lands of the Crown and the manors of earls that bishoprics and monasteries derived their large endowments.
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