Appendix 21
I see the city of Oxford filled with helmeted men, and the holy men and the
holy bishops bound in fetters by the advice of the Council. See also Appendix
11 which relates to the same event.
Roger of Salisbury and Alexander of Lincoln were taken into custody on
June 24
th
1139 while attending a council of King Stephen at Oxford.Roger of
Salisbury, Henry Ist chancellor, had acquired vast land holdings and wealth
while tending affairs of state during Henry Ist absence in Normandy. He
was said to be worldly rather than pious. He built castles at Sherborne and
Devizes and fortified Malmesbury Abbey. He had also taken possession of
the Royal Castle at Salisbury.
His nephew Alexander of Lincoln to whom Geoffrey of Monmouth
dedicates the prophecies of Merlin in the HRB, had also constructed a castle
in Newark as well as having Sleaford Castle. Alexander was known for his
ostentatious and luxurious lifestyle also. Roger and Alexander both
supplied many knights for the King’s cause just as Henry Blois did from
both Winchester and Glastonbury.
In 1138 there were rumours that the Empress and Robert of Gloucester
were about to return England and seize the crown. Most of the barons had
previously sworn allegiance to Matilda on the instructions of Henry Ist on
the understanding that she was to inherit the crown on his death. The
Beaumont twins, supporters of King Stephen had his ear and were able to
manipulate him.
It is made clear in the Gesta Stephani thatthis situation riled Henry Blois
as his relationship with his brother had become frosty on account of their
whisperings against him. The Beaumont’s spread rumours to the King
regarding Roger of Salisbury, Alexander and bishop Nigel that they might
switch fealty en masse to Matilda and this would present serious problems
for King Stephen if the power base, which the family relatives held, sided
with Matilda’s and Robert.
According to Henry Blois, (the author of the GS), these rumours appear
to have been started by a group of nobles led by twin brothers, Waleran de
Beaumont, the Count of Meulan, (to whom Geoffrey of Monmouth
supposedly dedicates some versions of the HRB), and Robert de Beaumont,
the Earl of Leicester.
William of Malmesbury says that if only Stephen had not lent trusting
ears to the whispers of the ill-disposed counsellors who used to urge upon
him that he should never lack money while the monasteries were full of
treasure. The bishops, they said, forgetting they were churchmen, were mad
with rage for castle building; no one should doubt that all this was being done
for the King’s ruin…
1
Stephen needed a pretext for demanding a surrender
of the three bishop’s castles.
Stephen’s political position would have been more secure had it not been
for the speed with which Stephen arrived in England after Henry Ist death
and the manipulations of the Bishop of Winchester who convinced William
of Corbeil to crown Stephen quickly. All the barons who had sworn fealty
to Matilda previously, knew that Hugh Bigod had told a lie to get Stephen
crowned. Bigod had said that before Henry Ist died, he had released all the
barons from the oath they had sworn to the Empress Matilda. This gave rise
to a situation where the barons in some cases did not know where their
loyalty lay.
Few could accept a woman as their Queen anyway; and so with
expedience Stephen had been crowned. Certainly Henry Blois as author of
GS wants posterity to understand that expediency rather than manipulation
led to Stephen being crowned. The rumours may have been untrue about
Roger of Salisbury’s proposed change of affiliation to Matilda, but the
Beaumont’s had planted a seed of doubt in Stephen’s mind.
Because of Stephen’s insecurity and the fact that he did not wish to
offend the Beaumont's, he conspired to call a council at which Roger and his
nephews the bishops of Ely and Lincoln would attend. Here it was contrived
that some accusation would arise and they would be arrested. A
preconceived controversy was arranged and a fight broke out between
Bishop Roger's men and those of Alan, Count of Brittany over quarters. The
argument was inflamed and swords were pulled and Alan's nephew was
killed as well as one of Bishop Roger’s soldiers. When Alan was called
before Stephen, he charged the Bishop with plotting against the King just as
the Beaumont’s had arranged. Not given time to give answer the accusation,
1
Historia Novella, William of Malmesbury.
Roger of Salisbury and Alexander of Lincoln were roughly arrested and tied
in the King's presence.
This all transpired at Oxford. I see the city of Oxford filled with helmeted
men, and holy men and holy bishops bound on the decision of the Council.
Nigel of Ely was supposed to be arrested also, but he was quartered
outside Oxford and was not present at the fracas and managed to avoid the
trap set by King Stephen. On hearing the news he fled to Roger of
Salisbury’s Castle at Devizes where he refused to come out. Probably, Nigel
fleeing to Devises gave the appearance of guilt; and for Stephen,
substantiated Alan's accusation in the first place.
As we have already elucidated in appendix 11, Stephen dragged Bishop
Roger down to Devizes with him, to lay siege to his own Castle and to evict
Nigel of Ely. William of Ypres, a knight of Stephen’s, threatened Nigel (who
was within the castle), that should he not give himself up, Bishop Roger
would be starved until he opened up and gave possession of the castle to the
King. Nigel not caring for his uncle's importunity said he would not submit.
Meanwhile, Bishop Roger, as we have covered already, was housed in a
cowshed in the most awful conditions and separated from Bishop
Alexander who was also housed in appalling conditions. Bishop Roger, half
starving to death (Malmesbury said it was a voluntary fast), begged the King
that he could plead with his nephew at the castle gates to open up. Roger
was brought in front of the Castle and asked why Nigel had fled to Roger’s
Castle rather than his own. Nigel did not come out, so Stephen dragged
Nigel's nephew, Roger the pauper in front of the Castle with a noose placed
around his neck and threatened to hang him. Roger le Poer, who was in fact
Stephen’s chancellor was Roger of Salisbury's son. However, Roger the
pauper's mother was actually in charge of defending her husband’s Castle
and so quickly surrendered Nigel to Stephen. Stephen claimed all their
castles and their treasures. The three bishops were then eventually allowed
to return to their bishoprics, penniless and powerless.
This whole episode affected Henry Blois greatly. As the present legate to
the Pope, he decided to do something about it. Henry Blois said that if the
bishops had in anything stepped aside from the path of justice, then it was
not for the King to judge them, but for cannon law.
2
2
Historia Novella, William of Malmesbury.
Stephen had not only previously affronted Henry in the election of
Theobald of Bec as Archbishop (a position he had assumed would be his
after overseeing the see for two years); but it was the affront to the church
which went against Henry’s Gregorian values, that motivated him to bring
his brother into line before abuse against the church went any further. He
therefore held an ecclesiastical council at Winchester to which Stephen was
summoned to attend and in which Henry's speech is recorded in appendix
11.
Henry's personal ire is evident in the GS account, but even William of
Malmesbury relates about Henry Blois that: ‘neither fraternal affection nor
fear of danger could turn him aside from the path of truth. He spent all his
efforts in saying these things both in private and openly in the King's
presence, appealing to him to free and restore bishops, but on no subject
would the King listen to him, wherefore, thinking he would try what force lay
in the canon law he made his brother promptly to attend the council which he
was to hold at Winchester on August 29.
3
While the Legate thus expressed himself deliberately and at length, the
King, who did not lack confidence in his own case, sent earls to the council to
enquire why he had been summoned. The legate answered in brief that one
who remembered his own obedience to the faith of Christ should not complain
if he had been summoned by Christ's ministers to give satisfaction, when he
knew himself guilty of an offence such as our times had nowhere seen; for it
belonged to pagan times to imprison bishops and deprive them of their
property.
Let them therefore tell his brother that if he thought it fit to acquiesce
calmly in his advice he would by God's will give him advice to which neither
the Church of Rome nor the court of the King of France, nor even Count
Theobald the brother of them both, certainly a wise and religious man, could
reasonably object, but which they ought to accept with favour. In the present
juncture the King would act prudently if he either gave an account of what he
had done or submit to judgement according to the canon law. It was also his
bounden duty to favour the church, whose welcoming arms, not the prowess
of his knights had raised him to the throne.
3
HN p.28
The earls went out with what he had said and returned not long
afterwards with an answer. They were accompanied by Aubrey De Vere, a
man practised in many kinds of cases. He gave the King's answer and did all
harm he could to Bishop Roger's case (for Bishop Alexander, whom Roger
supported was not there); yet he did it with restraint and without abusive
language, though some of the earls standing by his side, often interrupted his
speech by hurling insults at the Bishop.
4
The main contention was that even if Bishop Roger were guilty of a
crime, it was the church’s job to judge them and not for the King to deprive
them of their possessions; the same argument was to ensue between
Thomas a Becket and Henry II, which Henry Blois also had a secretive hand
in, but we will cover this later.
4
HN. p 31