Battle of Lincoln
The dynastic squabbles of William the Conqueror’s sons had been brief and decisive, much to the relief doubtless of the general populace. When the male line died out, leaving Matilda, daughter of Henry I as the heir to the kingdom, it was surely predictable that one party or another would attempt to usurp the throne. On Henry’s death Stephen of Blois, grandson of the Conqueror , seized the throne in spite of having previously sworn to uphold Matilda’s claim. Sadly for the nation the parties were reasonably well matched, thus for long years The Anarchy – the civil war with few pitched battles but endless plunder that lasted most of Stephen’s reign– played out. The arrival of ruthless mercenaries made matters for the general population much worse. The cruelty to captured enemies was likewise brutal – one famous incident involving captives being covered in honey and then having wasps released upon them.
In 1141 the battle of Lincoln could have ended the conflict. The city, then one of the most important in the land, the key to much of the North, was besieged over the winter by Stephen attempting to recapture the fortress recently taken by Ranulf of Chester . Ranulf had escaped, leaving his wife and a defending force in the castle. Though Ranulf was not for either Matilda or Stephen, he joined forces with his father-in-law Robert of Gloucester to attack the besieging force. Given Robert was Matilda’s illegitimate half-brother the matter thus became significant in terms of the struggle for the throne.
Stephen’s undiplomatic actions earlier in his reign came back to haunt him, the battle turned by an unstoppable charge by a force comprised of ‘the disinherited’, men whose lands he had taken from them. The king’s force was routed, many including the mercenary leader William of Ypres deciding discretion was the better part of valour.
The rebel army surrounded the last knot of Stephen’s forces, with the monarch it its heart. He fought bravely, according to the accounts of the battle first with a huge battle-axe, then when that broke with a sword. He was finally stunned by a stone thrown at his head, and pulled to the ground. His cavalry fled northwards, but many of his infantry fled to the city, where it is thought several hundred were captured and killed.
Matilda’s side now had the opportunity to end the conflict: Stephen could have been executed, though that would have left a blood feud. Or with some intelligent political moves Stephen’s supporters could have been bought. The chance went begging. Stephen was transferred to Bristol to be kept safely and William of Ypres fought on for his master, who was eventually released thanks to his side’s capture of Robert of Gloucester , the two prisoners exchanged. The conflict continued until 1153, when the death of Stephen’s son and heir Eustace allowed a sensible compromise to be reached: Stephen would reign for the rest of his life (he died in October 1154), and Matilda’s son Henry, the future Henry II , would succeed him.
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