Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon

Henry of Huntingdon wrote his history of England, entitled Historia Anglorum, up to the end of the reign of Stephen. 

In the sixth year, during Christmas [24 December 1149 - 5 January 1141], King Stephen laid siege to the city of Lincoln, the defences of which Ranulph, earl of Chester, had taken by deceit.  And the king remained encamped there until the Purification of St Mary [2 February 1141].  Then the said Ranulph brought Robert, son of King Henry, who was his father-in-law, and other powerful nobles, intending to disperse the king's siege. With difficulty and great daring the earl traversed an almost impassable marsh, and on the very same day disposed his troops and attacked the king in battle.  He had made up the first line from his own men; in the second were those whom King Stephen had disinherited; in the third, Robert the great commander with his men.  On the wing was a band of Welshmen, who possessed more daring than military skill.  Then the earl of Chester, a warlike man, who gleamed with glorious arms, addressed Earl Robert and the other nobles in this fashion:

“To you, invincible duke, and to you, my noble comrades in arms, I render many thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for you have generously demonstrated that you will risk your own lives, out of love for me. So since I am the cause of your peril, it is right that I should put myself into danger first, and should be the first to strike out at the line of this treacherous king, who has broken the peace after a truce had been allowed. Indeed, being confident, both of the king's wrongfulness and of my own courage, I shall now split open the royal squadron and prepare my way through the midst of the enemy with my sword. It is for you brave men to follow the one who goes before, and imitate him as he strikes through and through. Already in my mind I seem to see the royal lines fleeing across the field, the nobles being trampled under foot, the king himself being pierced through with a sword.” He finished speaking.  Then Duke Robert replied thus to the young man, and standing on raised ground he delivered the following speech:

            “It is quite right that you should demand the honour of striking the first blow, both on account of your noble blood and also because of your exceptional valour: But if you claim it on the grounds of noble birth, I, the son of a most noble king and grandson of a high king, am not surpassed. If on the grounds of valour, there are many very excellent men here, whose prowess cannot be outstripped by any man living.  But I am inspired by a far different motive. For the king has cruelly usurped the realm, contrary to the oaths which he swore to my sister, and by throwing everything into disorder he is the direct cause of the deaths of many thousands, and by his example in distributing lands to those who have no legal right, he has plundered those who are in rightful possession.  So, with the assistance of God, the just Judge, who will provide the punishment, he must be attacked first by those who have been wretchedly disinherited. The One who judges the peoples in equity from His high dwelling in the heavens will look down and in this great hour of need will by no means abandon those who are earnestly seeking to right a wrong. But there is one thing, all you mighty nobles and knights, that I wish to put firmly in your minds: for those seeking to escape there can be no retreat through the marshes which you crossed with such difficulty.  Here you must either conquer or die. There is no hope in flight.  The only course left is to use your swords to make a way into the city. Given that there is no escape for you, if I am correct in my conjecture, today with God's aid you will be granted the victory. Truly, he for whom there can be no other refuge must of necessity resort to his prowess. But in your victory you will see the citizens of Lincoln, who are stationed very close to their city, their resolution melting away at the pressure of the onslaught, turn tail back to their homes. Now, consider who are your opponents in this battle.  Alan, duke of the Bretons, appears in arms against you - indeed, against God - an abominable man, stained with every kind of crime, not acknowledging an equal in evil, whose impulses are unfailingly harmful, who regards it as the one supreme disgrace not to be incomparable in cruelty.  There also appears against you the count of Meulan, an expert in deceit, a master of trickery, who was born with wickedness in his blood, falsehood in his mouth, sloth in his deeds, a braggart by nature, stout‑hearted in talk, faint‑hearted in deed, the last to muster, the first to decamp, slow to attack, quick to retreat.  There also appears against you Earl Hugh, for whom it seemed insufficient to break his oath towards the empress without the added crime of openly perjuring himself by affirming that King Henry granted the kingdom to Stephen and set aside his daughter; he doubtless believes falsehood to be a virtue and considers perjury to be a fine thing. The count of Aumale appears, a man who is remarkably consistent in wrong‑doing, swift to enlarge it, intransigent over giving it up, because of whose intolerable filthiness his wife left him and became a fugitive.  That earl appears who stole the said count's wife, a manifest adulterer and distinguished lecher, a faithful follower of Bacchus, though unacquainted with Mars, smelling of wine, unaccustomed to warfare.  Simon, earl of Northampton, appears, whose action is only talk, whose gift is mere promise: he talks as if he has acted and promises as if he has given.  But up to now I have had to be silent on the subject of the fugitive William of Ypres.  For words have not yet been invented which can properly describe the extent and ramifications of his treacheries, the filth and horror of his obscenities.  There also appear nobles like their king, practised in robbery, defiled with pillage, grown fat on murder, and lastly, every one of them tainted with perjury. And so, you mighty men; whom the great King Henry raised up and this man has, thrown down, whom he favoured and this one has ruined, lift up your spirits, relying on your own courage, or rather on God's justice, take up God's offer of vengeance on those vicious men and fix your eyes on unfading glory for yourselves and your descendants. And now, if you share this determination to carry out this judgement of God, vow to advance and swear not to take flight, together raising your right hands to heaven.”  He had scarcely finished, when they all renounced flight with a blood-curdling cry, their hands raised to heaven, and buckling themselves into their armour, made their splendid advance towards the enemy.

King Stephen, meanwhile, seething in a great sea of troubles, had heard mass with all ceremony.  But when, following custom, he offered a candle fit for a king and was putting it into Bishop Alexander's hands, it broke in pieces. This was a warning to the king that he would be crushed.  In the bishop's presence, too, the pyx above the altar, which contained the Lord's Body, fell, its chain having snapped off: This was a sign of the king's downfall.  Then the energetic king went out and with great composure drew up his lines for the battle.  He was himself on foot, and he stationed round him a densely packed host of knights whose horses had been led away, and placed the earls, with their men, in two lines to fight on horseback.  But these divisions of cavalry were very small, for the false and factious earls had brought few forces with them. The royal line was the largest, although it was marked out by only one banner, namely that belonging to the king himself.  Then, since King Stephen did not have a good speaking voice, a speech of exhortation to the whole company was enjoined upon Baldwin, a man of great nobility and a very powerful knight.  Standing in a high place, with the eyes of all raised towards him, he attracted their attention by pausing in modest silence, and began as follows:"

            “Everyone about to engage on the battlefield should consider three things. First, the justice of the cause; then, a plentiful supply of troops; and lastly, the prowess of the participants.  The justice of the cause, lest the soul should be put at risk.  A plentiful supply of troops, lest the weight of the enemy's numbers should be over–whelming. The prowess of the participants, lest confidence in numbers leads to overthrow through reliance on the weak.  On all these points we observe that the enterprise which we have undertaken is well prepared. For the justice of our cause is that we stand by the king, risking our lives to keep what we vowed before God against those of his men who are false to him. The number of our knights is no less than theirs, and our infantry is more densely packed. But who may give a fair description of the prowess of so many earls and nobles, as well as knights, long practised in warfare? The king's own boundless valour will stand fast, equal to thousands of you. Since, therefore,, your lord is in your midst, the Lord's anointed, to whom you have pledged your faith, discharge your vow to God, and receive from Him a reward that will be all the greater the more faithful and constant you are to your king the faithful against the faithless, those who remain true against those who are false. In total assurance and filled with high confid–ence, consider against whom you are fighting this battle.  The power of Duke Robert is well known. He, indeed, usually threatens much and does little, with the mouth of a lion and the heart of a rabbit, famous for his eloquence, notorious for his idleness.  The earl of Chester has nothing for which he ought to be feared, for he is a man of reckless daring, ready for conspiracy, unreliable in performance, impetuous in battle, careless of danger, with designs beyond his powers, panting for the impossible, having few steady followers, collecting together a ragged troop of outcasts.  For every time he begins something manfully, he abandons it impotently. Indeed, throughout his career he has been unsuccessful in war, for either he has run away when overcome by his opponents, or, on the rare occasions when he has been victorious, he has sustained losses greater than those of the vanquished.  Let the Welshmen he brings with him be no more than objects of scorn to you, for they prefer unarmed boldness to battle and lacking both skill and experience in warfare, they charge like cattle towards the hunting-spears. The others, both noblemen and knights, are deserters and vagabonds: if only more were coming, for the more there are, the worse the result for them!  So, earls and men of consular rank, rightly bearing in mind your valour and your nobility, raise your abundant prowess today to its full flowering, and imitating your fathers, leave undying glory for your sons. May the permanence of victorious fame be your motive for combat.  The permanence of failure will be their motive for flight. Since they are already sorry they have come - nor am I mistaken - they are already thinking about flight, if the difficult terrain would allow it.  Therefore, since they can go neither into combat nor into retreat, what have they done, by God's will, other than offer themselves and their baggage to you?  You see their horses, their arms, and their very bodies subjected to your power. So, warriors, stretch out your courage and your invincible right hands, and leaping high, seize what God himself has offered you.”  But even before he brought the course of his speech to an end, the enemy's din was upon them, the blare of trumpets, the snorting of horses, the thundering of the ground.

            The beginning of the battle.  The line of the disinherited, which was in front, stuck the royal line, containing Count Alan, the man from Meulan, Earl Hugh of East Anglia, Earl Simon, and the man from Warenne, with such force that immediately, as ‘in the twinkling of an eye’, it was routed, and divided into three: for some were killed, some were captured, and some fled.  The line commanded by the count of Aumale and William of Ypres attacked the Welsh, who were advancing on the wing, and put them to flight. But the earl of Chester's line overturned the said count's troop and it was routed in a moment, just like the first line. So they fled all the king's knights and William of Ypres, born in Flanders, a man who had been of consular rank and possessed great prowess. As he was a great expert in warfare, he saw the impossibility of assisting the king and reserved his aid for better times. So King Stephen, with his force of men on foot, was left in the midst of the enemy. They therefore completely surrounded the royal company, and attacked it on every side, as if they were storming a castle. At that moment you would have seen the dread sight of war all round the royal force, sparks leaping up from the clash of helmets and swords; the fearful hissing and the terrifying shouts re-echoed from the hills and from the city walls. Attacking the royal squadron with a cavalry charge, they killed some, threw others to the ground, and carried off others as captives. No pause or respite was given them, except in the area where the mighty king was standing, his enemies trembling at the incomparable ferocity of the blows he struck. When the earl of Chester saw this, he envied the king's glory, and rushed at him with the whole weight of his knights.  Whereupon the king's lightning strength showed itself, as, wield–ing his great battle-axe, he slew some and scattered others.  Now a new clamour arose - all against him, he against all.  Eventually, the royal battle-axe was shattered by incessant blows. He drew out his sword, worthy of a king, and performed wonders with his right hand, until the sword, too, was shattered. Seeing this, William of Cahagnes, a most puissant knight, rushed upon the king, and seizing his helmet, cried out in a loud voice, “Here, everyone, here! I have the king!” Everyone flew up, and the king was captured.  Baldwin, who had delivered the speech of exhortation, was also captured, pierced by many wounds and bruised by many blows as he put up a splendid resistance, which earned him everlasting honour.  Richard Fitz Urse was also captured, who gained fame and glory in both dealing and receiving blows.  After the king's capture the royal force, unable to escape through the encirclement, continued fighting until they were all either captured or slain. Consequently the city was sacked according to the law that governs hostilities, and the king was brought into it in misery.

The previous section was from: Historia Anglorum : the history of the English people, by Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon; edited by Diana Greenway (Oxford: Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press, 1996)

This item is under copyright of Oxford University Press (OUP), 1996, and is used here only by permission of Oxford University Press.

The OUP Material may be down-loaded and printed out in single copies for individual use only.  Making multiple copies of any OUP Material without permission is prohibited.

If you are interested in reading more of this work, or others from the Oxford Medieval Text series, please visit the Oxford University Press website at http://www.oup.com