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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

England

If You Must Gossip, Pick Somebody Who's Already Dead.

I keep arguing that I write historical fiction based on the lives of real figures because the real ones lead much more interesting lives than fictional ones. That's also the reason I studied medieval history.  Such drama!  Such juicy gossip! For example, here's a story I borrowed from Sharon Kaye Penman this morning.  It refers to an incident I mentioned in my last Arnulf post -- the death of King Stephen's son during the English Civil War. Sharon wrote in her blog:

"Something happened on August 17, 1153 that no novelist would dare to invent, for readers tend to be rather skeptical of coincidences in novels. On this day King Stephen’s eldest son and heir, Eustace, died suddenly at Ipswich, apparently choking after eating eels. Eustace had spent the summer raiding and pillaging Cambridgeshire and had been cursed by Abbot Ording of St Edmundsbury (today’s Bury St Edmunds) for attacking their abbey, so people were quite quick to conclude that Eustace’s death was divine retribution for such spectacular sins.

"This was a major blow to Stephen, both as a king and as a parent, and indeed it would soon lead to a negotiated peace with the other claimant for the English throne, the young Duke of Normandy, Henry Fitz Empress.

"And as if Eustace’s death were not proof enough to medievals that God was on Henry’s side, any doubts of that were erased when word spread that on the very day Eustace had breathed his last, Henry’s new wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had given birth to a healthy son, William. In fifteen years of wedlock to the French king Louis, Eleanor had presented him with just two daughters, and now she’d given Henry his firstborn son and heir just fifteen months after they’d been wed at Poitiers. I don’t imagine that Louis sent them a christening gift."

Another Civil War Story--An English One This Time

Arnulf’s next venture into notoriety came when he became involved in the English Civil War of 1135-1154.  But before we can get into Arnulf’s role, we need to start with a brief background.  After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the sons of William the Conqueror split up their father’s kingdoms. William Rufus ruled England until someone mistook his head of red hair for a fox and shot him during a hunting expedition.  He was quickly replaced on the English throne by his younger brother Henry, although there were those who wondered if the fatal arrow was really fired by accident.
 
Henry was a prolific king, if nothing else. He spawned some 22 illegitimate children, but unfortunately his only legal heir was a daughter Matilda, whom he shipped off at an early age to marry the German emperor.  Before Henry’s death, he tried to make all his barons swear to support Matilda’s claim to the throne, but a deathbed oath is hard to enforce once you are dead. 
 
Matilda’s claim to the throne was always weakened by her gender, but there were other considerations as well. After the Emperor’s death, she remarried Geoffrey of Anjou, a Frenchman. At the time of her father’s death, she was living in France, was heavily pregnant with a third child, and could not travel to England to claim her promised throne.
 
Stepping into the breach came her cousin Stephen of Blois, son of William the Conqueror’s youngest daughter, Adela.  Stephen’s claim to England therefore also passed through the female line, but he had the advantage of being in England when Henry I died.  He seized the throne, the barons accepted the fait accompli, and Matilda’s husband declared war. The war waged on for nearly 20 years, with first one side and then the other claiming minor victories. 
 
One of Matilda’s illegitimate brothers managed to capture Stephen in 1141 and lock him up, so that Matilda could make a triumphant entry into London.  Too triumphant! Her arrogance so irritated the people that they turned against her and helped Stephen’s forces besiege her at Oxford.  She escaped in a snowstorm by wearing a white cloak as camouflage.  She eventually returned to Normandy, leaving her young son Henry to carry on the battle.
 
Stephen’s desire to claim England weakened after his wife and only son both died.  He signed a compromise (Treaty of Wallingford, 1153) with Matilda’s young son Henry.  It allowed him to hold onto the throne of England until his death, after which Matilda’s son Henry claimed the throne as Henry II in 1154.

Next time we'll look at Arnulf's role in all of this.