| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
THE STORY OF KING STEPHEN
 HENRY I. died in 1135 A.D., and the barons, instead of
keeping their promise to him and making his daughter queen,
chose his nephew Stephen to be their king. Stephen was the
son of Adela, William the Conqueror's daughter.
The barons chose Stephen for several reasons. They were so
proud that they hated the thought of being ruled by a woman,
and that woman, too, not even a Norman. For you remember
Matilda's mother was a great-granddaughter of Edmund
Ironside, and as she had been born in England and lived a
great part of her life there she was far more English than
Matilda's husband was Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. He was also
called Geoffrey Plantagenet, because when he went into
battle he used to wear a sprig of yellow broom in his
helmet, so that his friends might know him when his face was
covered with his visor. The Latin name for broom is planta
genista, and gradually it came to be pronounced Plantagenet.
Although Geoffrey was French he was not a Norman, and the
Normans looked upon him as quite as much a stranger as an
Englishman, and they did not wish to be ruled by him, as
would happen if his wife Matilda were made queen. Besides
this, the barons knew that Stephen
 was kind and gentle, and
they thought he would be a king who would allow them to do
just what they liked.
And so he did. Stephen was too gentle to rule the wild
barons. Some one stern and harsh was needed to keep them in
check, and Stephen was neither. He allowed the barons to
build strong castles all over the country. These castles had
dark and fearful dungeons, which were used as prisons. There
such deeds of cruelty were done by the barons that the
people said the castles were filled, not with men, but with
evil spirits. "God has forgotten England," they said.
"Christ sleeps and His holy ones."
Not even at the time of the conquest had there been such
misery in England. Then there had been one stern ruler who
had forced every one to bend to his will. Now each baron set
himself up as a king and tyrant. His castle was his kingdom,
where he tortured and killed according to his own wicked
will. Stephen was a courteous knight and gentleman, but
during the nineteen years of his reign there was only
lawlessness and sorrow in England.
When the barons made Stephen King of England, Matilda and
her husband Geoffrey fled to Normandy. But there, too, the
barons rebelled against them and chose Stephen for their
Then David, the King of Scotland, gathered an army and came
to fight for his niece Matilda.
Ever since the days of the Romans, the Scots and English had
been enemies, and the Scots were still almost as wild and
fierce as they had been then. They marched through England
as far as Yorkshire, doing dreadful deeds of cruelty as they
At a place called Northallerton a great battle was fought.
It was called the Battle of the Standard because the sacred
banners of four saints were hung upon a pole,
 which was
fixed to a cart, and round this the English gathered their
The Scots were fiercely brave, but they wore no armour, and,
although they rushed to battle with splendid courage, they
could not break through the line of steel-clad Normans, nor
stand against the arrows of the English. So they were
defeated, and David could not help Matilda as he had meant
Later on Matilda came back from France, and, until the death
of Stephen, England was filled with civil war. Civil war
means war within a country itself—the people of that
country, instead of fighting against a foreign nation,
fighting among themselves. This is the most terrible kind of
war, for often friends and brothers fight on different
sides, killing and wounding each other. In this civil war
those who wished Matilda to be queen fought against those
who wished Stephen to remain king.
For a time Matilda's army was successful, but she was so
proud and haughty that she soon made enemies even of those
who had at first fought for her. Then came a time when she
was shut up in Oxford, while the army of Stephen lay around.
The King's soldiers kept so strict a watch that no food
could be taken into the town, and no person could escape
from it. This is called a siege. The people in Oxford began
to starve, for they had eaten up all the food they had, and
Stephen's soldiers took good care that no more was allowed
to be taken into the town. It was the middle of winter. The
river Thames was frozen over. Snow lay everywhere around.
The cold was terrible, and the people had no wood for fires.
At last Matilda could bear it no longer. She made up her
mind to run away. One night four figures dressed in white
crept silently through the streets of Oxford. They reached
the gate. In silence it was opened, for
 those guarding it
knew who the white-clad figures were. One by one the figures
passed through. Out into the snow-covered fields they crept,
moving softly and swiftly unnoticed by Stephen's soldiers.
It was Matilda and three faithful knights. They had dressed
themselves in white so that they might pass unseen over the
snow. There was no bridge over the river, but the frost was
so hard that they crossed upon the ice and so got safely
Although Matilda fled, the war still went on until at length
her son Henry landed in England, determined to fight for the
crown. But Stephen was weary of war, and all the land longed
for rest. So listening to the advice of a wise priest,
Stephen and Henry made peace.
Their first meeting was on the banks of the Thames where it
runs still as a little stream. They stood one on one bank,
and one on the other—Stephen a broken, ruined man, worn
and aged with wars and troubles, Henry young, handsome, and
hopeful. And there they made a treaty called the Peace of
Wallingford. By this treaty it was agreed, that Stephen
should keep the crown while he lived; that he should
acknowledge Henry as his adopted son; that Henry should
reign after the death of Stephen; and that the dreadful
castles which Stephen had allowed the wicked barons to build
and which they used as dark and horrible prisons, should be
So the land had rest. Soon afterward Stephen died, and in
1154 A.D. Henry came to the throne amid the great rejoicing
of the people.
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