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Only great and general battles can produce great results.

-- Karl von Clausewitz

Battle of Lincoln in 1141 from Orderic Vitalis

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In the year of our Lord 1141, the fourth indiction, a serious uprising began in the kingdom of England and suddenly brought a change of fortune and disaster to many men. Ranulf, earl of Chester, and William of Roumare, his uterine brother, rebelled against King Stephen and, by a trick, captured the castle which he held at Lincoln for the protection of the city. They cunningly found a time when the household troops of the garrison were widely dispersed, and then sent their wives ahead to the castle under the pretext of a friendly visit. While the two countesses were passing the time there, laughing and talking with the wife of the knight who ought to have been defending the castle, the earl of Chester arrived, unarmed and without his cloak, as though to escort his wife home, and three knights followed him without arousing any suspicion. Once inside the castle they suddenly snatched crowbars and weapons which lay to hand and violently expelled the king's guards. Then William burst in with a force of armed knights, according to a pre‑arranged plan, and in this way the two brothers took control of the castle and the whole city. Bishop Alexander and the citizens thereupon sent word to the king, who was very angry at the news and astounded that his close friends, on whom he had heaped lands and honours, should have committed such a crime. After Christmas he assembled an army, hurried to Lincoln, and one night without warning, aided by the citizens, captured about seventeen knights who were quartered in the town. The two earls were in the castle with their wives and close friends, and were alarmed and uncertain what course to take when they found themselves suddenly surrounded.

Ranulf, however, who was the younger of the two as well as being the more resourceful and particularly daring, crept out at night with a few men and made for the county of Chester to his own vassals. Next he laid his case before Robert, earl of Gloucester, his father-in-law, and other friends and kinsmen, incited the Welsh and disinherited men and many others to rise against the king, and gathered troops from all sides to relieve the beleaguered force. One of the first to whom he applied was Matilda, countess of Anjou; he urgently demanded help from her, promised her his fealty, and won her favour as he wished.

After raising a huge force of men-at-arms in this way the two earls advanced to the siege, and prepared to engage in battle with any who resisted them. Yet the king daily ignored the news he heard of the enemy's advance and would not believe that they were capable of risking any great enterprise, but built siege-weapons and prepared to assault the castle while those inside pleaded for mercy. At length on Sexagesima Sunday, when the holy feast of the Purifications was being celebrated and the king saw that the squadrons of the enemy were almost upon him, he summoned his nobles and asked their counsel on what should be done. Thereupon some advised him to place a large force of household troops with the loyal citizens to defend the city, while he himself withdrew honourably to raise a large army from all parts of England, so as to return again at an opportune moment, if the enemy lingered there, to defeat them with royal sternness. Others counselled that the holy feast of the Purification of the blessed Mary, mother of God, should be observed with reverence, and that battle should be put off for a time while envoys went to and fro to propose a truce, so that by obtaining a delay neither side should be crushed, and no human blood shed to cause general mourning. However, the willful prince turned a deaf ear to the advice of prudent men, and judged it dishonourable to put off battle for any reason; instead he commanded his men to arm themselves immediately for the fray. So the columns of men-at-arms met near the town, and after the squadrons had been drawn up on both sides they joined battle.

The king divided his army into three forces, and the opposing side did the same. The Bretons and Flemings, under the command William of Ypres and Alan of Dinan, were in the front rank of the royal army. Facing them was the fierce mob of Welshmen, led by the two brothers Maredudd and Cadwaladr. The king himself dismounted with a number of others, and fought stalwartly on foot for his life and the preservation of his kingdom. In the opposing army Earl Ranulf dismounted with his troops and reinforced a brave contingent of foot-soldiers from Chester to give battle. And Robert, earl of Gloucester, who was the greatest in the army, commanded the [men of the Bessin] and other disinherited men to strike the first blow in the battle to recover the inheritances they claimed.

At first both sides fought fiercely with great bloodshed. The king's column consisted mainly of knights, but the enemy were more powerful because of their numerous foot-soldiers and the Welshmen. Indeed William of Ypres with the Flemings and Alan with the Bretons were the first to turn in flight, thereby encouraging the enemy and leaving their allies in a state bordering on panic. In that battle treachery ran wild. Some of the magnates joined king with only a handful of their men and sent the main body of their retainers to secure the victory for their adversaries. In this they betrayed their fealty to their lord and can rightly be condemned as perjurors and traitors. Count Waleran and his brother, William of Warenne, Gilbert of Clare, and other distinguished Norman and English knights, gave way to panic when they saw the first squadron in flight and themselves turned tail. But Baldwin of Clare and Richard fitz Urse, Engelram of Sai, and Ilbert of Lacy, stood loyally by the king in the battle and fought courageously with him to the end. King Stephen himself, remembering the valiant deeds of his forefathers, fought bravely, and as long as he had three warriors beside him fought on with his sword and a Norse axe which a young man had given him. At length, worn out and abandoned by all, he surrendered to Earl Robert his kinsman and was taken prisoner; the earl handed him over to the Countess Matilda shortly afterwards. Thus, then, at a turn of the fickle wheel of fortune the king was hurled from the royal throne and imprisoned, alas! wretched and languishing, in the mighty castle of Bristol. Baldwin of Clare and the other distinguished knights who, as I have related, dismounted and put up a splendid fight with the king, were also taken prisoner.

The night before, while Christian people were keeping the vigil in honour of the Virgin Mother and were waiting for the general celebration of matins in the Church liturgy, a fearful storm of hail and rain broke out in western regions - that is, in Gaul and Brittany - and terrible thunder-claps were heard, accompanied by great flashes of lightning.

On the day itself when the king was hearing Mass before going into battle and, as I can well believe, was preoccupied with plans and cares, the consecrated candle broke in his hand and fell three times, as many men witnessed. This was interpreted by some learned men as a clear omen of misfortune, fulfilled that very day in the king's defeat. The king's fate brought sorrow to clerks and monks and simple people, because he himself was humble and kind to men who were good and meek. And if the treacherous magnates had renounced their evil plots and left him in peace, he would have been an open-handed and benevolent protector of his country.

When the citizens of Lincoln, who had always given full support to their lord the king as was right, saw that victory had fallen to his enemies they abandoned their wives and all their possessions in despair, and fled towards the nearby river hoping to find safety in exile. When they had suddenly converged in a mob on the boats and had overfilled the skiffs with their numbers, losing all restraint in their fear of death as those behind crowded on those in front, the boats suddenly capsized and almost all who were in them, according to some estimates about five hundred of the chief citizens, perished. This was more than all who fell in the battle. William, a renowned commander in the king's army, who was a nephew of Geoffrey archbishop of Rouen, was killed; of the others, according to the estimate of those who were present, not more than a hundred lost their lives.

Earl Ranulf and the other victors then entered the city and sacked it like barbarians; they slaughtered like cattle all the rest of the citizens they could find or capture, putting them to death in different ways without mercy or humanity. When the battle was over and the king taken captive there was great division in the kingdom of England. For Henry, bishop of Winchester, immediately went over to the Angevins, and, after welcoming the countess in the royal city, utterly deserted his brother the king and all his supporters. But Count Waleran, William of Warenne, and Simon and many others remained loyal to the queen, and vowed to fight manfully for the king and his heirs. So troubles spread everywhere, far and wide, and England was filled with plundering and burning and massacres; the country, once so rich and overflowing with luxuries, was now wretched and desolate.


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