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A Contest For A Crown
by [?]

Terrible was the misery of England. Torn between contending factions, like a deer between snarling wolves, the people suffered martyrdom, while thieves and assassins, miscalled soldiers, and brigands, miscalled nobles, ravaged the land and tortured its inhabitants. Outrage was law, and death the only refuge from barbarity, and at no time in the history of England did its people endure such misery as in those years of the loosening of the reins of justice and mercy which began with 1139 A.D.

It was the autumn of the year named. At every port of England bands of soldiers were landing, with arms and baggage; along every road leading from the coast bands of soldiers were marching; in every town bands of soldiers were mustering; here joining in friendly union, there coming into hostile contact, for they represented rival parties, and were speeding to the gathering points of their respective leaders.

All England was in a ferment, men everywhere arming and marching. All Normandy was in turmoil, soldiers of fortune crowding to every port, eager to take part in the harrying of the island realm. The Norman nobles of England were everywhere fortifying their castles, which had been sternly prohibited by the recent king. Law and authority were for the time being abrogated, and every man was preparing to fight for his own hand and his own land. A single day, almost, had divided the Normans of England into two factions, not yet come to blows, but facing each other like wild beasts at bay. And England and the English were the prey craved by both these herds of human wolves.

There were two claimants to the throne: Matilda,–or Maud, as she is usually named,–daughter of Henry I., and Stephen of Blois, grandson of William the Conqueror. Henry had named his daughter as his successor; Stephen seized the throne; the issue was sharply drawn between them. Each of them had a legal claim to the throne, Stephen’s the better, he being the nearest male heir. No woman had as yet ruled in England. Maud’s mother had been of ancient English descent, which gave her popularity among the Saxon inhabitants of the land. Stephen was personally popular, a good-humored, generous prodigal, his very faults tending to make him a favorite. Yet he was born to be a swordsman, not a king, and his only idea of royalty was to let the land rule–or misrule it if preferred–itself, while he enjoyed the pleasures and declined the toils of kingship.

A few words will suffice to bring the history of those turbulent times up to the date of the opening of our story. The death of Henry I. was followed by anarchy in England. His daughter Maud, wife of Geoffry the Handsome, Count of Anjou, was absent from the land. Stephen, Count of Blois, and son of Adela, the Conqueror’s daughter, was the first to reach it. Speeding across the Channel, he hurried through England, then in the turmoil of lawlessness, no noble joining him, no town opening to him its gates, until London was reached. There the coldness of his route was replaced by the utmost warmth of welcome. The city poured from its gates to meet him, hastened to elect him king, swore to defend him with blood and treasure, and only demanded in return that the new king should do his utmost to pacify the realm.

Here Stephen failed. He was utterly unfit to govern. While he thought only of profligate enjoyment, the barons fortified their castles and became petty kings in their several domains. The great prelates followed their example. Then, for the first time, did Stephen awake from his dream of pleasure and attempt to play the king. He seized Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, and threw him into prison to force him to surrender his fortresses. This precipitated the trouble that brooded over England. The king lost the support of the clergy by his violence to their leader, alienated many of the nobles by his hasty action, and gave Maud the opportunity for which she had waited. She lost no time in offering herself to the English as a claimant to the crown.