Stephen, King of England, reigned from 1135 to 1154. England was in a state of civil war, for most of his rule, as forces supporting Stephen fought against those who favoured the claim of Henry I’s daughter Matilda. One of the most important events in this war was the battle of Lincoln, fought on February 2, 1141, where Stephen was defeated and captured by Robert, Earl of Gloucester.
Here are five contemporary texts that offer their own description of the battle:
The anonymous writer of the Gesta Stephani seems to have been closely associated with King Stephen, and perhaps the author was Robert, Bishop of Bath.
Then when a very long time had passed and the earl obeyed the king no more loyally than usual and staying at the castle of Lincoln with his wife and sons issued harsh orders to the townsmen and the people of the neighbourhood, the townsmen privately and secretly sent messages to the king, urging him again and again, in very earnest terms, to come as quickly as possible with reinforcements to besiege the earl. The king, arriving suddenly and unexpectedly, was admitted by the townsmen and found the castle almost empty, except for the earl’s wife and brother and a few of their adherents, whom the earl had left there when the king entered the town, just managing to escape by himself. So, as the king besieged the castle with resolution and spirit and most grievously afflicted the garrison with catapults and other engines of different sorts, the Earl of Chester sent to Robert Earl of Gloucester, Miles also, and all who had armed themselves against the king, and likewise brought with him a dreadful and unendurable mass of Welsh, all in agreement, in complete harmony, together to overthrow the king. It was the feast of the Purification When at early dawn they were celebrating the solemnity of the Mass and the king, according to the rite and office of the day, was carrying a lighted candle in his hand, the light suddenly went out and the candle too, they say, was broken for the moment but, kept in his hand, mended and relit, which of course was a sign that he would lose the dignity of the kingdom for his sin and at length, when penance had been rendered, by God’s favour wondrously and gloriously get it back again. And that he still kept hold of the candle, though it had been broken in his hand, signifies that he did not utterly abandon the kingdom and did not even lose the name of king, though imprisoned, and it was wondrously brought about by God’s providence that though he was kept among his bitterest enemies they still could not prevent his being king.
The king, on hearing that the enemy would arrive very shortly and fight that very day if he did not make his escape, refused to sully his fame by the disgrace of flight, and arraying his columns with care and in good order, as a soldier should, he boldly went to meet them outside the town. When he had sent forward a very strong body of knights and footmen to stop them as they emerged from a ford, they on the other side prudently drew up their line of battle, furiously charged the king’s men, and seized the ford, and when they had scattered them with great vigour and put them to flight then with one mind and dauntless spirit they joined battle with the king’s army and after killing some and taking others for ransom (but a great many, like the Count of Meulan and the famous William of Ypres, fled shamefully before coming to close quarters) at last they took the king, in spite of a strong and most resolute resistance. Then some pursued the townsmen as they retreated to the town and by slaughtering very many of them and likewise plundering and burning houses and churches on every side they created a piteous scene of devastation everywhere, others devoted their attention to the vast throng of prisoners they had captured, especially to the king. When at length they dis–armed him and he kept on crying out, in a humbled voice of complaint, that this mark of ignominy had indeed come upon him because God avenged his injuries and yet they were not innocent of a monstrous crime in breaking their faith, condemning their oath, caring nothing for the homage they had pledged him, and rebelling so wickedly and abominably against the man they had chosen of their own will as their king and lord, they were all so much softened by tender emotions of pity and compassion that they not only broke forth into tears and lamentations but repentance was very deeply imprinted on their hearts and faces.
Gesta Stephani, edited and translated by K.R. Potter (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976)
Henry 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.
Historia Anglorum : the history of the English people, by Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon; edited by Diana Greenway (Oxford: Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press, 1996)
William of Malmesbury
William of Malmesbury, a supporter of Robert, Duke of Gloucester, wrote this account of the battle of Lincoln in 1142. A second version, CE, has some slight changes in its texts, which are noted below.
King Stephen had gone away in peace from Lincolnshire before Christmas , and had added to the honours of the earl of Chester and his brother. That earl had married the earl of Gloucester’s daughter long since in King Henry’s time. Meanwhile the citizens [Ce burgesses] of Lincoln, wishing to lay the king under a great obligation, informed him by messengers when he was staying at London that the two brothers had settled unsuspiciously in the city’s castle. As they expected nothing less than the king’s arrival, they could easily be surrounded. They themselves would see to it that the king got possession of the castle with the greatest secrecy. He, unwilling to miss any chance of increasing his power, hastened thither joyfully. And so the brothers were surrounded and besieged during the Christmas festival itself. This seemed unfair to many because, as I have said, he had left them before the festival without any suspicion of ill-will, and had not, in the traditional way, renounced his friendship with them, which is termed defiance. But the earl of Chester, though involved in critical danger, yet made good his escape from the close siege of the castle. By what device I do not determine, whether by the collusion of some of the besiegers, or because valour, when caught in a snare, will cast around for and commonly find a remedy. Then, not satisfied solely with his freedom, but being anxious also about the freedom of his brother and wife, whom he had left in the castle, he turned his mind in every direction. It seemed the wisest policy to beg aid from his father-in-law, though he had long since offended him for various reasons, chiefly because he seemed ambivalent in his loyalty. So he sent to him promising by the messengers a lasting fidelity to the empress if, from motives of pity rather than any deserts of his own, he would rescue from wrong those who were in danger and on the very brink of captivity.
The earl of Gloucester was not hard to persuade, for he could not bear the shame of the situation. At the same time, loathing delay because his noble country, for the sake of two persons, was being tormented by the plunder and slaughter of civil war, he preferred, if God should allow it, to hazard a final decision. He also hoped for the divine approval in his enterprise, because the king had wronged his son-in-law who was in no way at fault, was besieging his daughter, and had turned into a castle the church of the Blessed Mother of God at Lincoln. How greatly these things must have influenced the prince’s mind! Would it not be better to die and fall with glory, rather than bear so signal an affront? So, for the sake of avenging God and his sister, and to free his relatives, he took the risk. The adherents of his party, most of them disinherited men inflamed to war by grief for what they had lost and conscious valour, followed him eagerly, though he cunningly concealed his purpose all the way from Gloucester to Lincoln, keeping the whole army in uncertainty, except for a very few, by taking an indirect route.
The time of decision came on the very day of the Purification of the most blessed Mary [2 Feb.1141], beside the river that flowed between the two armies, named Trent, which was then so much swollen by a heavy fall of rain as well as water from its source that there was no possibility of fording it. Only then did the earl disclose his intention to his son-in-law, who had met him with a strong body of troops, and the rest of his followers, adding that he had long since made up his mind that nothing should ever compel him to retreat; he would die or be captured if he did not win the victory. All filled him with good hope, and so – wonderful to hear – he resolved to risk a battle at once, and swam across the racing current of the river mentioned above with all his men. So eager was the earl to make an end of the troubles, that he would sooner face the final danger than have the kingdom’s misfortune prolonged. For the king on his side had broken off the siege and offered battle with spirit, accompanied by very many earls and an active body of knights. The royalists first attempted that prelude to the fight which is called jousting, for in this they were accomplished. But when they saw that the ‘earlists’, if the expression may be allowed, were fighting not with lances at a distance but with swords at close quarters and, charging with their banners in the van, were breaking through the king’s line, then all the earls to a man sought safety in flight. [Ce adds There were six earls who had entered the battle on the king's side.] A few [Ce Many] barons, of notable loyalty and courage, thinking they should not abandon the king even at this desperate moment, were taken prisoners. The king himself, though he did not lack spirit in self-defence, was at length attacked on all sides by the earl of Gloucester’s knights and fell to the ground on being struck by a stone. It is not known who dealt the blow. So, as all around him were captured or put to flight, he brought himself to yield for a time and be held a prisoner. Therefore the worthy earl of Gloucester gave orders that the king should be kept alive and, unharmed, not suffering even that he should be the victim of any insulting language. Behold, he mildly protected in humiliation him whom he had just been furiously assailing when exalted in majesty, so that, controlling emotions of anger and joy, he both showed kindness to a relative and had regard, even in the person of a captive, to the splendour of the crown. But the mass of the citizens [Ce burgesses] of Lincoln was in great part cut down, through the just anger of the victors and without causing any grief to the vanquished, since it was they who by their instigation had given rise to this calamity.
Historia novella : the contemporary history, by William of Malmesbury, edited by Edmund King; translated by K.R. Potter (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)
Orderic Vitalis wrote this account of the battle of Lincoln in the last few years of his life. His Historiae ecclesiasticae gives perhaps the most in-depth coverage of the battle.
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.
The ecclesiastical history of Orderic Vitalis, edited and translated with introduction and notes by Marjorie Chibnall, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968-1980)
The Chronicle of John of Worcester
The short text below does not come from the hand of John of Worcester, whose work breaks off in 1140. Instead, an anonymous continuator carries on the history into 1141.
Stephen, king of the English, after endless toil and sieges of castles, which he endured for five years and six weeks for the preservation of the kingdom, was at length by the just judgement of God surrounded and captured at the siege of Lincoln castle, by Robert, earl of Gloucester, his uncle’s son, and by Earl Ranulf of Chester on the feast of the Purification of St Mary [2 February] which fell on Sexagesima Sunday. He was taken and placed under guard first to Gloucester on Quinquagesima Sunday [9 February] and later to Bristol. Many of his followers were captured with him and thrown into prison.
The Chronicle of John of Worcester, edited and translated by P. McGurk (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)