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sovereign, as that of liberality, where it exceeds what his ordinary revenues can supply; where it passes those bounds, his subjects must all be oppressed to shew his bounty to a few flatterers, or he must sell his towns, or basely renounce his rights, by becoming pensioner to some powerful prince in the neighbourhood; all which we have lived to see performed by a late monarch in our own time and country.
1135. Since the reduction of Normandy to the king's obedience, he found it necessary for his affairs to spend in that duchy some part of his time almost every year; and a little before the death of Robert he made his last voyage there. It was observable in this prince, that having some years past very narrowly escaped shipwreck in his passage from Normandy into England, the sense of his danger had made very deep impressions on his mind; which he discovered by a great reformation in his life, by redressing several grievances, and doing many acts of piety; and to shew the steadiness of his resolutions, he kept them to the last, making a progress through most parts of Normandy, treating his subjects in all places with great familiarity and kindness, granting their petitions, easing their taxes, and, in a word, giving all possible marks of a religious, wise, and gracious prince.
Returning to St. Denys le Forment from his progress a little indisposed, he there fell into a fever, upon a surfeit of lamprey, which in a few days ended his life. His body was conveyed to England, and buried at Reading, in the abbey-church himself had founded.
It is hard to affirm anything peculiar of this prince's character; those authors who have attempted it mentioning very little but what was common to him with thousands of other men; neither have they
recorded any of those personal circumstances or passages, which only can discover such qualities of the mind as most distinguish one man from another. These defects may perhaps appear in the stories of many succeeding kings; which makes me hope I shall not be altogether blamed for sometimes disappointing the reader in a point wherein I could wish to be the most exact.
As to his person, he is described to be of middle stature; his body strong-set and fleshy; his hair black; his eyes large; his countenance amiable, and very pleasant, especially when he was merry. He was temperate in meat and drink, and a hater of effeminacy; a vice or folly much complained of in his time, especially that circumstance of long artificial hair, which he forbade upon severe penalties. His three principal virtues were prudence, valour, and eloquence. These were counterbalanced by three great vices; avarice, cruelty, and lust; of which the first is proved by the frequency of his taxes; the second, by his treatment of Duke Robert; and the last was notorious. But the proof of his virtues does not depend on single instances, manifesting themselves through the whole course of a long reign, which was hardly attended by any misfortune that prudence, justice, or valour could prevent. He came to the crown at a ripe age, when he had passed thirty years; having learned in his private life, to struggle with hardships, whereof he had his share, from the capriciousness and injustice of both his brothers; and by observing their failures he had learned to avoid them in himself; being steady and uniform in his whole conduct, which were qualties they both seemed chiefly to want. This likewise made him so very tenacious as he was observed to be in his love and hatred. He was a strict observer of justice, which he seems never to have violated, but in that
particular case, which political casuists are pleased to dispense with, where the dispute is about a crown. In that he† ******
Considering him as a private man, he was perhaps the most accomplished person of his age; having a facetious wit, cultivated by learning, and advanced with a great share of natural eloquence, which was his peculiar talent and it was no doubt the sense he had of this last perfection in himself, that put him so often upon calling together the great councils of the nation, where natural oratory is of most figure as well as use.
THE REIGN OF STEPHEN.
THE veneration which people are supposed naturally to pay to a right line and a lawful title in their kings, must be upheld by a long uninterrupted succession, otherwise it quickly loses opinion, upon which the strength of it, although not the justice, is entirely founded: and where breaches have been already made in the lineal descent, there is little security in a good title (though confirmed by promises and oaths) where the lawful heir is absent, and a popular aspiring pretender near at hand. This I think, may pass for a maxim, if any consequences drawn from history can pretend to be called so, having been verified successively three times in this kingdom, I mean by the two preceding kings, and by the prince whose reign we are now writing. Neither can this observation be justly controlled by any instances brought of future princes, who being
† Here the sentence breaks off short, and is left unfinished.
absent at their predecessor's death have peaceably succeeded, the circumstances being very different in every case, either by the weakness or justice of pretenders, or else by the long establishment of lineal succession.
1135. Stephen, Earl of Boulogne, whose descent has been already shewn in the foregoing reign, was the second of three brothers, whereof the eldest was Theobald, Earl of Blois, a sovereign prince, and Henry the youngest was Bishop of Winchester, and the Pope's legate in England. At the time of King Henry's death, his daughter the empress was with her husband the Earl of Anjou, a grave and cautious prince, altogether unqualified for sudden enterprises: but Earl Stephen, who had attended the king in his last expedition, made so great dispatch for England,* that the council had not time to meet and make any declaration about a successor. When the lords were assembled, the legate had already, by his credit and influence among them, brought over a great party to his brother's interests: and the earl himself, knowing with what success the like methods were used by his two last predecessors, was very liberal of his promises to amend the laws, support the church, and redress grievances: for all which the bishop undertook to be guarantee. And thus was Stephen elected by those very persons who had so lately, and in so solemn a manner, more than once sworn fealty to another.
The motives whereby the nobility was swayed to proceed after this manner, were obvious enough. There had been a perpetual struggle between them and their former kings in the defence of their liberties; for the security whereof, they thought a
* Stephen was at Boulogne when he received the news of
king elected without other title, would be readier to enter into any obligations and being held in constant dependence, would be less tempted to break them: therefore, as at his coronation they obtained full security by his taking new and additional oaths in favour of their liberties, their oath of fealty to him was but conditional, to be of force no longer than he should be true to those stipulations.
But other reasons were contrived and given out to satisfy the people: they were told it was an indignity for so noble a nation to be governed by a woman; that the late king had promised to marry his daughter within the realm, and by consent of parliament, neither of which was observed; and lastly, Hugh Bigod, steward to King Henry, took a voluntary oath, before the Archbishop of Canterbury, that his master, in his last sickness, had, upon some displeasure, disinherited his daughter.
He received the crown with one great advantage that could best enable him to preserve it: this was the possession of his uncle's treasures, amounting to one hundred thousand pounds, and reckoned as a prodigious sum in those days; by the help of which, without ever raising one tax upon the people, he defended an unjust title against the lawful heir during a perpetual contest of almost twenty years.
In order to defend himself against any sudden invasion, which he had cause enough to expect, he gave all men licence to build castles upon their lands; which proved a very mistaken piece of politics, although grounded upon some appearance of reason. The king supposed that no invader would venture to advance into the heart of his country, without reducing every castle in his way; which must be a work of much time and difficulty, nor would be able to afford men to block them up, and secure his retreat: which way of arguing may