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The power and influence of the City are well illustrated by the part which it took in the struggles between Stephen and Matilda for the throne of England. The Londoners at first supported Stephen; but the party of the Empress Matilda proved to be the stronger, and for some time everything appeared to be in her favour. But she ruined her cause by her foolish behaviour towards the Londoners. She gave grants to a feudal nobleman, Geoffrey de Mandeville, which practically placed the City at his mercy, and 11 she made unreasonable demands for subsidies from the citizens, besides treating them in a very contemptuous fashion. Finally, when they asked for a renewal of the laws of Edward the Confessor, she refused, and the citizens rose in revolt and compelled Matilda to withdraw from the City. The opposition of the Londoners at that particular time completely altered the aspect of affairs, and Stephen was shortly afterwards restored to the throne.
Having now obtained the submission of the greatest part of the kingdom, taken hostages and received homage, and being, as I have just said, elated to the highest pitch of arrogance, she came with vast military display to London, at the humble request of the citizens. They fancied that they had now arrived at happy days, when peace and tranquility would prevail. . . . She, however, sent for some of the more wealthy, and demanded of them, not with gentle courtesy, but in an imperious tone, an immense sum of money. Upon this they made complaints that their former wealth had been diminished by the troubled state of the kingdom, that they had liberally contributed to the relief of the indigent against the sever famine which was impending, and that they had subsidised the King to their last farthing: they therefore humbly implored her clemency that in pity for their losses and distresses she would show some moderation in levying money form them. . . . When the citizens had addressed her in this manner, she, without any of the gentleness of her sex, broke out into insufferable rage, while she replied to them with a stern eye and frowning brow “that the Londoners had often paid large sums to the King; that they had opened their purse-strings wide to strengthen him and weaken her; that they had been long in confederacy with her enemies for her injury; and that they had no claim to be spared, and to have the smallest part of the fine remitted.” One hearing this, the citizens departed to their homes, sorrowful and unsatisfied.
Another misogynistic account of this incident, from Hoveden, The Annals, Volume I, translated by Henry T. Riley; London: Bohn, 1853; pp. 244-5:
“The judgment of God being thus wrought upon the king, he was led to the empress, and placed in captivity in the castle at Bristowe. The empress was recognized as mistress by all the people of England, except the men of Kent, where the queen [of King Stephen] and William of Ypres fought against her with all their strength. She was first received by the bishop of Winchester, the Roman legate, and shortly after, by the citizens of London. However, she soon became elated to an intolerable degree of pride, because her affairs, after their uncertain state, had thus prospered in warfare; conduct which alienated from her the affections of almost all the people. Irritated at this, with all the spitefulness of a woman, she ordered the king, the Lord’s anointed, to be placed in irons. A few days after, in conjunction with her uncle, the king of the Scots, and her brother Robert, having collected their troops, she laid siege to the fortress of the bishop of Winchester; on which, the bishop sent for the queen and William of Ypres, and nearly all the nobles of England. In consequence of this, large armies were soon formed on either side. Daily combats took place, not rank meeting rank, but in skirmishes on the exterior of the lines. Their exploits, therefore, were not concealed amid the haze of battle, but the prowess of each was conspicuous, and proportionate renown attended his exploits; so much so, that to all men of prowess this period seemed rich in the dazzling exploits of illustrious men.
“At length the army of the Londoners came up, swelled to vast numbers, and, fighting against the empress, compelled her to take flight. Many were taken while flying, and, among them, Robert, the brother of the empress, was captured, in whose castle the king was kept prisoner, and through whose capture alone the king could be ransomed: and, accordingly, they were both set at liberty. Thus then, through the judgment of God, the king was lamentably taken prisoner, and, through the mercy of God, he was mercifully liberated, and received with great rejoicings by the nobles of England.