The enemy had, meanwhile, been getting into position to attack. The army of Earl Robert of Gloucester had been marching from the south, along what is now the A1434. This old Roman road met the equally ancient road from Peterborough just south of the River Witham, crossing the river before entering the city beside Thorngate Castle. The city walls here were quite impassable. They stood some 12 feet tall and were made of stone, virtually invulnerable defences by the standards of the time even without the presences of Thorngate. There was no way in there. It had been raining hard over the past few days, and the River Witham was in flood. If Gloucester veered east around the city defences he would be unable to cross the river to climb the hill beyond.
It seems to have been Earl Ranulf who made the decisive move. As the army approached Lincoln he veered off to the left. This made sound tactical sense. The main task of the army was to reach Lincoln Castle and lift the siege. By heading west of the city Ranulf could get to his fortress by the west gate. No doubt Stephen had already realised this, which was why he had his army drawn up where he did. All the sources state that the land on either side of the Fossdyke was marshy and sodden after the recent heavy rains. Getting across this marsh caused Ranulf and Gloucester considerable difficulty. The weight of a knight’s armour at this date was around 60 pounds or so. Although the men were accustomed to wearing such gear for hours on end, it still weighted them down on boggy ground and when walking across mud. None of the sources say that the Fossdyke presented any sort of obstacle at all, so presumably there was a bridge or two to ease the crossing.
Once across the marshy valley bottom, according to Henry of Huntingdon, there was a pause after crossing the valley marsh while Ranulf and Gloucester debated how to go about attacking Stephen’s defensive position. Ranulf wanted to lead the attack himself. “Since it is through me that you face this battle,” Huntingdon records Ranulf as saying, “it is fitting that I myself should bear the brunt of it and be foremost in the attack on this faithless king.”
Robert replied with flattery, and hard-headed realism. “It is fitting that you should have the honour of striking the first blow, both on account of your high rank and your exceeding valour. If it were a question of rank alone, no one has higher pretensioins than myself, the son and nephew of mighty kings; and for valour there are many here would stand among the most renowed to whom no man living can be preferred. But I am actuated by considerations of a very different kind. The king has inhumanly usurped the crown, and by the disorder he has spread has caused the slaughter of thousands and by the example he has set of an illegal seizure of lands has destroyed the rights of property. The first onset ought, therefore, to be made by those he has disinherited with whom the God of Justice will co-operate and make them ministers of just punishment.” In other words, Gloucester wanted the first attack to be made by those who had nothing to lose, who were angriest with the king and who could therefore be relied upon to fight hardest.Gloucester then ordered his army ready to attack.
from "The Battle of Lincoln" by Rupert Matthews
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