Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
The Flight of the Empress from Oxford
By Raphael Holinshed (c. 15151573)
KING STEPHEN, after his deliverance from captivity, had assembled a great host of men, and coming to Oxford, where the Empress then lay, suddenly besieged her, before she looked for him. And to the end also that he might compel the townsmen to yield, or else keep them from entering in which would come to their succours, he ranged abroad into the country with part of his army, wasting all afore him by fire and sword. This siege continued almost two months, in manner from his delivery in the beginning of November until Christmas immediately following: insomuch that through lack of victuals they within the town began to raise mutinies. The Empress therefore, doubting the sequel and seeing her position to decay, devised a shift how to escape that present danger which by force she was unlikely to perform.
It was a very hard winter that year, the Thames and other rivers thereabouts were frozen, so that both man and horse might safely pass over upon the ice. The fields were also covered with a thick and deep snow. Hereupon taking occasion, she clad herself and all her company in white apparel, that afar off they might not be discerned from the snow; and so by negligence of the watch that kept ward but slenderly, by reason of the exceeding cold weather, she and her pertainers1 secretly in the night issued out of the town, and, passing over the Thames came to Wallingford, where she was received into the castle by those that had the same in keeping to her use: of whom Brian, the son of the Earl of Gloucester, was the chief.
Here we may see the subtlety of the Empress, whereby she obtained free and safe passage out of her enemies hands, who otherwise had taken her in their net. So that it will be true, that hath never been false, which Æneas Sylvius2 (and before him many more driving upon the like argument) doth say in this distichon:
Non audet Stygius Pluto tentare, quod audent
Effrænis monachus plenaque fraudis illa,
meaning mulier, a woman. And therefore look what they want in magnanimity, in strength, in courage, the same is supplied by deceit, by circumvention, by craft, by fraud, by collusion; sometimes applied to a good intent, but most commonly directed to an evil meaning and purpose, as the events themselves do many times declare.