In the darkness, Matilda slipped a pair of fur-lined boots onto her feet. She threw a bed sheet over her head and followed her guide by oil lamp through a series of halls and stairways to a massive oaken door. Two shrouded figures waited there and threw open the portal when they saw her approaching. A rush of ice-laden wind forced its way in from the outside and slapped rudely at Matilda’s exposed cheeks before catching under the sheet and sending it flapping and snapping into the air. Her guide snagged it and placed it back over Matilda’s shoulders, securing it with a white scarf.
She stepped into the doorway and shuffled and sidled her way onto a stone ledge. A soldier was standing there, gripping a large wicker basket. The whipping snow was blinding and Matilda was forced to keep her gaze focused downward. Her stomach turned as she looked down the one hundred feet to the dark grounds. With help, Matilda carefully stepped inside of the basket and the soldier let go. The wind carried her horizontally and she nearly tipped over before she shifted her weight to the other side. The pulley squeaked menacingly as she was slowly lowered to the ground.
A few minutes later, Matilda was creeping carefully through the sleeping army, camouflaged by the fierce winter storm and her white sheets, making for safety and friends twelve miles away at Wallingford Castle.
It was December 19th, 1142 and England was submerged in anarchy. For seven years, the Empress Matilda had been contesting her cousin, King Stephen, for the throne. The last three months from within the besieged Oxford castle.
Although Matilda would never be crowned, her son eventually would, establishing a line of Plantagenet kings that would reign for three and a half centuries.