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for a time suspended, was fully renewed, Stephen fell dangerously ill. The Earl of Gloucester, with that penetration which always distinguished him, had long seen that the two parties in the country were too nearly balanced to admit a hope of speedy success to either unless some new elements could be thrown in, to give a preponderance to the one or the other; and in the hope of gaining this point in favour of his sister Matilda, he had sent over deputies to entreat the presence of her husband in England. Geoffrey, however, refused even to treat upon the subject with any one but Matilda's brother, and the Earl, though unwillingly, now seized the time of Stephen's illness to hasten back to France, and beseech Geoffrey to come over to his wife's aid with all troops that he could levy.
Geoffrey's affection for Matilda, however, was but small; and although he sometimes made a show of yielding to her appeal, and thus detained the Earl of Gloucester in Normandy for several months, he ultimately refused to accompany him back to England, but permitted him at his wife's request to carry over Henry, the eldest son of the Princess, in the hope of exciting some new interest in her favour.
Before the Earl left Normandy he aided the Count of Anjou in gaining possession of a great part of that Duchy ; but towards the close of the year 1142, the progress which Stephen was making in England rendered it absolutely necessary for the Earl to fly to the aid of his sister. Matilda by this time was closely besieged in the castle of Oxford, where she soon found herself straitened for provisions; and Gloucester setting sail as soon as he received intelligence of her situation, arrived soon after at Wareham on the coast of Dorsetshire, which was then an important city, belonging to himself. The castle, however, which had been taken by Stephen, was garrisoned with his troops; and the Earl, anxious to draw the King from Oxford, besieged Wareham and Lulworth castles, and reduced the Isle of Portland, which had been fortified by the enemy. Finding, however, that nothing could induce Stephen to abandon the operations against Matilda, he determined to join the army which had been collected for her service at Wallingford, issuing at the same time a summons for his own partisans to meet him at Cirencester. His force now increased every day, and he was marching rapidly to his sister's deliverance, when to his surprise and joy, he found that she had made her escape from Oxford, had passed through the midst of the hostile army during the night, had crossed the Thames, which she fortunately found frozen over, on foot, and after a long journey through the snow, had reached the Castle of Wallingford in safety.
The miraculous nature of this escape served Matilda nearly as much as a victory; and the meeting with her brother and son increased her joy. The young prince was left under the care of the Earl of Gloucester, who it would seem during the rest
of his life bestowed particular pains upon Henry's education. But neither for that nor any other occupation did Gloucester neglect the cause of his sister; and after frustrating the King in various attempts, he attacked and totally defeated him in the neighbourhood of Wilton. About the same time Geoffrey Plantagenet made himself master of Rouen, assisted in the siege, strange to say, by Louis King of France, and by a number of persons who had hitherto displayed the greatest zeal in the service of Stephen.
It was the character of this war, however, never to continue long favorable to one or the other of the two parties. If success in arms was obtained, the balance was soon restored, by some unexpected misfortune; and scarcely had the battle of Wilton been gained, when one of the most faithful and talented of Matilda's followers, Milo, Earl of Hereford, was accidentally killed whilst hunting. One half, however, or nearly one half of the country, remained in the possession of the Empress ; and in that portion some degree of order and regularity was maintained, which was not the case in the rest of the kingdom. There rapine, murder, torture, pestilence, famine, and despair, raged amongst the people ; while a multitude of feudal lords, owning the authority of none, sanguinary, remorseless, and rapacious, dwelt within the walls of their wellguarded castles, and only issued forth to scourge. with new devastation the miserable country round them.
Perhaps on the whole, at this period Matilda was in a better situation than her rival; and Stephen, by the various violent acts which he committed, contributed to render his own position worse. He alienated the brave and remorseless Earl of Essex, and also estranged one who had served him well, Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. Several other noblemen of great power and influence were arrested by his orders and deprived of their castles ; and he gave much offence by various of his measures to that important body, the Clergy. His losses, however, were more than compensated by the attack and capture of the castle of Farringdon, under the very eyes of the Earl of Gloucester, who could do nothing to relieve it ; and this terrible blow to the cause of Matilda was followed by the base defection of the Earl of Chester, as well as that of her own brother's youngest son. The town of Bedford was also taken by Stephen, and more than one half of Matilda's possessions and followers were lost in the space of a few months. Certain it is, that in all the transactions of these times, her overbearing arrogance, and violence of temper, did her more injury than the arms of her enemies; and neither the mildness, the justice, the abilities, or the devotion of her brother, the Earl of Gloucester, could counterbalance the effects of her own unhappy disposition.
Her husband, the Count of Anjou, however, was
now in possession of Normandy, and many of the faults which he had displayed in youth had been corrected by experience; but hopeless of his wife's success in England, and anxious to see his eldest son, he besought the Earl of Gloucester to send the young Prince back to Normandy. With this request the Earl complied, though it would seem unwillingly; and shortly after, Gloucester himself being attacked by fever, died in the month of November 1146, leaving the cause of Matilda entirely hopeless. In the beginning of the following year, after a vain struggle to maintain her party in the kingdom, the Empress herself set sail, and abandoning England, took refuge with her husband in Normandy.
She left behind perhaps scarcely one person who loved her, and her absence was probably advantageous to her cause. Stephen's own disposition had been soured by reverses; he had become jealous, suspicious, morose, inexorable. One by one, he drove many of the principal nobles into revolt, the chief of whom was that Earl of Chester, who had so lately abandoned the cause of Matilda. New injuries were offered to the Clergy, and quarrels ensued between the ambitious Bishop of Winchester and the Archbishop of Canterbury, in which Stephen took part, and soon brought upon his territories the evils of an interdict.
These events occupied the greater part of the next two years; and though in that time the hatred of the people towards Matilda had not de