E must now return to the history of Matilda of Boulogne and her lord, Stephen. On the departure of the Domina, in 1147, the restoration of the long desired public peace was celebrated throughout the land with great rejoicings. Stephen and his consort, no less elated than their subjects at the bright prospects of the future, kept their Christmas at Lincoln with extraordinary magnificence. All the powerful prelates and barons were invited to court, and entertained with great pomp and ceremony. Stephen, in the pride of his heart, believed himself again monarch of England, and although there was a prediction then abroad that direful misfortunes would befal the king who dared to appear crowned in that city, he could not resist the temptation of wearing the diadem and robes of royalty at public mass. He even endeavoured to obtain the coronation of his son Eustace, as his successor, but in this he signally failed, as most of the barons declared they would not swear fealty to any one as heir to the crown whilst matters were yet so unsettled.
In 1148, Queen Matilda founded and richly endowed the hospital and church of St. Katherine, near the Tower, for the repose of the souls of her two departed infants, Baldwin and Maud.
In 1853 was discovered, beneath the house at the south east corner of Leadenhall Street, and directly opposite Aid gate Pump, the remains of "St. Michael next Aldgate," a chapel built about the year 1108, by Norman, prior of St. Katherine, and of the Holy Trinity, and which was subsequently connected by an arched passage with the church of St. Katherine.
Queen Matilda also founded the abbey of Coggeshall, as a testimony of gratitude to heaven for the liberation of Stephen from his severe captivity, and, in conjunction with her royal lord, she built the stately abbey of St. Saviour, at Feversham, which she endowed with the valuable manor of Feversham, and other lands formerly belonging to Sir William Ypres, but who had exchanged them with the Queen for her own manor of Lillechurch, and the king's demesne of Middleton.
At this period the health of the Queen, undermined by mental anxiety and bodily suffering, visibly declined; and, in accordance with the idea of the age, she now devoted her earnest attention to works of piety and charity, and spent much of her time in the seclusion of the cloister. Not so, however, with her royal lord, for he knew no rest on this side of the grave.
Scarcely was the sword of civil contention sheathed, when, towards the close of the year 1149, the youthful Henry Plantagenet visited Scotland with the evident intention of contesting the crown with Stephen. His great uncle David, King of the Scots, after conferring on him the honour of knighthood, crossed the border with hostile forces. But Stephen, on hearing of his doings, flew to arms with such promptitude and vigour, that he found it expedient to make a quiet but hasty retreat to his own dominions, and prevail on his nephew, Henry, to embark for the continent, and patiently wait for a more promising opportunity to grasp at the English sceptre.
Queen Matilda, however, did not survive to witness this struggle. After suffering the hectic torments of a fatal fever, she breathed her last at Heningham Castle, in Essex, on the third of May, 1151, being the fifteenth year of Stephen's reign.
The remains of "this holy and virtuous queen" were interred with all the imposing rites of the period, in her own favourite abbey of Feversham, where, for nearly four centuries afterwards, prayers were daily said and requiems sung for the eternal repose of her soul.
Queen Matilda left three surviving I children, Eustace, William, and Mary. Eustace was betrothed to Constance, sister of Louis the Seventh of France, and after the death of his mother he was again invested with the ducal crown of Normandy by his father in-law, the French King, who had not without reason taken umbrage at the doings of the ambitious Henry Plantagenet.
In 1151, Stephen, his royal sire, made a second effort to procure his coronation as heir to the throne of England. But the bishops declared the measure would again embroil the land in civil strife, and refused to perform the ceremony, which so enraged Stephen, that he confined them for a period as prisoners—a folly for which he dearly paid, as the Archbishop of Canterbury contrived to escape to Normandy, when he prevailed on Henry Plantagenet, who was then married to the richly dowered Eleanor, the divorced Queen of France, to once more strive with Stephen for the English crown.
Henry, by great courage and diligence, reached England before Stephen was prepared to oppose his progress, and marched to the relief of Wallingford, a town where his most powerful supporters had taken shelter, and which was being vigorously besieged by Prince Eustace. Here he so effectually blockaded the besiegers, that they must have suffered from famine, but for the timely arrival of Stephen, with a reinforcement of troops, and money from London. A general engagement now appeared inevitable, and but for one of those accidents, then viewed as an evil omen, much blood would doubtless have been spilt. The opposing forces were being drawn up for battle, when, as Stephen was arranging his soldiers, his horse thrice reared, and thrice threw him, which so terrified both his barons and his soldiery, that they loudly declared their inability to fight on the day that had dawned with so direful a prognostic.
Happily for the war wasted land, Stephen, counselled by the eloquence and reason of William de Albini, widower of the late Queen Dowager Adelicia, and perhaps not a little influenced by the fear that the freaks of his unruly horse had so disheartened his men, as to render victory doubtful, entered into a peaceful contract with Henry, by the terms of which Stephen was to enjoy the crown during his own lifetime; but on his death, Henry was to succeed him as his lawful heir. On the ratification of the treaty, Stephen performed the ceremony of adopting Henry, who, in return, saluted him as king and father.