CHAPTER XI. THE LAST STAGE OF THE CIVIL WAR
The years 1144 and 1145 were on the whole prosperous for Stephen. A number of minor successes and minor accessions from the enemy made up a general drift in his favour. Even the Earl of Gloucester's son Philip, with a selfishness typical of the time, turned against his father; but the most important desertion to the king was that of the Earl of Chester, who joined him in 1146 and made a display of zeal, real or pretended, in his service. Starting with greater power and a more independent position than Geoffrey de Mandeville, and perhaps less openly bartering his allegiance to one side and the other at a constantly rising price, he had still pursued the same policy and with even greater success. His design was hardly less than the carving out of a state for himself from western and northern England, and during much of this disjointed time he seems to have carried himself with no regard to either side. To go over to the king so soon after the fall of the Earl of Essex was, it is likely, to take some risk, and as in the former case there was a party at the court which influenced Stephen against him. His refusal, notwithstanding his zeal, to restore castles and lands belonging to the king, and his attempt to induce Stephen to aid him against the Welsh, which was considered a plot to get possession of the king's person, led to his arrest. Again Stephen followed his habitual policy of forcing the surrender of his prisoner's castles, or certain of them, and then releasing him; and again the usual result followed, the instant insurrection of the earl. His real power had hardly been lessened by giving up the king's castles, - to which he had been forced, - and it was not easy to attack him. On a later visit of the young Henry to England, he obtained from him, and even from the king of Scotland, to whom he had long been hostile, large additions to his coveted principality in the west and north; but Stephen at once bid higher, and for a grant including the same possessions and more he abandoned his new allies. On Henry's final visit, in 1153, when the tide was fairly turning in his favour, another well-timed treason secured the earl his winnings and great promises for the future; but in this same year he died, poisoned, as it was believed, by one whose lands he had obtained. Out of the breaking up of England and the helplessness of her rulers arose no independent feudalism. Higher titles and wider lands many barons did gain, but the power of the king emerged in the end still supreme, and the worst of the permanent evils of the feudal system, a divided state, though deliberately sought and dangerously near, was at last averted.
With the death of Pope Innocent II, in September, 1143, a new period opened in the relation of the English Church and of the English king towards the papacy. Innocent had been on the whole favourable to Stephen's cause. His successor, Celestine II, was as favourable to Anjou, but his papacy was so short that nothing was done except to withhold a renewal of Henry of Winchester's commission as legate. Lucius II, who succeeded in March, 1144, sent his own legate to England; but he was not a partisan of either side, and seems even - perhaps by way of compensation - to have taken steps towards creating an independent archbishopric in the south-west in Henry's favour. His papacy again lasted less than a year, and his successor, Eugenius III, whose reign lasted almost to the end of Stephen's, was decidedly unfriendly. Henry of Winchester was for a time suspended; and the king's candidate for the archbishopric of York, William Fitz Herbert, afterwards St. William of York, - whose position had long been in doubt, for though he had been consecrated he had not received his pallium, - was deposed, and in his place the Cistercian Abbot of Fountains, Henry Murdac, was consecrated by the Cistercian pope. This was the beginning of open conflict. Henry Murdac could not get possession of his see, and Archbishop Theobald was refused permission to attend a council summoned by the pope at Reims for March, 1148. He went secretly, crossing the channel in a fishing boat, and was enthusiastically received by the pope. The Bishop of Winchester was again suspended, and other bishops with him; several abbots were deposed; and Gilbert Foliot, a decided partisan of Matilda's, was designated Bishop of Hereford. The pope was with difficulty persuaded to postpone the excommunication of Stephen himself, and steps were actually taken to reopen before the Roman court the question of his right to the throne. Stephen, on his side, responded with promptness and vigour. He refused to acknowledge the right of the pope to reopen the main question. The primate was banished and his temporalities confiscated. Most of the English clergy were kept on the king's side, and in some way - there is some evidence that the influence of Queen Matilda was employed - the serious danger which threatened Stephen from the Church in the spring of 1148 was averted. Peace was made in November with Archbishop Theobald, who had ineffectually tried an interdict, and he was restored to his see and revenues. The practical advantage, on the whole, remained with the king; but in the course of these events a young man, Thomas Becket, in the service of the archbishop, acquired a training in ideas and in methods which was to serve him well in a greater struggle with a greater king.