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Reign of Stephen page 3

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The army of Stephen, which had marched from London, occupied the left bank of the Thames at Wallingford, opposite to the troops of Henry. The opposing forces remained in this position during two whole days without coming to an engagement, and daring the pause which thus took place, negotiations were entered into between the two princes. It would appear that even the Norman nobles had become tired of the horrors of a civil war which had lasted fifteen years, and the Earl of Arundel did not hesitate to say that it was unreasonable that the calamities of the nation should be continued further through the ambition of two princes. Other lords, on both sides, expressed the same sentiments, and entreated the king and the prince to meet together for the purpose of arranging terms of peace.

An interview took place between the two chiefs, who conversed with each other across a narrow part of the river Thames, and ultimately agreed to desist from hostilities, pending the conclusion of a treaty which was to be arranged at a general council of the kingdom. Prince Eustace, the only son of Stephen, was seized with indignation at the prospect of an arrangement which would, probably, exclude him from the throne, and, instantly quitting his father's presence, he proceeded into Cambridgeshire, recklessly determining to maintain his right by arms. Having gathered together a band of lawless followers, he seized possession of the abbey of St. Edmund, ejected the monks, and placed there his head-quarters. He occupied himself in plundering the neighbourhood, and the property so obtained was expended in rioting and other excesses. This state of things, however, was of short duration. One day, when the prince was seated at a banquet, he was seized with a sudden and violent illness, or frenzy, of which he died. The memory of St. Edmund, king and martyr, was held in the highest veneration by the English people, and the death of the prince was attributed by them to the vengeance of Heaven provoked by the outrage he had committed upon the sanctuary of the saint.

Stephen now had less difficulty in agreeing to terms which would be acceptable to Henry. The king had, indeed, one son remaining, but he was too young to be aware of how much his interests were concerned in the arrangements about to be made. The council of the kingdom was held at Winchester, November 7th, 1153, and it was finally determined that Stephen should hold possession of the throne during his life, and that after his death the succession should devolve upon Henry and his heirs. This treaty, which was sworn to by the clergy, nobles, and knights of both parties, is described by different writers in different points of view. Some historians say that Stephen adopted Henry as his son, and gave the kingdom to him after his own death; while others assert that the king acknowledged the hereditary right of Henry, who thereupon gave him permission to reign during his life. It is worthy of remark, that we find the various boroughs regarded in connection with this treaty as of some importance, and that they were called upon to take the oaths of allegiance in the same manner as the barons. The officers of the most important of the royal cables gave hostages to Henry for the surrender of those Strongholds to him when the king's death should take place.

The treaty having been concluded, Henry and Stephen made a progress together through the country, visiting the cities of London, Winchester, and Oxford. Everywhere they were received with unfeigned joy by the people, who, whatever might have been, their sentiments with regard to either of the two princes', welcomed the chance which placed them side by side with sheathed swords.

Henry proceeded to the Continent at the time of Lent, 1154, and in the mouth of October in the same year Stephen died at Dover, in the fiftieth year of his age, and the nineteenth of his reign. He was buried at the monastery of Faversham, in Kent, and his tomb was afterwards destroyed when the monasteries were suppressed by the command of Henry VIII.

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