Flying to Oxford, she was besieged there by Stephen, who had obtained his release; but she escaped in white robes by a postern, and crossing the river unobserved on the ice, made her way to Abingdon. Six years later she returned to Normandy. The war had in fact become a mere chaos of pillage and bloodshed. The outrages of the feudal baronage showed from what horrors the rule of the Norman kings had saved England. No more ghastly picture of a nation's misery has ever been painted than that which closes the English Chronicle, whose last accents falter out amidst the horrors of the time. "They hanged up men by their feet and smoked them with foul smoke. Some were hanged up by their thumbs, others by the head, and burning things were hung on to their feet. They put knotted strings about men's heads and writhed them till they went into the brain. They put men into prisons where adders and snakes and toads were crawling, and so they tormented them. Some they put into a chest short and narrow and not deep, and that had sharp stones within, and forced men therein so that they broke all their limbs. In many of the castles were nateful and grim things called rachenteges, which two or three men had enough to do to carry.
It was thus made: it was fastened to a beam and had a sharp iron to go about a man's neck and throat, so that he might noways sit, or lie, or sleep, but he bore all the iron. Many thousands they starved with hunger".
England was rescued from this feudal anarchy by the efforts of the Church. In the early part of Stephen's reign his brother Henry, the Bishop of Winchester, acting as Papal Legate for the realm, had striven to supply the absence of any royal or national authority by convening synods of bishops, and by asserting the moral right of the Church to declare sovereigns unworthy of the throne. The compact between king and people which became a part of constitutional law in the Charter of Henry had gathered new force in the Charter of Stephen, but its legitimate consequence in the responsibility of the crown for the execution of the compact was first drawn out by these ecclesiastical councils. From their alternate depositions of Stephen and Matilda flowed the after depositions of Edward and Richard, and the solemn act by which the succession was changed in the case of James. Extravagant and unauthorized as their expression of it may appear, they expressed the right of a nation to good government. Henry of Winchester, however, "half monk, nalf soldier," as he was called, possessed too little religious influence to wield a really spiritual power; it was only at the close of Stephen's reign that the nation really found a moral leader in Theobald, the Arcnbishop of Canterbury. " To the Church," Thomas justly said afterwards, with the proud consciousness of having been Theobald's right hand, " Henry owed his crown and England her deliverance." Thomas was the son of Gilbert Beket, the portreeve of London, the site of whose house is still marked by the Mercers' chapel in Cheapside. His mother Rohese was a type of the devout woman of her day; she weighed her boy each year on his birthday against money, clothes, and provisions which she gave to the poor.
Thomas grew up amidsc the Norman barons and clerks who frequented his father's house with a genial freedom of character tempered by the Norman refinement; he passed from the school of Merton to the University of Paris, and returned to fling himself into the life of the young nobles of the time. Tall, handsome, bright-eyed, ready of wit and speech, his firmness of temper showed itself in his very sports; to rescue his hawk which had fallen into the water he once plunged into a millrace, and was all but crushed by the wheel. The loss of his father's wealth drove him to the court of Archbishop Theobald, and he soon became the Primate's confidant in his plans for the rescue of England. Henry, the son of Matilda and Geoffry, had now by the death of his father become master of Normandy and Anjou, while by his marriage with its duchess, Eleanor of Poitou, he had added Aquitaine to his dominions. Thomas, as Theobald's agent, invited Henry to appear in England, and on the Duke's landing the Archbishop interposed between the rival claimants to the crown. The Treaty of Wallingford abolished the evils of the long anarchy; the castles were to be razed, the crown lands resumed, the foreign mercenaries banished from the country.
Stephen was recognized as King, and in turn acknowledged Henry as his heir. But a year had hardly passed when Stephen's death gave his rival the crown.