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BECKET'S RETURN TO CANTERBURY.
right. Less patient than Anselm, he complained bitterly to the pope, and never forgave the prelates who had officiated.
Suddenly the world was startled with the news that the king and the primate were reconciled. The peace seemed so complete, that the long continuance of the quarrel was more than ever inexplicable. The exiles were to return, the church property to be restored, the kiss of peace to be given, the young prince to be crowned again by Becket. No mention was made of the constitutions. The archbishop blessed the king, and was invited to spend some days at the court. But it was not easy to undo the past. Those who had profited by the sequestrations of church property positively refused to make restitution. Becket did not care to conciliate them; he had learned nothing and forgotten nothing in his exile; he went back, as he said, to play a game in which heads were staked. His journey to Canterbury was a triumphal procession; the people shouted along the road, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!" Before he set foot on English soil, he had forwarded fresh sentences to his chief enemies, suspending Roger of York, whom he compared to Holofernes,1 and excommunicating the bishops of London and Salisbury. He now refused to remit these censures unless they would take an oath to obey the pope's sentence; they declined this as unconstitutional, and preferred pleading their cause on the continent. They repaired to Henry's court at Bur, near Bayeux. The king was furious at the report of Becket's proceedings. "Truly I have reared and raised up sluggish and half-hearted men in my kingdom," he exclaimed, "if they do no service to their lord, when he is insulted thus shamefully by a baseborn priest." Words of this kind were not uttered for the first time, and Henry's court had become dangerously versed in the record of priests, even popes, who had suffered death for their pride. Four knights, Reginald Fitz-Urse, Hugh de
1 Becket, Epist. 196. Idonea, a nun, was entrusted with this letter, and her sex suggested the recollection of Judith.
2 "Habebit pacem suam latro vester et quidem bonam habebit.”—FitzStephen, Vita Beck., vol. i., pp. 273, 290, 291.
Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard Brito, caught the king's words, and left the court secretly for England. They were pursued, but Lité could not overtake Até. Collecting forces as they went on, and especially aided by the De Brocs, Becket's steady enemies, they broke into Canterbury (December 28th, 1170 A.D.), and secured the city with patrols. A short interview with the primate, was closed by his refusal to swear fealty anew or remove the sentence on the bishops. The knights rushed out to arm. Becket was hurried by his friends into the transept of the cathedral, but he would not secure himself further, or allow the gates of God's house to be shut. The knights returned, and gathered round him as he stood erect with his back to a pillar. A short, hot controversy, an offer of violence from the knights, met by a blow and a foul taunt from the primate, were the prelude to a cowardly murder. The monks round were beaten off, the arm of Grim, who interposed, nearly severed, and Becket cut down with many wounds, and his brains dashed out. Then the palace was plundered, and the charters in it carried off for the king. Remorse first touched the murderers when they found the worn-out hair skins which their victim had used.
Never crime brought punishment more quickly than Becket's murder. Before his dead body all anger was hushed, all jealousies forgotten: even Foliot durst not now plead that it was the cause, not the cross, which makes the martyr. Men remembered only that the primate had struggled and died like a brave man for the church. Henry lost no time in excusing himself by ambassadors to the pope; but for eight days Alexander would not even see them. A report soon spread among the people that Becket's blood and clothes were working miracles; they regarded Henry for the rest of his life as a second Pilate, whose crime was of nameless atrocity. The king was glad to occupy himself in Ireland till the storm had a little blown over. In May, 1172 A.D., he met the papal legates at Avranches, cleared himself by oath of all intentional part in the murder, and promised to atone for his hasty words by maintaining two hundred knights for a year in the Holy Land,
TRIUMPH OF HENRY'S POLICY.
by serving there himself for three years unless excused, by allowing the principle of appeals to Rome, by abrogating all new customs obnoxious to the church, by restoring their possessions to the church at Canterbury and Becket's adherents, and by faithfully adhering to pope Alexander's cause. Two years later, Henry, attacked by his sons and the king of Scotland, was touched by compunction for his sins against the saint; he visited his shrine as a pilgrim, and submitted to flagellation. Within three weeks, he had triumphed over all his enemies. Yet neither compact nor miracle changed Henry's policy. He was now unopposed master of the English church, and he kept its sees vacant for years, or filled them up with his own nominees, and chose for promotion the old enemies of Becket, such as Ridel and John of Oxford.1 Henceforth he and his clergy were on the best terms, and the pope's intervention was required to withdraw them from the secular employments which the king gave them. Appeals to Rome were never heard of. From this time forward, the English barons and the courts of law set themselves steadily to oppose the introduction of the canon or kindred civil codes; they were plundered in private by our legists; but England alone in the west of Europe refused to substitute them for her ancient customs. In one curious particular, the principle for which Becket had contended triumphed. His own assassins were tried for their offence against an ecclesiastic by the church, which could only punish them with penances. Henry rewarded them with places of trust and emolument; and in defiance of all theories about murder and sacrilege, they struck root in the land: Fitz-Urse, Tracy, and De Broc have founded historical families. The clergy saw the evil of a system which exposed them to be slain more cheaply than goats or Jews. Within four years of Becket's death, his successor gave
1 Thus the See of York was vacant for the last eight years of his life; Salisbury for the last five; and Lincoln from 1184 to 1186.
2 Fitz-Urse founded the McMahon family in Ireland; from Tracy the present Lord Sudely and Lord Wemyss are descended.-Stanley's Memorials of Canterbury, pp. 92, 93.
CHARACTER OF BECKET.
up the principle for which the martyr had contended, and allowed offenders against the clergy to be tried in secular courts. His apologetic letter to the pope seems to imply that even more than this had been resigned; and that the clergy by a just analogy were to be subject to lay tribunals for felonies.1 A year earlier, 1175 A.D., their immunity in all cases relating to the forest-laws had been surrendered. Becket had won nothing; even the archbishops of York continued to wage ceremonial war with the see of Canterbury.
Becket has enjoyed the singular privilege of being known to us almost solely by his own letters and the writings of his friends. The portrait thus handed down is abundantly lifelike. His person, his conversation, the friendly jest with his attendants, the oaths and foul abuse to his enemies, the healthy love of field sports, the open-handedness to all around him, are as fully recorded as the austerities by which he struggled against an animal nature, the pride with which he held the resolve once taken against a king, the courage with which he died for it. Not a scholar in the estimation of his age, he delighted to surround himself with learned men, and found leisure during his exile to procure transcripts of the treasures of foreign libraries.3 Not a man of noble birth, at a time when the pride of race was extravagant, he flung back the taunts of his enemies with a splendid scorn: "It is true I am not sprung from an ancient line of princes. But I would rather be one whose nobleness of mind makes its own pedigree, than one in whom the generous blood of his fathers degenerates." It is difficult not to admire such a man; he seems to tower above his contemporaries; it is his personality and character that bear down the violent but weak-willed king, who rolled on the ground in paroxysms of frenzy, attempted
1 Trivet, p. 85.
2 William of Canterbury says: "Quatenus lascivia ætatis et angustia temporis permisit, in illis (sc. liberalibus artibus) profecit." Compare the remark in the Lambeth MS., that he might have been a good scholar if he had studied longer.-Vita Beck., vol. ii., pp. 1, 74.
Girald. Camb. de Instruc. Princ., p. 187.
Becket, Epist. 75.
FAILURE OF BECKET'S LIFE.
the life of those who brought him ill-news, and blasphemed God for allowing the beardless king of France to defeat a sovereign who had given so largely to the church.1 Yet Becket, with more decorum of manner, was not less passionate. Believing that the sentence of the church excluded from life eternal, and ought to exclude from fellowship with men, he chose the day of the Lord's nativity, a time when he himself expected death, to excommunicate the ruffian who had cut off the tail of his horse. Hell for such an insult! the contrast with the judgement-hall of Pilate is strange. Trammelled by a theory too monstrous for any man but himself to have asserted fully, he involved himself in repeated inconsistencies, and incurred the charge of insincerity by retracting promises which his common sense had made, and which a fatal logie repudiated. During life he represented no idea; he viewed the supremacy of church above state, not as a struggle of eternal with temporal law, but as a question of ceremonial and privilege. With Dunstan we connect English monachism, with Anselm church independence, with Innocent the supremacy of the popes over all kings; but Becket's exile and death won nothing for his order: a title, a splendid shrine, the devotion of worshippers, showed that a heroic man had passed away; but what in England or the world embodies Becket's thoughts ? 3
1 Girald Camb. de Instruc. Princ., p. 113.
2 John of Oxford accused him of looking mainly throughout the struggle to the profit derived from the commutations of church penances.-Becket, Epist. 346. The charge is that of a virulent enemy, but it shows at least one aspect of the controversy.
3 In writing this chapter, I have freely availed myself of the spirited and masterly sketch of Becket's life by Dean Milman (Latin Christianity, vol. iii.), of the more elaborate researches of Canons Robertson and Morris, of the almost exhaustive article by Professor Stanley on "The Murder of Becket," and of an article in the Dublin Review, No. 97, "St. Thomas at Battle Abbey." It is to be hoped that the lives and letters of Becket and his correspondents will before long find a careful and competent editor.