« VorigeDoorgaan »
We return to the narrative. During the first five years Becket's exile, every attempt at a reconciliation had proved abortive. So long as each party retained his distrust of the other, the best devised scheme of peace proved of course utterly fruitless. While Henry promised, with a reservation of the honor of his kingdom, and Becket, with that of his God or his own order, it was evident that a solid cement of amity was yet wanting. Early in 1170, however, matters approached a crisis. The king had determined to associate his son Henry with himself in the sovereignty of his dominions. Preparations were accordingly made for the coronation of the young prince. But it was an ancient prerogative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to crown the English kings. The present incumbent was as little likely to yield this privilege to another, as the king was to allow him to exercise it. On this occasion, the Pope was true to his servant. The Archbishop of York and the other bishops received a mandate from the apostolic see, forbidding them to assist at the ceremony of coronation. But in spite of this, the deed was done; and no reparation for the wounded honor of the church remained, but to let loose upon the head of the impenitent aggressor the terrors of an interdict. Even Henry's bold spirit quailed at this dreaded name. It would be an invitation to the French king to fall upon his continental territories, and to his English subjects to cast him off as the rejected of the Lord. He could no longer hope for the countenance of ecclesiastics who still professed obedience to the head of the Church. In order to avert the threatened blow, he promised once more to make peace with the archbishop. An interview took place at Freitval, on the confines of the duchy of Maine, at which, by the help of a little prudent silence on the one hand, and some concessions on the other, a degree of progress seemed to be made towards a genuine peace.
Becket now made preparations for his return to England; not forgetting to send over a store of good French wines for his Canterbury cellars. But his usual untoward luck followed him. By the king's half-faced fellowship, and the malice of his persecutors in England, various impediments were thrown in his way. The agents whom he had sent over warned him not to return to England till he was on better terms with the king. Becket knew what risk he ran in making the attempt.
He wrote to the Pope,-" We believe we shall return to England, but whether for peace or suffering we know not." He complained to Henry of the infamous conduct of Randolf de Broc, who had threatened to take away his life before he had eaten a whole loaf in England; but he declared his resolution to serve his church at the peril of his life. Before setting sail, he had two more interviews with the king, who commissioned the Dean of Salisbury to escort him over to England. They parted for the last time as friends; but Becket's confidence in the king must have been very imperfect, or he could not have compared a remark made by him to "what the Devil said to Jesus Christ. ,, He could not refrain from sending over the Pope's letters of excommunication and suspension against the refractory bishops, a measure which was sure to exasperate his enemies and again alienate the king.
In spite of the warnings which reached him from England, he set sail from Flanders early in December. "Look, my lord," said one of his clerks, "there is England." "You are very eager to go," he replied; "but before we have been there forty days, you will wish yourselves anywhere else." The party landed at Sandwich, in Becket's own see. The cross of Canterbury on the prow of the vessel soon drew the people of the town to the water's edge to welcome the returning exile. On the next day, he continued his journey to Canterbury, and every parish poured out its delighted multitude to meet him. The people threw down their garments in the way, the church-bells were rung, and the air resounded with songs of joy. The glad tidings spread like wildfire; and when he reached his own city, the exuberant gratulations of his flock could not be kept within bounds. The long-bereaved cathedral was decked out with the ensigns of gladness. Hymns of thanksgiving went up in the churches, and the trumpet sounded in every hall. Becket preached once more in his own church, but there was an ominous significance in the text, "Here we have no continuing city, but seek one to come."
After eight days, he went to London, to pay a visit to the young king. He was received everywhere on his road with the most enthusiastic welcome. As he drew nigh to the city, a procession of three thousand poor scholars and clerks attached to the churches of London came out to meet him,
singing Te Deum.* Multitudes of men and women crowded around him to bless God for his return. Yet the king not only refused to see him, but sent him an order to return to his diocese. He obeyed, but unhappily took an escort of five lances, which gave occasion to a report that he was making military expeditions through the country. Christmas was now come. The archbishop preached on that day from the words, “ On earth peace, good-will towards men, which, oddly enough, was a favorite text with him. Some of his clerks happening to make mention of St. Elphage, the martyr of Canterbury, the archbishop remarked, "We may perhaps have another before long."
The excommunicated bishops, meanwhile, had sent to him to demand absolution. The terms on which he was willing to grant it might have been complied with, but for the interference of the Archbishop of York, who had only been suspended. “My coffers,” he said, “ still contain eight thousand pounds, thank God! and I will spend every farthing of it in beating down Thomas's insolence." Abandoning, therefore, all thoughts of peace, the bishops hastened into Normandy to join the king. The news of Becket's proceedings had gone before them. The king was in just the humor to lend a ready ear to their complaints. One of them, while he declined to counsel his Majesty, artfully added, “So long as Thomas lives, you will never enjoy one day's tranquillity.” This was enough to bring on one of Henry's wildest fits of rage. With flashing eyes and a disordered countenance, he exclaimed, —“A curse light upon all the false varlets that I have maintained, who have left me so long exposed to this insolence from a priest, and have not attempted to relieve me of him!” Four of these varlets took him at his word, and posted to the coast with all speed.
* Dr. Giles (Vol. II., p. 302) adds this note : 66 This was when the popu. lation of London was about 300,000 ; at present there are nearly 2,000,000 of people in London; are there 3,000 scholars ? We will not presume to answer this sapient question. But we wonder on what authority he relies for his statistics. Peter of Blois, a contemporary of Becket, sets down the population of London at 40,000.' This may be ton low. If Dr. Giles adopts Fitzstephen's assertion, that the militia of the city amounted to 60,000 foot and 20,000 horse, a palpably extravagant one, he must reckon the total population at half a million at least.
† This was not the only occasion on which Henry had suffered such expressions to escape from him. Three years before, he had called his nobles
a set of traitors, who had not zeal nor courage enough to rid him from the molestations of one man."
The king called a council of baróns, and laid before them the conduct of the archbishop. One of these rude advisers spoke very plainly of a halter and the gallows. Another darkly alluded to a pope who had been murdered for his insolence. It was resolved that men should immediately be sent to arrest Thomas. But the four knights had the start. They had arrived, on the 28th of December, at Saltwood castle, the residence of Becket's inveterate enemy, Randolf de Broc. Having spent the night in arranging their plans, they set out the next day with a train of twelve attendants for Canterbury, and immediately on their arrival proceeded to the palace of the archbishop. They entered the palace-hall, and having sent word to the archbishop that they wished to see him, were admitted to an inner chamber, to which he had retired with his clerks after finishing the afternoon meal. They seated themselves without saluting him ; and when he greeted them, returned his salutation with abuse. At length, Fitz-Urse, their leader, told him that he brought him a message from the king, to the effect that he should leave his dominions with every thing belonging to him. Becket replied, “No one shall again see the ocean between me and my church ; I did not come back to run away again.” Passionate words passed on both sides, and the knights left bim with scoffs and threats. The archbishop followed them to the door, with the words, – “Here shall you find me ; here will I await you."
The murderers, having armed themselves, soon returned ; but finding the doors barred, they went round by a private entrance, and began to hack down a wooden partition which was in their way.
The monks, hearing the noise of the axes, urged the archbishop to pass into the church. He refused, until he learned that vespers were about to be chanted ; and even then lingered, as if afraid that he should miss the crown of martyrdom, if he took shelter under the sacred roof. The ruffians followed, and entered the church ; for the archbishop would not allow the doors to be bolted. He might easily have fled, as several of his clerks had already done. But his choice was made. It was evening, and the knights, not knowing in what part of the church he was, cried out, “Where is Thomas à Becket, traitor to the king and kingdom?” No reply being made, they called out, - * Where is the archbishop ?" At these words, he came down the steps VOL. LXIV. - No. 134.
which led to the altar, and answered, “Here I am ; no traitor to the king, but a priest of the Lord ; what do you want of me ?” — and walked towards the altar of the Virgin. Following him, they exclaimed, — " Absolve those whom you
have excommunicated.” He replied, — “ The Pope has excommunicated them ; and I will not absolve them.” “ Then you shall die, as you deserve.” "I am ready to die for the Lord ; but do no injury to any of these, whether clerks or laymen.” After having tried in vain to drag him from the church, Fitz-Urse, provoked by a sharp retort, waved his sword over Becket, as he commended himself to God and the Virgin, and dealt him a mortal blow on the head. His accomplices, following up the stroke, soon completed the work. A filth associate, named Robert de Broc, who had been excommunicated but a few days before, placed his foot upon the neck of the martyr, and mangled the body in a shocking manner.
Such was the “ Passion of St. Thomas of Canterbury.” The assassins now left the church, crying, as they went, — “ For the king! For the king !” They did not forget, in their zeal for the king, to rifle the archbishop's palace and stables of all they could lay their hands on.
Meanwhile, the fatal news had spread through the city, and the people crowded in great numbers to the church. The poor pensioners of the archbishop's bounty threw themselves on his mangled body, and kissed his hands and feet. Some brought phials, and filled them with his holy blood. Others tore their garments and bathed the shreds in it. The monks kept watch that night around the body. The next morning, they were driven by the threats of the De Brocs to hurry the burial, for fear that the corpse would be seized and thrown to the dogs. With maimed and hasty rites they placed the body of their murdered father in the crypt of the cathedral, in a tomb in which never man had been laid. For a while they kept the place concealed with great care, till the fame of the martyr made it a holy and a precious spot.
The report of this horrible tragedy reached full soon the ears of King Henry, and was received with undisguised dismay. He put on sackcloth, and shut himself up for three days in his chamber, where he would take no food. Sometimes he would burst into loud lamentations, and then sink into a stupor of grief. He might well be confounded. For,