though of Norman descent (paternally, at least), he was born in London. Who was his mother ? “A Norman,” replies one writer;-‘‘A Saxon,” says another; while a third stoutly maintains that she was daughter of Amurath, a Pagan chief of the Holy Land,-meaning, we suppose, a Mohammedan emir. It is a pity that so beautiful a legend will not stand the test of criticism. For more than a century after the youth of Gilbert, the name of Amurath was unknown in that region. If not confined to the princes of the dynasty of Othman, it was certainly so to the people subject to that house; and of neither rulers nor governed does history make mention prior to the 13th century. Besides, the legend is sufficiently exposed by its internal improbability; and we are surprised that either Dr. Giles or Mr. Turner should have thought it worth a moment's serious consideration. Probably the mother was of the Saxon race : we know but of one MS. that distinctly declares her to have been Norman ; and as it mistakes her name, calling her Rose instead of Matilda, its authority is of no great weight. A Mohammedan she could not have been, from the grateful manner in which Becket himself alludes to the Christian instruction which he had received from her in his childhood, and, indeed, to the twenty-first year of his age. Of the future Saint we may readily suppose that his natural parts were great, and his behaviour serious beyond his years, without admitting such stories as the following, which the author would have done well to pass over without comment:—

“One day the father came to see his son, and when the boy was introduced into the presence of his father and the prior, the father prostrated himself at his feet. At seeing this, the prior said in anger, “What are you about, you foolish old man? your son ought to sall down at your seet, not you at his? But the father afterwards said to the prior in private, ‘I was quite aware, my lord, of the nature of what I was doing: for that boy of mine will one day or other be great in the sight of the Lord.”

[blocks in formation]

rather deficient in erudition; and he had the wisdom to pass in study the vacant hours which other young men spent in amusement. A rigorous application, followed by a year's subsequent study of canon and civil law at Bologna, not only removed his deficiencies, but placed him on higher ground than the rest of the clerks who lived in the palace of the primate. Though merely sub-deacon, he was presented with two rural livings, and two stalls in the Cathedrals of London and Lincoln ; and the duties of all, therefore, he must have performed by deputy,+so early had abuses crept into the Anglo-Norman Church. Even when promoted to the archdeaconry of Canterbury, it was not thought necessary that he should take any higher orders than those of deacon. But his spiritual career (if such it may be called) was soon suspended; for by the influence of his patron the Archbishop, and of Henry, bishop of Winchester (a prince of the royal family), he was raised to the high post of Chancellor, at the early age of thirtyeight, viz. in 1155. “This was not a solitary instance,” observes Dr. Giles, “of high offices of state being placed in the hands of churchmen.” We should think not : from the foundation of the Saxon kingdoms every chancellor had probably been an ecclesiastic ; at least, we do not remember an exception. There is some inaccuracy, too, in another assertion, that Chancellor Becket ranked next to the king, and was the second person in authority. As chief minister, and still more as royal favorite, he might be second only to Henry; but it is certain that, as Chancellor merely, his rank was inferior to that of the Chief Justiciary. His office, however, was more wealthy than the other. He had charge of all vacant dignities, whether in Church or State; and as they were often conferred (or, we should rather say, sold, and that, too, after a considerable vacancy, —the proceeds all the while passing through his hands into the royal exchequer), according to his recommendation, it is not unreasonable to conclude that he was no stranger, either to bribes offered for his good word, or to some share of the profits arising from the sale. On no other hypothesis can we account for the receipt of the enormous sums necessary to support his more than royal state. Probably he took nothing for inferior church livings, and this disinterested conduct is doubtless one cause of his great popularity as Chancellor. But he was by no means blind to his own advantage : as his secretary, FitzStephen, observes,tuous in other respects, and when this instance of his prodigality was known at home at England, it became a proverb in the mouths of men for a very long time. We meet with other intimations in the contemporary biogra

“His great mind rather aimed at great objects, such as the Priorship of Beverley, and the presentation to the prebends of Hastings, which he got from the Earl of Augy, the Tower of London, with the service of the soldiers belonging to it, the Chatelainship of Eye, with its honor of two hundred and forty sol. diers, and the castle of Berchamstead.”

It might have been added, that, besides the church dignities before mentioned, (archdeacon of Canterbury, canon of two cathedrals, rector of two parishes, and this stall at Hastings, with the Priorship of Beverley,) he was Dean of Hastings, incumbent of many valuable livings, and a dignitary in several other dioceses. And well might “his great mind” look to some “great objects,” since he had to support such amusements, such entertainments as the following:—

“He generally amused himself, not in a set manner, but accidentally, and as it might happen, with hawks and falcons, or dogs of the chase, and in the game of chess,

Where front to front the mimic warriors close, To check the progress of their mimic foes.

The house and table of the Chancellor were common to all of every rank who came to the king's court, and needed hospitality: whether they were honorable men in reality, or at least appeared to be such. He never dined without the company of earls and barons, whom he had invited. He ordered his hall to be strewed every day with fresh straw and hay in winter, and with green branches in summer, that the numerous knights for whom the benches were insufficient might find the area clean and neat for their reception, and that their valuable clothes and beautiful shirts might not contract injury from its being dirty. His board shone with vessels of gold and silver, and abounded with rich dishes and precious liquors, so that whatever objects of consumption, either for eating or drinking, were recommended by their rarity, no price was great enough to deter his agents from purchasing them.”

Osten he had the additional expense of entertaining royalty; and as these occasions were sometimes unexpected, he held himself obliged, no doubt, to display the same pomp at ordinary meals:—

“Occasionally the king came to the Chancellor's house to dinner, sometimes for the pleasure only, at other times from curiosity, to see whether what fame said of his table and

establishment was true. The king sometimes rode on horseback into the hall where the Chancellor was sitting at table, with an arrow in his hand, as on his return from hunting, or on his way to the sorest: sometimes he would drink a cup of wine, and, when he had seen the Chancellor, take his departure; at other times he would jump over the table, sit down and eat with him. Never were there two men more friendly, or on better terms with one another since Christianity first began.”

But most expensive of all were his military expeditions, in which he proved himself a sturdy member of the church militant. Thus one that knew him well, Roger of Pontigny, assures us:

“Afterwards, in the war between the French king and his own master, the king of England, "when the armies were assembled in March, at the common boundaries of their territories, between Gisors, Trie and Courcelles, the Chancellor, besides the seven hundred knights of his own household, maintained twelve hundred other stipendiary knights, and four thousand serving-men, for the space of forty days. To every knight were assigned three shillings per day of the Chancellor's money towards their horses and esquires, and the knights themselves all dined at the Chancellor's table. One day, though he was a clerk, he charged with lance in rest and horse at full speed against Engelram at Trie, a valiant French knight, who was advancing towards him, and having unhorsed the rider, carried off his horse in triumph. Indeed, the Chancellor's knights were every where foremost in the whole English army, doing more valiant deeds than any of the others, and every where distinguishing themselves; for he himself was always at their head, encouraging them and pointing out the path to glory: he gave the signal for his men to advance or retreat, on one of those slender trumpets which were pe. culiar to his band, but which were well known to all the rest of the army around.”

[blocks in formation]

hers, which leave no room to doubt that

ecket's table was rich, and even luxurious, not only whilst he was chancellor, but even after his promotion to the archbishopric of Canterbury; but it is also admitted by all, that he partook but frugally of what was set before him, and even if this was not the fact, we should not infer that he was addicted to the pleasures of the table from the anecdote above mentioned, which merely tends to show that he was anxious to display his magnificence and riches in the eyes of the French people.”

Did this churchman never once call to mind that such lavish waste was robbing of the poor 7 that to them belonged the revenues of his endless preferments, after a bare allowance for necessary wants? Well may Lingard say, that at this period he had yet to learn the self-denying virtues of the Christian character.

The surprise of all England was unbounded when, in 1162, it was known that Becket was raised to the primacy. For a time most people refused to believe in the possibility of so astounding a metamorphosis. The Bishop of Hereford exclaimed, Who can now say that miracles have ceased; seeing that a soldier is transferred into a priest, —a layman into an archbishop But it is easy to perceive that Henry had good reasons for this promotion. As chancellor, Becket had uniformly supported his claims to the revenues of the vacant sees and other dignities, and why should not the same man, when archbishop and chancellor too, persewere in the same line of conduct? To understand the great subject of controversy between the Church and the Crown, it is necessary to advert to some transactions during the preceding reigns,—the more necessary as neither Dr. Giles nor our general historians (with one or two little known exceptions,) have attempted to do justice to the subject. If what follows be grave, it will perhaps be found instructive; certainly it is an indispensable key to Becket's character and position.

Though William the Norman had now and then kept dignities vacant that he might enjoy the revenues, he had seldom done so longer than a year; and his violation of the canons sinks into insignificance when compared with that of Rufus, his successor. In ancient and purer times, the temporalities of a vacant bishopric or abbacy had

been administered by order of some bishop

or even the metropolitan; and the revenues (of which a strict account was always kept) paid over to the successor immediately after his appointment. Subsequently, when a clergyman was nominated for the same purpose expressly by the crown, he was regarded, not as the royal servant, but as steward for the next dignitary. But it was soon found to be as easy as it was profitable to maintain the clergyman in the post for years together. Rufus seems to have been the first, openly and unblushingly, to effect this kind of spoliation; and he is said to have learned the lesson from Flambard, his unscrupulous justiciary. It was not difficult to give something like a reason for such an outrage. In regard to their temporalities, it was alleged, all prelacies were as much fiefs of the crown as those held by the secular barons. On the demise of a feudatory, the fief had necessarily, and from time immemorial, reverted to the original donor, and was never regranted to the heir without the payment of a heavy sum by way of relief. In countries where the law was not subject to the caprice of a despot, the relief was fixed and permanent—being rated according to the value of the fief; but in England the head of the state soon learned to exact far beyond the amount sanctioned by custom. The same rule was applied by Rufus to the dignities of the church. On every vacancy, the administration of each was placed in the hands of a royal officer; the revenues were paid into the royal exchequer; and to the monks or chapter, a portion was left barely sufficient for their more pressing wants. Nor was this all : sometimes (from the time of Rufus, indeed generally) the lands of the prelacy, with the rights, revenues, and feudal prestations connected with them, were sold to the highest bidder—frequently by auction; and as the purchaser knew not how long he might be permitted to farm the property, his interest was to make the most he could of his bargain before a successor were nominated. This state of things will give us some idea of the exactions to which the sub-tenants (the yeomen, farmers, and tillers of the ground) were subjected. Often they were wholly ruined, and were compelled to beg their bread from the charity of their neighbors. As a natural consequence, when such vacations were long (and they were mostly from four to ten years), the buildings, whether churches, monasteries, colleges, farm-houses, or cottages, were sure to be dilapidated. Here then we see the true reason why the poor (the farmers and laborers) suffered with the church. The church was literally their patrimony; and if it was oppressed, they felt the iron hand of power as keenly as any monk or canon. When, at length, a successor was appointed, and was compelled to purchase the prelacy, (even Flambard, the notorious adviser of the measure, was forced to pay a thousand marks for the see of Durham,) he entered on the administration of the temporalities, too poor either to relieve the sub-tenants, or to restore the half-ruinous buildings. Another subject of contention, equally sore, was the dispute between the church and the royal justiciaries as to the extent of the two jurisdictions. During the middle ages, and indeed from the foundation of the Germanic states, punishments, even that for murder, were commuted for pecuniary fines, which fines enriched the court where the causes were decided. Under the most favorable circumstances (viz. where justice was administered according to right, and without bribery) such courts were a source of great profit both to the church and to the royal exchequer; and both were naturally anxious to extend their respective jurisdictions. If this were the place for the inquiry, we could easily show by what gradations the church had obtained so large a share in the judicial functions of the state: but we can do no more than hastily glance at the more prominent steps of that progress. From the earliest ages of the church, Christians had been enjoined to settle their disputes among themselves, without appealing to the pagan tribunals. By Constantine and his successors, bishops were appointed the arbitrators of differences in their respective dioceses, and the imperial officers were commanded to execute their decrees. But, for some time the regulation appears to have been confined to cases where one of the parties in the suit was an ecclesiastic; though there is equal reason to infer that where both were laymen, they might, if they chose, have had the benefit of a spiritual instead of a temporal judge. It is certain that Theodosius, when both were laymen, allowed the cause to pass into the ecclesiastical courts on the demand of either plaintiff or defendant. This important constitution was adopted by Charlemagne, and obeyed by all the people submitted to his sceptre. In England there does not seem to have been any recognized distinction be

tween the functions of the two species of judicature. We know that in the AngloSaxon times the bishop sat with the earl in the shire courts, and had a voice in the judgment pronounced, no matter what the nature of the suit, or who were the parties. But the Norman Conqueror separated the two jurisdictions, and the “Courts Christian,” presided over by the bishop or his archdeacon, took cognizance of all causes where ecclesiastics were concerned, or where certain questions were at stake. As under the term churchmen, many thousands were included, who, in the proper sense of the word were not clergymen, and never intended to be so—who were not even in minor orders, and who received the tonsure only that they might hold benefices, and perform the duties by deputy, it is evident that a large portion of the community were consessedly subject to the ecclesiastical tribunals. Whether plaintiffs or defendants, they owed obedience to no other authority; and as their disputes were generally with laymen, they dragged the latter into their own courts. Again: where both the partics to a suit were laymen, it was often regarded as within the domain of the church; for it might concern tithes, advowsons, public scandal, marriage, wills, perjury, breach of contract, and other questions which a little ingenuity could prove, in some way or other, to be connected with religion. Thirdly, as in the more ancient times, men began to prefer the ecclesiastical judges to the royal or the feudal, and especially after the publication of Gratian's Decretum. Students hastened from all parts of Europe to Bologna, to become thoroughly acquainted with the canon law : on their return they practised in the episcopal courts; and both wealth and preferment followed success. They had, too, another great advantage: the precedents by which they were bound (the canons of councils) were certain, determinate, invariable, the result of the wisdom of ages; while the royal and baronial functionaries were often puzzled by the contradictory spirit of the Anglo-Saxon and the Norman laws, and oftener still by the perishable traditions of the common or unwritten law. Then the fines of these secular courts varied according to caprice or interest. In all cases they were exorbitant enough; and if they could not be paid, mutilation of limb was almost sure to follow. Add to these important grounds of difference, that the royal and feudal judges were not merely ignorant but corrupt; that they sold justice to the highest bidder; that it was inaccessible to the poor; that innocence and guilt, right and wrong, were words without meaning, can we wonder at the superior popularity of the episcopal courts : “Of all the abuses,” observes Mr. Hallam, “which deformed the AngloNorman government, none was so flagitious as the sale of judicial redress. The king, we are often told, is the sountain of justice; but in those ages it was a fountain which gold only could unseal.” Even when bribery was not practised, innumerable were the cases where justice could not be expected. It could not be expected if the king, or his ministers, or his favorites, were concerned directly or indirectly in a suit. It could not be expected in the inferior feudal courts, if the baron, or his kindred, or his retainers, had an interest opposed to it. Can we be surprised that the people should cry out against the conduct of such courts?—that when the king or the barons attempted to draw into them suits which fell within the domain of ecclesiastical jurisprudence, both church and people should complain 7 But while adverting to these obvious distinctions, let us not lose sight of the evils which otherwise attended the ecclesiastical judicature. He whose “kingdom is not of this world” never designed his priests to be judges in such numerous cases, or perhaps in any case. They might gratuitously reconcile disputants, for their mission is Peace; but they were never expected to heap up wealth by mere offices of charity. It was never intended that their minds should be distracted from their proper calling, or that they should be absorbed by a worldly spirit. Besides the penalties they inflicted were, in many cases, glaringly inadequate to the offence. They could not sit in judgments of blood; no matter what the crime, they could neither condemn to death nor mutilate; and though they had power to flagellate, they more frequently imprisoned, or accepted a pecuniary compensation. In that lawless period, many clergymen (the reader is requested not to overlook the extensive meaning of the term) were guilty of great crimes—murder, seduction of females, robbery, &c. Would suspension, or a fine, or imprisonment, or all three, be a sufficient punishment for such offences? Every body, in the present day, will answer, “No 1"—every body, too, will agree that such leniency was a direct encouragement to crime.

The preceding rapid summary will afford us something like a key to the secret motives which swayed Henry and Becket in their contests with each other. Though both were wrong—the former in despoiling the church and the poor, and in perpetuating a system of judicial corruption, and the latter in contending for clerical privileges at variance with the interests of society— it is easy to perceive that their fault was far from equal. Indeed, the term is wholly inapplicable to Becket, who, however injurious, in some respects, those privileges might be, was bound by oath to maintain them. They were founded on the canons; the canons were as obligatory on him as modern laws are on us; and he could not disobey them without treason to the church and rebellion to his spiritual chief. Whatever is faulty in them, must be imputed, not to him, but to the system which he was req i red to administer.

In contemplating the character of Becket, we are apt to confound it at two very different periods, before and after his elevation to the primacy. It is certain, that during his chancellorship he was full of pride, and much addicted to pleasure. It is equally certain that after his assumption of the episcopal function, he became a new man. This is acknowledged by all his biographers, and by all the writers of the age. Was his conversion sincere? If his character had remained unchanged—if the world were still all in all to him—he would surely have forborne to offend a master who, when obeyed, was always generous. There was no reason why he should resign the chancellorship, if he aimed at power and wealth. He was expected to fill both dignities, which would have rendered him more wealthy and more powerful than many kings. Many primates before him had also been chancellors. His resignation of the latter office could have been dictated only by a sense of the responsibility he should incur if he continued in it, and served the king's rapacity as he had before done. While a servant of Henry, he might have silenced the voice of conscience by the reflection (a very false one, however) that, as a servant, his first duty was obedience,—that the crown, not himself, was responsible for the acts which he disapproved. But as the head of the English church, he could not consent to their perpetration without the ruin of that church, or without bringing on himself the resentment of Christendom. Of his change in

« VorigeDoorgaan »