Part 4 out of 11
Champagne; Stephen, Count de Mortagne, whom the King married to Matilda,
heiress, of Boulogne, the niece of good Queen Maude, and Henry, whom he
made Bishop of Winchester.
Henry was persuaded to marry again, and his queen was the beautiful and
gracious Alice of Louvaine, a fair young girl of eighteen. His daughter
Maude returned from Germany in 1125; but there were strange stories that
her husband, the Emperor, was not dead, but had fled in secret from his
court, to dwell as a hermit in penance for his crimes. His funeral had,
however, been performed with full solemnity. King Henry regarded her as
in truth a widow, and was very anxious to bestow her a second time in
marriage. He caused his vassals to take an oath of fealty to her as
his heiress, and foremost in making this promise were David, King of
Scotland--as Earl of Huntingdon, in right of his wife, Waltheof's
daughter--and Stephen de Blois, Count de Mortagne and Boulogne; while
Henry engaged at the same time that she should not be married without
the consent of the Barons.
Very soon, however, he broke his word, with the desire of conciliating
those troublesome neighbors of Normandy, the counts of Anjou. Foulques
V. showed himself so much inclined to befriend the son of Robert, that
Henry resolved to attach him to his own party, and proposed to him to
give Maude to his son Geoffrey, whom he desired should be sent at
once to Rouen, that he might see him, and confer on him the order of
Young Geoffrey was only fifteen, but, unlike his ancestors, was very
tall, and had also inherited the beauty and grace of his grandmother
Bertrade. King Henry was delighted with him, and after examining him
closely on all the rules of chivalry, as well as on other points, to
which Geoffrey replied with much acuteness, showing himself a good
scholar even in Latin, resolved to make him his son-in-law. His
knighthood was conferred with the greatest splendor and all the
formalities of the time. The first day he entered the bath, the emblem
of purity, and then was arrayed in fine linen, a robe woven with gold,
and a purple mantle. A Spanish horse was presented to him, and he was
armed in polished steel, and with a helmet covered with precious stones;
his gilded spurs were buckled on, and his sword and lance given to him.
He sprung on horseback without putting his foot in the stirrup, and six
days were spent in jousting with twenty-nine young nobles, who were
knighted at the same time. At the close of the tourney, Henry conferred
on him the accolade, or sword-blow, which was the chief part of the
Henry had great difficulty in making his daughter consent to the
marriage. Whether she believed her husband to be alive, or whether it
was from pride, or dislike to take so mere a boy as her bridegroom, her
resistance was long; and it was not till 1127 that she was brought by
her father to Mans, where the wedding took place, just before Geoffrey's
father departed for Palestine.
Maude was proud and disdainful, and treated her young husband in the
most contemptuous way; and Geoffrey avoided her in return, spending most
of his time in hunting in the woods, where he used to wear the spray of
broom that became the cognizance of his house, and caused their surname
of Plantagenet. Perhaps it was in contrast to his wife's haughtiness
that he chose to adopt this plant, considered as the emblem of humility,
and reminding her that she had married the descendant of the woodman
Geoffrey seems to have been of a gay, lively temper, associating freely
with all who came in his way, and often doing kind actions. Once, as on
Christmas-day he was entering the Church of St. Julian at Mans, he met a
poor priest, meanly clad.
"What tidings?" said the Count.
"Glad tidings," returned the priest.
"What are they?"
"'To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given,'" the clerk made answer;
and Geoffrey was so struck with his appropriate manner, that he gave him
a valuable canonry.
Geoffrey was hunting in a forest, when he lost his way, and was
benighted; and, meeting a charcoal-burner, asked the road to Loches. The
man offered to become his guide, and accordingly the Count took him up
on his horse, talking gayly, and asking what people said of the Count.
The peasant answered that the Count himself was said to be friendly and
free-spoken, but his provost committed terrible exactions, of which he
gave a full account. Geoffrey listened, and in the morning rode into
the town of Loches with the charcoal-burner still _en croupe_ (if his
haughty empress was there, he must have enjoyed provoking her), and
there he summoned all his provosts, himself examined their accounts, put
an end to their exactions, and ended by making the charcoal-burner a
free man instead of a serf.
There is a report that Maude's first husband came to Angers in his
penance-garb, and on his death-bed told his confessor who he was; that
the confessor fetched the empress; and that she attended him in secret
till his death; but the truth of this tale is very uncertain. Maude had
been six years married to Geoffrey when her first child was born, Henry,
called by the Normans Fitz-Empress.
This event in some degree cheered the latter years of his grandfather,
King Henry, whose sin had found him out, in bitter remorse and fearful
dreams. Nobles, peasants, and clergy seemed in turn to be standing round
his bed, calling him to account for his misdeeds toward them. Many other
victims of his ambition might have been conjured up by his remorse--such
as the citizen of Rouen, spared by Robert, whom Henry threw from the top
of a high tower, whither he had treacherously invited him; the Norman
barons, with whom he had broken his faith; his gallant, generous
brother, so cruelly betrayed and imprisoned; his persecuted nephew,
William Clito; the unhappy troubadour, Lucas de Barre, whom he had
blinded, for writing a satire on him, and who dashed out his brains
in despair on the prison wall; and--almost the worst of all--the poor
children of his illegitimate daughter Juliana, left to the ferocious
revenge of Raoul de Harenc, by whom their eyes were put out and their
noses cut off. With such recollections as these to haunt his later
years, no wonder Henry's nights were times of agony and wakefulness.
He tried to lose the thought of these horrors in activity, and was
constantly passing between England and Normandy. It was in the latter
country that he made his fatal supper of lampreys, after he had been
fatigued with hunting all day. A violent fever came on at night, and he
died on the 1st of December, 1135.
The court of Scotland presented a far different scene. David, the
youngest of the children of St. Margaret, inherited the crown in 1124,
on the death of his brother Alexander, and was treading in the same
course as his mother, his sister Maude, and his brethren. He belonged,
indeed, to a family of saints, and brought piety, firmness, cultivation,
and a merciful temper to improve his rugged country. He was a brave
warrior: but he loved the arts of peace, and one of his favorite
amusements was gardening, budding and grafting trees.
He administered strict justice, but shed tears as he ordered an
execution; and was so tender-hearted and ready to hear the poor, that he
would take his foot out of the stirrup when just ready for the chase, to
listen to the humblest complaint. Though lively and social in temper, he
spent some hours every evening alone, in prayer and meditation.
His wife was Matilda, daughter of that Earl Waltheof who was executed by
William I. She had previously been married to a Norman knight, Simon de
St. Liz, who died on pilgrimage, leaving her with two sons, Simon and
Waltheof. Two sons were likewise born to David; but the eldest was
killed in his infancy by an accident: and shortly after David took home
as a companion to the little Henry, Aelred, the son of a Saxon priest at
These four boys were brought up "in the nurture of good learning," and
in godliness; but their different tempers soon showed themselves. Simon,
the little Earl of Northampton, while a child, was always playing at
building castles, and bestriding the "truncheon of a spear," as a
war-horse. Waltheof was a builder, too, but his were churches, and his
delight was in making the sign of the Cross and singing chants. It was
still the same as they grew older; Waltheof ever drew more apart, and
spent more time in reading and prayer. His stepfather, the King, would
take him to the chase, and tell him to bear his bow; but he often
found his bow in the hands of another, and, after a search, discovered
Waltheof reading or praying in a secret glade, or under a tree. "Your
boy," he said to the Queen, "will either die young, or leave us for the
Aelred was Waltheof's chief friend; but, though very pious, he was more
of a scholar, and read both romances of King Arthur and such works
of Cicero as had found their way to Scotland. He was lively in
conversation; David was fond of him, and used to tell him stories of his
own younger days; and Aelred became the loving chronicler of this happy
Prince Henry had the same holy temper, coupled with a bold spirit, that
was needed by the heir of Scotland, and showed himself full of the noble
qualities of his father and uncles. He was the true knight of the party,
as bold as a lion, yet as strict and devout as a monk, even in the camp.
Simon was no more than a rough, bold, tyrannical earl, and soon took up
his abode in England.
Ere long Aelred became a monk, and Waltheof was not slow in following
his example. Both entered the Cistercian order, and led holy lives,
avoiding all preferment--a difficult matter for Waltheof, stepson to one
king and cousin to another. His brother Simon took such offence at his
lowliness, that he actually threatened to burn down the convent of
Waldon, where Waltheof was living, because he thought it shame to see a
descendant of Siward a common monk in a poor monastery.
However, in time, promotion was thrust on them. Aelred became Abbot of
Rivaux, and Waltheof Abbot of Melrose.
Of the King and his son, more will be said in the next chapter.
THE BATTLE OF THE STANDARD.
_King of England.
1137. Louis VII.
_King of Scotland_.
1124. David I.
_Kings of France_.
1107. Louis VI.
_Emperors of Germany_.
1125. Lothar II.
1138. Konrad II.
Earl Egbert of Gloucester was the son of Henry Beauclerc and of a
beautiful Welsh princess named Nesta, who had fallen into his hands in
the course of the war which he maintained for his brother William Rufus,
on the borders of Wales. Henry was much attached to the boy, and gave
him a princely education, by which he profited so as to become not only
learned, but of a far purer and more chivalrous character than was often
to be found among the great men of his time.
Henry I. provided for him, by giving to him the hand of the Lady Amabel
Fitzaymon, heiress of Glamorgan, and a ward at the disposal of the
crown, in whose right he became Earl of Gloucester.
Robert and his cousin, Stephen de Blois, both attended the death-bed of
Henry I., and heard his dying words: "I leave to my children whatever I
have gained. Let them do justice to those I have injured."
No sooner had the King expired, than Stephen set off for England, where
he was already very popular, partly on account of his courteous manners
and goodly person, partly for the sake of his wife, Matilda of Boulogne,
who was treading in the steps of her aunt, the good Queen Maude. He
landed at Dover in the midst of a frightful thunder-storm, and though he
found that city and Canterbury closed against him, he met with a joyful
reception in London and Winchester. He bribed Hugh Bigod, the late
King's seneschal, to swear that Henry had on his deathbed disinherited
Maude, and left the kingdom to him; and the Archbishop, William de
Corboil, was credulous enough to believe the tale, and crown the
usurper; but discovery of the falsehood hastened the old man's death.
While this was passing, Robert of Gloucester was conducting the funeral
of his father; causing his body to be _salted_, instead of embalmed, and
bringing it to England to be buried at Reading, an abbey that Henry had
built and endowed for his burial-place. It is now completely ruined, and
few vestiges remain to show what the buildings were, far less any trace
of the tomb of the scholarly and cruel son of the Conqueror.
The Empress Maude was at the same time attending her husband, Geoffrey
Plantagenet, in a dangerous illness; and thus Stephen was enabled
to obtain possession of both England and Normandy, and received
the submission of all the nobles. The Earl of Gloucester, thinking
resistance vain, took the oath of fealty; reserving, however, the right
of recalling it if any injury was offered to him or to his property.
The next year Geoffrey de Bel raised an army, and entered Normandy; but
was met there by Stephen, wounded, and forced to retreat, leaving only
a few castles still holding out for the Empress. Stephen was besieging
that of Bertran, with an army composed partly of Normans and partly of
natives of his wife's county of Boulogne, when, while he was taking
his mid-day sleep, a quarrel arose between the two brothers. Waking in
haste, and alarmed for his Boulognais, he took part against the Normans,
calling out, "Down with the traitors!" The Normans were greatly
offended, and, having retired to their tents, they held a council
together, and ended by making him the following plain-spoken address:
"Sir, a folly is better ended than continued. By ill advice, we took you
for our lord for a little while. If you blame us for it, you will not be
wrong. You have beaten our men, and called us traitors. Certes, we were
traitors when we left our rightful lady for a stranger. We have held
with you against our lady the Empress, and we repent, for we have sinned
against God and man: but we will no longer continue in the sin; and
therefore we bid you mount, and leave this host, for we will not suffer
you to remain in this country, unless it be the will of our lady the
Stephen begged them to let him remain till the next day but they swore
that, if he did, it should be the worse for him, and immediately
escorted him beyond the bounds of Normandy. They then brought back
Maude, with her husband and children; and the dukedom continued in the
hands of Geoffrey as long as he lived.
At the same time David, King of Scotland, recollecting the oath to
Maude, which he and Stephen had together sworn, took up arms in her
cause, and invaded England, forcing the inhabitants to take the oath
of allegiance. His troops were a fearfully wild, untamed race,
undisciplined and cruel, and it was a dreadful thing to let loose such
a host of savage marauders without any possibility of restraining them.
The Galwegians, Picts by race, were the worst; but the Highlanders and
Borderers were also dreadfully cruel: and the English armed to protect
themselves against the inroad of their ancient foes.
The clergy of the North even deemed it a sacred war, and, by the
authority of Thurstan, Archbishop of York, gathered their flocks, and
came, each priest at the head of his parishioners, to the place of
assembly at York, where three days were spent in prayer and fasting; and
then the old Archbishop administered to them an oath never to desert
each other, and dismissed them with his blessing. Raoul, Bishop of
Durham, was deputed by him to take the lead, and to have the charge of
the consecrated standards of St. Cuthbert of Durham, St. Peter of York,
St. John of Beverley, and St. Wilfred of Ripon. These were all suspended
from one pole, like the mast of a vessel, surmounted by a cross, in the
centre of which was fixed a silver casket, containing the consecrated
wafer of the Holy Sacrament. The pole was fixed into a four-wheeled car,
on which the Bishop stood. Such cars were much used in Italy, where
each city had its own consecrated Gonfalone, on its caroccio, hung with
scarlet cloth and drawn by oxen. The English collected under this sacred
standard were the stout peasants of the North, the bowmen of Yorkshire
and Nottinghamshire; each with a bow of his own height, and a sheaf of
arrows two cubits long; and there were also many barons of Norman birth,
of whom Walter L'Espee was the leader. Some of these barons held their
lands under David of Scotland, as Earl of Cumberland, and two of them,
Bernard Baliol and Robert Bruce, the last an old friend of the King,
went to the Scottish camp, to remonstrate with him. Bruce begged him to
retreat, described the horrors committed by his wild Scots, told him of
the strength of the English force, and ended by declaring with tears
that it would now become his duty to renounce his allegiance, and array
himself against his beloved prince. Good King David shed tears, but
William Macdonochie, the fierce lord of Galloway, burst out with the
exclamation, "Bruce, thou art a false traitor!" and the insulted baron
renounced all he held in Scotland, gave up his allegiance, and rode back
to the English army, at Northampton, bringing tidings that the Scots
The host arrayed itself around their car, where the sacred standard
waved above their head, and the Bishop of Durham addressed them from
beneath it, reminding them of former victories. Walter L'Espee was
the first to respond. Grasping the hand of the Earl of Albemarle, he
exclaimed, "I pledge thee my troth that to-day I will overcome the
Scots, or die!" "So swear we all," cried the other barons; and the
whole host knelt down, the Bishop pronounced over them the words of
absolution, they replied with one mighty sound of united voices, "Amen!"
and arose. The knights and squires sat with gathered reins and knees in
rest, the yeomen stood each with his good yew bow ready strung, awaiting
Less union was there in the hostile army, where it might be said that
there was no authority, for David was unable to restrain his wild
subjects from the North and West. The men of Galloway insisted on
beginning the attack; but as they wore no defensive armor, and had no
weapons but long, thin pikes, besides being more fierce than steady,
the king hesitated. "Why trust to a plate of steel or rings of iron?"
exclaimed Malise of Strathern. "I, who wear no armor, will go as far as
any one with breastplate of mail." "You brag of what you dare not do!"
said the Norman Alan de Percy. But the King found himself obliged to
yield the precedence to the Galwegians, trusting far more to the lowland
knights and men-at-arms, whom he arrayed under his gallant son, Prince
Henry, while he himself commanded the reserve of Northern Scots.
The fierce Kelts of Galloway, guided by a tall spear, wreathed with
heather blossom, and shouting, "Albin! Albin!" with harsh, dissonant
cries like the roar of a tempest, fell headlong on the English ranks,
and at first their fury carried them on so that they burst through them
as if they had been a spider's web. But the Norman chivalry round the
standard stood firm, and hewed down the undefended Galwegians, nor could
the long claymores of the Highland clans, who next attacked them, break
through their steel armor. The charge of Prince Henry's horsemen had
more effect, and at one time the youth had almost won his way to the
standard, when some traitor in the rear raised a bloody head on the
point of a lance, shouting that the King was slain. In consternation the
Scots gave back; the English saw their advantage, and pressed upon them:
and though David rode forward and displayed the dragon standard which
marked his presence (inherited from the Saxon kings), he could not rally
them, and but just succeeded in protecting their flight to Carlisle,
which then belonged to him as Earl of Cumberland.
This first of the long series of Scottish defeats was called the Battle
of the Standard, from the banner of St. Cuthbert, which was always
thought to bring success. It came forth at the battle of Nevil's Cross,
and was again victorious, and it was preserved with great reverence till
the Reformation, when, in 1549, Catherine Whittingham, the wife of the
Dean of Durham, burnt it, out of zeal against Popery. It is some comfort
that she was a Frenchwoman.
Stephen had left his Northern subjects to take care of themselves,
because he was full of perplexities in the South. He had tried to please
all parties, and by no means succeeded. He was a humane, kind-hearted
man, and really wished to befriend the unfortunate Saxons; but, on the
other hand, he was afraid to affront their Norman oppressors, whom he
had allowed to build castles, and strengthen themselves in the very way
which it had been Henry Beauclerc's policy to prevent. Almost every
spot where green mounds and blocks of massive masonry remain within an
ancient moat, is said by tradition to have been "a castle in Stephen's
time," and we wonder, considering that he reigned but nine years, how
such immense works could have been effected. Dens of thieves they seem
to have been, and misery and destruction reigned round them; while the
least attempt on the King's part to restrain the ferocity of their
owners was requited by a threat of bringing in our lady the Empress.
Her party became continually stronger, and Stephen, living in constant
mistrust, added to it by offending several Bishops, even his own
brother, Henry de Blois, by trying, to deprive them of their fortified
castles. Next he made an attack on the Earl of Gloucester, who, being
thus freed from his engagement to keep the peace, after repulsing
Stephen, went to Normandy to fetch the Empress, and inform her that this
was the time for establishing her right.
Maude, gladly accepted his invitation, but her husband Geoffrey seems to
have been glad to be rid of her ungracious company, and chose to remain
in Anjou. She landed in safety, for Stephen was at this time extremely
ill, and her brother placed her in Arundel Castle, which belonged to her
father's widow, Queen Alice, lately married to William de Albini, the
ancestor of the noble line of Howard. Here Maude remained, while her
brother went to his own estates to raise troops; but in the meantime
Stephen recovered, and advanced on Arundel Castle. Queen Alice sent to
tell him that her stepdaughter had come to seek her protection, and beg
him not to make her do anything disloyal; and Stephen, who had many of
the qualities of a courteous knight, forbore to make any personal attack
on the ladies, but allowed the Empress to depart unmolested to meet Earl
He brought her to his castle at Bristol, where she remained two years,
while the warfare was carried on in a desultory manner, chiefly by the
siege of castles. At last Stephen laid siege to Lincoln, where Robert's
daughter was, with her husband Ralf, Earl of Chester. Her father came to
her relief with an army of 10,000 men. Stephen was advised to retreat;
but he thought his honor concerned, and gave battle. His forces were
soon overwhelmed; but he fought on desperately at the foot of his
standard, so fiercely that no one dared to approach him, though his
sword and battle-axe were both broken. At last a stone brought him to
the ground, and a knight, named William Kames, grappled with him and
held him fast; but even then he refused to yield the fragment of his
sword to any but the Earl of Gloucester, who came up at the moment and
prevented any further violence.
Stephen was given into the keeping of Countess Amabel, and Maude was
conducted in state to Winchester, where Stephen's own brother, the
Bishop, proclaimed her Queen, standing on the steps of the altar. Her
uncle, King David, came to visit her, and she held her court with great
splendor. It was here that she disgusted every one by her disdainful
manners, and treated her cousin, Stephen's queen, with such harshness as
to drive her to take up arms again. London had always been favorable to
Stephen, and two months of negotiation were necessary before David
and Robert could prevail on the citizens to receive her. At midsummer,
however, they consented to admit her, and she came to Westminster; but
as soon as a deputation of citizens were in her presence, she showed
her pride and hostile spirit. They asked for charters; she replied by
ordering them to bring money, and telling them they were very bold to
talk of their privileges, when they had just been aiding her enemies.
Robert made speeches to try to soften matters, and David reasoned with
her in vain, till she was convinced of her folly in a way for which he
was little prepared. It is said that she actually flew at him and
struck him; and if she could thus treat a royal uncle, how must not men
inferior in rank have sped?
It was noon, and the deputies went home, as Maude thought, to dinner;
but presently all the bells began to ring, and burghers, armed with bows
and bills, began to swarm in the streets. The followers of the Empress
were too few to resist; so, after a brief council, David galloped off
to the North, and Robert rode with his sister to Oxford, while the
Londoners opened their gates to Matilda, Stephen's wife, and her son
Robert went to raise more forces, and Maude, hearing that Bishop Henry
de Blois was conferring with his sister-in-law, sharply summoned him to
her presence. He quietly made answer, "_Parabo me_"--I prepare myself;
and Maude, in a passion, set out, intending to surprise him at
Wolvesley, his palace at Winchester. She found it well fortified, and
laid siege to it from the castle at Winchester, where she was joined by
her uncle and brother; and the town was in a miserable state, burnt by
both parties in turn. Twenty churches and two convents were destroyed,
and the Bishop took Knut's crown out of the Cathedral--to save it from
the enemy, as was said, but it was never seen again. At last Eustace de
Blois and his mother brought such a force that the Empress was besieged
in her turn, and completely starved out. Her garrison resolved to break
through the enemy at all risks, and on Sunday they set forth, Maude
riding first with her uncle David, and Robert following with a band of
knights, under a vow to die rather than let her be taken.
At Stourbridge the pursuers came up with them, many of the knights fell,
and Robert was captured. So closely were the royal fugitives pursued,
that David at one time was in the enemy's hands, and only escaped by the
stratagem of his godson, David Olifant. Maude and one faithful knight,
by the speed of their horses, reached Devizes, whence she was carried in
a coffin to Gloucester.
Maude could not make up her mind to release her foe, Stephen, even for
the sake of recovering her brother; but the Countess of Gloucester,
considering the King as her own property, acted for herself, and
exchanged him for her husband. Queen Matilda tried to make Robert
promise to bring about peace, to secure England to Stephen, and Normandy
to Maude; but he would make no engagements which he knew she would not
observe, and matters continued in the same state.
THE SNOWS OF OXFORD.
_King of England_.
_Kings of Scotland_.
1124. David I.
1153. Malcolm V.
_King of France_.
1137. Louis VII.
_Emperor Of Germany_.
1139. Konrad II.
1130. Innocent II.
1143. Celestine II.
1144. Lucius II.
1145. Anastasius II.
1154. Adrian IV.
On the 1st of November, 1138, Stephen was set at liberty, and Robert of
Gloucester, being exchanged for him, rejoined his sister the Empress at
Gloucester; and during this time of quiet her fierce nature seems to
have somewhat softened.
Stephen, meanwhile, had one of his terrible attacks of illness, in which
he lay for hours, if not days, in a death-like lethargy, and, of course,
his followers did nothing but build castles whenever the frost would let
them work, prey on their neighbors, and make the state of the country
far worse than it had been under any of the Normans of hated memory.
Maude's domain was in better order, as Robert's rule was modelled on
that of his father's, in its best points. It is wonderful that Robert,
whose mother was a princess by birth, and had been treated as a wife
till the Etheling marriage had become a matter of policy, should have
put forward no pretensions to the crown, but have uniformly given his
staunch support to his proud and ungrateful sister. In a council held at
Devizes in the course of the winter, it was decided that he should go
to Normandy to entreat the Count of Anjou to bring succors to his wife.
Geoffrey, however, had no desire to return to her haughty companionship,
and represented that there were still many castles in Normandy
unsubdued. Robert gave efficient aid in taking these; but Geoffrey still
could not persuade himself to meet his wife, though, at Robert's
persuasion, he consented to give into his charge Henry, his eldest son,
a boy of ten years old, with a large body of troops.
Maude had, in the meanwhile, been placed in the strong fortress at
Oxford; but no sooner had Stephen recovered from his illness, than he
collected his army, and marched southward. In the end of September he
besieged her at Oxford, where at first she thought herself safe; but he
crossed the river, set fire to the city in several places, and blockaded
her in the castle.
Her nobles collected at Wallingford, and sent defiances to Stephen to
fight a pitched battle with them; but he knew his own advantage too
well, and took no notice. Earl Robert, landing near Wareham, tried to
create a diversion by besieging that seaport; but he could not draw the
enemy off from Oxford. Famine prevailed in the castle, and, after much
suffering, it became impossible for the garrison to hold out any longer.
The depth of winter had come, the ground was covered with snow, and the
Isis was frozen over. Maude, whose courage never failed, caused herself
and three of her knights to be dressed in white, and let down from the
battlements upon the snow, where they were met by one of Stephen's men,
whom they had gained over, and by him were led, unseen and unheard,
through the camp of the enemy, hearing the call of the sentinels, and
trembling with anxiety. For six miles they crept over the snow, and at
last arrived at Abingdon, nearly frozen, for their garments had been far
too scanty for the piercing weather; but they could not remain a moment
for rest or warmth, but took horse, and never paused till they reached
Wallingford Castle. Thither, so soon as the news reached Earl Robert, he
brought her young son, and her troubles were forgotten in her joy.
Thence she repaired with her son to Bristol Castle, where the boy
remained under the care of a learned tutor named Matthew, who instructed
him under the superintendence of Earl Robert.
This great Earl deserved the name of Beauclerc almost as well as his
father; he was well read, and two histories were dedicated to him,
William of Malmesbury's, and Geoffrey of Monmouth's wonderful chronicle
of the old British kings, whose blood flowed in Robert's veins; that
chronicle--wrought out of queer Welsh stories--that served as a
foundation for Edward's claims on Scotland, and whence came our Lear and
All that knightly training could do for young Henry was done by Earl
Robert, and the boy so far answered to his care as to have that mixture
of scholarliness and high spirit that was inherent in the Norman and
Angevin princes. But the shrewd unscrupulousness and hard selfishness of
the Norman were there, too--the qualities from which noble Gloucester
himself was free. It may be, however, that the good Earl did not see
these less promising characteristics of his ward; for, after five years
of the boy's residence at Bristol, and the old desultory warfare between
the partisans of King and Empress, Count Geoffrey sent for his son, to
take leave of him before going on a crusade; and while Henry was absent,
Earl Robert died, in 1147. It speaks much for Henry Beauclerc's court
that such men should have grown up in it as Robert of Gloucester and
David of Scotland.
Geoffrey, in the meantime, paid a visit to his younger brother, Baldwin
III. of Jerusalem, a very gallant prince. On his return, Maude came back
to him, and after their eight years' absence, they met with affection
they never had shown to one another before. She did not attempt to take
the government of Normandy, but left it wholly in Geoffrey's hands.
Stephen, meanwhile, was unmolested in England till 1149, when Henry
sailed for Scotland, there to be knighted by his uncle, King David;
while, curiously enough, his younger brother Geoffrey was at the very
same time knighted by Stephen's elder brother, Theobald, Count de Blois.
It was a year of grief to that excellent King, who suffered a great
affliction in the death of the chivalrous Henry, his only son, and the
father of a numerous infant family. His barons feared he would sink
under his sorrow, and came to comfort him; but they found him cheerful.
"I ought not to lament my son's being taken away from me," he said,
"since he is gone to enjoy the fellowship of my parents and my brethren,
of whose souls the world was no longer worthy. Should I mourn, it would
be to arraign the goodness and justice of God for removing him to the
mansions of bliss before me. I should rather be thankful, and rejoice
that the Almighty endowed my son with so much grace to behave himself in
a manner to be so beloved and lamented. Soon do I hope to follow, and,
being delivered from temporal miseries, to enjoy a blessed eternity with
the saints in light."
It was shortly after this that Aelred, the good Abbot of Rivaux, came to
Dunfermline, on the affairs of his order; and in the presence of this
holy man, the adopted brother of his beloved Henry, one of the four
promising boys who had gladdened the early days of his reign, the King's
grief broke freely forth, though still it was not the sorrow of one who
had no hope. He told Aelred he saw in this calamity a punishment for the
devastation he had caused in his invasion of England, and would fain
have laid down his royalty, and spent the rest of his days in penitence
in a convent; but he was persuaded to relinquish the design, and guard
the crown for his grandsons. He shed tears as he tenderly embraced
Aelred, and both felt it was their last meeting.
David did not long survive his son. He appointed his eldest grandchild,
Malcolm, to succeed him, and set his affairs in order, redoubling all
his pious and charitable acts. One of the last things he was heard to
say, was, "Lord, I restore Thee the kingdom wherewith Thou didst entrust
me. Put me in possession of that whereof the inhabitants are all kings."
He was soon after found dead, in the attitude of devotion. His body
was buried at Dunfermline, and his name added to the list of Scottish
His grandsons, Malcolm, William, and David, were all good and valiant
Waltheof, his stepson, lived peaceably at Melrose, strict in rule,
gentle in manners, and peculiarly humble in demeanor, and poor in dress.
He once had occasion to meet King Stephen, and rode in among the barons
in their armor, only clad in his coarse serge frock, and mounted, on
an old gray horse. His brother Simon, who stood by the King, was
displeased, and said, "See, my lord, how my brother and thy kinsman does
honor to his lineage." He met with a reply he little expected. "If thou
and I had only the grace to see it," said Stephen, "he is an honor
indeed to us. He adorns our race, as the gem does the gold in which it
is set!" And when he had parted with the meek abbot, Stephen exclaimed,
with tears, "This man has put all worldly things under his feet; but we
are presuming after this fleeting world, and losing both body and soul
in the chase."
This must indeed have, been brought home soon after to Stephen, by the
fate of his wretched son Eustace. This fiery youth had desired to be
crowned in his father's lifetime; but Archbishop Theobald, and all his
suffragans, perceiving that this would prevent the only hope of peace on
Stephen's death, steadily refused, though the King shut them all up in
his hall, and threatened them violently. The next year, when the treaty
was made by which Henry of Anjou was to reign after Stephen, Eustace
was so enraged at finding himself excluded from the succession, that he
rushed off, accompanied by a party of lawless young men, and ravaged all
Cambridgeshire, committing dreadful excesses. It is to be hoped that he
was already under the influence of the brain-fever which came on in a
few days' time, immediately after he had pillaged Bury St. Edmund's, and
of which he died; leaving a belief among the country people, that,
like King Sweyn, he had been struck by the avenging hand of the Saint
himself. His father, King Stephen, only lived a few months after, worn
out by the toils and troubles which he had brought on himself by his own
ambition. His son William, who would have opposed Henry's accession,
was prevented, by breaking his leg by a fall from his horse, and Henry
peaceably gained the throne. His mother, Empress Maude, had in the
meantime retired to Anjou, where she led a quiet life, giving up her
rights to her son, and apparently profiting by the lesson she had been
taught when her prosperity was turned at its full tide by her own pride
Of the boys bred up in the good household of Dunfermline, Aelred was the
last survivor. Waltheof had the happiness, before his death, of seeing
his brother, the proud Earl Simon of Northampton, repent heartily, leave
his evil courses, found churches, and endow the convent of Waldon, which
he had once persecuted for sheltering his brother. Waltheof was elected
to be Bishop of St. Andrews, and Aelred, as head of the Cistercians in
Britain, came to Melrose, to order him, on his canonical obedience, to
accept the see. But Waltheof was weak in health, and knew that another
call had gone forth. He pointed to a stone slab on the floor of the
chapter-house. "There," said he, "is the place of my rest. Here will be
my habitation, among my children."
And in a short time he died, in the year 1159. Aelred lived seven or
eight years longer, and was highly honored and trusted by the young
Malcolm of Scotland. On his behalf the old Abbot undertook a journey,
to treat with the wild men of Galloway, whom Malcolm had three times
defeated in battle, and now wished to bring to terms. He succeeded
in persuading their chief to submit, and even to become a canon at
He afterward attended a chapter of his order at Pavia, and died at
Rivaux, after a long illness, about 1166.
YOUTH OF BECKET.
_King of England_.
1154. Henry II.
_King Of Scotland_.
1153. Malcolm V.
_King of France_.
1137. Louis VII.
_Emperors of Germany_.
1138. Konrad II.
1152. Friedrich II.
1154. Adrian IV.
1159. Alexander III.
Henry of Anjou showed, in his journey to England, both courage and
moderation. He remained there for some little time, and then returned
home to join his father in a war against the Count de Montreuil, who
was befriended by both Pope and King of France. The Pope excommunicated
Geoffrey, but he fought on, and made his enemy prisoner; then, at the
command of the King of France, released him. When the Pope would have
absolved Geoffrey, he refused, saying he had only done justice, and had
not deserved the sentence. A few months after, in 1151, a cold bath,
when he was heated with riding, brought on a fever that caused his
He left his son Henry his county of Anjou, to be resigned to Geoffrey if
he should become King of England, and commanded that his body should not
be interred till Henry had taken an oath to that effect. From this oath
Henry was absolved by Adrian IV, properly Nicholas Brakespeare, the only
English Pope, and stripped his brother of all his possessions. It was
no good omen for his own relations with his sons. His mother lived many
years in retirement, and used her influence chiefly for good. She died
Henry, meantime, had come to the throne in 1154, and was the mightiest
King who had yet reigned in England. More than half France was
his--partly by inheritance, and partly by marriage with Eleanor, heiress
of Aquitaine; and he was quite able to rule his vast dominions. His
alertness and activity were the wonder of every one. He made journeys
with great rapidity, was always busy, and hardly ever sat down. He had
a face like a lion, well-knit limbs, and a hardy temperament. He was
heedless what he ate or wore, and was an embodiment of vehemence and
activity. He threw himself eagerly into the work of reducing to order
the dreadful state of things allowed by Stephen.
Down came the castles--once more the nobles found they had a strong hand
over them--no more dens of robbers were permitted--the King was here,
there, and everywhere. He had English to tame Anglo-Normans, Angevins
to set on French Normans, Poitevins to turn loose on both. He knew what
order was, and kept it; and the counsellor who aided him most must now
Here is the romantic ballad-tale of that counsellor's origin, though it
is much to be feared that the fact cannot be established.
In the reign of Henry I. the citizens of London were amazed by the
sight of a maiden in an Eastern dress, wandering along the streets,
plaintively uttering the word "Gilbert!" Certain seafaring men declared
that she had prevailed on them to take her on board their vessel and
bring her to England, by constantly repeating the name "London!"--the
only other word in the language that she knew.
Poor lady! The mob of London were less compassionate than the sailors
had been. They hooted and hunted her, till she came to Southwark, in
front of a house belonging to Gilbert a Becket, a rich and prosperous
merchant, who, with his faithful serving-man, Richard, had lately
returned from pilgrimage. Richard, who had come out on hearing the
noise, hurried back into the house as soon as he perceived its cause;
then, hastening out again, went up to the poor, persecuted maiden, who
fainted away at the sight of him. He carried her to the house of an
honorable widow lady, desiring her, in his master's name to take care of
the desolate stranger, with whom, on her revival, he held converse in
her own tongue, and seemed to cheer her greatly.
Meanwhile, Gilbert a Becket was on his way to St. Paul's, to consult the
Bishop of London. He related how, in the East, he and his man Richard
had been taken captive by the Saracens, and become slaves to a wealthy
Emir. In the course of their services to their master, Gilbert had
attracted the notice of his daughter, who had more than once asked
him questions about his faith and country, and had at last offered to
contrive his escape, if he would take her for his wife, and bring her to
his own land. Gilbert, who did not trust her, effected his escape with
Richard without her assistance, and returned to England, little thinking
they should ever see her again. But she followed him, leaving her
home, her riches, and her father, and seeking him through his long and
dangerous journey, ignorant of all save his name, and the name of his
Five other prelates were present when he told the story, and one, the
Bishop of Chichester, exclaimed, that Heaven itself most have conducted
the damsel, and advised that Gilbert should at once marry her. The next
day she was brought to St. Paul's, and was there baptized by the name of
Matilda, Richard acting as interpreter; and shortly after the wedding
This romantic story was the origin of several old English ballads, one
of which celebrates the Saracen lady by the extraordinary title of Susy
Pye, perhaps a vulgarism of her original Eastern name.
In the first year of his marriage, Gilbert went on pilgrimage again,
leaving his wife under the care of his man Richard. Soon after his
departure she gave birth to a son, to whom she gave the name of Thomas,
and who was three years old by the time his father returned from the
Holy Land. They afterward had two daughters, named Mary and Agnes, and
lived in great piety and happiness, until the time of Matilda's death,
at the end of twenty-two years.
Thomas received a clerkly education from the Canons of Merton, and
showed such rare ability that his whole family deemed him destined for
great things. He was very tall and handsome, and his aquiline nose,
quick eyes, and long, slender, beautiful hands, accorded with the
story of his Eastern ancestry; and he was very vigorous and athletic,
delighting in the manly sports of the young men of his time. In his
boyhood, while he was out hawking with a knight who used to lodge in
his father's house when he came to London, he was exposed to a serious
danger. They came to a narrow bridge, fit only for foot-passengers, with
a mill-wheel just below. The knight nevertheless rode across the bridge,
and Thomas was following, when his horse, making a false step, fell into
the river. The boy could swim, but would not make for the bank, without
rescuing the hawk, that had shared his fall, and thus was drawn by the
current under the wheel, and in another moment would have been torn to
pieces, had not the miller stopped the machinery, and pulled him out of
the water, more dead than alive.
It seems that it was the practice for wealthy merchants to lodge their
customers when brought to London by business, and thus young Thomas
became known to several persons of high estimation in their several
stations. A rich merchant called Osborn gave him big accounts to keep;
knights noticed his riding, and clerks his learning and religious life.
Some of the clergy of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who were among
those guests, were desirous of presenting him to their master. He at
first held back, but they at length prevailed with him: he became a
member of the Archbishop's household, and, after he had improved himself
in learning, was ordained deacon, and presented with the Archdeaconry of
Canterbury, an office which was then by no means similar to what we
at present call by that name. It really then meant being chief of the
deacons, and involved the being counsellor, and, in a manner, treasurer
to the Bishop of the diocese; and thus, to be Archdeacon of Canterbury,
was the highest ecclesiastical dignity in the kingdom, next to that of
the prelates and great mitred abbots.
Thomas a Becket was a secular clerk, bound by none of the vows of
monastic orders; and therefore, though he led a strictly pure and
self-denying life, he did hot consider himself obliged to abstain from
worldly business or amusements, and in the year 1150 he was appointed
Chancellor by Henry II. He was then in his thirty-eighth year, of great
ability and cultivation, graceful in demeanor, ready of speech, clear in
mind, and his tall frame (reported to have been no less than six feet
two in height) fitting him for martial exercise and bodily exertion. The
King, a youth of little past twenty, delighting in ability wherever he
found it, became much attached to his gallant Chancellor, and not only
sought his advice in the regulation of England after its long troubles,
but, when business was done, they used to play together like two
It must have been a curious scene in the hall of Chancellor Becket,
when, at the daily meal, earls and barons sat round his table, and
knights and nobles crowded, so thickly at the others, that the benches
were not sufficient, and the floor was daily strewn with hay or straw in
winter, or in summer with green boughs, that those who sat on it might
not soil their robes. Gold and silver dishes, and goblets, and the
richest wines, were provided, and the choicest, most costly viands were
purchased at any price by his servants for these entertainments: they
once gave a hundred shillings for a dish of eels. But the Chancellor
seldom touched these delicacies, living on the plainest fare, as he sat
in his place as the host, answering the pledges of his guests, amusing
them with his converse, and providing minstrelsy and sports of all kinds
for their recreation. Often the King would ride into the hall, in the
midst of the gay crowd seated on the floor, throw himself off his horse,
leap over the table, and join in the mirth.
These rich feasts afforded afterward plentiful alms for the poor, who
were never forgotten in the height of Becket's magnificence, and
the widow and the oppressed never failed to find a protector in the
His house was full of young squires and pages, the sons of the nobility,
who placed them there as the best school of knighthood; and among them
was the King's own son Henry, who had been made his pupil.
The King seems to have been apt to laugh at Becket for his strict life
and overflowing charity. One very cold day, as they were riding, they
met an old man in a thin, ragged coat.
"Poor old man!" said Henry, "would it not be a charity to give him a
good, warm cloak?"
"It would, indeed." said Becket: "you had better keep the matter in
"No, no; it is you that shall have the credit of this great act of
charity," said Henry, laughing. "Ha! old man, should you not like this
nice, warm cloak?" and, with those words, he began to pull at the
scarlet and gray mantle which the Chancellor wore. Becket struggled
for it, and in this rough sport they were both nearly pulled off their
horses, till the clasp gave way, and the King triumphantly tossed his
prize to the astonished old man.
The Chancellor was in the habit of daily giving more costly gifts than
these, both to rich and poor; gold and silver, robes and jewels, fine
armor and horses, hawks and hounds--even fine new ships, were bestowed
by him, from the wealth of the old merchant Gilbert, as well as from the
revenues of his archdeaconry, and of several other benefices, which the
lax opinions of his time caused him to think no shame to keep in his own
We cannot call Thomas a Becket by any means a perfect character; but
thoroughly conscientious he must ever have been, and very self-denying,
keeping himself pure from every stain in the midst of the court, and
guarding himself by strict discipline. He was found to be in the habit
of sleeping on the bare boards beside his rich bed, and in secret he
wore sackcloth, and submitted to the lash of penance. His uprightness
and incorruptibility as a judge, his wisdom in administering the affairs
of state, and his skill in restoring peace to England, made the reign of
Henry Plantagenet a relief indeed to his subjects.
In almost every respect he lived like a layman. He hunted and hawked,
and was found fault with by the Prior of Leicester for wearing a cape
with sleeves, which it seems was an unclerical garment. The prior
said it was more unsuitable in one who held so many ecclesiastical
preferments, and was likely to become Archbishop of Canterbury.
To this Thomas answered: "I know three poor priests, each of whom I
would rather see Archbishop than myself. If I had that rank, I know full
well I must either lose the King's favor, or set aside my duty to God."
When Henry went to war with France respecting the inheritance of Eleanor
of Aquitaine, his wife, his Chancellor brought to his aid seven hundred
knights of his own household, besides twelve hundred in his pay, and
four thousand foot soldiers. He fed the knights themselves at his own
table, and paid them each three shillings a day for the support of their
squires and horses; and he himself commanded them, wearing armor, and
riding at their head. He kept them together by the sound of a long,
slender trumpet, such as was then used only by his own band; and in
combat he showed himself strong and dexterous in the use of lance and
sword, winning great admiration and respect even from the enemy.
Henry resolved to come to a treaty, and to seal it by asking the King
of France, Louis le Jeune, to give his daughter Margaret in marriage to
Henry, the heir of England. Becket was sent on this embassy, and the
splendor of his equipment was such as might become its importance.
Two hundred men on horseback, in armor or gay robes, were his immediate
followers, and with them came eight waggons, each drawn by five horses,
a groom walking beside each horse, and a driver and guard to every
waggon, besides a large, fierce dog chained beneath each. The waggons
carried provisions and garments, and furniture for the night: two were
filled with ale for the French, who much admired that English liquor;
another was fitted up as a kitchen, and another for a chapel. There were
twelve sumpter horses carrying small articles, and on the back of each
of these sat a long-tailed ape!
Dogs and hawks, with their attendants, accompanied the procession, the
whole marshalled in regular order, and the men singing as they went;
and the impression on the minds of all beholders was, "If such was the
Chancellor, what must be the King?"
At Paris all these riches were given away, and so resolved was Becket
to keep up his character for munificence, that he did not choose to be
maintained at the expense of the French King; and when Louis, wishing to
force him into being his guest, sent orders to the markets round to sell
nothing to the English Chancellor, his attendants disguised themselves,
and bought up all the provisions in the neighborhood. King Louis
acquired a great esteem and admiration for the Chancellor, and willingly
granted his request, betrothing Margaret, who was only seven years old,
to Prince Henry. She, as well as her little husband, became Becket's
pupils, by desire of King Henry, and she, at least, never seems to have
lost her attachment to him.
The time Becket dreaded came. The good, old, peaceable Archbishop
Theobald died in 1162, and Henry, who was then at Falaise, ordered his
Chancellor to England, ostensibly to settle a disturbance in the western
counties, but in reality, as he declared in a private interview, that he
might be elected to the primacy.
Becket smiled, and, pointing to his gay robes, said, "You are choosing a
pretty dress to figure at the head of your monks of Canterbury. If you
do as you say, my lord, you will soon hate me as much as you love me
now, for you assume an authority in Church affairs to which I shall not
consent, and there will be plenty of persons to stir up strife between
Henry did not heed the warning, and King, Bishops, and the Chapter
of Canterbury unanimously chose Becket as Archbishop, with only one
reluctant voice, that of Gilbert Folliot, Bishop of London, who expected
the same promotion himself. On Whit-Sunday Thomas received priest's
orders, and shortly after was consecrated Bishop by Henry de Blois,
Bishop of Winchester, and brother of King Stephen. John of Salisbury, a
priest of Becket's household, and his intimate friend, was sent to Rome
to ask for the pallium; and, bringing it home, laid it on the altar of
Canterbury Cathedral, whence the Archbishop took it up.
The magnificent Archdeacon was expected by King Henry to lead the same
life when Archbishop, and thus to secularize the Church. But Henry had
mistaken his man. Clever and clear-sighted as the King was, seven years
of transacting business together, and of familiar intercourse with the
frank-hearted, free-spoken Thomas a Becket, had failed to make him
conscious of the inner life and deep devotion, the mortification and
uncompromising sense of duty, that was the true spring of his actions.
It was no secret; Becket avowed it from the first; the King only did not
see it, because he _could_ not understand it.
Becket had too high an idea of the office of a bishop to unite the care
of state affairs with it, and he at once resigned the chancellorship.
Outwardly there was not much difference--he still kept a magnificent
table, and entertained nobles and knights at his banquets; but his
self-discipline was secretly carried to a far greater extent than
before. He touched the wine-cup with his lips, to do honor to his
guests, but his drink was water in which hay had been boiled; and though
costly meats were placed before him, he hardly tasted them, and his
chief food was bread. He doubled all the gifts that Archbishop Theobald
had been wont to make to the poor convents and hospitals, and gave very
large alms. Every day he washed the feet of thirteen beggars, then fed
them, and gave them each four shillings. This was, in fact, considered
as a religious duty, almost an obligation on certain occasions. It is
a ceremony still performed by the Pope at Passion-tide; and Queen
Elizabeth herself used to do so on Maundy Thursday. The gifts now
distributed by the Queen on that day are a relic of the custom.
Archbishop Becket, when at Canterbury, often visited the cloisters,
where he sat reading among the monks; and he often went to see and
console the sick or infirm brethren, who were unable to leave their
cells. He was much loved and respected by those who knew him best; but
the nobles, who had usurped lands belonging to his see, dreaded his
maintenance of his rights, and hoped for disagreements between him and
the King--especially one Randolf de Broc, who wrongfully held the Castle
of Saltwood, near Canterbury.
However, at the first meeting all was smooth. On the return of the court
the Archbishop brought his pupil, Prince Henry, to meet his father at
Southampton, and was received with great affection. The King embraced
him eagerly, and spent much time apart with him, discussing all that had
taken place in his absence.
THE CONSTITUTIONS OF CLARENDON.
_King of England_.
1151. Henry II.
_King of Scotland_.
_King of France_.
1137. Louis VII.
_Emperor of Germany_.
1152. Friedrich II.
1159. Alexander III.
The strife between the Crown and the Mitre was not long in breaking out
again. The former strife had been on the matter of investiture; the
strife of the twelfth century was respecting jurisdiction.
We sometimes hear the expression, "Without benefit of clergy," and the
readers of the "Lay of the Last Minstrel" cannot have forgotten William
of Deloraine's declaration,
"Letter or line know I never a one,
Were't my neck-verse at Harribee."
These are witnesses of the combat between Henry II. and Thomas a Becket.
The Church, as bearing the message of peace, claimed to be exempt from
the sword of the State. Her sacred buildings protected the criminal,
the inhabitants of her lands were spared in war, and offences committed
either by an ecclesiastic or against one, were not liable to be punished
by the temporal power. This protection was extended not only over
actually ordained clergymen, but all who held any office in connection
with ecclesiastical affairs--all students, nay, all who were clerks
enough to read and write. Thus the wild borderers, when made prisoners,
escaped the halter by pretending to read a verse of the _Miserere_,
which they had learnt by heart in case of such an emergency, and called
their neck-verse; and "without benefit of clergy" was added to new laws,
to prevent education from exempting persons from their power.
But this arose long after the battle had been fought and won; and it
is not to be supposed, that the Church left offenders unpunished.
Imprisonment, loss of rank, and penance, fell heavily on them, and
it was only very hardened and desperate men who would die under
excommunication rather than endure all that was required before they
could be reconciled to the Church.
Henry II. had found the course of justice seriously impeded by these
privileges of the clergy, and convoking a council at Westminster, in
1163, called on the bishops to consent that, as soon as a clerk should
be proved guilty of a crime, he should be deprived of his orders, and
handed over to receive punishment as a layman, at the hands of the
According to our views in the present day, this demand was just, but to
the Church of the twelfth century it seemed an attempt to deprive her
of powers committed to her trust; and considering the uncertainty of
justice, and the lawless tyranny and cruelty often exercised by the
sovereigns and nobles, the resistance made to Henry II. cannot be
The bishops, however, first took the King's view, and argued that a
crime was worse in a clerk than in another, so that he deserved no
immunity. To this Becket answered, that the loss of his orders was one
penalty, and it was not right that he should be punished twice for the
same offence. They said that the King would be displeased, and it would
be better to give up their liberties than to perish themselves. This
cowardly plea Becket treated no better than it deserved, and brought
them over to his side, so that they all answered the King, that their
duty forbade them to comply with his demand; Henry put the question in
another form, asking them whether they would in all things observe the
royal Constitutions of his ancestors. Becket replied, "We will in all
things, saving the privileges of our order;" and so, one by one, said
they all, except Hilary of Chichester, who was afraid, and left out
the important restriction. But by this cowardice all he gained was the
King's contempt. Henry chose him as the one on whom to vent his passion,
abused him violently, and quitted the council, in one of his furious
fits of rage.
Thenceforth Henry was at war with Becket. One of his first acts of
spite, was exiling the Archbishop's friend, John of Salisbury, a
faithful priest, and an excellent scholar, as his correspondence with
his master remains to testify. It is curious to read his account of
Paris. "The people here seem to enjoy abundance of everything; the
Church ceremonies are performed with great splendor, and I thought, with
Jacob, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not;' also, in
the words of the poet,
"'Blessed is the banish'd man who liveth here.'
"The French are much afraid of our King Henry, and hate him most
intensely; but this between ourselves."
The Archbishop wrote to the Pope for counsel, but the King had strong
influence at Rome, and the Pope only advised Becket to preserve peace;
owning that what the King demanded was wrong, but recommending Becket to
give way, and make friends, so that England might be once more at his
beck and call.
For this policy Becket was far too straight-forward, and his perplexity
was great, especially when the Archbishop of York, who had always been
his enemy, the jealous and disappointed Gilbert Folliot of London, and
the time-serving Hilary of Chichester, all declared themselves of the
The Pope and his legate prevailed with Becket to consent to the
Constitutions of the realm, without making any exception; the King said
this must be done in public, and in January, 1164, convoked a council
for the purpose at Clarendon, in Wiltshire.
The Constitutions were read, and proved to contain much that was
contrary to the canons of the Church; they were discussed and commented
on for three days, and then, to Becket's surprise and dismay, he was
required not only to agree to them by word of mouth, as he had already
done, but to set his archiepiscopal seal to them. He rose, and
exclaimed, much agitated, "I declare by God Almighty, that no seal of
mine shall ever be set to such Constitutions as these."
The King left the room in a fury, and great confusion ensued, of which
we have no clear account. The nobles broke in on the bishops, and
threatened them in the King's name; the Grand Master of the Templars
persuaded Becket, and it seems that his firmness in some degree
gave way, though whether what he repented of was the sealing the
Constitutions, or merely the promise he had given, we cannot tell. The
assembly broke up, the King and each of the Archbishops taking a copy of
Becket, as he rode away, lamented over what had passed, as his faithful
friend and biographer, Herbert of Bosham, has recorded. "My sins are the
cause why the Church of England is reduced to bondage," he said. "I was
taken from the court to fill this station, a proud and vain man; not
from the cloister, nor from a school of the Saviour, but from the palace
of Caesar. I was a feeder of birds, and I was suddenly made a feeder of
men; I was a patron of players, and a follower of hounds, and I became
a shepherd over many souls. I neglected my own vineyard, and yet was
intrusted with the care of others."
He fasted, and abstained from ministering at the altar, till he had
received from the Pope a letter of absolution for his act of weakness;
and as the Pope gave no ratification of the Constitutions of Clarendon,
he did not consider them binding.
Henry shifted his ground, and, calling another Council at Northampton in
1164, brought various petty charges against the Archbishop. The first
was, that a man named John Marshall had failed to obtain justice in his
court. The truth was, that the man had been caught making oaths on a
jest-book, instead of on the Gospels; and Becket, instead of coming
himself to state this, sent four knights with letters explaining it.
For this neglect, as it was said, of the King's summons, Becket was
condemned to forfeit the whole of his personal property; and to this he
submitted, but without appeasing the King, who went on to accuse him of
taking the public money while Chancellor, when, as every one knew, he
had spent far more largely than ever he had received in the King's
service. Not a person was there who did not know that his character
stood far above such base charges; besides, an appointment to an
ecclesiastical dignity was always supposed to clear from all former
Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, brother of King Stephen, went to
the King, and offered to pay the whole sum required of Becket; but he
was not listened to, and the Bishops of Chichester and London plainly
told the Archbishop, that what was aimed at was to force him to resign.
The plain, blunt Bishop of Lincoln said, "The man's life is in danger;
he will lose it, or his bishopric; and what good his bishopric will do
him without his life, I do not see."
On the decisive day on which he was expected to submit to judgment,
Archbishop Thomas rose early and celebrated mass; after which, arrayed
in his pontifical dress, except his mitre and pall, he set out for the
place of meeting, attended by his faithful clerks. He wished to have
gone thither barefoot, and, bearing his cross, to have thrown himself at
the feet of the King, and intercede with him for the liberties of the
Church; but his clergy and the Templars persuaded him to relinquish this
design, contrary to his own judgment. He returned to it again so far,
that, on dismounting in the Castle court, he took his cross from
Alexander Llewellyn, its bearer, and carried it himself into the hall.
The Bishop of Hereford ran up to him, saying, "Suffer me, my lord, to
carry the cross; it is better than that you should carry it yourself."
"Nay, my son," he answered, "suffer me to retain it, as the banner under
which I fight."
A French archdeacon, who was present, said to the Bishop of London, "My
lord, do you allow the Archbishop to carry his own cross?"
"My good friend," was Folliot's rude reply, "he always was a fool, and
will continue so to the end."
But when all gave way before the majestic figure of the Archbishop, with
the cross in his hand, Gilbert went up to him, and tried to snatch it
away, telling him he was disturbing the peace; for the King would take
the sword, and then the King and Archbishop would be matched against
"So be it," said Becket; "my cross is the sign of peace; the King's
sword is an instrument of war."
He sat down to wait, while the other prelates were called to a
consultation with the King in another apartment. His clerks sat round,
and Herbert de Bosham said, "If they lay violent hands on you, you can
excommunicate them all."
"Far be that from our lord," rejoined Fitzstephen, his secretary; "let
him rather follow the pattern of the ancient confessors and martyrs, and
pray for his enemies and persecutors."
One of the King's marshals touched Fitzstephen on the shoulder, telling
him it was forbidden to speak to the Archbishop; upon which he glanced
at his master, and pointed to the cross, to express what he was
forbidden to say.
The King sat in his own chamber, and the bishops and barons were sent in
turn with messages from him to the Archbishop. Becket appealed to the
Pope, and the bishops, on their side, appealed against the Archbishop;
and then the Earls of Leicester and Cornwall were sent to pronounce
sentence on him; but instead of allowing them to proceed, he declared
that the King had no right to call him to account for what had happened
before he was Archbishop; for it had been expressly declared, when he
was appointed, that he was freed from all former claims.
This was a point of view in which the Earls had not seen the case, and
they said they must go back to the King. "One word more," said Becket:
"as the soul is more worthy than the body, so you are bound to obey God
rather than the King. Can the son judge his father? I can receive no
judgment from you or the King; the Pope alone, under God, is my judge. I
place myself and my Church under his protection. I call the bishops, who
have obeyed their King rather than God, to answer before his tribunal;
and so, protected by the Holy Catholic Church and the power of the
Apostolic See, I leave this court."
He rose, followed by his clerks. Cries of abuse followed him; Ranulf de
Broc shot straws at him, and a relation of the King reproached him with
sneaking away like a traitor. "If I were a knight," said the Archbishop,
"my sword should answer that foul speech."
It was only the King's immediate followers that thus reviled him; the
poor crowded after him in multitudes, so that he could hardly hold
in his horse, carry the cross, which he still retained, and give his
blessing to those who sought it. "See," he said to his clerks, "what a
glorious train escorts me home! These are the poor of whom Christ spake,
partakers of my distress: open the door, and let us feast together!"
On coming to the monastery, they first went to the chapel, where he
prayed, and laid down the cross; then went to the refectory to take
food. In talking over the events of the day, he bade his clerks beware
of retorting on their enemies the abuse that was poured on them. "To
rail," he said "is the mark of an inferior; to bear it, of a superior.
If we would teach them to control their tongues, let us show that we
control our ears."
In the reading that evening, at supper, the text occurred, "If they
persecute you in one city, flee to another." This Becket took as
direction for his course, and sent to ask the King for a safe-conduct to
return to Canterbury. The King said he should have an answer to-morrow,
which Becket and his clerks considered as a sign that his life was not
safe. That night, therefore, he, with three of his clergy, mounted at
the postern of the monastery, and rode off, in such torrents of rain,
that four times he was obliged to cut off a portion of his long cloak to
relieve himself of the weight. He made for Kent, travelling by night and
hiding by day, for twenty days, till he reached the coast, and at Estrey
was hidden for several days in a little secret chamber opening into
the parish church, whence, at mass, he gave the blessing to the
congregation, though they knew it not. At last a small open boat was
procured, and, embarking on the 2d of November, 1164, he safely landed
The county of Boulogne belonged to Mary de Blois, Stephen's daughter.
She had taken the veil at Romsey, when a girl; but on the death of her
brothers, Eustace and William, became the heiress of her mother's county
of Boulogne, and had been stolen away and married, for the sake of her
inheritance, by Matthew of Flanders. The Archbishop had opposed this
marriage, and the count was therefore his enemy, so that he was obliged
to pass through his territory in the disguise of a Cistercian monk,
calling himself Brother Christian.
Twice he was in danger of discovery. The first time was when they met a
party of young men hawking. Becket, who had never lost his admiration
for the noble birds (for one of whom he had so nearly lost his life),
showed so much interest in the falcons, that their owner, surprised at
seeing so much sportsmanship in a monk, exclaimed, "You must be the
Archbishop of Canterbury!" "What!" said another of the hawking party,
"do you think the Archbishop travels in this sort?" And thus Becket was
saved from being obliged to make answer. The next time was at supper,
when they had reached the inn at Gravelines, where his great height and
beautiful hands attracted attention; and the host, further remarking
that he bestowed all the choicest morsels on the children, was convinced
that this must be the English Archbishop, whose escape was already known
on the Continent, and falling down at his feet, blessed the saints for
bringing such a guest under his roof. Becket was much afraid the good
man might unintentionally betray him, and left Gravelines early the next
morning, on his way to the monastery of St. Bertin's, at St. Omer. It is
amusing to find Becket's faithful clerks, on the Friday when they were
to arrive at that hospitable convent, trying to coax their master to
grant them leave, after their journey, to eat a little meat: "for,
suppose there should be a scarcity of fish." Here they were joined by
Herbert de Bosham, who had been sent to Canterbury to collect such money
and valuables as he could bring away.
Henry had in the meantime sent an embassy to desire the King of France
not to shelter "the late Archbishop;" but it met with no favorable
reception from Louis. "He is a noble-minded man," said he; "if I knew
where to find him, I would go with my whole court to meet him."
"But he did much harm to France," said the Earl of Arundel, "at the head
of the English army."
"That was his duty," said Louis; "I admire him the more. If he had been
my servant, he would have done the same for me."
Nor did the embassy meet with much better success on going to Sens,
where Pope Alexander III. then was. The Bishop of London began to abuse
the Archbishop virulently, saying that he had fled, "as the Scripture
saith. 'The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth.'"
"Nay," interrupted the Pope, "spare. I entreat you, spare--"
"I will spare him, holy father," said Gilbert
"Not _him_, but _yourself_, brother," said Alexander; and Gilbert was
Finding how favorably both Pope and King were disposed toward him,
Becket left his retreat at St. Omer, and was received with much respect
by Louis at Soissons, after which he proceeded to Sens. There he was
treated with high honor by Alexander, and almost his first measure
was to confess, with deep grief, that he considered his election
uncanonical, "the handiwork of men, and not of God," and that therefore
these troubles had fallen on his Church. He therefore gave up his see;
but the Pope would not accept his resignation, and assigned to him the
Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny as his dwelling-place. Here he remained two
years, while the King persecuted his adherents and banished his kindred.
Four hundred poor creatures were stripped of their goods, and turned
adrift in Flanders, where they must have perished, had not the Count and
the Empress Maude taken pity on them.
DEATH OF BECKET.
_King of England._
1154. Henry II.
_King of Scotland_.
_King of France._
1137. Louis VII.
_Emperor of Germany_.
1152. Friedrich II.
1159. Alexander III.
In 1166, Pope Alexander III. returned to Rome, after many vain attempts
to reconcile the King and Archbishop, and it was determined that Becket
should pronounce sentence of excommunication on the King and his chief
followers in his uncanonical proceedings. Henry was at this time
seriously ill, and Becket therefore did not include him under the
sentence; the others were excommunicated, and this so exasperated Henry,
that he intimated to the monks at Pontigny that he should seize all the
possessions of the Cistercians in England, if they continued to harbor
The poor monks were much distressed, and laid the letter before their
guest, who could, of course, do no other than depart. "He who feeds the
birds of the air, and clothes the lilies of the field, will provide
for me and my fellow-exiles," said he; and he soon after received an
invitation from the King of France to choose any castle or convent in
his dominions for his abode. He selected the Abbey of St. Columba, a
little beyond the walls of Sens, and took leave of the brethren at
Pontigny, with such a burst of tears that the abbot remarked them with
surprise, and begged to know their cause. "I feel that my days are
numbered," said Becket; "I dreamt, last night, that I was put to death."
"Do you think you are going to be a martyr?" said the abbot. "You eat
and drink too much for that."
"I know that I am too self-indulgent," said the Arch bishop; "but God is
merciful, albeit I am unworthy of His favor."
Legates were sent by the Pope to negotiate, and many letters were
written on either side, but without effect. The difference was said to
lie in a nutshell; but where the liberties of the Church were concerned,
Becket was inflexible. At the Epiphany, 1169, he was put to a severe
trial; Henry himself, who had long been at war with Louis le Jeune,
came to Montmirail, to hold a conference and sign a treaty, and he was
summoned to attend it. By the advice of the legates and other clergy,
Becket had agreed to give up the phrase which had formerly given the
King so much offence at Clarendon, "Saving the privileges of my order,"
but not without inserting in its stead an equivalent, "Saving the honor
of God," which, as being concerned in that of the Church, meant the same
Yet on this the clergy of France, who were always extremely submissive
to the crown, were by no means of Becket's opinion, and tried so hard to
persuade him, for the sake of peace, to suppress this clause altogether,
and make no reservation, that the bold and faithful Herbert de Bosham
began to fear he might give way, and, pressing through the crowd as the
Archbishop was advancing to the presence of the two kings, he whispered
in his ear, "Take heed, my lord--walk warily. I tell you truly, if you
leave out the words, 'Saving God's honor,' as you suppressed the other
phrase, saving your own order, your sorrow will be renewed, and the more
The throng was so dense, that Becket could only answer him by a look,
and he remained in great anxiety as he watched his master advance and
throw himself at the feet of King Henry; then, when raised up by the
King, begin to speak, accusing himself of being by his unworthiness, the
cause of the troubles of the English Church. "Therefore," said he, "I
throw myself on your mercy and pleasure, my lord, on the whole matter
that lies between us, only _saving the honor of my God._"
Henry burst out in rage and fury, heaping on Becket a load of abuse;
declaring, to the King of France that this was all a pretence and that
he himself was willing, to leave the Archbishop to the full as much
power as any of his predecessors, but that he knew that, whatever the
Archbishop disapproved, he would say was contrary to God's honor. "Now,"
said Henry, "there have been many kings of England before me, some
of greater power than I am, some of less; and there have been many
archbishops of Canterbury before him. Now let him behave to me as the
holiest of his predecessors behaved to the least of mine, and I am
There was apparent reason in this, that brought over Louis to Henry's
side, and he said, rather insultingly, "My lord Archbishop, do you wish
to be more than a saint?"
But Becket stood firm. He said there had indeed been holier and greater
archbishops before him, each one of whom had corrected some abuse of the
Church; and had they corrected all, he should not have been exposed to
this fiery trial. Besides, the point was, that Henry was not leaving the
Church as it had been under them, but seeking to bind a yoke on her that
they had never borne. Almost all the French clergy and nobles were now
against him; they called him obstinate and proud; the two kings mounted
their horses and rode away together, without bidding him farewell; and
some of the last words his clerks heard from the French nobles were, "He
has been cast out by England; let him find no support in France."
Dreading what might come next, and grievously disappointed in their
hopes of returning to their homes, even his clerks were out of humor,
and blamed his determination. As they rode back in the gloom toward St.
Columba, the horse of one happened to stumble, and in his vexation he
exclaimed, "Come up, saving the honor of the Church and my order."
The Archbishop looked grieved, but was silent, and Herbert took this
moment for riding up to him, and saying, "Heaven be praised, my lord,
that through all to-day's tribulation you have been sustained by the
Lord, and have not suffered that slippery member to betray you into
anything against the honor of God."
The great ground of anxiety was the displeasure of Louis, who had
hitherto not only allowed the exiles to take shelter in his dominions,
but absolutely maintained them; and if he was won over by their
persecutors, what was to become of them?
Their alarm increased as they heard nothing from him of his usual
messages of kindness and friendship, and they were consulting together
on their plans if they should be turned out of St. Columba.
"Never fear," said the Archbishop; "I am the only person King Henry
wishes to injure: if I go away, no one will molest you."
"It is for you we are anxious," they said; "we do not see where you can
"Care not for me," he said: "my God can protect me. Though England and
France are closed against me, I shall not be undone. I will not apply to
those Roman robbers, who do nothing but plunder the needy. I have heard
that the people who dwell on the banks of the Arar, in Burgundy, are
open-handed. I will go among them, on foot, with one comrade, and they
will surely have compassion on me."
Just then a messenger came to desire the Archbishop to come to the
lodgings of the French King.
"There! it is to drive us out of his kingdom," said one of the clerks.
"Do not forebode evil," returned Becket. "You are not a prophet, nor the
son of a prophet."
Becket could hardly have been prepared for the manner of his reception.
Louis threw himself on his knees, crying out, "My father, forgive me;
you were the only wise man among us. We were all blinded and besotted,
and advised you to make God's honor give way to a man's will! I repent
of it, my father, and entreat you to bestow on me absolution!"
Louis had been brought to this change of mind by a breach of promise on
Henry's part, but he never again wavered in his confidence and support
In the November of the same year there was another interview between the
two kings and Becket, at Montmartre, near Paris.
By this time, the Bishops of London and Salisbury had been
excommunicated for disobedience to their primate; and Henry, expecting
the same stroke to fall on himself, was resolved to put an end to the
quarrel, and, bringing back Becket to his kingdom, to deal with him
there as best he might.
Becket did not, by any means, trust the King's intentions, and had
written to ask the Pope what pledge for his security he had better
require. Alexander answered, that it was not accordant with the
character of an ecclesiastic to stipulate for such pledges, but that
he had better content himself with obtaining from the King a kiss of
Now this kiss Henry would not give. He said he had sworn an oath never
to kiss the Archbishop, and this refusal immediately convinced every one
that evil was intended. Louis and all the Archbishop's friends concurred
in advising him never to come to any terms without this seal of friend
ship, and entirely on this ground the treaty was broken off. One of
Becket's clergy remarked, that the meeting had taken place on the spot
where St. Denys was put to death, adding, "It is my belief that nothing
but your martyrdom will insure peace to the Church."
"Be it so," said Becket; "God grant that she may be redeemed, even at
the sacrifice of my life."
He began to make up his mind that, since the King had given up the point
at issue, he ought to allow no regard for his personal safety to keep
him away from his flock; but just at this point the quarrel became
further complicated. Henry, in dread of excommunication, resolved
to have his son Henry crowned, to reign jointly with him, and the
difficulty arose that no one could lawfully perform the coronation but
the primate. Letters prohibiting the bishops from taking part in the
coronation were sent by Becket, but, in the meantime, Gilbert Folliot
had been appealing to Rome against his own excommunication. The Pope,
who had been shuffling throughout, would not absolve him himself, but
gave him letters to the Archbishops of Rouen and Nevers, and they
granted him absolution; on which he returned triumphant to England, and
joined with Roger of York and Hilary of Chichester in setting the
crown on the head of young Henry. It was a measure which every person
concerned in it had bitterly to rue--king, prince, bishops, every one,
except Margaret, young Henry's wife, who steadily avoided receiving the
crown from any one but her old tutor and friend, the primate.
Pope and Archbishop both agreed that this contempt of prohibition must
be visited by excommunication; and as Alexander had about this time
effectually humbled the pride of the Emperor Frederick, Henry thought it
time to submit, at least in appearance, lest his realm should be laid
under an interdict. At Freitval, therefore, he met the Archbishop in
the autumn of 1170, and all was arranged. He consented to the
excommunication of those concerned in the coronation; he held Becket's
stirrup; he did everything but give the kiss of peace, but that he
constantly avoided. Even when they went to church together at Tours,
when, in the course of the communion service, Henry must have received
the kiss from the Archbishop, he contrived to change the service to the
mass for the dead, in which the kiss did not occur. The last time the
King and Archbishop met was at Chaumont, near Blois, and here they had a
return of old feelings, talked cheerfully and in a friendly manner, and
Henry was so much touched by his remembrance of his happiest and best
days, when his noble Chancellor was his friend and counsellor, that
he exclaimed, "Why will you not do as I wish you? I would put all my
affairs into your hands."
But Becket told his clerks that he recollected, "All these things will I
give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me."
They parted for the last time, and Becket prepared for his return,
after his seven years' exile, sending before him letters from the Pope,
suspending the Archbishop of York, and excommunicating the other bishops
who had assisted at the coronation. At every step warnings met him that
the English coast was beset with his foes, lying in wait to murder him;
but he was resolved to proceed, and bold Herbert helped to strengthen
his resolution by his arguments. On the 3d of December he set sail from
the Boulogne coast. "There is England, my lord!" cried the rejoicing
"You are glad to go," he said; "but, before forty days, you will wish
yourself anywhere else."
With extreme joy did the people of Sandwich see, for the first time for
seven years, the archepiscopal cross, as it stood high above the prow of
the ship. They thronged to receive their pastor and ask his blessing,
and in every village through which he passed the parish priest came
forth, with cross or banner, his flock in procession behind him, and the
bells pealing merrily, while the road was strewed with garlands.
At Canterbury the joy was extreme; anthems were sung in all the
churches, and the streets resounded with trumpets and the shouts of the
people in their holiday robes. The Archbishop rode through the midst,
saluted each of the monks of Christ Church on the cheek, and then went
straight to his own cathedral, where his greeting to his flock was a
sermon on the text, "Here we have no abiding city."
After taking possession of his palace, Becket set out to London to visit
his pupil, the young King, taking him a present of a fine horse; but he
was not allowed to see him, and the courtiers threatened him severely,
because of the rejoicings of the citizens of London. At home he was much
annoyed by his old enemy, Ranulf de Broc, who from Saltwood Castle made
forays on all that were going to the archiepiscopal palace, stole his
baggage, and cut off the tail of one of the poor horses that carried it.
The bishops who had been placed under the censures of the Church were,
meanwhile, in violent anger. Roger of York said he had 8,000 crowns in
his coffers, and would spend every one of them in beating down Thomas's
insolence: and together they all set out to make their complaints to the
King, who was at Falaise.
It would seem that Henry either forgot, or did not choose to tell them,
of the permission he had given Becket at Freital, and he went into a
passion, saying, if all who were concerned in the coronation were to be
excommunicated, he ought to be one. The Archbishop of York talked of
patience and good contrivance. "What would you have me do?" said Henry.
"Your barons must advise you," said one of the bishops (which, is not
known); "but as long as Thomas lives, you will never be at peace."
Henry's eyes flashed. "A curse," cried he, "on all the false varlets I
have maintained, who have left me so long subject to the insolence of a
priest, without attempting to rid me of him!"
A council of the barons was called, and Henry found them willing enough
to advise him as he wished. "The only way to deal with such a fellow,"
said one, "is to plait a few withe in a rope, and have him up to a
gallows." In the midst of the council, however, it was observed that
four of the King's knights were missing--Reginald Fitzurse, William
Tracy, Hugh Morville, and William Brito. It was remembered that they had
heard the King's words about the insolent priest, and, becoming alarmed
for the consequences, Henry sent off the Earl of Mandeville, and some
others, with orders to overtake them, and arrest the Archbishop.
The four knights had held a hasty council, after which they set out
separately, agreeing to meet in Saltwood Castle, where they were sure
of assistance in their designs from Randolf de Broc. They reached it on
Innocents' day, and the next day set out for Canterbury, accompanied by
several of the Broc family and their armed retainers. In the meantime,
Becket had been keeping Christmas, and preaching his last sermon on
the text, "Peace on earth, good-will to men." He had sent away his
cross-bearer, Alexander Llewellyn, and his high-minded friend, Herbert
de Bosham, with letters to the Pope--perhaps because he was afraid that
Herbert's boldness might bring him into peril; and he was sitting in his
own chamber writing, when the four knights arrived, and desired to speak
He received them with his clergy about him, and they began to threaten
him in the name of the King, and order him to leave the kingdom. He must
fully have understood the meaning of all this; but he stood firm, and
quietly answered all their railing. They then told him his doings should
recoil on his own head; and on his replying that he was ready to suffer
martyrdom, they noisily left the room, Fiturse shouting out, "Ho! clerks
and monks, in the King's name seize that man, and keep him till justice
"You will find me here," answered Becket, standing by the door.
The knights had gone back to arm themselves and join their retainers.
In the meantime the terrified clergy fastened all the doors of the
monastery, and besought the Archbishop to take shelter in the church;
but he seemed the only person present who had no fear, and replied
that he would not flee--he would remain where he was. At last he was
persuaded to come into church, as it was the hour for vespers, and set
off, with the cross borne before him.
"My lord! my lord! they are arming!" cried one frightened monk; and
another brought word that they were upon them--Robert de Broc having
shown them the way through the orchard. Still Becket was calm; and as
the monks tried to drag him into the church, he stood at the door,
saying, "Go on with the holy service. As long as you are afraid of
death, I will not enter."
They proceeded, and he advanced up the aisle. As he was going up the
steps to the altar, there was a rush of monks into the church; for
Reginald Fitzurse, with a drawn sword, had just come through the
cloister door, the other murderers following. Becket turned, on seeing
the monks trying to bolt and bar the church doors. "It is not right,"
said he; "to make a fortress of the house of prayer. It can protect
its own, even if its doors are open. We shall conquer our enemies by
suffering, not by fighting."
The vespers ceased; the clergy threw themselves on the altars for
protection; the Archbishop stood alone with one canon, with Fitzstephen
and Edward Grim, a priest who had come to visit him. In rushed the band
of armed men, crying out, "Where is the traitor, Thomas Becket?" To this
he made no answer; but when the cry was, "Where is the Archbishop?" he
came down the steps, saying, "Here I am; no traitor, but a priest of the
Lord. What would you of me?"
"Absolve those you have excommunicated."
"They have not repented, and I will not."
"Then you shall die."
"I am ready, for the Lord's sake; but, in the name of Almighty God, I
forbid you to harm these, whether priests or laymen."
"Flee, or you are a dead man!" cried one, striking him with the back of
his sword, and unwilling, apparently, to slay him in the church. They
tried to push him away from the pillar against which he was standing,
but in vain. Becket was a tall, powerful man, expert in the use of
weapons. Had he snatched a sword from one of these, he might have saved
his life; but temporal arms he had long since laid aside, and he only
stood still, clasped his hands in prayer, and commended his soul to his
God. Reginald Fitzurse began to fear the people might break in to his
rescue, and struck a blow which wounded his head, as well as the arm
of Edward Grim, who fled to the altar; but Becket did not move hand or
foot--only, as the blood flowed from his face, he said, "In the name of
Christ, and for the defence of the Church, I am ready to die." Tracy
struck him again twice on the head: he staggered, and, as he was
falling, the fourth stroke, given by Brito, cleft off the top of his
skull with such violence, that the sword broke against the pavement.
The murderers, after making sure of his death, left the church; the
monks took up his corpse, unwounded, save the crown of his head, which
was shattered to pieces above his tonsure, and laid it out on the high
altar, deeming that he had indeed been a sacrifice, and weeping as they
beheld the beauty of his peaceful expression, as if he had calmly fallen
asleep. They folded outward the haircloth shirt he had always worn
secretly; and as the blood still trickled from the wound, it was caught
in a dish.
The threats of Randolf de Broc obliged them to bury him in haste the
next morning; and they were strictly forbidden to place his coffin among
those of the former archbishops--a command which they obeyed, from the
dread that otherwise his remains might be insulted. They had not long to
fear. Europe rang with horror at the crime, and admiration, rather
than compassion, for the victim. No one was more shocked than the King
himself, who was at Bure, in Normandy, when the news reached him. For
three days he remained shut; up in his room, taking no food, and seeing
no one, in an agony of grief and dismay at the consequence of his hasty
words, and dwelling on those days of early friendship which he had
passed with the murdered Becket. Not till these first paroxysms of grief
were over was he even able to think of the danger he was in; and he then
sent off an embassy to explain to the Pope how far he was from intending
the bloody deed, and to entreat forgiveness.
He was at a loss how to treat the murderers. He could not punish what
his own words had been supposed to authorize, and he dared not let them
escape, lest he should be supposed to be their defender. He therefore
let them reap the benefit of the liberties for which Becket had died:
their crime was done on the person of a clerk; therefore it was left to
the censures of the Church.
They had, in the meantime, fled to Morville's Castle, in Cumberland,
where they found themselves regarded with universal execration; their
servants shrank from their presence, and, in the exaggerations of
tradition, it was said that the very dogs would not approach them.
Overwhelmed with remorse, they set out for Italy, and dreaded and
avoided, as if they bore a mark like the first "murderer and vagabond,"
they threw themselves at the feet of the Pope, and entreated to know
what they should do to obtain mercy. He ordered them to go on pilgrimage
to Jerusalem; and they all went except Tracy, who, lingering behind, was
seized with a dreadful illness, and died at Cosenza. The others all died
within three years, with deep marks of penitence, and were buried before
the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Henry obtained pardon from the Pope on giving up all attempts at
subjecting the Church to the law of the State, and on giving a large sum
of money to maintain 200 knights for three years in the Holy Land. He
also largely endowed Mary and Agnes Becket, the Archbishop's sisters,
with possessions in his newly-conquered domain in Ireland; and one of
them became the ancestress of the noble family of Butler, Earls of
The cathedral at Canterbury had, in the meantime, been sprinkled with
holy water, to purify it from the crime of sacrilege and murder there
committed, and for which it had been a whole year left neglected, and
without the celebration of Divine service. On its reopening, gifts
poured in from all quarters, in honor of the Archbishop, and it was
repaired and beautified to a great degree. The beautiful circular chapel
at the east end was named Becket's Crown, and the spot by the north
transept, where he fell, was termed The Martyrdom. Reports of miracles
having been performed at his intercession were carried to Rome, and Pope
Alexander canonized him as St. Thomas of Canterbury. The next year,
1174, Henry II., who was broken down with grief at the rebellion of his
sons, rode from Southampton to Canterbury without resting, taking no
food but bread and water, entered the city, and walked through the
streets barefoot to the cathedral, and into the crypt, where he threw
himself prostrate on the ground, while Gilbert Folliot preached to the
In the chapter-house Henry caused each of the clergy present, to the
number of eighty, to strike him over the shoulders with a knotted cord,
and afterward spent the whole night beside the tomb. He heard mass the
next morning, and returned to London.
A few years after, Louis VII. came to pray at the tomb of his friend for
the recovery of his son Philippe Auguste, who was ill of a fever. He
made splendid gifts to the cathedral, and in especial a very large
diamond, and a golden cup. In Italy Thomas was equally honored. William
the Good, of Sicily, who married Joan, daughter to Henry II., placed a
colossal statue of St. Thomas of Canterbury in his new foundation,
the Church of Monreale; and at Agnani there is still preserved a
richly-embroidered cope, presented by Pope Innocent III., bearing
thirty-six different scenes in delicate needlework, and among them the
death of the English Archbishop. There are also many German and French
representations of the subject; the murderers, in the more ancient
ones, carefully distinguished by their shields: Morville, _fretty
fleur-de-lis_; Tracy, _two bars gules_; Brito, _three bears, heads
muzzled_; Fitzurse, _three bears passant_.
In Henry III.'s reign a new shrine was built at Canterbury, and the
Archbishop's relics were thither translated. No saint in England was
more popular than St. Thomas of Canterbury, and frequent pilgrimages
were made to his shrine. The Canterbury Pilgrims of Chaucer are thither
journeying, and Simon of Sudbury, the archbishop killed by Wat Tyler's
mob, is said to have made himself unpopular by rebuking the superstition
that made the ignorant believe in the efficacy of these pilgrimages.
Then came the reaction. Henry VIII., little able to endure such a saint
as Becket, sent the spoilers to Canterbury. Lord Cromwell burnt his
relics, and carried off the treasures of gold and jewels, which filled
two chests, so heavy that six or eight men were wanted to carry each of
them. Henry wore Louis VII.'s diamond in a ring. The costly shrine was
destroyed, and the pavement, worn by the knees of the pilgrims, alone
remained to show where Becket's tomb had been. In London, the house of
Gilbert a Becket, in Southwark, where the Saracen lady had ended her
toilsome journey, and where Thomas had been born, had, in Henry III.'s
reign, been made a hospital; Edward VI. granted it for the same use; and
thus it still remains, by its old name of St. Thomas's Hospital, which
perhaps would not so generally be given it, if it were known after what
saint it was so called. His likeness was destroyed in every church and
public building, so that but one head of St. Thomas a Becket is known
to exist in England--namely, one in stained glass, at the village of
Horton, in Ribblesdale--and even in missals and breviaries it was
No one has met with more abuse than Becket, ever since the Reformation.
Proud, ostentatious, hypocritical, and rebellious--these are the terms
usually bestowed on him. How far he deserves them, may be judged from a
life detailed with unusual minuteness by three intimate companions, none
of them treating him as faultless. Of the rights of the struggle we will
not speak. No one can doubt that Becket gave his life for the cause
which, in all sincerity, he deemed that of the Church against the World.
The fate of the murderers has been questioned in later times. It is said
that they died at home, in peace and fair prosperity; but the evidence
on either side is nearly balanced.
THE CONQUEST OF IRELAND.
Few histories are more strange and confused than the Irish. The
inhabitants of Ierne, or Erin, as far as anything credible can be
discovered about them, were of three different nations, who had in turn
subdued the island before the beginning of history. These were the Tuath
de Dunans, the Firbolg, and the Scots, or Milesians. Who the two first
were, we will not attempt to say, though Irish traditions declare that
some of them were there before the Flood, and that one Fintan was saved
by being transformed into a salmon, and so swimming about till the water
subsided, after which he resumed the human form, and lived so long that
the saying was, "I could tell you much, if I was as old as Fintan."
The Milesians are not much behind their predecessors in their claim, for
they say they are descended from a son of Japhet, and first discovered
writing, and all the arts commonly said to have been derived from Egypt,
but which they assert were carried thither by one Neill, who gave his
name to the river Nile, as well as to his sons, all the O'Neills of
It is more certain that these Milesians were Kelts, and were in early
times called Scots. A colony of them conquered the Picts; drove the
Caledonians into Galway, and gave North Britain, or Albin the name of
Lesser Scotland, while their own country, or Greater Scotia, returned
to its former name of Erin, called by the Romans Hibernia, and by the
The Erse tongue is nearly the same as the Gaelic, and there was much in
the Irish and Highland institutions showing their common origin. The
clan system prevailed in Ireland, the clans being called Septs, and
all having, as a surname, the name of the common ancestor. His
representative, the chief, was known as the Carfinny; but the succession
was not determined by the rules of primogeniture. It was always in one
family, but the choice was made by election of the next heir. When a
Carfinny died, another came into office who had been chosen on his
accession as heir, or Tanist, and at the same time another Tanist
was chosen to succeed him as Carfinny at his death. The land was the
property of the tribe, divided into holdings; and whenever the death of
a considerable proprietor took place, there was a fresh allotment of
the whole, which, of course, as well as the choice of a Tanist, set the
whole population at war.
There were four kingdoms--Ulster, Munster, Leinster, and Connaught--to
which the chiefs succeeded by tanistry, besides Meath, another kingdom
which always belonged to the principal king, or Toparch, who was in
like manner elected as Tanist on each new accession; and the number
of battles and murders among these wild Irish princes is beyond all
estimate. Out of 178 kings, 71 were slain in battle, and 60 murdered.
Christianity was brought to Ireland about the year 400, by St. Colman
and St. Patrick. It does not seem to have materially softened the
manners of the people at large, whose wars went on as fiercely as ever;
but the churches were seats of peace and learning, whence teachers went
forth in numbers into Gaul, and among the heathen Saxons of England. The
Roman calender shows so many names of Irish hermits, priests, and nuns,
that we do not wonder Erin once was known as the Isle of Saints.
The Northmen made their cruel inroads on Ireland, and swept away much
of the beginnings of civilization. Turges, a Danish chief, was, in 815,
King of all Ireland; and having forced Melachlin, or Malachy, King of
Meath, to give up his daughter to him, Melachlin sent with her, in the
disguise of female attendants, sixteen young men armed with skeynes, or
long knives. They killed Turges, and brought the princess back to her
father, who was waiting in ambush at no great distance with his armed
men, set upon the Danes, defeated them, and, being joined by the other
Irish princes, destroyed them all.
It is said that shortly before, Melachlin, when at the court of Turges,
had told him that Ireland was full of a kind of foul, ravenous bird, and
asked his advice how to get rid of them; to which Turges answered, that
he had better destroy the nests--eggs, nestlings, and all--counsel which
the Irish hardly needed; and the massacre of the Danish raven's brood
During the lull brought about by Alfred's conquests, the Irish enjoyed
the halcyon days remembered as those of Malachy with the collar of gold
(which he had torn from the neck of a conquered Dane), and those of
Brien Boromhe, or Boru, the great Brien, in whose reign a maiden, though
"Rich and rare were the gems she wore,"
travelled safely round the Green Isle unprotected,
save by "Erin's honor and Erin's pride."
But when England suffered again, Ireland shared its fate, and, in 1004,
Brien Boru, at the age of eighty-eight, perished in the great battle of
Clontarf, with his eldest son Morogh, and the Danes gained a permanent
settlement, besides making endless forays on the coast. King Olaf
Trygvesson, of Norway, conducted one of these descents; and while
driving off a large herd of cattle, a peasant so piteously entreated to
have his own cows restored, that the king told him he might take them,
if he could tell at once which they were, but that he must not delay the
march. The peasant said his dog knew them, and sent the animal into the
midst of the herd, which consisted of several hundreds, when he drove
out just the number his master had asked, and all bearing the same mark.
The King desired to purchase the intelligent animal, but the man begged
that he would take it as a gift; on which Olaf presented him with a gold
ring, and kept and valued the faithful Vige as "the best of dogs" for
many years after.
Turlogh, the contemporary of the Conqueror, seems to have been
prosperous, since his subjects were rich enough to buy the unfortunate
English, who were sold for slaves, till St. Wulstan put a stop to the
Morogh O'Brien, of Leinster, sent to William Rufus bog oak from the
green of Oxmanton, on the Liffey, to serve for the timber of the roof of
Westminster Hall; and this wood, enjoying the universal Irish exemption
from vermin, is said never to harbor a spider. Morogh was once told
that William Rufus intended to make a bridge of his ships, and conquer
Ireland. After some musing, Morogh asked, "Hath the King, in his great
threatening, said, 'If it please God?'" "No!" "Then, seeing he putteth
his trust only in man, and not in God, I fear not his coming."