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The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John
King And Archbishop
by Adams, George Burton


Thomas Becket, who thus became the head of the English Church, was probably in his forty-fourth year, for he seems to have been born on December 21, 1118. All his past had been a training in one way or another for the work which he was now to do. He had had an experience of many sides of life. During his early boyhood, in his father's house in London, he had shared the life of the prosperous burgher class; he had been a student abroad, and though he was never a scholar, he knew something of the learned world from within; he had been taken into the household of Archbishop Theobald, and there he had been trained, with a little circle of young men of promise of his own age, in the strict ideas of the Church; he had been employed on various diplomatic missions, and had accomplished what had been intrusted to him, we are told, with skill and success; last of all, he had been given a high office in the state, and had learned to know by experience and observation the life of the court, its methods of doing or preventing business, and all its strength and weakness.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket became almost the independent sovereign of a state within the state. Lanfranc had held no such place, nor had Anselm. No earlier archbishop indeed had found himself at his consecration so free from control and so strong. The organization apart from the state, the ideal liberty of the Church, to which Anselm had looked forward somewhat vaguely, had been in some degree realized since his time. The death of Henry I had removed the restraining hand which had held the Church within its old bounds. For a generation afterwards it was free--free as compared with any earlier period--to put into practice its theories and aspirations, and the new Archbishop of Canterbury inherited the results still unquestioned and undiminished. Henry II had come to the throne young and with much preliminary work to be done. Gradually, it would seem, the reforms necessary to recover the full royal power, and to put into most effective form the organization of the state, were taking shape in his mind. It is possible, it is perhaps more than possible, that he expected to have from his friend Thomas as archbishop sympathy and assistance in these plans, or at least that he would be able to carry them out with no opposition from the Church. This looks to us now like a bad reading of character. At any rate no hope was ever more completely disappointed. In character, will, and ideals, at least as these appear from this time onward, sovereign and primate furnished all the conditions of a most bitter conflict. But to understand this conflict it is also necessary to remember the strength of Becket's position, the fact that he was the ruler of an almost independent state.

What was the true and natural character of Thomas Becket, what were really the ideals on which he would have chosen to form his life if he had been entirely free to shape it as he would, is a puzzle which this is not the place to try to solve. Nor can we discuss here the critical questions, still unsettled, which the sources of our knowledge present. Fortunately no question affects seriously the train of events, and, in regard to the character of the archbishop, we may say with some confidence that, whatever he might have chosen for himself, he threw himself with all the ardour of a great nature into whatever work he was called upon to do. As chancellor, Thomas's household had been a centre of luxurious court life. As archbishop his household was not less lavishly supplied, nor less attractive; but its elegance was of a more sober cast, and for himself Thomas became an ascetic, as he had been a courtier, and practised in secret, according to his biographers, the austerities and good works which became the future saint.

Six months after the consecration of the new archbishop, King Henry crossed from Normandy to England, at the end of January, 1163, but before he did so word had come to him from Becket which was like a declaration of principles. Henry had hoped to have him at the same time primate of the Church and his own chancellor. Not merely would this add a distinction to his court, but we may believe that the king would regard it as a part of the co-operation between Church and State in the reforms he had in mind. To Thomas the retention of his old office would probably mean a pledge not to oppose the royal will in the plans which he no doubt foresaw. It would also interfere seriously with the new manner of life which he proposed for himself, and he firmly declined to continue in the old office. In other ways, unimportant as yet, the policy of the primate as it developed was coming into collision with the king's interests, in his determined pushing of the rights of his Church to every piece of land to which it could lay any claim, in some cases directly against the king, and in his refusal to allow clerks in the service of the State to hold preferments in the Church, of which he had himself been guilty; but all these things were still rather signs of what might be expected than important in themselves. There was for several months no breach between the king and the archbishop.

For some time after his return to England Henry was occupied, as he had been of late on the continent, with minor details of government of no permanent importance. The treaty of alliance with Count Dietrich of Flanders was renewed. Gilbert Foliot was translated to the important bishopric of London. A campaign in South Wales brought the prince of that country to terms, and was followed by homage from him and other Welsh princes rendered at a great council held at Woodstock during the first week of July, 1163. It was at this meeting that the king first met with open and decided opposition from the archbishop, though this was still in regard to a special point and not to a general line of policy. The revenue of the state which had been left by the last reign in a disordered condition was still the subject of much concern and careful planning. Recently, as our evidence leads us to believe, the king had given up the Danegeld as a tax which had declined in value until it was no longer worth collecting. At Woodstock he made a proposition to the council for an increase in the revenue without an increase in the taxation. It was that the so-called "sheriffs aid," a tax said to be of two shillings on the hide paid to the sheriffs by their counties as a compensation for their services, should be for the future paid into the royal treasury for the use of the crown. That this demand was in the direction of advance and reform can hardly be questioned, especially if, as is at least possible, it was based on the declining importance of the sheriffs as purely local officers, and their increasing responsibilities as royal officers on account of the growing importance of the king's courts and particularly of the itinerant justice courts. So decided a change, however, in the traditional way of doing business could only be made with consent asked and obtained. There is no evidence that opposition came from any one except Becket. He flatly refused to consent to any such change, as he had a right to do so far as his own lands were concerned, and declared that this tax should never be paid from them to the public treasury. The motive of his opposition does not appear and is not easy to guess. He stood on the historical purpose of the tax and refused to consider any other use to which it might be put. Henry was angry, but apparently he had to give up his plan. At any rate unmistakable notice had been served on him that his plans for reform were likely to meet with the obstinate opposition of his former chancellor.

This first quarrel was the immediate prelude to another concerning a far more important matter and of far more lasting consequences. Administration and jurisdiction, revenue and justice, were so closely connected in the medieval state that any attempt to increase the revenue, or to improve and centralize the administrative machinery, raised at once the question of changes in the judicial system. But Henry II was not interested in getting a larger income merely, or a closer centralization. His whole reign goes to show that he had a high conception of the duty of the king to make justice prevail and to repress disorder and crime. But this was a duty which he could not begin to carry out without at once encountering the recognized rights and still wider claims of the Church. Starting from the words of the apostle against going to law before unbelievers, growing at first as a process of voluntary arbitration within the Church, adding a criminal side with the growth of disciplinary powers over clergy and members, and greatly stimulated and widened by the legislation of the early Christian emperors, a body of law and a judicial organization had been developed by the Church which rivalled that of the State in its own field and surpassed it in scientific form and content. In the hundred years since William the Conqueror landed in England this system had been greatly perfected. The revival of the Roman law in the schools of Italy had furnished both model and material, but more important still the triumph of the Cluniac reformation, of the ideas of centralization and empire, had given an immense stimulus to this growth, and led to clearer conceptions than ever before of what to do and how to do it. When the state tardily awoke to the same consciousness of opportunity and method, it found a large part of what should have been its own work in the hands of a rival power.

In no state in Christendom had the line between these conflicting jurisdictions been clearly drawn. In England no attempt had as yet been made to draw it; the only legislation had been in the other direction. The edict of William I, separating the ecclesiastical courts from the temporal, and giving them exclusive jurisdiction in spiritual causes, must be regarded as a beneficial regulation as things then were. The same thing can hardly be said of the clause in Stephen's charter to the Church by which he granted it jurisdiction over all the clergy; yet under this clause the Church had in fifteen years drawn into its hands, as nearly as we can judge, more business that should naturally belong to the state than in the three preceding reigns. This rapid attainment of what Anselm could only have wished for, this enlarged jurisdiction of the Church, stood directly in the way of the plans of the young king as he took up the work of restoring the government of his grandfather. He had found out this fact before the death of Archbishop Theobald and had taken some steps to bring the question to an issue at that time, but he had been obliged to cross to France and had not since been able to go on with the matter. Now the refusal of Archbishop Thomas to grant his request about the sheriff's aid probably did not make him any less ready to push what he believed to be the clear rights of the state against the usurpations of the clergy.

As the state assumed more and more the condition of settled order under the new king, and the courts were able to enforce the laws everywhere, the failures of justice which resulted from the separate position of the clergy attracted more attention. The king was told that there had been during his reign more than a hundred murders by clerks and great numbers of other crimes, for none of which had it been possible to inflict the ordinary penalties. Special cases began to be brought to his attention. The most important of these was the case of Philip of Broi, a man of some family and a canon of Bedford, who, accused of the murder of a knight, had cleared himself by oath in the bishop's court. Afterwards the king's justice in Bedford summoned him to appear in his court and answer to the same charge, but he refused with insulting language which the justice at once repeated to the king as a contempt of the royal authority. Henry was very angry and swore "by the eyes of God," his favourite oath, that an insult to his minister was an insult to himself and that the canon must answer for it in his court. "Not so," said the archbishop, "for laymen cannot be judges of the clergy. If the king complains of any injury, let him come or send to Canterbury, and there he shall have full justice by ecclesiastical authority." This declaration of the archbishop was the extreme claim of the Church in its simplest form. Even the king could not obtain justice for a personal injury in his own courts, and the strength of Becket's position is shown by the fact that, in spite of all his anger, Henry was obliged to submit. He could not, even then, get the case of the murder reopened, and in the matter of the insult to his judge the penalties which he obtained must have seemed to him very inadequate.

It seems altogether probable that this case had much to do with bringing Henry to a determination to settle the question, what law and what sovereign should rule in England. So long as such things were possible, there could be no effective centralization and no supremacy of the national law. Within three months of the failure of his plan of taxation in the council at Woodstock the king made a formal demand of the Church to recognize the right of the State to punish criminous clerks. The bishops were summoned to a conference at Westminster on October 1. To them the king proposed an arrangement, essentially the same as that afterwards included in the Constitutions of Clarendon, by which the question of guilt or innocence should be determined by the Church court, but once pronounced guilty the clerk should be degraded by the Church and handed over to the lay court for punishment. The bishops were not at first united on the answer which they should make, but Becket had no doubts, and his opinion carried the day. One of his biographers, Herbert of Bosham, who was his secretary and is likely to have understood his views, though he was if possible of an even more extreme spirit than his patron, records the speech in which the archbishop made known to the king the answer of the Church. Whether actually delivered or not, the speech certainly states the principles on which Becket must have stood, and these are those of the reformers of Cluny in their most logical form. The Church is not subject to an earthly king nor to the law of the State alone: Christ also is its king and the divine law its law. This is proved by the words of our Lord concerning the "two swords." But those who are by ordination the clergy of the Church, set apart from the nations of men and peculiarly devoted to the work of God, are under no earthly king. They are above kings and confer their power upon them, and far from being subject to any royal jurisdiction they are themselves the judges of kings. There can be no doubt but that Becket in his struggle with the king had consciously before him the model of Anselm; but these words, whether he spoke them to the king's face or not, forming as they did the principles of his action and accepted by the great body of the clergy, show how far the English Church had progressed along the road into which Anselm had first led it.

Henry's only answer to the argument of the archbishop was to adopt exactly the position of his grandfather in the earlier conflict, and to inquire whether the bishops were willing to observe the ancient customs of the realm. To this they made answer together and singly that they were, "saving their order." This was of course to refuse, and the conference came to an end with no other result than to define more clearly the issue between Church and State. In the interval which followed Becket was gradually made aware that his support in the Church at large was not so strong as he could wish. The terror of the king's anger still had its effect in England, and some of the bishops went over to his side and tried to persuade the archbishop to some compromise. The pope, Alexander III, who had taken refuge in France from the Emperor and his antipope, saw more clearly than Becket the danger of driving another powerful sovereign into the camp of schism and rebellion and counselled moderation. He even sent a special representative to England, with letters to Becket to this effect, and with instructions to urge him to come to terms with the king.

At last Becket was persuaded to concede the form of words desired, though his biographers asserted that he did this on the express understanding that the concession should be no more than a form to save the honour of the king. He had an interview with Henry at Oxford and engaged that he would faithfully observe the customs of the realm. This promise Henry received gladly, though not, it was noticed, with a return of his accustomed kindness to the archbishop; and he declared at once that, as the refusal of Thomas to obey the customs of the realm had been public, so the satisfaction made to his honour must be public and the pledge be given in the presence of the nobles and bishops of the kingdom. To this Becket apparently offered no objection, nor to the proposal which followed, according to his secretary at the suggestion of the archbishop's enemies, but certainly from Henry's point of view the next natural step, that after the promise had been given, the customs of the realm should be put into definite statement by a "recognition," or formal inquiry, that there might be no further danger of either civil or clerical courts infringing on the jurisdiction of the other.

For this double purpose, to witness the archbishop's declaration and to make the recognition, a great council met at Clarendon, near Salisbury, towards the end of January, 1164. Some questions both of what happened at this council and of the order of events are still unsettled, but the essential points seem clear. Becket gave the required promise with no qualifying phrase, and was followed by each of the bishops in the same form. Then came the recognition, whether provided for beforehand or not, by members of the council who were supposed to know the ancient practice, for the purpose of putting into definite form the customs to which the Church had agreed. The document thus drawn up, which has come down to us known as the Constitutions of Clarendon, records in its opening paragraph the fact and form of this agreement and the names of the consenting bishops. It is probable, however, that this refers to the earlier engagement, and that after the customs were reduced to definite statement, no formal promise was made. The archbishop in the discussion urged his own ignorance of the customs, and it is quite possible that, receiving his training in the time of Stephen and believing implicitly in the extreme claims of the Church, he was really ignorant of what could be proved by a historical study of the ancient practice. The king demanded that the bishops should put their seals to this document, but this they evidently avoided. Becket's secretary says that he temporized and demanded delay. Henry had gained, however, great advantage from the council, both in what he had actually accomplished and in position for the next move.

To all who accepted the ideas which now ruled the Church there was much to complain of, much that was impossible in the Constitutions of Clarendon. On the question of the trial of criminous clerks, which had given rise to these difficulties, it was provided, according to the best interpretation, that the accused clerk should be first brought before a secular court and there made to answer to the charge. Whatever he might plead, guilty or not guilty, he was to be transferred to the Church court for trial and, if found guilty, for degradation from the priesthood; he was then to be handed over to the king's officer who had accompanied him to the bishop's court for sentence in the king's court to the state's punishment of his crime.46 Becket and his party regarded this as a double trial and a double punishment for a single offence. But this was not all. The Constitutions went beyond the original controversy. Suits to determine the right of presentation to a living even between two clerks must be tried in the king's court, as also suits to determine whether a given fee was held in free alms or as a lay fee. None of the higher clergy were to go out of the kingdom without the king's permission, nor without his consent were appeals to be taken from ecclesiastical courts to the pope, his barons to be excommunicated or their lands placed under an interdict. The feudal character of the clergy who held in chief of the king was strongly insisted on. They must hold their lands as baronies, and answer for them to the royal justices, and perform all their feudal obligations like other barons; and if their fiefs fell vacant, they must pass into the king's hand and their revenues be treated as domain revenues during the vacancy. A new election must be made by a delegation summoned by the king, in his chapel, and with his consent, and the new prelate must perform liege homage and swear fealty to the king before his consecration.

In short, the Constitutions are a codification of the ancient customs on all those points where conflict was likely to arise between the old ideas of the Anglo-Norman State and the new ideas of the Hildebrandine Church. For there can be little doubt that Henry's assertion that he was but stating the customs of his grandfather was correct. There is not so much proof in regard to one or two points as we should like, but all the evidence that we have goes to show that the State was claiming nothing new, and about most of the points there can be no question. Nor was this true of England only. The rights asserted in the Constitutions had been exercised in general in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries by every strong state in Europe. The weakness of Henry's position was not in its historical support, but in the fact that history had been making since his grandfather's day. Nor was the most important feature of the history that had been made in the interval the fact that the State in its weakness had allowed many things to slip out of its hands. For Henry's purpose of recovery the rise of the Church to an equality with the State, its organization as an international monarchy, conscious of the value of that organization and powerful to defend it, was far more important. The Anglo-Norman monarchy had been since its beginning the strongest in Europe. Henry II was in no less absolute control of the State than his ancestors. But now there stood over against the king, as there never had before, a power almost as strong in England as his own. Thomas understood this more clearly than Henry did. He not merely believed in the justice and necessity of his cause, but he believed in his ability to make it prevail. Thomas may have looked to Anselm as his model and guide of conduct, but in position he stood on the results of the work which Anselm had begun, and he was even more convinced than his predecessor had been of the righteousness of his cause and of his power to maintain it. This conflict was likely to be a war of giants, and at its beginning no man could predict its outcome.

Even if the council of Clarendon closed, as we have supposed it did, with no definite statement on Thomas's part of his attitude towards the Constitutions, and not, as some accounts imply, with a flat refusal to accept them, he probably left the council fully determined not to do so. He carried away with him an official copy of the Constitutions as evidence of the demands which had been made and shortly afterwards he suspended himself from his functions because of the promise which he had originally given to obey them, and applied to the pope for absolution. For some months matters drifted with no decisive events. Both sides made application to the pope. The archbishop attempted to leave England without the knowledge of the king, but failed to make a crossing. The courts were still unable to carry out the provisions of the Constitutions. Finally a case arose involving the archbishop's own court, and on his disregard of the king's processes he was summoned to answer before the curia regis at Northampton on October 6.

It is to be regretted that we have no account of the interesting and dramatic events of this assembly from a hand friendly to the king and giving us his point of view. In the biographies of the archbishop, written by clerks who were not likely to know much feudal law, it is not easy to trace out the exact legal procedure nor always to discover the technical right which we may be sure the king believed was on his side in every step he took. At the outset it was recorded that as a mark of his displeasure Henry omitted to send to the archbishop the customary personal summons to attend the meeting of the court and summoned him only through the sheriff, but, though the omission of a personal summons to one of so high rank would naturally be resented by his friends, as he was to go, not as a member of the court, but as an accused person to answer before it, the omission was probably quite regular. Immediately after the organization of the court, Becket was put on his trial for neglect to obey the processes of the king's court in the earlier case. Summoned originally on an appeal for default of judgment, he had neither gone to the court himself nor sent a personal excuse, but he had instructed his representatives to plead against the legality of the appeal. This he might have done himself if personally before the court, but, as he had not come, there was technically a refusal to obey the king's commands which gave Henry his opportunity. Before the great curia regis the case was very simple. The archbishop seems to have tried to get before the court the same plea as to the illegality of the appeal, but it was ruled out at once, as "it had no place there." In other words, the case was now a different one. It was tried strictly on the ground of the archbishop's feudal obligations, and there he had no defence. Judgment was given against him, and all his movables were declared in the king's mercy.

William Fitz Stephen, one of Becket's biographers who shows a more accurate knowledge of the law than the others, and who was present at the trial, records an interesting incident of the judgment. A dispute arose between the barons and the bishops as to who should pronounce it, each party trying to put the unpleasant duty on the other. To the barons' argument that a bishop should declare the decision of the court because Becket was a bishop, the bishops answered that they were not sitting there as bishops but as barons of the realm and peers of the lay barons. The king interposed, and the sentence was pronounced by the aged Henry, Bishop of Winchester. Becket seems to have submitted without opposition, and the bishops who were present, except Gilbert Foliot of London, united in giving security for the payment of the fine.

A question that inevitably arises at this point and cannot be answered is, why Henry did not rest satisfied with the apparently great advantage he had gained. He had put into operation more than one of the articles of the Constitutions of Clarendon, and against the archbishop in person. Becket had been obliged to recognize the jurisdiction of the curia regis over himself and to submit to its sentence, and the whole body of bishops had recognized their feudal position in the state and had acted upon it. Perhaps the king wished to get an equally clear precedent in a case which was a civil one rather than a misdemeanour. Perhaps he was so exasperated against the archbishop that he was resolved to pursue him to his ruin, but, though more than one thing points to this, it does not seem a reasonable explanation. Whatever may have been his motive, the king immediately,--the accounts say on the same day with the first trial;--demanded that his former chancellor should account for 300 derived from the revenues of the castles of Eye and Berkhampsted held by him while chancellor. Thomas answered that the money had been spent in the service of the state, but the king refused to admit that this had been done by his authority. Again Becket submitted, though not recognizing the right of the court to try him in a case in which he had not been summoned, and gave security for the payment.

Still this was not sufficient. On the next day the king demanded the return of 500 marks which he had lent Becket for the Toulouse campaign, and of a second 500 which had been borrowed of a Jew on the king's security. This was followed at once by a further demand for an account of the revenues of the archbishopric and of all other ecclesiastical fiefs which had been vacant while Thomas was chancellor. To pay the sum which this demand would call for would be impossible without a surrender of all the archbishop's sources of income for several years, and it almost seems as if Henry intended this result. The barons apparently thought as much, for from this day they ceased to call at Becket's quarters. The next day the clergy consulted together on the course to be taken and there was much difference of opinion. Some advised the immediate resignation of the archbishopric, others a firm stand accepting the consequence of the king's anger; and there were many opinions between these two extremes. During the day an offer of 2000 marks in settlement of the claim was sent to the king on the advice of Henry of Winchester, but it was refused, and the day closed without any agreement among the clergy on a common course of action.

The next day was Sunday, and the archbishop did not leave his lodgings. On Monday he was too ill to attend the meeting of the court, much to Henry's anger. The discussions of Saturday and the reflections of the following days had apparently led Becket to a definite decision as to his own conduct. The king was in a mood, as it would surely seem to him, to accept nothing short of his ruin. No support was to be expected from the barons. The clergy, even the bishops, were divided in opinion and it would be impossible to gain strength enough from them to escape anything which the king might choose to demand. We must, I think, explain Becket's conduct from this time on by supposing that he now saw clearly that all concessions had been and would be in vain, and that he was resolved to exert to the utmost the strength of passive opposition which lay in the Church, to put his case on the highest possible grounds, and to gain for the Church the benefits of persecution and for himself the merits, if needs be, of the martyr.

Early the next morning the bishops, terrified by the anger of the king, came to Becket and tried to persuade him to yield completely, even to giving up the archbishopric. This he refused. He rebuked them for their action against him already in the court, forbade them to sit in judgment on him again, himself appealing to the pope, and ordered them, if any secular person should lay hands on him in punishment, to excommunicate him at once. Against this order Gilbert Foliot immediately appealed. The bishops then departed, and Becket entered the monastery church and celebrated the mass of St. Stephen's day, opening with the words of the Psalm, "Princes did sit and speak against me." This was a most audacious act, pointed directly at the king, and a public declaration that he expected and was prepared for the fate of the first martyr. Naturally the anger of the court was greatly increased. From the celebration of the mass, Becket went to the meeting of the court, his cross borne before him in the usual manner, but on reaching the door of the meeting-place, he took it from his cross-bearer and carrying it in his own hands entered the hall. Such an unusual proceeding as this could have but one meaning. It was a public declaration that he was in fear of personal violence, and that any one who laid hands on him must understand his act to be an attack on the cross and all that it signified. Some of the bishops tried to persuade him to abandon this attitude, but in vain. So far as we can judge the mood of Henry, Becket had much to justify his feeling, and if he were resolved not to accept the only other alternative of complete submission, but determined to resist to the utmost, the act was not unwise.

When the bishops reported to the king the primate's order forbidding them to sit in trial of him again, it was seen at once to be a violation of the Constitutions of Clarendon; and certain barons were sent to him to inquire if he stood to this, to remind him of his oath as the king's liege-man, and of the promise, equivalent to an oath, which he had made at Clarendon to keep the Constitutions "in good faith, without guile, and according to law," and to ask if he would furnish security for the payment of the claims against him as chancellor. In reply Becket stood firmly to his position, and renewed the prohibition and the appeal to the pope. The breach of the Constitutions being thus placed beyond question, the king demanded the judgment of the court, bishops and barons together. The bishops urged the ecclesiastical dangers in which they would be placed if they disregarded the archbishop's prohibition, and suggested that instead they should themselves appeal to Rome against him as a perjurer. To this the king at last agreed, and the appeal was declared by Hilary, Bishop of Chichester, who had throughout inclined to the king's side, and who urged upon the archbishop with much vigour the oath which they had all taken at Clarendon under his leadership and which he was now forcing them to violate. Becket's answer to this speech is the weakest and least honest thing that he did during all these days of trial. "We promised nothing at Clarendon," he said, "without excepting the rights of the Church. The very clauses to which you refer, 'in good faith, without guile, and according to law,' are saving clauses, because it is impossible to observe anything in good faith and according to law if it is contrary to the laws of God and to the fealty due the Church. Nor is there any such thing as the dignity of a Christian king where the liberty of the Church which he has sworn to observe has perished."

The court then, without the bishops, found the archbishop guilty of perjury and probably of treason. The formal pronunciation of the sentence in the presence of Becket was assigned to the justiciar, the Earl of Leicester, but he was not allowed to finish. With violent words Thomas interrupted him and bitterly denounced him for presuming as a layman to sit in judgment on his spiritual father. In the pause that followed, Becket left the hall still carrying his cross. As he passed out, the spirit of the chancellor overcame for a moment that of the bishop, and he turned fiercely on those who were saying "perjured traitor" and cried that, if it were not for his priestly robes and the wickedness of the act, he would know how to answer in arms such an accusation. During the night that followed, Becket secretly left Northampton, and by a roundabout way after two weeks succeeded in escaping to the continent in disguise. The next day the court held its last session. After some discussion it was resolved to allow the case to stand as it was, and not even to take the archbishop's fief into the king's hands until the pope should decide the appeal, a resolution which shows how powerful was the Church and how strong was the influence of the bishops who were acting with the king. At the same time an embassy of great weight and dignity was appointed to represent the king before the pope, consisting of the Archbishop of York, the Bishops of London, Chichester, Exeter, and Worcester, two earls and two barons, and three clerks from the king's household. They were given letters to the King of France and to the Count of Flanders which said that Thomas, "formerly Archbishop of Canterbury," had fled the kingdom as a traitor and should not be received in their lands.

In the somewhat uncertain light in which we are compelled to view these events, this quarrel seems unnecessary, and the guilt of forcing it on Church and State in England, at least at this time and in these circumstances, appears to rest with Henry. The long patience of his grandfather, which was willing to wait the slow process of events and carefully shunned the drawing of sharp issues when possible, he certainly does not show in this case. It is more than likely, however, that the final result would have been the same in any case. No reconciliation was possible between the ideas or the characters of the two chief antagonists, and the necessary constitutional growth of the state made the collision certain. It was a case in which either the Church or the State must give way, but greater moderation of action and demand would have given us a higher opinion of Henry's practical wisdom; and the essential justice of his cause hardly excuses such rapid and violent pushing of his advantage. On the other hand Thomas's conduct, which must have been exceedingly exasperating to the hot blood which Henry had inherited, must be severely condemned in many details. We cannot avoid the feeling that much about it was insincere and theatrical, and even an intentional challenging of the fate he seemed to dread. But yet it does not appear what choice was left him between abjectly giving up all that he had been trained to believe of the place of the Church in the world and entering on open war with the king.

The war now declared dragged slowly on for six years with few events that seemed to bring a decision nearer till towards the end of that period. Henry's embassy returned from the pope at Christmas time and reported that no formal judgment had been rendered on the appeal. The king then put in force the ordinary penalty for failure of service and confiscated the archbishop's revenues. He went even further than this in some acts that were justifiable and some that were spiteful. He ordered the confiscation of the revenues of the archbishop's clerks who had accompanied him, prohibited all appeals to the pope, and ordered Becket's relatives to join him in exile. As to the archbishop, whatever one may think of his earlier attitude we can have but little sympathy with his conduct from this time on. He went himself to the pope after the departure of Henry's messengers, but though Alexander plainly inclined to his side, he did not obtain a formal decision. Then he retired to the abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy, where he resided for some time.

Political events did not wait the settlement of the conflict with the Church, though nothing of great interest occurred before its close. Henry crossed to Normandy in the spring of 1165, where an embassy came to him from the Emperor which resulted in the marriage of his daughter Matilda with Henry the Lion, of the house of Guelf. Two clerks who returned with this embassy to Germany seem to have involved the king in some embarrassment by promises of some kind to support the emperor against the pope. It does not appear, however, that Henry ever intended to recognize the antipope; and, whatever the promises were, he promptly disavowed them. Later in the year two campaigns in Wales are less interesting from a military point of view than as leading to further experiments in taxation. The year 1166 is noteworthy for the beginning of extensive judicial and administrative reforms which must be considered hereafter with the series to which they belong. In that year also Becket began a direct attack upon his enemies in England.

He began by sending to the king three successive warnings, all based on the assumption that in such a dispute the final decision must remain with the Church and that the State must always give way. His next step was the solemn excommunication of seven supporters of the king, mostly clerks, but including Richard of Lucy, the justiciar. The king was warned to expect the same fate himself, and all obedience to the Constitutions of Clarendon was forbidden. The effect of this act was not what Becket anticipated. It led rather to a reaction of feeling against him from its unnecessary severity, and a synod of the clergy of the archbishopric entered an appeal against it. A new embassy was sent to the pope who was then at Rome to get the appeal decided, and was much more favourably received by Alexander who seems to have been displeased with Becket's action. He promised to send legates to Henry to settle the whole question with him. The occupation of Britanny by which it was brought under Henry's direct control and a short and inconclusive war with the king of France took up the interval until the legates reached Normandy in October, 1167. Their mission proved a failure. Becket, who came in person to the inquiry which they held, refused to accept any compromise or to modify in any way his extreme position. On the other side Henry was very angry because they refused to deprive the archbishop.

The year 1168 was a troubled one for Henry, with revolts in Poitou and Britanny, supported by the king of France, and with useless negotiations with Louis. Early in 1169 the pope sent new envoys to try to reconcile king and primate with instructions to bring pressure to bear on both parties. The king of France also came to the meeting and exerted his influence, but the result was a second failure. Becket had invented a new saving clause which he thought the king might be induced to accept. He would submit "saving the honour of God," but Henry understood the point and could see no difference between this and the old reservation. Becket finally stood firmly against the pressure of the envoys and the influence of Louis, and Henry was not moved by the threats which the pope had directed to be made if necessary. A third embassy later in the year seemed for a moment about to find a possible compromise, but ended in another failure, both parties refusing to make any real concession. The interval between these two attempts at reconciliation Becket had used to excommunicate about thirty of his opponents in England, mostly churchmen, including the Bishops of London and Salisbury.

For more than a year longer the quarrel went on, the whole Church suffering from the results, and new points arising to complicate the issue. The danger that England would be placed under an interdict Henry met by most stringent regulations against the admission of any communications from the pope, or any intercourse with pope or archbishop. On the question which arose in the constant negotiations as to the compensation which should be made to Becket for his loss of revenue since he had left England, he showed himself as unyielding as on every other point, and demanded the uttermost farthing. For some time the king had wished to have his son Henry crowned, and on June 14, 1170, that ceremony was actually performed at Westminster by the Archbishop of York, who had, as Henry believed or asserted, a special permission from the pope for the purpose. Of course Becket resented this as a new invasion of his rights and determined to exact for it the proper penalties. Finally, towards the end of July, an agreement was reached which was no compromise; it simply ignored the points in dispute and omitted all the qualifying phrases. The king agreed to receive the archbishop to his favour and to restore him his possessions, and Becket accepted this. The agreement can hardly have been regarded by either side as anything more than a truce. Neither intended to abandon any right for which he had been contending, but both were exhausted by the conflict and desired an interval for recovery, perhaps with a hope of renewing the strife from a better position.

It was December 1 before Thomas actually landed in England. He then came bringing war, not peace. He had sent over, in advance of his own crossing, letters which he had solicited and obtained from the pope, suspending from their functions all the bishops who had taken part in the coronation of the young king, and reviving the excommunications of the Bishops of London and Salisbury. Then, landing at Sandwich, he went on to Canterbury, where he was received with joy. But there was little real joy for Becket or his friends in the short remainder of his life, unless it may have been the joy of conflict and of anticipated martyrdom. To messengers who asked the removal of the sentence against the bishops, he refused any concession except on their unconditional promise to abide by the pope's decision; and the three prelates most affected--York, London, and Salisbury--went over to Normandy to the king. A plan to visit the court of the young king at London was stopped by orders to return to Canterbury. On Christmas day, at the close of a sermon from the text "Peace on earth to men of good-will," he issued new excommunications against some minor offenders, and bitterly denounced, in words that seemed to have the same effect, those who endangered the peace between himself and the king.

It was on the news of this Christmas proclamation, or perhaps on the report of the bishops who had come from England, that Henry gave way to his violent temper, and in an outburst of passion denounced those whom he had cherished and covered with favours, because they could not avenge him of this one priest. On these words four knights of his household resolved to punish the archbishop, and, leaving the court secretly, they went over to England. They were Reginald Fitz Urse, William of Tracy, Hugh of Morville, and Richard le Breton. An attempt to stop them when their departure was observed did not succeed, and, collecting supporters from the local enemies of the archbishop, they forced their way into his presence on the afternoon of December 29. Their reproaches, demands, and threats Becket met with firmness and dignity, refusing to be influenced by fear. Finding that they could gain nothing by words, they withdrew to get their arms, and Becket was hurried into the cathedral by his friends. As they were going up the steps from the north-west transept to the choir, their enemies met them, calling loudly for "the traitor, Thomas Becket." The archbishop turned about and stepped down to the floor of the transept, repelling their accusations with bitter words and accusations of his own, and was there struck down by their swords and murdered; not before the altar, as is sometimes said, though within the doors of his own church.

Footnotes

[46] See Maitland, Henry II and the Criminous Clerks, in his Canon Law in the Church of England (1898). (Engl. Hist., Rev. vii, 224.)

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