« AnteriorContinuar »
in question, he said, were in various circumstances, and under different censures, some of which could not be removed without the Pope's authority. He must not indiscriminately confound them; yet having sentiments of peace and charity for them all, he would, by the Divine assistance, manage the matter so to the honour of the Church, the King, and himself, and also to the salvation of those for whom this was asked, that if any one of them should fail of reconciliation and peace, (which he prayed might not happen,) he must impute it to himself, not to him. A reply so evasive, and yet at the same time displaying so plainly the unallayed enmity in the speaker's heart, provoked an angry reply from one of the parties. But the King, to prevent any acrimonious contention which might otherwise have arisen, drew Becket away, and dismissed him with marks of honour. .
That the King would ever again have received Becket into favour and friendship is not to be believed, because it is scarcely possible ; but there is every reason for believing that the reconciliation would have been effective to the great ends of public and private tranquillity, if there had been the same sincere intention of rendering it so on the Primate's part as on the King's. The Primate had concealed his exultation during the interview; but he had scarcely concealed his intention of renewing the contest, and making those who had offended him feel the whole weight of his authority. What his feelings were is known, not by his actions only, but by his own letters ; in these, he boasted that the King had not even presumed to mention the royal customs, that he had been conquered in every point, and that in promising to give the kiss, he had plainly shown himself guilty of perjury: the peace, thus obtained, was such as the world could not have given or hoped for; but still the whole substance of it, as yet, consisted only in hope, and he trusted in God that something real would follow. When the Pope, at his request, again suspended those prelates who had officiated at the coronation, he said it was a measure dictated undoubtedly by the Holy Ghost, whereby his Holiness corrected the King's enormities, with an authority becoming the successor of Peter and the vicar of Christ. He was, indeed, prudent enough not to proclaim the suspension which was decreed before the form of reconciliation took place, but he requested that other letters to the same effect might be
sent him, in which the injury done to the rights of Canterbury should be the sole cause assigned for the sentence; and he asked full power for himself, meaning thereby, power to excommunicate the King, and lay the kingdom under an interdict, if he should think proper; because, said he, the more powerful and the fiercer that prince is, the stronger chain and the harder staff will be necessary to bind and keep him in order.
Elated, however, and bent upon extremities as he was, there was a secret feeling that his triumph was not so complete as he represented it to be, and something like an ominous apprehension that there would be danger as well as difficulty in the course which he was determined to pursue. His friends in England advised him not to return thither, until he should have well ingratiated himself with the King: his messengers to that country were generally shunned as persons with whom it was imprudent to converse ; and they who had got possession of the sequestered lands manifested a disposition to keep them as long as they could: some committed waste, in a spirit of shameless rapacity; and one powerful man, who had been enriched with the spoils of Canterbury, was said to have threatened his life if he ever set foot into England. Becket was incapable of fear. He wrote to Henry, requesting leave immediately to go over. “ By your permission,” said he,“ I will return to my church, perhaps to perish for her ; but whether I live or die, yours I am, and will be, in the Lord : and whatever befall me or mine, may God bless you and your children.” And announcing his intention to the Pope, he said that he was doubtful whether he was going to peace or punishment, and therefore he commended his soul to his Holiness, and returned thanks to him and the apostolic see for the relief administered to him and his in their distress.
The delay of which Becket complained was chiefly caused by interested and rapacious individuals. It appears, however, that Henry did not send over positive orders for enforcing the restitution which he had engaged to make; and in this he was influenced by a suspicion or knowledge of the implacable disposition which Becket still cherished against those who had offended him, and which, indeed, had been but too plainly indicated at their first interview. At their second meeting, which was not till several weeks had elapsed, during which Henry had been dan
gerously ill, the kiss was not given, though they were then within the King's dominions; his reception was cold and ceremonious; expostulations and recriminations passed between them, not without acrimony; and Henry declared, that before the full restitution which he again engaged to make, he would have Becket return to England, that he might see how he conducted himself there. When next they met, the King was in a kinder mood, and there came from him an expression which seems to bear the stamp of sincerity ...“Oh, my lord, why will you not do what I desire ? I should then put everything into your hands.” The exclamation seems to imply an emotion of affectionate regret that Becket had not co-operated with him in those necessary and beneficial reforms which he had designed, and for the purpose of effecting which he had raised him to the primacy. So Becket himself appears to have understood it; but the King had touched a string to which, in his heart, there was no responsive chord; and an expression which resented of old affection had no other effect upon him than to call up a thought not less arrogant than unprovoked: it reminded him, he says in a letter, of the Devil's words to our Saviour, “ All this will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."
He had now received from Rome letters, either to suspend or excommunicate at his own discretion the Bishops of London and Salisbury, for having assisted at the coronation ; and for suspending the Archbishop of York on the same grounds, the power of relaxing the sentence in his case being reserved to the Pope himself, at Becket's own desire. The Pope was inexcusable in this ; the act for which he thus punished these prelates was one which he had authorized them to do: and though he had revoked that authority, the revocation was not known to them when they performed the ceremony. This Becket knew, and the Pope must have known also, if Becket had laid the whole circumstances before him. The farther powers for which he had applied were not granted him. Alexander indeed had already granted but too much. On his way to the court, Becket took leave of the King, who still delayed giving the kiss, and is said to have visibly been careful to avoid it: an apprehension was expressed by Becket that he should see him no more ; his eye implied more than the words declared, and Henry hastily
answered, “Do you think me a traitor ?” He promised to meet him at Rouen, provide him with money for discharging his debts, and either accompany him to England, or send the Archbishop of Rouen with him. None of these promises were fulfilled : political circumstances called the King in a different direction ; the money was not forthcoming, and the person charged to attend Becket was John of Oxford, whom he regarded as one of his greatest enemies. The Archbishop lent him 3001., and he proceeded on his journey to the coast, believing, as he said to Louis when he took leave of that Monarch, that he was going to England to play for his head.
He was going, in fact, not to complete the reconciliation which had been begun, but to renew the contest, and try whethet the regal or the ecclesiastical power were strongest. It irritated him to learn that the Prelates who were the objects of his especial animosity, consistent as himself and upon better grounds, were advising Henry to require, as a necessary condition of his return, that the presentations to benefices belonging to Canterbury made during his exile should hold good ; and also that the royal customs should be observed. Resolving therefore to proceed without delay against these Priests of Baal, and standard-bearers of the Balaamites, (for thus he called them,) he sent the sentence of excommunication before him into England. The law which made this a treasonable act was still in force. It was therefore a dangerous service to convey these letters, but he found a messenger well fitted for such a work, who undertook to deliver that for the Archbishop. This was a nun, by name Idonea, who appears, before her conversion, to have led a dissolute life. The manner in which he wrought upon this fit instrument would be most honourable to him, if it did not belong less to the man than to the age. He reminded her that God had chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong, and bade her remember Esther, and what, when the chiefs were dismayed, and the Priests had well nigh forsaken the law, a woman's hand had done to Holofernes; and that, when the Apostles had forsaken our Lord, they who followed him to his cross and sepulchre were women. The Spirit, he said, would make those things which the Church's necessity required, arduous though they might seem, not only possible,
but easy to her, having faith. He commanded therefore, and enjoined her as she desired the remission of her sins, to deliver these letters into the hands of the Archbishop, in the presence of the other Prelates, if that could be effected; otherwise before any persons who might happen to be with him, and to deliver them a copy of the sentence, and also tell them its purport. “A great reward,” said he,“ my daughter, is proposed to your labour; the remission of your sins, the unfading truth and crown of glory, which the blessed sinners, Magdalene and Mary the Egyptian, received at length from Christ our Lord, the stains of their whole former lives being wiped out. The Mistress of Mercy will assist thee, and entreat her Son, God and Man, whom she brought forth for the salvation of the world, to be the guide, companion, and protector of thy journey. And may He, who, breaking the gates of Hell, crushed the power and curbed the licence of the Devils, restrain the hands of the wicked, that they may not be able to hurt thee! Farewell, spouse of Christ, and think that he is always present with thee!"
The day after this fanatical messenger departed, he himself embarked from the port of Whitsand :' some persons advised him not to venture, after such a measure of direct defiance to the King; but he replied,—“I see England before me, and go thither I will, let the issue be what it may. It is enough that the pastor has been seven years absent from his flock.” He landed at Sandwich, a port belonging to his see, and inhabited by his tenantry; they, he well knew, would receive him with sincere joy, the transfer of church-property to lay hands being always to the detriment of the tenants. His reception was such as he expected; but the Nun had performed her unhappy commission, and the Sheriff of Kent, with a body of knights, armed under their tunics, as expecting violence, but not intending it, hastened thither. The people fled to arms to support their Lord. John of Oxford interposed, commanding the Sheriff, in the King's name, to do no manner of injury to the Primate or any of his followers. None was offered; but he was truly told, how by excommunicating the Bishops for having done their duty, it appeared that he was entering the land with fire and sword to uncrown the King, and that it would be safer for him to remain
1 It is between Calais and Boulogne.