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he was not bound to plead : but it had come upon him unexpectedly, and he asked leave to consult with the Bishops, with whom accordingly he withdrew into a separate apartment.
Whether Becket, after the manner in which he had been dis charged from this demand, were still liable to it in strict law, may be a questionable point; but that in honour and equity he stood discharged is evident; and free judges, could such have been found, would have pronounced his acquittal with as little hesitation then, as an unbiased judgement can feel upon the question now. The sum claimed was the enormous one of fortyfour thousand marks of silver. He was advised to compound, and offered two thousand, which were of course refused. The legal question, however, seems not to have been debated by the Bishops: they saw the demand in its true light, and perfectly understood what was the King's purpose: but they were no friends to Becket ; they knew he had provoked a dispute which might well have been avoided, and in which, if it continued, they must unwillingly be implicated; and they stood in fear of Henry, who, like his Norman predecessors, was of a temper to make men tremble. The Bishop of London advised him to resign the primacy, which if he did, the King, he observed, might then be moved to re-instate him in his possessions. One prelate agreed in this counsel, because it appeared to him that Becket had only to choose between surrendering his see or losing his life; another, because it was better for the Church that one man should suffer than all ; a third, because it was expedient to submit for a time. The Bishop of Worcester said he would not belie his conscience by saying that the cure of souls might be resigned for the sake of pleasing a prince, or of appeasing him; neither would he deliver a contrary opinion which might draw upon him the King's displeasure. The only person who supported Becket was the late King's brother, Henry of Winchester, a man of great ability and courage: he declared that the advice which had been given was pernicious, and that the rights of the clergy would be overthrown, if the primate were to set an example of relinquishing his charge at the will or menace of his sovereign. Perceiving how little help or counsel he was likely to find in his brethren, Becket desired to speak with the Earls of Leicester and Cornwall; and saying that the persons best acquainted with his affairs were not
present, requested on that ground a respite till Monday, (the morrow being Sunday,) when he promised to make his answer to the demand, as God should inspire him.
Becket was one of those men whose true greatness is seen only in times of difficulty and danger, when they are deprived of all adventitious aid and left wholly to themselves. The large retinue of knights and other followers, who had attended him to Parliament, forsook him in his disgrace. His contempt as well as his indignation was roused by this ungrateful and cowardly desertion ; and turning it to account, he sent his servants out to collect the poor and the maimed, the halt and the blind, from the streets and lanes of the town, and from the highways and hedges, and invite them to his table; with such an army, he said, he should more easily obtain the victory, than with those who had shamefully forsaken him in the hour of danger. This was in the spirit of the age, and of the man. His heart was never stronger; but the body gave way, and agitation of mind brought on a severe fit of a disease, to which he was subject ; so that when Monday came he was unable to leave his bed. The illness was said to be feigned, and two earls were deputed to cite him before the Parliament. They saw what detained him, he said, but with God's help he would appear before them on the morrow, even if he were carried in a litter. The respite was granted ; but it was intimated to him, probably with the intention of instigating him to flight, that if he appeared, his destruction, or at least his imprisonment, was resolved on.
Feeling himself in the situation of an injured man as the Primate now did, and looking to Heaven for that protection, which seemed to be denied him on earth, the religious feeling which such circumstances induce, softened his heart as well as elevated it, and at one time he had almost resolved to go barefoot to the palace, throw himself at the King's feet, and adjure him to be reconciled by the remembrance of their former friendship. But then a conscientious attachment to the cause which had drawn on him this persecution came in aid of his native pride; and, finally, his determination was made to connect his own cause with that of the Church, and to act or suffer in that spirit. On the Monday at an early hour, many of the Bishops came to exhort him to submission, for the peace of the Church, and for his
own safety: otherwise, they told him, he would be charged with perjury and treason, for breaking the customs which he had so lately sworn to observe. To this he replied, that he had been inexcusable before God, in swearing to observe them; but it was better to repent than perish. David had sworn rashly, and repented; Herod kept his oath, and perished. He enjoined them therefore to reject what he rejected, and annul these customs, which if they continued in force would overthrow the Church. Assuming then a loftier tone, he told them it was a detestable proceeding, that in this affair they should not only have forsaken him, their spiritual father, but have sat in judgement upon him with the Barons. He forbade them to be present at any further proceedings against him, in virtue of the obedience which they owed him, and at the peril of their order; and he declared that he appealed to their mother, the Church of Rome, the refuge of all who were oppressed. He commanded them to thunder out the ecclesiastical censures, should the secular power presume to lay hands on him, their father and metropolitan; and he concluded by assuring them that, even though his body should be burnt, he would neither shamefully yield, nor wickedly forsake the flock committed to his charge.
As soon as the bishops left him, he went into the Church, and there at St. Stephen's altar performed the mass appointed for that martyr's day, beginning with these words, “ Princes sate and spake against me;" and as if this did not sufficiently manifest his readiness to endure martyrdom, he caused a verse of the psalms to be sung, which could not be mistaken as to its intended application ; “ the Kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed.” Then having secretly provided himself with a consecrated wafer, he proceeded to the Great Council, and at the door took the silver cross from the chaplain, who according to custom was bearing it before him. The Bishops came out to meet him ; they knew that this unusual conduct could not be intended to mollify the King, nor to indicate a wish for conciliation: and the Bishop of Hereford putting forth his hand said, Let me be your cross-bearer, as becomes me! But Becket answered, No: the cross was his safeguard, and would denote under what Prince he was combating. The Archbishop of York
reproved him for coming thus, as it were armed, in defiance of his sovereign; and Gilbert of London observed, that if the King saw him enter with such arms, he would unsheathe his own, which were of greater force. Becket replied that the King's weapon could indeed kill the body, but his could destroy the soul. Then passing on, he entered the assembly, and took his seat in silence, holding the cross before him.
If Becket at this time actually thought his life in danger, the fate which he afterwards met, may prove that the apprehension was not so unreasonable as it might otherwise be deemed. Whether he entertained such fear or not, it was plainly his intention to act as if he did; should he provoke the blow which he seemed to expect, he was ready to meet it with becoming dignity and characteristic courage;
in the more likely case, that the unusual manner of his appearance would confuse the King's counsels, something might occur of which he might take advantage. Considering, therefore, Becket's temper' and opinions, the measure was as judicious as it was bold. Henry was no sooner informed in what attitude the primate was approaching, than he rose hastily from his seat, and retired into an inner room, whither he summoned all the other lords, spiritual and temporal, and complained to them of this act of defiance. The Great Council, as well as the King, regarded it as a deliberate insult, studied for the purpose of throwing upon them the imputation of some treacherous purpose. Henry's violent temper was exasperated to such a pitch, that the Archbishop of York trembled for Becket's life, and departed with his chaplains, dreading to behold what might
The Bishop of Exeter hastened fearfully to the primate and besought him to have pity upon himself and his brethren, who were all in danger of perishing on his account. Becket, eyeing him with stern contempt, replied, “Fly, then! thou canst not understand the things which are of God!” And he remained unmoved, holding the cross, and awaiting what might befall.
His part was not difficult after it had once been taken : the straight path is always easy. But Henry was thoroughly perplexed. The general sense of the Great Council was, that the Primate's present conduct was an affront to the King and the peers ; that Henry had drawn it on himself, by elevating such a
person to that high and unmerited station; and that for ingratitude and breach of fealty, Becket ought to be impeached of perjury and of high treason. Not from moderation, but with the hope of avoiding the embarrassments which he foresaw in that mode of proceeding, Henry rejected their opinion, and reverting to his pecuniary charges, sent to demand of the Primate, whether upon that matter he would stand to the judgement of the court. Becket peremptorily refused, and it was then again proposed to attaint him. But the Bishops dared not proceed to this, because he had appealed to the Pope ; and they knew the power of the Roman see too well, not to be fearful of offending it. They besought the King that he would let them appeal to Rome, against the Primate, on the score of his perjury; promising that if they might be excused from concurring with the temporal lords in the sentence which was about to be passed, they would use their utmost endeavours for persuading the Pope to depose him from the primacy. The King unwarily consented : upon which they repaired to Becket, and pronouncing him guilty of perjury, as having broken his fealty, they renounced their obedience to him, placed themselves under the Pope's protection against him, and cited him before the Pope to answer the accusation. His only reply was, “I hear what you say !” He could not have heard any thing more conformable to his own views and wishes. The prelates then took their seats on the opposite side of the hall.
Meantime the temporal peers pronounced him guilty of perjury and treason; and leaving the inner chamber where their resolution had been passed, came to notify it to the accused. The alternative, however, of rendering his accounts and discharging the balance, was still to be allowed him, and Leicester, as Chief Justiciary, called upon him to come before the King and do this, otherwise, said he, hear your sentence!...“My sentence!" exclaimed Becket, rising from his seat ; “nay, Sir Earl, hear you first! You are not ignorant how faithfully, according to the things of this world, I served my Lord the King, in consideration of which service it pleased him to raise me to the primacy; God knows, against my will! for I knew my own unfitness, and rather for love of him than of God, consented, which is this day sufficiently made evident, seeing that God withdraws from me both Himself, and the King also. It was asked at my elec