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Chapter XLIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2


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The king now proceeded to more severe measures against his former favourite. Another council was called at Northampton, before which Becket was summoned to appear, and was charged with contempt of the king's authority. He was called upon to pay various heavy fines, and to give an account of his receipts from different benefices during his chancellorship - the balance due to the crown, which he had kept back, being stated to be 44,000 marks. Becket was now convinced that his ruin had been determined on, and for several days he was confined to his bed by illness, brought on by these anxieties, and was unable to determine on the course he ought to pursue. At length his indomitable mind recovered its ordinary tone, and he determined to resist the decision of the king and the council. Having celebrated mass, he proceeded to the court dressed in his robes, and holding in his right hand the archiepiscopal cross. As he entered the hall, the king, indignant at seeing him in the robes of authority, rose up and passed into an inner room, leaving the archbishop standing in the hall. Becket, who remained calm and undaunted, seated himself on a bench, holding his cross erect. Presently the Bishop of Exeter entered, and, in the name of his colleagues, entreated the primate to obey the king's commands. A refusal was followed by the entrance of the rest of the bishops, who renounced him as their primate, and appealed to the authority of the Pope. Becket sternly answered, "I hear;" and made no other reply.

According to one of the chroniclers, the archbishop was accused before the council of magic arts, and the Earl of Leicester advanced into the hall to read his sentence; but Becket, interrupting him, refused to recognise the authority of a lay tribunal, and himself appealed to the Pope's decision. With these words he rose from his seat, and carrying the cross in his hand, strode slowly through the crowd towards the door of the hall. A murmur arose as he passed, and some of the courtiers, whose mean spirit derived satisfaction from striking a falling man, accused him of perjury and treason, and catching up straw from the floor, threw it in his face. Becket stopped short, and facing his assailants, said, in cold and haughty tones, "If the sacredness of my order did not forbid it, I would answer with arms those who call me perjurer and traitor." (Gervase; Fitz-Stephen.) He then mounted his horse, and proceeded to the house where he lodged, followed by a crowd of the inferior clergy and the people, among whom he was exceedingly popular, and who received him with acclamations.

Rejected by the rich, the archbishop opened his house to the poor. That same night he caused a bountiful supper to be laid out in the hall, and in all the chambers of the house. The doors were then thrown open, and the beggar by the wayside, the outcast, and the hungry, were invited to enter freely. All who came were made welcome, so that the house was filled with guests - the archbishop himself supping with them, and presiding at the repast,

In the dead of night, when the visitors at this strange banquet had taken their fill and departed, Becket disguised himself in the dress of a monk, and, accompanied by two friars, escaped from the town of Northampton. A hasty journey of three days brought him to the fens of Lincolnshire, where he remained a little while concealed in a hermit's hut. On resuming his journey he called himself by the Saxon name of Dereman, and passed without suspicion to the coast. It was at the end of November, and the weather was cold and stormy; but Becket preferred the risks of the sea to those which awaited him on shore, and, embarking in a small boat, reached the harbour of Gravelines in safety. Thence he resumed his journey, as before, on foot. Having encountered many privations, the primate and his companions reached the monastery of St Bertin, in the town of St. Omer.

Here Becket waited the result of the applications he had made to Louis of France, and to the Pope Alexander III. It was not long before replies were returned entirely in his favour. Louis was glad of an opportunity of annoying and injuring Henry by extending protection to the archbishop and Alexander supported his cause, as being that of the Church and of justice. He was desired to retain the archiepiscopal dignity, which he had resigned into the hands of the Pope, and the abbey of Pontigny, in Burgundy, was Driven to him as a place of residence.

On the news of Becket's flight, the king immediately proclaimed a sentence of banishment against all the kindred of the archbishop, young and old, women and children. It is even related that these unhappy exiles were made to swear that they would present themselves before Becket, so that he might see the misery of which he had been the cause. Thus it happened that his retirement at Pontigny was disturbed by the visits of these poor people, who vainly implored him to obtain the remission of their sentence. Becket relieved their wants as far as was in his power, and obtained for many of them the protection of the Pope and the King of France.

The banished prelate appears to have supported with contentment his sudden loss of power and return to the condition of poverty. His life at this period was, however, far from being an idle one. Much of his time was occupied in writing; and he received frequent letters both from friends and enemies. The English bishops appear to have sent him epistles full of reproaches, for no other reason than to add to the weight of misfortune and humiliation which pressed heavily upon him. The lower ranks of the people, however, retained their attachment to him, and secret prayers were offered up for his success in his undertakings, and for his safe return.

Meanwhile, Henry had conducted an expedition into Wales, which resulted in a complete defeat of the royal forces. In the year 1164, a young man, nephew of Rees-ap-Gryffith, King of South Wales, was found dead under suspicious circumstances; and it was believed that he had been murdered by persons in the employ of a Norman baron of the neighbourhood. To avenge his death, Rees-ap-Gryffith collected troops from all parts of the Welsh mountains, and made successful inroads upon the neighbouring counties. The king, quitting for a time his quarrel with Becket, gathered a considerable army, and in 1165 passed into Wales. The rebels gave way before him, retreating, as their custom was, to the shelter of the mountains. Henry, however, overtook them before they had gained their fastnesses, and defeated them in an engagement on the banks of the Cieroc. Pursuing them still further, the English troops reached the foot of Berwin, where they pitched their encampment. A violent storm arose, and the streams which poured down from the hills deluged the camp and flooded the valley. The mountaineers took advantage of this circumstance, and, collecting on the ridges of the Berwin, attacked the disordered forces of the king, and defeated them with considerable loss. Henry, who on ordinary occasions was less addicted to acts of cruelty than had been the case with his ancestors, was subject to fits of ungovernable passion; and he now determined to revenge himself upon the persons of the hostages which had been placed in his hands in the year 1158 by the Welsh chiefs. The men had their eyes torn out, and the faces of the women were mutilated by having their noses and ears cut off. It is related that the unhappy victims of these barbarities were the sons and daughters of the noblest families in Wales.

a.d. 1166.- - Soon after the return of Henry from this expedition, an insurrection broke out in Brittany, which compelled his presence in that province. The government of Conan dissatisfied the people, who were oppressed by the Breton nobles, and could obtain no redress from their prince. Henry entered Brittany with a large body of troops, and was met by a deputation of the priests and the people, who placed the redress of their grievances in his hands. Conan was compelled to resign his authority, and the government passed into the hands of Henry, under the name of his son Geoffrey, who, as we have seen, was married to the daughter of Conan. The country, however, was not restored to tranquillity. Other disturbances took place in various places, and were put down one after the other by Henry, who at length succeeded in overcoming all opposition to his government. He instituted various reforms, encouraged trade, and, under his rule, the land once more enjoyed prosperity.

When the news of the king's arrival on the Continent reached Thomas a Becket, he left Pontigny, and proceeded to Vezelay, near Auxerre. At the festival of the Ascension, Becket addressed the crowd assembled in the great church, and while the bells were solemnly tolled, and the candles burnt at the altar, the archbishop pronounced sentence of excommunication against whosoever held to the Constitutions of Clarendon, or kept possession of the property of the see of Canterbury. He mentioned by name several of the Norman favourites of the king, and among others Richard de Lucy, Ranulph de Broc, Jocelyn Baliol, and Hugh de St. Clair.

When Henry heard of this new act of hostility on the part of Becket, he was at Chinon, in Anjou. Allusion has already been made to the fits of passion with which he was sometimes seized, and on this occasion his fury was altogether ungovernable. He exclaimed that it was attempted to kill him body and soul; that he was surrounded by none but traitors, who would not attempt to relieve him from the persecutions inflicted upon him by one man. He threw his cap from his head, flung off his clothes, and rolling himself in the coverlet of his bed, began to tear it to pieces with his teeth. When his passion had in some degree subsided, he wrote letters to the King of France and to the Pope, demanding that the sentences of excommunication should be annulled, and threatening that if Becket continued to receive shelter from the Cistercians at Pontigny, all the estates in the king's dominions belonging to that order should be confiscated. The Pope promised the king the satisfaction he required, and Becket, driven from his asylum at Pontigny, removed to Sens, where he remained under the protection of the King of France.

A series of petty wars now took place between Louis and Henry, and were concluded by a peace in the year 1169. The matrimonial alliance previously agreed upon between Louis and the King of Arragon was broken off, and the Princess Alice of France was betrothed to Richard, second son of Henry. At the time when this treaty was concluded, efforts were made by the Pope and the King of France to effect a reconciliation between Henry and Becket. A meeting took place between the two kings at Montmirail, in Perche, and thither Becket, having consented to give in his submission to his sovereign, was conducted. When the archbishop arrived in the king's presence, he expressed his willingness to submit to him in all things; but he introduced the qualifying clause which he had formerly used - u saving the honour of God," The king angrily rejected such obedience, saying that whatever displeased Becket would be declared to be contrary to the honour of God, and that these few words would take away all the royal authority. The archbishop persisted in requiring such a reservation; and while the nobles present accused him of inordinate pride, the two kings rode away from the spot without giving him any salutation. The archbishop departed from the place much dejected. No man now offered him lodging or bread in the name of the King of France; and on his journey back, the primate of all England was compelled to ask alms from the priests and the people.

Another conference which took place was also broken off suddenly, and resulted in a quarrel between Louis and Henry. Peace was, however, once more concluded between them, and Henry, fearing that the Pope might ultimately sanction Becket's proceedings, and permit him to lay ail England under an interdict, reluctantly promised to conclude final terms of reconciliation with the archbishop. On the 22nd July, a.d. 1170, a solemn congress was held in a meadow between Freteval and La Ferte-Bernard, in Touraine. After terms of peace had been arranged between the two kings, a private conference took place between Henry and Becket. They rode together to a distant part of the field, and conversed with something of their old; familiarity. The king promised to redress the grievances of which Becket complained, and the usual forms of reconciliation took place, with the exception of the kiss of peace, which the king now, as on a previous occasion, refused to give. "We shall meet in our own country," said the king, "and then we will embrace." Becket undertook to render to the king all due and loyal service, while Henry promised to restore the privileges and estates of the see of Canterbury. It is related that, to the astonishment of all present, when Becket bended the knee on parting from his sovereign, the king returned the courtesy by holding the stirrups of the man whom he had refused to kiss.

Some delay took place on the king's part in the fulfilment of these conditions, and Becket, who was compelled to borrow money to make the journey, remained for a while on the coast of France. Sinister rumours reached him there; he was told that enemies were lying in wait for him in England, and that if he again set foot in that country it would be at the risk of his life. The lands of the Church could only be restored by driving out the possessors, who were haughty barons, not unlikely to seek vengeance on the man to whom they owed their ruin. Deadly enemies of Becket were found also among men of his own order. He carried with him the Pope's letter of excommunication against the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of London, who would probably accept any means of escaping the impending disgrace. Considerations such as these, however, had never deterred Becket in the execution of his plans, and did not in the least affect him now. With a spirit untamed by reverses he declared that he would go back to England though he were sure of losing his life on touching the shore. The letters of excommunication he forwarded before him by a trusty messenger, who delivered them in public to the prelates whom they concerned.

A vessel having been sent by Henry to convey him to England, he landed at Sandwich, December 1, 1170, and was received with great rejoicings by the people, who locked from all parts of the neighbourhood to meet him. The nobles, however, held aloof, and the few whom he saw did not attempt to conceal their hostility. Three barons, who met him on his way to Canterbury, are said to have drawn their swords and threatened his life, and were only restrained from violence by the entreaties of John of Oxford, the king's chaplain, who had accompanied Becket from France.

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Pictures for Chapter XLIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2

Progress of Thomas a Becket through France
Progress of Thomas a Becket through France >>>>
Defeat of the English by the Welsh at Berwin
Defeat of the English by the Welsh at Berwin >>>>
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket >>>>
Henry II. doing Penance at the Tomb of Thomas a Becket
Henry II. doing Penance at the Tomb of Thomas a Becket >>>>

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