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Drawn by Charles Green.
See page 385. “Look," said Thomas & Becket (raising the lappet of his gorgeous robe), " at the pious man, the saintly being, whom you would invest with so sacred an office! Besides, you have views on church matters with which I could scarcely coincide ; and I suspect, if I became archbishop, we should ere long cease to be friends."
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PLANTAGENETS.
for justice, impartiality, and economy, which the common sense of England has for 700 years cordially approved.
It is not improbable that this new organization of law and justice was the special means of bringing into collision the secular and ecclesiastical courts. The abuses of the latter, as well as their inconvenience, were so manifestly proved, and yet the difficulty of abolishing them so great, that when the primacy fell vacant in A.D. 1160-1, the king looked around for an ecclesiastic to fill the office, upon whom he might depend for favouring his views for their destruction. hapless hour he fixed upon his Chancellor. The Norman lords who misdoubted Becket's Saxon blood, the bishops who misdoubted his pride, and the empress-mother who misdonbted his sincerity and loyalty, all opposed in vain. Henry swore with a vehement oath that his friend Becket, and none other, should be the archbishop, and communicated his wishes to him in person. The interview is thus described by Thierry (vol. iii., p. 110) :“Henry II. at that time was holding his court in Normandy, and Thomas was in attendance on him. During one of the conferences they were continually holding on the affairs of state, the king said he must prepare to cross the channel on an important commission. 'I shall obey,' replied the Chancellor, ‘so soon as I shall receive my instructions.' 'How?' said the king, significantly; 'don't yon apprehend my meaning ? I intend you to be our future archbishop!' A smile passed over the countenance of Thomas as he raised the lappet of his gorgeous robe, and said, “ Look at the pious man, the saintly being whom you would invest with so sacred an office! Besides, you have views on church matters with which I could scarcely coincide; and I suspect, if I became archbishop, we should ere long cease to be friends. The king received these words as a jest, and forthwith signed the formal order to the bishops of England, nominating Thomas à Becket to the primacy for their election."
This act of the king was a great crisis in Becket's life and his own. The first monarch of the Plantagenet race, he seems to have possessed the germs of all those characteristics that distinguished his family. Quick of impulse, strong in passion, keen in external observation, wise in the outlines of his plans, he was yet deficient in penetration, impatient of analysis, and incapable of that comprehensive philosophy which reasons, out the true relation between results and their causes, and regulates the will, as well as controls the actions, of those in a subordinate position. Living in a sensual age, he was not sufficiently elevated in character to rise superior to sensual influences; trained in the school of feudalism, he lacked the inner wisdom that could alone have enabled him to burst its material trammels. As we trace the future history of the vehement king and the subtle priest, we see how
VOL. I.-Xo. IV.
weak is passion when opposed to unscrupulous intellectualism; and after nearly a thousand years, the world is compelled to endorse the verdict practically pronounced by the monarch himself, that the triumphs of unbridled rage are but a prelude to deserved and bitter humiliation.
Henry's deficiency in analysis of character was shown in a marked manner by his obstinate persistence in making Becket the primate in defiance of the remonstrances of the queen-mother, the barons, and the prelates. He had merely seen in him the willing companion of his pleasures, the sumptuous courtier, the munificent host, the careful and politic chancellor; he had not given himself time to scrutinize the depths of that dark mind, wherein personal ambition and the boldest daring were combined with a superstitious devotion, and an unscrupulous determination to assert and to uphold the supremacy of that church of which he became a foremost leader. From a careful consideration of the history of Thomas à Becket, we do not find in him the chicanery of Dunstan, or the mere personal ambition of Wolser. He seems to have been a man of loftier character than either, in that his deficiencies in respect of both were deficiencies in their evil characteristics, while his greater power was shown in that indomitable determination that never failed in perseverance, and never flinched from personal danger. Had Becket been imbued with the pure spirit of Christianity, instead of the proud spirit of what has been sarcastically called Churchianity, he might have been as great a man (apart from direct inspiration) as St. Paul, and a greater man than Luther; but his political training materialized and narrowed his views of duty, and the unsubdued pride of his nature shut the door against the entrance of love. Cold, hard, and stern, he was insensible to those touches of affection which broke out occasionally through the fierce scenes of the Plantagenet rage in the conduct of Henry; and politic self-possession effectually excluded the pleadings of instinctive nature, whose intercessions never found an utterance from his iron-bound heart.
Becket was the fifth Archbishop of Canterbury since the Conquest, but the first of Saxon blood who had filled the see since that event. He had been only in deacon's orders up to the time of his election by the chapter. He was then ordained priest, during Whitsuntide, 1162, and consecrated archbishop on the following day by the Bishop of Winchester, the fourteen suffragans of the archdiocese assisting.
This sudden change in his position was accompanied by a change as sudden and as great in his external aspect. No longer to be distinguished by gorgeous robes and outward splendour, he broke up
his vast establishment, dismissed his splendid retinue, laid aside all tokens of visible dignity; he assumed the coarse frock or cassock of the simple monk, fed on pulse and water, walked abroad with a meek and
sad demeanour, and sought his friends among the poor, the mendicants, and the despised Saxon race. He sent back forthwith the great seal of the kingdom to Normandy, thus resigning his office of Chancellor into the king's hands, with the declaration that he was utterly incapable of bearing the weight of two offices, while his one new office was beyond his power fitly to fulfil.
The Plantagenet spirit of the king was roused by what he took as a personal insult to himself. He was furious. He had made Becket primate, with the express expectation that he would aid him in the suppression of the spiritual courts, and strengthen the regal and judicial power in the land. His conduct showed that this hope was entirely vain; and that in accepting the highest office in the church, Becket had 'consecrated his energies to the promotion of the views of the Church party.
Now, would our readers like to see a king in a passion? There is an old and popular ballad called “The King and the Countryman,” in which Hodge, the rustic, declares his disappointment at royalty, because the king is only a man, like other men whom he had seen, and declares that he had “seen a much better king at Bartlemy Fair;" and we have heard it said, when a visit to a country village was expected from the Bishop of California, when he was in England, that the country folks would think nothing of him “unless he came powdered all over with gold-dust!" But really, if we think a little, it is a very good thing that kings, and queens, and bishops are so much like ourselves as we find them. Evil is it for that country where kings and clergy are kept entirely APART from the people: for how can they sympathize with the people unless they know something of them? We may feel assured that it is a good thing when sovereigns, and nobles, and prelates, and people learn the secret of brotherhood, and are ready to acknowledge that in very deed God hath made them all “of one blood,” and to sympathize one with the other.
The following account is quoted from one of the most learned and gifted, as well as one of the most elegant writers of the present day:
“ Certain 'words goaded the King into one of those paroxysms of fury to which all the earlier Plantagenet princes were subject, and which was believed by themselves to arise from a mixture of demoniacal blood in their race. It is described in Henry's son John by one of the old chroniclers as something beyond anger : he was so changed in his whole body that a man would hardly have known him. His forehead was drawn up into deep furrows; his flaming eyes glistened ; a livid hue took the place of colour' (Richard of Devizes, $ 40). Henry himself is said at these moments to have become like a wild beast; his eyes, naturally dove-like and quiet, seemed to flash lightning; his hands struck and tore whatever came in their way: on one occasion he flew at a messenger who brought him bad tidings, to tear out his
in his [previous] controversy with Becket he is represented as having flung down his cap, torn off his clothes, thrown the silk coverlet from his bed, and rolled upon it, gnawing the straw and rushes ! Of such a kind was the frenzy which struck terror through all hearts at the Council of Clarendon, and again at Northampton (both of which we shall shortly tell of), when with tremendous menaces, sworn upon his usual oath, 'the eyes of God,' he insisted on Becket's appearance.”
After Becket's resignation of the office of Chancellor, an open rupture took place between the King and himself. He threw himself immediately upon the sympathies of the Church and the people, and the struggle between what is called the Regale and the Pontificale—the life and death strife for ecclesiastical or civil supremacy-forthwith commenced. Idolized by the common people, and feared if not respected by the nobles for his proved talent and manifested strength of character; supported by the superstitions of the age, and with Rome in the background, ever ready to help against national independence in spiritual matters, Becket was no mean antagonist, even against a king and a Plantagenet : and, unfortunately for the monarch, his want of perception of the true power of Becket's character caused him to make frequent false moves in the great game he was about to play.
It would seem, in reviewing the whole history, that Becket's superior mind enabled him at once to see the true point at issue; while the King, diverted from the main object by his angry excitement, seemed merely to regard the question as a personal matter of triumph between his opponent and himself. Thus, while on the one hand the King vacillated, according as his anger or his gentler nature predominated, and he was willing at one time to forgive, at another to concede, at another to condemn, to revenge, or even to destroy; Becket, on the other, kept steadily to his one policy of establishing the supremacy of thie spiritual over the regal and judicial power of the kingdom. He never lost sight of this end, and he never achieved so great a triumph in effecting it, as in the moment when his blood stained the altar-steps of his cathedral, and his brains were scattered by the point of “the ill clerk,” Hugh of Horsen's, sword!
The story of the protracted struggle is so long and so complicated, that it would be impossible for us to go through it in detail. We propose, however, in a futuro paper, to select certain prominent scenes that occurred in the course of it, from which our readers will be able to form some idea of its importance in relation to the history of our country.