« PreviousContinue »
KING HENRY II. AT BECKET'S TOMB. THOMAS A’BECKET, celebrated in English history as the murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, was born in London in the year One thousand one hundred and nineteen. His father, Gilbert Becket, when a young man, went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While there he was taken prisoner by a banditti of Saracens. While he was in captivity he became acquainted with the daughter of the captain of the banditti; and when he escaped and fled to England she followed him. She was then baptized by the name of Matilda, was married to Gilbert Becket, and be came the mother of Thomas a'Becket.
When he was a youth, Thomas a'Becket was sent to the University of Oxford to acquire learning; he afterwards prosecuted his studies at Paris and Bologna. He possessed good abilities and was remarkably industrious. He soor became a favourite with the highest dignitaries of both Church and State. Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury conferred on Thomas a'Becket several valuable church pre ferments; and sent him, as his representative, on an im portant mission to Rome.
Soon after Henry the Second came to the throne o
England, the office of Lord High Chancellor became vacant, and the king conferred the office on Thomas a'Becket. Several other lucrative and important offices were conferred on him, by royal favour, and he was also entrusted with the education of the king's eldest son.
While Becket was Lord Chancellor he endeavoured to promote the interests of the king, and enjoyed a very large share of royal favour. He also lived in great style, kept a great number of servants, and gave magnificent entertainments to the nobility, and the king was frequently his guest. It is said that when the king was at war, the chancellor accompanied him to the battle field, with 700 knights on horseback, and 1200 foot soldiers, which were maintained at the chancellor's own expense.
King Henry was displeased with the great power claimed and exercised by the Romish priests. They assumed to be independent of the control of the king or the law of the land. The king, therefore, resolved to reduce them to submission. When Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, died, the king nominated Thomas a'Becket to the archbishopric. The king expected that Becket would aid in limiting the authority claimed and exercised by the ecclesiastics. From the previous conduct of Becket the king expected to have Becket's hearty assistance in reducing the arrogance of the clergy. In this, however, the king was greatly mistaken.
Thomas a'Becket was made Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1162. When he was installed in this office he resigned his office of Lord Chancellor. He altered his mode of life, gave up his luxurious practices, and stately magnificence, dressed himself in plain attire, lived on coarse food, subjected himself to severe penances, washed the feet of poor beggars, and bestowed large sums in charity; but he was determined to uphold the high claims of the clergy, to exemption from submission to the authority of the civil power.
Immorality at this time awfully abounded among the clergy. Offences, which, by the law of the land, were punishable with death, were committed by the clergy with
impunity. If brought to account for their offences, they were tried in the ecclesiastical courts, in which the clergy were the judges, and the offenders were seldom punished. It is said that in eight years one hundred murders had been committed in the kingdom, by the clergy, and that in none of these cases had any serious punishment been inflicted. The bishops and archbishops threatened, if the civil power punished any clergyman, that the terrors of excommunication should be poured out upon all who abetted the civil power in the infliction of such punishment.
The king was determined to make the clergy subject to the law of the land, and that they should, if guilty of capital offences, be tried in the king's courts. Becket resisted the measures employed by the king, and publicly insulted the king. Becket went to France, sent a threatening letter to the king, and appealed to the pope for his protection. Abroad, Becket, was received as a persecuted son of the church. King Henry banished the relations, and other avowed partizans, of the archbishop. This quarrel between the king and the archbishop lasted for six years, when the king-being very ill, and thinking he was near death-desired to be reconciled to the archbishop and the pope. Negotiations were entered into, and the king agreed to restore the archbishop and his friends to their honours and places, and also to make them reparation for the losses which they had sustained.
The archbishop returned to England, and brought with him authority from the pope to excommunicate the bishops of London, Durham, and Exeter, for having taken part with the king. He, therefore, excommunicated these bishops, and conducted himself so arrogantly, that when his conduct was reported at court, the king is said, in anger, to have exclaimed—“I am an unhappy prince, who maintain a great many lazy insignificant persons, of whom none has gratitude or spirit enough to revenge the affronts I receive from a single wretched priest.”
Four of the barons in attendance on the king, without his knowledge, set out for Canterbury, determined to make the archbishop alter his conduct or to take away his life. They found the archbishop attending evening service in the church, and, after upbraiding him for his conduct, commanded him, in the name of the king, to restore the excommunicated bishops. The archbishop refused to listen to the barons, and defied them, and they with their swords cleaved his skull, and murdered him in the church.
The king was deeply affected, when he heard of the death of the archbishop. The king had spoken rashly, but he repented of what he had said, and sent messengers after the barons, to command them not to hurt the archbishop. The anger of the pope was greatly incensed against the king. Then, the pope had great power over kings. By the authority of the pope, king Henry was commanded to appear before the pope's officers, to be tried for the murder of the archbishop. The king made a solemn oath that he neither commanded nor assented to the assassination of the archbishop. He expressed his great sorrow on account of the words which he had imprudently uttered, and his willingness to submit to any punishment the pope's officers might deem it proper to inflict.
To obtain absolution from the pope, the king engaged “Never to oppose the pope's will, reserving his rights as a Catholic prince. Never to hinder appeals to the Roman see. To lead an army against the infidels in Judea, or against the Saracens in Spain. To recal all persons who had been banished on account of their partizanship with the late archbishop, restoring to them their estates and revenues. To abolish all laws and customs, lately introduced, to the prejudice of ecclesiastics. And to walk barefoot to the tomb of the archbishop, and receive punishment from the hands of the clergy, the monks of St. Austin."
Dr. Southey describes the punishment inflicted on the king in the following manner :
" He set off on horseback with a few attendants for Canterbury. When he came within sight of its towers he dismounted, laid aside his garments, threw a coarse cloth over his shoulders, and proceeded to the city, which was three miles distant, barefoot, over the flinty road, so that
in many places his steps were traced in blood. He reached the church, trembling with emotion, and was led to the martyr's shrine (Becket's tomb); there he threw himself prostrate, with his arms extended, and remained in that posture, as if in earnest prayer, while the bishop of London solemnly declared, in his name, that he had neither commanded, nor advised, nor by any artifice contrived the death of Thomas a'Becket; but because his words, inconsiderately spoken, had given occasion for the commission of that crime, he now voluntarily submitted himself to the discipline of the church.
“The monks of the convent, eighty in number, and four bishops, abbots, and other clergy who were present, were provided each with a knotted cord. The king bared his shoulders, and received five stripes from each prelate, and three from each of the other ecclesiastics. When this severe penance had been endured, the king threw sackcloth over his bleeding shoulders, and resumed his prayers, kneeling on the pavement, not allowing a carpet to be spread beneath him, and thus continued until midnight. After that hour he visited all the altars of the church, prayed before the bodies of the saints there deposited, then returned to his devotions at the shrine until day-break. During the whole time he neither ate nor drank ; but after assisting at mass, and granting forty pounds a year for tapers to burn before the martyr's tomb, he drank some water, in which a portion of Becket's blood was (said to be) mingled. He then went to London. When he arrived he was incapable of any exertion, and so ill that his medical attendant found it was necessary to bleed him."
Such was the humiliation and punishment which the popish clergy could then inflict upon the king of England. The priests taught the people, that Becket was a martyr, that it was meritorious to visit his tomb. Fifty years after the murder the body was taken up, in the presence of king Henry the Third, and deposited in a rich tomb, erected at the expense of Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Most costly presents were brought to the tomb of Becket. Multitudes flocked from all countries to visit the place