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fended the king. Henry, as it seems, had intended that Becket should hold both offices. Are we to suppose that the king had been deceived by him? The see of Canterbury had been vacant for a year. It is difficult to suppose, that the succession was not a frequent subject of conference and discussion between the king and his chancellor. And when it appeared that Becket was the monarch's candidate, we must suspect that he had been guilty of falsehood or disingenuous silence, if the king remained ignorant of his purpose to resign bis civil dignity. Henry, who well knew the conflicting claims of church and state, and knew equally well that Becket as a foe would be most formidable, would hardly have raised him to an almost regal elevation without some assurance of his own safety. This king was not a blind adorer of favorites. He did not, we may
insist on Becket's appointment, till he had satisfied himself of his future course. We cannot help thinking it more likely that Becket deceived the king, than that the king, in the most important act of his reign, took no heed to his steps. It does not help the case to say, that the resignation was an afterthought ; if so, the new dignity was the proper one to be relinquished.
Henry was determined to have a Roland for an Oliver, and demanded of Becket the resignation of his archdeaconry. After a long delay, the archbishop made this concession, wbich would have come with a better grace at an earlier period. The new position of Becket, almost an independent one, was well fitted to bring out in high relief the bold and imperious features of his character. From this time, he seems to have discarded the prudence which he must have possessed as a statesman and diplomatist. One of his first measures was an attempt to resume certain grants of church lands made by his predecessors, on the ground that these were in violation of the essential inalienability of church property. On this plea, he required the powerful Earl of Clare to do him homage for a certain domain. The legality of the claim we need not consider ; its imprudence was unquestionable. Knights and barons could ill brook the interference of an upstart priest ; and the affronted earl had an avenue to the king's ear in a beautiful sister, whose charms had touched his susceptible heart. But the cloud as yet was no bigger than a man's hand. The sun shone bright over head ; and when the archbishop met the king at Southampton, on his return to his English dominions, the two friends, forgetful of every cause of doubt or coldness, rushed into each other's arms. During the several days which they passed together, the concord between them was so great, that the archbishop's enemies did not dare to wag a tongue against him.
Alexander, who was recognized as Pope by the kings of England and France, about this time called a general council at Tours. Becket, of course, as primate of England, would not fail to attend. Before his departure, he resigned his young charge, Prince Henry, into his father's hands. After spending a few days with the king, at Rumnel, in Kent, he passed over into Flanders. Not only in the dominions of Henry, but in those of foreign powers, he was received with unbounded demonstrations of courtesy and respect. Princes, nobles, and peasants flocked to meet him, and his journey resembled a triumphal progress. On his approach to Tours, the Pope's court was nearly deserted; the cardinals left the city to welcome him ; and when he was presented, the audiencechamber was so thronged, that the pontiff was obliged to retire to another apartment. The archbishop was regarded as the chief member of the council, and procured the ratification of many privileges belonging to his church.
The storm was now gathering, which was soon to burst on the primate's head. If the king and the archbishop were to come into collision with each other, it was clear enough that their intractable temper and almost equally independent position would lead to irreconcilable enmity. The history of the decline and fall of friendship is always a miserable, too often a pitiful, one. In this case, the occasions of the rupture were petty enough at the outset. The first blow which the king received was in a tender part. Becket resisted an attempt to divert certain perquisites from the sheriffs to the royal treasury. The violence of both parties augured ill for the continuance of peace between them. The king swore, as usual, “ by God's eyes,” and the head of the English church stooped to echo the oath. Henry consented to waive the point. Becket's next offence was the excommunication of a tenant-in-chief of the crown, without previous notice to the king. The latter demanded the absolution of his vassal; Becket delayed, the king grew angry, and the archbishop at length yielded, but with so ill a grace that he got no thanks for it. The primate had the further boldness to press the
king to fill up two vacant bishoprics, the revenues of which had, during the vacancy, accrued to the exchequer. Henry complied, but did not forget or forgive the insolence of such a demand. But the immediate occasion of their famous quarrel was a question of jurisdiction.
No government is well administered, and least of all a monarchy, in which a conflict of jurisdictions is tolerated. The history of feudal anarchy is a perpetual commentary on this proposition, and the long struggle between the throne and the altar is a bitter demonstration of its truth. In England, the feudal distemper appeared in a mild type, and a race of strong-headed and stout-hearted kings saved the realm from dismemberment. But the arrogance of the clergy was less easily repressed. Before William the Conqueror, the bishop had been content to sit with the sheriff or alderman in the county court, to try such secular and spiritual causes as might be offered. But the clergy, to whom William felt much indebted for his success in the Conquest, persuaded him to divide this joint jurisdiction, and leave the clerks to be tried by their own order. A privilege of this sort was not suffered to rust by disuse. The lawyers of that day were mostly clerks, bred of course not to the common, but to the canon and civil, law. " Nullus clericus,” says Matthew Paris, under the reign of William Rufus, nisi causidicus." The ecclesiastical court absorbed a large class of causes which had but a very remote affinity to spiritual concerns, and the person of a clerk was sacred from the touch of a lay officer. The meanest priest, guilty, perhaps, of atrocious crimes, was passed over to the bishop, and, though liable to be degraded, imprisoned, and even branded, was exempt from the fearful penalties of mutilation and death to which the lay offender was exposed. So late as the reign of Henry the Eighth, Pope Leo the Tenth found it necessary to issue a bull, prohibiting the taking of orders merely to elude the secular arm.
The sovereign would naturally behold with jealousy this serious encroachment of a power which seemed to cut off a branch of his prerogative. Common sense demanded why, of two murderers, the layman should be taken, and the clerk left. The bishop, however, had a word to say for himself ; waiving for a moment the divine right of exemption from temporal jurisdiction, he could urge, with some show of reason, that the canon law was more perfect than the com
mon law, that the king's way of dealing out justice was wild and barbarous, and that the ecclesiastical court was a house of refuge from wolfish judges and savage torturers. Early in his reign, Henry the Second had had a dispute with Archbishop Theobald, about a delinquent clerk, whose case he claimed for his own court. But his attention being drawn to continental affairs, the matter was dropped. In Becket's time, however, when other cases occurred, the king resolved to press his demands. Becket refused to recede from the rights and dignities of the church, and on this issue they met.
The parties in this contest were not so unequally matched as might at first appear. Henry Plantagenet could easily have crushed Thomas à Becket, if that had been all. But Becket was the champion of the rights or claims of the church. At this time, the church was the only compact and well organized body in Christendom. With its veins and fibres stretching among and under the other institutions of society, it could thrill all Europe with a single impulse. It had more than once armed the Western world against the Eastern. It had reduced the heir of Charlemagne's imperial crown to the condition of a naked and shivering penitent, while none of the vultures or eagles of Europe moved the wing or peeped. It held the balance of power between rival potentates, and juggled them off against each other. It had all the learning of Europe on its side, when learning was a miracle in the eyes of ignorant generations. It had a common voice in that Roman language which it had inherited. It had built on the code of Justinian another system of law of universal application. Its servants and agents had the ear of kings, who were forced by self-interest to employ them in the weightiest affairs. Its adroit husbandry of the terrors of death and the treasures of retribution gave it an authority over the consciences of the great, which often thwarted the boldest usurpations and palsied the stoutest will. The dyi church-robber laid his ill-gotten wealth at its feet, and begged it to mutter a few masses for his miserable soul.
The cormorant baron feared to sack those sanctuaries whose hospitable walls might one day receive his sin-worn body and be to him the gate of heaven. The wealth of the church was prodigious ; and if the king put forth his hand to take a crumb from the heap, it raised the cry of sacrilege and profanity. While emperors were starving for want of
money, it scraped together Peter's pence from every nook in Christendom. If a presumptuous ruler ventured to try conclusions with it, he found his court scattered, like a fairy revel, by the thunders of excommunication. If he persisted, his kingdom was laid under an interdict. The sound of the churchgoing bell ceased ; the mourner was forbidden to lay his kinsman in holy ground; the body of the Lord was no longer broken for the people ; and the betrothed dared not complete a contract which no man of God stood nigh to bless. Popular superstition was loyalty to the church. That other loyalty, the reverence for law, which is the cement of modern societies, was hardly known; for law as yet could barely go alone. Opinion was the great lever of the church, a lever strong enough even then to heave the throne.
Such was the strength of the church ; but she had also her weakness. The “ least erected spirit ” had crawled into the consistory. John of Salisbury complains to his patron, that “Rome was never proof against bribes.” The anomalous character, also, of the Papal government impaired the majesty of the Papal office. The successor of St. Peter might be turned adrift by a vile Roman mob. The twelfth century, too, was the harvest time of antipopes. No less than eight appeared in that period. To supplant a rival, pontiffs stooped to buy the favor of powerful princes by positive concessions or permissive silence. It would not do for Alexander to provoke too far the anger of Henry of England, while his own chair was tottering under the rude arm of Barbarossa. The head of the church, too, was jealous of the bishops. He feared to strengthen their hands overmuch, lest they should wax fat and kick. He was not reluctant to keep in motion an under-current of jealousy and insubordination, to remind them of their dependence on Rome. The sovereign, by virtue of his station, could forbid ecclesiastics to leave his kingdom, and blockade the ports, alike to keep in the runaways and keep out all messengers from the Pope. By dividing the spiritual house against itself, he also gained time, and occasionally his point.
Such was the machinery which both parties could bring to bear. One other circumstance, which increased the power of Becket, must not be overlooked. King Louis was the natural and predestinated foe of Henry. Patched-up truces and peace-making marriages did not rid the French soil of