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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 dying 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 e 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
the overgrown dominion of the Plantagenet; nor had the French king forgotten with what indecent haste his former queen had posted to his rival's bed, and taken with her the sunny realm of southern France. He was a faithful servant of the church, and came, it is said, very near being canonized. His high-spirited wife used to call him a monk. His sympathies, then, by a double tie, would be with Becket.
Henry, baffled in his first efforts, resolved to plant a thorn in Becket's side. The newly elected abbot of St. Augustine's proved refractory; the king supported him, and the archbishop could not prevail on the Pope to interfere. This, however, was a mere flourish to what was to come. Having assembled a council of prelates and barons at Westminster, in October, 1163, the king made a formal demand, that convicted clerks should be degraded and delivered to the king's officers to receive such further punishment as the case might require. The bishops were at first disposed to yield; but were at length shamed into resistance by the archbishop's remonstrances. Being asked by the king, if they would observe his royal customs, or, as another account has it, the customs of his ancestors, they replied, Becket taking the lead, "We will, in all things, saving always our own order." The king broke out into a furious passion, and left the council. The bishops, frightened at what they had done, kept aloof from the primate, and would give him no comfort. But he remained firm, saying, "If an angel come from heaven and counsel me to this act, let him be anathema." The next morning, the king sent to him to demand the surrender of the castle and honors which he had held while chancellor, and had not yet given up. In this strait, he wrote to the Pope a plaintive letter, to beseech his interposition. It arrived at an unfortunate moment. Alexander had just heard bad news from Italy and Germany, and dared not lift a finger in Becket's behalf. He was very liberal, however, of barren praise, and had daily prayers offered up for him at three monasteries.
From another quarter Becket received more encouraging assurances. The rupture between him and the king had been watched with great interest in France; and King Louis pledged himself, if ever Becket should visit his dominions, to receive him as a brother-sovereign. Count Philip of Flanders also offered to furnish ships to transport him to
the Continent. Meanwhile, an ominous movement had been made at home. Arnulf of Lisieux had given the king the insidious advice to detach some of the bishops from Becket's party. The counsel was followed, and three bishops, two of whom were already engaged in a controversy with the primate about their respective rights, came into the king's measures. The archbishop was now beset on all sides, not only by the king's emissaries, but by letters from the Pope, who sent a special agent to persuade him to compliance. At length he gave way, after receiving repeated assurances of the honest intentions of the king. He had an audience of his sovereign at Windsor, and promised to assent to his royal constitutions and dignities, without the objectionable reservation. The king took it kindly, but required a public renewal of this promise.
A council was accordingly held at Clarendon castle, in January, 1164, and continued three days. Henry had determined to make clean work. Nearly two days were devoted to "an examination and revision of part of the customs, liberties, and dignities of the ancestors of King Henry the Second." An instrument was drawn up containing the sixteen articles known in history as the "Constitutions of Clarendon." It was a direct attack on the privileges, dignities, and rights of the church. Being declaratory in its character, it could only recite and ratify old usages, which are in fact the substance of the common law. The church, too, had its old usages, which had been practised with more uniformity and steadiness than those for which the king contended. When, therefore, on the third day, the archbishop was desired by the king to set his seal to these articles, he declared, by God Almighty, that no seal of his should ever be set to such constitutions as those. A scene of great confusion seems to have followed. The barons stormed, and Becket's friends expostulated; at length he yielded. Whether he signed the articles is doubtful. That he swore to obey them is probable; that he assented to them is certain. Foliot accuses him of saying aloud to the bishops, that it was God's will that he should perjure himself. At all events, the constitutions were passed, and became the law of the land.*
We agree with Jeremy Collier (Eccles. Hist., I., 374) in his opinion. Dr. Giles (Vol. I., 230) takes a different view. He says, "The consent to . these ordinances, which had been extracted from the archbishop, was exVOL. LXIV. No. 134. 13