Abbildungen der Seite

by the proficiency which he showed at this time, and on other occasions, in the arts of negotiation, gained the goodwill of the pontiff and bis court.* His old enemy, Roger, having been promoted to the see of York, the primate conferred on Becket, now about thirty-three years old, the archdeaconry of Canterbury, an office of considerable income, and next in dignity to the bishoprics and abbacies. The list of benefices already enjoyed by him was increased by new preferments, which the ambitious ecclesiastic seems to have accepted without scruple.

But now a higher dignity awaited him. The death of Stephen, in the year 1154, was followed by the undisputed accession of Henry the Second. The state of England at this time was lamentable in the extreme. A long civil war had desolated the country, and almost brutalized its inhabitants. Bands of foreign mercenaries had deprived many of the native English of their estates, and turned towns and villages into encampments. Turbulent barons, strong in the castles which bristled over the land, led a predatory and lawless life. The spirit of order had been almost extinguished by twenty years of riot and rapine.f Nobles and prelates, during the contest for the throne, had become familiar with perjury and rebellion. The only hope of the exhausted, bleeding people was in their young prince, who had already given promise of a glorious future. By his marriage with Eleonore of Guienne, the repudiated queen of Louis the Seventh of France, he had acquired her large domains, and by an act of perjury he had deprived his younger brother of his rich patrimony. From Flanders to the Pyrenees, over more than two thirds of France, his sway was firmly established. Well might the French king tremble, when he received the homage of this dangerous vassal for these immense fiefs. The people had begun to sigh for a strong government, and they had reason to expect it from the young prince.

Every thing, however, depended on Henry's choice of ministers. The clergy were deeply interested in the matter,

* Dr. Giles cites Fitzstephen as his authority, but omits to translate aligruotiens. The originalis, — “ Mittebat eum aliquotiens Romam pro negotiis ecclesiæ Anglorum.' The imperfect, loo, is significant, and leads one to infer that he was more than once despatched upon such an embassy

Dr. Giles calls it a ten years' war. But he appears to rely on Fitzste. phen for the description, who uses the word ricennalis. Stephen usurped the throne in 1135.

[ocr errors]

for they had much to fear from the vigorous and vehement spirit of the king, if not controlled by suitable advisers. Accordingly, Archbishop Theobald, and Henry, Bishop of Winchester, the king-maker of his day, a busy and timeserving, but very able, prelate, with the aid of Arnulf, Bishop of Lisieux, a dexterous manager, formed the project of elevating Thomas à Becket to the place of chancellor, hoping that his agreeable manners and distinguished parts would enable him to eurb, if not to govern, a monarch so well fitted to relish the one and appreciate the other. Becket seems to have been introduced at court very soon after the coronation, and though the custody of the great seal was not immediately committed to him, it is probable, and in fact his contemporaries assure us, that the speedy reformation which was effected in the state of the country was in no small measure owing to his counsels. The mercenaries were compelled to disgorge their prey, and quit the soil of England. The baronial castles were dismantled, and the crown regained its supremacy. Robbery and beggary were succeeded by honest and gainful industry, and, in the words of Fitzstephen, the realm of England was renewed like an opening spring. The inauguration of Becket as chancellor took place in the year 1155, when he was about thirty-eight years old, and the king about twenty-two. The chancellorship was in those days always held by an ecclesiastic, and was regarded as a stepping-stone to a bishopric or archbishopric. Becket seems at once to have gained an almost absolute influence over the young monarch, which fully justified the expectations of his friends. He was now in his prime.

"His countenance was mild and beautiful; he was full of stature" (six feet two inches in height, according to another account); "with a nose elevated and slightly aquiline; in his senses and physical perceptions he was most acute; his language was refined and eloquent, his intellect subtle, and his mind cast in a noble mould. His conduct, amiable towards all men, ex

*Fitzstephen says, "Willielmus de Ipra, violentus incubator Cantia, cum lacrymis emigravit"; that is, "William of Ypres, the violent Kent squatter, left the country with tears."

t Fitzstephen's words are," Regnum Anglia, tanquam ver novum, renovatur"; which Dr. Giles renders," England seemed to enjoy a second spring." He must have forgotten the words with which Virgil opens the subject of his first Georgic,

"Vere novo, gelidus canis quum montibus humor
Liquitur," etc.

[ocr errors]

hibited singular sympathy towards the poor and oppressed, whilst to the proud he was hostile and unbending. He was of a lively and witty disposition, cautious alike of being deceived or of deceiving others.”

“He was humble,” we are told again, “ to the humble, but to the proud he was stern and haughty”; and Virgil's line is applied to him,

“Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos." He was very popular among all classes, except, perhaps, the nobles, who were nevertheless fain to play the parasite to their master's master, and were eager to procure places for their sons in his household. He lived in a style of magnificence which threw the pomp of royalty into the shade ; and the king is said to have sometimes complained to him that he had emptied his court.

“ The house and table of the chancellor were common to all of every rank who came to the king's court and needed hospitality ; whether they were honorable men in reality, or at least appeared to be such. He never dined without the company of earls and barons, whom he had invited.

“ He ordered his hall to be strewed every day with fresh straw and hay in winter, and with fresh rushes or green branches in summer, that the numerous knights, for whom the benches were insufficient, might find the area clean and neat for their reception, and that their valuable clothes and beautiful shirts might not contract injury from its being dirty. His board shone with vessels of gold and silver, and abounded with rich dishes and precious liquors, so that whatever objects of consumption, either for eating or drinking, were recommended by their rarity, no price was great enough to deter his agents from purchasing them.”

The monarch seems, however, to have so thoroughly identified himself with his favorite, that he looked upon his princely ostentation and brilliant retinue as an offshoot of his own splendor.

An intimacy had indeed sprung up between the king and his chancellor, almost without parallel in the frigid experience of courts. Becket was not only Henry's prime-minister, but his companion and confidant. "Never were two men more friendly, and of one mind, since Christian times began.” They played together, hunted together, joked together, and dined together. Becket was an old adept at hawking, and knew something about hounds.

At chess, too,


he was no mean hand.

Their jokes were sometimes of a practical kind. On one of their rides, the king insisted on stripping the shoulders of his chancellor of a new cape of scarlet and gray, to give it to a ragged pauper whom they had met in the road. Aster a stout struggle, the courtier, as in duty bound, gave up the cape, for which, we learn, “ the poor man thanked God, and was much pleased.” The servant whom the mighty sovereign of so many realms delighted to honor became famous abroad. The scions of foreign nobility graced his house ; and once, when he lay sick at

; Rouen, the king of France accompanied his cousin of England on a visit to him. He became the mediator through whom unfortunate persons, who had incurred the wrath of their fiery young master, sought for pardon and restoration. His friends basked with him in the sunshine ; his old teacher, Prior Robert, became his confessor, and Merton had solid reason to boast of the gratitude of her distinguished son. He aspired to the fame of a Mæcenas; and at his sug. gestion the king recalled from France many English monks and scholars, and honored them with lucrative appointments.

We have already alluded to Becket's success in one or more diplomatic missions to the Papal court. A brilliant occasion now arose for an exercise of his talents in this way. A match had been projected between Prince Henry of Eng. land and the Princess Margaret of France. The little puppets who were to make believe matrimony had, of course, the least part in the business. It was all kindly arranged between their disinterested parents. Overtures having been made to the French king, the two sovereigns had an interview on the borders of Normandy. But a question of dowry was involved in the case; and it became necessary, in the course of the negotiation, to despatch an envoy to Paris. Becket's high place in Henry's favor, as well as his eminent diplomatic qualifications, pointed bim out as the most fitting person for this charge. He accordingly received the appointment, and executed the embassy in a style of magnificence to which we can hardly find a parallel in the annals of the most splendid courts. His more than royal progress through the intermediate towns and villages struck the beholders with amazement.

“ In his entry into the French villages and castles, first went the footmen (garciones pedites), about two hundred and fifty in


[ocr errors]

number, going six or ten together, and sometimes more, singing some song or other, after the fashion of their country. At some interval followed the dogs in couples, and harriers fastened by thongs, with their keepers and attendants. At a little distance followed the sumpter-horses, with their grooms riding on them, with their knees placed on the haunches of the horses. Some of the French came out of their houses at the noise, as they passed, and asked who it was, whose family was it that was passing. They received for reply, that it was the chancellor of the king of England, going on an embassy to their lord, the king of France. The French said, -What a remarkable man the king of England must be, if such a great man as this is his chancellor !' After these came the squires, carrying the shields of the knights, and leading their chargers ; then came other squires, then young men, then the falconers, with the birds on their wrists, and after them the butlers, the masters, and attendants of the chancellor's house, then the knights and clerks, all riding two and two together; lastly came the chancellor, and about him some of his particular friends."

On his arrival at the French capital, he was received with all the elegance of Parisian hospitality ; but he was not to be outdone in Gallic arts even on Gallic ground. He eluded a royal proclamation, forbidding the sale of any article of provisions to the English legation, by sending agents in disguise to forestall the neighbouring markets, and thus collecting a three days' supply for a thousand men. A hundred shillings, the price paid for a single dish of eels, was commemorated by a proverb in England. With politic profusion, just before his departure, he distributed among the principal men of Paris, not even forgetting the doctors of the schools, the vast store of plate, costly clothing, and other valuables, which he had brought with him.

This dazzling display, and the still more dazzling munificence of his gifts, produced their due effect ; and when united with the fascination of the ambassador's manners and his persuasive tongue, they enabled him to complete successfully ihe difficult and delicate territorial arrangements, growing out of the new connection between the royal families.

But the tie so recently formed was not strong enough to bear the strain of clashing interests and rival claims.* In


* Dr. Giles seems to place the embassy to Paris after the war in Aquitaine. But the true chronology, we believe, is against him. VOL. LXIV. - No. 134.


« ZurückWeiter »