40. LIFE AND DEATH OF THOMAS A BECKET
Now forsomuch as our English pope-holy martyr, called Thomas Becket, happened also in the same time of this Pope Alexander, let us somewhat also speak of him, so far as the matter shall seem worthy of knowledge, and to stand with truth; to the end that the truth thereof being sifted from all flattery and lies of such popish writers as paint out his story, men may the better judge both of him what he was, and also of his cause.
If the cause make a martyr, (as is said,) I see not why we should esteem Thomas Becket to die a martyr, more than any other whom the prince's sword doth here temporally punish for their temporal deserts. To die for the church I grant is a glorious matter. But the church, as it is a spiritual and not a temporal church, so it standeth upon causes spiritual, and upon a heavenly foundation, as upon faith, religion, true doctrine, sincere discipline, obedience to God's commandments; and not upon things pertaining to this world, as possessions, liberties, exemptions, privileges, dignities, patrimonies, and superiorities. If these be given to the church, I pray God churchmen may use them well; but if they be not given, the church cannot claim them; or if they be taken away, that standeth in the prince's power. To contend with princes for the same, it is no matter (in my mind) sufficient to make a martyr, but rather a rebel against them to whom we owe subjection. Therefore, as I suppose Thomas Becket to be far from the cause and title of a martyr, (neither can he be excused from a plain rebel against his prince,) so yet would I have wished again the law rather publicly to have found out his fault, than the swords of men (not bidden nor sent) to have smitten him, having no special commandment either of the prince or of the law so to do. For though the indignation of the prince (as the wise prince saith) is death, yet it is not for every private person straightways to revenge the secret indignation of his prince, except he be publicly authorized thereunto. And this had been (as I suppose) the better way, if the laws had first executed their justice upon him. Certes, it had been the safest way for the king, as it proved after; who had just matter enough, if he had prosecuted his cause against him. And also thereby his death had been without all suspicion of martyrdom, neither had there followed that shrining and sainting of him as there did. Albeit the secret providence of God, which governeth all things, did see this way perhaps to be best, and most necessary for those days. And doubtless (to say here what I think, and yet to speak nothing against charity) if the emperors had done the like to the popes contending against them, what time they had taken them prisoners; that is, if they had used the law of the sword against them, and chopped off the heads of one or two, according to their traitorous rebellion; they had broken the neck of much disturbance, which long time after did trouble the church. But for lack of that, because emperors having the sword and the truth on their side, would not use their sword; but standing in awe of the pope's vain curse, and reverencing his seat for St. Peter's sake, durst not lay hand upon him, though he were never so abominable and traitorous a malefactor; the popes perceiving that took so much upon them, not as the Scripture would give, but as much as the superstitious fear of emperors and kings would suffer them to take; which was so much, that it passed all order, rule, and measure; and all because the superior powers either would not, or durst not, practise the authority given unto them of the Lord upon those inferiors, but suffered them to be their masters.
But as touching Thomas Becket, whatsoever is to be thought of them that did the act, the example thereof yet bringeth this profit with it, to teach all Romish prelates not to be so stubborn (in such matters not pertaining unto them) against their prince unto whom God hath subjected them.
Now to the story, which if it be true that is set forth in Quadrilogo, by those four who took upon them to express the life and process of Thomas Becket, it appeareth by all conjectures that he was a man of a stout nature, severe, and inflexible. What persuasion or opinion he had once conceived, from that he would in no wise be removed, or very hardly. Threatenings and flattering were to him both one; in this point singular, following no man's counsel so much as his own. Great helps of nature there were in him (if he could have used them well) rather than of learning; albeit somewhat skilful he was of the civil law, which he studied at Bonony; in memory excellently good, and also well broken in courtly and worldly matters. Besides this, he was of a chaste and strait life, if the histories be true; although in the first part of his life (being yet archdeacon of Canterbury, and after lord chancellor) he was very evil, courtly, pleasant, given much both to hunting and hawking, according to the guise of the court; and highly favoured he was of his prince, who not only had thus promoted him, but also had committed his son and heir to his institution and governance. But in this his first beginning he was not so well beloved, but afterward he was again as much hated, (and deservedly,) both of the king, and also of the most part of his subjects, save only of certain monks and priests, and such others as were persuaded by them, who magnified him not a little for upholding the liberties of the church, that is, the licentious life and excess of churchmen. Amongst all others, these vices he had most notable, and to be rebuked; full of devotion, but without all true religion; zealous, but clean without knowledge. And therefore as he was stiff and stubborn of nature, so (a blind conscience being joined withal) it turned to plain rebellion. So superstitious he was to the obedience of the pope, that he forgot his obedience to his natural and most beneficial king; and, in maintaining (so contentiously) the vain constitutions and degrees of men, he neglected the commandments of God. But herein most of all is he to be reprehended, that not only (contrary to the king's knowledge) he sought to convey himself out of the realm, (being in that place and calling,) but also being out of the realm, he set matter of discord between the pope and his king, and also between the French king and him, contrary to all honesty, good order, natural subjection, and true Christianity. Where upon followed no little disquietness to the king, and damage to the realm, as here (in process and order following, by the grace of Christ) we will declare; beginning with the first rising up of him, and so consequently prosecuting in order his story.
And first here to omit the progeny of him and of his mother, named Rose, whom Polydore Virgil falsely nameth to be a Saracen, when indeed she came out of the parts bordering near to Normandy; to omit also the fabulous vision of his mother, mentioned in Roberto Crikeladensi, of a burning torch issuing out of her body, and reaching up to heaven; his first preferment was to the church of Branfield, which he had by the gift of St. Albans. After that, he entered into the service of the archbishop of Canterbury, by whom he was then preferred to be his archdeacon; and after by the said Theobald was put (as a man meet for his purpose) to King Henry to bridle the young king, that he should not be fierce against the clergy; whom in process of time the king made lord chancellor, and then he left playing the archdeacon, and began to play the chancellor. He fashioned his conditions like to the king's both in weighty matters and trifles; he would hunt with him, and watch the time when the king dined and slept. Furthermore, he began to love the merry jestings of the court, to delight himself with the great laud of men, and praise of the people. And that I may not pass over his household stuff, he had his bridle of silver, and the bosses of his bridle were worth a great treasure. At his table and in other expenses he passed any earl; so that, on the one side, men judged him little to consider the office of an archdeacon; and, on the other side, they judged him to use wicked doings. He played also the good soldier under the king in Gascoigne, and both won and kept towns. When the king sent Thomas, being chancellor, home into England, (ambassador with other nobles, after the death of the archbishop,) he willed Richard Lucy (one of the chiefest) to commend in his name this Thomas to the convent of Canterbury, that they might choose him archbishop, which thing be did diligently. The monks said it was not meet to choose a courtier and a soldier to be head of so holy a company; for he would spend (said they) all that they had. Others had this surmise also, because he was in so great favour with the prince, the king's son, and was so suddenly discharged of the chancellorship, which he had borne five years. In the four and fortieth year of his age (on the Saturday in Whitsun week) he was made priest, and the next day consecrated bishop.
As touching the priesthood of this man, I find the histories to vary in themselves; for if he were beneficed, and chaplain to Theobald, and afterwards archdeacon, (as some say,) it is no other like but that be was priest before, and not (as our most English stories say) made priest in one day, and archbishop the next.
But howsoever this matter passeth, here is in the mean time to be seen what great benefits the king had done for him, and what great love had been between them both. Now after that Becket was thus promoted, what variance and discord happened between them remaineth to be showed; the causes of which variance were divers and sundry.
As, first, when (according to the custom) the king's officers gathered of every one hide-money through the realm, for the defence of their own country, the king would have taken it to his coffers. But the bishop said, that which every man gave willingly he should not count as his proper rent.
Another cause was, that where a priest was accused of murder, and the king's officers and the friends of the dead accused the priest earnestly before the bishop of Salisbury, his diocesan, to whom he was sent, desiring justice to be done on him, the priest was put to his purgation. But when he was not able to defend himself, the bishop sent to the archbishop to ask what he should do. The archbishop commanded he should be deprived of all ecclesiastical benefices, and shut up in an abbey to do perpetual penance. After the same sort were divers others handled for like causes, but none put to death, nor lost joint, nor burned in the hand, or put to the like pain.
The third cause was, that, where a canon of Bruis did revile the king's justices, the king was offended with the whole clergy. For these and such-like the archbishop (to pacify the king's anger) commanded the canon to be whipped and deprived of his benefices for certain years. But the king was not content with this gentle punishment, because it rather increased their boldness; and therefore he called the archbishop, bishops, and all the clergy to assemble at Westminster. When they were assembled together, the king earnestly commanded that such wicked clerks should have no privilege of their clergy, but be delivered to the jailors, because they passed so little of the spiritual correction; and this he said also their own canons and laws had decreed. The archbishop, counselling with his bishops and learned men, answered probably; and in the end he desired heartily the king's gentleness, (for the quietness of himself and his realm,) that under Christ, our new King, and under the new law of Christ, he would bring in no new kind of punishment into his realm, (upon the new chosen people of the Lord,) against the old decrees of the holy fathers; and oft he said that he neither ought nor could suffer it. The king moved therewith (and not without cause) allegeth again and exacteth the old laws and customs of his grandfather, observed and agreed upon by archbishops, bishops, prelates, and other privileged persons; inquiring likewise of him whether he would agree to the same, or else now (in his reign) would condemn that which in the reign of his grand father was well allowed. To which laws and customs the said Thomas did partly grant, and partly not grant. The copy of the which foresaid laws are contained in the number of eight and twenty or nine and twenty, whereof I thought here to recite certain not unworthy to be known.
The copy of the old laws and customs where unto Thomas Becket did grant.
1. That no order should be given to husbandmen's children and bondmen's children, without the assent or testimonial of them which be the lords of the country where they were born and brought up; and if their sons become clerks, they shall not receive the order of priesthood without licence of their lords.
2. And if a man of holy church hold any lay fee in his hand, he shall do therefore the king the service that belongeth thereto, as upon juries, assize of lands and judgments, saving only at execution doing of death.
3. If any man were the king's traitor, and had taken the church, that it should be lawful for the king and his officers to take him out.
4. And if any felon's goods were brought to holy church, that there should none such keep there; for every felon's goods be the king's.
5. That no land should be given to the church, or to any house of religion, without the king's licence.
These articles following Thomas agreed not unto.
1. If that between a clerk and a layman were any striving for church goods, they would the plea should be done in the king's court.
2. That there should neither bishop nor clerk go out of the land without the king's licence, and then he should swear upon a book he should procure no hurt against the king, nor none of his.
3. If any man were denounced accursed, and were come again to amendment, the king would not that he should he sworn, but only find sureties to stand to that that holy church should award.
4. That no man, that held of the king in chief or in service, should be accursed without the king's licence.
5. That all the bishoprics and abbeys that were vacant should be in the king's hands, until such time that be should choose a prelate thereto, and he should be chosen out of the king's chapels; and, first, before he were confirmed, he should do his homage to the king.
6. If any plea were brought to the consistory, they should appeal from thence to the archdeacon, and from thence to the bishop's court, and from the bishop's court to the archbishop's, and from thence to the king, and no further. So that, in conclusion, the complaints of holy church must come before the king, and not the pope.
7. That debts that were owing through troth plight should not be pleaded in spiritual, but in temporal courts.
8. That the Peter pence which to the pope were gathered should be taken to the king.
9. If any clerk for felony were taken and so proved, he should be first degraded, and then through judgment be hanged, or, if he were a traitor, be drawn.
Other lawes and constitutions made at Clarendon in Normandy, and sent to England, whereunto Becket and the pope would not agree, he being then fled out of the realm.
1. If any person shall be found to bring from the pope, or from the archbishop of Canterbury, any writing containing any interdict or curse against the realm of England, the same man to be apprehended without delay for a traitor, and execution to be done upon the same.
2. That no monk nor any clerk shall be permitted to pass over into England without a passport from the king or his justices; whoso doth the contrary, that man to be attached and imprisoned.
3. No man to be so bold once to appeal to the pope, or to the archbishop of Canterbury out of England.
4. That no decree or commandment, proceeding from the authority of the pope or the bishop of Canterbury, be received into England, under pain of taking and imprisoning.
5. In general, to forbid any man to carry over any commandment or precept, either of clerk or layman, to the pope, or to the archbishop of Canterbury, under pain of imprisonment.
6. If any bishop, clerk, abbot, or layman shall do contrary to this inhibition, or will keep the sentence of interdicting, the same incontinent to be thrust out of the land, with all their kindred, and to leave all their goods behind them.
7. All the possessions, goods, and chattels of such as favour the pope, or the archbishop of Canterbury, to be seized and confiscate for the king.
8. All such of the clergy as be out of the realm, having their rents and profits out of the land, to be summoned and warned through every shire within three months to repair home, or else their rents and goods to return to the king.
9. That St. Peter's pence should be no more paid to the apostolical see, but be reserved diligently in the king's coffers, and there to be at his commandment.
10. That the bishops of Salisbury and Norwich be at the king's mercy, and be summoned by the sheriff and beadles, that they before the king's justices do right to the king and his justices, because (contrary to the statutes of Clarendon) by commandment they interdicted the land of Earl Hugh, and published the same in their diocess without licence of the king's justices.
By these and such other laws and decrees it may appear, that the abolishing of the pope is no new thing in the realm of England. This only difference there is, that the pope being driven out then, could not be kept out so long as now he is. The cause is, that the time was not yet come that antichrist should so fully be revealed; neither was his wickedness then so fully ripe in those days, as it hath been now in our time. Now these premised, let us return where we left, to the matter between the king and Thomas Becket.
The communication and controversy between the king and Thomas Becket with his clergy.
The king (as is aforesaid) conventing his nobles and clerks together, required to have the punishment of certain misdoers of the clergy; but Thomas Becket not assenting thereunto, the king came to this point, to know whether he would consent with his clergy, that the customs then set forth in the realm (meaning the first part of those decrees above specified) should he observed. To which the archbishop, consulting together with his brethren, giveth answer again, that he was contented the king's ordinances should be observed, adding this, saving his order. And so in like manner all the other bishops after, being demanded in order, answered with the same addition. Hilarius, bishop of Chichester, perceiving the king to be exasperated with that addition, instead of salvo ordine, (saving his order,) agreed to observe them bona fide. The king hearing them not simply to agree unto him, but with an exception, was mightily offended; who then turning to the archbishop and the prelates, said that he was not well contented with that clause of theirs, salvo sue ordine, which he said was captious and deceitful, having some manner of venom lurking under it; and therefore required an absolute grant of them, without any exception, to agree to the king's ordinances. To this the archbishop answered again, that they had sworn unto him their fidelity, both life, body, and earthly honour: and that in the same earthly honour also those ordinances were comprehended, and to the observing of them they would bind themselves after no other form, but as they had sworn before. The king with this was moved, and all his nobility, not a little. As for the other bishops, there was no doubt but they would easily have relented, had not the stoutness of the archbishop made them more constant than otherwise they would have been. The day being well spent, the king (when he could get no other answer of them) departed in great anger, giving no word of salutation to the bishops, and likewise the bishops every one to his own house departed. The bishop of Chichester (amongst the rest) was greatly rebuked of his fellows for changing the exception, contrary to the voice of all the others. The next day following the king took from the archbishop all such honours and lordships as he had given him before in the time that he was chancellor; whereby appeared the great displeasure of the king against him and the clergy. Not long after this, the king removing from London, (unknown to the bishops,) sailed over to Normandy, whither the bishop of London, called Gilbert, (not long after,) resorted to crave the king's favour, and gave him counsel withal to join some of the bishops on his side; lest if all were against him, peradventure he might sooner be overthrown. And thus the greatest number of the bishops were by this means reconciled again to the king; only the archbishop with a few others remained in their stoutness still. The king, (thinking to try all manner of ways,) when he saw no fear nor threats could turn him, did assay him with gentleness; it would not serve. Many of the nobles laboured betwixt them both, exhorting him to relent to the king; it would not be. Likewise the archbishop of York, with divers other bishops and abbots, especially the bishop of Chester, did the same. Besides this, his own household daily called upon him, but no man could persuade him. At length understanding partly by them that came to him what danger might happen, not only to himself, but to all the other clergy, upon the king's displeasure; partly considering the old love and kindness of the king towards him in time past; he was content to give over to the king's request, and came to Oxford to him, reconciling himself about the addition, which displeased the king so much. Whereupon the king being somewhat mitigated receiveth him with a more cheerful countenance, but yet not all so familiarly as before, saying that he would have his ordinances and proceedings after the form confirmed in the public audience and open sight of his bishops and all his nobles. After this, the king (being at Clarendon) there called all his peers and prelates before him, requiring to have that performed which they had promised, in consenting to the observing of his grandfather's ordinances and proceedings. The archbishop, suspecting I cannot tell what in the king's promise, drew backward, and now would not that he would before; at last with much ado he was enforced to give assent. First came to him the bishop of Salisbury and of Norwich, who (for old matters endangered to the king long before) came weeping and lamenting to the archbishop, desiring him to have some compassion of them, and to remit this pertinacy to the king, lest if he so continued, (through his stoutness to exasperate the king's displeasure,) haply it might redound to no small danger, not only of them, which were in jeopardy already, but also of himself to be imprisoned, and the whole clergy to be endangered. Besides these two bishops, there went to him other two noble peers of the realm, labouring with him to relent and condescend to the king's desire; if not, they should be enforced to use such violence, as neither would stand with the king's fame, and much less with his quietness: but yet the stout stomach of the man would not give over. After this came to him two rulers of the temple, called Templars, one Richard de Hust, another Costans de Heverio, with their company, lamenting and bewailing the great peril which they declared unto him to hang over his head; yet neither with their tears nor with their kneelings would he he removed. At length came the last message from the king, signifying unto him with express words, and also with tears, what he should trust to, if he would not give over to the king's request.
By reason of which message he, either terrified, or else persuaded, was content to submit himself. Whereupon the king incontinent assembling the states together, the archbishop first before all others beginneth to promise the king obedience, and submission unto his custom, and that cum bona fide, leaving out his former addition, salvo ordine, mentioned before; instead whereof he promised in verbo veritatis, to observe and keep the king's customs, and swear to the same. After him the other bishops likewise gave the like oath; whereupon the king commanded incontinent certain instruments obligatory to be drawn, of the which the king should have the one, the archbishop of Canterbury another, the archbishop of York the third, requiring also the said archbishop to set to his hand and seal. To the which the archbishop (though not denying but that he was ready so to do) yet desired respite in the matter, while that he (being but newly come to his bishopric) might better peruse with himself the foresaid customs and ordinances of the king. This request, as it seemed but reasonable, so it was lightly granted; so the day being well spent, they departed for that season and brake up.
Alanus, one of the four writers of the Life of this Thomas Becket, recordeth, that the archbishop, in his voyage towards Winchester, began greatly to repent that he had done before, partly through the instigation of certain about him, but chiefly of his cross-bearer, who, going before the archbishop, sharply and earnestly expostulated with him for giving over to the king's request, against the privilege and liberties of the church, polluting not only his fame and conscience, but also giving a pernicious example to them that should come after; with many like words. To make the matter short, the archbishop was so touched upon the same with such repentance, that keeping himself from all company, lamenting with tears, with fasting, and with much penance macerating and afflicting himself, he did suspend himself from all Divine service, and would not receive comfort before that (word being sent to his holy grandfather the pope) he should be assoiled of him; who, tendering the tears of his dear chicken, directed to him letters again by the same messenger which Thomas had sent up to him before. In which letters not only he assoiled him from his trespass, but also with words of great consolation did encourage him to be stout in the quarrel he took in hand. The copy of which letters consolatory, sent from the pope to Bishop Becket, here followeth under written:
"Alexander, bishop, &c. Your brotherhood is not ignorant that it hath been advertised us how that, upon the occasion of a certain transgression or excess of yours, you have determined to cease henceforth from saying of mass, and to abstain from the consecration of the body and blood of the Lord; which thing to do, how dangerous it is, (especially in such a personage,) and also what inconvenience may rise thereof, I will you advisedly to consider, and discreetly also to ponder. Your wisdom ought not to forget what difference there is between them which advisedly and willingly do offend, and those which through ignorance and for necessity sake do offend. For as you read, so much the greater is wilful sin; as the same, not being voluntary, is a lesser sin. Therefore, if you remember yourself to have done any thing that your own conscience doth accuse you of; whatsoever it be, we counsel you (as a prudent and wise prelate) to acknowledge the same. Which thing done, the merciful and pitiful God, who hath more respect to the heart of the doer than to the thing done, will remit and forgive you the same, according to his accustomed great mercy. And we, trusting in the merits of the blessed apostles St. Peter and Paul, do absolve you from the offence committed, and by the authority apostolical we release you unto your fraternity, counselling you and commanding you, that henceforth you abstain not (for this cause) from the celebration of the mass."
This letter, with others more after the like sort, the pope then wrote to him, animating and comforting him in this quarrel, so nearly pertaining to the pope's profit. By the occasion whereof Becket took no small heart and consolation; insomuch that thereof seemeth to me to proceed all the occasion that made him so stout and malapert against his prince, as hereafter followeth to he seen by his doings. What the other letters were that the pope wrote unto him shortly after (when we come to the appellations made to the pope) shall appear, God willing. In the mean season, (as he sat thus mourning at home,) the king hearing of him, and how he refused to set his seal to those sanctions which he condescended to before, took displeasure against him; insomuch that he (threatening to him both his banishment and death) began to call him to reckonings, and to burden him with payments, that all men might understand that the king's mind was sore set against him. The archbishop hereupon (whether more for the love of the pope, or dread of his prince) thought to make an escape out of the realm, and so went about in the night (with two or three with him, stealing out of his house) to take the sea privily. Now amongst others the king's ordi nances and sanctions, this was one, that none of the prelacy or nobility without the king's licence (or of his justices) should depart out of the realm. So Becket twice attempted the sea to flee to the see of Rome; but, the weather not serving, he was driven home again, and his device for that time frustrated. After his departure began to be known and noised abroad, the king's officers came to Canterbury to seize upon his goods in the king's behalf But, as it chanced, the night before their coming Becket being returned and found at home, they did not proceed in their purpose.
Upon this, the archbishop (understanding the king sore bent against him, and the seas not to serve him) made haste to the court, lying then at Woodstock; where the king received him, (after a certain manner,) but nothing so familiarly as he was wont, taunting him jestingly and merrily, as though one realm were not able to hold them both. Becket (although he was permitted to go and come at his pleasure to the court) yet could not obtain the favour that he would, perceiving both in himself, and confessing no less to others, how the matter would fall out, so that either he should be constrained to give over with shame, or stoutly stand to that which be had so boldly taken in hand. The archbishop of York, in the mean time, (going betwixt the king and the archbishop,) laboured to make a peace and love betwixt them; but the king in no case would be reconciled, unless the other would subscribe to his laws. So the while neither the king would otherwise agree, nor yet the archbishop in any wise would subscribe, there was a foul discord; where the fault was, let the reader here judge between them both. The king for his regal authority thought it much that any subject of his should stand against him. The archbishop (bearing himself bold upon the authority, and especially upon the letters of the pope lately written to him) thought him strong enough against the king and all his realm. Again, such was his quarrel for the maintenance of liberties and glory of the church, that he could lack no setters-on and favourers in that behalf in so sweet a cause amongst the clergy. Wherefore the archbishop (trusting to these things) would give no place, but, by virtue of his apostolical authority, gave censure upon these laws and constitutions of the king, condemning some, and other some approving for good and catholic, as is before declared. Besides this, there came also to the king Rotrodus, archbishop of Rothomage, (sent from the pope,) to make peace between the king and Canterbury; whereunto the king was well content, so that the pope would agree to ratify his ordinances. But when that could in no wise be obtained at the pope's hands, then the king being stopped and frustrate of his purpose by reason of Becket's apostolic legacy, (being Legatus a latere,) thought good to send up to the pope, and so did, to obtain of him, that the same authority of the apostolic legacy might be conferred to another after his appointment, which was the archbishop of York; but the pope denied. Notwithstanding, at the request of the king's clergy, the pope was content that the king should be legate himself; whereat the king took great indignation, (as Hoveden writeth,) so that he sent the pope his letters again. Here the pope was perplexed on both sides.
If he should have denied the king, that was too hot for him; for the pope useth always to hold in with kings, howsoever the world speedeth. Again, if he should have forsaken such a churchly chaplain, (the cause being so sweet and gainful,) that should have been against himself. What did he then? Here now cometh in the old practice of popish prelacy, to play with both hands; privily he conspireth with the one, and openly dissembleth with the other. First, he granted to the king's ambassadors their request, to have the legate removed, and to place in that office the archbishop of York, to his own contentation; and yet, notwithstanding, (to tender the cause of Thomas Becket,) he addeth this promise withal, that the said Becket should receive no harm or damage thereby. Thus the pope, craftily conveying the matter between them both, gladly to further the archbishop for his own advantage, and yet loth to deny the king for displeasure, writeth to the king openly, and also secretly directeth another letter to Becket; the contents whereof here follow.
Alexander, the pope, to Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury.
"Although we, condescending to the king's request, have granted the gift of our legacy after his mind from you; yet let not your mind thereby be discomforted, nor brought into sighs of despair. For before that we had granted that, or gave our consent thereunto, the king's ambassadors firmly promised in the word of truth (ready also to be sworn upon the same, if I would so have required) that their letters also which he had obtained should not be delivered to the archbishop of York without our knowledge and consent therein. This is certain, and so persuade yourself boldly without any scruple, doubt, or mistrust, that it was never my mind or purpose, nor ever shall be, (God willing,) to subdue you or your church under the obedience of any person, to be subject to any, save only to the bishop of Rome. And therefore we warn you and charge you, that if you shall perceive the king to deliver these foresaid letters, which we trust he will not attempt without our knowledge to do, forthwith by some trusty messengers or by your letters you will give us knowledge thereof; whereby we may provide upon the same both for your person, your church, and also your city committed to you, to be clearly exempt, by our authority apostolical, from all power and jurisdiction of any legacy."
Upon these letters and such others, (as is said before,) Becket seemed to take all his boldness to be so stout and sturdy against his prince as he was. The pope (beside these) sent secretly a chaplain of his, and directed another letter also unto the king, granting and permitting, at his request, to make the archbishop of York legate apostolical.
The king (after he had received his letters sent from the pope) began to put more strength to his purposed proceedings against the archbishop, first beginning with the inferiors of the clergy, such as were offenders against his laws; as felons, robbers, quarrellers, breakers of peace, and especially such as had committed homicide and murders, whereof more than a hundred at that time were proved upon the clergy, urging and constraining them to be arraigned after the order of the law temporal, and justice to be ministered to them according to their deserts; as, first, to be deprived, and so to be committed to the secular bands. This seemed to Becket to derogate from the liberties of holy church, that the secular power should pass in causes criminal, or sit in judgment against any ecclesiastical person. This law the recusants (then of the clergy) had picked and forged out of Anacletus and Fuaristus, by whose falsely alleged and pretended authority they have deduced this their constitution from the apostles, which giveth immunity to all ecclesiastical persons to be free from secular jurisdiction. Becket, therefore, like a valiant champion, (fighting for his liberties, and having the pope on his side,) would not permit his clerks infamed otherwise to be convented than before ecclesiastical judges, there to be examined and deprived for their excess, and no secular judge to proceed against them; so that after their deprivation, if they should incur the like offence again, then the temporal judge to take hold upon them, otherwise not. This obstinate and stubborn rebellion of the archbishop stirred up much anger and vexation in the king, and not only in him, but also in the nobles and all the bishops, (for the greater part,) that almost he was alone a wonderment to all the realm.
The king's wrath daily increased more and more against him, (as no marvel it was,) and caused him to be cited up to appear by a certain day at the town of Northampton, there to make answer to such things as should be laid to his charge. So when the day was come, (all the peers and nobles, with the prelates of the realm, upon the king's proclamation being assembled in the castle of Northampton,) great fault was found with the archbishop, for that he (personally cited to appear) came not himself; but sent another for him. The cause why he came not Hovcden assigneth to be this; for that the king had placed his horse and horsemen in the archbishop's lodging, (which was a house there of canons,) wherewith he being offended, sent word again that he would not appear, unless his lodging were voided of the king's horsemen, &c. Whereupon (by the public sentence as well of all the nobles as of the bishops) all his movables were adjudged to be confiscate for the king, unless the king's clemency would remit the penalty. The stubborn archbishop again (for his part) quarrelling against the order and form of the judgment, com plaineth, alleging for himself, (seeing he is the primate, and spiritual father, not only of all other in the realm, but also of the king himself,) that it was not convenient that the father should be so judged of his children, nor the pastor of his flock so condemned; saying, moreover, that the ages to come should know what judgment was done, &c. But especially he complaineth of his fellow bishops, (when they should rather have taken his part,) who did sit in judgment against their metropolitans. And this was the first day's action.
The next day following the king laid an action against him in the behalf of one that was his marshal, (called John,) for certain injuries done to him, and required of the said archbishop the repaying again of certain money, which he (as is said) had lent unto him being chancellor, the sum whereof came to five hundred marks. This money the archbishop denied not but he had received of the king, howbeit, by the way and title of a gift as he took it, though he could bring no probation thereof. Where upon the king required him to put in assurance for the payment thereof; whereat the archbishop making delays, (not well contented at the matter,) was so called upon, that either he should be countable to the king for the money, or else he should incur present danger, the king being so bent against him. The archbishop being brought to such a strait, and destitute of his own suffragans, could here by no means have escaped, had not five persons of their own accord stepped in, being bound for him, every man for one hundred marks apiece. And this was upon the second day concluded.
The morrow after, which was the third day of the council, as the archbishop was sitting below in a certain conclave with his fellow bishops about him, consulting together, the doors fast locked to them, as the king had willed and commanded, it was propounded unto him, in the behalf of the king, that he had divers bishoprics and abbacies in his band which were vacant, with the fruits and revenues thereof due unto the king for certain years, whereof he had rendered as yet no account to the king; wherefore it was demanded of him to bring in a full and clear reckoning of the same. This, with other such like, declared to all the council great displeasure to be in the king, and no less danger to ward the archbishop.
The advice of the bishops for Thomas Becket.
Thus, while the bishops and prelates were in council. advising and deliberating what was to be done, at length it came to voices, every man to say his mind, and to give sentence what were the best way for their archbishop to take. First began Henry, bishop of Winchester, who then took part with Becket so much as he durst for fear of the king, who said he remembered that the said archbishop, first being archdeacon, and then lord chancellor, at what time as he was promoted to the church of Canterbury, was discharged from all bonds and reckonings of the temporal court, as all the other bishops could not but bear record to the same.
Next spake Gilbert, bishop of London, exhorting and motioning the archbishop, that he should call with himself to mind from whence the king took him, and set him up, what and how great things he had done for him; also that he should consider with himself the dangers and perils of the time, and what ruin he might bring upon the whole church, (and upon them all there present,) if he resisted the king's mind in the things he required. And if it were to render up his archbishopric, (although it were ten times better than it is,) yet he should not stick with the king in the matter. In so doing it might happen, the king seeing that submission and humility in him, would release him peradventure of all the rest. To this the archbishop answering, Well, well, (saith he,) I perceive well enough, my lord, whither you tend, and whither about you go. Then spake Winchester, inferring upon the same: This form of counsel (saith he) seemeth to me very pernicious to you, very pernicious to the catholic church, tending to our subversion, and to the confusion of us all. For if our archbishop and primate of all England do lean to this example, that every bishop should give over his authority and the charge of the flock committed to him, at commandment and threatening of the prince; to what state shall the church he hrought then, but that all should he confounded at his pleasure and arbitrement, and nothing shall stand certain by any order of law, and so as the priest is, so shall the people be?
Hilary, the bishop of Chichester, replieth again to this, saying, If it were not that the instance and the great perturbation of time did otherwise require and force us, I would think this counsel here given were good to be followed. But now seeing the authority of our canon faileth, and cannot serve us, I judge it not best to go so strictly to work, but so to moderate our proceedings, that dispensation with sufferance may win that which severe correction may destroy. Wherefore my counsel and reason is, to give place to the king's purpose for a time, lest by over-hasty proceeding we exceed so far, that both it may redound to our shame, and also we cannot rid our selves out again when we would.
Much to the same end spake Robert, the bishop of Lincoln, after this manner: Seeing (saith he) it is manifest that the life and blood of this man is sought, one of these two must needs be chosen; that either he must part with his archbishopric, or else with his life. Now what profit he shall take in this matter of his bishopric, his life being lost, I do not greatly see.
Next followed Bartholomew, bishop of Exeter, with his advice, who inclining his counsel to the state of the time, confirmed their sayings, before, af firming how the days were evil and perilous; and if they might so escape the violence of that raging tempest under the cover of bearing and relenting, it were not to be refused. But that, be said, could not be, except strict severity should give place to tractability; and so the instance and condition of time then present required no less, especially seeing that persecution was not general, but personal and particular; and thought it more holy and convenient one head to run into some part of danger, than the whole Church of England to be subject and exposed to inconvenience inevitable.
The answer of Roger, bishop of Worcester, was devised in a double suspense, neither affirming the one, nor denying the other, whose saying was this, That he would give answer on neither part; for if I (saith he) should say that the pastoral function and cure of souls ought to be relinquished at the king's will or threatening, then my mouth shall speak against my conscience, to the condemnation of mine own head. And if I shall give again contrary counsel to resist the king's sentence, here be they that will hear it, and report it to his Grace; and so I shall be in danger to be thrust out of the synagogue, and for my part to be accounted amongst the public rebels, with them to be condemned: where fore neither do I say this nor counsel that.
And this was the consultation of the bishops in that place, assembled together by the king's commandment. Against these voices and censures of the bishops Becket the archbishop replieth again, expostulating and checking them with rebukeful words. I perceive (saith he) and understand ye go about to maintain and cherish but your own cowardliness under the colourable shadow of sufferance, and under pretence of dissembling softness to choke the liberty of Christ's church. Who hath thus bewitched you, O unsatiable bishops? What mean ye? Why do ye so, under the impudent title of forbearing, bear a double heart, and cloak your manifest iniquity? What call ye this bearing with time, to the detriment of the church of Christ? Let terms serve the matter. Why pervert you the matter that is good with vocables and terms untrue? For that ye say we must bear with the malice of time, I grant with you; but yet we must not heap sin to sin. Is not God able to help the state and condition of his church, but with the sinful dissimulation of the teachers of the church? Certes, God is disposed to tempt you. And tell me, (I pray you,) whether should the governors of the church put themselves to dangers for the church in time of tranquillity, or in time of distress? Ye will be ashamed to deny the contrary, but in distress. And now, then, (the church lying in so great distress and vexation,) why should not the good pastor put himself into peril therefore? For neither do I think it a greater act or merit for the ancient bishops of the old time to lay the foundation of the church then with their blood, than now for to shed our blood for the liberties of the same. And, to tell you plain, I think it not safe for you to swerve from an example which you have received of your holy elders. After these things were spoken, they sat all in silence a certain space, being locked in to gether. At length, (to find a shift to cause the door to be opened,) I will (saith the archbishop) speak with two earls which are about the king; and named them who they were; who being called opened the door and came in with haste, thinking to hear something which should appease the king's mind. To whom the archbishop spake in this manner: As touching and concerning the matters between the king and us, we have here conferred together. And forasmuch as we have them not present with us now, which knew more in the matter than we do, and whose advice we would be glad to follow, therefore we crave so much respite as till the next day following, and then to give our answer unto the king. With this message two bishops were sent to the king, which were the bishop of London and the bishop of Rochester.
London, to help the matter, and to set quietness, as I take it, adding something more to the message, said to the king, that the archbishop craved a little delay of time to prepare such writings and instruments, wherein he should set forth and declare his mind in accomplishing the king's desire, &c. Wherefore two barons were sent to him from the king to grant him that respite or stay; so that he should ratify that which the messengers had signified to the king. To which the archbishop answereth, that he sent no message as was intimated in his name; but only that the next day he would come and give answer to the king, in that which he had to say. And so the convocation of the bishops was dissolved and dismissed home; so that the most part of them that came with the archbishop, and accompanied him before (for fear of the king's displeasure,) severed themselves from him. The archbishop, thus forsaken and destitute, (as his story saith,) sent about for the poor, the lame, and the halt, to come in and furnish his house, saying, that by them he might sooner obtain his victory, than by the others which had so slipped from him.
On the next day following, because it was Sunday, nothing was done. So the day after the archbishop was cited to appear. But the night before being taken with a disease called passio iliaca, the colic, on that day he kept bed, and was not able, as he said, to rise. Every man supposing this to be but a feigned sickness, as it seemed no less, certain of the chief nobles were sent to try the matter, and to cite him to the court; namely, Robert, earl of Leicester, and Reginald, earl of Devonshire. To whom the archbishop an swered, that on that day he was so diseased, that he could not come, yea, though he were brought in a horse litter. So that day passed over. The morrow after, certain that were about him, fearing no less but that some danger would happen to him, gave him counsel in the morning to have a mass in the honour of the holy martyr St. Stephen, to keep him from the hands of his enemies that day. When the morrow was come, (being Tuesday,) there came to him the bishops and prelates, counselling and persuading him covertly by insinuation, (for openly they durst not,) that he would submit himself with all his goods, (as also his archbishopric,) to the will of the king, if peradventure his indignation by that means might assuage. Adding moreover, that unless he would so do, perjury would be laid against him; for that he being under the oath of fidelity to keep the king's laws and ordinances, now would not observe them. To this Becket the archbishop answereth again, Brethren, ye see and perceive well how the world is set against me, and how the enemy riseth and seeketh my confusion. And although these things be dolorous and lamentable, yet the thing that grieveth me most of all is this; The sons of mine own mother be pricks and thorns against me. And albeit I do hold my peace, yet the posterity to come will know and report how cowardly you have turned your backs, and have left your archbishop and metropolitan alone in his conflict, and how you have sitten in judgment against me (although unguilty of crime) now two days together, and not only in the civil and spiritual court, but also in the temporal court ready to do the same. But, in general, this I charge and command, (as the virtue of pure obedience, and in peril of your order,) that ye be present personally in judgment against me. And, that ye shall not fail so to do, I here appeal to our mother, (the refuge of all such as be oppressed,) the Church of Rome; and if any secular men shall lay hands upon me, (as it is rumoured they will,) I straitly enjoin and charge you, in the same virtue of obedience, that you exercise your censure ecclesiastical upon them, as it becometh you to do for a father and an archbishop. And this I do you to understand, that though the world rage, and the enemy be fierce, and the body trembleth, (for the flesh is weak,) yet God so fasouring me, I will neither cowardly shrink, nor yet vilely forsake my flock committed to my charge, &c.
But the bishop of London, contrary to this comxnandment of the archbishop, did incontinent appeal from him. And thus the bishops departed from him to the court, save only two, Henry of Winchester, and Joceline of Salisbury, who returned with him secretly to his chamber, and comforted him. This done, the archbishop (which yesterday was so sore sick that he could not stir out of his bed) now addresseth him to his mass of St. Stephen with all solemnity, as though it had been a high festival day, with his metropolitan pall, which was not used but upon the holy day to be worn, &c. The office of the mass began, Princes sat and spake against me, &c. (the king's servants being also there, and beholding the matter). For this mass Gilbert, bishop of London, accused Becket afterward, both for that it was done both by art of magic, and in contempt of the king, &c.
The mass being ended, the archbishop (putting off his pall, his mitre, and other robes) proceedeth to the kings court; but yet not trusting, peradventure, so greatly to the strength of his mass, (to make the matter more sure,) he taketh also the sacrament privily about him, thinking himself thereby sufficiently defended against all bugs. In going to the king's chamber, (there to attend the King's coming,) as he entered the door, he taketh from Alexander his crosier, the cross with the cross staff, in the sight of all that stood by, and carrieth it in himself, the other bishops following him, and saying he did otherwise than became him. Amongst others, Robert, bishop of Hereford, offered himself to bear his cross, rather than he should so do, for that was not comely; but the archbishop would not suffer him. Then said the bishop of London unto him, If the king shall see you come armed into his chamber, perchance he will draw out his sword against you, which is stronger than yours, and then what shall this your account profit you? The archbishop answereth again, If the king's sword do cut carnally, yet my sword cutteth spiritually, and striketh down to hell. But you, my lord, as you have played the fool in this matter, so you will not yet leave off your folly for any thing I can see: and so he came into the chamber. The king hearing of his coming, and of the manner thereof, tarried not long, but came where Becket was set in a place by himself with his other bishops about him. First, the crier called the prelates and all the lords of the temporalty together. That being done, (and every one placed in his seat according to his degree,) the king beginneth with a great complaint against the archbishop for his manner of entering into the court, not as (saith he) a subject into a king's court, but as a traitor, showing himself in such sort as hath not been seen before in any Christian king's court professing Christian faith. To this all there present gave witness with the king, affirming him always to be a vain and proud man, and that the shame of his fact did not only redound against the prince himself, but also against his whole realm. Moreover, they said that this had so happened to the king, for that he had done so much for such a beast, advancing him so highly to such a place and room next under himself. And so all together with one cry called him traitor on every side, as one that refused to give terrene honour to the king, in keeping (as he had sworn) his laws and ordinances, at whose hands also he had received such honour and great preferments; and therefore he was well worthy (said they) to be handled like a perjured traitor and rebel. Whereupon great doubt and fear was what should befall him. The archbishop of York, coming down to his men, said he could not abide to see what the archbishop of Canterbury was like to suffer. Likewise the tipstaves, and other ministers of the assembly, coming down with an outcry against him, crossed them to see his haughty stubbornness, and the business there was about him. Certain there were of his disciples sitting at his feet, comforting him softly, and bidding him to lay his curse upon them. Others (contrary) bidding him not to curse, but to pray and forgive them; and if he lost his life in the quarrel of the church, and the liberty thereof, he should be happy. Afterward, one of them, named Johannes Stephani, desired to speak something in his ear, but could not be suffered by the kings marshal, who forbade that any man should have any talk with him. Then he (because he could not otherwise speak to him) wrought by signs, making a cross, and looking up with his eyes, and wagging his lips, meaning that he should pray, and manfully stand to the cause. In the mean time cometh to him Bartholomew, bishop of Exeter, desiring him to have regard and compassion of himself, and also of them, or else they were all like to perish for the hatred of him; for there cometh out (saith he) a precept from the king that he shall be taken, and suffer for an open rebel, that hereafter taketh your part. It is said, moreover, that Jocelinus, bishop of Salisbury, and William, bishop of Norwich, are to be had to the place of execution, for their resisting and making intercession for the bishop of Canterbury. When he had thus said, the archbishop, (looking upon the said bishop of Exeter,) Avoid hence from me, saith he: thou understandest not, neither dost savour, those things that be of God.
The bishops and prelates then going aside by themselves from the other nobles, the king so permitting them to do,. took counsel together what was to be done. ere the matter stood in a doubtful perplexity; for either must they incur the dangerous indignation of the king, or else with the nobles they must proceed in condemnation against the archbishop for resisting the king's sanctions which thing they themselves neither did favour. In this strict necessity, they, devising what way to take, at length agreed upon this; that they with a common assent should cite the archbishop to the see of Rome upon perjury; and that they should oblige and bind themselves to the king with a sure promise to work their diligence in deposing the archbishop, upon this condition, that the king should promise their safety, and discharge them from the peril of that judgment which was towards them. So all the bishops, obliging themselves thus to the king, went forth to the archbishop; of whom one, speaking for the rest, (which was Hilary, bishop of Chichester,) had these words: Once you have been our archbishop, and so long we were bound to your obedience; but now forasmuch as you, once swearing your fidelity to the king, do resist him, neglecting his injunctions and ordinances, concerning and appertaining to his terrene honour and dignity, we here pronounce you perjured, neither be we bound to give obedience to an archbishop thus being perjured; but, putting our selves and all ours in the pope's protection, we do cite you up to his presence. And upon the same they assigned him his day and time to appear. The archbishop answering again, said he heard him well enough, and upon this sendeth up to Rome in all haste to the pope, signifying to him by letters the whole matter, how, and wherefore, and by whom he was cited; to whom the pope directed again his letters of comfort (as he had done divers before).
As the archbishop was cited to Rome, sitting with his cross waiting in the court, neither giving place to the king's request, nor abashed with the clamour of the whole court against him, calling him traitor on every side, neither following the advertisement of his fellow bishops, at length the king, by certain earls and barons, sent commandment to him, (Robert, earl of Leicester, doing the message,) that he should without delay come and render a full account of all things that he had received, as the profits and revenues of the realm, in the time he was chancellor, and specially for the thirty thousand marks for the which he was accountable to the king. To whom the archbishop answereth again, The king knew how oft he had made his reckoning of those things which now were required of him. Further and besides, Henry, his son and heir of his realm, with all his barons, and also Richard Lucy, chief justice of England, told him, that he was free and quit to God and to holy church from all receipts and computations, and from all secular exactions on the king's behalf. And so he, taking thus his discharge at their hands, entered into his office; and therefore other account besides this he would make none. When this word was brought to the king, he required his barons to do the law upon him; who, so doing, judged him to be apprehended and laid in prison. This done, the king sendeth to him Reginald, earl of Cornwall and Devonshire, and Robert, earl of Leicester, to declare to him what was his judgment. To whom the archbishop answereth, Hear, my son and good earl, what I say unto you; how much more precious the soul is than the body, so much more ought you to obey me in the Lord rather than your terrene king. Neither doth any law or reason permit the children to judge or condemn their father. Wherefore, to avoid both the judgment of the king, of you, and all others, I put myself only to the arbitrement of the pope, under God alone to be judged of him, and of no other; to whose presence here before you all I do appeal, committing the ordering of the church of Canterbury, my dignity, with all other things appertaining to the same, under the protection of God and him. And as for you, my brethren and fellow bishops, which rather obey man than God, you also I call and cite to the audience and judgment of the pope, and depart henceforth from you, as from the enemies of the Catholic Church, and of the authority of the apostolic see.
While the barons returned with this answer to the king, the archbishop passing through the throng taketh unto him his palfrey, holding his cross in one hand, and his bridle in the other, the courtiers following after, and crying, Traitor, traitor, tarry and hear thy judgment. But he passed on till he came to the uttermost gate of the court, which being fast locked, there he had been staid, had not one of his servants called Peter, surnamed Demunctorio, finding there a bunch of keys hanging by, first proved one key, then another, till at last, finding the true key, he had opened the gate, and let him out. The archbishop went straight to the house of canons, where he did lie, calling unto him the poor, where they could be found. When supper was done, making as though he would go to bed, which he caused to be made betwixt two altars, privily, while the king was at supper, he prepareth his journey secretly to escape away; and changing his garment and his name, being called Derman, first went to Lincoln, from thence to Sandwich, where he took ship, and sailed into Flanders, and from thence journeyed into France, as Hovedenus saith. Albeit Alanus, differing something in the order of his flight, saith, that he departed not that night; but at supper time came to him the bishops of London and Chichester, declaring to him, that if he would surrender up to the king his two manors of Otford and Wingcham, there were hope to recover the king's favour, and to have all remitted. But when the archbishop would not agree therennto, forsomnch as those manors were belonging to the church of Canterbury, the king bearing thereof, great displeasure was taken, insomuch that the next day Becket was fain to send to the king two bishops and his chaplain for leave to depart the realm. To the which message the king answered, that he would take pause there of till the next day, and then he should have an answer. But Becket, not tarrying his answer, the same day conveyed himself away secretly, as is aforesaid, to Ludovicus the French king. But before he came to the king, Gilbert, the bishop of London, and William, the earl of Arundel, sent from the king of England to France, prevented him; requiring the said French king, in the behalf of the king of England, that he would not receive, nor retain in his dominion, the archbishop of Canterbury. Moreover, that at his instance he would be a means to the pope not to show any familiarity unto him. But the king of England in this point seemed to have more confidence in the French king than knowledge of his disposition. For thinking that the French king would have been a good neighbour to him, in trusting him too much he was deceived. Neither considered he with himself enough the manner and nature of the Frenchmen at that time against the realm of England; who then were glad to seek and take all manner of occasions to do some act against England.
And therefore Ludovic, the French king, understanding the matter, and thinking (perhaps) thereby to have some vantage against the king and realm of England, by the occasion hereof, contrary to the king's letters and request, not only harboureth and cherisheth this Derman, but also (suiting to the pope by his almoner and brother) entreateth him (upon all loves, as ever he would have his favour) to tender the cause of the Archbishop Becket. Thus the king's ambassadors, repulsed of the French king, returned; at what time he sent another embassage (upon the like cause) to Alexander the pope, then being at Sene in France. The ambassadors sent on this message were Roger, archbishop of York, Gilbert, bishop of London, Henry, bishop of Winchester, Hilary, bishop of Chiehester, Bartholomew, bishop of Exeter, with other doctors and clerks; al so William, earl of Arundel, with certain more lords and barons; who, coming to the pope's court were friendly accepted of certain of the cardinals; amongst the which cardinals rose also dissension about the same cause. Some judging that the bishop of Canterbury in the defence of the liberties of the church, as in a good cause, was to be maintained. Some thinking again, that he (being a perturber of peace and unity) was rather to be bridled for his presumption, than to be fostered and encouraged therein. But the pope, partly bearing with his cause, (which only tended to his exaltation and magnificence,) partly again incensed with the letters of the French king, did wholly incline to Becket, as no marvel was. Wherefore the next day following, the pope sitting in consistory with his cardinals, the ambassadors were called for to the hearing of Becket's matter; and first beginneth the bishop of London; next, the archbishop of York; then Exeter; and the other bishops every one in their order to speak. Whose orations being not well accepted of the pope, and some of them also disdained, the earl of Arundel perceiving that, tried to qualify and temper the matter to the pope's ears.
His oration, although it was liked of them for the softness and moderation thereof, yet it could not so persuade the Romish bishop to condescend to their suit and request; which suit was, to have two legates or arbiters to be sent from his popish side into England, to examine and take up the controversy between the king and the archbishop. But the pope, incensed, as is said before, would not grant to their petition, forsomuch as it should be (saith he) prejudicial, and tending to the oppression of the archbishop, to grant unto it, he being not present. And therefore he willed them to tarry his coming up; otherwise, he being absent, he would not (he said) in any case proceed against him. But they, alleging again their time to be expired appointed unto them of the king, having besides other lets and causes, as they alleged, said that they could not there wait for the coming of Becket, but returned back, their cause frustrated, without the pope's blessing to the king. Within four days after, Becket cometh to the popes court, where he, prostrating himself at his feet, brought out of his bosom a scroll containing the customs and ordinances of the king, before mentioned. The pope receiving the foresaid scroll, and reading it in the open hearing of his cardinals, condemned and accursed the most part of the said decrees of the king, which he called consuetudines avitas, that is. his grandfather's ordinances. Besides this, the pope moreover blameth Beeket, for that he so much yielded to them at the beginning as he did; yet notwithstanding (because he was repentant for his unadvised fact he was content to absolve him for the same, and the rather because of his great troubles, which he for the liberties of holy church did sustain; and so with great favour for that day dismissed him.
The next day (Alexander the pope assembling his cardinals together in his secret chamber) appeareth before them Archbishop Becket, having this oration to the pope and his popelings, which here I thought to set out in our vulgar English tongue, (translated out of Latin.) to the intent that the posterity hereafter may understand either the vain superstition or vile slavery of the churchmen in those days, who, being not contented with their own natural prince and king given them of God, must seek further to the pope; thinking no ecclesiastical living to be given which is not taken at his hands. The words of his oration be storied rightly thus.
The oration of Becket resigning his bishopric to the pope.
"Fathers and lords, I ought not to lie in any place, much less before God, and in your presence here. Wherefore with much sighing and sorrow of heart, I grant and confess, that these perturbationsof the Church of England be raised through my miserable fault. For I entered into the fold of Christ, but not by the door of Christ; for that not the canonical election did call me lawfully thereunto, but terror of public power drove me in. And albeit I against my will took this burden upon me; yet not the will of God, but man's pleasure, placed me in the room. And therefore no marvel, though all things have gone contrary and backward with me. And as for the resigning up again thereof, if I had so done, and given up to their hands the privilege of my bishoply authority, which I had granted to me at the commandment of the king, (so as my fellow bishops did instantly call upon me to do,) then had I left a pernicious and dangerous example to the whole Catholic Church. By reason whereof I thought to defer that unto your presence. And now therefore, (recognising with myself my ingress not to be canonical, and therefore fearing it to have the worse end; and again pondering my strength and ability not to be sufficient for such a charge,) lest I should be found to sustain that room to the ruin of the flock, to whom I was appointed a pastor unworthy, I render up to your fatherly hands the archbishopric here of Canterbury," &c. And so, putting off his ring from his finger, and offering it to the pope, he desired a bishop for the church of Canterbury to be provided; seeing he thought not himself meet to fulfil the same, and so with tears, as the story saith, he ended his oration.
This done, the archbishop was bid to stand apart. The pope conferring upon this with his cardinals, about the resignation of Becket, what was best to be done: some thought it best to take the occasion offered, thinking thereby the king's wrath might easily be assuaged, if the church of Canterbury were assigned to some other person; and yet the said Becket otherwise to be provided for notwithstanding. Contrary, others again thought otherwise, and their reason was, If he, which for the liberties of the church had ventured not only his goods, dignity, and authority, but also his life, should now at the king's pleasure be deprived; like as it might be a precedent hereafter to others in resisting their king in like sort, if this cause were maintained; so, contrariwise, if it quailed, it should be an example to all others hereafter, none to resist his prince in the like case. And so might it redound not only to the weakening of the state of the Catholic Church, but also to the derogation of the pope's authority. Briefly, this sentence at length prevailed; and so Becket receiveth his pastoral office of the pope's hand again, with commendation and much favour. But forsomuch as he could not be well placed in England, in the mean while the pope sendeth him with a monk's habit into the abbey of Pontiniake in France, where he remained two years;
from thence he removed to Senod, where he abode five years. So the time of his exile continued seven years in all, &c.
Upon this, the king being certified by his ambassadors of the pope's answer, how his favour inclined more to Becket than to him, was moved (and worthily) with wrathful displeasure. Who upon the same sailing from England unto Normandy, directed over certain injunctions against the pope, and the archbishop of Canterbury, as were recited afore. The contents whereof were declared to be these:
If any person should be found to bring from the pope, or from the archbishop of Canterbury, &c.
Besides these and such-like injunctions, it was al so set forth by the king's proclamation, A.D. 1166, that all manner of persons, both men and women, whosoever were found of the kindred of Thomas Becket, should be exiled, without taking any part of their goods with them, and sent to him where he was; which was no little vexation to Becket to be hold them. Moreover, forsomuch as he then was lying with Gwarine, abbot of Pontiniake, to whom the pope, as is aforesaid, had commended him; therefore the king, writing to the same abbot, required him not to retain the archbishop of Canter bury in his house; for if he did, he would drive out of his realm all the monks of his order. Where upon Becket was enforced to remove from thence, and went to Lewis the French king, by whom he was placed at Senon, and there found of him the space of five years, as is above mentioned.
In the mean time, messengers went daily with letters between the king and the pope, between the pope again and him, and so between the archbishop and others.
Besides an epistle sent unto the pope, he writeth also another letter, sent to the king in Latin.
Besides which epistle to the king in Latin, he sent also one or two more to the said King Henry the Second, much after the like rate and sort. Which epistles, for that I would not overcharge the volume of these histories with too much matter superfluous, I thought here to omit.
Besides the letters of the archbishop sent to the king, the pope also in the same cause writeth to the king. The whole tenor of the letter as he wrote it to the king I would here express, but for protracting of the time and straitness of room, having so many things else in this story (by the grace of Christ) to be comprehended. But the letter tendeth to this effect, to exhort and charge the king to show favour to Thomas Becket. Where, in the process of the epistle, it followeth in these words: "Therefore we do desire, monish, and exhort your honour by these our apostolical writings, and also enjoin you upon the remission of your sins, in the behalf of Almighty God, and of St. Peter, prince of the apostles, by our aufhority, that you will receive again the foresaid archbishop into your favour and grace, for the honour of God, his church, and of your own realm," &c.
But to proceed further in the order of the history. After letters sent to and fro, the year of our Lord 1169, which was the fifteenth year of the reign of King Henry the Second, the king, misdoubting and fearing with himself that the archbishop would proceed (or exceed rather) in his excommunication against his own person, (to prevent the mischief,) made his appeal to the presence of the pope, requiring to have certain legates sent down from Rome from the pope's side, to take up the matter between the archbishop and him; requiring moreover that they might also be absolved that were interdicted. Whereupon two cardinals, being sent from Alexander the pope with letters to the king, came to Normandy, where they appointed the archbishop to meet them before the king upon St. Martin's day. But the archbishop, neither agreeing with the day nor the place, delayed his coming till the eighth day after, neither would go any further than to Grisortium, where the two cardinals and the archbishop, with other bishops conventing,together, had a certain entreaty of peace and reconciliation; but it came to no conclusion.
When that William (who of the two cardinals was the more eloquent) amongst other communication had reasoned long with him as concerning the peace of the church, which Becket said he preferred above all things, Well then, (saith the cardinal,) seeing all this contention between the king and you riseth upon certain laws and customs to be abrogate, and that you regard the peace of the church so much, then what say you? Will you renounce your bishopric, and the king shall renounce his customs? The peace of the church now lieth in your hands, either to retain or to let go; what say you? To whom he answereth again, that the proportion was not like. For I, saith he, (saving the honour of my church and my person,) cannot renounce my bishopric. Contrary, it standeth the king upon, for his soul's health and honour, to renounce these his ordinances and customs. Which thing he thus proved; because the pope had condemned those customs, and he likewise with the Church of Rome had done the same, &c.
The talk between the French king, the king of England, and Becket.
After the cardinals were returned, the French king, seeing the king of England disquieted and solicitous to have peace, (or at leastwise pretending to set an agreement between them,) brought the matter to a communication among them. In which communication the French king made himself as umpire between them. The king of England, hearing that the archbishop would commit himself to his arbitrement, was the more willing to admit his presence. Whereupon, many being there present, the archbishop, prostrating himself at the king's feet, declared unto him, kneeling upon his knees, that he would commit the whole cause, whereof the dissension rose between them, unto his own arbitrement; adding thereto (as he did before) Salvo honore Dei, that is, Saving the honour of God. The king (as is said before) being greatly offended at this word, hearing and seeing the stiffness of the man sticking so much to this word Salvo honore, &c., was highly therewith displeased, rebuking him with many grievous words, as a man proud and stubborn, and also charging him with sundry and great benefits bestowed upon him, as a person unkind, and forgetting what he had so gently done and bestowed upon him.
And speaking to the French king there present, See sir, (if it please you, saith the king of England,) whatsoever displeaseth this man, that he saith to be contrary to the honour of God. And so by this means he will vindicate and challenge to himself both that is his and mine also. And yet notwithstanding, for that I will not seem to do any thing contrary or prejudical to God's honour, this I offer him: There have been kings in England before, both of greater and less puissance than I am; likewise there have been bishops of Canterbury, many both great and holy men; what the greatest and most holy of all his predecessors before him hath done to the least of my progenitors and predecessors before me, let him do the same to me, and I am content. They that stood by, hearing these words of the king, cried all with one voice, The king hath debased himself enough to the bishop. The archbishop staying a little at this with silence, What, (saith the French king to him,) my lord archbishop, will you be better than those holy men? will ye be greater than Peter? what stand you doubting? Here now have you peace and quietness put in your own hands, if ye will take it. To this the archbishop answered again, Truth it is (saith he) my predecessors before me were both better and greater than I, and every one of them for his time, (although they did not extirpate and cut off all,) yet something they did pluck up and correct, which seemed adverse and repugnant against God's honour. For if they had taken all together away, no such occasion then had been left for any man to raise up this fire of temptation now against us, as is here raised to prove us withal; that we being so proved with them, might also be crowned with them, being likewise partakers of praise and reward, as we are of their labour and travail. And though some of them have been slack, or exceeded in their duty doing, in that we are not bound to follow their example.
Peter, when he denied Christ, we therefore rebuke him; but when he resisted the rage of Nero, therein we commend him. And therefore, because he could not find in his conscience to consent unto that, he ought in no wise to dissemble, neither did he; by reason thereof he lost his life. By such-like oppressions the church hath always grown. Our forefathers and predecessors, because they would not dissemble the name and honour of Christ, therefore they suffered. And shall I, to have the favour of one man, suffer the honour of Christ to be suppressed? The nobles standing by (hearing him thus speak) were greatly grieved with him, noting in him both arrogancy and wilfulness, in perturbing and refusing such an honest offer of agreement. But specially one among the rest was most grieved, who there openly protested, that seeing the archbishop so refused the counsel and request of both the kingdoms, he was not worthy to have the help of either of them; but as the kingdom of England had rejected him, so the realm of France should not receive him.
Alanus Herbertus, and certain other of his chaplains that committed to story the doings of Beeket, do record, (whether truly or no I cannot say,) that the French king sending for him, as one much sorrowing and lamenting the words that he had spoken, at the coming of Becket did prostrate hhnself at his feet; confessing his fault, in giving counsel to him in such a cause, (pertaining to the honour of God,) to relent therein and to yield to the pleasure of man; wherefore, declaring his repent ance, he desired to be absolved thereof. So that after this the French king and Becket were great friends together; insomuch that King Henry sending to the king to entreat him, and desire him that he would not support nor maintain his enemy within his realm, the French king utterly denied the king's request, taking part rather with the archbishop than with him.
Besides these quarrels and grudges betwixt the king and the archbishop above mentioned, there followed yet moreover another, which was this: Shortly after this conununication recited between the king and Becket, the king of England returned again from Normandy into England (which was the year of our Lord 1170, and the sixteenth year of his reign) about Midsummer, kept his court of parliament at Westminster; in the which parliament he, through the assent both of the clergy and the lords temporal, caused his son Henry to be crowned king. Which coronation was done by the hands of Robert, archbishop of York, with the assistance of other bishops ministering to the same, as Gilbert of London,.loseline of Salisbury, Hugo of Duresme, and Walter of Rochester. By reason whereof Becket, of Canterbury, being there neither mentioned nor called for, took no little displeasure; and so did Ludovic, the French king, hearing that Margaret his daughter was not also crowned with her husband; whereupon he, gathering a great army, forthwith marched into Normandy. But the matter was soon conpassed by the king of England, who sending his son unto him in Normandy, entreated there and concluded peace with him, promising that his son should be crowned again, and then his daughter should be crowned also. But the archbishop, not ceasing his displeasure and emulation, sent unto the pope, complaining of these four bishops, especially of the archbishop of York; who durst be so bold in his absence, and without his knowledge of his licence, to intermeddle to crown the king, being a matter proper and peculiar to his jurisdiction. At the instance of whom the pope sent down the sentence of excommunication against the bishop of London. The other three bishops with the archbishop of York he suspended, whose sentence and letters thereof, for avoiding prolixity, I here omit.
Besides these foresaid bishops excommunicated, divers other clerks also of the court he cited to appear before him, by virtue of his large commission which he gat from the pope, to whom they were bound to obey, by reason of their bencfices. And some he commanded in virtue of obedience to appear, in pain of forfeiting their orders and benefices. Of which, when neither sort would appear, he cursed them openly. And also some laymen of the court and the king's familiars (as intruders and violent withholders of church goods) he accursed; as Richard Lucy, and Joseline Balliot, and Ralph Brook, which took bells and goods that belonged to the church of Canterbury; and Hugh Sentcleare, and Thomas the son of Bernard, and all that should hereafter take any church goods without his consent; so that almost all the court was accursed, either by name, or as partakers.
This being done, the archbishop of York with the foresaid bishops resorted to the king with a grievous complaint, declaring how miserably their case stood, and what they had sustained for fulfilling his commandment. The king, hearing this, was highly moved, as no marvel was. But what remedy? The time of the ruin of the pope was not yet come; and what prince then might withstand the injurious violence of that Romish potestate?
In the mean season the French king, for his part, his clergy and courtiers likewise, slack no occasion to incite and solicit Alexander the pope against the king of England to excommunicate him also; seeking thereby and thinking to have some vantage against the realm. Neither was the king ignorant of this, which made him more ready to apply some agreement of reconciliation. At length came down from the pope two legates, (the archbishop of Rothomage and the bishop of Navern,) with direction and full comission either to drive the king to be reconciled, or to be interdicted by the pope's censures out of the church. The king, understanding himself to be in greater straits than he could avoid, at length (through the mediation of the French king and of other prelates and great princes) was content to yield to peace and reconciliation with the archbishop, whom he received both to his favour, and also permitted and granted him free return to his church again. Concerning his possessions and lands of the church of Canterbury, although Becket made great labour therefore, yet the king (being then in Normandy) would not grant him them, before he should repair to England, to see how he would there agree with his subjects.
Thus peace after a sort concluded between the king and him, the archbishop, after six years of his banishment, returned to England, where he was right joyfully received of the church of Canterbury; albeit of Henry the young king he was not so great ly welcomed. Insomuch that, coming up to London to the king, he was returned back to Canterbury, and there hid to keep his house. Roger Hoveden maketh mention in his chronicle, that the archbishop (upon Christmas day) did excommunicate Robert de Brooke for cutting off the tail of a certain horse of his the day before. In the mean time, the four bishops before mentioned, whom the archbishop had excommunicated, sent to him, humbly desiring to be released of their censure. To whom when the archbishop would not grant clearly and simply without cautions and exceptions, they went over to the king, declaring unto him and complaining of their miserable state and uncourteous handling of the archbishop. Whereupon the king conceived great sorrow in his mind, and displeasure toward the party. Insomuch that he lamented oft and sundry times to them about him, that (amongst so many that he had done for) there was none that would revenge him of his enemy. By occasion of which words, certain that were about the king, (to the number of four,) hearing him thus to complain and lament, addressed themselves in great heat of haste to satisfy the grieved mind and quarrel of their prince; who within four days after the said Christmas day (sailing over into England, and having a forward and prosperous wind in their journey, being in the deep of winter) came to Canterbury, where Becket was commanded to keep. After certain advisements and consultations had among themselves, they pressed at length into the palace, where the archbishop was sitting with his company about him, first to assay him with words, to see whether he would relent to the king's mind, and come to some conformity. They brought to him (said they) commandment from the king. which whether he had rather openly there in presence. or secretly to be declared to him, they bade him choose. Then the company being bid to avoid, as he sat alone, they said, You are commanded from the king beyond the sea to repair to the king his son here, and to do your duty to him, swearing to him your fidelity for your baronage and other things, and to amend those things wherein you have trespassed against him. Whereupon the archbishop, denying to swear, and perceiving their intent, called in his company again, and in multiplying of words to and fro, at length they came to the bishops which were excommunicated forthe coronation of the king. whom they commanded in the king's name he should absolve and set free again. The archbishop answered that he neither suspended nor excommunicated them, but the pope; wherefore, if that were the matter that grieved them, they should resort to the pope, he had nothing to do with the matter.
Then said Reginald, one of the four, Although you in your own person did not excommunicate them, yet through your instigation it was done. To whom the archbishop said again, And if the pope, (said he,) tendering the injuries done unto me and my church, wrought this revenge for me, I confess it offendeth me nothing. Thus then (said they) it appeareth well by your own words, that it pleaseth you right well (in contempt and contumely of the king's majesty) to sequester his bishops from their ministry, who at the commandment of the king did service in the coronation of his son. And seeing you have so presumed thus to stand against the exaltation of this our sovereign, our new king, it seemeth likely that you aspired to take his crown from him, and to be exalted king yourself. I aspire not (said he) to the crown and name of the king, but rather if I had four crowns, (to give him more,) I would set them all upon him; such good will I do bear him, that, only his father the king excepted, there is none whose honour I more tender and love. And as concerning the sequestering of those bishops, this I give you to understand, that nothing was done in that behalf without the knowledge and assent of the king himself; to whom when I had made my complaint, at the feast of Mary Magdalene, of the wrong and injury done to me and my church therein, he gave me his good leave to obtain at the pope's hand such remedy as I could, premising moreover his help to me in the same. What is this, quoth they, that thou sayest? Makest thou the king a traitor, and a betrayer of the king's own son? that when he had commanded the bishops to crown his son, he would give thee leave afterward to suspend them for so doing? Certes, it had been better for you not to have accused so the king of this prodition. The archbishop said to Reginald, that he was there present at that time, and heard it himself. But that he denied, and swore it was not so. And think you (say they) that we the king's subjects will or ought to suffer this? And so approaching nearer him, they said he had spoken enough against his own head; where upon followed great exclamation and many threatening words. Then said the archbishop, I have since my coming over sustained many injuries and rebukes, concerning both myself, my men, my cattle, my wines, and all other goods; notwithstanding, the king (writing over to his son) required him that I should live in safety and peace; and now, beside all others, you come hither to threaten me. To this Reginald answering again, said, If there be any that worketh you any injury otherwise than right is, the law is open; why do you not com plain? To whom, said Becket, should I complain? To the young king, said they. Then said Becket, I have complained enough if that would help, and have sought for remedy at the king's hands, so long as I could be suffered to come to his speech; but now, seeing that I am stopped from that, neither can find redress of so great vexations and injuries as I have and do daily sustain, nor can have the benefit of the law or reason; such right and law as an archbishop may have, that will I exercise, and let for no man. At these words one of them, bursting out in exclamation, cried, He threateneth, he threateneth. What! will he interdict the whole realm and us altogether? Nay, that he shall not, saith another, he hath interdicted too many already. And drawing more near to him, they protested and denounced him to have spoken words to the jeo pardy of his own head. And so departing in great fury, and with many high words, they rushed out of the doors: who by the way returning to the monks, charged them in the king's name to keep him fortheoming, that he should not escape away. what, quoth the archbishop, think ye I will flee away? Nay, neither for the king, nor any man alive, will I stir one foot from you. No, say they, thou shalt not avoid, though thou wouldst. And so they departing with many words, the archbishop followeth them out of the chamber door, crying after them, Here, here, here shall you find me; laying his hand upon his crown.
The names of these four soldiers above mentioned were these, the first Reginald Bereson, the second Hugh Morteuil, the third William Thracie, and the fourth Richard Brito; who, going to harness themselves, returned the same way again; but finding the hall door of the palace of Canterbury shut against them, they went to an inward back door leading into the orchard; there brake they up a window, and opened the door, and so issued into the place. The monks (being about evensong time) had got the archbishop into the church; who, being persuaded by them, caused his cross to be borne before him, and so through the cloister, by a door which was broken up for him, he proceeded into the choir. The harness men following after, at length came to the church door, which door the monks would have shut against them; but, as the story saith, the archbishop would not suffer them. So they approaching into tire church, and the archbishop meeting them upon the stairs, there he was slain, every one of the four soldiers striking him with his sword into the head; who afterward flying into the north, and at length with much ado obtaining their pardon of the pope by the king's procurement, as some stories record, went to Jerusalem.
Illustration -- The murder of Thomas A Becket
Thus you have heard the life and death of this Thomas Becket, of whom what is to be judged, let his own acts and facts declare. And albeit the Scripture ought to be the only rule to us to judge all things by, yet if any shall require further testi mony, partly to satisfy their minds therein, ye shall hear the judgments of certain men, in years and times almost as ancient as himself what they write and affirm of him.
And first to begin with the testimony of one of his own religion, and also not far (as it appeareth) from his own time, who, writing of his martyrdom and miracles, thus testifieth of the judgment and sentence of divers concerning his promotion and behaviour. The chronicle being written in Latin, and having the name of the author cut out, thus beginneth: Quoniam vero multi, &c. And in the first book and eighth chapter it followeth in this manner: "Divers notwithstanding there be, which. as touching his promotion, suppose the same not to be canonical, for that it was wrought rather by the instance of the king (thinking him to be a man ready and inclinable to his utility) than by the assent either of the clergy or of the people. Further. it is noted in him for a point of presumption.,and lack of discretion, for that he, being scarce worthy to take the oar in hand and play the boatswain. would take upon him to sit at the helm, and guide the ship; namely, in that church, where the convent, being in gesture and vesture religious, be wont to have their prelate taken out of the same profes sion. Whereas he, scant bearing the habit of a clerk, and going in his changes and soft apparel, is more conversant among the delicate rufflers in the court, savouring rather of worldly things, not refusing, moreover, without any dread, to climb up to the high preferment of such a holy dignity, but rather willingly of his own accord to aspire to it. Moses we read did otherwise, who being the friend of God, and sent of him to conduct his people Israel out of Egypt, trembled at the message, and said, Who am I, Lord, that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring thy people Israel out of Egypt? And again, I pray thee. (saith he,) O Lord, I am nothing eloquent. send him whom thou wilt send. Likewise Jeremias also, being sent of the Lord to prophesy against Jerusalem, was abashed to take the office upon him, answering again with much dread of heart; Ah, ah, ah, Lord, I cannot utter my mind, for I am a child."
And although scarcely any testimony is to be taken of that age, (being all blinded and corrupted with superstition,) yet let us hear what Neuburgensis, an ancient historiographer, saith, who, in the days of the son of this King Henry the Second, prosecuting his history unto King Richard the First, hath these words, writing of Thomas Becket:
"Whereas many be wont, in them whom they love or praise, (judging them more by affection than prudence,) to aUow and approve whatsoever they do, yet for me to judge upon this reverend man, verily I think not his doings and acts to be praise worthy, or to be allowed; forsomuch as thereof came no utility, but only the anger and stirring up of the king; whereupon afterward sprung so great mischiefs (although the thing that he did might proceed of a certain laudable zeal); like as in the blessed prince of the apostles, in that he taught the Gentiles by his example to play the Jews, Paul the doctor of the Gentiles did declare him therein to be rebukeable, albeit, it cannot be denied, but that he did it of a good affection," &c.
To this matter also pertain the words of Cesarius the monk, in his eighth book of Dialogues and sixty-ninth chapter, about the eight and fortieth year after the death of Thomas Becket, which was the year of God 1220, whose words in some come to this effect:
"There was a question moved among the masters of Paris, whether Thomas Becket was saved or damned. To this question answereth Roger, a Norman, that he was worthy death and damnation, for that he was so obstinate against God's minister his king. Contrary, Peter Cantor, a Parisian, disputed, saying and affirming, that his miracles were great signs and tokens of salvation, and also of great holiness in that man; affirming, moreover, that the cause of the church did allow and confirm his martyrdom, for the which church he died."
And thus have ye the judgment and censure of the school of Paris touching this question, for the sainting of Thomas Becket. In which judgment, forsomuch as the greatest argument resteth in the miracles wrought by him after his death, let us therefore pause a little upon the same, to try and examine these his miracles. In the trial whereof we shall find one of these two to be true; that either if they were true, they were wrought not by God, but by a contrary spirit, of whom Christ our Lord giveth us warning in his Gospel, saying, Whose coming shall be with lying signs and wonders, to deceive if it were possible the elect, Matt. xxiv.: or else we shall find that no such were ever wrought at all, but feigned and forged of idle monks and religious bellies, for the exaltation of their churches, and profit of their pouches; which thing indeed seemeth rather to be true, and no less may appear by the miracles themselves, set forth by one of his own monks, and of his own time; who in five solemn books hath comprehended all the revelations, virtues, and miracles of the archbishop; the which books (as yet remaining in the hands of William Stephanson citizen of London) I have seen and perused; wherein is contained the whole sum of all his miracles, to the number of two hundred and seventy, being so far off from all truth and reason, some ridiculous, some monstrous, vain, absurd, some also blasphemous, and some so impudent, that not only they deserve no credit, (altogether savouring of mere forgery,) but also for very shame will abash an honest pen to write of them. First, if miracles serve for necessity and for infidels, what cause or necessity was there (in a Christian realm having the word of God) for God to work such miracles after his death, who never wrought any in all his life? Then to consider the end of these miracles, whither do they tend. but only to bring men to Canterbury, with their vows and offerings to enrich the convent?
Beside the number of these miracles, which he said to be so many that they lose their own credit, what disease is there belonging to man or woman, in the curing whereof some miracle hath not been wrought by this Thaumaturgus, as fevers, fistula, the gout, tooth-ache, palsy, consumption, falling sickness, leprosy, head-ache, broken arms, maimed legs, swelling throats, the raising up of the dead which have been two days departed, with infinite others? And as all these have been healed (for the most part) by one kind of salve. (as a certain panacea,) which was with the water only of Canterbury. like as a cunning smith, which would open with one key all manner of locks; so again in reading of the story of these miracles ye shall find the matter so conveyed, that the power of this dead saint was never twice showed on any one disease, but every diverse disease had a diverse miracle.
To recite in order all these prodigious revelations and fantastical miracles, falsely imagined and ascribed to this archbishop, were nothing else but to write a legend of lies, and to occupy the people with trifles. Which because it pertaineth rather to the idle profession of such dreaming monks and cloisterers. that have nothing else to maintain that religion withal, I will not take their profession out of their hands. Wherefore to omit all such vain and lying apparitions and miracles, as how this angry saint (three days after his death) appeared by vision at the altar in his pontificalibus, commanding the choir not to sing, but to say this office of his mass; which vision the author himself of the book doth say he did see. To omit also the blasphemous lie, how in another vision the said archbishop should say, that his blood did cry out of the earth to God more than the blood of just Abel. Item, in another vision it was showed to a monk of Lewis, how St. Thomas had his place in heaven appointed with the apostles, above Stephen, Laurence, Vincent, and all the other martyrs. Where of this cause is rendered, for that St. Stephen, Laurence, and such others, suffered only for their own cause; but this Thomas suffered for the universal church. Item, how it was showed to a certain young man, (Ormus by name,) twelve years before the death of this Becket, that among the apostles and martyrs in heaven there was a vacant place left for a certain priest, as he said, of England, which was credibly supposed to be this Thomas Becket. Item, how a certain knight's son, being two days dead, was revived again so soon as he had the water of Canterbury put in his mouth, and had by his parents four pieces of silver bended, to be offered in Canterbury in the child's behalf. All these, I say, with such other like, to omit (the number whereof cometh to an infinite variety) only this one story, or another that followeth, shall suffice to express the vanity and impudent forgery of all the rest.
In the fourth book of this fabulous author, and in the third chapter, a miracle is there contained of a certain countryman of Bedfordshire in King's Weston, whose name was Eilwardus; which Eilwardus, in his drunkenness bursting into another man's house which was his debtor, took out of his house a great whetstone, and a pair of hedging gloves. The other party, seeing this value not sufficient for his condemnation, (by the counsel of the town clerk,) entered an action of felony against him for other things besides, as for stealing his wimble, his axe, his net, and other clothes. Whereupon Eilwardus being had to the gaol of Bedford, and afterward condemned for the same, was judged to have both his eyes put out, and also those members cut off which nature with secret shame hath covered. Which punishment by the malice of his adversary being executed upon him, he, lying in great danger of death by bleeding, was counselled to make his prayer to this Thomas of Canterbury. Which done, (saith the miracle,) there appeared one to him by night in white apparel, bidding him to watch and pray, and put his trust in God and our Lady, and holy St. Thomas. In conclusion, the miracle thus fell out: The next day at evening the man, rubbing his eyelids, began to feel his eyes to be restored again: first in a little, after in a greater, measure, so that one was of a grey colour, the other was of black; and here was one miracle rung. After this followed another miracle also upon the same person; for going but the space of four miles, when his eyes were restored, he chanced (in like manner) to rub the place where his secret parts were cut off, and immediately on the same his pendenda (to use the words of my story) were to him restored, which he permitted every one to feel that would, and shamed not to deny. Insomuch that he, coming up to St. Thomas, first at London was received with joy of the bishop of Durham; who then sending to the burghers of Bedford for the truth of the matter, received from them again letters testimonial, wherein the citizens there (saith this fabulous festival) confirmed first to the bishop, then to the convent of Canterbury, the relation of this to be as hath been told. This one miracle, gentle reader, so shameless and impudent, I thought here to express, that by this one thou mightest judge of all the residue of his miracles; and by the residue thereof mightest judge moreover of all the filthy wickedness of all these lying monks and cloisterers, which count it a light sport so impudently to deceive the simple souls of Christ's church with trifling lies and dreaming fables. Wherefore (as I said) if the holy sainting of Thomas Becket standeth upon no other thing but upon his miracles, what credit is to be given there to? and upon what a weak ground his shrine so long hath stood by this may easily be seen. Furthermore, another fable as notable as this, and no less worthy of the whetstone, we read in the story of Gervasius; that Thomas Becket, appearing to a certain priest, named Thomas, declared to him that he had so brought to pass, that all the names of the monks of the church of Canterbury, with the names of the priests and clerks, and with the families be longing to that city and church of Canterbury, were written in the book of life.
But whatsoever is to he thought of his miracles, or howsoever the testimony of the school of Paris, or of these ancient times, went with him or against him: certain it is, that this anthem or collect, lately collected and primered in his praise. is blasphemous, and derogateth from the praise of Him to whom only all praise and honour is due, where it is said,
For the blood of Thomas,
Which he for thee did spend,
Grant us (Christ) to climb
Where Thomas did ascend.
Wherein is a double lie contained: first, that he died for Christ; secondly, that if he had so done, yet that his blood could purchase heaven. Which thing neither Paul nor any of the apostles durst ever challenge to themselves; for if any man's blood could bring us to heaven, then the blood of Christ was shed in vain.
And thus much touching the testimony or censure of certain ancient times concerning the cause of Thomas Becket. In the explication of whose history I have now stood the longer, (exceeding, peradventure, in overmuch prolixity,) to the intent that his cause being fully opened to the world, and duly weighed on every part, men's minds (thereby long deceived by ignorance) might come unto the more perfect certainty of the truth thereof, and thereby judge more surely what is to be received, and what to be refused. Where by the way is to be noted out of the testimony of Rob. Crikeladensis, which in him I find, that the peers and nobles of this land near about the king gave out in strait charge, upon pain of death and confiscating of all their goods, that no man should be so hardy as to name Thomas Becket to be a martyr, or to preach of his miracles, &c.