King Henry II exiles all Thomas Becket’s family and friends. That’s just the beginning.
Continuing Becket’s Murder,
our selection from History of England, From the First Invasion by the Romans to the Accession of Henry VIII by John Lingard published in 1819. The selection is presented in ten easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in our series Becket’s Murder.
Place: Canterbury Cathedral
By a refinement of vengeance, he involved all who were connected with him either by blood or friendship, and with them their families, without distinction of rank or age or sex, in one promiscuous sentence of banishment. Neither men, bowing under the weight of years, nor infants still hanging at the breast, were excepted. The list of proscription was swelled with four hundred names; and the misfortune of the sufferers was aggravated by the obligation of an oath to visit the Archbishop, and importune him with the history of their wrongs. Day after day crowds of exiles besieged the door of his cell at Pontigny. His heart was wrung with anguish; he implored the compassion of his friends, and enjoyed at last the satisfaction of knowing that the wants of these blameless victims had been amply relieved by the benefactions of the King of France, the Queen of Sicily, and the Pope. Still Henry’s resentment was insatiable. Pontigny belonged to the Cistercians; and he informed them that if they continued to afford an asylum to the traitor, not one of their order should be permitted to remain within his dominions. The Archbishop was compelled to quit his retreat; but Louis immediately offered him the city of Sens for his residence.
Here, as he had done at Pontigny, Becket led the solitary and mortified life of a recluse. Withdrawing himself from company and amusements, he divided the whole of his time between prayer and reading. His choice of books was determined by a reference to the circumstances in which he was placed; and in the canon law, the histories of the martyrs, and the Holy Scriptures he sought for advice and consolation. On a mind naturally firm and unbending, such studies were likely to make a powerful impression; and his friends, dreading the consequences, endeavored to divert his attention to other objects. But their remonstrances were fruitless.
Gradually his opinions became tinged with enthusiasm: he identified his cause with that of God and the Church; concession appeared to him like apostasy, and his resolution was fixed to bear every privation, and to sacrifice, if it was necessary, even his own life in so sacred a contest. The violence of Henry nourished and strengthened these sentiments; and at last, urged by the cries of the sufferers, the Archbishop assumed a bolder tone, which terrified his enemies, and compelled the court of Rome to come forward to his support. By a sentence, promulgated with more than the usual solemnity, he cut off from the society of the faithful such of the royal ministers as had communicated with the antipope, those who had framed the Constitutions of Clarendon, and all who had invaded the property of the Church. At the same time he confirmed by frequent letters the wavering mind of the Pontiff, checked by his remonstrances the opposition of the cardinals who had been gained by his adversaries; and intimated to Henry, in strong but affectionate language, the punishment which awaited his impenitence.
This mighty monarch, the lord of so many nations, while he affected to despise, secretly dreaded, the spiritual arms of his victim. The strictest orders were issued that every passenger from beyond the sea should be searched; that all letters from the Pope or the Archbishop should be seized; that the bearers should suffer the most severe and shameful punishments; and that all freemen, in the courts to which they owed service, should promise upon oath not to obey any censure published by ecclesiastical authority against the King or the kingdom. But it was for his Continental dominions that he felt chiefly alarmed. There the great barons, who hated his government, would gladly embrace the opportunity to revolt; and the King of France, his natural opponent, would instantly lend them his aid against the enemy of the Church. Hence for some years the principal object of his policy was to avert or at least to delay the blow which he so much dreaded.
As long as the Pope was a fugitive in France, dependent on the bounty of his adherents, the King had hoped that his necessities would compel him to abandon the Primate. But the antipope was now dead; and though the Emperor had raised up a second in the person of Guido of Crema, Alexander had returned to Italy, and recovered possession of Rome. Henry therefore resolved to try the influence of terror, by threatening to espouse the cause of Guido. He even opened a correspondence with the Emperor; and in a general diet at Wuerzburg his ambassadors made oath in the name of their master, that he would reject Alexander, and obey the authority of his rival. Of this fact there cannot be a doubt. It was announced to the German nations by an imperial edict, and is attested by an eye-witness, who from the council wrote to the Pope a full account of the transaction.
Henry, however, soon repented of his precipitancy. In 1167 his bishops refused to disgrace themselves by transferring their obedience at the nod of their prince; and he was unwilling to involve himself in a new and apparently a hopeless quarrel. To disguise or excuse his conduct he disavowed the act, attributed it to his envoys, and afterward induced them also to deny it. John of Oxford was dispatched to Rome, who, in the presence of Alexander, swore that at Wuerzburg he had done nothing contrary to the faith of the Church or to the honor and service of the Pontiff.
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