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features, his graceful manners, all combined to point him out to universal notice as one formed by nature to occupy no subordinate station.
During the whole period of his holding the chancellorship, the attachment of Henry to Becket seems to have surpassed belief; the haughty and capricious Plantagenet hunted, feasted, actually played with his chancellor, on terms of perfect equality. But this friendship of the king was dearly purchased, on the part of Becket, by a disgraceful compliance with the profligate courses of the monarch, which, although it is believed that he never actually participated in, he had not the principle to protest against.
With the death of Theobald, in 1162, and his consequent elevation to the primacy, the fatal contests of Becket and the monarch commenced. That he was the aggressor, has been maintained by protestant writers, and his precipitate resignation of the chancellorship, has been pointed out by them in proof of his altered feelings toward Henry; while, by writers of the Roman communion, this act has been appealed to, to shew the disinterested and unsecular character of the motives by which, even from the moment of investiture with the sacred pall, henceforward he was actuated ; and they dwell upon the rigid fasts and sackcloth garb of the archbishop, in proof of his sincere repentance of his pride and luxury when chancellor, and his determination henceforth to live for the church alone. At this distance of time perhaps it is impossible to decide with accuracy which was the aggressor. Where
feelings of coldness on each side take the place of warm affection, accident most frequently decides by whom the first blow shall be struck. Thus was it most probably in this case.
The particulars of this contest, waged with so much bitterness on either side and for so many years, belong to the political history of the country, and are therefore inadmissible here. It may however, in passing, be remarked, that rather too much stress is laid, by those writers who are favourable to Henry, on the "ingratitude" of the primate toward his benefactor. Now surely Henry's conduct towards Becket scarcely entitles him to so high a term. To elevate a man of eminent talents and superior learning, to a station of difficulty and responsibility, cannot be viewed in the light of an alms-deed; and Becket, endowed with qualities that would have secured his elevation in any court of Europe, had no very pressing obligation of gratitude towards the master who chose, and who kept his servant, because he was best adapted to his purpose. Surely the debt of gratitude, if due on either side, was rather from the monarch, whom the judicious counsels of his chancellor had placed so firmly on the throne.
But this contest, which had now continued nine years, was soon to receive a tragical termination. After many ineffectual attempts, both on the part of the Pope, and of the king of France, to reconcile the haughty king and the no less haughty archbishop, in the autumn of this year an interview finally took place between them, and the words of peace were pronounced by each. But the kiss—that most important part of the ceremony, both as a testimony of protection from the liege lord, and as a pledge of perfect good will between contending parties,—was refused by Henry; and Becket, after his long and painful exile, took his departure for England, with solemn, if not sorrowful forebodings. When he arrived at Witsand the sky was clear, the sea calm, and some of his fellow exiles, impatient of delay, cried "Holy father, wherefore are we to stand even in sight of the promised land, and yet, like Moses, never enter it?" "Wherefore this haste?" was the foreboding answer of archbishop Thomas; "within forty days after your landing in England, ye will wish yourselves anywhere but there." Being prohibited from landing at Dover, he, on the first of December, arrived at Sandwich, whither the sheriff of Kent hastened with a company of knights, clad in mail under their tunics. After an angry discussion, he was suffered to proceed, and he arrived at Canterbury, where he was received with bells ringing, a procession of the clergy, and by the whole population clad in holiday garments. He ascended the pulpit, and preached a sermon from the text, "For we have here no continuing city;"— a sermon which to his admiring clergy seemed to breathe the very atmosphere of Heaven. After eight days' sojourn in that city, Becket sent a messenger to young Henry, offering to go to him to do homage; while, in order that he might present a gift which he thought would be acceptable, he selected four remarkably fine war-horses; "for he loved him exceedingly, having hadhim inhis house when a child;
and had educated him, while chancellor." Not receiving an answer to his message, he set out for London; and, when he arrived near, three thousand of the clergy, together with the citizens, marched out in solemn procession to receive him, chanting Te Deum. This was his last scene of triumph, yet even here, so said his friends, he did not remain unwarned. Amid these rejoicings, a woman followed him, crying aloud, "Archbishop, beware of the knife,"—words which were soon after brought to the recollection of his sorrowing disciples with emphatic cogency. In the intention of his visit to London, Becket was foiled:—young Henry refused to see him, sent him a message to return to Canterbury, and there abide. From that moment the discarded favourite looked upon himself as a doomed man; and he turned to his cathedral city, studious rather how he should best meet his coming fate, than anxious to avoid it.
In the mean time the three prelates, who had been suspended from their functions by him, proceeded to Normandy, and bitterly complained of the influence which Becket still possessed. The king asked their counsel; this they refused; at length one of them remarked, "While he is alive neither you nor your kingdom will have peace." The king immediately exclaimed that he was most unfortunate in having maintained so many cowardly and ungrateful men about him, not one of whom would revenge the many injuries brought upon him by one man. This hint was sufficiently understood by those who stood around; that very night—and it was the night on which "peace on earth, and good will toward man," was sung in every church throughout Christendom—on Christmas eve, four ruffians, named Reginald Fitzurse, William de Tracy, Hugo de Morville, and Richard Brito, each bound himself by a solemn oath that he would pass over into England, and forthwith perform Plantagenet's murderous bidding.
How strictly that vow was performed, needs scarcely be told. The four barons proceeded to Canterbury , where, on the 30th of December, clad in complete mail, they entered the archbishop's palace, and with insulting threats seated themselves at his dining-table, while the armed company which they had brought with them secured the gates. Becket now saw that his hour was come; and with that noble spirit, which must command our admiration however we may disapprove his tenets, he determined to die for that cause which he could no longer aid by his life. The hour of vespers approaching, he directed the processional cross to be brought; and summoning his affrighted monks, who were, as an eye-witness describes, "driven gently before him like a flock of sheep," he entered the cathedral, and ascended the steps of the high altar, beneath which he found a grave. There he stood, while the four armed men rushed upon him, and aimed a first blow at his neck; a second, from the sword of de Tracy, almost severed the arm of the priest who stood by, and wounded the sentenced archbishop on the head; he turned, and wiping away the blood, said, "Into thy hands I commend my spirit.'' A third blow