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eldest son, thus encroaching on the privilege of the see of Canterbury. For this invasion of his rights a decree had been privately obtained from the Pope, suspending those dignitaries; and this decree Becket now fulminated on the heads of his opposing brotherhood. The suspended prelates hastened over to Normandy, and laid their complaint before the King. Henry was perplexed in the extreme, and his resentment was kindled. He saw he had to cope with an untired adversary, and an adversary of no mean power, being supported in his cause by the Pope, and having been welcomed to his own see with the loudest demonstrations of popular applause. In his anger, he uttered reproaches against his friends for allowing him so long a time to be vexed and harassed by such an enemy. On this, four knights took upon themselves the quarrel of their master, and travelled night and day till they reached England.
The story is familiar to every one. The four from Normandy rushed into the presence of the Archbishop. After some fruitless demands and threats, which failed to shake the constancy of Becket, they left him-but only to return armed, and accompanied with others, to accomplish his destruction. His retainers now gathered round him, and the battle-axes of the knights were heard thundering at the door for re-admission. Becket was advised to take refuge in the church. His bold spirit rejected what seemed a timid counsel, until one of his attendants reminded him that it was time for vespers. Then ordering his cross to be brought, he followed it slowly through the cloisters, and ascended the altar of the cathedral. The shades of evening were falling in the church; his enemies, who had followed, were heard to call aloud for the traitor; his friends called on him to fly. He remained stationary, nor did he condescend to supplicate, but extended his head to the inevitable blow. first and second stroke threw him on his face before the altar; he collected his robes around him, that he might die with dignity, and joining his hands as if in prayer, he received in this posture a third blow, which fell with such violence, that after entering the skull the sword broke on the pave
The whole country seems to have
been struck with horror at this sacrilegious murder. The usual service was suspended in all the churches, the crosses were veiled, and the altars denuded of their sacred ornaments, as in the Passion; and the monks in low and monotonous tone, from which all music was purposely banished, deplored day and night the sins of the King and the people. The King was defeated by the dead saint, and, to appease the popular indignation, was compelled to show signs of the deepest contrition. The monarch was brought to kneel like a penitent before the tomb of his murdered adversary. Approaching to the town of Canterbury, he was no sooner in sight of the towers of the cathedral, than he divested himself of his regal garments, threw a coarse cloth around him, and barefooted, and submitting his shoulder to the scourge, proceeded to the shrine of Becket, where he extended himself in humiliating penance. The Constitutions of Clarendon, as might be expected, were not attempted to be enforced, neither, we may add, were they repealed-such were the lax notions of legislation in those days. Henry wrote to the Pope, and promised that the clergy should be exempted as heretofore from lay criminal jurisdiction, and made other concessions. Whether from the general compassion at his death, or from the gratitude of a clergy whose cause that death had rendered triumphant, the martyr of Canterbury became the most popular saint in the Calendar ; more miracles were wrought at his tomb than elsewhere; and even succeeding kings were anointed at their coronation with oil that had been trusted to Becket by the Virgin Mary. He retained this pre-eminence till the Reformation, when Henry VIII., now head of the Church, resenting what appeared to him the treason and rebellion of the Archbishop, cited the dead saint to appear in his Court Ecclesiastical, and as Becket made no appearance, nor any answer to the summons, he pronounced his saintship forfeited, and scattered his dust from the tomb.
The character of Becket has been variously interpreted. As the Chancellor of Henry II., he is allowed to have exhibited great capacity and firmness, being accounted haughty to his superiors and equals, but conde
scending and affable to his inferiors. He was brave and accomplished, distinguished for his warlike propensities, his knightly bearing, his liberality and munificence; but not at all for the fervour of his devotions, or the multiplicity of his prayers. In the embassy he undertook to Paris, the display he made of wealth and pageantry was so dazzling, that those who make report of it, run riot in extravagance of description. His ordinary mode of living, when resident in England, was so sumptuous as to have been the astonishment of the times; and his residence being in the west, it earned for him the title of the wonder and delight of the western world. Such was the man advanced to be the head of the Churchin England. But no sooner had he accepted the primacy than he became an altered being; and the sagacious chancellor, the witty companion of the monarch, the splendid ambassador, the munificent host, was converted into the ascetic religionist, a complete example of piety as it was practised in those days. Underneath the gorgeous robes of the archbishop he wore foul sackcloth overrun with verminhis drink was water, in which nauseous herbs had been purposely boiled -the scourge was not idle-he walked apart amongst the cloisters, suffused in penitential tears-he wept, he fasted, he prayed, he humbled and tortured himself with all the zeal of the poorest friar who has nothing to commend him to earth or to heaven but his own miserable self-immolation. Was this change sincere, or was it but the cloak of ambition?
The charge of hypocrisy, which is frequently, perhaps generally, imputed to Becket, appears to be founded entirely on the suddenness of his conversion. But this suddenness is made so striking, let it be remembered, by the ostentatious mode of devotion prevalent in the middle ages, in the adoption of which, even with the most sincere intention, a change of manners so easily outruns the change of heart. As an artifice of ambition, it is not easy to understand why Becket should have practised these painful austerities. Men to raise themselves from obscurity to eminence have submitted to this species of self-infliction; but what had he to gain by such a device who was Archbishop of Canterbury, and who might have retained,
had he pleased, the chancellorship together with his new dignity? What had he to gain by a rupture with the King? Nothing. But he had, on the contrary, every thing to lose, and the prospect of that exile in which his predecessor Anselm had passed so great a portion of his life. We read the matter thus:- When Becket accepted the primacy, he appears, from some language he is reported to have used, to have foreseen that either he must betray the trust which the Church would repose in him, or offend his sovereign. Indeed, from the situation in which he was placed, it is plain that he could not at the same time have earned the character of fidelity to the Church, and retained his friendship with Henry. Even such an acquiescence in Henry's measures as might have been pardonable in another, would have been suspicious in one who would appear to have accepted his ecclesiastic preferment for the very sake of executing those measures. He was a man of high and noble spirit, proud and fearless. Would such a man have consented even to seem the traitor, or to act like a cowed and submissive churchman? Placed at the head of the English Church, he was resolved to uphold its privileges, and his own rights as Primate of England. If not sincere in his piety, he was at least sincere, we think, in his championship of the Church. To prepare himselt for his novel and perilous position, what more natural than that he should adopt a total change of manners? And in this change how far he gave scope also to that religious feeling which lies buried and oppressed, we believe, in the hearts of most men, and requires only to be elicited by propitious circumstances, who can venture to divine?
That he was so far sincere in his piety as to escape the charge of hypocrisy, is the impression his history leaves upon our mind; that he had relinquished his pride and ambition, his violent conduct towards his brother bishops is sufficient utterly to contradict. We speak it with reverence, but there are few positions more favourable to the growth of pride and the love of power than the priestly function. If it makes not the heart exceeding humble, which we have reason to hope it frequently does, it
makes it exceeding proud. The appointed censor of all other men, finds himself at once in the possession of power, and how many reasons are there at hand why he should increase it! Must he not govern in order to guide and instruct? And mark how
well he is provided for the strife of ambition! It is the rudest game of life, and no passion involves in such continuous struggle, or leads to such terrible reverses, as the love of power. But he whose ambition is intermingled with his religion, may at once be elated by the passion, and animated in the conflict, and yet be fortified against its perils and disasters. Is his course prosperous? he has the natural animation of hope and enterprise, and the sense of triumph steals upon his heart. Is it clouded with adversity? -he has other consolations than the world-which to disappointed ambition is a dead thing-can possibly supply. While he succeeds, the victory is his-if he fails, the cause is God's. He was responsible, not for success, only for endeavour; and the very shame of his defeat is transferred to his triumphant but guilty opponent. He conquers, and his adversary lies at his feet; he is subdued, and he wraps himself in the consciousness of duty, or rises into the glory of martyrdom. There are few characters more captivating to the imagination than his who displays this combination of piety and ambition. Enough of human pride remains to rejoice in the victory, but nothing of human weakness to give terror to defeat. Such a man, even at the height of his power, seems superior to his own acquisition; he makes no boast-he abases himself in profound humility; he is nothingknows of nothing but the great service he is set to perform-meanwhile he has usurped the thunders of Heaven, and is governing the world!
Of this mixed character we conceive Becket to have been. He entered on his high office resolved to be the stanch and faithful champion of the Church; he opposed his crosier at all hazards to the monarch's sceptre; and, overcome by violence, he sunk on the altar of his cathedral, greater and more triumphant in his death than the most complete success could have
rendered him in life.
In England, the Church not only
stood in occasional opposition to the Crown, but there was a constant bickering between it and the courts of common-law. And here let one observation be made. It is a remark of Blackstone, and it is one of those remarks which, having been once made, are therefore frequently and without examination repeated that the clergy, in the contempt they displayed for our common law, had acted contrary to their usual policy-had overreached themselves and, by withdrawing from the national jurisprudence, had allowed a brotherhood of lawyers to rise up in the country as keen-witted as themselves, and who proved the most awkward enemies they had to deal with. This remark betrays an inattention both to the current views of the clergy, and to the nature of that jurisprudence which it is supposed they refuse to preside over. The early Christians held it a sacred duty to determine their differences amongst themselves; they could not enter courts of justice profaned by heathen superstitions. When this objection no longer prevailed, and judicial institutions were purged from Pagan idolatries, the clergy still retained this obligation of determining amongst themselves, for the sake of decency and propriety, their own disputes; and courts were granted them for this purpose by the first Christian emperor. They obtained their judicial privileges on the very ground that they would not appear and carry on a litigation before lay tribunals. It was only, therefore, by extending their own courts, and grafting the civil on the canon law, that they could possess themselves of any share of the jurisprudence of a country; and this course they never showed themselves slack or unskilful in pursuing. Not only was it adverse to the current of opinion, it was never within their power to take a prominent part in the administration of our common law. This, during feudal times, was necessarily placed in the hands of the military baron, who alone could enforce the execution of its decrees; not to mention that the law itself, as in the case of the judicial combat, was often such as a Christian clergy could not possibly have administered. And be fore the country and its jurisprudence were somewhat humanized, the law
yers bred in the king's court, the curia regis, had grown up into a distinct and powerful profession.
In Saxon times, the bishop occasionally sat with the earl or sheriff in the county court; but this was considered as an indecorum which the Saxon church, by reason of its remoteness from the source of orthodoxy, had fallen into; and William, at the Conquest, separating the bishop, placed him in a court of his own. When the clergy had thus obtained their own courts, they cannot be accused of any remissness or reluctance in administering their canon or civil law, and in drawing to those courts cases which belonged to the decision of the king's judges, which was the only method they had of participating in the jurisprudence of the country. Every act which savoured of religion was made a subject for their spiritual jurisdiction. If it were a question of debt, and the obligation had been sanctioned by an oath, although in essence a mere civil contract, they laid claim to determine the controversy. If land were merely asserted to be held in frankalmoigne, (to have been a free gift to the Church, and exonerated from the usual
burdens of feudal tenure,) without allowing this fact to be first determined by a court of law, they proceeded immediately to adjudicate upon any question relating to it. These encroachments the common law, with its prohibitions, was perpetually resisting, Some departments of jurisprudence the Courts Christian contrived, however, to appropriate; and what perhaps is rather singular, considering the va rious revolutions that have passed over their heads, have contrived to retain to this day. It is still an ecclesiastical court which gives efficacy to the testament of the deceased, or authorizes the distribution of his goods, if he died intestate, to the next of kin. As it was the duty of all good Christians to leave something to the Church for prayers and masses, the clergy, anxious that such good intentions should not be frustrated, took charge themselves, in the first instance, of all the goods and chattels of the defunct. It is still an ecclesiastical court which enquires into the validity of the marriage contract, which listens to the matrimonial complaint, and grants a relaxation of those bonds which nothing, however, but an act of the legislature can dissolve.
SWEET Morn! from countless cups of On lands and seas, on fields and
Thou liftest reverently on high
More incense fine than earth can hold, To fill the sky.
One interfusion wide of love,
Thine airs and odours moist ascend, And, 'mid the azure depths above, With light they blend.
The lark, by his own carol blest, From thy green harbours eager springs;
And his large heart in little breast
Yet those clear eyes that seek and read the True,
Though firm their faith, sometimes with doubt may mark
When hoary rule and custom's hallow'd sway
NO. CCXCI. VOL. XLVII.