Previously on Becket's Murder
Place: Canterbury Cathedral
Becket's tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.
His next expedient was one which had been prohibited by the Constitutions of Clarendon. He repeatedly authorized his bishops to appeal in their name and his own from the judgment of the Archbishop to that of the Pope. By this means the authority of that prelate was provisionally suspended; and though his friends maintained that these appeals were not vested with the conditions required by the canons, they were always admitted by Alexander. The King improved the delay to purchase friends. By the Pontiff his presents were indignantly refused: they were accepted by some of the cardinals, by the free states in Italy, and by several princes and barons supposed to possess influence in the papal councils.
On some occasions Henry threw himself and his cause on the equity of Alexander; at others he demanded and obtained legates to decide the controversy in France. Twice he condescended to receive the Primate, and to confer with him on the subject. To avoid altercation, it was agreed that no mention should be made of the "customs"; but each mistrusted the other. Henry was willing to preserve the liberties of the Church "saving the dignity of his crown"; and the Archbishop was equally willing to obey the King, "saving the rights of the Church." In the second conference these cautionary clauses were omitted; the terms were satisfactorily adjusted, and the Primate, as he was about to depart, requested of his sovereign the kiss of peace. It was the usual termination of such discussions, the bond by which the contending parties sealed their reconciliation. But Henry coldly replied that he had formerly sworn never to give it him; and that he was unwilling to incur the guilt of perjury. So flimsy an evasion could deceive no one; and the Primate departed in the full conviction that no reliance could be placed on the King's sincerity.
He had now in view the coronation of his son Henry, a measure the policy of which has been amply but unsatisfactorily discussed by modern historians. The performance of the ceremony belonged of right to the Archbishop of Canterbury; and Becket had obtained from the Pope a letter forbidding any of the English bishops to usurp an office which was the privilege of his see. But it was impossible for him to transmit this prohibition to those to whom it was addressed; and his enemies, to remove the scruples of the prelates, exhibited a pretended letter from the Pontiff empowering the Archbishop of York to crown the prince. He was knighted early in the morning of June 14th; the coronation was performed with the usual solemnities in Westminster Abbey; and at table the King waited on his son with his own hands. The next day William, King of Scotland, David his brother, and the English barons and free tenants did homage and swore fealty to the young King. Why the wife of the Prince was not crowned with her husband we are not informed; but Louis took to himself the insult offered to his daughter, and entered the borders of Normandy with his army. Henry hastened to defend his dominions; the two monarchs had a private conference; the former treaty was renewed; and a promise was given of an immediate reconciliation with the Primate.
Every attempt to undermine the integrity of the Pontiff had now failed; and Henry saw with alarm that the thunder, which he had so long feared, was about to burst on his dominions. A plan of adjustment had been arranged between his envoys and Alexander; and to defeat the chicanery of his advisers, it was accompanied with the threat of an interdict if it were not executed within the space of forty days. He consented to see the Archbishop, and awaited his arrival in a spacious meadow near the town of Freitville on the borders of Touraine (July 22d). As soon as Becket appeared, the King, spurring forward his horse with his cap in his hand, prevented his salutation; and, as if no dissension had ever divided them, discoursed with him apart, with all that easy familiarity which had distinguished their former friendship. In the course of their conversation, Henry exclaimed, "As for the men who have betrayed both you and me, I will make them such return as the deserts of traitors require." At these words the Archbishop alighted from his horse, and threw himself at the feet of his sovereign, but the King laid hold of the stirrup, and insisted that he should remount, saying: "In short, my Lord Archbishop, let us renew our ancient affection for each other; only show me honor before those who are now viewing our behavior." Then returning to his attendants, he observed: "I find the Archbishop in the best disposition toward me: were I otherwise toward him, I should be the worst of men." Becket followed him, and by the mouth of the Archbishop of Sens presented his petition. He prayed that the King would graciously admit him to the royal favor, would grant peace and security to him and his, would restore the possessions of the See of Canterbury, and would, in his mercy, make amends to that Church for the injury it had sustained in the late coronation of his son. In return he promised him love, honor, and every service which an archbishop could render in the Lord to his king and his sovereign. To these demands Henry assented: they again conversed apart for a considerable time; and at their separation it was mutually understood that the Archbishop, after he had arranged his affairs in France, should return to the court, and remain there for some days, that the public might be convinced of the renewal and solidity of their friendship.
Continued on Monday, July 28th.