Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Council Tries Becket

Featuring Father John Lingard

Previously on Becket's Murder

Time: 1170
Place: Canterbury Cathedral

Becket's tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.

IV. The next was also a custom deriving its origin from the Conquest, that no archbishop, bishop, or dignified clergyman should lawfully go beyond the sea without the king's permission. Its object was to prevent complaints at the papal court, to the prejudice of the sovereign.

V. It was enacted that appeals should proceed regularly from the archdeacon to the bishop, and from the bishop to the archbishop. If the archbishop failed to do justice, the cause ought to be carried before the king, that by his precept the suit might be terminated in the archbishop's court, so as not to proceed further without the king's consent. Henry I had endeavored to prevent appeals from being carried before the Pope, and it was supposed that the same was the object of the present constitution. The King, however, thought proper to deny it. According to the explanation which he gave, it prohibited clergymen from appealing to the pope in _civil_ causes only, when they might obtain justice in the royal courts. The remaining articles are of minor importance. They confine pleas of debt and disputes respecting advowsons to the cognizance of the king's justices; declare that clergymen who hold lands of the crown hold by barony, and are bound to the same services as the lay barons; and forbid the bishops to admit to orders the sons of villeins, without the license of their respective lords.

As the Primate retired he meditated in silence on his conduct in the council. His scruples revived, and the spontaneous censures of his attendants added to the poignancy of his feelings. In great agony of mind he reached Canterbury, where he condemned his late weakness, interdicted himself from the exercise of his functions, wrote to Alexander a full account of the transaction, and solicited absolution from that Pontiff. It was believed that, if he had submitted with cheerfulness at Clarendon, he would have recovered his former ascendancy over the royal mind: but his tardy assent did not allay the indignation which his opposition had kindled, and his subsequent repentance for that assent closed the door to forgiveness. Henry had flattered himself with the hope that he should be able to extort the approbation of the "customs" either from the gratitude of Alexander, whom he had assisted in his necessities, or from the fears of that Pontiff, lest a refusal might add England to the nations which acknowledged the antipope.

The firmness of the Pope defeated all his schemes, and the King in his anger vowed to be revenged on the Archbishop. Among his advisers there were some who sought to goad him on to extremities. They scattered unfounded reports; they attributed to Becket a design of becoming independent; they accused him of using language the most likely to wound the vanity of the monarch. He was reported to have said to his confidants that the youth of Henry required a master; that the violence of his passions must and might easily be tamed; and that he knew how necessary he himself was to a king incapable of guiding the reins of government without his assistance. It was not that these men were in reality friends to Henry. They are said to have been equally enemies to him and to the Church. They sighed after the licentiousness of the last reign, of which they had been deprived, and sought to provoke a contest, in which, whatever party should succeed, they would have to rejoice over the defeat either of the clergy, whom they considered as rivals, or of the King, whom they hated as their oppressor.

The ruin of a single bishop was now the principal object that occupied and perplexed the mind of this mighty monarch. By the advice of his counsellors it was resolved to waive the controversy respecting the "customs," and to fight with those more powerful weapons which the feudal jurisprudence always offered to the choice of a vindictive sovereign. A succession of charges was prepared, and the Primate was cited to a great council in the town of Northampton. With a misboding heart he obeyed the summons; and the King's refusal to accept from him the kiss of peace admonished him of his danger.

At the opening of the council, October 13th, John of Oxford presided; Henry exercised the office of prosecutor. The first charge regarded some act of contempt against the King, supposed to have been committed by Becket in his judicial capacity. The Archbishop offered a plea in excuse; but Henry swore that justice should be done him; and the obsequious court condemned Becket to the forfeiture of his goods and chattels, a penalty which was immediately commuted for a fine of five hundred pounds. The next morning the King required him to refund three hundred pounds, the rents which he had received as warden of Eye and Berkhamstead. Becket coolly replied that he would pay it; more, indeed, had been expended by him in the repairs, but money should never prove a cause of dissension between himself and his sovereign.

Another demand followed of five hundred pounds received by the Chancellor before the walls of Toulouse. It was in vain that the Archbishop described the transaction as a gift. Henry maintained that it was a loan; and the Court, on the principle that the word of the sovereign was preferable to that of a subject, compelled him to give security for the repayment of the money. The third day the King required an account of all the receipts from vacant abbeys and bishoprics which had come into the hands of Becket during his chancellorship, and estimated the balance due to the Crown at the sum of forty-four thousand marks. At the mention of this enormous demand the Archbishop stood aghast. However, recovering himself, he replied that he was not bound to answer: that at his consecration both Prince Henry and the Earl of Leicester, the justiciary, had publicly released him by the royal command from all similar claims; and that on a demand so unexpected and important he had a right to require the advice of his fellow-bishops.

Continued on Monday, July 21st.

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