Previously on Becket's Murder
Place: Canterbury Cathedral
Becket's tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.
If Henry felt as he pretended, his conduct in this interview will deserve the praise of magnanimity, but his skill in the art of dissimulation may fairly justify a suspicion of his sincerity. The man who that very morning had again bound himself by oath in the presence of his courtiers to refuse the kiss of peace, could not be animated with very friendly sentiments toward the Archbishop; and the mind of that prelate, though his hopes suggested brighter prospects, was still darkened with doubt and perplexity. Months were suffered to elapse before the royal engagements were executed; and when at last, with the terrors of another interdict hanging over his head (November 12th), the King restored the archiepiscopal lands, the rents had been previously levied, the corn and cattle had been carried off, and the buildings were left in a dilapidated state.
The remonstrances of the Primate and his two visits to the court obtained nothing but deceitful promises; his enemies publicly threatened his life, and his friends harassed him with the most gloomy presages; yet, as the road was at last open, he resolved to return to his diocese, and at his departure wrote to the King an eloquent and affecting letter. "It was my wish," he concludes, "to have waited on you once more, but necessity compels me, in the lowly state to which I am reduced, to revisit my afflicted church. I go, sir, with your permission, perhaps to perish for its security, unless you protect me. But whether I live, or die, yours I am, and yours I shall ever be in the Lord. Whatever may befall me or mine, may the blessing of God rest on you and your children." Henry had promised him money to pay his debts and defray the expenses of his journey. Having waited for it in vain, he borrowed three hundred pounds of the Archbishop of Rouen, and set out in the company, or rather in the custody, of his ancient enemy, John of Oxford.
Alexander, before he heard of the reconciliation at Freitville, had issued letters of suspension or excommunication against the bishops who had officiated at the late coronation; he had afterward renewed them against Roger of York (September 26th), Gilbert of London, and Joscelin of Salisbury, to whose misrepresentations was attributed the delay of the King to fulfil his engagements. For the sake of peace the Archbishop had wisely resolved to suppress these letters; but the three prelates, who knew that he brought them with him, had assembled at Canterbury, and sent to the coast Ranulf de Broc, with a party of soldiers, to search him on his landing, and take them from him. Information of the design reached him at Whitsand; and in a moment of irritation he despatched them before himself by a trusty messenger, by whom, or by whose means, they were publicly delivered to the bishops in the presence of their attendants. It was a precipitate and unfortunate measure, and probably the occasion of the catastrophe which followed. The prelates, caught in their own snare, burst into loud complaints against his love of power and thirst of revenge; they accused him to the young King of violating the royal privileges, and wishing to tear the crown from his head; and they hastened to Normandy to demand redress from the justice or the resentment of Henry.
Under the protection of his conductor the Primate reached Canterbury, December 3d, where he was joyfully received by the clergy and people. Thence he prepared to visit Woodstock, the residence of the young Henry, to pay his respects to the Prince and to justify his late conduct. But the courtiers, who dreaded his influence over the mind of his former pupil, procured a peremptory order, December 15th, for him to return, and confine himself to his own diocese. He obeyed, and spent the following days in prayer and the functions of his station. Yet they were days of distress and anxiety. The menaces of his enemies seemed to derive importance from each succeeding event. His provisions were hourly intercepted; his property was plundered; his servants were beaten and insulted.
On Christmas Day he ascended the pulpit. His sermon was distinguished by the earnestness and animation with which he spoke. At the conclusion he observed that those who thirsted for his blood would soon be satisfied, but that he would first avenge the wrongs of his Church by excommunicating Ranulf and Robert de Broc, who for seven years had not ceased to inflict every injury in their power on him, on his clergy, and on his monks. On the following Tuesday (December 28th) arrived secretly in the neighborhood four knights, Reginald Fitzurse, William Tracy, Hugh de Moreville, and Richard Brito. They had been present in Normandy when the King, irritated by the representations of the three bishops, had exclaimed, "Of the cowards who eat my bread, is there not one who will free me from this turbulent priest?" and mistaking this passionate expression for the royal license, had bound themselves by oath to return to England and either carry off or murder the Primate. They assembled at Saltwood, the residence of the Brocs, to arrange their operations.
Continued on Wednesday, July 30th.