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worthy of any consideration.* It is clear, if the best and most impartial contemporary historians are to be believed, that he went to Woodstock; it is clear that he made this promise unreservedly; and it is clear that Henry relied upon it perfectly.
It remained, however, for the King of England, having as he believed vanquished the obstinacy of his primate, to obtain the same concession from the Bishops whom Becket had stimulated to oppose him; and for that purpose he summoned a great Council to assemble immediately at Clarendon. The meeting took place in the spring of 1164. The eldest persons there present were appointed to draw up from memory the laws and customs of the realm, which had been so often referred to; and certainly nothing could be more just or straightforward than this me. thod of defining them. But, when it was proposed
* They asserted that Henry assured Becket he would never require anything of him to the prejudice of the Church ; and that all he wished for was, a testimony of respect and submission in the face of his Barons, for which purpose a mere shadow of consent would be sufficient. Were it possible to suppose that Henry would be so foolish as to say such a thing, or that Becket would be so foolish as to believe it, the circumstances under which the promise was given would show the falsehood of the assertion altogether. Becket went to Oxford to the King to make this promise, after his conference with the Pope's Almoner; and Henry, so far from showing any disposition to leave the promise vague, instantly called a great Council or Parliament at Clarendon, for the purpose of defining what the customs were to which the promise referred, and of causing the other prelates and nobles to make a similar promise.
that the whole assembly should take an oath to observe them, Becket refused positively to do so. Some writers declare, that the Archbishop asserted as his excuse that this was all very different from the general promise he had made the King; but others, and amongst them Hoveden, state that he did not deny the promise he had made, but only declared that he had greatly sinned in making it, and would so sin no more. *
The King and his nobles were furious at this conduct. Violent and irritable in the highest degree, we may easily believe that Henry could scarcely bridle his indignation; and for three days the clergy, the monarch, and the barons remained in fierce and menacing debate, in which, if we may trust to the words of the Bishop of London, whose high and severe purity of character renders his testimony indisputable, the prelates resisted every effort to extort from them the oath demanded: "ready to submit to loss of fortune, anguish of body, endurance of exile, and if God willed it, even the sword itself,” rather than abandon the course in which their Archbishop led them.
It would appear that the Prelates from time to time consulted apart; and “on the third day,” says
* Et paulo post congregato clero, et populo regni apud Clarendum, pænituit Archiepiscopum, quod ipse concessionem feceret regi. Et volens resilire à pacto dixit se in illa concessione graviter pecasse, et quod in hoc amplius non peccaret.--IloveDEN, 493.
the Bishop of London, “when all the princes and nobles of the realm had been excited to the utmost fury, after a tremendous noise and shouting, they entered the meeting where we sat, and with their mantles cast back, and outstretched arms, addressed us thus : 'Listen, oh ye who contemn the statutes of the realm, and will not receive the commands of the King; not ours are these hands that you behold, not ours these arms, not ours even these bodies, but they are those of our Lord the King, ready at his nod to revenge his injuries, ready to do his will promptly, let it be whatsoever it will ; whatever shall be his mandate, shall be to us most just, and we will execute it willingly. Change your determination, incline your minds to obedience, in order that you may avoid, while it is yet easy, a peril which soon must be inevitable.' What then?” continues Foliot, “Who fled? Who turned their back? Whose spirit gave way?"
The Bishop goes on to say that no one yielded; and he names all the Prelates present, down to himself, with the exception of Becket, asserting that every one of them remained firm in the defence of the church; but he then proceeds: “The general of the host turned his back, the leader of the camp fled from it, from his brethren, and from the council ; the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury withdrew himself, and after a space given to conference apart, he returned to us, and spoke these words: “It is the will of my Lord that I should perjure myself, and at present I submit, and incur perjury, for which I may do penance hereafter.”
The Bishop proceeds to describe the stupefied astonishment into which these words cast the Bishops. They yielded, however, to the will of Becket, and led by him like sheep, took the oath demanded of them, promising in truth and sincerity faithfully to observe the ancient customs of the country, which had been written down from the general testimony of the elder members of the assembly.
In this transaction, while we see somewhat to regret in the fact that a number of English prelates should ever have combined to struggle for privileges subject to such dark and terrible abuses, we cannot help admiring the firmness, courage, and constancy with which they maintained that which they believed to be right. The conduct of Becket, however, in this instance, as in all that preceded the parliament of Clarendon, shows the same mixture of greedy ambition, of dark cunning, and base hypocrisy. If the account of the Bishop of London be correct, and if that account was addressed to Becket himself by an eye-witness, who took part in all that was there enacted, the Archbishop's conduct on this occasion may very well be received as elucidating the whole of his previous behaviour. This letter of Gilbert Foliot, indeed, has been declared on the most unreasonable grounds, to be spurious, having been suppressed by the librarians of the Vatican.* It seems to me that no dispassionate enquirer can for a moment doubt that the letter is genuine;
* The first person, I believe, who impugned the authority of this letter, was a gentleman of the name of Berington, somewhat about the year 1790. This author assumes two grounds, changing from the one to the other as he proceeds. He labours hard to show, in the first place, that the letter was never sent to Becket, but was privately circulated by Foliot; or, having been written by him, was never sent, on account of what he calls its libellous character, and was suppressed. His argument to establish this is, that it could not have been sent, as Becket, or John of Salisbury, could easily have refuted it, and never did.
As this is begging a part of the question, if not the whole, such a course of reasoning requires no notice. The worthy gen. tleman, however, admits that “Here the letter is (i. e. in the Cotton MSS.) and it seems to be authentic. It is equally so with the manuscript itself, which contains five hundred and sixty-two letters, and without date.” This is a very important admission, as the Cotton MS. is esteemed one of the most ancient copies of Becket's letters extant. The letters are illuminated, and I have taken means to satisfy myself fully that the writing is considerably anterior to the Reformation.
Mr. Berington goes on next to impugn the credibility of Foliot's statements, principally resting his objections upon what that prelate says in this letter regarding the election of Becket and the forcible manner in which it was carried through. Against this he brings forward Becket's answer to the same charges, when made by the suffragans, and John of Salisbury's letter upon the same subject; both of which distinctly deny that the elevation was anything but regular and canonical, and declare that it was approved of by all. John of Salisbury even goes on to assert, that the applause of the Bishop of London on Becket's election, was more strongly marked than any other person. This, be it remarked, was but pleading, by Becket and his most