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reason to believe that the younger Henry was friendly towards him, and he accordingly set out to make his peace at Woodstock, followed by a large train and three fine horses, which he intended to offer to the Prince as a propitiation. In London, however, he was met by messengers from the young King, commanding him in severe terms to retire immediately to the precincts of his church with all that belonged to him. The prelate returned a haughty answer, but obeyed the order; and, seeing that no measures would now be kept, he determined to commence the war himself, and on Christmas-day anathematized a number of persons attached to the court, at the same time telling the congregation that his dissolution was near. It is probable that he really felt the probability of the event he predicted: for the higher classes of the country, in whose hands reposed the power of the realm at that time, held aloof from him, and few, if any, visited him in Canterbury. He stood unmoved, however, and firm, with a constancy and courage worthy of a better cause, shewing no fear, or doubt, or hesitation.
In the meanwhile, the excommunicated bishops had joined the King in Normandy; and on hearing what had taken place, Henry burst into one of those fearful and frenzied fits of passion which too often assailed him; he vowed with blasphemous oaths, that he would not be omitted in the number of those who were excommunicated solely
because they had been present at his son's coronation; and in the madness of his rage he said, “I am very unfortunate to have maintained so many cowardly and ungrateful men in my court, none of whom will revenge the injuries I have sustained from one turbulent priest.”
Henry probably forgot the words as soon as they were spoken, but they were taken up by others ; and four gentlemen of his bed-chamber engaged to do away the reproach which the King had cast upon them, binding themselves by oath one to another, either to force Becket to absolve the bishops, to carry him out of England, or to slay him if he resisted. Thus resolved, they set off instantly for England without the King's knowledge, and after a speedy passage and short journey, arrived at the castle of Ranulph de Broc, where they found an adviser of no very scrupulous or tender nature. With him they took council during that night, and prepared to execute their determination on the following day.
In the meanwhile, Henry's anger against Becket assumed a more rational and definite form than at first; and finding that no peace was to be kept with that prelate, he determined at all risks to deal with him as a sovereign correcting a subject. * Before he could take measures in con
* I cannot suppose that Henry's determination to arrest Becket merely proceeded from a desire to place his person in security, as Lord Lyttleton has supposed. I have no doubt at VOL. I.
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sequence of this resolution, however, it was discovered that four noblemen of high family * and gentlemen of his bedchamber, William de Tracy, Hugh de Moreville, Reginald Fitzurse, and Richard Brito, had suddenly left the court without leave, and were said to have gone to England. Henry might recollect that it was in the presence of these gentlemen that he had spoken the rash words which implied a wish that some one would chastise his enemy Becket; and fears lest they should meditate the death of the prelate seemed at once to have taken possession of his mind. It is probable that many accidental circumstances attending the mode of their departure tended to confirm these apprehensions, and the King sent forth messengers to all the ports of Normandy to stop the four knights ere they could cross the channel. At the same time he despatched Richard de Humet, the Grand Justiciary of Normandy, into England with all speed, bearing a mes
all that his purpose was formed very soon to arrest the prelate, and not to suffer him to escape so as to hold communication with the see of Rome; and that his words that if all were excommunicated who had attended his son's coronation, he would not be exempt, referred to this design.
* It is always particularly noticed by the historians of that period, that the four murderers of Becket were persons of the highest distinction, both by birth and military renown. Thus William of Newbury says: “Tunc quatuor assistentium procerum viri genere nobiles, et militiæ actibus clari.” And Hoveden calls them, “Viri quidem generis præminentia conspicui.”
sage to the young King, to the effect that he should cause the primate to be arrested without loss of time. Richard de Humet arrived in England almost as soon as Fitzurse and his companions. He was accompanied by a number of noblemen of the King's household, and immediately on landing he despatched two of them to the young King, in order to obtain the assistance and countenance of that prince's officers in executing the commands of his father upon the Archbishop; Humet himself remaining, to take measures for guarding the coast, lest Becket should obtain information of the orders issued for his arrest, and once more escape to the continent, where he had already done so much mischief. By this time, however, the prelate was under the arrest of a more powerful arm.
In the castle of Ranulph de Broc, the four conspirators found every assistance that they could desire for the execution of their purpose. Their host had been entrusted by Henry with the defence and guardianship of the coast of Kent; and he had consequently at his command a considerable body of soldiers, which he placed immediately at the disposal of the four knights. How many of these they took with them in their further proceedings does not appear; but, at all events, they were so strongly accompanied, that they could have overpowered any resistance which was likely to be made. Concealing their arms, and dividing their force,
so as not to alarm their victim before the object was effected, they approached Canterbury in the morning of the twenty-ninth of December 1170, and the four leaders proceeded unarmed to the Archbishop's palace. They there sent in an attendant to inform Becket that they bore him a message from the King, upon which they were immediately admitted to a chamber where he was conversing with several clergymen. The knights, with threatening looks, and without answering his salutation, demanded if he would hear the King's message in private or in public. He replied, as they pleased; and Fitzurse accordingly bade him dismiss the clergy. Becket thereupon requested his friends to retire into another room; but some one kept the door open; and the fierce tones and angry gestures of the knights soon caused Becket to call the clergy to his side again. In their presence Fitzurse then commanded him in the King's name to absolve the, excommunicated bishops. Becket replied at first in the same deceitful manner that he had done once before; saying that the sentence was the Pope's, not his, and that he could not revoke it; but the moment after, he boldly and more honestly acknowledged that the punishment of the bishops was not displeasing to him. Thereupon Fitzurse burst forth into furious invectives, and a long dispute ensued between him and Becket, regarding some words which the primate asserted the King had spoken in the presence of Fitzurse, and which he construed into a justification of