Post-classical history

The Beloved Enemy

I WAS NO LONGER YOUNG. At forty most women are resigned to old age. I was not like that. I redoubled my efforts. I adopted a discreet use of cosmetics; I was meticulous in choosing my clothes. I knew that I looked like a woman ten years younger.

Henry was twenty-nine and looked more than his age. He was the opposite of me and never made any attempt to protect himself from the ravages of time, spending long hours in the saddle, sleeping in any place which offered itself, sharing the discomforts of his soldiers. That was probably why he had their devotion.

Sometimes I looked at him, with his bow-legs, his rough skin, his earthiness, and I marveled that I could ever have been as obsessed by him as I was in the early days of our marriage. Added to all this was his blatant infidelity. I had accepted that because it meant nothing to him; and for all that he must have been aware of my waning affection there persisted a certain bond between us. We admired each other in certain ways. I had to admit that he was a great ruler; any decision he made had reason behind it. I had never known him make one which did not have what he believed to be some advantage to himself. Sometimes he was wrong, as in the case of appointing Thomas Becket to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, thinking to have a Chancellor-Archbishop whom he could control. It was a mistake but it had had logical reasoning behind it. He had miscalculated his man though—which was odd when one considered all the time he had spent with Becket.

He reminded me that he had been four years in France. I had been here a considerable time too, but not quite as long as that.

“Four years away from my kingdom,” he said.

“We are singularly blessed in Leicester and de Luci.”

“Yes. But it is time I went back.”

I agreed with him. I wondered whether the appointment of Thomas had anything to do with his wish to return. I think I had begun to question my relationship with him when I first knew of Thomas. In those days they had been almost like lovers. Henry’s eyes shone when he looked on the man; he began to be amused in anticipation before Becket spoke. There was some indefinable attraction Becket had for him. Thomas had never been diffident. There was nothing of the sycophant about him; indeed he had been openly critical of Henry, who had taken from him what would have enraged him from another. Perhaps I had been a little jealous in those days when Henry had meant a great deal to me.

And now, did he want to go back to England because Thomas was there? True, it was time he returned. England was the most important of his possessions. He must not neglect it.

His avaricious acquisitiveness put a great strain on him. He could never resist seizing any possession which came his way; he seemed to forget they had to be protected.

So now we were to return to England and he planned to spend Christmas at Oxford.

We traveled down to the coast. The sea was at its most treacherous, the winds violent. It would be folly to put to sea in such weather. We waited and time passed. We should certainly not be in England for Christmas.

Instead we spent it at Cherbourg without a great deal of celebration because we were unprepared; and each day we waited for the wind to abate. I was longing to see my son Henry and wondering how he was faring in Becket’s household. It was about eight months since I had seen him and, as before that we had been constantly together, I missed him very much. I planned to see him as soon as I returned to England.

As the weather did not improve and we remained at Cherbourg, Henry grew very impatient.

“I doubt not,” I said, “that the first person you will wish to see when we get to England will be your recalcitrant Archbishop.”

“I shall need to see all those who hold posts of importance,” he replied.

“I hope you will be equally eager to see your son.”

“Oh, he is in good hands         .         .         .         the best possible.”

“In the hands of the man who refused the office of Chancellor which you wished him to keep?”

“Becket has a mind of his own.”

“It would be better if that mind was in accordance with that of his King.”

“You have never liked the fellow. I can’t think why. I should have thought he would have been your sort         .         .         .         cultured         .         .         .         pretty clothes         .         .         .         nice clean hands. I think, my dear, you are a little jealous of my affection for him.”

“It was rather excessive.” He laughed aloud.

“Perhaps it has diminished a little,” I went on. “He angered you when he slid out of the chancellorship.” Henry’s face darkened at the memory, and I could not resist adding: “You made it very clear that you were displeased.”

“Thomas is too honest a man to deny what he thinks right.”

“I hope he is as honest in all his dealings. He did manage to accumulate a great deal of wealth. I wonder how.”

“He would have been a fool if he hadn’t, and Thomas is no fool.”

“I can see,” I said, “that you are looking forward to the reunion. I myself look forward with equal pleasure to seeing my son again.”

It was not until the end of January that the weather allowed us to sail. When we landed at Southampton, Becket was among the delegation waiting to welcome us; and, to my delight, with him was Henry.

My son and I embraced. I held him at arm’s length and looked into his handsome face. How I loved those fair Plantagenet looks which came from his paternal grandfather. It was a pity Geoffrey le Bel had not passed on his good looks to his son, but at least they were there in my children, having slipped a generation.

“You have been happy, I see, my son,” I cried. “How we have all missed you.”

“I missed you,” said Henry.

“And you have been happy?”

“Oh yes.” I saw him look at Becket, and there was something like adoration in his eyes. I felt a twinge of annoyance, but my maternal feelings were stronger than petty jealousy. I was glad he had found a good home and affection with Becket.

Thomas himself had changed. He was thinner. His features, which had always been of an ascetic nature, were more so. There was a look of serenity about him. He was still splendidly attired, but I learned later that under his fine garments he wore a hairshirt. I was surprised. I had always felt a certain contempt for those people who tortured their bodies. Why? I asked myself. What good were they doing to humanity? What satisfaction could such acts bring to God? And what sort of god would be impressed by such folly? The wearing of hairshirts seemed to me a form of self-righteousness which I despised. I was surprised that Thomas could have indulged in such self-torture.

I warmed to him a little because he had been good to my son. I was deeply conscious of the greeting between him and the King.

Thomas knelt before Henry and I saw the softness in the King’s face. “Get up,” he said roughly, and then they were clasping hands, Henry was laughing.

“Well Archbishop-now and Chancellor-that-is-no-more, how fare you? By the eyes of God, you look like an Archbishop. What have you done to yourself? Come, we shall ride side by side.”

And they did. I heard their laughter and some of their conversation, in which Henry referred to Thomas’s rejection of the Great Seal.

“Thomas, I could have killed you.”

“I guessed you would be displeased.”

“Displeased! I was murderous. It was a mercy for you, Thomas, that you did not bring the Seal yourself. How dared you provoke me so?”

“Because, my lord King, I knew I could not remain Chancellor and be Archbishop at the same time. The Church is apart from the State.”

“Why should they not march together?”

“They cannot always see through the same eyes.”

“Why shouldn’t we make them do so?”

“It may not always be possible.”

“Then there will be trouble between us.”

“I feared that if I took the post it would impair our friendship, and that is very dear to me.”

“To me also, Thomas. We will work together.”

“There may be battles between us.”

“Good. I like a battle. I’d rather do battle with you, Thomas, than live in peace with others.”

Besotted as ever, I thought.

But that was not quite true. I sensed that Thomas knew it and saw trouble ahead.

And how right he proved to be.

Looking back, it seems to me that for a long period after our return to England our lives were dominated by Thomas Becket.

I believe that, of all his possessions, Henry loved England best. If he had been content to be King of England only, his reign would have been completely rewarding. The people were of a less fiery nature than those across the Channel. They wanted a peaceful existence and knew that Henry was a strong king. It was because of this that he was able to leave the country in the hands of well-chosen administrators. He had already shown his ability to rule rather in the manner of his grandfather, the first Henry. At the beginning of his reign he had put the financial working of the exchequer in order and had changed the debased coinage of Stephen’s regime to a uniform currency; he had brought new laws of justice into the country and new forms of taxation. Henry himself did not live extravagantly; when he needed money, it was for the country or to build up an army, to provide arms for his wars, which he would say were for the good of England.

On our return Henry thought we should make a progress through the country, and after Oxford we traveled to Westminster, then through Kent to Windsor, to Wales and up to Carlisle in the north. Henry was very anxious to call at Woodstock and spend some time there. Later I was to discover why he was so attached to this place.

By this time there was a controversy about what was called Sheriff’s Aid. This was a tax which those who owned land paid to the sheriff to compensate him for his work on their behalf. Henry was in need of money and it occurred to him that if this tax was paid to the treasury as an ordinary one would be, instead of to the sheriffs, it could be of use to him.

At the council meeting at Woodstock, Henry brought up this matter of Sheriff’s Aid.

In the past Becket had given his opinion freely to the King, and their friendship had not been impaired by this. But he was in a different position now and perhaps he overrated the King’s affection for him, because he immediately opposed Henry’s suggestion that the tax should be paid to the treasury and not the sheriffs.

Becket said it would be a mistake to take this money from the sheriffs, which was just a payment for the services they rendered to the people who paid it. If the sheriffs were not paid, who knew what devious practices they would indulge in, to make up for their loss?

Henry was angry to be opposed—and by Becket.

“By the eyes of God,” he cried, “it shall be given to the treasury as a tax, and it is not fitting for you, Archbishop, to oppose me.”

Thomas ought to have seen Henry’s rising temper. He wanted Thomas on his side, not always pulling against him.

Thomas’s reply was: “By the reverence of those eyes, my lord King, not a penny shall be paid from any of the Church lands under my control.”

Henry’s rages were generally well timed, and the council meeting was not the place to indulge in one. Coldly he dismissed the subject. But I could imagine how Thomas’s opposition rankled; anyone else who aroused such animosity in him would have to beware. I thought then that it might have been different with Thomas—but perhaps not.

I believed Henry was waiting for some chance to show Thomas who was the master, and it did not help that he was defeated on this matter. He should have remembered that the Church had its own laws outside the State.

Even when I heard it, I could not resist mentioning this to Henry. I wanted to impress on him the mistake he had made in insisting on Becket’s taking the archbishopric. This was just a small matter of contention between them. There could be bigger ones.

I said to him: “This is one of the occasions when, in certain quarters, the Archbishop is more powerful than the King, the Church more than the State.”

“That is not so. But the Church has too much power.”

“You may think it is time that was changed. A matter like this will lead people to think that the Archbishop of Canterbury is the ruler of this country, not the King.”

That did nothing to soothe his ruffled temper, but I could not prevent myself telling him what I thought. I just had to remind him how foolish he had been to make so much of Becket and then commit the final folly of creating him Archbishop of Canterbury.

He then began to look about him to find some way of making Thomas understand that, although he had scored over this matter of the sheriff’s tax, the King was most displeased at this attitude and it was something he would not tolerate.

Shortly after the controversy about Sheriff’s Aid, there arose the case of Philip de Brois.

When Henry had taken over England after Stephen’s death, he had been appalled by the anarchy which prevailed throughout the country and he had immediately begun to reform the laws and the administration of justice. He had instituted judges who traveled around the countryside trying the cases against criminals so that these were not left to local courts. It had had an undoubted effect, and the country was considerably safer for law-abiding people than it had been in Stephen’s reign. But if a member of the Church was accused of a crime, he was not tried by the King’s court of law but by that of the Church. It seemed to Henry that, if these particular criminals had enough influence in high places, they escaped very lightly.

It was another example of the Church’s taking precedence over the State.

Thus the case of Philip de Brois.

The man was a canon who was accused of murdering a knight. I think it was some trouble over the knight’s daughter, whom the canon was said to have seduced. When the canon was threatened by the girl’s father and realized that his villainy was revealed, he promptly killed him. De Brois had been taken before an ecclesiastical court, presided over by the Bishop of Lincoln, where all he had been required to do was swear to his innocence—and having done so, he was released.

Henry, seeking ammunition with which to attack the Church, thought he might have it here.

“All this man did,” he pointed out, “was to swear he was innocent. Any criminal could do that. There was no submission of evidence, no witnesses called         .         .         .         and he goes free. Why? Because he is a canon of the Church, and the Church protects its own. Well, I am going to protect my people.”

In this battle with Becket he turned more to me. He knew that from the first I had resented his friendship with the man and he supposed that I would certainly not be ready to support Becket against him. I was not entirely in agreement with him because I felt he was doing harm to the people’s image of him as a wise king by taking up the battle against Becket. By making Becket Archbishop, he had also made him a holy man in the eyes of the people. Chancellor Becket had been the worldly sophisticate; as an Archbishop he had made a complete turnabout; his tall, spare figure and his ascetic, pale face were an indication of his abstinence; the rich garments he wore were only a concession to his former tastes, and under them was the hairshirt.

My fortunes were bound up with those of Henry, and although I liked to score over him in private, I did not want his position to be shaken in the smallest way.

I said: “The man is said to be innocent because he swears before God that he is, and it is said that any churchman would prefer to take his punishment on Earth, rather than suffer eternal damnation.”

“That’s all very well,” said Henry, “but a great many of these churchmen are rogues and they should be seen as such. Philip de Brois is going to come before one of my judges and he can plead innocence there, but if he is found guilty, he shall suffer a just punishment. How can I keep order in my land if the crimes which are forbidden to some are allowed to go free in priests?”

“You are fighting against the Church,” I said.

“The Church must obey the laws of the land like anyone else. And if I wish to fight against the Church, I will.”

But, of course, he was fighting against Becket.

He had ordered the judges to bring him a list of the priests who had recently been accused and released after swearing their innocence before a Church tribunal. It was one of these justices, Simon Fitz-Peter, who had brought up the case of Philip de Brois.

He said that he felt there was a strong case against the man and, acting on the King’s order, when he was holding his assizes at Dunstable, he ordered Philip de Brois to appear before him to stand trial. Philip de Brois promptly refused and, moreover, was insulting to Fitz-Peter who reported the matter to Henry.

Henry was enraged. He demanded that de Brois now appear on two charges—murder and contempt of court.

This was where Becket came into the battle.

I could not understand the man. He was recklessly exposing himself to the King’s wrath. Why? I have never understood Becket. It was as though there were two men in one body. In the days of his chancellorship when he had played the affluent dandy, with his luxurious living, his sumptuous table, surrounding himself with valuable possessions, always adorned in the finest clothes, there had yet been something austere about him. In spite of his grandeur and love of pomp, those fine classical features of his had suggested an ascetic man. Now one side of his nature seemed completely subdued. The ascetic had come forth, the sybarite had retreated. I was appalled to think of that hairshirt beneath his magnificent robes.

Becket was a man who could not be halfhearted on any matter. Now he had determined to defend the Church against the State—the State being his onetime close friend Henry. He was going to stand for the rights of the Church no matter in what danger it placed him. He was a dangerous man. As I watched this battle between them, I was growing very uneasy, and I was turning more and more against Henry. He was acting foolishly. He wanted to proclaim to all that he held supreme power. But the Church had stood through centuries, and I believed that he did not completely realize the formidable nature of his foe, so sure was he of his own strength.

Becket pointed out that the law could not be changed over one case. Men of the Church were tried by the Church. That was Church law. Henry might rant and rage but he had to accept Becket’s logic. This was the law; and Henry, who set such store by law, could not enforce it on others and disregard it himself.

It seemed to me that he was losing this battle with Becket.

They both had to compromise. De Brois could not be tried in a lay court because he was a churchman. On the other hand, since the King wished there to be a further trial, this would have to be before an ecclesiastical court.

The result was a foreseen conclusion. The murder case, said the prelates who were gathered together to form judgment, had already been settled. De Brois had sworn his innocence. No priest would lie before God, for to do so was to imperil his immortal soul and destroy all hope of a future life. Therefore de Brois was innocent of murder.

It was true that he had flouted one of the King’s justices and that was due for punishment. He had been guilty of contempt of the King’s Court, and for that he should be exiled for two years. In addition he should wear a penitential robe and go barefoot to Simon Fitz-Peter and make his apologies to him for his ill-mannered and ill-advised behavior.

When Henry heard this, he was enraged. His eyes looked as though they would fall out of his head; he ran his hands fiercely through his cropped curls and brought his fist down on a nearby stool with such vigor that I feared he had harmed himself.

“By God’s eyes,” he cried, “I’ll have an end of this. I am going to study this whole matter of Church judgment versus the State. I’ll not have others ruling in my kingdom.”

I said: “You are taking on a mighty enemy in the Church.”

He did not answer. I knew he was thinking about Becket.

Another matter had arisen which gave Becket a chance once more to flout the King’s authority.

Some time previously, Henry had wanted to arrange a match for his young brother William. William was a docile young man; he had never caused Henry trouble as his brother Geoffrey had. William was without ambition. He was gentle and all he wanted was to live in peace. It was difficult to understand how Geoffrey le Bel and Matilda could have had such a son. He was so different from his ambitious brothers.

Henry was very attached to William. He had at one time thought of conquering Ireland to give to him, but Matilda, seeing the folly of this, had dissuaded him. Henry had some strange notions sometimes. The idea of expecting a young man like William to hold in check one of the most turbulent places in the world was astonishing. However, Henry did not cease to think of William and wanted to see him comfortably settled; and if he could not be a ruler of Ireland, he could at least be a man of great wealth and property, as was due to the brother of the King.

The opportunity came with a widowed Countess, heiress to large estates. Henry sent for his brother and told him that he had a fine match in mind for him. William responded characteristically. He thanked his brother warmly for his efforts on his behalf, but when he married he must marry for love.

Henry greeted such a statement with roars of laughter. “Marry for gain, boy,” he said. “Love and marriage do not always go together but that does not mean you need not find love.”

But William was determined; it is amazing how strong the seemingly weak can be at times. Henry was fond of the boy. It had always been a comfort to have a young brother who was not planning to rise up against him and who bore no malice but only admiration for his success.

He asked William if he would be prepared to meet the lady and perhaps get to know her a little. William replied that that would be a pleasure, for he did want to please his brother who had taken such pains to get him happily settled. The outcome caused Henry a great deal of amusement and satisfaction. The pair met and in a few weeks William came to Henry, his eyes alight with happiness. He had fallen in love with the Countess and she with him; there was nothing they wanted more than to be joined in matrimony.

Henry was gleeful. He embraced his brother. He said William had never caused him a moment’s anxiety. Everything was set fair. Henry had provided for his brother. He was going to have the love match which suited his temperament and ideals, and the marriage would bring money into the family in the most agreeable way. What could have been more satisfactory?

And then Becket intervened.

The marriage could not take place because the bride and groom were second cousins, and in the eyes of the Church it would be no true marriage because of consanguinity.

Henry was furious. He cursed Becket. Here was the Church meddling again.

I was alarmed. I was afraid that if this matter were pursued Becket might raise the question of the legality of my marriage to Henry as there was a close blood tie between us. Our position was vulnerable. I had had my divorce from Louis because of the closeness of our relationship, and I was more closely related to Henry. What if Becket worked this out?

Henry was going to fight the matter out with Becket, but I reminded him of our own position and he saw the point. We had our children to think of. We did not want queries to be made concerning their legitimacy.

At length, with much gnashing of teeth, he agreed to let the matter of William’s marriage drop and the pair parted, for the bride’s family would not hear of a marriage forbidden by the Church.

It was yet another mark against Becket. The Philip de Brois case still rankled and Henry had made an oath that he would change the law.

We were at Westminster and Henry decided to delay no longer. He called together a meeting of the leading churchmen and the most important barons of the country.

When they were all assembled, he told them that for long he had been troubled about the crimes which were committed in the country and that he had pledged himself to restore that justice and respect for the law which had been the order of his grandfather’s day.

“It has been brought to my notice,” he said, “that numerous crimes have been committed by members of the Church who, when apprehended, immediately fly to the shelter of the Church which protects them from justice. During the years of my reign there have been over a hundred murders committed by men who, because they are priests, have never paid the penalty for their sin. There has been rape and robbery, and if the man who commits these crimes is a priest, all he has to do is stand up before his ecclesiastical friends and say, ‘I am innocent.’ It will not do. It is for this reason that we have priests who think they have special immunity and can commit crimes for which the layman is severely punished. Now, I intend that, in future, any churchman, whoever he may be, if he is suspected of a crime, shall be deprived of the protection of the Church and be given over to the judges whom I shall set up to try criminals, and so keep this country safe for law-abiding citizens. All my subjects must obey the same laws.”

He paused for a moment and looked full at Becket.

“My lord of Canterbury,” he went on, “I demand that you and all your bishops and clergy give your consent to the handing over to my courts of justice any of your churchmen who are caught committing crimes, as was the law in my grandfather’s reign.”

Thomas and his fellow churchmen were taken by surprise. They had thought they were called together to discuss other matters. Thomas must have forgotten what he knew of Henry if he thought he would let the matter of Philip de Brois be passed over easily. He should have been prepared for this.

He asked permission to retire with his fellow churchmen, for, he said, they must discuss this in private. Henry gave them permission and they filed out.

When they came back, Thomas announced that it was not fitting for the King to make such a demand, not was it fitting for the clergy to grant it. They must obey the law of the Church.

Henry shouted angrily that the laws had worked well in his grandfather’s day, and in those days archbishops who had been dedicated servants of the Church—holier men than some he could name today—had not questioned the rights of the King’s Courts to try criminals.

Thomas replied that the clergy would be obedient and ready to obey the King in everything they could, saving their order.

Henry cried out that he wanted to hear nothing of their order. He demanded that they obey the King. He wanted their obedience to the old laws which had worked well for the country under the first Henry.

He turned his back on Thomas and demanded one by one of the others if they would obey their King. They all gave the same answer which Becket had. They would obey the King, saving their order.

Henry talked to them, cajoling them, threatening them. They stood firmly with Becket.

They had already sworn an oath of allegiance from which they would never swerve, said Becket. They would obey him in all things         .         .         .         saving their order.

Saving their order! How he hated the phrase. It meant they would serve him unless the Church wanted them to do otherwise.

Frustrated, angry, unable to keep his rage under control, Henry left the hall. He came to me and told me exactly what had happened.

“‘Saving our order’: They kept repeating it         .         .         .         one after another. It was Becket. Without him it would have been easy. I should have had them. But there he was         .         .         .         determined to have his way, determined to show me that the Church comes before the State. Who would have believed it of him?”

“Some of us would,” I reminded him.

He might have turned on me in rage but he did not. All his anger was for Becket. I think he blamed himself. He had been warned. He had thought that an Archbishop who was also his Chancellor would go step by step with him. He had not known Becket, it seemed. In any case, Becket had changed. He was a different man from the one who had hawked and hunted with Henry. He was an archbishop now, not an elegant dilettante. He was a man of the Church and had taken up his new profession with a zeal which astonished all. Henry was beginning to see that, in thinking to make his way easy, he had created a great obstacle to his plans.

He had himself to blame—but instead he blamed Becket.

“I’ll show him,” he cried. “He will see what it means to bait me.”

He could never have been judicious where Becket was concerned. He must have either great love or great hatred for the man. Now it was hate and it burned fiercely.

What harm could he do Becket? Becket loved his possessions. He loved comfort, ease, grand living; his pallium could not make up for that. Very well, he would begin by robbing him of some of the manors in which he had taken great pride. He would begin with Berkhampsted and follow with Eye. They were two manors very dear to Thomas’s acquisitive heart.

Perhaps Becket was hurt even more than he was by the loss of Berkhampsted and Eye when Henry took our son out of his care.

Young Henry came to me bewildered and sad. I greeted him warmly and told him how I had missed him.

He said he missed me too. “But why do I have to leave Thomas?” he asked. “Is it just for a while or for always?”

“It will depend. At the moment your father is not very well pleased with the Archbishop.”

“I hope I may go back.”

“You were happy there, were you not?”

Henry nodded and I saw the faraway look in his eyes.

“He was not in the least like an archbishop,” he said.

“I can believe that.”

“He was so merry. There was always fun. He was so kind. He always explained everything         .         .         .         he made it interesting. Has he offended my father?”

“I think you could say that.”

“But Thomas would never offend anyone. He is so kind and so good.”

I could see that young Henry loved the man as his father once had.

Henry questioned young Henry about the time he had spent in the Archbishop’s household, but he was rather impatient with the boy when he saw that he had put Becket on a pedestal.

“He has his good points,” said Henry, “but he is obstinate and he wants to put the Church above the State.”

Young Henry said: “He is a churchman. That is why.”

“He is first of all one of my subjects         .         .         .         as you all are.”

“But         .         .         .”

“Don’t argue with me,” snapped Henry.

I saw the look in my son’s eyes, and it was by no means one of affection. It occurred to me that he was comparing his father with Thomas, and it was the King who suffered from the comparison.

Becket obsessed Henry. Before we left Northampton he decided that he would meet the Archbishop alone. There should be just the two of them. They could meet in a meadow, and perhaps without any lookers-on they could settle their differences.

During this time Henry and I had grown a little closer to each other. I think he felt the need of my support. I was rather pleased at this and felt gratified because I had always viewed his friendship with Becket with suspicion. It was as though I was being proved right. He did not mention this, but the fact that he confided in me showed me his feelings, especially as he was growing affectionate again. He could share his thoughts with me, so I knew very well how much Becket was affecting him; and he did tell me in detail about that meeting in the meadow.

“I thought,” he said, “if we got right away from our retinues, if he could forget for a while that he was the Archbishop of Canterbury and I the King, we might get on terms we enjoyed during our old friendship. I told him to dismount and I would do the same. We would walk together         .         .         .         nothing about us but the grass and the sky. We could both feel free to talk as we willed without an audience.

“He obeyed me and I took his arm. I noticed how thin he had grown. He takes his religion seriously. He really does see himself as God’s servant. He used to see himself as mine. I said that he opposed me at every turn—we used to be such good friends—and he replied that he did no such thing. It just happened that my wishes clashed with his duty.

“Then I said that he was ungrateful. He seemed to forget how I had raised him up. Who was he? Thomas Becket! Was his father not some merchant         .         .         .         his mother a Saracen? I told him to consider what he had now. I had lifted him from nothing to be my Chancellor. He said, ‘That is what I should have remained.’ ‘And now,’ I went on, ‘you are my Archbishop.’ ‘I did not want the post,’ he replied. ‘You insisted that I take it. I knew it would mean strife between us, for the Church and the State cannot always march together.’”

“It is what your mother implied. Do you remember?”

He nodded grimly. “I grew angry with him. ‘Why not?’ I demanded. ‘It is for this reason that I made you my Archbishop. We worked together when you were Chancellor. Why the change of heart when you are Archbishop?’”

“And what did he say to that?”

“He said, ‘Am I not the head of the Church in England?’”

“And you reminded him that you were the head of all your subjects?”

“I did. He said he was indeed my subject—but God’s first. You can imagine how this talk of God angered me.”

“I can indeed.”

“I called him ungrateful. He replied that he was not ungrateful for favors received from me through God. You see, he has to bring God into everything—and that did not soothe my temper, I can tell you. He went on, ‘I would never resist you if it were the will of God. You are my lord, but God is your Lord and mine also, and it would be wrong for both of us if I should forsake His will to follow yours.’ I told him that since he had become a churchman he seemed to be on very intimate terms with God. He knew of course what was God’s will, and that rather conveniently seemed to coincide with Thomas’s own. He smiled at me sadly and said the day would come when we should both stand before the Judgment Seat. I was angered by his sanctimonious tone. How different he used to be I shouted at him. ‘And to you God will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” and to me, “Get thee down to Hell. You have disobeyed the will of my good Thomas and as you should know he and I are always together in the right.”’ I was getting more and more angry.”

I smiled. “And you had gone there with the desire to make things right between you. It must have been very frustrating.”

“Oh, it was indeed. He is a very obstinate man. I said to him, ‘You think the King should be tutored by a rustic         .         .         .         a peasant such as you are.’ He replied, ‘It is true I am not royal but St. Peter was not royal either and God made him head of His Church and gave him the keys of Heaven.’ ‘Ah,’ I said, ‘and he died for his Lord.’ ‘I will die for my Lord when the time comes,’ he replied piously. ‘Becket,’ I told him, ‘you have stretched too far and grown above yourself. You believe that because I have lifted you up I have made you more important than I am. You think you can defy me with impunity. Have a care, Becket. My patience, as you know, is not great.’ ‘I shall trust in the Lord,’ he answered. ‘I would not put my trust in any man.’

“He enraged me and yet at the same time I had some respect for his fervor. I would be lenient with him. I said, ‘There is not really much about which we disagree. There are just one or two points. Just swear that you will serve me. Forget about your order. Come. Give your complete allegiance to the King. Then all shall be as it once was between us.’ I meant it. I would forgive him all the troubles he has caused me. I wanted to be on good terms with the man.”

“I know you have always had a great affection for him. None but Thomas Becket would have dared provoke you so.”

“Still, he would not give me what I wanted. He kept saying, ‘In all things save when it would be in conflict with my order.’ I gave him one last chance. I said to him, ‘I have tried to reason with you, because of the friendship we once had. I have stripped myself of my royalty and come to you as a friend         .         .         .         as a commoner. I will put aside all the trouble you have caused me; you shall not suffer for it. You shall have Berkhampsted back         .         .         .         Eye, too. Young Henry shall return to you. Come, Thomas, what say you? Remember how we enjoyed life together         .         .         .         what friends we were? All you have to do is give me your word. You will obey the King         .         .         .         in all things.’ And what do you think he said to that?”

“I can guess.”

“He said, ‘I cannot deny my order, which is to deny God.’ I shouted at him then. I had waived my dignity         .         .         .         everything for friendship and all he could do was mutter about his order. He would not budge one iota. I told him I would put him back where he was before I set him up. Everything he had he owed to me. He had better be careful, I said. I had had enough of his disobedience. He thought because of the great friendship I had shown him he could treat me scurvily. ‘You will see,’ I told him, ‘what it is to tangle with kings.’ He did not flinch. He just bowed his head; and I left him. That meeting should never have taken place.”

“No,” I agreed. “You have gone a long way to placate Becket.”

“No more,” he shouted. “No more. Now there is war between us and that augers ill for Becket.”

”We shall spend Christmas at Berkhampsted,” said Henry. “Becket will hear that we are there. It will remind him of the proud possession which is no longer his.”

He continued to be obsessed by Becket. Now he was turning over in his mind how he could do him some harm. He wanted revenge; but in his heart I knew he longed for the old friendship.

I was annoyed. He had cared for Becket more than he ever had for me. It was humiliating; but because of his obsessive love, his hatred was the greater, and what he wanted now, since there could not be reconciliation, was revenge.

Henry decided to appeal to the Pope. He believed he might very well be successful in this, for Alexander III was not in a very happy position at this time, and when their state is weak, Popes are often ready to placate powerful monarchs. Henry knew that Alexander could not afford to offend him. When the English Pope, Nicholas Breakspear, who called himself Hadrian IV, had died, there were differences in the Church and two rivals came on the scene. Henry promised his support to Alexander, who was now living in France, and it was to Alexander that the appeal against Becket was addressed.

Henry stressed that he was a good churchman. He was a ruler who wanted nothing but obedience from his subjects, and Alexander would understand that no king could effectively rule without that. He could not allow anyone—even though he held a high position in the Church—publicly to declare his disobedience. All he wanted was a word from his Archbishop that he would obey the King—and that he must have. He said that he wished the Church to be strong in England, for all knew that the Christian faith kept men righteous. Thieves, murderers and rapists were irreligious men and he wanted to rid his realm of them; but to do this he must have power to enforce his laws and he could not allow any man—even if he be a priest—to escape justice.

Henry was known as a man of purpose, and Alexander would understand that he could not be ignored. He might have supported the Archbishop if he had been in a position to do so. It always amuses me to see how these religious men are influenced by their personal needs.

The result was that Alexander wrote to Becket telling him that there must be no quarrel between the Church and the King and that if it was a matter of saying a few words it would be wise for Becket to say them.

I should have enjoyed seeing Becket’s face when he read that. How did he feel about his master the Pope, who was not prepared to take a small risk when he, Becket, was staking his whole career and perhaps his life? But he was trapped. He had orders from the Pope and he must give way because of the uncertainty of Alexander’s position, for Alexander, who needed all the support he could get, was not going to offend a monarch as powerful as Henry.

Becket sought a meeting.

I was with Henry when he was brought in. He looked very disturbed. He must have been feeling that he had been betrayed by the Pope.

I was mildly irritated to see that Henry’s mood had softened at the sight of Becket. It was amazing that, after all that had happened, he could still feel affection for him. I believed he was telling himself that when this little matter had been settled and Becket realized it would be wise to stand firmly beside the King, they could return to their old relationship.

“Well,” said Henry expansively, “what has His Holiness to say on our little matter?”

“He is of the opinion that I must swear to serve you without reservations.”

“Wise man. So our little difference is over, eh?”

“The Pope commanded it.”

Henry’s genial mood began to fade. “And you must obey him, eh?”

“I must, my lord King.”

“You must, of course         .         .         .         while you disregard me.”

“He is the Head of the Church.”

“And you still think that you were right and His Holiness is wrong?”

“I thought I was right in what I did.”

“And because he is not prepared to agree with you, you will do your duty and swear allegiance to your King?”

“I am assured from His Holiness that I must make this concession because you, as the King of this realm, cannot have your wishes openly disregarded and that you have given your word that you will not go against the laws of the Church.”

“You swear to obey me, Thomas?”

“I do, my lord.”

Henry’s face was tinged with purple. I could see the love fighting with the hatred. He so desperately wanted this man to tell him that he would serve him, forsaking all other; he wanted not so much complete obedience from Thomas as love; he wanted Thomas to break down that cold reserve, that dedication to his Church, to be as he had been in the old days when they had roamed the streets of London together, sharing interesting conversation, private jokes, enjoying the fun which two people, close in spirit, can find in each other. But between them stood the Church. Thomas was a strange man. Perhaps therein lay his fascination.

Remembering the past was angering Henry. Why had it changed? And all because he had bestowed on this man high office in the Church. He had been a fool to do it. He had been warned         .         .         .         outspokenly by his mother, obliquely by me         .         .         .         and by Thomas himself. Henry hated to think himself a fool and it was typical of him that when the blame rested on himself he sought to shift it onto others.

His face hardened. “I am glad of your allegiance, Thomas,” he said, “grudgingly given though it is and on the orders of one whom you serve before you serve me.”

“My lord, then I trust all is well between us,” said Thomas.

“You opposed me in public,” said Henry, his lips tightening, so I knew he was controlling his rage. “It is not fitting that you should give me your apology in private. I shall need you to make your oath of allegiance to me before the Great Council.”

Becket looked stunned and Henry laughed harshly.

“It will soon be Christmas,” said Henry, “and, knowing your pleasure as well as your pride in the place, I, with the Queen and the Court, am spending it at Berkhampsted.”

That was not a very happy Christmas. I could not find much pleasure in spending it among what was some of Becket’s splendor. I was glad when it was over.

The Great Council was to assemble on January 25, and it was to be held in the hunting lodge at Clarendon, not far from Salisbury. We arrived on the thirteenth. The children were with us.

Young Henry was very thoughtful and I noticed that he avoided his father. The King could never understand children; he underrated their intelligence and treated them as little children, not realizing how quickly they become adults; and I think there is nothing children resent so much as this attitude.

Young Henry was aware of a great deal more than his father gave him credit for.

I said: “Your father has had a difference of opinion with the Archbishop because the Archbishop stands for the Church and your father for the State.”

“But the Church is part of the State, is it not?” asked Henry.

“Yes, but the Church is under the rule of the Pope and the State under that of the King and sometimes it makes for differences.”

I explained about the King’s desire that all criminals should be judged by the State and that there should not be special privileges for members of the Church.

“And Thomas wants those privileges?”

“Well, he would, you see, being the head of the Church in England.”

Henry pondered this. He was on Thomas’s side not because he believed that Thomas was right but because he loved Thomas, and the plain truth was that he did not love his father. My feelings were mingled. I thought Henry was right in this matter. I could not see why murderers should go free just because they were clergy. I believed many of them were rogues and would be prepared to swear their innocence for the sake of escaping punishment for their misdeeds. But I had to admit to a great pleasure when I saw my children turn to me rather than to their father. Henry had disappointed me in many ways. I found it hard to forgive his blatant infidelity, especially in the days just after our marriage; and my nature was such that I enjoyed scoring over him.

Richard particularly clung to me. I think he actually disliked his father. My main pleasure now was in my children. I would defend them against their father always and I think they knew it.

A great deal of preparation was going on for this meeting in the hunting lodge. The leading churchmen, with all the most influential noblemen in the country, were arriving.

Henry said to me: “This is going to be a most impressive occasion. It will do young Henry good to sit beside me and watch the proceedings. It will teach him a little perhaps.”

I wondered if that were wise. The conference would stress the clash between Becket and the King, and in view of the fact that our son had spent a long time in the Archbishop’s household and obviously idealized him, and that his antagonist was the King, it seemed to me as if it might have an undesirable effect on the boy. I did not mention this to Henry, knowing in advance that he would not understand.

It was a tense moment. I was beside the King: on the other side was young Henry. I watched my son when Becket came into the court.

There were a few preliminaries, then Henry rose and said: “My lords, you know what has gone before. There has been a little misunderstanding between myself and the Archbishop. I am happy that is now at an end. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, has come to swear before you all that he will unconditionally serve the King.”

He turned to Thomas. The Archbishop’s face was very pale, his eyes were brilliant. He was an impressive figure; his emaciated looks proclaimed his religious fervor. I thought of the hairshirt under the magnificent robes         .         .         .         verminous, most likely. I thought of Louis on his knees at our bedside. And I wondered afresh about these men who seem pointlessly to pursue their painful devotions to a god of their own conception, for this must be so. What god would wish those he loved to submit themselves to senseless torture for his sake? There was no logic in it. I despised them for their folly. Yet it was difficult to despise Thomas. There was indeed an air of saintliness about him. I should not have been surprised to see a halo spring up around his head. I glanced at my son, who was staring at Thomas, his eyes shining. I could see that he would be ready to worship the man.

Thomas stood up. He was going to bow to Henry’s will. He would never have the courage to do otherwise         .         .         .         not even Thomas. There were armed men in the hall and outside. Thomas would know that if necessary they would do what the King commanded. His enemies were waiting to pounce, chief among them Roger de Pont l’Evque, Archbishop of York, who had always hated him and must have gnashed his teeth in envy over his rise to fortune. Roger was that very ambitious priest who had been in Theobald’s household when Thomas was there and who had contrived to bring about the latter’s dismissal. How he must have resented seeing Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury when he, for all his brilliance and scheming, had only York. Roger could be depended upon to do Thomas all the harm he could; and no doubt Roger was not the only one. A man who rose high could be sure that he would incur hatred, for no other reason than that he had risen, and the more spectacular the rise, the more people wished to pull him down.

I had to admit that Thomas was a brave man. There was a certain recklessness about him. He was as though he were courting martyrdom.

His voice was unfaltering; it rang out clearly in the hall.

“My lords, I swear to serve the King when that service does not conflict with my duty to the Church.”

I saw young Henry’s face turn pale. He realized what was happening. The man he loved was defying his all-powerful father.

I waited. Would there be a rage here in the council chamber? Would he roll on the floor; would he kick and shout and gnash his teeth?

Henry began to shout. He pointed at Thomas, his eyes bulging, foam on his lips. I prayed that he would not completely lose control. He was fighting to retain it, I knew. “If this man does not observe the laws and customs of my kingdom, I will resort to the sword.”

Thomas stood calm as though waiting for the blow.

Henry was clenching and unclenching his hands. What would the assembled nobles think, all those dignified churchmen         .         .         .         to see their King rolling on the floor like an animal?

But Henry controlled himself sufficiently to stride from the room.

There was a long silence. I felt for my son’s hand and held it reassuringly.

The meeting was broken up for that day.

Henry went into the court next day with documents setting out the laws which had been in existence in his grandfather’s day. All had agreed, had they not, that his grandfather had administered the law to the utmost satisfaction of all. Had he not been known throughout the country as “The Lion of Justice”? All he wanted was a return to those laws and a peaceful country in which it was safe for men to travel unmolested. The laws had lapsed since his grandfather’s time. All he wanted was to return to them.

“And to prevent trouble rising in the future,” he said, “I wish the Archbishop of Canterbury to put his seal to them.”

There stood that strange man, stirring us all—even myself—with a sense of awe. There was something quite spiritual about him. I wondered what it was. Perhaps the contrast to all we knew of his earlier life, his love of comfort, which showed even now in the fine material of his robes. I reminded myself again of the hairshirt. He was a mass of contradictions, that man.

Now he spoke in ringing tones. “By Almighty God, never as long as I live will I put my seal to them.”

Then he took an unprecedented action: he strode from the hall.

We were all aghast. Roger of York could not hide his satisfaction. Henry was too shocked for rage. That would come later. My son looked shocked and bewildered. For a moment I thought he was going to burst into tears.

There could be no turning back now. My rival for Henry’s affections was completely destroyed. This must be the end of Becket. But in my heart I knew that, whatever happened, Becket would always be there in Henry’s thoughts. He would never escape from him.

Henry had recovered a little from the shock Becket had given him by his abrupt departure from the hall. He was debating what his next action would be.

I wondered whether he would have Becket arrested as a traitor. That was possible. Becket had refused allegiance to the crown         .         .         .         had openly done so. There was tension. Everyone was waiting for Becket’s arrest. I thought he might welcome it. It would all be part of what I called his “hairshirt mentality.”

There was a little trouble between the two Henrys. The King asked his son what he thought of the proceedings.

Young Henry said he thought the Archbishop very noble.

“Noble!” screamed his father. “To defy me?”

“He did it for the Church         .         .         .         because he thought it was right.”

“Well, my son, he must be a fool then if he thinks it is right to go against his King.”

“The Archbishop is not a fool.”

“What then? I could have his head for this.”

“He does not care for his head. He cares for what is right.”

“Right!” cried the King. “Right to defy me! Fine words from the heir to the throne.”

“The Archbishop always said we must tell the truth         .         .         .         no matter how hard it is. The great Christians did         .         .         .         even though it cost them their lives.”

“What has he been stuffing your head with?” demanded Henry.

“With truth,” said the boy, defiant in his loyalty to Becket.

I could see that Henry was still smarting from insults from Becket and was in no mood to listen to his defense from his own son.

I went to the boy and ruffled his hair.

I said to Henry: “He is a boy, you know. It is right that he should respect truth. He is not yet ready for politics.”

The King was scowling. I had to pull Henry away. He would have stood there and faced his father; but I wanted no trouble for the boy and I knew how fierce the King could be.

He was staring at us as we left. I knew because I turned my head and saw. I gave him a placating smile, implying: He is only a child. Leave the children to me.

When we were alone I said to my son: “You are not old enough to take up arguments with your father.”

“The Archbishop is right,” he said stubbornly.

“The King is the head of the country,” I reminded him. “Kings make rules. All your father wants is to try those who commit crimes, whoever they are.”

“But it is against the law of the Church, and the Archbishop has sworn allegiance to the Church.”

“That is a quarrel which has gone on through the ages. Church against State. It is something with which you will have to deal when you are King.”

“I hope that when I am I shall have men like Thomas about me.”

“They can be very uncomfortable at times, as you have seen.”

“But he is right         .         .         .         right.”

“Do not let your father hear you say that again. Remember that we have to support the crown. Your father is the King. You will be the King. If it is to be a battle between Church and State, it must be the State for you.”

“I do not see why they cannot work together. All this swearing about small matters is not necessary.”

“You will understand one day. A king must be strong. Your father is that.”

He was silent but his eyes narrowed and his mouth was hard.

I kissed him. “Come. Forget the matter.”

He would not. Later I remembered that occasion, and it occurred to me that it was a beginning.

Everyone was waiting now for what would happen next. There was one thing which was certain. The matter would not be allowed to rest. The King and the Archbishop were at war with each other, and the King could not afford to have an enemy in a high place. It rankled all the more because he had put him there.

When it came to Henry’s ears that Louis had written encouraging letters to the Archbishop congratulating him on the firm stand he was taking on behalf of the Church and in the name of God, he was furious; he raged and shouted abuse of Louis, that lily-livered half-man. Louis hinted that, should life in England become intolerable for Thomas, there would be a welcome for him across the water.

To make matters worse, a tragedy struck the family, and this again Henry laid at Thomas’s door.

There was news from Matilda. Her letter betrayed her violent grief. Her young son William was dead.

Henry could not believe it. When last he had heard of William, his brother had been perfectly well—sad, of course, because he had been in love with the Countess and on account of consanguinity he had been denied—by that meddling priest Thomas of Canterbury—permission to marry her.

Matilda wrote: “Dear William, he was always so gentle, so different from you and Geoffrey. He only wanted to live in peace and amity with the whole world. He never sought anything for himself. He only wanted love and he could have had it—but your Archbishop prevented the marriage. He never recovered from that disappointment. He was listless. When he came to me I was shocked by the sight of him. I nursed him myself but it was no good. He did not care to live. He caught a cold. There are so many drafts in the castle. I think he could have recovered, but he just did not want to live without the Countess. You should never have appointed that man as Archbishop. Now he has killed William.”

The letter dropped from Henry’s hand. I picked it up and read it.

Henry’s face was crumpled in sorrow. He had really loved William. Then suddenly his grief turned to rage.

“It is Thomas Becket         .         .         .         always Thomas. He plagues me. He brings trouble into my life.”

“It would seem so,” I agreed.

Henry sank onto a stool and covered his face with his hands. Then he lifted his eyes to my face, and I saw the burning hatred there.

“This,” he said, “I will never forgive.”

Tension was increasing all through that summer. I knew that sooner or later it would have to come to a head. Henry’s mind was completely obsessed by Becket. I knew he would not rest while Thomas was in the country. He wanted to dismiss him, but he could not dismiss the Archbishop of Canterbury. All he could do was hope to humiliate him into resigning.

I did not think Thomas would do that. He would consider he had failed the Church if he did. He would want to stand firm and fight the good fight for the sake of the Church.

He did, however, make two attempts to escape during that summer, I heard afterward. On one occasion he disguised himself as a monk and with only a few of his loyal servants rode to Romney, where a boat was to have been waiting to take him across the water to enjoy that hospitality which Louis had promised him. However, the elements were against him, and the boatmen would not risk their lives trying to cross on such seas. I wondered what he thought of God’s being so careless as not to arrange better weather for His chosen one. He would always have an answer, such as “God has other plans for me.”

He could not stay in Romney and had to return to his palace. When he arrived late at night, his servants thought he was a ghost and some terrible fate had befallen him. They were terrified but at last he was able to persuade them that he was no ghost and they let him in; he was their own Archbishop and was still with them because it was God’s will that this should be so.

Then came an opportunity to summon him to the court.

One of Henry’s officers, John the Marshal, brought an action against the Archbishop’s court. There had been a dispute over a piece of land in Pagham in Sussex, which John claimed as his; but it happened to be on Church land and the Church disputed John’s claim to it. Then a court, set up by the Church, heard the case and set aside John’s claim. Under the new law John could contest the case and have it tried in the King’s court.

Henry was delighted, for here was a chance to come once more into conflict with the Archbishop.

The court was to be held at Westminster, and Henry, with great glee, summoned Becket to appear.

On the day set for the hearing, Becket did not arrive in court. He sent a message to say he was unwell.

Henry did not intend to spare him, though Becket had sent four knights and a sheriff with the letter in which he stated he was too unwell to attend court, and the case ought not to be brought, as John the Marshal had taken his oath on a hymn book instead of the Bible.

Henry then declared that he did not believe in Becket’s illness. He said Becket need not think he was going to escape. The suit should be held on October 6, which was a few weeks later, and it should take place at Northampton, where we should be at that time.

Henry had worked himself up into a passion, certain that Becket had been well enough to attend on the previous occasion, and when he was in court and Becket put forward his case, Henry refused to listen and accused him of contempt of court. He demanded that sentence be passed against him.

Henry was so fierce in his accusations that those who were to judge took fright and, realizing that he wanted Becket found guilty, condemned him to be “at the King’s mercy.” This generally meant that he would be required to give up all his goods to the King, but in most cases it was a figure of speech and merely meant the imposition of a fine.

But Henry wanted more than that. He wanted the sentence carried out to the letter. He sent his demands, which were enormous, referring back to the time when Becket had been Chancellor and money had passed into his hands. Everything must be accounted for. It was clear that the King’s intention was to ruin Becket.

Sick and emaciated from insufficient nourishment, Becket was ill again and could not appear in court to face more charges. When he did not arrive, Henry humiliated him by sending several men to his chambers to be assured that the Archbishop was not malingering.

I think at that time Becket wanted to be a martyr. His feelings for the King must have been as strong as Henry’s for him, and in my opinion he wanted to goad Henry into doing something which would cause him lifelong regret. He came into the court, barefoot and carrying his own cross, implying that it was his only protection against a tyrant. I heard that his advisers clustered around him—one urging him to use his power to frighten the King with a threat of excommunication, another to remember the saints and meekly accept what was coming to him.

Henry was not present on this occasion. His feelings fluctuated; he swayed between love and pity for his old friend and hatred and the desire for revenge. He could not face him, so he sent the Earl of Leicester to sentence him. What the sentence would have been it was never discovered because it was never given. Becket told the Earl so sternly and with such conviction that he was committing a sin by attempting to sentence his spiritual father that Leicester refrained from doing so. And Becket left the hall, carrying his own cross.

The next day news was brought to Henry that the Archbishop had disappeared.

Henry fell into a rage. He shouted that the traitor had escaped him. He would go to France, where they would make a saint of him. It would be easy for him to work against the King there and he must be stopped.

He commanded that all ports be watched.

It was some time afterward that we heard what actually happened. Being aware that the King’s men would be waiting for him at the port of Dover, Thomas, disguised as a monk, had turned northwards and gone to Grantham and from there to Lincoln. There were many who regarded him as a saint and were ready to shelter him. So he was traveling in England for some days, and from Lincoln he sailed down to Boston, and then turned back to Kent. With him was Roger de Brai, who would serve him with his life, and two lay brothers, Robert de Cave and Scailman. It was a hazardous journey and they knew that one false step could lead them to disaster. Becket would be called a traitor now, and the fate of traitors was death.

They took their lives in their hands every time they rested for a night but in due course they came to the little village of Eastry, close to Sandwich, and they stayed there for a while in the house of a priest until a boat could be found and the weather was clement enough to give them a safe crossing.

In due course they set sail and were fortunate enough to pass safely over the sea and to land on the sands of Oie, not far from Gravelines.

I wondered what Thomas Becket’s thoughts were when he went ashore from his little boat. Did he think of that other time when he had come to this spot with splendor and pomp, come on a mission from the King to ask for the hand of Louis’s daughter for Prince Henry? Then he had been the King’s beloved friend; now he was his bitter enemy.

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