Post-classical history

The Turbulent Priest

I WAS IN NO HURRY to leave England. I was feeling in limbo after the birth of John. I could not completely repress the revulsion the child aroused in me. Poor mite, it was unfortunate that he should have come at a time when I felt such an aversion to his father, and I was filled with a sense of shame every time I looked at him to remember how at one time I had enjoyed my relationship with Henry.

Moreover, it would soon be time for my daughter Matilda to leave England for her marriage. She clung to me. She was apprehensive of the future, as well she might be. But I was of the opinion that Henry the Lion would be indulgent as some men can be when they are so much older than their wives. I prayed this would be so.

I tried to make her excited about our preparations. We discussed her trousseau and the jewels she would have. And while I planned what Matilda would need, I was thinking of my own freedom, which could not be far away.

I wanted desperately to see Henry so that I could pour scorn on him. I wanted to tell him that I had discovered Rosamund’s bower and how I wished him well of her, for he should never be a husband to me again. But that could wait. I had many plans to make and I did not want to be rash.

I would not lose my children. They were mine more than Henry’s. I was the one to whom they gave their love. It always had been so. Henry would discover that in time.

So while I waited I planned, and the months passed.

Henry was occupied in Normandy and the Vexin. He had no plans as yet to return home. Trouble there must be rife. It could even keep him away from the fair Rosamund.

I saw little of the new baby and left him to his nurses. I tried to overcome my dislike of him, but in vain. My anger against Henry was so great that I was angry with myself, I supposed, for allowing him to get this child on me.

Henry was bent on using our children to extend his domain, and after leaving the Vexin he was in Brittany.

He had supported Count Conan, whom he intended to use to further his designs, for he wanted Conan’s daughter, Constance, for Geoffrey. This would need a cautious approach as, although Conan might agree, the people of Brittany, like those of Aquitaine, were not eager to accept Henry as their overlord. In due course Henry was successful. Conan gave his promise and Geoffrey, aged nine, was betrothed to Constance, aged five. Henry was doing well: Saxony and Bavaria through Matilda, Castile for Eleanor, and even baby Joanna was given her part, with Sicily. And now Brittany. He was stretching out all over France. I wondered what Louis was thinking; still giving thanks to God, I presumed, for the God-Given, Philip Augustus.

Sad news came from Rouen. I knew that the Empress Matilda had been ailing for some time. Ever since she had caught a virulent fever some seven years ago there had been occasional recurrences of it. Early in the morning of September 10 she died.

Matilda’s character had changed a great deal as she aged. In youth she had been fiery, ambitious, imperious and very reckless, antagonizing so many people with whom she came into contact. How she had mellowed! She had become very wise; she had always been clever but, losing her recklessness, she had given quiet thought to her problems and those of her family and had acquired a shrewd wisdom. If only Henry had listened to her over Becket         .         .         .         But one could not go on saying “If only         .         .         .”

On her deathbed, so pious had she become that she took the veil as a nun of the Abbey of Fontevrault.

I should have liked to be with her at the end. She and I had a great deal in common. We had admired each other, and that is always a reason for mutual regard. She had made a very careful will and had given a great deal to the poor. She had founded many religious houses and supported many more. She had set aside a large sum for the completion of the bridge over the Seine at Rouen—an object which she had started some years before her death. So she died full of good works.

I mourned her and I knew Henry would.

Now my great task was to see that young Matilda left the country for her future home in a fitting manner, and to do my best to make her believe that she could be happy in her new life.

We were to go to Dover and there embark for Normandy. Robert, Sheriff of Kent, was in charge of our passage and three vessels from Shoreham had been engaged to carry our small party and all Matilda’s belongings. We were going to Argentan, where the King would be waiting for us. There we were to celebrate Christmas, after which Matilda would begin her journey to Saxony.

I was looking forward to my meeting with Henry. I had been thinking of it for a year, and many times had I rehearsed what I would say to him. I wanted to see his face when he knew he had lost Aquitaine.

And so we came to Argentan. It was to be a family Christmas. Henry greeted me warmly. He was always attentive after long separations. I received his embrace coolly in the presence of others.

He had the effrontery to come to my bedchamber, smiling confidently, certain that we were going to resume marital relations. I looked at him coldly. I said: “Henry, there is something I have to tell you. I have decided I am going to leave you.” He stared at me uncomprehendingly.

I went on: “I shall return to Aquitaine. It will be as though I never married you         .         .         .         except for the children, of course. They are mine and I do not forget it.”

“By God’s eyes,” he said, “you strike a dramatic pose. Does aught ail you?”

“I am well, thanks be to God. I have made a few discoveries. I went through your maze at Woodstock one day. I think a piece of embroidering silk must have become attached to your spur. It led me to her pretty little home. I must say it is very charming. Did you design it, or did she? You seem as though you have not understood. I am talking of Rosamund Clifford.”

His eyes narrowed and I saw the smile curve his lips.

“You were at one time extremely fond of her,” I went on. “Don’t tell me you were guilty of that weakness of some women         .         .         .         and men even now and then. Were you in love?”

“With Rosamund,” he said. “Yes. She is a delightful woman.”

“The mother of your two sons?”

“I admit the charge.”

“And you took her to live in the palace         .         .         .         in my place?”

“Ah, that is what rankles, is it? That is what you could not bear. Yes, she did live in the palace. She was a more gracious queen than you ever were.”

She had to please her master. Has it occurred to you that I do not have to please you?”

“Enough of this nonsense.”

“It is no nonsense. This did not happen yesterday. It was a whole year ago when I found my way through the maze to that charming abode of love. I have had ample time to think and I have made up my mind         .         .         .”

“Made up to what, may I ask?”

“You may indeed. Made up my mind that I have finished with you.”

He threw back his head and laughed. He came to me and took me by the shoulders. He was ready, I knew, for a little love play. He was going to placate me, tell me that no other woman—not even Rosamund—was of importance to him. I was the Queen, was I not?

I threw him off.

“You could not tear yourself away from her. All those months at Woodstock         .         .         .         and all that was happening to the dominions overseas         .         .         .         it mattered not. You could not leave your mistress. Very well, you are free now to set her up in the palace, to live openly with her, for I shall not be there. Never         .         .         .         never         .         .         .         Our marriage is over.”

“I did not think you would be so jealous.”

“Jealous? I? Do you think I envy your whores? No, I pity them. That poor creature at Woodstock         .         .         .         awaiting your summons         .         .         .         You want to own the world         .         .         .         but most of all, womankind, I do believe.”

“It is a dazzling prospect.”

“Laugh if you will. My mind is made up. I am not sure about divorce. I don’t think it is necessary. There are children enough. I shall go back to my home. I shall go to Poitou. And I hope I never have to see your face again.”

“Are you not being a little rash         .         .         .         just because you have discovered I have had a beautiful mistress? What are you envious of         .         .         .         her beauty? Her youth? You are eleven years older than I, you know.”

“Eleven years older in wisdom, I hope. But I have been foolish. I should have done this before. I have no need of you, Henry. I can go home to my own estates.”

“You will forget all this         .         .         .”

“I have been thinking of it for over a year and I have made my plans.”

“What a fuss to make!”

“I have had enough. As soon as I saw your mistress and knew that you had set her up in the palace while I was absent, I knew that that was the end. Oh, she is pretty enough and the boys are fine ones. What a man you are for getting sons on harlots. We have your bastard Geoffrey in the nursery as proof of that.”

“A very pleasant boy he is.”

“He has been brought up in my nurseries, that is why.”

“You accepted him.”

“It was different. His mother was a camp-follower. I wonder you did not set her up as a queen. Your conduct is a constant scandal.”

“And your past is not free from it. You should not be surprised. Were you not brought up in a Court where it was the order of the day? I am tired of this nonsense. I will not be called to book for my misdeeds. I will do as I will.”

“With your low-born loose-living women, perhaps, but not with the Duchess of Aquitaine and Queen of England.”

“Even those two august ladies shall not dictate to me.”

“Nor shall any dictate to them. You speak of having your will. But at least you tried to hide your mistress from me in her cozy little place beyond the maze.”

“I thought to spare your feelings. Do you blame me for that?”

“I want no such kindness from you. Do you think I care how many mistresses you have? I know they are legion. It would be a superhuman task to try to count them.”

“You may be right.”

“And this one was different, was she not? You had a special fondness for her.”

He smiled reminiscently. “I have,” he said.

“She has been as a wife to you and no doubt you wish she were.”

He looked at me, his hatred matching mine. “I do,” he said.

“Very well then. Go to her. Go.”

“Don’t be a fool.”

“It is you who are a fool         .         .         .         over this woman.”

“You are not planning to harm her         .         .         .         If aught happened to her through you I would kill you.”

“Oh, you feel as strongly as that, do you? And what do you think would happen to you if you harmed me? The people of Aquitaine hate you as it is. They would rise against you. In addition to all your troubles, you would have war with Aquitaine         .         .         .         and this time they would defeat you.”

“I would soon subdue them. Stop this folly. You are the Queen, no matter what other women there may be.”

“I will not have it. I shall never share your bed again.”

“So be it,” he said. “You are past childbearing now         .         .         .         or soon must be. I am surprised you went on so long. You are no longer a young woman.”

“So you have already pointed out. And there are others who please you more.”

“I won’t deny it.”

“I hate you,” I said. He smiled at me cheerfully.

“I shall go to Aquitaine,” I went on.

“It is not a bad idea. Perhaps you will be able to bring a little sense to the natives.”

“They are my people,” I said. “I am going to rule them, and when I do, you will see there is no more trouble in Aquitaine.”

He was looking at me shrewdly. I knew that he was thinking that that could be true and that it would be an excellent idea for me to go back to Aquitaine and remain there for a while.

I hated him. He was not thinking of me but of his dominions. Then I felt exultant. Aquitaine was one he was not going to keep.

That was a strange Christmas. Neither Henry nor I wanted to publicize our differences. When he had seen that I was adamant and determined to leave him and settle in Aquitaine, he suggested that when the festivities were over he and his army escort me there. That would give the impression that, as there was a state of unrest in the country, I was going to stay there for a while and see if I could bring about a more peaceful atmosphere.

I could see that this was a concession I must make, for if it were generally known that there was a permanent rift between us, it could throw our affairs into confusion. So we left together as though we were on good terms.

As we came near to Aquitaine a shock awaited us. The country was in revolt under the leadership of the Count of Angoulme.

This was one of those occasions when Henry’s genius for governing came into play. In a short time he had repressed the revolt, punished the offenders and restored peace—although an uneasy one—to Aquitaine. I had to be grateful that he had returned with me.

When he left, it was more or less calm, although there was an attempt to kidnap me when I was riding not far from Poitiers.

It was a band of rebels who had the idea of capturing me and holding me to ransom until their demands were met. I was alert for trouble and before they were able to catch me I had galloped back to safety, but the commander of the military force which had been left by Henry to guard the castle was killed in the affray. So it was clear how dangerous the situation still was.

But it was amazing how my presence there affected the people. Perhaps they guessed that all was not well between Henry and me, that I had left him and had come back         .         .         .         alone. That was what they cared about. They wanted no foreigners governing them. I was a branch of the old tree. They had resented Louis, but Henry even more so.

I could sense the mood of the people. After all, they were my own people. When I rode out, they would cheer me. They let me know that they wanted me to stay here, to be their sole ruler. It was heartening.

Musicians and poets began to fill the Court. I restored castles to those from whom Henry had taken them when suppressing the rebellion. I wanted them to know that in my opinion they had rebelled against Henry         .         .         .         not against me.

I was in my own country. I was Duchess of Aquitaine, a title which pleased me more than that of Queen of England.

Bernard de Ventadour was one who returned. It was a great joy to bring back those evenings of music. They still wrote songs proclaiming my beauty—pleasant to hear but hard to believe, though of course I took great pains to preserve my looks, and although I was getting old, marching up high in the forties, for my age I was still a handsome woman.

I had my children with me. Richard was my constant companion. We rode together, talked together, and he loved those evenings when the musicians entertained us for he could perform with considerable skill himself. Young Henry was with us now and then. He loved to be with me and was resentful when he had to join his father. This made me gleeful. Eleanor and Joanna had never seen a great deal of their father; they were entirely mine. Little Constance of Brittany was with us, for she had to be brought up with her future husband’s family in accordance with custom. So I was happy. I was in charge of my own domain and I had my family with me.

John was a problem. I often look back on those days and feel a twinge of conscience about John. Perhaps he turned out as he did because of his childhood. He was after all my child. But I could not like him. All the time he reminded me of Henry’s deceit and that when he was being conceived Henry had been thinking of Rosamund Clifford; and I despised myself for having remained with him so long. John should never have been born; he was conceived in deceit and reminded me too much of what I wished to forget.

During that Christmas when I had made my intentions clear to Henry, after we had recovered a little from our initial bitterness, and he had realized that I was determined to break up the marriage, we had discussed one or two things calmly         .         .         .         for instance, my return to Aquitaine and how I should be conducted there, and we also talked of John.

I said: “There ought to be one member of the family who should go into the Church. You have distributed your dominions among your sons, but what of John? What is there for him?”

“Poor John. He will be ‘John Lackland,’ I fear.”

“That is why he should be the one to go into the Church.”

“Archbishop of Canterbury         .         .         .         or perhaps a cardinal. Head of the Church in this country         .         .         .         or maybe Pope. Either would be useful to the crown.”

I could not help laughing. He turned everything to the advantage of the crown. However, he agreed that it was to be John for the Church.

So I suggested that he go into Fontevrault, the abbey which had been founded by Robert d’Arbrissel and supported by my grandmother, one in which I had taken great interest. There John could be brought up. It seemed an ideal solution.

Peace settled on Aquitaine. I was there to stay, they believed. It was a return to the old days. We had pageants and ceremonies such as the people loved; we paraded in our splendid robes. I never lost an opportunity of staging these pageants. I did them well, as my forebears had. Aquitaine was content with the new rule, which was, after all, a return to the old.

I was content in my little world, but that did not mean I was not concerned with what was happening outside it. I followed Henry’s actions with the utmost interest, rejoicing in his difficulties, though I must admit to feeling often an admiration—rather grudging—for his adept way of extricating himself from trouble and generally managing to get the better of his opponent.

He was in constant conflict with Louis. My first husband appeared to have changed since the birth of his son. The event had given him new vigor. He was more aggressive. Perhaps he was looking ahead to the days when the God-Given would take the reins. I was sure Louis would want to hand them over as soon as he could. Perhaps he would retire to a monastery then and relish a longed-for dream. However, I think Henry found it more difficult to hoodwink him than in the past.

There was a great deal of conflict between them over the Vexin. Their affairs moved to a stage when they were both seeking peace, and a conference was arranged to take place between them.

Louis, of course, did not like to see so much of France under Henry’s domination and might have thought it would be better to proclaim Henry’s sons rulers of the various provinces. I wondered afterward if Louis had an inkling of the feelings of Henry’s children toward their father. Henry was a strong man but he was not one to inspire affection in the young. It must have been apparent that our children turned to me rather than to him; and Louis, who did know a little of me, might have guessed at the state of affairs between Henry and me. One could not give Louis credit for shrewd planning; however, this scheme of his was, looking back, not without a certain wisdom. At the conference he suggested that the various Princes be given their lands and swear allegiance to their suzerain; and Henry, looking ahead to the future and always having in mind the possibility of his own demise, thought it advisable to have his sons accepted by Louis as official rulers of the provinces.

It had always been known that Aquitaine was for Richard; young Henry was to have Anjou and Maine, and Geoffrey Brittany. Henry, who had long been playing with the idea of getting young Henry crowned King, agreed with this, and at the beginning of the year 1169 the ceremony was to take place.

My sons left Aquitaine to join their father at Montmirail. I wished I could have seen the ceremony. It must have been most impressive—particularly my three sons. Henry and Richard were exceptionally handsome—both tall and dazzingly fair with blue eyes and a nobility of countenance; Geoffrey lacked their handsome looks but was not an ill-looking boy by any means.

Louis would surely be thinking of his one and only Dieu-Donn and all the efforts he had made to get him.

Alas, I was not present, so it was left to my imagination. I could picture Henry’s joy in his sons—particularly young Henry, who had always been his favorite, because I knew Richard’s adherence to me irritated him a little, and Geoffrey lacked the charm of his brothers. But three such sons must make Henry very proud. So young Henry did homage to Louis for Anjou and Maine, Richard for Aquitaine, and Geoffrey for Brittany.

To stress his new friendship for Henry, Louis offered the hand of his daughter Alais for Richard. We did not know it then but this was to prove a matter of some consequence to Henry. There was an understanding between Louis and Henry that Louis did not wish to have his daughter put into my care, as he had shown when Marguerite was betrothed to Henry. But now, of course, Henry and I were living apart, so Alais was to go to the English Court to be brought up in the English manner, so that by the time Richard married her she would be a suitable bride for him. She was nine years old at the time, an exceptionally pretty girl, I believed; in fact, her beauty was the reason why she was to fall into such a scandalous situation.

There was one very important incident which occurred at Montmirail. Among the company was Thomas Becket.

Thomas had been making a great nuisance of himself ever since his departure from England. He had gone to live in the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny and was continually thundering forth threats of what would happen to Henry. At first Pope Alexander had been wary of giving him leave to denounce Henry too strongly, for his own position continued precarious, but later, when it improved, he allowed Becket more freedom to say and do what he liked against his old enemy. Henry threatened to expel all Cistercians from England if they continued to shelter Becket. Becket retorted by threatening Henry with excommunication.

It was a very unsatisfactory quarrel. I think, in their hearts, they most wanted to be together again. For one thing, Henry wanted young Henry crowned, and only the Archbishop of Canterbury should do that.

Just before the ceremony at Montmirail Becket had written to Henry asking that he be reinstated and that he and his followers might have back their rights and property. Henry said he would be prepared to accept Becket back, but the Pope insisted on a public agreement. It was for this reason that Becket had come to Montmirail.

There they met in a field. I wondered what Henry’s emotions were when he beheld his greatest friend and worst enemy. Of one thing I could be certain: it must have been an emotional meeting. Thomas, I heard, fell on his knees before the King, weeping affectively. Henry took his hand and begged him rise.

Becket began well by asking Henry’s forgiveness for himself and the Church. That Henry, of course, was very ready to grant. Becket then declared that, regarding their disagreements, he threw himself on the King’s mercy and pleasure. That was enough. But being Becket he could not leave it at that. He was ready to obey the King in all things, he said, saving the honor of God.

I can imagine Henry’s wrath. They had progressed no way. This had been Becket’s cry right from the first. He would obey         .         .         .         save where his order was concerned. Now it was God.

Henry then addressed the spectators and told them that Becket had deserted the Church, creeping out in the night. He did not drive him away. He had always been ready to allow the Church to follow its rules, but whenever what the King desired was not what Becket did, he brought in “his order”         .         .         .         or God. If Becket would act as those before him always had—and some of them saintly men—he would be satisfied.

The people cheered. The King had capitulated. He would receive Becket, providing Becket was ready to obey him.

But Becket stood out. He was not ready to return yet.

Exasperated beyond endurance by the man, Henry decided to go ahead with the coronation of his eldest son. Why should it be necessary that he be crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury? The Archbishop of York would do very well. Moreover, he was no friend of Becket.

Becket was still not in England, and on May 24 young Henry, who was then fifteen, was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey. Henry, generally so careless of his appearance and impatient of ceremony, did know when it was necessary to put on an elaborate show, and he spared neither effort nor money. The crown was made by the leading goldsmith William Cade at a cost of 38.6.0.—a very large sum of money.

Henry could be capable of acts of great folly, and this coronation was one, perhaps the greatest he ever made. It was obvious to me, and surely to others, that young Henry was becoming more and more aware of his position and taking advantage of it. When the cub is made head of the pride—even though it is intended to be in name only—the chief lion should watch carefully. Young Henry had revealed his character more and more as honors were heaped on him. He had never been the meekest of boys, and if he had been, the step would have been unwise.

It amazed me that Henry, so shrewd in most things, so quickly aware of his advantage, should make this tremendous mistake. He should have known the way things would go. There was an indication of this even at the banquet which followed the crowning, when the King waited on his son at table.

The Archbishop of York remarked to young Henry that it was a most auspicious occasion when a prince was waited on by a king. Henry arrogantly replied that it was not in the least unfitting for the son of a king to be waited on by the son of a count.

I wondered if Henry had a qualm then. Surely any man must have asked himself what troubles lay ahead when a son could at such time make such a reply.

Looking back, I marvel at Henry’s blindness in this one matter. He had brought about a state in his dominions whereby all jurisdiction was subject to the direct authority of the Crown. The King was supreme. This made for great efficiency in the hands of such a man, but naturally there had been discords—and not only with the Church. I could not understand how he could have been so short-sighted as to name another king—even though it was his own son.

It was foolish in more ways than one, for he incurred the wrath of Louis by not crowning Marguerite with her husband. Louis declared his daughter had been humiliated. The Pope, with Thomas Becket, was incensed at the insult to Canterbury, for all kings should be crowned by the Archbishop.

In September that year the Pope sent letters of suspension and censure to Roger of York and all concerned in the ceremony, declaring that this was another example of the King’s defiance of the Church.

Henry, realizing that there would be trouble until Thomas returned to England, proposed that he and Thomas should make the journey together and on English soil exchange the kiss of peace.

Thomas accepted the invitation, but when the time came for their departure, Henry sent word that he could not be there; he was delayed, he said, by matters of state and suggested that Thomas leave France under the escort of John of Oxford, a notorious enemy of Becket, who had once accused him of contending for Church privileges for the sake of personal gain.

Thomas, greatly fearing treachery, delayed a little longer, and it was not until the end of November that he set sail from Wissant, arriving on December 1, at Sandwich, from where he made his way to Canterbury. The people, warned of his coming, crowded into the streets to greet him; hymns were sung; bells rang out. Canterbury wanted all to know how it rejoiced in the return of its Archbishop.

On the other hand, some of the King’s officers were waiting for him. They demanded the immediate and unconditional absolution of those who had been suspended on account of the young King’s coronation. Thomas replied that he would absolve all except the Archbishop of York, if they would swear to obey the Pope’s orders.

Henry was spending Christmas at Bures, near Bayeux. I suppose everyone knows of that fatal Christmas and its aftermath. I was glad I was not there when this was happening. There I was, happy in my Court, with my troubadours about me, while Henry was stepping deep into a tragedy which would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Christmas at Bures. I could imagine it. Henry would be in good spirits—just for the festive season, forgetting his worries. His eyes would be roaming around the room, looking for a suitable bedfellow. There would be jollity, music, games, Christmas fun.

Thomas was back in England. I guessed that was a relief to Henry. Thomas in exile had been mettlesome; in England it would be easier to keep an eye on him. He would not have the same freedom to consort with the King’s enemies         .         .         .         with Louis and the Pope.

Yes, it should have been a good Christmas. He had achieved his longed-for wish in getting his son crowned; the others had all been acknowledged in their various domains. He must have been feeling pleased with himself.

Then there were visitors to the feast. I heard several versions of what happened and it was something like this:

Roger of York with the suspended bishops arrived. They had come to complain of Becket’s latest ultimatum and insistence that they obey the Pope. Henry’s first thoughts on seeing them would turn to Becket. He wanted to know that he had arrived in England and how he fared.

That gave Roger his chance. He replied that Becket was back and was the same as ever; he was roaming the countryside seeking to rally the King’s enemies against them. Becket was very popular; he only had to appear and the people were shouting for him. He had made an effort to see the new King, taking presents with him and of course intending to turn him against his father.

I could picture Henry’s brows drawn together and the color beginning to rise in his face. Perhaps even then he was realizing the folly of his act.

But before Thomas had reached Winchester he had been stopped and ordered by young Henry to go back to Canterbury and perform his sacred ministry. He now declared that the young King was no king, for the ceremony of crowning could be performed only by the Archbishop of Canterbury—himself. He cursed all those who had taken part in the coronation. All. That meant Henry himself.

The rage would have been imminent, but Henry would hold it off. He needed to know more of Thomas’s alleged perfidy.

Roger of York said: “As long as this man lives, you will have no peace in your realm, my lord.”

Henry’s rage would be getting the better of him. He shouted: “So they tell me         .         .         .         a fellow who has eaten my bread now lifts his heel against me. When he first came to my Court, it was on a lame horse and he had a cloak for a saddle. And he would rule my realm. And you         .         .         .         you look on         .         .         .         you permit this to be. Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

Four of Henry’s knights listened to his words. They were Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, Reginald Fitzurse and Richard le Breton. Their names will be long remembered.

What happened on the dismal Tuesday afternoon of December 29 of the year 1170 is known throughout the world. I often visualize the scene, constructing it from the many accounts I have heard:

Those four knights coming into Canterbury and making their way quietly and purposefully to the Archbishop “on the King’s business.”

It was about four o’clock. Thomas had already dined but the servants were at the table.

Thomas greeted the knights but they were terse in their response. Fitzurse was their spokesman. He said the King had sent them to order the Archbishop to absolve the bishops and restore those suspended from office. They accused him of attempting to deprive the young King of his crown and said he should stand judgment in Court.

Thomas’s reply was to censure the bishops and in particular the Archbishop of York. He said he had not sought to deprive the young King of his crown. He had set out to visit him and was grieved not to have been allowed to do so.

Reginald Fitzurse asked him from whom he held the archbishopric, to which Thomas replied that he held his spiritual authority from God and his temporal and material possession from the King.

“Do you not recognize that you hold everything from the King?” asked Fitzurse.

“I do not,” was the answer. “We must render unto the King the things which are the King’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Members of the Archbishop’s household, hearing the commotion, had come down to see what was afoot. Fitzurse commanded them, in the King’s name, to retire, but this they refused to do.

“Stop your threats and brawling,” said Thomas. “I have not come back to flee again, I wish to go into the cathedral to pray.”

He left the palace and walked to the cathedral. I could picture him clearly, calm, serene, perhaps contented, for I often thought he was seeking a martyr’s death. He entered the cathedral by the north transept and moved toward the altar as the four knights came in crying: “Where is the traitor?”

“Here am I,” replied Thomas. “No traitor but a priest of God. I do not fear your swords. I welcome death for the sake of our Lord and the freedom of the Church.”

“You cannot live a moment longer,” said Fitzurse.

“I submit to death,” replied Thomas, “in the name of the Lord, and I commend my soul and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary and the patron saints of the Church. It is not my wish to fly from your swords.”

One of the men struck him between the shoulders. Another cried: “You are our prisoner. Come with us.”

“I will not go hence,” said Thomas. “Here shall you work your will and obey the orders of the one who sent you.”

De Tracy lifted his sword and hit the Archbishop on the head. As the blood streamed down his face he fell to the ground murmuring: “Into Thy hands, oh Lord, I commend my spirit.”

There was another blow.

He received four wounds, all on his head, and there he lay         .         .         .         dead         .         .         .         the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry’s beloved and turbulent priest.

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