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Of thy kind, loving, generous, royal master ?
Becket. Not generous now to say I'd pierce thy heart !
Henry. Thou hast done so !—if not with knife or brand,
I know it,
Henry. Good man !—Thou would'st betake thyself to Louis,
On that summons
Henry. Ha ! ha!
Becket. Sir! sir ! 'tis truth; and he who here
Like it iniquitous ! [The Barons start up, and Beckets train advance. Becket raises his Crosier, and Henry his Sceptre between them. Henry.
These sacred wands,
Winchester. My liege, accept two thousand marks from him,
I will not, Winchester !
[They retire some paces.
Norwich (to Becket). My lord, beseech you on my knees, submit, Or you, the church, and all of us are lost !
Salisbury (to him). We cannot be thy sureties for such sum,
London (to him). 'Twas thou thyself who led’st us to subscribe
Becket. Folliott, thou shalt be ever
[Turning to the other Bishops who implore him.
York. There's no stopping some men
Becket. 'Tis plain, sir King ! lord of these lower skies !
Henry. At thy behest ?
Becket. There is a throne, compared to earthly ones,
Henry. All this, because I summon a state debtor,
The goods of a respectless feudatory-
Pronounce his sentence straight! He is deprived of all his lands and holdings!
Becket. I will not drink pollution through mine ears!
Henry. Hear how the wolf can howl!
Whom strength makes wrongful, wrongfulness makes strong,
Becket. And have decreed its sole defender here,
Henry. Why thou wert far above our reach but now Becket. Since prayer, plaint, rhetoric's mingled honey and gall, Cannot withhold them from the fathomless pit Gaping beneath their steps,-if they must follow Satan's dark inspirations to such deeds, Flagitious, dreadless, godless-which mute heaven Permits, but weeps at-good men's mazement, The angels' horror
Henry. Wipe from thy blest mouth That surge of foam !
Becket. Since then, perverse! thou seem'st
The wolf's dog-mad!
67.-THE GREATNESS OF THE CLERGY.
It will not be unpleasing to pause a moment at this remarkable period, in order to view in what consisted that greatness of the clergy, which enabled them to bear so very considerable a sway in all public affairs; what foundations supported the weight of so vast a power; whence it had its origin; what was the nature, and what the ground, of the immunities they claimed; that we may the more fully enter into this important controversy, and may not judge, as some have inconsiderately done, of the affairs of those times by ideas taken from the present manners and opinions.
It is sufficiently known, that the first Christians, avoiding the Pagan tribunals, tried most even of their civil causes before the bishop, who, though he had no direct coercive power, yet, wielding the sword of excommunication, had wherewithal to enforce the execution of his judgments. Thus the bishop had a considerable sway in temporal affairs, even before he was armed by the temporal power. But the emperors no sooner became Christian, than, the idea of profaneness being removed from the secular tribunals, the causes of the Christian laity naturally passed to that resort where those of the generality had been before. But the reverence for the bishop still remained, and the remembrance of his former jurisdiction. It was not thought decent, that he, who had been a judge in his own court, should become a suitor in the court of another. The body of the clergy likewise, who were supposed to have no secular concerns, for which they could litigate, and removed by their character from all suspicion of violence, were left to be tried by their own ecclesiastical superiors. This was, with a little variation sometimes in extending, sometimes in restraining the bishops' jurisdiction, the condition of things whilst the Roman empire subsisted. But, though their immunities were great, and their possessions ample, yet living under an absolute form of government they were powerful only by influence. No jurisdictions were annexed to their lands; they had no place in the senate, they were no order in the state.
From the settlement of the northern nations, the clergy must be considered in another light. The barbarians gave them large landed possessions; and by giving them land, they gave them jurisdiction, which, according to their notions, was inseparable from it. They made them an order in the state; and as all the orders had their privileges, the clergy had theirs, and were no less sturdy to preserve, and ambitious to extend them. Our ancestors, having united the church dignities to the secular dignities of baronics, had so blended the ecclesastical with the temporal power in the same persons, that it became almost impossible to separate them. The ecclesiastical was however prevalent in this composition, drew to it the other, supported it, and was supported by it. But it was not the devotion only, but the necessity, of the times, that raised the clergy to the excess of this greatness. The little learning, which then subsisted, remained wholly in their hands. Few among the laity could even read ; consequently the clergy alone were proper for public affairs. They were the statesmen, they were the lawyers; from them were often taken the bailiffs of the seignorial courts; sometimes the sheriffs of counties, and almost constantly the justiciaries of the kingdom. The Norman kings, always jealous of their order, were always forced to employ them. In abbeys the law was studied; abbeys were the palladiums of the public liberty by the custody of the royal charters, and most of the records. Thus, necessary to the great by their knowledge, venerable to the poor by their hospitality, dreadful to all by the power of excommunication, the character of the clergy was exalted above every thing in
the state ; and it could no more be otherwise in those days, than it is possible it should be so in ours.
William the Conqueror made it one principal point of his politics to reduce the clergy ; but all the steps he took in it were not equally well calculated to answer this intention. When he subjected church lands to military service, the clergy complained bitterly, as it lessened their revenue; but I imagine it did not lessen their power in proportion ; for by this regulation they came, like other great lords, to have their military vassals, who owed them homage and fealty; and this rather increased their consideration amongst so martial a people. The kings, who succeeded him, though they also aimed at reducing the ecclesiastical power, never pursued their scheme on a great or legislative principle. They seemed rather desirous of enriching themselves by the abuses in the church, than earnest to correct them. One day they plundered, and the next day they founded monasteries, as their rapacious:ess or their scruples chanced to predominate ; so that every attempt of that kind, having rather the air of tyranny than reformation, could never be heartily approved, or seconded by the body of the people.
The bishops must always be considered in the double capacity of clerks and barons. Their courts, therefore, had a double jurisdiction ; over the clergy and laity of their diocese, for the cognizance of crimes against ecclesiastical law, and over the vassals of their barony, as lords paramount. But these two departments, so different in their nature, they frequently confounded by making use of the spiritual weapon of excommunication to enforce the judgments of both; and this sentence, cutting off the party from the common society of mankind, lay equally heavy on all ranks ; for, as it deprived the lower sort of the fellowship of their equals, and the protection of their lord, so it deprived the lord of the services of his vassals, whether he or they lay under the sentence. This was one of the grievances which the king proposed to redress.
As some sanction of religion is mixed with almost every concern of civil life, and as the ecclesiastical court took cognizance of all religious matters, it drew to itself not only all questions relative to tithes and advowsons, but whatever related to marriages, wills, the estate of intestates ; the breaches of oaths and contracts ; in a word, everything, which did not touch life, or feudal property.
The ignorance of the bailiffs in lay-courts, who were only possessed of some feudal maxims and the traditions of an uncertain custom, made this recourse to the spiritual courts the more necessary, where they could judge with a little more exactness by the lights of the canon and civil laws.
This jurisdiction extended itself by connivance, by necessity, by custom, by abuse, over lay persons and affairs. But the immunity of the clergy from lay cognizances was deemed not only as a privilege essential to the dignity of their order, supported by the canons, and countenanced by the Roman law, but as a right confirmed by all the ancient laws of England.
Christianity, coming into England out of the bosom of the Roman empire, brought along with it all those ideas of immunity. The first trace we can find of this exemption from lay jurisdiction in England, is in the laws of Etheldred; it is more fully established in those of Canute ; but in the code of Henry the First it is twice distinctly affirmed. This immunity from the secular jurisdiction, whilst it seemed to encourage acts of violence in the clergy towards others, encouraged also the violence of others against them. The murder of a clerk could not be punished at this time with death ; it was against a spiritual person ; an offence wholly spiritual, of which the secular courts took no sort of cognizance. In the Saxon times two circumstances made such an exemption less a cause of jealousy; the sheriff' sat with the bishop, and the spiritual jurisdiction was, if not under the control, at least