Act I

Scene I

Alfred Tennyson

BECKET’S House in London. Chamber barely furnished. BECKET unrobing. HERBERT OF BOSHAM and SERVANT.

Shall I not help your lordship to your rest?

Friend, am I so much better than thyself
That thou shouldst help me? Thou art wearied out
With this day’s work, get thee to thine own bed.
Leave me with Herbert, friend.

[Exit Servant.
Help me off, Herbert, with this—and this.

Was not the people’s blessing as we past
Heart-comfort and a balsam to thy blood?

The people know their Church a tower of strength,
A bulwark against Throne and Baronage.
Too heavy for me, this; off with it, Herbert!

Is it so much heavier than thy Chancellor’s robe?

No; but the Chancellor’s and the Archbishop’s
Together more than mortal man can bear.

Not heavier than thine armour at Thoulouse?

O Herbert, Herbert, in my chancellorship
I more than once have gone against the Church.

To please the King?

                              Ay, and the King of kings,
Or justice; for it seem’d to me but just
The Church should pay her scutage like the lords.
But hast thou heard this cry of Gilbert Foliot
That I am not the man to be your Primate,
For Henry could not work a miracle—
Make an Archbishop of a soldier?

For Gilbert Foliot held himself the man.

Am I the man? My mother, ere she bore me,
Dream’d that twelve stars fell glittering out of heaven
Into her bosom.

                        Ay, the fire, the light,
The spirit of the twelve Apostles enter’d
Into thy making.

                        And when I was a child,
The Virgin, in a vision of my sleep,
Gave me the golden keys of Paradise. Dream,
Or prophecy, that?

                        Well, dream and prophecy both.

And when I was of Theobald’s household, once—
The good old man would sometimes have his jest—
He took his mitre off, and set it on me,
And said, ‘My young Archbishop—thou wouldst make
A stately Archbishop!’ Jest or prophecy there?

Both, Thomas, both.

Am I the man? That rang
Within my head last night, and when I slept
Methought I stood in Canterbury Minster,
And spake to the Lord God, and said, ‘O Lord,
I have been a lover of wines, and delicate meats,
And secular splendours, and a favourer
Of players, and a courtier, and a feeder
Of dogs and hawks, and apes, and lions, and lynxes.
Am I the man?’ And the Lord answer’d me,
‘Thou art the man, and all the more the man.’
And then I asked again, ‘O Lord my God,
Henry the King hath been my friend, my brother,
And mine uplifter in this world, and chosen me
For this thy great archbishoprick, believing
That I should go against the Church with him.
And I shall go against him with the Church,
And I have said no word of this to him:
Am I the man?’ And the Lord answer’d me,
‘Thou art the man, and all the more the man.’
And thereupon, methought, He drew toward me,
And smote me down upon the Minster floor.
I fell.

            God make not thee, but thy foes, fall.

I fell. Why fall? Why did He smite me? What?
Shall I fall off—to please the King once more?
Not fight—tho’ somehow traitor to the King—
My truest and mine utmost for the Church?

Thou canst not fall that way. Let traitor be;
For how have fought thine utmost for the Church,
Save from the throne of thine archbishoprick?
And how been made Archbishop hadst thou told him,
‘I mean to fight mine utmost for the Church,
Against the King?’

                        But dost thou think the King
Forced mine election?

                              I do think the King
Was potent in the election, and why not?
Why should not Heaven have so inspired the King?
Be comforted. Thou art the man—be thou
A mightier Anselm.

I do believe thee, then. I am the man.
And yet I seem appall’d—on such a sudden
At such an eagle-height I stand and see
The rift that runs between me and the King.
I served our Theobald well when I was with him;
I served King Henry well as Chancellor;
I am his no more, and I must serve the Church.
This Canterbury is only less than Rome,
And all my doubts I fling from me like dust,
Winnow and scatter all scruples to the wind,
And all the puissance of the warrior,
And all the wisdom of the Chancellor,
And all the heap’d experiences of life,
I cast upon the side of Canterbury—
Our holy mother Canterbury, who sits
With tatter’d robes. Laics and barons, thro’
The random gifts of careless kings, have graspt
Her livings, her advowsons, granges, farms,
And goodly acres—we will make her whole;
Not one rood lost. And for these Royal customs,
These ancient Royal customs—they are Royal,
Not of the Church—and let them be anathema,
And all that speak for them anathema.

Thomas, thou art moved too much.

                                                O Herbert, here
I gash myself asunder from the King,
Tho’ leaving each, a wound; mine own, a grief
To show the scar for ever—his, a hate
Not ever to be heal’d.

Enter ROSAMUND DE CLIFFORD, flying from SIR REGINALD FITZURSE. Drops her veil.

                              Rosamund de Clifford!

Save me, father, hide me—they follow me—
and I must not be known.

                                    Pass in with Herbert there.

[Exeunt Rosamund and Herbert by side door.


The Archbishop!

                        Ay! what wouldst thou, Reginald?

Why—why, my lord, I follow’d—follow’d one—

And then what follows? Let me follow thee.

It much imports me I should know her name.

What her?

            The woman that I follow’d hither.

Perhaps it may import her all as much
Not to be known.

                        And what care I for that?
Come, come, my lord Archbishop; I saw that door
Close even now upon the woman.


    FITZURSE (making for the door).
Nay, let me pass, my lord, for I must know.

Back, man!

            Then tell me who and what she is.

Art thou so sure thou followedst anything?
Go home, and sleep thy wine off, for thine eyes
Glare stupid—wild with wine.

FITZURSE (making to the door).
                                          I must and will.
I care not for thy new archbishoprick.

Back, man, I tell thee! What!
Shall I forget my new archbishoprick
And smite thee with my crozier on the skull?
’Fore God, I am a mightier man than thou.

It well befits thy new archbishoprick
To take the vagabond woman of the street
Into thine arms!

                        O drunken ribaldry!
Out, beast! out, bear!

                              I shall remember this.

Do, and begone!

[Exit Fitzurse.
[Going to the door, sees DE TRACY.]
                        Tracy, what dost thou here?

My lord, I follow’d Reginald Fitzurse.

Follow him out!

                        I shall remember this


                  Do. These be those baron-brutes
That havock’d all the land in Stephen’s day.
Rosamund de Clifford.


                              Here am I.

                                                Why here?
We gave thee to the charge of John of Salisbury.
To pass thee to thy secret bower to-morrow.
Wast thou not told to keep thyself from sight?

Poor bird of passage! so I was; but, father,
They say that you are wise in winged things,
And know the ways of Nature. Bar the bird
From following the fled summer—a chink—he’s out,
Gone! And there stole into the city a breath
Full of the meadows, and it minded me
Of the sweet woods of Clifford, and the walks
Where I could move at pleasure, and I thought
Lo! I must out or die.

                              Or out and die.
And what hast thou to do with this Fitzurse?

Nothing. He sued my hand. I shook at him.
He found me once alone. Nay—nay—I cannot
Tell you: my father drove him and his friends,
De Tracy and De Brito, from our castle.
I was but fourteen and an April then.
I heard him swear revenge.

                                    Why will you court it
By self-exposure? flutter out at night?
Make it so hard to save a moth from the fire?

I have saved many of ’em. You catch ’em, so,
Softly, and fling them out to the free air.
They burn themselves within-door.

                                                      Our good John
Must speed you to your bower at once. The child
Is there already.

                        Yes—the child—the child—
O rare, a whole long day of open field.

Ay, but you go disguised.

                                    O rare again!
We’ll baffle them, I warrant. What shall it be?
I’ll go as a nun.


                              What, not good enough
Even to play at nun?

                              Dan John with a nun,
That Map, and these new railers at the Church
May plaister his clean name with scurrilous rhymes!
Go like a monk, cowling and clouding up
That fatal star, thy Beauty, from the squint
Of lust and glare of malice. Good night! good night!

Father, I am so tender to all hardness!
Nay, father, first thy blessing.



Well, well! I ask no more. Heaven bless thee! hence!

O, holy father, when thou seest him next,
Commend me to thy friend.

                                    What friend?

                                                      The King.

Herbert, take out a score of armed men
To guard this bird of passage to her cage;
And watch Fitzurse, and if he follow thee,
Make him thy prisoner. I am Chancellor yet.

[Exeunt Herbert and Rosamund.
Poor soul! poor soul!
My friend, the King! . . . O thou Great Seal of England,
Given me by my dear friend the King of England—
We long have wrought together, thou and I—
Now must I send thee as a common friend
To tell the King, my friend, I am against him.
We are friends no more: he will say that, not I.
The worldly bond between us is dissolved,
Not yet the love: can I be under him
As Chancellor? as Archbishop over him?
Go therefore like a friend slighted by one
That hath climb’d up to nobler company.
Not slighted—all but moan’d for: thou must go.
I have not dishonour’d thee—I trust I have not;
Not mangled justice. May the hand that next
Inherits thee be but as true to thee
As mine hath been! O, my dear friend, the King!
O brother!—I may come to martyrdom.
I am martyr in myself already.—Herbert!

    HERBERT (re-entering).
My lord, the town is quiet, and the moon
Divides the whole long street with light and shade.
No footfall—no Fitzurse. We have seen her home.

The hog hath tumbled himself into some corner,
Some ditch, to snore away his drunkenness
Into the sober headache,—Nature’s moral
Against excess. Let the Great Seal be sent
Back to the King to-morrow.

                                          Must that be?
The King may rend the bearer limb from limb
Think on it again.

                        Against the moral excess
No physical ache, but failure it may be
Of all we aim’d at. John of Salisbury
Hath often laid a cold hand on my heats,
And Herbert hath rebuked me even now.
I will be wise and wary, not the soldier
As Foliot swears it.—John, and out of breath!


Thomas, thou wast not happy taking charge
Of this wild Rosamund to please the King,
Nor am I happy having charge of her—
The included Danaë has escaped again
Her tower, and her Acrisius—where to seek?
I have been about the city.

                                          Thou wilt find her
Back in her lodging. Go with her—at once—
To-night—my men will guard you to the gates.
Be sweet to her, she has many enemies.
Send the Great Seal by daybreak. Both, good night!

Becket - Contents    |     Act I - Scene II

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