Act I

Scene III

Alfred Tennyson

The Hall in Northampton Castle.

On one side of the stage the doors of an inner Council-chamber, half-open. At the bottom, the great doors of the Hall. ROGER ARCHBISHOP OF YORK, FOLIOT BISHOP OF LONDON, HILARY OF CHICHESTER, BISHOP OF HEREFORD, RICHARD DE HASTINGS (Grand Prior of Templars), PHILIP DE ELEEMOSYNA (the Pope’s Almoner), and others. DE BROC, FITZURSE, DE BRITO, DE MORVILLE, DE TRACY, and other BARONS assembled—a table before them. JOHN OF OXFORD, President of the Council.


Where is the King?

                        Gone hawking on the Nene,
His heart so gall’d with thine ingratitude,
He will not see thy face till thou hast sign’d
These ancient laws and customs of the realm.
Thy sending back the Great Seal madden’d him,
He all but pluck’d the bearer’s eyes away.
Take heed, lest he destroy thee utterly.

Then shalt thou step into my place and sign.

Didst thou not promise Henry to obey
These ancient laws and customs of the realm?

Saving the honour of my order—ay.
Customs, traditions,—clouds that come and go;
The customs of the Church are Peter’s rock.

Saving thine order! But King Henry sware
That, saving his King’s kingship, he would grant thee
The crown itself. Saving thine order, Thomas,
Is black and white at once, and comes to nought.
O bolster’d up with stubbornness and pride,
Wilt thou destroy the Church in fighting for it,
And bring us all to shame?

                                    Roger of York,
When I and thou were youths in Theobald’s house,
Twice did thy malice and thy calumnies
Exile me from the face of Theobald.
Now I am Canterbury and thou art York.

And is not York the peer of Canterbury?
Did not Great Gregory bid St. Austin here
Found two archbishopricks, London and York?

What came of that? The first archbishop fled,
And York lay barren for a hundred years.
Why, by this rule, Foliot may claim the pall
For London too.

                        And with good reason too,
For London had a temple and a priest
When Canterbury hardly bore a name.

The pagan temple of a pagan Rome!
The heathen priesthood of a heathen creed!
Thou goest beyond thyself in petulancy!
Who made thee London? Who, but Canterbury?

Peace, peace, my lords! these customs are no longer
As Canterbury calls them, wandering clouds,
But by the King’s command are written down,
And by the King’s command I, John of Oxford,
The President of this Council, read them.


    JOHN OF OXFORD (reads).
‘All causes of advowsons and presentations, whether between laymen or clerics, shall be tried in the King’s court.’

But that I cannot sign: for that would drag
The cleric before the civil judgment-seat,
And on a matter wholly spiritual.

‘If any cleric be accused of felony, the Church shall not protect him: but he shall answer to the summons of the King’s court to be tried therein.’

And that I cannot sign.
Is not the Church the visible Lord on earth?
Shall hands that do create the Lord be bound
Behind the back like laymen-criminals?
The Lord be judged again by Pilate? No!

‘When a bishoprick falls vacant, the King, till another be appointed, shall receive the revenues thereof.’

And that I cannot sign. Is the King’s treasury
A fit place for the monies of the Church,
That be the patrimony of the poor?

‘And when the vacancy is to be filled up, the King shall summon the chapter of that church to court, and the election shall be made in the Chapel Royal, with the consent of our lord the King, and by the advice of his Government.’

And that I cannot sign: for that would make
Our island-Church a schism from Christendom,
And weight down all free choice beneath the throne.

And was thine own election so canonical,
Good father?

                  If it were not, Gilbert Foliot,
I mean to cross the sea to France, and lay
My crozier in the Holy Father’s hands,
And bid him re-create me, Gilbert Foliot.

Nay; by another of these customs thou
Wilt not be suffer’d so to cross the seas
Without the license of our lord the King.

That, too, I cannot sign.

DE BROC, DE BRITO, DE TRACY, FITZURSE, DE MORVILLE, start up—a clash of swords.

                                    Sign and obey!

My lords, is this a combat or a council?
Are ye my masters, or my lord the King?
Ye make this clashing for no love o’ the customs
Or constitutions, or whate’er ye call them,
But that there be among you those that hold
Lands reft from Canterbury.

    DE BROC.
                                          And mean to keep them,
In spite of thee!

    LORDS (shouting).
                        Sign, and obey the crown!

The crown? Shall I do less for Canterbury
Than Henry for the crown? King Stephen gave
Many of the crown lands to those that helpt him;
So did Matilda, the King’s mother. Mark,
When Henry came into his own again,
Then he took back not only Stephen’s gifts,
But his own mother’s, lest the crown should be
Shorn of ancestral splendour. This did Henry.
Shall I do less for mine own Canterbury?
And thou, De Broc, that holdest Saltwood Castle——

    DE BROC.
And mean to hold it, or——

                                    To have my life.

    DE BROC.
The King is quick to anger; if thou anger him,
We wait but the King’s word to strike thee dead.

Strike, and I die the death of martyrdom;
Strike, and ye set these customs by my death
Ringing their own death-knell thro’ all the realm.

And I can tell you, lords, ye are all as like
To lodge a fear in Thomas Becket’s heart
As find a hare’s form in a lion’s cave.

Ay, sheathe your swords, ye will displease the King.

    DE BROC.
Why down then thou! but an he come to Saltwood,
By God’s death, thou shalt stick him like a calf!

[Sheathing his sword.

O my good lord, I do entreat thee—sign.
Save the King’s honour here before his barons.
He hath sworn that thou shouldst sign, and now but shuns
The semblance of defeat; I have heard him say
He means no more; so if thou sign, my lord,
That were but as the shadow of an assent.

’Twould seem too like the substance, if I sign’d.

My lord, thine ear! I have the ear of the Pope.
As thou hast honour for the Pope our master,
Have pity on him, sorely prest upon
By the fierce Emperor and his Antipope.
Thou knowest he was forced to fly to France;
He pray’d me to pray thee to pacify
Thy King; for if thou go against thy King,
Then must he likewise go against thy King,
And then thy King might join the Antipope,
And that would shake the Papacy as it stands.
Besides, thy King swore to our cardinals
He meant no harm nor damage to the Church.
Smoothe thou his pride—thy signing is but form;
Nay, and should harm come of it, it is the Pope
Will be to blame—not thou. Over and over
He told me thou shouldst pacify the King,
Lest there be battle between Heaven and Earth,
And Earth should get the better—for the time.
Cannot the Pope absolve thee if thou sign?

Have I the orders of the Holy Father?

Orders, my lord—why, no; for what am I?
The secret whisper of the Holy Father.
Thou, that hast been a statesman, couldst thou always
Blurt thy free mind to the air?

If Rome be feeble, then should I be firm.

Take it not that way—balk not the Pope’s will.
When he hath shaken off the Emperor,
He heads the Church against the King with thee.

    RICHARD DE HASTINGS (kneeling).
Becket, I am the oldest of the Templars;
I knew thy father; he would be mine age
Had he lived now; think of me as thy father!
Behold thy father kneeling to thee, Becket.
Submit; I promise thee on my salvation
That thou wilt hear no more o’ the customs.

Hath Henry told thee? hast thou talk’d with him?

Another TEMPLAR (kneeling).
Father, I am the youngest of the Templars,
Look on me as I were thy bodily son,
For, like a son, I lift my hands to thee.

Wilt thou hold out for ever, Thomas Becket?
Dost thou not hear?

    BECKET (signs).
                              Why—there then—there—I sign,
And swear to obey the customs.

                                          Is it thy will,
My lord Archbishop, that we too should sign?

O ay, by that canonical obedience
Thou still hast owed thy father, Gilbert Foliot.

Loyally and with good faith, my lord Archbishop?

O ay, with all that loyalty and good faith
Thou still hast shown thy primate, Gilbert Foliot.

[Becket draws apart with Herbert.
Herbert, Herbert, have I betray’d the Church?
I’ll have the paper back—blot out my name.

Too late, my lord: you see they are signing there.

False to myself—it is the will of God
To break me, prove me nothing of myself!
This Almoner hath tasted Henry’s gold.
The cardinals have finger’d Henry’s gold.
And Rome is venal ev’n to rottenness.
I see it, I see it.
I am no soldier, as he said—at least
No leader. Herbert, till I hear from the Pope
I will suspend myself from all my functions.
If fast and prayer, the lacerating scourge——

    FOLIOT (from the table).
My lord Archbishop, thou hast yet to seal.

First, Foliot, let me see what I have sign’d.

[Goes to the table.
What, this! and this!—what! new and old together!
Seal? If a seraph shouted from the sun,
And bad me seal against the rights of the Church,
I would anathematise him. I will not seal.
[Exit with Herbert.


Where’s Thomas? hath he sign’d? show me the papers!
Sign’d and not seal’d! How’s that?

                                                He would not seal.
And when he sign’d, his face was stormy-red—
Shame, wrath, I know not what. He sat down there
And dropt it in his hands, and then a paleness,
Like the wan twilight after sunset, crept
Up even to the tonsure, and he groan’d,
‘False to myself! It is the will of God!’

God’s will be what it will, the man shall seal,
Or I will seal his doom. My burgher’s son—
Nay, if I cannot break him as the prelate,
I’ll crush him as the subject. Send for him back.

[Sits on his throne.
Barons and bishops of our realm of England,
After the nineteen winters of King Stephen—
A reign which was no reign, when none could sit
By his own hearth in peace; when murder common
As nature’s death, like Egypt’s plague, had fill’d
All things with blood; when every doorway blush’d,
Dash’d red with that unhallow’d passover;
When every baron ground his blade in blood;
The household dough was kneaded up with blood;
The millwheel turn’d in blood; the wholesome plow
Lay rusting in the furrow’s yellow weeds,
Till famine dwarft the race—I came, your King!
Nor dwelt alone, like a soft lord of the East,
In mine own hall, and sucking thro’ fools’ ears
The flatteries of corruption—went abroad
Thro’ all my counties, spied my people’s ways;
Yea, heard the churl against the baron—yea,
And did him justice; sat in mine own courts
Judging my judges, that had found a King
Who ranged confusions, made the twilight day,
And struck a shape from out the vague, and law
From madness. And the event—our fallows till’d,
Much corn, repeopled towns, a realm again.
So far my course, albeit not glassy-smooth,
Had prosper’d in the main, but suddenly
Jarr’d on this rock. A cleric violated
The daughter of his host, and murder’d him.
Bishops—York, London, Chichester, Westminster—
Ye haled this tonsured devil into your courts;
But since your canon will not let you take
Life for a life, ye but degraded him
Where I had hang’d him. What doth hard murder care
For degradation? and that made me muse,
Being bounden by my coronation oath
To do men justice. Look to it, your own selves!
Say that a cleric murder’d an archbishop,
What could ye do? Degrade, imprison him—
Not death for death.

                              But I, my liege, could swear,
To death for death.

                              And, looking thro’ my reign,
I found a hundred ghastly murders done
By men, the scum and offal of the Church;
Then, glancing thro’ the story of this realm,
I came on certain wholesome usages,
Lost in desuetude, of my grandsire’s day,
Good royal customs—had them written fair
For John of Oxford here to read to you.

And I can easily swear to these as being
The King’s will and God’s will and justice; yet
I could but read a part to-day, because——

Because my lord of Canterbury——

This lord of Canterbury——

                                          As is his wont
Too much of late whene’er your royal rights
Are mooted in our councils——

                                          —made an uproar.

And Becket had my bosom on all this;
If ever man by bonds of gratefulness—
I raised him from the puddle of the gutter,
I made him porcelain from the clay of the city—
Thought that I knew him, err’d thro’ love of him,
Hoped, were he chosen archbishop, Church and Crown,
Two sisters gliding in an equal dance,
Two rivers gently flowing side by side—
But no!
The bird that moults sings the same song again,
The snake that sloughs comes out a snake again.
Snake—ay, but he that lookt a fangless one,
Issues a venomous adder.
For he, when having dofft the Chancellor’s robe—
Flung the Great Seal of England in my face—
Claim’d some of our crown lands for Canterbury—
My comrade, boon companion, my co-reveller,
The master of his master, the King’s king.—
God’s eyes! I had meant to make him all but king.
Chancellor-Archbishop, he might well have sway’d
All England under Henry, the young King,
When I was hence. What did the traitor say?
False to himself, but ten-fold false to me!
The will of God—why, then it is my will—
Is he coming?

    MESSENGER (entering).
                  With a crowd of worshippers,
And holds his cross before him thro’ the crowd,
As one that puts himself in sanctuary.

His cross!

            His cross! I’ll front him, cross to cross.

[Exit Roger of York.

His cross! it is the traitor that imputes
Treachery to his King!
It is not safe for me to look upon him.
Away—with me!

[Goes in with his Barons to the Council Chamber,
the door of which is left open

Enter BECKET, holding his cross of silver before him.
The BISHOPS come round him.

The King will not abide thee with thy cross.
Permit me, my good lord, to bear it for thee,
Being thy chaplain.

                              No: it must protect me.

As once he bore the standard of the Angles,
So now he bears the standard of the angels.

I am the Dean of the province: let me bear it.
Make not thy King a traitorous murderer.

Did not your barons draw their swords against me?

Enter ROGER OF YORK, with his cross, advancing to BECKET.

Wherefore dost thou presume to bear thy cross,
Against the solemn ordinance from Rome,
Out of thy province?

                              Why dost thou presume,
Arm’d with thy cross, to come before the King?
If Canterbury bring his cross to court,
Let York bear his to mate with Canterbury.

    FOLIOT (seizing hold of BECKET’S cross).
Nay, nay, my lord, thou must not brave the King.
Nay, let me have it. I will have it!


[Flinging him off.

He fasts, they say, this mitred Hercules!
He fast! is that an arm of fast? My lord,
Hadst thou not sign’d, I had gone along with thee;
But thou the shepherd hast betray’d the sheep,
And thou art perjured, and thou wilt not seal.
As Chancellor thou wast against the Church,
Now as Archbishop goest against the King;
For, like a fool, thou knowst no middle way.
Ay, ay! but art thou stronger than the King?

Strong—not in mine own self, but Heaven; true
To either function, holding it; and thou
Fast, scourge thyself, and mortify thy flesh,
Not spirit—thou remainest Gilbert Foliot,
A worldly follower of the worldly strong.
I, bearing this great ensign, make it clear
Under what Prince I fight.

                                    My lord of York,
Let us go in to the Council, where our bishops
And our great lords will sit in judgment on him.

Sons sit in judgment on their father!—then
The spire of Holy Church may prick the graves—
Her crypt among the stars. Sign? seal? I promised
The King to obey these customs, not yet written,
Saving mine order; true too, that when written
I sign’d them—being a fool, as Foliot call’d me.
I hold not by my signing. Get ye hence,
Tell what I say to the King.

[Exeunt HEREFORD, FOLIOT, and other BISHOPS.

                                          The Church will hate thee.


Serve my best friend and make him my worst foe;
Fight for the Church, and set the Church against me!

To be honest is to set all knaves against thee.
Ah! Thomas, excommunicate them all!

    HEREFORD (re-entering).
I cannot brook the turmoil thou hast raised.
I would, my lord Thomas of Canterbury,
Thou wert plain Thomas and not Canterbury,
Or that thou wouldst deliver Canterbury
To our King’s hands again, and be at peace.

    HILARY (re-entering).
For hath not thine ambition set the Church
This day between the hammer and the anvil—
Fealty to the King, obedience to thyself?

What say the bishops?

                              Some have pleaded for him,
But the King rages—most are with the King;
And some are reeds, that one time sway to the current,
And to the wind another. But we hold
Thou art forsworn; and no forsworn Archbishop
Shall helm the Church. We therefore place ourselves
Under the shield and safeguard of the Pope,
And cite thee to appear before the Pope,
And answer thine accusers. . . . Art thou deaf?

I hear you.

[Clash of arms.

                  Dost thou hear those others?


    ROGER OF YORK (re-entering).
The King’s ‘God’s eyes!’ come now so thick and fast,
We fear that he may reave thee of thine own.
Come on, come on! it is not fit for us
To see the proud Archbishop mutilated.
Say that he blind thee and tear out thy tongue.

So be it. He begins at top with me:
They crucified St. Peter downward.

But for their sake who stagger betwixt thine
Appeal, and Henry’s anger, yield.

                                                Hence, Satan!

[Exit Roger of York.

    FITZURSE (re-entering),
My lord, the King demands three hundred marks,
Due from his castles of Berkhamstead and Eye
When thou thereof wast warden.

                                          Tell the King
I spent thrice that in fortifying his castles.

DE TRACY (re-entering.)
My lord, the King demands seven hundred marks,
Lent at the siege of Thoulouse by the King.

I led seven hundred knights and fought his wars.

DE BRITO (re-entering).
My lord, the King demands five hundred marks,
Advanced thee at his instance by the Jews,
For which the King was bound security.

I thought it was a gift; I thought it was a gift.

Enter LORD LEICESTER (followed by BARONS and BISHOPS).

My lord, I come unwillingly. The King
Demands a strict account of all those revenues
From all the vacant sees and abbacies,
Which came into thy hands when Chancellor.

How much might that amount to, my lord Leicester?

Some thirty—forty thousand silver marks.

Are these your customs? O my good lord Leicester,
The King and I were brothers. All I had
I lavish’d for the glory of the King;
I shone from him, for him, his glory, his
Reflection: now the glory of the Church
Hath swallow’d up the glory of the King;
I am his no more, but hers. Grant me one day
To ponder these demands.

                                    Hear first thy sentence!
The King and all his lords—

                                          Son, first hear me!

Nay, nay, canst thou, that holdest thine estates
In fee and barony of the King, decline
The judgment of the King?

                                    The King! I hold
Nothing in fee and barony of the King.
Whatever the Church owns—she holds it in
Free and perpetual alms, unsubject to
One earthly sceptre.

                              Nay, but hear thy judgment.
The King and all his barons——

                                          Judgment! Barons!
Who but the bridegroom dares to judge the bride,
Or he the bridegroom may appoint? Not he
That is not of the house, but from the street
Stain’d with the mire thereof.
                                          I had been so true
To Henry and mine office that the King
Would throne me in the great Archbishoprick:
And I, that knew mine own infirmity,
For the King’s pleasure rather than God’s cause
Took it upon me—err’d thro’ love of him.
Now therefore God from me withdraws Himself,
And the King too.
                        What! forty thousand marks!
Why thou, the King, the Pope, the Saints, the world,
Know that when made Archbishop I was freed,
Before the Prince and chief Justiciary,
From every bond and debt and obligation
Incurr’d as Chancellor.
                                    Hear me, son.
                                                      As gold
Outvalues dross, light darkness, Abel Cain,
The soul the body, and the Church the Throne,
I charge thee, upon pain of mine anathema,
That thou obey, not me, but God in me,
Rather than Henry. I refuse to stand
By the King’s censure, make my cry to the Pope,
By whom I will be judged; refer myself,
The King, these customs, all the Church, to him,
And under his authority—I depart.

[LEICESTER looks at him doubtingly.
Am I a prisoner?

                        By St. Lazarus, no!
I am confounded by thee. Go in peace.

    DE BROC.
In peace now—but after. Take that for earnest.

[Flings a bone at him from the rushes.

    DE BRITO, FITZURSE, DE TRACY, and others (flinging wisps of rushes).
Ay, go in peace, caitiff, caitiff! And that too, perjured prelate—and that, turncoat shaveling! There, there, there! traitor, traitor, traitor!

Mannerless wolves!

[Turning and facing them.

                        Enough, my lord, enough!

Barons of England and of Normandy,
When what ye shake at doth but seem to fly,
True test of coward, ye follow with a yell.
But I that threw the mightiest knight of France,
Sir Engelram de Trie,——

                              Enough, my lord.

More than enough. I play the fool again.


The King commands you, upon pain of death,
That none should wrong or injure your Archbishop.

Deal gently with the young man Absalom.

[Great doors of the Hall at the back open, and discover a crowd.
They shout

Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!

Becket - Contents    |     Act I - Scene IV

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