Act II

Scene II

Alfred Tennyson

Montmirail. ‘The Meeting of the Kings.’

JOHN OF OXFORD and HENRY. Crowd in the distance.

You have not crown’d young Henry yet, my liege?

Crown’d! by God’s eyes, we will not have him crown’d.
I spoke of late to the boy, he answer’d me,
As if he wore the crown already—No,
We will not have him crown’d.
’Tis true what Becket told me, that the mother
Would make him play his kingship against mine.

Not have him crown’d?

Not now—not yet! and Becket
Becket should crown him were he crown’d at all:
But, since we would be lord of our own manor,
This Canterbury, like a wounded deer,
Has fled our presence and our feeding-grounds.

Cannot a smooth tongue lick him whole again
To serve your will?

                              He hates my will, not me.

There’s York, my liege.

                                    But England scarce would hold
Young Henry king, if only crown’d by York,
And that would stilt up York to twice himself.
There is a movement yonder in the crowd—
See if our pious—what shall I call him, John?—
Husband-in-law, our smooth-shorn suzerain,
Be yet within the field.

                                    I will.


                                                Ay! Ay!
Mince and go back! his politic Holiness
Hath all but climb’d the Roman perch again,
And we shall hear him presently with clapt wing
Crow over Barbarossa—at last tongue-free
To blast my realms with excommunication
And interdict. I must patch up a peace—
A piece in this long-tugged at, threadbare-worn
Quarrel of Crown and Church—to rend again.
His Holiness cannot steer straight thro’ shoals,
Nor I. The citizen’s heir hath conquer’d me
For the moment. So we make our peace with him.

[Enter LOUIS.
Brother of France, what shall be done with Becket?

The holy Thomas! Brother, you have traffick’d
Between the Emperor and the Pope, between
The Pope and Antipope—a perilous game
For men to play with God.

                                    Ay, ay, good brother,
They call you the Monk-King.

                                          Who calls me? she
That was my wife, now yours? You have her Duchy,
The point you aim’d at, and pray God she prove
True wife to you. You have had the better of us
In secular matters.

                              Come, confess, good brother,
You did your best or worst to keep her Duchy.
Only the golden Leopard printed in it
Such hold-fast claws that you perforce again
Shrank into France. Tut, tut! did we convene
This conference but to babble of our wives?
They are plagues enough in-door.

                                                We fought in the East,
And felt the sun of Antioch scald our mail,
And push’d our lances into Saracen hearts.
We never hounded on the State at home
To spoil the Church.

                              How should you see this rightly?

Well, well, no more! I am proud of my ‘Monk-King,’
Whoever named me; and, brother, Holy Church
May rock, but will not wreck, nor our Archbishop
Stagger on the slope decks for any rough sea
Blown by the breath of kings. We do forgive you
For aught you wrought against us.

[HENRY holds up his hand.
                                                Nay, I pray you,
Do not defend yourself. You will do much
To rake out all old dying heats, if you,
At my requesting, will but look into
The wrongs you did him, and restore his kin,
Reseat him on his throne of Canterbury,
Be, both, the friends you were.

                                                The friends we were!
Co-mates we were, and had our sport together,
Co-kings we were, and made the laws together.
The world had never seen the like before.
You are too cold to know the fashion of it.
Well, well, we will be gentle with him, gracious—
Most gracious.


                  Only that the rift he made
May close between us, here I am wholly king,
The word should come from him.

    BECKET (kneeling).
                                          Then, my dear liege,
I here deliver all this controversy
Into your royal hands.

                              Ah, Thomas, Thomas,
Thou art thyself again, Thomas again.

    BECKET (rising).
Saving God’s honour!

                              Out upon thee, man!
Saving the Devil’s honour, his yes and no.
Knights, bishops, earls, this London spawn—by Mahound,
I had sooner have been born a Mussulman—
Less clashing with their priests—
I am half-way down the slope—will no man stay me?
I dash myself to pieces—I stay myself—
Puff—it is gone. You, Master Becket, you
That owe to me your power over me—
Nay, nay—
Brother of France, you have taken, cherish’d him
Who thief-like fled from his own church by night,
No man pursuing. I would have had him back.
Take heed he do not turn and rend you too:
For whatsoever may displease him—that
Is clean against God’s honour—a shift, a trick
Whereby to challenge, face me out of all
My regal rights. Yet, yet—that none may dream
I go against God’s honour—ay, or himself
In any reason, choose
A hundred of the wisest heads from England,
A hundred, too, from Normandy and Anjou:
Let these decide on what was customary
In olden days, and all the Church of France
Decide on their decision, I am content
More, what the mightiest and the holiest
Of all his predecessors may have done
Ev’n to the least and meanest of my own,
Let him do the same to me—I am content.

Ay, ay! the King humbles himself enough.

(Aside) Words! he will wriggle out of them like an eel
When the time serves. (Aloud.) My lieges and my lords,
The thanks of Holy Church are due to those
That went before us for their work, which we
Inheriting reap an easier harvest. Yet——

My lord, will you be greater than the Saints,
More than St. Peter? whom——what is it you doubt?
Behold your peace at hand.

                                    I say that those
Who went before us did not wholly clear
The deadly growths of earth, which Hell’s own heat
So dwelt on that they rose and darken’d Heaven.
Yet they did much. Would God they had torn up all
By the hard root, which shoots again; our trial
Had so been less; but, seeing they were men
Defective or excessive, must we follow
All that they overdid or underdid?
Nay, if they were defective as St. Peter
Denying Christ, who yet defied the tyrant,
We hold by his defiance, not his defect.
O good son Louis, do not counsel me,
No, to suppress God’s honour for the sake
Of any king that breathes. No, God forbid!

No! God forbid! and turn me Mussulman!
No God but one, and Mahound is his prophet.
But for your Christian, look you, you shall have
None other God but me—me, Thomas, son
Of Gilbert Becket, London merchant. Out!
      I hear no more.                              [Exit.

                              Our brother’s anger puts him,
Poor man, beside himself—not wise. My lord,
We have claspt your cause, believing that our brother
Had wrong’d you; but this day he proffer’d peace.
You will have war; and tho’ we grant the Church
King over this world’s kings, yet, my good lord,
We that are kings are something in this world,
And so we pray you, draw yourself from under
The wings of France. We shelter you no more.


I am glad that France hath scouted him at last:
I told the Pope what manner of man he was.


Yea, since he flouts the will of either realm,
Let either cast him away like a dead dog!


Yea, let a stranger spoil his heritage,
And let another take his bishoprick!


    DE BROC.
Our castle, my lord, belongs to Canterbury.
I pray you come and take it.


                                          When you will.


Cursed be John of Oxford, Roger of York,
And Gilbert Foliot! cursed those De Brocs
That hold our Saltwood Castle from our see!
Cursed Fitzurse, and all the rest of them
That sow this hate between my lord and me!

Blessed be the Lord Archbishop, who hath withstood two Kings to their faces for the honour of God.

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, praise!
I thank you, sons; when kings but hold by crowns,
The crowd that hungers for a crown in Heaven
Is my true king.

                        Thy true King bad thee be
A fisher of men; thou hast them in thy net.

I am too like the King here; both of us
Too headlong for our office. Better have been
A fisherman at Bosham, my good Herbert,
Thy birthplace—the sea-creek—the petty rill
That falls into it—the green field—the gray church—
The simple lobster-basket, and the mesh—
The more or less of daily labour done—
The pretty gaping bills in the home-nest
Piping for bread—the daily want supplied—
The daily pleasure to supply it.

                                                Ah, Thomas,
You had not borne it, no, not for a day.

Well, maybe, no.

                        But bear with Walter Map,
For here he comes to comment on the time.


Pity, my lord, that you have quenched the warmth of France toward you, tho’ His Holiness, after much smouldering and smoking, be kindled again upon your quarter.

Ay, if he do not end in smoke again.

My lord, the fire, when first kindled, said to the smoke, ‘Go up, my son, straight to Heaven.’ And the smoke said, ‘I go;’ but anon the North-east took and turned him South-west, then the South-west turned him North-east, and so of the other winds; but it was in him to go up straight if the time had been quieter. Your lordship affects the unwavering perpendicular; but His Holiness, pushed one way by the Empire and another by England, if he move at all, Heaven stay him, is fain to diagonalise.

Diagonalise! thou art a word-monger!
Our Thomas never will diagonalise.
Thou art a jester and a verse-maker.

Is the world any the worse for my verses if the Latin rhymes be rolled out from a full mouth? or any harm done to the people if my jest be in defence of the Truth?

Ay, if the jest be so done that the people
Delight to wallow in the grossness of it,
Till Truth herself be shamed of her defender.
Non defensoribus istis, Walter Map.

Is that my case? so if the city be sick, and I cannot call the kennel sweet, your lordship would suspend me from verse-writing, as you suspended yourself after subwriting to the customs.

I pray God pardon mine infirmity.

Nay, my lord, take heart; for tho’ you suspended yourself, the Pope let you down again; and tho’ you suspend Foliot or another, the Pope will not leave them in suspense, for the Pope himself is always in suspense, like Mahound’s coffin hung between heaven and earth—always in suspense, like the scales, till the weight of Germany or the gold of England brings one of them down to the dust—always in suspense, like the tail of the horologe—to and fro—tick-tack—we make the time, we keep the time, ay, and we serve the time; for I have heard say that if you boxed the Pope’s ears with a purse, you might stagger him, but he would pocket the purse. No saying of mine—Jocelyn of Salisbury. But the King hath bought half the College of Red-hats. He warmed to you to-day, and you have chilled him again. Yet you both love God. Agree with him quickly again, even for the sake of the Church. My one grain of good counsel which you will not swallow. I hate a split between old friendships as I hate the dirty gap in the face of a Cistercian monk, that will swallow anything. Farewell.


Map scoffs at Rome. I all but hold with Map.
Save for myself no Rome were left in England,
All had been his. Why should this Rome, this Rome,
Still choose Barabbas rather than the Christ,
Absolve the left-hand thief and damn the right?
Take fees of tyranny, wink at sacrilege,
Which even Peter had not dared? condemn
The blameless exile?—

                              Thee, thou holy Thomas!
I would that thou hadst been the Holy Father.

I would have done my most to keep Rome holy,
I would have made Rome know she still is Rome—
Who stands aghast at her eternal self
And shakes at mortal kings—her vacillation,
Avarice, craft—O God, how many an innocent
Has left his bones upon the way to Rome
Unwept, uncared for. Yea—on mine own self
The King had had no power except for Rome.
’Tis not the King who is guilty of mine exile,
But Rome, Rome, Rome!

                              My lord, I see this Louis
Returning, ah! to drive thee from his realm.

He said as much before. Thou art no prophet,
Nor yet a prophet’s son.

                                    Whatever he say,
Deny not thou God’s honour for a king.
The King looks troubled.

Re-enter KING LOUIS.

                                    My dear lord Archbishop,
I learn but now that those poor Poitevins,
That in thy cause were stirr’d against King Henry,
Have been, despite his kingly promise given
To our own self of pardon, evilly used
And put to pain. I have lost all trust in him.
The Church alone hath eyes—and now I see
That I was blind—suffer the phrase—surrendering
God’s honour to the pleasure of a man.
Forgive me and absolve me, holy father.


Son, I absolve thee in the name of God.

    LOUIS (rising).
Return to Sens, where we will care for you.
The wine and wealth of all our France are yours;
Rest in our realm, and be at peace with all.

Long live the good King Louis! God bless the great Archbishop!


    HENRY (looking after KING LOUIS and BECKET).
Ay, there they go—both backs are turn’d to me—
Why then I strike into my former path
For England, crown young Henry there, and make
Our waning Eleanor all but love me!
Thou hast served me heretofore with Rome—and well.
They call thee John the Swearer.

                                                For this reason,
That, being ever duteous to the King,
I evermore have sworn upon his side,
And ever mean to do it.

    HENRY (claps him on the shoulder).
                                    Honest John!
To Rome again! the storm begins again.
Spare not thy tongue! be lavish with our coins,
Threaten our junction with the Emperor—flatter
And fright the Pope—bribe all the Cardinals—leave
Lateran and Vatican in one dust of gold—
Swear and unswear, state and misstate thy best!
I go to have young Henry crown’d by York.

Becket - Contents    |     Act III - Scene I

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