Scene III

Alfred Tennyson

Traitor’s Meadow at Fréteval. Pavilions and Tents of the English and French Baronage.


See here!

            What’s here?

                              A notice from the priest,
To whom our John of Salisbury committed
The secret of the bower, that our wolf-Queen
Is prowling round the fold. I should be back
In England ev’n for this.

                                    These are by-things
In the great cause.

                              The by-things of the Lord
Are the wrong’d innocences that will cry
From all the hidden by-ways of the world
In the great day against the wronger. I know
Thy meaning. Perish she, I, all, before
The Church should suffer wrong!

                                                Do you see, my lord,
There is the King talking with Walter Map?

He hath the Pope’s last letters, and they threaten
The immediate thunder-blast of interdict:
Yet he can scarce be touching upon those,
Or scarce would smile that fashion.

                                                      Winter sunshine!
Beware of opening out thy bosom to it,
Lest thou, myself, and all thy flock should catch
An after ague-fit of trembling. Look!
He bows, he bares his head, he is coming hither.
Still with a smile.


We have had so many hours together, Thomas,
So many happy hours alone together,
That I would speak with you once more alone.

My liege, your will and happiness are mine.

[Exeunt King and Becket.

The same smile still.

Do you see that great black cloud that hath come over the sun and cast us all into shadow?

And feel it too.

And see you yon side-beam that is forced from under it, and sets the church-tower over there all a-hell-fire as it were?


It is this black, bell-silencing, anti-marrying, burial-hindering interdict that hath squeezed out this side-smile upon Canterbury, whereof may come conflagration. Were I Thomas, I wouldn’t trust it. Sudden change is a house on sand; and tho’ I count Henry honest enough, yet when fear creeps in at the front, honesty steals out at the back, and the King at last is fairly scared by this cloud—this interdict. I have been more for the King than the Church in this matter—yea, even for the sake of the Church: for, truly, as the case stood, you had safelier have slain an archbishop than a she-goat: but our recoverer and upholder of customs hath in this crowning of young Henry by York and London so violated the immemorial usage of the Church, that, like the gravedigger’s child I have heard of, trying to ring the bell, he hath half-hanged himself in the rope of the Church, or rather pulled all the Church with the Holy Father astride of it down upon his own head.

Were you there?

In the church rope?—no. I was at the crowning, for I have pleasure in the pleasure of crowds, and to read the faces of men at a great show.

And how did Roger of York comport himself?

As magnificently and archiepiscopally as our Thomas would have done: only there was a dare-devil in his eye—I should say a dare-Becket. He thought less of two kings than of one Roger the king of the occasion. Foliot is the holier man, perhaps the better. Once or twice there ran a twitch across his face as who should say what’s to follow? but Salisbury was a calf cowed by Mother Church, and every now and then glancing about him like a thief at night when he hears a door open in the house and thinks ‘the master.’

And the father-king?

The father’s eye was so tender it would have called a goose off the green, and once he strove to hide his face, like the Greek king when his daughter was sacrificed, but he thought better of it: it was but the sacrifice of a kingdom to his son, a smaller matter; but as to the young crownling himself, he looked so malapert in the eyes, that had I fathered him I had given him more of the rod than the sceptre. Then followed the thunder of the captains and the shouting, and so we came on to the banquet, from whence there puffed out such an incense of unctuosity into the nostrils of our Gods of Church and State, that Lucullus or Apicius might have sniffed it in their Hades of heathenism, so that the smell of their own roast had not come across it——

Map, tho’ you make your butt too big, you overshoot it.

—For as to the fish, they de-miracled the miraculous draught, and might have sunk a navy——

There again, Goliasing and Goliathising!

—And as for the flesh at table, a whole Peter’s sheet, with all manner of game, and four-footed things, and fowls——

And all manner of creeping things too?

—Well, there were Abbots—but they did not bring their women; and so we were dull enough at first, but in the end we flourished out into a merriment; for the old King would act servitor and hand a dish to his son; whereupon my Lord of York—his fine-cut face bowing and beaming with all that courtesy which hath less loyalty in it than the backward scrape of the clown’s heel—‘great honour,’ says he, ‘from the King’s self to the King’s son.’ Did you hear the young King’s quip?

No, what was it?

Glancing at the days when his father was only Earl of Anjou, he answered:—‘Should not an earl’s son wait on a king’s son?’ And when the cold corners of the King’s mouth began to thaw, there was a great motion of laughter among us, part real, part childlike, to be freed from the dulness—part royal, for King and kingling both laughed, and so we could not but laugh, as by a royal necessity—part childlike again—when we felt we had laughed too long and could not stay ourselves—many midriff-shaken even to tears, as springs gush out after earthquakes—but from those, as I said before, there may come a conflagration—tho’, to keep the figure moist and make it hold water, I should say rather, the lacrymation of a lamentation; but look if Thomas have not flung himself at the King’s feet. They have made it up again—for the moment.

Thanks to the blessed Magdalen, whose day it is.

Re-enter HENRY and BECKET. (During their conference the BARONS and BISHOPS of FRANCE and ENGLAND come in at back of stage.)

Ay, King! for in thy kingdom, as thou knowest,
The spouse of the Great King, thy King, hath fallen—
The daughter of Zion lies beside the way—
The priests of Baal tread her underfoot—
The golden ornaments are stolen from her——

Have I not promised to restore her, Thomas,
And send thee back again to Canterbury?

Send back again those exiles of my kin
Who wander famine-wasted thro’ the world.

Have I not promised, man, to send them back?

Yet one thing more. Thou hast broken thro’ the pales
Of privilege, crowning thy young son by York,
London and Salisbury—not Canterbury.

York crown’d the Conqueror—not Canterbury.

There was no Canterbury in William’s time.

But Hereford, you know, crown’d the first Henry.

But Anselm crown’d this Henry o’er again.

And thou shalt crown my Henry o’er again.

And is it then with thy good-will that I
Proceed against thine evil councillors,
And hurl the dread ban of the Church on those
Who made the second mitre play the first,
And acted me?

                  Well, well, then—have thy way!
It may be they were evil councillors.
What more, my lord Archbishop? What more, Thomas?
I make thee full amends. Say all thy say,
But blaze not out before the Frenchmen here.

More? Nothing, so thy promise be thy deed.

    HENRY (holding out his hand).
Give me thy hand. My Lords of France and England,
My friend of Canterbury and myself
Are now once more at perfect amity.
Unkingly should I be, and most unknightly,
Not striving still, however much in vain,
To rival him in Christian charity.

All praise to Heaven, and sweet St. Magdalen!

And so farewell until we meet in England.

I fear, my liege, we may not meet in England.

How, do you make me a traitor?

                                          No, indeed!
That be far from thee.

                              Come, stay with us, then,
Before you part for England.

                                          I am bound
For that one hour to stay with good King Louis,
Who helpt me when none else.

                                          He said thy life
Was not one hour’s worth in England save
King Henry gave thee first the kiss of peace.

He said so? Louis, did he? look you, Herbert.
When I was in mine anger with King Louis,
I sware I would not give the kiss of peace,
Not on French ground, nor any ground but English,
Where his cathedral stands. Mine old friend, Thomas,
I would there were that perfect trust between us,
That health of heart, once ours, ere Pope or King
Had come between us! Even now—who knows?—
I might deliver all things to thy hand—
If . . . but I say no more . . . farewell, my lord.

Farewell, my liege!

[Exit Henry, then the Barons and Bishops.

There again! when the full fruit of the royal promise might have dropt into thy mouth hadst thou but opened it to thank him.

He fenced his royal promise with an if.

And is the King’s if too high a stile for your lordship to overstep and come at all things in the next field?

Ay, if this if be like the Devil’s ‘if
Thou wilt fall down and worship me.’

                                                      Oh, Thomas;
I could fall down and worship thee, my Thomas,
For thou hast trodden this wine-press alone.

Nay, of the people there are many with me.

I am not altogether with you, my lord, tho’ I am none of those that would raise a storm between you, lest ye should draw together like two ships in a calm. You wrong the King: he meant what he said to-day. Who shall vouch for his to-morrows? One word further. Doth not the fewness of anything make the fulness of it in estimation? Is not virtue prized mainly for its rarity and great baseness loathed as an exception: for were all, my lord, as noble as yourself, who would look up to you? and were all as base as—who shall I say—Fitzurse and his following—who would look down upon them? My lord, you have put so many of the King’s household out of communion, that they begin to smile at it.

At their peril, at their peril——

—For tho’ the drop may hollow out the dead stone, doth not the living skin thicken against perpetual whippings? This is the second grain of good counsel I ever proffered thee, and so cannot suffer by the rule of frequency. Have I sown it in salt? I trust not, for before God I promise you the King hath many more wolves than he can tame in his woods of England, and if it suit their purpose to howl for the King, and you still move against him, you may have no less than to die for it; but God and his free wind grant your lordship a happy home-return and the King’s kiss of peace in Kent. Farewell! I must follow the King.


Ay, and I warrant the customs. Did the King
Speak of the customs?

                              No!—To die for it—
I live to die for it, I die to live for it.
The State will die, the Church can never die.
The King’s not like to die for that which dies;
But I must die for that which never dies.
It will be so—my visions in the Lord:
It must be so, my friend! the wolves of England
Must murder her one shepherd, that the sheep
May feed in peace. False figure, Map would say.
Earth’s falses are heaven’s truths. And when my voice
Is martyr’d mute, and this man disappears,
That perfect trust may come again between us,
And there, there, there, not here I shall rejoice
To find my stray sheep back within the fold.
The crowd are scattering, let us move away!
And thence to England.


Becket - Contents    |     Act IV - Scene I

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