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Act I


BECKET'S House in London. Chamber barely furnished. BECKET unrobing.



Shall I not help your lordship to your rest?

BECKET: 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.

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

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

HERBERT: Is it so much heavier than thy Chancellor's robe?

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

HERBERT: Not heavier than thine armour at Thoulouse?

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

HERBERT: To please the King?

BECKET: 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?

HERBERT: Ay, for Gilbert Foliot held himself the man.

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

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

BECKET: 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?

HERBERT: Well, dream and prophecy both.

BECKET: 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?

HERBERT: Both, Thomas, both.

BECKET: 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.

HERBERT: God make not thee, but thy foes, fall.

BECKET: 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?

HERBERT: 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?'

BECKET: But dost thou think the King Forced mine election?

HERBERT: 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.

BECKET: 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.

HERBERT: Thomas, thou art moved too much.

BECKET: 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.


BECKET: Rosamund de Clifford!

ROSAMUND: Save me, father, hide me--they follow me--and I must not be known.

BECKET: Pass in with Herbert there.

[Exeunt ROSAMUND and HERBERT by side door.




FITZURSE: The Archbishop!

BECKET: Ay! what wouldst thou, Reginald?

FITZURSE: Why--why, my lord, I follow'd--follow'd one--

BECKET: And then what follows? Let me follow thee.

FITZURSE: It much imports me I should know her name.

BECKET: What her?

FITZURSE: The woman that I follow'd hither.

BECKET: Perhaps it may import her all as much not to be known.

FITZURSE: 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.

BECKET: Back, man!

FITZURSE: Then tell me who and what she is.

BECKET: 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.

BECKET: 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.

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

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

FlTZURSE: I shall remember this.

BECKET: Do, and begone! [Exit FITZURSE:

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

DE TRACY: My lord, I follow'd Reginald FITZURSE:

BECKET: Follow him out!

DE TRACY: I shall remember this discourtesy.


BECKET: Do. These be those baron-brutes that havock'd all the land in Stephen's day. Rosamund de Clifford.

- Re-enter ROSAMUND and HERBERT:


ROSAMUND: Here am I.

BECKET: 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?

ROSAMUND: 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.

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

ROSAMUND: 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.

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

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

BECKET: Our good John, must speed you to your bower at once. The child is there already.

ROSAMUND: Yes--the child--the child--O rare, a whole long day of open field.

BECKET: Ay, but you go disguised.

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


ROSAMUND: What, not good enough even to play at nun?

BECKET: Dan John with a nun, that Map, and these new railers at the Church May plaister his clean name with scurrilous rhymes! No! 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!

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

BECKET: Wedded?


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

ROSAMUND: O, holy father, when thou seest him next, commend me to thy friend.

BECKET: What friend?


BECKET: 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.


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.

BECKET: 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.

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

BECKET: 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!




JOHN OF SALISBURY: 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 DanaŽ has escaped again Her tower, and her Acrisius--where to seek? I have been about the city.

BECKET: 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!

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

SCENE II.--Street in Northampton leading to the Castle.


Enter ELEANOR and BECKET from opposite streets.

ELEANOR: Peace, fools!

BECKET: Peace, friends! what idle brawl is this?

RETAINER OF BECKET: They said--her Grace's people--thou wast found--Liars! I shame to quote 'em--caught, my lord, With a wanton in thy lodging--Hell requite 'em!

RETAINER OF ELEANOR: My liege, the Lord Fitzurse reported this in passing to the Castle even now.

RETAINER OF BECKET: And then they mock'd us and we fell upon 'em, For we would live and die for thee, my lord, However kings and queens may frown on thee.

BECKET TO HIS RETAINERS: Go, go--no more of this!


Away!--(Exeunt RETAINERS) Fitzurse--

BECKET: Nay, let him be.

ELEANOR: No, no, my Lord Archbishop, 'Tis known you are midwinter to all women, But often in your chancellorship you served The follies of the King.

BECKET: No, not these follies!

ELEANOR: My lord, Fitzurse beheld her in your lodging.


ELEANOR: Well--you know--the minion, ROSAMUND:

BECKET: He had good eyes!

ELEANOR: Then hidden in the street He watch'd her pass with John of Salisbury And heard her cry 'Where is this bower of mine?'

BECKET: Good ears too!

ELEANOR: You are going to the Castle, Will you subscribe the customs?

BECKET: I leave that, knowing how much you reverence Holy Church, My liege, to your conjecture.

ELEANOR: I and mine-- And many a baron holds along with me-- Are not so much at feud with Holy Church But we might take your side against the customs-- So that you grant me one slight favour.


ELEANOR: A sight of that same chart which Henry gave you With the red line--'her bower.'

BECKET: And to what end?

ELEANOR: That Church must scorn herself whose fearful Priest Sits winking at the license of a king, Altho' we grant when kings are dangerous The Church must play into the hands of kings; Look! I would move this wanton from his sight And take the Church's danger on myself.

BECKET: For which she should be duly grateful.

ELEANOR: True! Tho' she that binds the bond, herself should see That kings are faithful to their marriage vow.

BECKET: Ay, Madam, and queens also.

ELEANOR: And queens also! What is your drift?

BECKET: My drift is to the Castle, where I shall meet the Barons and my King. [Exit.




ELEANOR: To the Castle?


ELEANOR: Stir up the King, the Lords! Set all on fire against him!

DE BRITO: Ay, good Madam! [Exeunt.

ELEANOR: Fool! I will make thee hateful to thy King. Churl! I will have thee frighted into France, And I shall live to trample on thy grave.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

SCENE III.--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.


DE BROC, FITZURSE, DE BRITO, DE MORVILLE, DE TRACY, and other BARONS assembled--a table before them.

JOHN OF OXFORD, President of the Council.




BECKET: Where is the King?

ROGER OF YORK: 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.

BECKET: Then shalt thou step into my place and sign.

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

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

ROGER OF YORK: 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?

BECKET: 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.

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

BECKET: 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.

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

BECKET: 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?

JOHN OF OXFORD: 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.'

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

JOHN OF OXFORD: '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.'

BECKET: 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!

JOHN OF OXFORD: 'When a bishoprick falls vacant, the King, till another be appointed, shall receive the revenues thereof.'

BECKET: 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?

JOHN OF OXFORD: '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.'

BECKET: 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.

FOLIOT: And was thine own election so canonical, Good father?

BECKET: 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:

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.

BECKET: That, too, I cannot sign.


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


Sign and obey!

BECKET: 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!

BECKET: 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--

BECKET: 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.

BECKET: 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.

HERBERT: 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.

JOHN OF OXFORD: 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.

HILARY: 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.

BECKET: 'Twould seem too like the substance, if I sign'd.

PHILIP DE ELEEMOSYNA: 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?

BECKET: Have I the orders of the Holy Father?

PHILIP DE ELEEMOSYNA: 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?

BECKET: If Rome be feeble, then should I be firm.

PHILIP: 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.

BECKET: What! 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.

PHILIP: 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.

FOLIOT: Is it thy will, my lord Archbishop, that we too should sign?

BECKET: O ay, by that canonical obedience Thou still hast owed thy father, Gilbert FOLIOT:

FOLIOT: Loyally and with good faith, my lord Archbishop?

BECKET: 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.

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

BECKET: 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.

BECKET: 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:




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

JOHN OF OXFORD: 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!'

HENRY: 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.

JOHN OF OXFORD: But I, my liege, could swear, to death for death.

HENRY: 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.

JOHN OF OXFORD: 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----

FITZURSE: Because my lord of Canterbury----

DE TRACY: Ay, this lord of Canterbury----

DE BRITO: As is his wont Too much of late whene'er your royal rights Are mooted in our councils----

FITZURSE: --made an uproar.

HENRY: 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.

HENRY: His cross!

ROGER OF YORK: His cross! I'll front him, cross to cross.


HENRY: 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.


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

BECKET: No: it must protect me.

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

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

BECKET: Did not your barons draw their swords against me?


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


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

ROGER OF YORK: 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.

FOLIOT: 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?

BECKET: 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.

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

BECKET: 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.

ROGER OF YORK: The Church will hate thee.


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

HERBERT: 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?

HERBERT: What say the bishops?

HILARY: 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?

BECKET: I hear you.

[Clash of arms.

HILARY: 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.

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

ROGER OF YORK: Nay, but for their sake who stagger betwixt thine Appeal, and Henry's anger, yield.

BECKET: Hence, Satan!


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

BECKET: 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.

BECKET: 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.

BECKET: 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.

BECKET: How much might that amount to, my lord Leicester?

LEICESTER: Some thirty--forty thousand silver marks.

BECKET: 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.

LEICESTER: Hear first thy sentence! The King and all his lords--

BECKET: Son, first hear me!

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

BECKET: 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.

LEICESTER: Nay, but hear thy judgment. The King and all his barons--

BECKET: 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.

[Going. [LEICESTER looks at him doubtingly.

Am I a prisoner?

LEICESTER: 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!

BECKET: Mannerless wolves!

[Turning and facing them.

HERBERT: Enough, my lord, enough!

BECKET: 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,--

HERBERT: Enough, my lord.

BECKET: More than enough. I play the fool again.




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

FOLIOT: 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!

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

SCENE IV.--Refectory of the Monastery at Northampton. A Banquet on the Tables.



1ST RETAINER: Do thou speak first.

2ND RETAINER: Nay, thou! Nay, thou! Hast not thou drawn the short straw?

1ST RETAINER: My lord Archbishop, wilt thou permit us--

BECKET: To speak without stammering and like a free man? Ay.

1ST RETAINER: My lord, permit us then to leave thy service.



BECKET: To-night?

1ST RETAINER: To-night, my lord.

BECKET: And why?

1ST RETAINER: My lord, we leave thee not without tears.

BECKET: Tears? Why not stay with me then?

1ST RETAINER: My lord, we cannot yield thee an answer altogether to thy satisfaction.

BECKET: I warrant you, or your own either. Shall I find you one? The King hath frowned upon me.

1ST RETAINER: That is not altogether our answer, my lord.

BECKET: No; yet all but all. Go, go! Ye have eaten of my dish and drunken of my cup for a dozen years.

1ST RETAINER: And so we have. We mean thee no wrong. Wilt thou not say, 'God bless you,' ere we go?

BECKET: God bless you all! God redden your pale blood! But mine is human-red; and when ye shall hear it is poured out upon earth, and see it mounting to Heaven, my God bless you, that seems sweet to you now, will blast and blind you like a curse.

1ST RETAINER: We hope not, my lord. Our humblest thanks for your blessing. Farewell!


BECKET: Farewell, friends! farewell, swallows! I wrong the bird; she leaves only the nest she built, they leave the builder. Why? Am I to be murdered to-night?

[Knocking at the door.

ATTENDANT: Here is a missive left at the gate by one from the castle.

BECKET: Cornwall's hand or Leicester's: they write marvellously alike.


'Fly at once to France, to King Louis of France: there be those about our King who would have thy blood.' Was not my lord of Leicester bidden to our supper?

ATTENDANT: Ay, my lord, and divers other earls and barons. But the hour is past, and our brother, Master Cook, he makes moan that all be a-getting cold.

BECKET: And I make my moan along with him. Cold after warm, winter after summer, and the golden leaves, these earls and barons, that clung to me, frosted off me by the first cold frown of the King. Cold, but look how the table steams, like a heathen altar; nay, like the altar at Jerusalem. Shall God's good gifts be wasted? None of them here! Call in the poor from the streets, and let them feast.

HERBERT: That is the parable of our blessed Lord.

BECKET: And why should not the parable of our blessed Lord be acted again? Call in the poor! The Church is ever at variance with the kings, and ever at one with the poor. I marked a group of lazars in the marketplace--half-rag, half-sore--beggars, poor rogues (Heaven bless 'em) who never saw nor dreamed of such a banquet. I will amaze them. Call them in, I say. They shall henceforward be my earls and barons-- our lords and masters in Christ Jesus.


If the King hold his purpose, I am myself a BEGGAR: Forty thousand marks! forty thousand devils--and these craven bishops!

A POOR MAN (entering) with his dog. My lord Archbishop, may I come in with my poor friend, my dog? The King's verdurer caught him a-hunting in the forest, and cut off his paws. The dog followed his calling, my lord. I ha' carried him ever so many miles in my arms, and he licks my face and moans and cries out against the King.

BECKET: Better thy dog than thee. The King's courts would use thee worse than thy dog--they are too bloody. Were the Church king, it would be otherwise. Poor beast! poor beast! set him down. I will bind up his wounds with my napkin. Give him a bone, give him a bone! Who misuses a dog would misuse a child--they cannot speak for themselves. Past help! his paws are past help. God help him!


Enter the BEGGARS (and seat themselves at the Tables).

BECKET and HERBERT wait upon them.


1ST BEGGAR: Swine, sheep, ox--here's a French supper. When thieves fall out, honest men----

2ND BEGGAR: Is the Archbishop a thief who gives thee thy supper?

1ST BEGGAR: Well, then, how does it go? When honest men fall out, thieves--no, it can't be that.

2ND BEGGAR: Who stole the widow's one sitting hen o' Sunday, when she was at mass?

1ST BEGGAR: Come, come! thou hadst thy share on her. Sitting hen! Our Lord Becket's our great sitting-hen cock, and we shouldn't ha' been sitting here if the barons and bishops hadn't been a-sitting on the Archbishop.

BECKET: Ay, the princes sat in judgment against me, and the Lord hath prepared your table--Sederunt principes, ederunt pauperes.

A Voice. Becket, beware of the knife!

BECKET: Who spoke?

3RD BEGGAR: Nobody, my lord. What's that, my lord?

BECKET: Venison.

3RD BEGGAR: Venison?

BECKET: Buck; deer, as you call it.

3RD BEGGAR: King's meat! By the Lord, won't we pray for your lordship!

BECKET: And, my children, your prayers will do more for me in the day of peril that dawns darkly and drearily over the house of God--yea, and in the day of judgment also, than the swords of the craven sycophants would have done had they remained true to me whose bread they have partaken. I must leave you to your banquet. Feed, feast, and be merry. Herbert, for the sake of the Church itself, if not for my own, I must fly to France to-night. Come with me.

[Exit with HERBERT:

3RD BEGGAR: Here--all of you--my lord's health (they drink). Well--if that isn't goodly wine--

1ST BEGGAR: Then there isn't a goodly wench to serve him with it: they were fighting for her to-day in the street.

3RD BEGGAR: Peace!


The black sheep baaed to the miller's ewe-lamb, The miller's away for to-night. Black sheep, quoth she, too black a sin for me. And what said the black sheep, my masters? We can make a black sin white.

3RD BEGGAR: Peace!


'Ewe lamb, ewe lamb, I am here by the dam.' But the miller came home that night, And so dusted his back with the meal in his sack, That he made the black sheep white.

3RD BEGGAR: Be we not of the family? be we not a-supping with the head of the family? be we not in my lord's own refractory? Out from among us; thou art our black sheep.


Enter the four KNIGHTS.


FITZURSE: Sheep, said he? And sheep without the shepherd, too. Where is my lord Archbishop? Thou the lustiest and lousiest of this Cain's brotherhood, answer.

3RD BEGGAR: With Cain's answer, my lord. Am I his keeper? Thou shouldst call him Cain, not me.

FITZURSE: So I do, for he would murder his brother the State.

3RD BEGGAR (rising and advancing). No my lord; but because the Lord hath set his mark upon him that no man should murder him.

FITZURSE: Where is he? where is he?

3RD BEGGAR: With Cain belike, in the land of Nod, or in the land of France for aught I know.

FITZURSE: France! Ha! De Morville, Tracy, Brito--fled is he? Cross swords all of you! swear to follow him! Remember the Queen!

[The four KNIGHTS cross their swords.

DE BRITO: They mock us; he is here.

[All the BEGGARS rise and advance upon them.

FITZURSE: Come, you filthy knaves, let us pass.

3RD BEGGAR: Nay, my lord, let us pass. We be a-going home after our supper in all humbleness, my lord; for the Archbishop loves humbleness, my lord; and though we be fifty to four, we daren't fight you with our crutches, my lord. There now, if thou hast not laid hands upon me! and my fellows know that I am all one scale like a fish. I pray God I haven't given thee my leprosy, my lord.

[FITZURSE shrinks from him and another presses upon DE BRITO:

DE BRITO: Away, dog!

4TH BEGGAR: And I was bit by a mad dog o' Friday, an' I be half dog already by this token, that tho' I can drink wine I cannot bide water, my lord; and I want to bite, I want to bite, and they do say the very breath catches.

DE BRITO: Insolent clown. Shall I smite him with the edge of the sword?

DE MORVILLE. No, nor with the flat of it either. Smite the shepherd and the sheep are scattered. Smite the sheep and the shepherd will excommunicate thee.

DE BRITO: Yet my fingers itch to beat him into nothing.

5TH BEGGAR: So do mine, my lord. I was born with it, and sulphur won't bring it out o' me. But for all that the Archbishop washed my feet o' Tuesday. He likes it, my lord.

6TH BEGGAR: And see here, my lord, this rag fro' the gangrene i' my leg. It's humbling--it smells o' human natur'. Wilt thou smell it, my lord? for the Archbishop likes the smell on it, my lord; for I be his lord and master i' Christ, my lord.

DE MORVILLE. Faugh! we shall all be poisoned. Let us go.

[They draw back, BEGGARS following.

7TH BEGGAR: My lord, I ha' three sisters a-dying at home o' the sweating sickness. They be dead while I be a-supping.

8TH BEGGAR: And I ha' nine darters i' the spital that be dead ten times o'er i' one day wi' the putrid fever; and I bring the taint on it along wi' me, for the Archbishop likes it, my lord.

[Pressing upon the KNIGHTS till they disappear thro' the door.

3RD BEGGAR: Crutches, and itches, and leprosies, and ulcers, and gangrenes, and running sores, praise ye the Lord, for to-night ye have saved our Archbishop!

1ST BEGGAR: I'll go back again. I hain't half done yet.

HERBERT OF BOSHAM (entering). My friends, the Archbishop bids you good-night. He hath retired to rest, and being in great jeopardy of his life, he hath made his bed between the altars, from whence he sends me to bid you this night pray for him who hath fed you in the wilderness.

3RD BEGGAR: So we will--so we will, I warrant thee. Becket shall be king, and the Holy Father shall be king, and the world shall live by the King's venison and the bread o' the Lord, and there shall be no more poor for ever. Hurrah! Vive le Roy! That's the English of it.

Lord Alfred Tennyson

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