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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

As Becket refused to recall the excommunication


Henry

II was, like most of the sovereigns of that age, above all things a warrior; you could see by his stride that he spent his days on horseback; and he was an indefatigable hunter. But yet he found time besides for study; he took pleasure in solving, in the company of scholars, the difficulties of the theologico-philosophical problems which then largely occupied men's minds; there is no doubt that he also fully understood these politico-ecclesiastical questions. He was by no means a good husband, rather the contrary, but, in other things, he could control himself; he was moderate in eating and drinking. Success did not make him overweening, but all the more prudent:[26] ill-success found him resolute; yet it was remarked that he was more severe in success, milder in adversity. If contradicted, he showed all the excitability of the Southern French nature; he passed from promises to threats, from flatteries to outbursts of wrath, until he met with compliance. His administration at home witnesses to a noble conception of his mission and to a practical understanding; from his lion-like visage shone forth a pair of quiet eyes, but how suddenly did they flame up with wild fire, if the passion was roused that slumbered in the depths of his soul! It was the passion of unlimited power; an ambition for which, as he once said, the world appeared to be too small. He never forgave an opponent; he never reconciled himself with an enemy or took him again into favour.

He

would of himself have been much inclined to abandon Alexander III, and attach himself to the Pope set up by the Emperor: his ambassadors took part in a German diet at which the most extreme steps were approved of. But Henry was not sufficiently master of his clergy nor, above all, of his people for this; the solemn curse of Thomas Becket wrought on men from far away. Was there really any foundation for what men then said, that the King thought it better that his foe should be in the country rather than out of it? An apparent reconciliation was brought about, which, however, left the main questions undecided, each side only consenting generally to a peace with the other. Becket did not allow himself to be hindered by it, on his return to England, from excommunicating leading ecclesiastics who had supported the King's party. But at this Henry's deep-seated wrath awoke. Beset by the exiles with cries for protection, he let the complaint escape him in the presence of his knights, that among so many to whom he had shown favour there was not one who had courage enough to avenge the insults offered to him.[27] As opposed to the Church sympathies which through the clergy wrought on all people, the temporal state was mainly kept together by the reciprocal relations of the feudal lord and sovereign to his vassals and knights, and of them to him: to spiritual reverence was opposed personal devotion. But these feelings, too, as they have their justification, so they have their moral limitations; they are as capable of exaggeration and excess as all others. Enflamed by the King's words which seemed to touch the honour of knighthood, four of his knights hastened to Canterbury, and sought out the man, who dared to bid the King defiance in his own kingdom; as Becket refused to recall the excommunication, they murdered him horribly in the cathedral. When required to obey the King, Becket was wont to reserve the rights of the Church and the priesthood; for this reservation he died.

Henry II by calling forth, intentionally or not, this brutal act of violence in the ecclesiastical strife, drew on himself the catastrophe of his life.


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