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Charles G. (Charles George) Harper.

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Canterbury touches. That Castle is, in its secular way, as interesting
as the Cathedral in its ecclesiastical:

The Castle was a huge and antique mound,
Proof against all the artillery of the quiver,
Ere those abominable guns were found,
To send cold lead through gallant warrior's liver.
It stands upon a gently-rising ground,
Sloping down gradually to the river,
Resembling (to compare great things with smaller)
A well-scoop'd, mouldy Stilton cheese - but taller.

The Keep, I find, 's been sadly alter'd lately,
And, 'stead of mail-clad knights, of honour jealous,
In martial panoply so grand and stately,
Its walls are fill'd with money-making fellows,
And stuff'd, unless I'm misinformed greatly,
With leaden pipes, and coke, and coals, and bellows,
In short, so great a change has come to pass,
'Tis now a manufactory of Gas.

[Illustration: CANTERBURY CASTLE.]

It is immediately fronting the street that this keep of old romantic
Norman times is found, with the smoke and noxious fumes, the chimneys
and retorts, of the City of Canterbury Gas-light and Coke Company,
very insistent to eyes and nose, in the rear; and, if you look down
a by-street - "Gas Street" is the vulgar name of it - and peer into the
empty roofless shell of that keep, you will discover it to be still a
coal-bunker, and that those who, in the rhyme of Ingoldsby, manufacture
"garss," are not more gentle with historic ruins than they were in
1825, when it was first put to this use. These shattered walls that,
quarried by time and the hands of spoilers, do indeed, as Ingoldsby
suggests, resemble one of those great, well-scooped cheeses found
in the coffee-rooms of old-fashioned hotels, were built by two very
great castle-builders; by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, and William de
Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury. What Gundulf began for his master
and over-lord William the Conqueror, William de Corbeil completed
for Henry I. Among all the great castle keeps of England it ranked
third in size, and in that respect was inferior only to those of
Colchester and Norwich. It looks a very poor third indeed nowadays, and
so battered and reduced that a hundred keeps are more upstanding and
impressive. Alas! for that poor castle, its career was never an heroic
one. It surrendered tamely to Louis, the Dauphin of France, in 1216,
and for long years afterwards was a prison for Jews on occasions when
persecutions of the Chosen People broke out. From that use it declined
to the lower level of a debtor's prison.

Not far distant from it are the Dane John gardens, a public park of
by no means recent origin. It has been for more than a hundred years
what it is now, and is perhaps one of the very best wooded and most
picturesque urban parks in existence. Antiquaries have long since
ceased to trouble about the odd name, which appears to have originally
come from an estate here, belonging to the Castle, and variously named
the "Castle" or "Donjon" Manor. The huge prehistoric mound within its
area was remodelled, heaped seventeen feet higher, crowned with a
monument that halts between Gothic and Classic, and ringed round with
a spiral walk about 1790. The very long and very complacent statement
on that monument, telling how, when, and by whom all these things were
done, is itself a monument of self-satisfaction.

The city walls, with their towers at regular intervals, even yet in
very good preservation, bound the Dane John grounds in one direction.
Still goes a broad walk on the summit of those walls, and the pilgrim
might imagine himself a sentry guarding the mediæval city, were it not
that dense and sordid suburbs spread beyond, on whose blank walls soap
and cheap tea advertisements alternate with others crying the virtues
of infants' foods and the latest quack nostrums.

[Illustration: THE DANE JOHN, CANTERBURY.]

Canterbury is Canterbury yet, and Becket is still its prophet, but
some things be changed. Electric lighting - of a marvellously poor
illuminating quality it is true, and vastly inferior to the gas they
brew at the Castle, but yet electric lighting of sorts - somewhat
remodernises its streets; but it is still true, as at any time since
Popery came down crash, that you cannot obtain lodging without money,
or miracles, whether or no. Becket, however, still pervades the place.
His arms - the three black Cornish choughs, red-beaked and clawed, on
a blue field - have been adopted by the city, and every shop patronised
by visitors sells china or trinkets painted or engraved with them.
Pictures of the transept where he fell on that day of long ago; yea,
even photographs of the skull and bones discovered some years since,
and thought to be his, are at every turn. Becket is not forgot, and
a certain portly Tudor shade - the wraith of one who ordained all
worship and reverence of him to cease and every vestige of his shrine
and relics to be destroyed - must surely be furiously and impotently
angered. Little need, however, for that kingly shade to be thus
perturbed; this modern and local cult of Saint Thomas is only business
at Canterbury - and very good business, too.

Still goes the tourist-pilgrim along the way to the Cathedral trod by
the sinners of mediæval times, to purge them of their sins and start
afresh. Where they turned off to the left from the main street, down
Mercery Lane, the present-day visitors still turn, and the Christchurch
Gate, at the end of the narrow lane, opens as of old into the Cathedral
precincts. It is a wonderful gatehouse, this of Christchurch, built
by Prior Goldstone nigh upon four hundred years ago, and elaborately
carved with Tudor roses, portcullises, and things now so blunted by
time that it is difficult to distinguish them. Time has dissolved much
of the worthy Prior's noble structure, like so much sugar.

It was here, in this open space in front of the Gate, that the quaint
Butter Market stood until quite recently. Tardily eager to honour
one of her sons, Canterbury was so ill-advised as to sweep away the
curious Butter Market to make room for the new memorial to Christopher
Marlowe, the great dramatist of Shakespearean times, whose birthplace
still stands in St. George's Street. It is a cynical freak of time that
honour should be done to Marlowe at such a spot, for the Church in his
lifetime held him to be "a wretch," a "filthy play-maker," an "atheist
and a sottish swine," and it was thought that the unknown person who
slew him in his thirtieth year was someone who thus revenged his
insults to religion.

The Marlowe Memorial deserves attention. It is in the form of a
nude bronze figure representing the Muse of Poetry, placed on a
stone pedestal, and in the act of playing upon a lyre; but it is an
exceedingly plump and eminently erotic, rather than intellectual,
figure thus made to stand for the Muse - a Doll Tearsheet, with a
coarse, sensual face, most inappropriately shaded by a wreath of poetic
bays. The last touch of vulgarity is that especially municipal idea
of giving the whole thing a smart finish by surrounding it with four
ornate street-lamps.

[Illustration: THE DARK ENTRY.]

Burgate Street, branching off from this point to the right, is the
street where Barham was born; but our present business is to the Close,
and round the south side of the Cathedral to the east end, where the
Norman infirmary ruins stand. Turning here to the left, a narrow,
stone-paved passage, in between high, ancient walls, leads crookedly
through the romantic remains of the domestic buildings of the old
monastery to the cloisters and the north side of the Cathedral. It
is a twilight place, even now, in the brightest days of summer, and
was once, before portions of it were unroofed, much darker. That was
the time when it obtained its existing name of the "Dark Entry." If
the pages of the _Ingoldsby Legends_ are opened, and the legend of
"Nell Cook" is read, much will be found on the subject of this gloomy
passage. That legend is the "King's Scholar's Story": the terror of
a schoolboy of King Henry VIII.'s school, on the north side of the
precincts, at the prospect of being sent back by the haunted entry
after dark, on a Friday, when the ghost of Nell Cook was supposed to
have its weekly outing. Well might anyone believing in ghosts and omens
especially desire not to meet that spirit, for such an encounter was
supposed to presage the death of the person within the year:

[Illustration: THE DARK ENTRY, CANTERBURY.]

"Now nay, dear Uncle Ingoldsby, now send me not I pray,
Back by that Entry dark, for that you know's the nearest way;
I dread that Entry dark with Jane alone at such an hour,
It fears me quite - it's Friday night! - and then Nell Cook hath pow'r."

"And who, silly child, is Nell Cook?" asks Uncle Ingoldsby; and the
King's Scholar answers:

"It was in bluff King Harry's days, while yet he went to shrift,
And long before he stamped and swore, and cut the Pope adrift;
There lived a portly Canon then, a sage and learned clerk;
He had, I trow, a goodly house, fast by that Entry dark.

"The Canon was a portly man - of Latin and of Greek,
And learned lore, he had good store, - yet health was on his cheek.
The Priory fare was scant and spare, the bread was made of rye,
The beer was weak, yet he was sleek - he had a merry eye.

"For though within the Priory the fare was scant and thin,
The Canon's house it stood without; - he kept good cheer within;
Unto the best he prest each guest, with free and jovial look,
And Ellen Bean ruled his _cuisine_. - He called her 'Nelly Cook.'"

It is not a very proper story that the King's Scholar unfolds; of how a
"niece" of the Canon comes to stay with him, and arouses the jealousy
of the good-looking cook, whose affections that "merry eye" of the
Canon had captured. Nell Cook thereupon successfully poisons the Canon
and the strange lady with "some nasty doctor's stuff," with which she
flavours a pie destined for the Canonical table, and the two are found
as the Scholar tells:

"The Canon's head lies on the bed, - his niece lies on the floor!
They are as dead as any nail that is in any door!"

Nell Cook, for her crime, says Tom Ingoldsby, adapting to his literary
uses the legend long current in Canterbury, was buried alive beneath
one of the great paving-stones of the "Dark Entry"; when, local history
does not inform us:

But one thing's clear - that's all the year, on every Friday night,
Throughout that Entry dark doth roam Nell Cook's unquiet sprite.

And whoever meets Nell Cook is bound to die some untimeous death within
the year! Certainly, the Dark Entry is not a place greatly frequented
after nightfall, even nowadays - but that is perhaps less by reason of
superstitious fears than because it leads to nowhere in particular.




CHAPTER IV

THE CATHEDRAL: THE MURDER OF BECKET


It is by the south porch that the Cathedral is entered. Let none
suppose this to be the veritable Cathedral that Becket knew; that
was replaced, piece by piece, in the succeeding centuries, all save
the Norman transept where he met his fate. The nave, by whose lofty,
aspiring perspective we advance, was built in 1380 upon the site of
that of the twelfth century. According to the testimony of the time, it
was in a ruinous condition. Conceive, if you can, the likelihood of one
of those particularly massive Norman naves like those of Tewkesbury and
Gloucester, which this resembled, becoming ruinous! The more probable
truth of the matter is that the feeling of the time had grown inimical
to those cavernous interiors of the older architects, and sought
any excuse for tearing them down and building in their stead in the
lightsome character of the Perpendicular period.

This nave, then, much later than Becket's era, leads somewhat
unsympathetically to that most interesting spot in the whole Cathedral,
the north transept. Here is the "Martyrdom," as that massive Norman
cross-limb where Becket fell beneath the swords and axes of his
murderers is still called. You look down into it from the steps leading
into the choir and choir-aisles, as into a pit. Little changed, in the
midst of all else that has been altered, this north transept alone
remains very much as it was when he was slain, more than seven hundred
years ago, and the sight of its stern, massive walls does much to
bring back to those who behold them that fierce scene which, in the
passage of all those years and the heaping of dull verbiage piled up
by industrious Dryasdusts and beaters of the air, has been dulled and
blunted.

Barham - our witty and mirthful Tom Ingoldsby - felt a keen personal
interest in this scene, for was not his ancestor - as he conceived him
to be - Reginald FitzUrse, the chief actor in that bloody scene of
Becket's death? He is flippant, it must be allowed, in the reference he
makes to the occurrence in the _Ingoldsby Legends_:

A fair Cathedral, too, the story goes,
And kings and heroes lie entombed within her;
There pious Saints in marble pomp repose,
Whose shrines are worn by knees of many a sinner;
There, too, full many an aldermanic nose
Roll'd its loud diapason after dinner;
And there stood high the holy sconce of Becket,
- Till four assassins came from France to crack it.

Historians have not yet agreed upon the character of Becket, and
no final conclusion is ever likely to be arrived at upon the vexed
question of who was right and who wrong in the long-drawn contention
between King and Archbishop. It is easy to shirk the point and to
decide that neither was right; but another and a more just resort is
to declare, after due consideration, that in the attempted secular
encroachments of the Crown, and in the resistance of the Archbishop to
any interference with the prerogatives and jurisdiction of the Church
and the clergy, both sides were impelled by the irresistible force
of circumstances. Becket was of English origin, and the first of the
downtrodden Saxon race who had won to such preferment since the Norman
rule began. Thus, besides being bound to defend the Church, of which he
had become the head, he was regarded by the people, who idolised him,
as their champion against those ruling classes whose mailed tyranny
crushed them to earth.

A prime difficulty in judging the character of Becket is the
extraordinary change in his conduct after he had been induced to accept
the Primacy, that goal and crown of the clerical career ardently
desired by all, and attained by Becket in his forty-third year. Long
the favourite of the King, and already, as Chancellor, at the height of
power and magnificence, there was little advantage in this elevation
to the throne of Saint Augustine, and he seemed singularly unfitted to
fill it, for until that juncture he had been among the most worldly of
men. As Chancellor, his magnificence had outshone that of the King,
he himself was gay and debonnair, clothed in purple and fine linen,
feasting royally, and with hundreds of knights in his train. Nothing
that the world could give had he denied himself. He was not only
impressed personally with his unfitness, but the monks of Canterbury
themselves, in conclave, desired to elect one of their own choice. It
was, therefore, against the desire of the Church and against his own
better judgment, foreseeing as he did much of the trouble that was to
come, that he was given the headship.

But once enthroned, his conduct changed. He dismissed his magnificent
household, feasted no more, expended his substance in charity and
himself in good works; became, indeed, and in very truth, that
Right Reverend Father in God which the simulacra, the windbags, the
ravening wolves, the emptinesses that for hundreds of years have
occupied his place, are styled. The sinner saved must be prepared for
misunderstandings - it is part of the cross and burden he has taken up.
The scarlet sins of the unregenerate are remembered against the saint,
and his saintliness becomes to his old boon companions a hypocritical
farce. That is why Becket's contemporaries did not understand him;
that, too, is why so many, dimly fumbling by the rush-light glimmer of
their little sputtering intelligences, presently choked and dowsed in
the dusty, cobwebby garrets of incredible accretions of lies, mistakes,
perversions and general rag-bag of pitiful futilities, have been left
wandering in infinite darkness, and content so to wander in estimating
him.

It was the sinners whose poisonous tongues did, by dint of much
persistence, estrange the King's affections from Becket within a year,
and their innuendoes were remembered when a growing struggle over
disputed privileges found the Archbishop immovably set upon what he
regarded as his duty, and not at all prepared to favour the King. If
Henry had supposed the Archbishop whom he had created would be in every
sense his creature, he must have been furious at his gross mistake.
The fury of the Norman kings was like the unrestrained paroxysms of a
raving maniac, and opposition threw them into transports of rage, felt
severely by animate and inanimate objects alike. This second Henry,
whose eyes were said to have in repose been gentle and dove-like, is
no exception. Ill fares the messenger who brings him bad news - as
ill sometimes as though he had brought about the untoward things of
which he tells. Slight displeasure means a thump, a resounding smack
on the face from the Royal hands, or a right Royal kick on that part
where honour is so easily hurt. May not enquiring minds, diligently
bent on running to earth the origin of the still existing etiquette of
retreating backwards from the presence of the sovereign, find it in a
natural desire of courtiers at all hazards to protect that honour?

Conceive, then, the really Royal rage of this King, bearded by someone
not to be dissuaded, persuaded, admonished, or let or hindered in any
particular. He became like a wild beast, tearing whatever came in
his way, flinging off his clothes, throwing himself on the floor and
gnawing the straw and rushes, and not merely kicking the posteriors of
messengers, but flying at them with intent to tear out their eyes.

What was that which wrought such enmity between such old-time friends?
Not merely one, but many things, but first and last among them the
determination of the King that the clergy, instead of being amenable
for offences only to the ecclesiastical courts, should be answerable
to the civil tribunals. This, the earliest of the at last happily
successful series of blows at clerical privilege, seemed to Becket
almost sacrilegious, and he determined to protect the Church against
what was, he honestly thought, according to his lights and his
sacerdotal sympathies, an unwarranted attack.

By all accounts this saint was not, in his new character, the most
tactful of men. With the old courtier days gone by, he had discarded
the courtier-like speech, and austerely held his own. Jealous of him,
several great dignitaries of the Church supported the King: among
them the Archbishop of York, and the Bishops of London and Salisbury.
Becket, as their spiritual chief, hurled excommunication at them, and
it was even feared that he would do the same by the King. Then, in fear
of his life, he went into six years' exile, ended by a pretence of
reconciliation that was patently a pretence, even before he sailed for
England. He was weary of exile, and ready to lay down his life for the
Church.

It was early in December 1170 that he returned to Canterbury, "to die,"
as he prophetically had said, before embarking. Quarrels, insults, and
petty persecutions met him, and thus sped December to its close. On
Christmas Day he preached in the Cathedral on the text, as he read it
(an all-important reservation), "On earth, peace to men of good will."
"There is no peace," he declared, "but to men of good will," and with
solemn meaning, readily understood by the great congregation that
heard him, spoke of the martyrs who had fallen in olden days. It was
possible, he added, that they would soon have another.

"Father," wailed that assembled multitude, "why do you desert us so
soon? To whom will you leave us?" But, heedless of the interruption, he
passed from a plaintive strain to one of fiery indignation, ending, in
a voice of thunder, by a full and particular excommunication of many of
his enemies and persecutors. "May they be cursed," his voice resounded
through the building, "by Jesus Christ, and may their memory be blotted
out of the assembly of the saints, whoever shall sow discord between me
and my lord the King." So saying, he, with mediæval symbolism, dashed
down a lighted candle upon the stones, to typify the extinction of
those accurst, and, with religious exaltation on his face, left the
pulpit, saying to his crossbearer, "One martyr, St. Alphege, you have
already; another, if God will, you will have soon."

Already, while he spoke, his furrow was drawing to its end. Over in
Normandy, where the King was keeping Christmas, the Archbishop of York
and the Bishops of London and Salisbury were suggesting that it would
be a good thing if there were no Becket. "So long as Thomas lives,"
said one, "you will have neither good days, nor peaceful kingdom, nor
quiet life."

The thought thus instilled into the King's mind threw him into a
frenzy. "A fellow," he shouted - "a fellow that has eaten my bread has
lifted up his heel against me; a fellow that I loaded with benefits has
dared to insult the King and the whole Royal family, and tramples on
the whole kingdom; a fellow that came to Court on a lame sumpter-mule
sits without hindrance on the throne itself. What sluggard wretches,
what cowards, have I brought up in my Court, who care nothing for their
allegiance to their master! Not one will deliver me from this low-born,
turbulent priest!" So saying, he rushed from the room, doubtless to
roll in one of those ungovernable Plantagenet rages upon the floor of
some secluded chamber.

The four knights who from among that Court sprang forth to prove
themselves, even to the awful extremities of sacrilege and murder,
true King's men, were Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Moreville, William de
Tracy, and Richard le Bret. In the light of later events, the monkish
chroniclers, eager to discover the marvellous in every circumstance of
the tragedy, found a dark significance in their very names. FitzUrse,
they said, was of truly bear-like character; De Moreville's name
proclaimed him to be of "the city of death"; Le Bret was "the brute."
With so much ingenuity available, it is quite surprising they could
not twist Tracy's name into something allusive to murder; but they
had to be content with the weak suggestion that he was of "parricidal
wickedness." All save Le Bret had been knights owning fealty to Becket
while he was Chancellor.

It is detailed in these pages, in the description of Saltwood Castle,
how they landed in England and made for Canterbury. A dreadful
circumstance is that they knew perfectly well on whom to call when
they reached the city, and waited upon a sympathiser with the King,
Clarembald, the Abbot of St. Augustine's, who is thus sufficiently
implicated.

From the Abbot's lodging they sent a command, ordering the Mayor to
issue a proclamation in the King's name forbidding any help being
given to the Archbishop. Then they took horse again and rode to the
Palace, accompanied by their men-at-arms, whom they posted in a house
hard by the gateway. The short day of December 29th was nearly at
its close when they drew rein in the courtyard beneath the great hall
of the Palace, where the Archbishop and his household had but just
retired from supper. They had left their swords outside, and came as
travellers, their mailed armour concealed under long cloaks. Entering
the hall they met the seneschal, who ushered them into the private room
where the Archbishop sat, among his intimates. "My lord," he said,
"here are four knights from King Henry wishing to speak with you"; and
they were bidden enter.

FitzUrse began the furious discussion. The knights had seated
themselves on the floor at the Archbishop's feet, and waited until he
should finish the conversation he was holding with a monk. When Becket
turned and looked calmly at each in turn, ending with saluting Tracy by
name, FitzUrse it was who broke in with a contemptuous "God help you!"

The Archbishop's face flushed crimson. He was a man of vehement nature,
and it is wonderful that he restrained himself from striking that


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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Ingoldsby Country → online text (page 3 of 16)