Charles G. (Charles George) Harper.

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insolent intruder. "We have a message from the King over the water,"
continued FitzUrse; "tell us whether you will hear it in private, or in
the hearing of all."

Within the hearing of all that message, such as it was, was given.
It was but a reiteration of old demands and old grievances, made to
goad the Archbishop into fury, and to afford an excuse for an attack
upon him. The discussion aroused both sides to anger, and the knights,
calling upon all to prevent the Archbishop from escaping, dashed off,
with the cry of "To arms!" for their swords.

But Becket harboured no thoughts of escape. Although he perceived
that death was near, he made no retreat, being indeed, by this time,
fanatically bent upon the martyr's crown. Outside, the signal had been
already given to the men-at-arms, who now came pouring in, with shouts
of "Réaux!" or "King's men." The knights now returned, their swords
girt about them. Already, however, the Archbishop's attendants had
closed and barred the doors, and were endeavouring to save him from
that death he seemed to welcome. With kindly violence they pushed and
pulled him by obscure passages from the Palace and along the cloisters,
while the blows of axes and the splintering of wood told how in
their rear the murderers were hewing their way onward. Thus at last,
strenuously resisting, he was impelled towards the door that opened
from the cloisters into the north transept.

Once within the Cathedral the monks bolted the door behind them, and in
their haste excluded some of their brethren, thus left, unprotected,
to face the onrush of armed men. Hearing these unfortunate ones vainly
knocking for admittance, Becket, exerting all his authority, commanded
the door to be opened; and when he found his words disregarded, broke
away from those who held him and drew back the bolts with his own hands.

Seeing the way thus made clear for those pursuing men of wrath, the
crowd of anxious monks surrounding the Archbishop immediately turned
and fled to those hiding-places they knew of. Only three remained,
dauntless, by their chief. These were Robert of Merton, William
FitzStephen, and Edward Grim, who stood by him, vainly imploring him to
flee. Only one concession he made to their entreaties. He would go to
the choir, and there, before the high altar, the holiest place in the
Cathedral, with all dignity make an end.

It was as he was thus ascending the steps from the transept that the
knights burst into the sacred building. Bewildered at first by the
almost complete darkness, they could only shout at random, "Where is
Thomas Becket, traitor to the King?" No answer. Then, falling over a
monk, came an oath, from FitzUrse, and the question, "Where is the
Archbishop?" Becket himself answered, and descending again into the
transept, confronted them. He stood in front of what was then the the
Chapel of St. Benedict, and calmly asked, "Reginald, why do you come
into my church armed?" For answer FitzUrse thrust a carpenter's axe he
had found against his breast, and with a savage oath declared, "You
shall die: I will tear out your heart!" "Fly!" exclaimed another, not
so eager to commit the sin of sacrilege, before which the mediæval
world recoiled; "Fly! or you are a dead man!" striking him with the
flat of his sword, to emphasise the warning.


Then the four united their efforts to drag him from the Cathedral,
but without success. Himself a powerful man, he seized Tracy and
flung him heavily upon the pavement. FitzUrse, advancing upon him
with a drawn sword, he called by a vile name, adding, "You profligate
wretch, you are my man; you have done me fealty; you ought not to touch
me." No fear, it will be seen, in all this, but a not unreasonable
fury, somewhat obscuring the martyr spirit. Fury on both sides, for
FitzUrse, losing the last atom of restraint, and yelling "Strike!"
aimed a blow with his great, two-handed sword that, had it been better
directed, must have smote off the Archbishop's head. As it was, it
merely skimmed off his cap. Becket, who must have been momentarily
surprised to find himself still alive, then covered his eyes with his
hands, and bending his head, was heard to commend his cause and the
cause of the Church to God, to St. Denis of France, to St. Alphege
and all the saints of the Church. Tracy then dealt a blow, partly
intercepted by Grim, whose arm, protecting the Archbishop, was broken
by it. By this time blood was trickling down the Archbishop's face.
He wiped it away and murmured, "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my
spirit;" and then, falling at a further blow from Tracy, "For the name
of Jesus, and for the defence of the Church, I am willing to die."
There he lay, and so lying, received a tremendous stroke from Richard
le Bret, who accompanied it with the exclamation, "Take this, for love
of my lord William, brother of the King!" That stroke not only clove
away the upper part of the skull, but the sword itself was broken in
two. Vengeance was accomplished.

When the assassins fled from that scene of blood, it was quite dark.
They went as they had come, by the cloisters, shouting that they were
"King's men," and cursing and stumbling over unfamiliar steps. A
servant of the Archdeacon of Sens was sufficiently unfortunate to be
wailing for the cruel death of the Archbishop when they passed, and
foolish enough to be in their way. They fell over him, and, still heady
with that struggle and the lust of blood, gave him in passing a mailed
kick, and so tremendous a sword-thrust that for long afterwards he had
sufficient occasion to lament for himself.

It was something of an anti-climax to their murderous passions that
they should, as they now did, repair to the Archbishop's Palace and
make a burglarious raid upon the gold and silver vessels of the church,
and loot from Becket's stables the magnificent horses he kept. With
this personal plunder, and with a mass of the Archbishop's documents
and papers seized on behalf of the King, they were preparing to
depart when the very unusual circumstance in December of a violent
thunderstorm set a final scene of horror upon that closing day.

The news fell heavily upon the people of Canterbury, who reverenced
Becket far more than did those within the Church who had immediately
surrounded him; and the citizens came rushing like an irresistible
torrent into the Cathedral as soon as they heard of the sacrilegious

Like the greater number of our cathedrals, this of Canterbury has been
greatly altered since that time. It was into a Norman nave that the
excited populace thronged - a building that must have closely resembled
the still-existing nave of that period at Gloucester, gloomy and dark
at the best of times, but on this December evening a well of infinite
blackness, faintly illuminated by the distant lights twinkling in
the choir and on the high altar. This horror-stricken crowd was only
with great difficulty forced back and at last shut out, and it was
long before the monks returned to the transept where the Archbishop
had fallen before the blows of the four. There his body lay in the
dark, as it had been left, his blood still wet on those cold stones,
as Osbert, the chamberlain, entering with a single light, held out at
arm's length in that cavern of blackness and unimaginable gloom, steps
in it, and, if he be not quite different from other men, shudders and
almost drops his glimmering candle when he finds what awful moisture
that is in which he has been walking. Osbert alone has ventured to seek
his master. Where, then, are the others of his household? In hiding,
like those monks who, now that all is still, venture, like rats, to
come from their hiding-holes in chapel and triforium, or from secret
places contrived for such emergencies in the roof.

The Archbishop lay upon his face, the upper part of his scalp sliced
off by that whirling blow of Tracy's, and the contents of his head
spilled over the pavement, just as a bowl of liquid might be overset.
Osbert, with rare fortitude, replaces that scalp as one might replace a
lid, and binding the head, he and the monks between them place the body
upon a bier and carry it to the high altar in the choir.

There were those among the monks who felt small sympathy for Becket. To
them he was but a proud worldling whose remarkable preferment to the
Primacy had been scandalous, and whose quarrels with the King had been,
they thought, dictated more for the advancement of his own personal
authority than for sake of a purely impersonal desire to preserve and
cherish the rights of the Church. He had been elected Archbishop by
desire of the King and against the feeling of the Priory, and they
thought he should, in consequence, have been more complaisant to Royal
demands. They were not a little jealous of the man set to rule over
them, and moreover, could not at once perceive the martyr and the saint
in the dignitary thus at last struck down in that long struggle. They
were horror-stricken at the sacrilege of it, but did not burst into
grief and lamentations for the individual until that happened which
put a very different complexion upon the dead Archbishop's character.
Far into the night, as the monks sat in the choir around that silent
figure, his aged friend and instructor, Robert of Merton, told them of
the secret austerities of his later life, and made a revelation that
wholly changed their mental attitude. To prove his words, he exposed
the many layers of the clothing to those who gathered round, and showed
how, beneath all, and next the skin, the "luxurious" Archbishop had
worn the habit of a monk, and had endured the disciplinary discomfort
of a hair-shirt. There, too, on the skin, were visible the weals of the
daily scourgings by which the Archbishop mortified the flesh. Nor was
this the sum of his virtues, for when, a little later, his garments
were removed, previous to interment, they were found to be swarming
with vermin; that hair-cloth, itself so penitential, densely populated
with a crawling mass whose presence must have made it more penitential
still. According to the accounts of those who beheld these transcendent
proofs of sanctity, the hair-cloth was bubbling over with these
inhabitants, like water in a simmering cauldron.

At sight of such unmistakable evidences of holiness the brethren went
into hysterics. "See, see," they said to one another, "what a true
monk he was, and we knew it not!" - an oblique and unpleasing reflection
upon the personal habits of the monastic orders. They kissed him, as
he lay dead there, and called him "St. Thomas," and at last, unwilling
that any tittle of his sanctity should be impugned, buried him in his
verminous condition.

Meanwhile, newly alive to the saintly character of him whom they now
clearly perceived to be a martyr, orders were given to rail off the
spot where he had fallen, and for every trace of his blood to be
jealously preserved. But unhappily for the Church, the common people,
who had from the moment of his death regarded their Archbishop as a
martyred saint, had already soaked up the greater part of that precious
blood in strips hastily torn from their clothes, and had been given
his stained and splashed outer garments. These were losses that could
never be made good, but they did not greatly matter to those who could
so dilute the little remaining blood that it sufficed to supply the
uncounted thousands of pilgrims who made pilgrimage to the shrine of
St. Thomas for the space of three hundred and fifty years, and took
away with them little phials containing, as they fondly believed, so
intimate a relic of England's most powerful saint.

In spite of the dark legends that tell how vengeance overtook the
assassins, it does not seem to be the fact that they were adequately
punished for their fearful crime, and certainly no Royal displeasure
lighted upon them. "The wicked," we are told, "flee when no man
pursueth," and the knights, fearful of the revenge that might be taken
upon them by the people of Canterbury, rode off, unhindered, with their
small escort of men-at-arms, to Saltwood. Within that stronghold they
felt safe. That they would have been equally safe at Canterbury we may
suppose, for Robert de Broc, shut up within the strong walls of the
Archbishop's Palace, felt strong enough to threaten the monks with what
he would do if they dared so honour the dead Prelate as to bury him
among the tombs of the Archbishops. He would, he declared, tear out the
body, hang it from a gibbet, hew it in pieces, and throw the fragments
by the highway, to be devoured by swine or birds of prey. It is quite
evident that Robert de Broc was a good hater and a very thorough
partisan of the King. The monks did well to be afraid of him, and
meekly forbearing from giving offence, laid their martyr in the crypt.

The four lay only one night at Saltwood. The next day they rode to
the old manor-house of South Malling, near Lewes, itself a property
belonging to the Archbishops, and throwing down their arms and
accoutrements upon a dining-table in the hall, gathered comfortably
round the cheerful hearth, when - says the legend - the table, unwilling
to bear that sacrilegious burden, started back and threw the repugnant
load on the ground. The arms were replaced by the startled servants,
who came rushing in with torches; but again they were flung away, this
time with even greater force. It was one of the knights who, with
blanched face, declared the supernatural nature of this happening.

The following morning they were off again, bound for Hugh de
Moreville's far distant Yorkshire castle of Knaresborough, where they
remained for one year. It would have been too scandalous a thing for
the King to receive his bravos at once, for he had a part of his own
to play that would have been quite spoiled by such indecent haste - a
dramatic part, but one that fails to carry any conviction of its
sincerity. It was at Argenton that he heard of the successful issue
of his commission, and on receipt of the news isolated himself for
three days, refused all food but milk of almonds, rolled himself in
penitential sackcloth and ashes, and grievously called upon God to
witness that he was not responsible for the Archbishop's death. "Alas!"
exclaimed that trembling hypocrite, "alas! that it ever happened."

But it is not in empty lamentations, real or feigned, that penitence
is found. The assassins went unpunished, and, together with others
of Becket's bitterest enemies within and without the Church, were
even promoted. Before two years had passed the four knights were
found constantly at the King's Court, on familiar terms with him
and his companions in hunting. It is a cynical commentary upon the
kingly penitence that one of the murderers, William de Tracy, became
Justiciary of Normandy. But something had to be done to expiate a
deed whose echoes rumbled horrifically throughout Europe. The Pope,
Alexander III., indicated a course of fighting against the infidel
in the Holy Land, and it seems probable that they did so work off
their sins; all except Tracy, who, having made over his Devonshire
manor of Daccombe to the Church, for the maintenance of a monk for
ever, to celebrate masses for the repose of the souls of the living
and the dead, set out for Palestine, but was for so long driven back
by contrary winds that he almost despaired of setting foot abroad.
This especial retribution meted out to him was for the particular
heinousness of having dealt the first effective blow at the martyr.
When at last he was carried to the coast of Calabria, he was seized
with a mysterious disease at Cosenza, a disease whose agonies made him
tear the flesh from his bones with his own hands. Thus entreating,
"Mercy, St. Thomas!" he perished miserably.

The mysticism of the time told many dreadful legends. Dogs refused to
eat from the tables of the murderers; grass would not grow where their
feet went; those they loved were doomed to misery and death.

From the King a certain humiliation was demanded, but it amounted to
little beyond an oath, taken on the gospels before the Papal legates,
that he had not ordered or desired the murder, and an expressed
readiness to restore property belonging to the See of Canterbury. This
easy satisfaction was given at Avranches, in May 1172, but if it was
sufficient for the Pope it did by no means calm the English people,
who saw in the cumulative domestic troubles and foreign disasters
of the time the wrath of Heaven. The greater penance of 1174 was
accordingly decided upon. Arriving from Normandy on July 8th, he
journeyed to Canterbury, to the shrine of the already sainted martyr,
by the Pilgrims' Road, living the while upon bread and water. Coming to
Harbledown, he resigned horseback for a barefooted walk into the city.
Thus, with a mere woollen shirt and a cloak, he came to the Cathedral,
kneeling in the porch, and then proceeding directly to the scene of
the martyrdom, where he again knelt and kissed the stone where the
Archbishop had died. From that spot, he was conducted to the crypt,
where the tomb still remained, and, placing his head and shoulders in
the tomb itself, received on his shoulders five strokes of a rod from
each bishop and abbot present, and three each from the by-standing
eighty monks. This discipline must have killed him had those monks laid
on with the hearty goodwill customary with prison warders; but their
stripes were mere formalities, and the King departed the next morning,
after passing a solitary fasting vigil in the crypt, where, during the
solemn hours of the night, he had had ample opportunity of repentance.
From Canterbury he rode to London, absolved and with a whole skin.

The nation saw much virtue in this public reparation. How could they
fail so to do when the affairs of the realm took an immediate and
decided turn for the better, when the King of Scots, long a terror
in the north, was captured at Alnwick, and when the invading fleet
of Henry's own rebellious son was repulsed? The forgiveness and the
miraculous intercession of the beatified Thomas were prompt and

The cult of this peculiarly sainted person was extraordinary, and
far transcended that of any other martyr. To his shrine, erected in
a place of especial honour, and encrusted with gold and gems, the
pilgrims of many nations and many centuries flocked, greatly to the
enrichment of the Church. The miraculous cures wrought at his tomb,
and the marvellous legends that clustered around the story of his life
and death, were the theme of ages. But the gross superstitions, and
the grosser scandals, tricks, and miscellaneous knaveries that were
encouraged by that martyr-worship had discredited him by the time of
Henry VIII., that less superstitious age when it was possible for the
King and his advisers to declare "Thomas Becket" a traitor, to submit
his relics to every indignity, to destroy them and his shrine, and to
seize all the endowments and valuables connected with his worship.

The great destruction wrought at the Reformation accounts for the
scantiness of Becket's memorials. Here, in the "Martyrdom," only the
Norman walls that looked down upon the scene, and some portions of the
pavement, are left. A square piece of stone, inserted in the middle of
a large slab, marks the exact spot where he fell, and tells how the
original stone, regarded as of a peculiar sanctity, had been at some
time or another removed.



The central point of the Ingoldsby Country is, of course, the
Ingoldsby manor house of Tappington Hall. To discover this we must
leave Canterbury by the Dover Road, and, climbing up to the rise
of Gutteridge Gate, where a gibbet stood in ancient times and a
turnpike-gate until recent years, drop down into the village of Bridge,
whose name derives from an arch thrown at an early period across the
River Stour. At the summit of the corresponding rise out of Bridge,
the road, running exactly on the site of the Roman Watling Street,
comes to that bleak and elevated table-land known as Barham Downs, the
scene of Cæsar's great battle with the Britons on July 23rd, A.D. 56.
Twenty-seven thousand Roman soldiers, horse and foot, met the wild
rush of the Britons, who, with the usual undisciplined and untaught
courage of uncivilised races, flung themselves upon the invaders and
were thrown back by the impenetrable wall of the serried phalanxes.
Recoiling dismayed from this reception, they were instantly pursued
by the Roman cavalry and cut up into isolated bands, who fought
courageously all that fatal day in the dense woodlands. Protected
by mounds and trenches defended with palisades of stakes cunningly
interwoven with brushwood, they prolonged the hopeless contest until
nightfall, and then fell back. Cæsar, describing these woodland forts
as _oppida_, gives especial attention to one particularly troublesome
stronghold. "Being repulsed," he writes, "they withdrew themselves
into the woods and reached a place which they had prepared before,
having closed all approaches to it by felled timber." This retreat
was captured by the soldiers of the Seventh Legion, who, throwing up
a mound against it, advanced, holding their shields over their heads
in the military formation known as "the tortoise," and drove out the
defenders at the sword's point.

This, the last place to hold out, is, despite the eighteen and a half
centuries that have passed, still to be seen in Bourne Park, on the
summit of Bridge Hill, and is familiarly known in the neighbourhood
as "Old England's Hole." "Never forget," the old countryfolk have
been wont to impress their children - "never forget that this is Old
England's Hole, and that on this spot a last stand for freedom was made
by your British forefathers."

Everyone in the neighbourhood knows Old England's Hole. It is seen
beside the road, on the right hand, just where the cutting through
the crest of the hill, made in 1829, to ease the pull-up for the
coach-horses, begins. At that same time the course of the road was
very slightly diverted, and, instead of actually impinging upon this
ancient historic landmark, as before, was made to run a few feet away.
Now the spot is seen across the fence of the park, the old course of
the road still traceable beside it, as a slightly depressed grassy
track, plentifully dotted with thistles. The stronghold consists of a
crater-like hollow, encircled by earthen banks, still high and steep.
A great number of ash-trees and thorns, some very old, gnarled, and
decayed, grow on these banks, and cast a dense shade upon the interior.

[Illustration: THE VALE OF BARHAM.]

Barham Downs, stretching for three miles, windswept and bare, above
the valley of the Lesser Stour, form a tract of country that must
needs appeal strongly to the imaginative man. Only the bunkers and
other recent impudent interferences of some local golf club have ever
disturbed the ancient lines of Roman entrenchments.

Barham Downs are, of course, the "Tappington Moor," of that terrible
legend, the "Hand of Glory," which opens the collection of the
_Ingoldsby Legends_ in many editions:

On the lone bleak moor, At the midnight hour,
Beneath the Gallows Tree,
Hand in hand The Murderers stand,
By one, by two, by three!
And the Moon that night With a grey, cold light,
Each baleful object tips;
One half of her form Is seen through the storm,
The other half's hid in Eclipse!
And the cold Wind howls, And the Thunder growls,
And the Lightning is broad and bright;
And altogether It's very bad weather,
And an unpleasant sort of a night!

Barham village, a very different place, lies below, snugly embosomed
amid the rich trees of the Stour valley, sheltered and warm. From
this point its tall, tapering, shingled spire peeps out from among
the massed trees, and a branch road leads directly down to it and
to that park and mansion of Barham Court which, had his ancestors of
remote times done their duty by posterity, the author of the _Ingoldsby
Legends_ firmly believed would have been his.


But here we are come, on the high road, to a striking entrance to a
park. The place seems strangely familiar, yet the "Eagle Gates," as
the countryfolk call them, of this domain of Broome Park are certainly
unknown to us. The mystery is only explained by referring to the
woodcut which prefaces most editions of the _Ingoldsby Legends_, and
purports to be a view of "Tappington, taken from the Folkestone Road."

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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Ingoldsby Country → online text (page 4 of 16)