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laughter of a child. But, William, return to his public duties.
WILLIAM. I will, Sir. During the early part of king Henry's reign, nearly one hundred murders, besides other excesses, had been committed by the clergy, who then possessed unbounded privileges. Henry, enraged at these atrocities, determined to end them by severity of punishment; when Becket espoused the cause of the clergy against the king, which led to a rupture between him and his majesty. Becket was charged with having applied the public money to his own service, whilst in the situation of Chancellor, upon which charge he was sent to trial and condemned. He, however, evaded the infliction of punishment, by escaping into Flanders, where he resided for some years in one of the convents. · MARIA. The commencement of his downfal may be dated from this period, I suppose.
WILLIAM. I think it may. But to proceed ; Henry, in his rage, overstepped the bounds of moderation and prudence, in his determination, if possible, to punish the haughty prelate; and, not content with the absence of Becket, banished the whole of his relations and retainers. The pope of Rome, whom Becket visited, now espoused his cause, and the power which he possessed over all the Christian churches at this period, at length obliged Henry to consent to an amicable adjustment of their differences.
ANGELINA. That must have delighted the proud spirit of Becket. .
WILLIAM. No doubt it did; for all was terminated in his favour, and he returned to Canterbury amid the acclamations of the populace, in the year 1170, after an absence of seven years, during which period he had suffered many reverses of fortune.
MARIA. How did he conduct himself on his return to England ?
WILLIAM. With the same tyrannical and overbearing spirit, as before his departure. He proceeded from town to town in triumphal cavalcade, and began to exert his power to the utmost extent. This was borne for some time by Henry, but upon Becket's refusal to absolve his majesty's friends who had been excommunicated by the pope, through his instigation, he became exasperated, and exclaimed to his courtiers : “ Is there not one of the crew of lazy, cowardly knights whom I maintain, that will rid me of this turbulent priest, who came to court but t’other day upon a lame horse, with his whole estate in a wallet behind him?”.
ANGELINA. Which words did not pass unnoticed by his attendants, I believe. .
WILLIAM. They did not. Four knights immediately posted from Normandy, where the king then was, to put his wish in execution, and upon their arrival at Canterbury, waited upon Becket, and urged him, in the king's name, to absolve the excommunicated bishops ; but he peremptorily refused. They then threatened him, but without effect. In the evening of the same day, having armed themselves with swords and battle-axes, they returned to the palace of the archbishop, and followed him into his private chapel, where he had been hurried by his friends, hoping that the sacredness of the place would protect him from violence. They would also have shut the door, but Becket cried out : “ Begone, ye cowards ! I charge you on your obedience, do not shut the door. What! will you make a castle of a church?” The knights therefore entered, and one of them crying, “Where is the traitor ? where is the archbishop?” Becket advanced boldly, and said, “ Here I am, an archbishop, but no traitor.” He was then seized by his robes, and dragged along the church; when, making some resistance, they felled him to the earth with their battle-axes.
CHARLES. What became of the murderers ? WILLIAM. As soon as they had perpetrated the bloody deed, they fled without interruption, but never dared to approach the king. In a year after they were absolved at Rome, upon condition of their serving in the holy wars.
ANGELINA. You say they never dared to approach the king : for what reason?
MR. CONSTANCE. Because the king repented of his rashness. Like many other persons, he said in his rage, · that which he regretted in his moments of reflection.
Indeed, he became deeply distressed when the account of Becket's murder was communicated to him, and immediately despatched an embassy to Rome, to vindicate himself from the imputation of the crime. The pope, Alexander the Third, however, who had now the means of displaying the papal over the regal authority, required humiliations from Henry the most degrading; and that monarch actually did penance, and was publicly scourged by the monks at the tomb of the murdered Becket.
CHARLES. And were not many wonderful miracles performed at his tomb?
WILLIAM. Yes; it is related that they filled two large volumes, and consisted of all that was surprising :He stretched out his hand after his demise to bless the people, and even condescended to restore to life dead birds and beasts! And to such a degree were these superstitious notions carried, that thousands of pilgrims flocked to Canterbury to supplicate his aid, and hundreds of pounds were deposited on the tomb, as offerings. ..
MR: CONSTANCE. The history of Thomas à Becket, I am sorry to say, presents few, if any actions worthy of imitation. Although he possessed sufficient talent and courage to fill the highest offices in the state, his violence of temper, proud spirit, and hypocritical demeanour, must have made him alike an object of fear and scorn to
those around him. In concluding his biography, let us hope we may never see such another man, or, at least, that no man may ever have it in his power to make himself so obnoxious. St. Swithin, named on the 15th, is the next person to whom we must attend.
ANGELINA. Aye, I long to know why he has left behind him a legacy of forty days' rain. Pray inform us who he was, William ?
WILLIAM. St. Swithin was a man of strong mental powers, a close applicant to study, and a great supporter of Christianity. He was of a Saxon family, and ordained to the priesthood by the Bishop of Winchester, in the reign of Egbert, king of the West Saxons. He afterwards became sub-deacon of Winchester; and, ultimately, on the accession of Ethelwulf, in the year 838, he retained his former offices, and became the king's principal adviser.
Mr. Constance. I think tithes were bestowed upon the church in this reign.
WILLIAM. It is so recorded, Sir; and St. Swithin, at that time filling the office of Lord Chancellor, receives the credit of their enactment. Ethelwulf, fearing that attempts would be made to depose him, by his son Ethelbald, with whom he had divided his kingdom, summoned a council of his barons, and in order to secure the support of the church, not only exempted them from all imposts, but granted them the perpetual donation of tithes.
Mr. CONSTANCE. For which act of kindness, I suppose, the clergy considered St. Swithin a proper object for canonization. When did he die ?
WILLIAM. In the year 862; and was buried in the common cemetery, or churchyard of Winchester.
MARIA. But you have not yet told us why it is always to rain on this day: though, I have no doubt, it is some foolish superstition.
MR. CONSTANCE. Of course it is. William has just.
told us that he was buried in a common churchyard ; and also that he rendered the ecclesiastics of his day a great pecuniary service; for which, it appears, they did not prove ungrateful, but endeavoured to repay their benefactor by immortalizing his name, as the worker of many miracles. These were believed by the credulous; and for the supposed benefits afterwards derived from the same source, St. Swithin was designated the Merciful. It was then ordered that his remains should be removed to a more superb tomb, from the one in which he himself had requested to be buried. Accordingly, a grand and solemn procession was appointed to grace the ceremony ; but, unfortunately, on the destined day a violent shower of rain fell, which continued for thirty-nine days, without intermission. It was therefore thought that the removal did not meet with the entire approbation of the saint, and the attempt was abandoned, as being heretical and blasphemous. However, on the first fine day, the saint's bones were removed, and placed among those of the other bishops, in the chancel of the minster. This circumstance was the occasion of the vulgar adage relative to St. Swithin, that “if it rains on the 15th of July, it will rain for thirty-nine days after. I hope that there are none here so foolish as to believe it.
ANGELINA. O, no, papa; but when I understood that St. Swithin was born in so early an age, I certainly felt no small curiosity to know the foundation of a superstition that is even believed by some persons in the present day.
Mr. ConstanCE. It is certainly a very ancient saying and, no doubt, if its origin were generally known, few believers would be found. There is no need of a miracle to account for forty days' rain at the period of St. Swithin's festival. Experience has amply shown, that, whenever a wet season sets in from about the end of June to the middle