Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Youred Henry's indignation, and those passionate expressions, which ended in the reputed martyrdom. In these points Mr. Berington's account is not materially different from that of other historians. It is unnecessary at this time to enter into the quertion whether Henry designed his death : we think he did not ; but, at the same time, his violent grief was affected only, and, in reality, the most poignant apprehension of the consequence of the event.

As we have differed from our historian in the progress of the narrative, we cannot be expected to agree with him in the character of Becket.

« With fome enthusiafin on my mind, says Mr. Berington, I confers, I have described the conduct of Becket. Every where I saw him great as other men, and on fonc occalions I saw him greater. Real excellence there may be ; but it is, by compar. jng oply, that we judge. By his tide, the contemporary men of the day, the greatest the eræ could produce, in church or state, lose all their fplendor. Alexander is an irresolute and timid politician: the prelates of England, balcly deferring a cause, which their own consciences held sacred, are courtly ly. cophants, and excite contempt: the sacred college of cardinals, bribed by gold, forget their dignity, and bariering away the privileges of the Roman fee, publicly post up their venality, and become the name of Christendom. Henry, the lord of many people, whom Europe theu admired, and whom pofteria ty has called the greatest of English kings, through the quarrel which himself provoked, is wayward, vindi live, timorous, and decepcious, nerer flewing one exertion which became a king, and erer indulging a train of affections, which would have disgraced his loweit vassal. Becket, from the beginning, is firm, dauntless, compoled, and manly; like a deep and majele tic river, he proceeds even in his course, hardly ruffed by rocks of oppositio!, and true to the level he had taken.

His endowments from nature were great, and he had given to them such cultivation, as the itate of the times permitted. It. would have been well, perhaps, had he never seen Bologna, and imbibed from its masters chofe maxims of church do nination, which, though the age held them facred, were ro hin the occasion of an unfortunate controversy, and to others brought much affli&tion. Early in life he was engaged in business, which made him an able negociator; and the favour of his. prince, which foon followed, raised him to uncommon great-, ness. , But the unbounded eonfidence he enjoyed, was ill used to ennoble the source from which it flowed. He did not enrich, himself, his family, or his retainers. All was Henry's, . His infvence he employed to gain him friends, and to pread his. intereft ; and when he displayed a inunificence, more than royal, it was his master's fame he looked to.' The love of pleature, which, in a dishpated court, can make the stouteit virtue třemVol. LXX. Nov. 1790.

Mm

ble,

ble, passed over his senses, as a gentle gile. There was a sterir. nels in his character, which would not bend to atlections that enervate, and it is remarkable, that, even when his enemies qyere poft numerous and malevolent, they never charned him with a fingle vice. His ruling pallions were the patsions of a great mind, such as, when circumstances favour, lead men to the atchievements of patriots and of heroes; and had providence giren Becket to his country but a few years later, we should have secu him oppoling with main fortitude the wild pretensions of Rome at the head of the barons, wreftirg Magna Charta from the tyrant son of Henry. On fome occafions, I think, he was too acrid in his expressions, and too unyielding in his condoct; but when we weigh his provocations and the incellant stress of low oppolition, wonder we cannot, and we may easily forgive. His private virtues were amiable. They endeared him to Henry, who loved him with a brother's lore; nor were they four. ed, it seems, by adverse fortune. They made him many friends; aud John of Salisbury, his secretary and companion, then defcribes him belt, when he checks his impetuofity, and chides, his too caustic humour, and does not give offence.'

With respect to the controversy itself, our author tells us, that he has examined Becket's conduct, on the principles and opinions of those times, respecting the dignity and power of the church. This appears to be impartial and candid ; but it ad. mits of two very different views. If we suppose for a moment the archbisliop fincere, we must pronounce him a weak man or a bad citizen. If he were not weak, he must have seen that, in his opposition to the constitutions of Clarendon, he fubverted morality and good order; he must have known that they were really the ancient customs of the realm, and he actually confeffes it in his letter to Matilda, formerly alluded to, by qualifying his first affertion, that they were innovations. Matilda, he knew, was well acquainted with the truth, and the only blamed Henry for putting them down in writing, a precaution, the ob. served, which his predeceffors had never thought necessary. Becket, however, from every letter, appears to'be a man of strong understanding, great knowledge, accurate discrimination, and found judgment. He could not be imposed on, though he wished to impose on others : he could not be fincere. The next question therefore recurs : can we defend a man for a mode of conduct subversive of morality and good order, because in his opposition he acted from a profesional spirit, a political regard to the interests of a body opposed to the civil power? If we allow that the rights of inen, of kings, and of the church was not then understood, and chat Becket acted from the best of motives, so far as was confitent with the knowledge of the æra, we must pronounce him a mistaken bigot, and his death a na

tional utility. In Ihort, from the best views that we can cbtain, Thomas seems neither to have been a good man nor a good subject : he was an ambitious prelate, who wanted to raise the mitre above the crown; and, in his zeal for the interests of the church, in his with to exalt his own personal power, he lost fight of wisdom and prudence, of morality and religion. . .

As we have followed our author's representation of the life of Becket with some minuteness, as it is the principal object of the historian, and has obtained a disproportionate fare of his attention, we have not broken the chain by attending to other objeêts. Indeed Henry is little seen, except as the antagonist of Becket; and the pope Alexander, and Frederick Barbarosia, in their respective disputes with each other, with which Henry has no connection, are nearly brought as much forward as the profesied object of the historian's care, where the church is not concerned. If many of the transactions of Henry's reign are omitted, seemingly for want of room, the attention of the au. thor is improperly bestowed on more remote subjects. The campaign in Wales, the peace with Louis, and the coronation of his son are mentioned, but the representations are nearly the usual ones.

The affli&tions of Henry did not prevent his engaging in the conquest of Ireland, a project long since in view, and which the conduct of Strongbow had somewhat precipitated. After having made his peace with Rome, or rather having stopped the projected blow, which the pope had meditated, he turned his atten. tion to Ireland, and the conquest of this kingdom is detailed in Mr. Berington's usually spirited language. We need not add any remarks on our author's general account of the Irish, their early civilization, their knowledge of letters, their science, &c. because we have already had occasion to notice, and Mall again return to the subject ; but, in general, the narrative of the conquest is clear, comprehensive, and impartial. During this æra the fame of Becket survived him, and miracles were daily performed at his tomb. When Mr. Berington allows that the churchmen who recorded them were, in his opinion, by no voluntary act imposed on,' and when he hints that the abject fubinillion of Henry at the tomb of Becket might please heaven, and influence the fortunate change in his affairs, he betrays a: weakness and credulity which deserves the severest reprehenfion. In the eyes of found reason and philosophy, the pretended miracles must appear to be the most flagrant iinpositions; and, though we are taught that the Almighty will hear those who ak with sincerity and truth, we are no where told that to be whipped by monks, or to walk barefoot to a dead body, are aits of piety, or capable of inßuencing the decisions of heaven.

M m 2

If

If this appears severe, the author must recollect that he has me. rited it, by insidiously inculcating the superstitious tenets of a feet, while he is profesiedly writing a history. If he had not also some other object in view, besides the credit of history, and the fame of Becket, he ought to have informed us why he preferred, in his account of the reconciliation of Henry with the Romih see, the authority of Alanus in the Historia Quadriparcita, to the authentic inftrument drawn up by the cardinals, and the letter of the king to the English clergy. In this instrument, which now lies before us, the king does not give up the confti. Cutions of Clarendon: he only gives up the customs detrimeni al 10 the church introduced in his own time, which, he observes, and observes truly, in this letter, were few and of little importance. In the case of appeals also, which he does give up, there is an effectual clause added, which makes the resignation of no value. • Sic tamen, ut fi vobis suspecti fuerint aliqui, Jocuritaiem facient quod malum veftrum vel regni veftri non que. rent.' Since, our historian, by this mode of conduct, has com. pelled us to follow him closely, we may add, that his iafinua. tion respecting Henry's proceedings in Ireland, is unfair. He gave, he says, to the Irish church · those immunities which he had laboured to take from their brethren in England.' He ought to have observed, that the ball of Adrian, his only title to this island, contained an express clause, ' jure nimirum ecclefoum illibato & integro permanente ;' that he could not be said to give what was not then in his power to take away.

The other parts of the eventful history of Henry's reign are related with fewer marks of prepolemion, and of that colour which facts derive from the complexion of the mind through which they pass. The repeated rebellion of Henry's sons is not always to be charged to their impetuous and turbulent spirit :: in the last initance particularly, his partial fondness for John feems to have drawn the bold intrepid Richard into the lores of Philip. Yet, from these petty wars, he often returned victo. rious, and his sons were usually satisfied with triling, generally pecuniary compensations. The great fource of these re. belliors was probably the king's passion for Adelais, betrothed to Richard, whom the king confined, and either wished to give to John or retain for himfelf. This object also induced him to flatier Alexander, for to flattery we must attribute his letter to the pope, in which he says, he has freed the clergy from fecular jurisdiétion, and in effect repealed the most obnoxious itatute in the Clarendon code. This our author has mentioned without remarking that no such proclamation exifts, no such ftatute appears to have been enacted either by the sole prerogative of the king or by his pir iament. We allow it to be a mean de

ceit; and another letter, which our athor has not cited, in which the king cells the pope that the whole kingdom of England is his, deserves reprehension, as the most abject Aattery. But Henry was always a politician; and truth, in more instances than one, has been made to yield to his political views. At the period of the letter first mentioned, he was endeavouring to procure a divorce from Eleanor, probably that he might marry Adelais ; and, at the date of the second, he was in great danger from the rebellion of his sons. His prosecutions on account of the game killed during the rebellion, which his justiciary, by his injudicious conduct had occafioned, show his despotic inclinations, though, in the execution, his anger was tempered with mercy; and we can, with our author, severely reprobate the prefent system of game-laws, the manorial rights, the most oppreflive remains of the feudal system. The regulations at Northampton, in which the ordeal is continued, show only that superftition had not yet lost its sway, but almost every page of the annalists of this period proves the same; the loose polit cal system, adopted for Ireland, is an equal proof of the little progress of constitutional science.

The other events of this period, the affairs of France and of Germany, the defeat of Frederick, the triumph of Alexander, and the succeeding pontiffs, as well as the progresive victories of Saladin in Palestine, claim our historian's attention. In many of these Henry was interested, and in some, we think, our author does not represent Henry's conduct with impartiality; nor does he properly prove that there is nothing in the spirit of the Roman communion, hostile to liberty, hostile to the rights of man.' His reflections on the last days being usually spent in a convent, if he means only a place of reft, quiet and retire. ment, are more juft. We shall conclude our article with the character of Henry.

• His understanding was good, the general powers of his mind far above the ordinary level, and his memory moft tenacious. He was fond of reading, well informed in hitlory, and possessed a natural eloquence, which when his teinper was unruffled, flowed with grace and perfpicuiry. He was aftable and well-bred, facetious and cominunicative. When the amusements of the day, or the serious occupations of war and bufiness were over, he fought the company of the learned, and delighted much, in a circle of churchmen, to propose subjects for difcussion, and himself to attempt their folution.

His vices were the vices of the man, and his virtues be. longed to the prince. If the first were manifold, so were the fecond. He wished to make his people happy; and the burthens he laid on them were comparatively light. Even in the forest-laws his lenity appeared, because he initigated their seve.

M m 3

rity

« ZurückWeiter »