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THOMAS OF CANTERBURY , A TRAGEDY
At the time when King Henry II of England assembled the bishops and lords of the realm, desiring to enact laws to weaken the dignity and liberty of the Church, Thomas, translated from Chancellor of England to Archbishop of Canterbury, exhibited great courage in opposing the royal will. So as to win him over the king first employed sundry promises, and then threats. But when he would not retreat from his position, he was penalized by his irate sovereign’s sentence of banishment. When the same sentence had been pronounced upon his kinsmen and friends, they went to him, seeking to sway him into submitting to the king by the piteous sight of their misfortune, but in vain. Therefore that most holy man quit England and went to Rome and to Pope Alexander III. After having experienced the Pope’s kindness he betook himself to King Louis in France. Thanks to that king’s intercession and that of the Pope he was finally recalled home and received with the applause of all the orders of the realm. And yet a little later, when slanderers denounced him for allegedly undertaking much against the king and the king not infrequently complained he the could not live in peace within the same realm with that one priest, certain criminal man, imagining that they would do a highly welcome service to their king if they murdered Thomas, assaulted him while he was attending to his evensong service. He, having commended his Church to God and the holy saints, submitted his neck to their impious steel in the year of Christ 1171, Thomas Stapleton and other historians tell the story.
THE TRAGEDY’S DRAMATIS PERSONAE
HENRY II KING OF ENGLAND
RICHARD LE BRETON, HUGH DE MORVILLE, WILLIAM DE TRACY, REGINALD FITZURSE courtiers
NIGEL the king’s confesssor
FOR MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
LUCAS Bishop of Wells
ALARD Bishop of London
CONRARD Bishop of ELY
THE ENGLISH CHURCH
THOMAS , the Archbishop of CANTERBURY
KIKNSMEN of Thomas of Canterbury
ALEXANDER III the Pope
LOUIS KING OF FRANCE
ACT I, SCENE i
HENRY II KING OF ENGLAND
There is only a single splendid enterprise for puissant sovereigns, to earn praise. Whoever is born to the throne of his realm so that he may wield the scepter seeks praise, and glory earns him brilliant chariots. Kings have lofty minds, the aim at heavenly honor and while they exercise control over throngs of mortals they seek to rival heaven’s magnificence and majesty. For we kings are a sacred, heaven-descended breed, we are born to be seated on lofty thrones as we dictate laws to the world. In this matter we act as the representatives of God Almighty, and when this world reveres us it is showing reverence to God in heaven. A king is God’s image, and likewise the world’s second God. But not all sovereigns share the same path to glory. One prince strives for its acclaim as a mighty Mars when he employs his hand to launch wars and shakes this earth with his thunder-clouds, overcoming enemy camps with his own and strewing fields with corpses far and wide. Others quietly enjoy peace, their glory manufactured by a just courtroom: their concern is to abolish unspeakable crime, enact laws, suppress evil schemes in their infancy, eradicate the guilty, supply aid to the downtrodden, patronize the honorable achievements of peacetime, frequently bestow honorable rewards and enhance the punishments for evldoers. And while these fathers of their nation crave praise, they are fostering the public tranquility by their industies: let no madness infect the land and Virtue, conjoined with her fair arts, have cause to mourn.
For my part, I shall admit that I have also armed my hands with the weapons of war and everywhere reputation publishes my name. For heaven has granted me triumphs and my enemies are groaning under my weaponry. Wherever new sun arises and wherever receives its wearied chariot, wherever the world endures a scorching day and wherever it contains chilly climes, my trophies are springing up and my glory is the subject of song. Nevertheless I am pleased to maintain peace in my realms and am determined to foster it. Let my people call me its father and do reverence, during my reign let Astraea abandon the heavens as she returns to earth, and Virtue wear her laurel wreath, let the laws thrive thanks to my feats of arms: an assured visit to the gallows will suppress the guilty, the innocent man will have cause for rejoicing. I shall claim this credit to my name, for he who rules in accordance with just law is a king to be revered. Now, since I am able, I shall conduct an appraisal of my people, this is the first task of peacetime.
ACT I, SCENE ii
KING HENRY, RICHARDUS BRITO, HUGH DE MORVILLE, WILLIAM DE TRACY, REGINALD
HEN. Come, Richard, since you share my concerns, what is the condition of all the regions of my realm? What is their concern for the laws?
RICH. All men obey your laws and the nobility of the Court understand your rights. The common people are at peace and the nobility heed the command of their royal master.
HEN. Justice guarantees peace for rulers. A just courtroom is the support of a good king.
RICH. Your majesty, all men dread your courtroom. Punishment ready to deal with crime confounds felony and fear of punishment restrains the unruly. Living in security, the innocent man rejoices in his reward, whereas the guilty tremble. Peace exists for your England as long as your realms enjoy your laws.
HEN. Just law serves as kings’ second scepter.
MORV. Indeed, when a single form of law exists for everybody. Such is the value of having a single law.
HEN. Does not a single law exist for all men? Let there be a single law, just as there is a single king.
MORV. At least such is to be hoped for. As long as the clergy manufactures its own laws and refuses to submit to the royal courtroom, there is no single law and your subjects become divided. There is no single king and bishops behave like sovereigns.
HEN. This is intolerable. Just as there is a single sun in the sky so there should be a single law for our realm and a single man should govern. The sanctity of kingship cannot be shared.
WILL. Indeed the clergy’s power is excessive. Does only Rome creates the law and not yourself, your majesty? The Pope is its one sovereign. If a man here sues at law, if somebody summons a man to appear before your royal court, he calls on the assistance and support of the Holy See.
REG. They likewise brandish their thunderbolts, enmeshing our royal court with their shafts of lightning. That thunderbolt is more powerful than your laws. The bishops wish to dictate the law by themselves. They protect their own membership, leaving you only the feeble populace. Their laws keep the commoners and their rulers divided.
HEN. Do not I alone rule?
RICH. The bishops govern a part of your realm.
HEN. Do they not revere me?
RICH. They have no concern for your laws.
HEN. Don’t they tremble at my power?
RICH. Rather at the might of their own thunderbolt.
HEN. Let that thunderbolt exist, let the clergy have its power, but let that power defer to its sovereign. My power is heaven-granted. The king’s hands wield law and a sword, this realm has a single head, and it remains for all men to obey it. The government is mine, it is left to other men to obey it.
MORV. Such befits a king, you should make the law inviolable by an exercise of your authority. Nature cannot endure multiple masters, a single one must rule. The Governor of the universe Himself rules the change of days by alternating the setting sun for the stars and the blazing torches of the night. Either command by yourself, your realm obeying you, or you will be no king.
WILL. Even holy men ought to submit to their king. This is the only method of peace. If anyone should refuse, let him quit your kingdom.
REG. Your laws rather than Rome should control England. Being holy, Rome should have a share in the world, but not deal with royal laws. The king is the head of his realm, let him legislate a single law for his subjects.
HEN. Let Parliament meet, I shall furnish the legislation I desire.
RICH. Parliament will meet to endorse your law.
ACT I, SCENE iii
KING HENRY, HIS ROYAL CONFESSOR NIGEL
HEN. A great pain constrict my breast. In my mind I suffer, care drags me into further cares and knocks at the tight-shut door of my irate heart. For pain disturbs the lofty minds of princes when anyone disdains their scepter or seeks to snatch it away. My mind is made up, I wish to be the only king and be the only one to pronounce laws and legislate.
NIG. It is necessary for whoever is king to recognize that he too has a king, for God is King of Kings.
HEN. Let God be King of Kings, I venerate God.
NIG. You should equally venerate those whom the Lord has made His servants.
HEN. Him I venerate, but nonetheless I am the king. Let these gentlemen venerate me too and tolerate my yoke.
NIG. Should the clergy tolerate a yoke?
HEN. So I shall command.
NIG. Thus you would be sinful and incur the wrath of heaven.
HEN. Thus I shall make my scepter endure forever.
NIG. The Lord does not make scepters endure when kings neglect the rights of heaven.
HEN. When kings pay no heed to the rights of their scepter they destroy their kingdoms. There is a single method for scepters to be employed, to control all men.
NIG. Those for whom that is permissible, not for those you wish. Kings are not wont to control clerics. The Pope is king of those who are sacrosanct, he imposes law and rules on them. You should govern your people, act as a guardian of ecclesiastical rites, and protect holy ministers.
HEN. Is there any man within my borders who will not submit to my yoke?
NIG. You have been given as a monarch, but only a ruler over your own subjects. The Lord always visits heaven’s severe dooms on those who stake a claim on a right sacrosanct to Himself. Too late in the day, sorrow-stricken, you will perhaps condemn this law you yearn to enact. And what if the bishops resist you?
HEN. With my hand I shall compel them. If anyone should refuse to obey he must strap on his sword.
NIG. This the utterance of a tyrant.
HEN. It is the prerogative of a just king to enforce his law. Whoever is adjudged to be a felon will live without this nation of mine or suffer death.
ACT I, SCENE iv
RICHARD, KING HENRY, FOUR LORDS
RICH. Parliament is in session. Now command it as you desire, your majesty.
HEN. It behooves a sovereign to parcel out his attention among all his concerns. But the foremost of these is to foster peace. Monarchs come closest to God when they rule their peoples in assured peace. A uniform law creates peace, differing rights create friction, and it is inconsistent for the public weal to be based on variable laws. The holy order of bishops desires laws to exist only for its own membership and has no fear of mine or of my courtroom. Bishops govern rather than myself, the king. For them nobody is king. The clergy supplies its own courts and its own law for accused persons, it judges them and pronounces their sentences. It acknowledges the head of the priesthood to be its judge and when its members wish to lodge appeals they choose Rome. I am therefore minded to enact a new legislation and so, my lords, give your advice with firm conviction. Let my peace consist of the rule of law. Let a singlelaw embrace and bind together all men.
FIRST LORD A king’s concern is to bestow peace upon his subjects and this is a sure means of ensuring it, to bind all men together by the law. You must legislate, let every man who dwells within this kingdom be compelled to obey the law and let there be a single ruler for your England. Let it be an established crime, even for clerics, for a man to quit England and make his appeal wherever he chooses. Every man ought to settle his lawsuits in accordance with his sovereign’s decision. Let the Archbishop preside over hearings for his clergy, but if his judgment be appealed let them suffer the king as their judge. When a king is not dreaded, crime rules. This freedom is harmful for members of the clergy. When they are unafraid they rage about with steel and plunder, and everywhere the realm endures robberies and murders, swordplay and arson. It is the guilty among them who reject you as their ruler, and the Roman court will never restrain evildoers at such a distance. Let the royal courtroom punish men of all conditions.
HEN. I shall ordain that. Let it be a crime to leave the realm for the purpose of making an appeal.
SECOND LORD Let it be permissible to cherish consecrated men, that’s divine law. Let bishops govern their own kind, that’s civil law. But let there be a limit to all things. Is an Archbishop to sit as judge and pass judgment on the royal household while the king keeps silent? Shall he be empowered to impose a fine? Shall he fulminate with the same smoke and thunder as that of the Romans? Shall he condemn those who serve the king? Inflict fear? Threaten death? Such power would be the downfall of yours. Abolish it, your majesty, and rule by yourself. Let these consecrated men have no authority over your subjects, let them brandish their thunderbolts elsewhere.
HEN. This too I shall command, so that I might govern all men by myself. Let the clergy have no control over my subjects.
THIRD LORD Not everybody is accused of the same crime. The man accused of treason can be haled here, and the perjurer. Allow a bishop to judge them, and such men hold the royal courtroom in contempt. And, since an Archbishop can wield threats and punishments that inspire severe dread, this power is exclusively his. Surely your courtroom does not deal with ghosts and shades? Therefore you should ordain that every man who is accused of treason or possibly fears trial for perjury should be subject to trial by your law. Whoever sits in judgment over immorality is the one in control.
HEN. Let this be the law, whoever is accused of perjury or treason must submit to royal judgment.
FOURTH LORD This concern belongs exclusively to kings, to dispense justice. Hence they have a sword, and their hand is armed with its steel when they choose. They inflict punishment on malefactors and offer protection to the rest. It behooves the clergy to appease God and with a chaste hand offer up prayers to heaven, manage rites in accordance with national custom, and when vices arise to abolish them by a gentle application of fear. By his way of life a consecrated man teaches, by his voice he leads. Steel is inappropriate for chaste hands which provide pure offerings to heaven, nor is the courtroom appropriate for them. Let them listen to prayers but never hear about felonies, it scarcely befits sacred hands to become stained with blood. Therefore, your majesty, you should sit as judge over your people, let our judgements be binding upon their holy orders. Whoever is accused of felonies, even a priest, should stand trial here while your judge presides. Let every trial be settled in accordance with your decision.
HEN. This is my desire, let it be my law. Let my judgments have jurisdiction over all the accused. Do you say aye to these things, my lords?
FIRST LORD We do. Let a herald proclaim them.
SECOND LORD They are a support for your authority.
THIRD LORD The bishops ought to say aye to this law. Everyone should approve the things of which the king approves.
FOURTH LORD They should be present, I move that they should be fetched.
HEN. Go and summon them. Let them comply and approve this law. Let heaven be witness that I wish peace for England and assert the rights of my scepter, which only disloyalty obstructs. If everyone is governed by a single law, if all men fear my royal hand and sword, the security of the realm will be assured. Enter the bishops.
ACT I, SCENE v
RICHARD , KING HENRY, THE LORDS, LUCAS BISHOP OF WELLS, ALARD BISHOP OF LONDON, CONRARD BISHOP OF ELY
RICH. Here are the bishops who have been summoned. They are present, eager to hear your law. Let them be seated.
HEN. Now, my bishops, a happiness late in coming fills my heart, at length I have discovered a means of achieving peace. An English subject will rejoice as he enjoys tranquil peace and be gladdened of heart. A single law will produce a unified realm, when in my prudence I may manage all my subjects by the selfsame law, and when those accused of malfeasances will dread a single law applied by a judge of mine. Thus improved, England, enjoying the embrace of happiness, will have no cause to envy heaven. It remains for you to grant your equally enthusiastic approval to this law I have enacted.
LUC. If it please you, show us your law, we too have a calling to support you. The public weal rests upon our shoulders. Let whatever you command be enacted, if it is proper.
HEN. (To the first lord.) You set forth the law.
FIRST LORD Let no priest have the ability to depart the realm without the king’s permission. Let it be a crime to lodge an appeal with the Holy See. Let no holy Archbishop enjoy authority over the royal household. Whoever chances to be accused of treason must submit to the king’s court. Let the entire clergy submit to this, let the will of the king be the supreme law for all men, sacred or profane. Ratify this law, my bishops. This is the salvation prescribed for the realm. If your piety desires this security to be achieved, let the king’s command be ratified.
LUC. The national safety must be dear to us all, and yet we cannot betray our consecrated clergy. If is law is established, our holy liberty perishes.
ALAR. How can anyone abandon the care of our flock? The Pope of Rome will raise his hand against us and even disown us. We must all shudder at the threats of his holy thunder. If what the king commands is ratified, our order of bishops is degraded.
CON. So the Pope of Rome has no authority over us? If an Archbishop enjoys no power at all to sit as judge, then it’s finished, all holy things are doomed to go to perdition.
FIRST LORD Let every man have his dignity, let every man have his right. Let bishops enjoy their primacy, but let a single king be head of this realm. He who strives after his personal advantage has no wisdom but that which is ordained by law serves the public interest.
THIRD LORD The single security of realms is the will of the king. His subjects ought to tolerate the law he desires. If they do not, let his sure force compel them.
HEN. I swear by this ornament on my head and the glittering gleam of its reflected light that I shall ordain whatever law exists. Everything bishops can crave is within my gift. I dispense life and death.
SECOND LORD Whatever bishops possess within your borders is the great boon of your bounty, and by your own choice you will bestow even more. In this realm every honor is yours to give, your sacred majesty bestows all the offices of its government, and you will favor even these bishops. Let them approve this law and they will increase in the royal favor and long remain in power. Bishops, obey your king.
LUC. So that the security of the realm might now be assured, my king, I approve your law.
ALARD. I shall not hinder this thing, your majesty. I approve your law.
HEN. Good. I approve of your love, my bishops. It must now be seen to that Canterbury likewise gives his approval to this law. This, my lords, will be my concern. Come back when Phoebus brings the new day.
CHORUS OF ENGLISH VIRGINS
Each place where England stretches forth its arms l towards the rapid current, every place where an Englishman beholds the daylight and the brilliance shed by Phoebus, ought to imitate our complaints about the sad fates we suffer, copying our groans intermingled with tears. And so, my chaste companions, let us weep. It remains to beat our breasts with our hands. For us, all bad things are on the rise since our holy authority is waning. Scepters are placing ordained ministers under compulsion. The royal court is laying claim on heaven’s rights and our fathers hasten to bow their timid heads and submit their necks to the king. Piety is oppressed by depraved confusion and the horrible prospect of death swallows their courage. As when an upright ship yields to gales, exposing its side to mighty waves, and, wind-driven, offers no resistance, so our fathers are yielding, exposing their sides to the dread of mortality, and timidly defile themselves and their sacred things. Few stouthearted men scorn the bitter ending of assured death when the king’s mountain-top thunders and the fear of his royalty overcomes them. Few maintain a steadfast heart when Fate, which in the past has deceitfully brought them good things, has deceived their hearts with its blandishments, and with its gifts bewitched their trifling minds, assaults them with a menacing face. Oh, bountiful Father of the world, oh great Creator of nature, if the prayers of Your devotees have any effect, shatter whatever Fortune has prepared. Let these omens wear out the Persians and let a happier breeze refresh ourselves. Let Your holy servants flourish, let Rome grant Your holy ministers their rights.
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