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The Story of England: The Holy Blissful Martyr

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Arthur Bryant relates how Becket’s death, at the hands of Henry II's servants, made this once worldly prelate a popular religious hero.

For six years the archbishop remained an exile. The revenues of his see were confiscated, his kinsfolk banished, and his office declared forfeit. From the position he had taken up—that ultimate appeals affecting the Church must lie to the pope and not the king, and that no lay court had the right to lay hands on an anointed priest—nothing would move him. Attempts were made to negotiate a compromise by the pious king of France, who gave him shelter out of dislike for his English rival, by the pope, who, despite his disapproval of the Constitutions of Clarendon, was still deeply anxious to retain Henry’s goodwill, by the bishops, who found themselves between the devil and the deep sea and could not obey their temporal master without disobeying their spiritual. All were in vain and broke down on the enmity of two resolute and legalistically-minded men of genius, who brought out all that was most stubborn and violent in one another. From time to time, whenever the temporizing pope permitted, Becket emerged from the French monasteries into which he had retired to a life of the sternest austerity, to hurl anathemas and excommunications at his fellow prelates for compromising with the king. Only the papal prohibition stopped him from treating the latter likewise.


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