CHAPTER VI. THE ASSIZE OF CLARENDON

The flight of the archbishop marked the opening of a new phase in the struggle. Thomas sought refuge at the Papal Court at Sens. There kneeling at Alexander's feet, and surrounded by weeping cardinals, he delivered into the Pope's hands the written "customs" which had been forced upon him at Clarendon, and resigned the see of Canterbury to receive it back again with all honour. Alexander had indeed but limited sympathy with the fiery zealot, but he had practically no choice of action in face of the resistance with which the clergy would have met any sacrifice of ecclesiastical to secular authority. For two years at a monastery in Pontigny then for four at Sens, the archbishop lived the life of an austere Cistercian monk, edifying the community with his fastings, scourgings, and prayers. The canon law again became his constant study, and throughout the churches of Gaul he sought for books which might be copied for the library at Canterbury. He was soon fortified with visions of martyrdom, and prepared himself fitly to fulfil this glorious destiny. Nor did he forget the uses of political intrigue; it was easy to enlist on his side the orthodoxy of the French king and of the house of Blois; and the intimate knowledge which he had of his master's continental policy was henceforth at the disposal of the hereditary enemies of Henry. A tumult of political alarms filled the air. Ambassadors from both sides hurried to every court, to the Emperor, the Pope, the King of France, the Count of Flanders, the Empress Matilda at Rouen. It was the beginning of six years of incessant diplomatic intrigue, and of almost ceaseless war. The conflict, transferred from England to France, rapidly widened into a strife, not now for the maintenance of the king's authority in England, but for his actual supremacy over the whole empire. Instead of the great questions of principle which had given dignity to the earlier stages of the dispute, the quarrel sank into a bitter personal wrangle, an ignoble strife which left to later generations no great example, no fruitful precedent, no victory won for liberty or order, for Church or State.

The Constitutions of Clarendon two years before had lain down the principles which were to regulate the relations in England of Church and State. The Assize of Clarendon laid down the principles on which the administration of justice was to be carried out. Just as Henry had undertaken to bring Church courts and Church law under the king's control, so now he aimed at bringing all local and rival jurisdictions whatever into the same obedience. In form the new law was simple enough. It consisted of twenty-two articles which were drawn up for the use of the judges who were about to make their circuits of the provinces. The first articles described the manner in which criminals were to be "presented" before the justices or sheriff. The accusation was to be made by "juries," composed of twelve men of the hundred and four men of the township; the "presentment" of a criminal by a jury such as this practically implied that the man was held guilty by the public report of his own neighbourhood, and he was therefore forbidden such chance of escape as compurgation or the less dangerous forms of ordeal might have afforded, and was sent to the almost certain condemnation of the ordeal by water; if by some rare fortune he should escape from this alive he was banished from the kingdom as a man of evil reputation. All freemen were ordered to attend the courts held by the justices. The judges were given power to enter on all estates of the nobles, to see that the men of the manor were duly enrolled under the system of "frank-pledge," in groups of ten men bound to answer for one another as "pledges" for all purposes of police. Strict rules were made to prevent the possible escape of criminals. The sheriffs were ordered to aid one another in carrying the hue and cry after them from one country to another; no "liberty" or "honour" might harbour a malefactor against the king's officers; sheriffs were to give to the justices in writing the names of all fugitives, so that they might be sought through all England; everywhere jails, in which doubtful strangers or suspected rogues might be shut up for safe keeping in case the "hue and cry" should be raised after them, were to be made or repaired with wood from the king's or the nearest landowner's domains; no man might entertain a stranger for whom he would not be answerable before the justices; the old English law was again repeated in the very words of ancient times, that none might take into his house a waif or wanderer for more than one night unless he or his horse were sick; and if he tarried longer he must be kept until he were redeemed by his lord or could give safe pledges; no religious house might receive any of the mean people into their body without good testimony as to character unless he were sick unto death; and heretics were to be treated as outlaws. These last indeed were not very plentiful in England, and the over-anxious legislators seem only to have had in view a little band of German preachers, who had converted one woman, and who had themselves at a late council at Oxford been branded, flogged, and driven out half-naked, so that there was by this time probably not one who had not perished in the cold.