CHAPTER VII. THE STRIFE WITH THE CHURCH
There was another side to the treaty. Henry and Thomas met at Montmirail for the first time since the council of Northampton over four years before, to renew a quarrel in which no terms of peace were possible. The old hopeless dispute raged afresh, the king demanding a vow to obey the "customs of the kingdom," Thomas insisting on his clause "saving my order," "saving the honour of God." The former weary negotiations began again; new envoys hurried backwards and forwards; interminable letters argued the limits of the temporal and spiritual powers in phrases which lost nothing of their arrogance from the fact that neither side had the power to enforce their claims. The Primate would have no counsels. "Believe me," Thomas wrote of Henry, "who know the manners of the man, he is of such a disposition that nothing but punishment can mend." He excommunicated the bishops of London and Salisbury and a number of clerks and laymen, till in the chapel of the king there was scarcely one who was able to give him the kiss of peace. Henry "shook with fear," according to the boast of Thomas, at the excommunications. In vain the Pope sought to moderate his zeal. In the summer of 1169 two legates were sent to settle the dispute, of whom one was pledged to the king and the other to the archbishop. Henry, like every one else, saw the futility of their mission, and "led them for a week," as one of them complained, "through many windings both of road and speech." With a scornful taunt that "he did not care an egg for them and their excommunications," he finally mounted his horse to ride off from the conference. "I see, I see!" he said to the frightened bishops who hurried after him to call him back; "they will interdict my land, but surely I who can take the strongest of castles in any single day, shall I not avail to scotch a single clerk if he should interdict my land!" When a compromise seemed possible, he suddenly added to the form of peace he had proposed the words, "saving the dignity of my kingdom." This broke off all negotiations. "The dignity of the kingdom," said Thomas, "was only a softer name for the Constitutions of Clarendon." "If the king," said John of Salisbury, "had obtained the insertion of this clause, he had carried the royal customs, only changing the name." A new attempt at reconciliation was made in November at Montmartre, but Henry refused to give the Primate the "kiss of peace," which in feudal custom was the binding sign of perfect friendship; and when the Pope thought to compel his submission, first by threats and promises, then by a formal threat of interdict, he answered by despatching very decided orders to England. Anyone who carried an interdict to England was to suffer as a traitor; all clerks were summoned home from abroad; none might leave the kingdom without an order from the king; if any man should observe an interdict he was to be banished with all his kindred. All appeal to Pope or archbishop was forbidden; no mandate might be carried to Pope or archbishop; if any man favoured Pope or archbishop his goods and those of his kindred should be confiscated. All subjects of the realm, from boys to old men, must swear obedience to these articles.
But if Henry had long been used to see his mere will turn into absolute law, he had now reached a point where the submission of his subjects broke down. The laity indeed obeyed, but the clergy, with the Archbishop of York at their head, absolutely refused to abjure obedience to Pope and Primate. Throughout the strife the leading clergy had sought to avoid taking sides, but as the king's attitude became more and more arbitrary, a steady undercurrent of resistance made itself felt. As early as 1166 the king's officer, Richard of Ilchester, sought counsel of Ralph of Diceto as to the duty of observing his excommunication by Thomas. The answer shows the nobler influence of the Church in maintaining the rigid rule of law as opposed to arbitrary government, and its large sense that general order was to be preferred to private good. He laid down that an archbishop's spiritual rights are indestructible; that in all cases submission to law was the highest duty; and that it was better humbly to accept even a harsh sentence than to set an evil example of disobedience by which others might be led to their ruin. In 1167 the clergy had been called to London to swear fealty to the anti-Pope; but "as the bishops refused to take so detestable an oath against God and the Pope, this unlawful and wicked business came to an end." The bishops had obeyed the excommunication of Foliot by the Primate; they had refused to join in his appeal to Rome or to hold communion with him. It now seemed as though in this last decree of 1169 Henry had reached the limits of his authority over the Church, and it may be that some sense of peril induced him at the Pope's orders to summon Thomas to Normandy to renew negotiations for the peace of Montmartre. But the meeting never took place. Before Thomas could reach Caen he was stopped by news that Henry had suddenly left for England. In the midst of a terrible storm the king crossed the Channel on the 3rd of March 1170, and barely escaping with his life, landed at Portsmouth after four years' absence.