CHAPTER VII. THE STRIFE WITH THE CHURCH
The king well understood, indeed, in what a critical position matters stood. He swiftly agreed to every conceivable concession on every hand. He met the papal messengers and bent to their terms of reconciliation. On the 20th of July he had a conference with Louis near Freteval in Touraine, and next day the kings parted amicably. On the 22d an interview between the king and the archbishop followed. The royal customs were not mentioned; no oath was exacted from the Primate; he was promised safe return and full possession of his see, and the "kiss of peace"; he was to crown once more the young king and his wife. At the close of the conference Thomas lighted from his horse to kiss the king's foot, but Henry, rivalling him in courtesy, dismounted to hold the Primate's stirrup, with the words, "It is fit the less should serve the greater!" But if there was a show of peace "the whole substance of it consisted only in hope," as Thomas wrote. Each side was full of distrust. Thomas demanded immediate restitution of his see, and liberty to excommunicate the bishops who had shared in the coronation. Henry wanted first to see "how Thomas would behave in the affairs of the kingdom." The king and Primate met for the last time in October 1170 at Chaumont with seeming friendliness, but any real peace was as far off as ever. "My lord," said Thomas, as he bade farewell, "my heart tells me that I part from you as one whom you shall see no more in this life." "Do you hold me as a traitor?" asked the king. "That be far from thee, my lord!" answered Thomas. But to the Primate the king's fair promises were but the tempting words of the devil - "all these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me." He begged from the Pope unlimited powers of excommunication. "The more potent and fierce the prince is," he said, "the stronger stick and harder chain is needed to bind him and keep him in order." He had warning visions. He spoke of returning to his church "perhaps to perish for her." "I go to England," he said; "whether to peace or to destruction I know not; but God has decreed what fate awaits me."
The king's conduct indeed gave ground for fear. He had summoned clergy abroad against law and custom to elect bishops who, in contempt of the Primate's rights, were to be sent to Rome for consecration. In the general doubt as to the king's attitude, no one dared to speak to envoys sent by Thomas to England. Ranulf de Broc was still wasting the lands of Canterbury; the palace was half in ruins, the barns destroyed, the lands uncultivated, the woods cut down. The Primate's friends urged him to keep out of England for fear of treachery. Thomas, however, was determined to return, and to return with uncompromising defiance. He sent before him letters excommunicating the bishops of London and Salisbury, and suspending the Bishop of Durham and the Archbishop of York, for having joined in the coronation; and on the following day, under the protection of John of Oxford as the king's officer, he landed at Sandwich. The excommunications had set the whole quarrel aflame again, and John of Oxford with difficulty prevented open fighting. The royal officers demanded absolution for the bishops. Thomas flatly refused unless they would swear to appear at his court for justice, an oath which the bishops in their terror of the king dared not take. They fled to Henry's court in Normandy; while on the 1st of December Thomas passed on to Canterbury. The men of Kent were stout defenders of their customary rights; they clung tenaciously to their special privileges; they had their own views of inheritance, their fixed standard of fines, their belief that the Crown had no right to the property of thief or murderer, who had been hanged - "the father to the bough, the son to the plough," said they, in Kent at least. They were a very mixed population, constantly recruited from the neighbouring coasts. They held the outposts of the country as the advanced guard formally charged with the defence of its shores from foreign invasion, which was a very present terror in those days. Lying near the Continent they caught every rumour of the liberties won by the Flemish towns or French communes; commerce and manufacture were doing their work in the ports and among the iron mines of the forests; and it seems as though the shire very early took up the part it was to play again and again in medieval history, and even later, as the asserter and defender of popular privileges. From such a temper Thomas was certain to find sympathy as he passed through the country in triumph. At Canterbury the monks received him as an angel of God, crying, "Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord." "I am come to die among you," said Thomas in his sermon. "In this church there are martyrs," he said again, "and God will soon increase their number." A few days later he made a triumphant progress through London on his way to visit the young king; his fellow-citizens crowded round him with loud blessings, while a procession of three hundred poor scholars and London clerks raised a loud Te Deumas Thomas rode along with bowed head scattering alms on every side. His old pupil Henry refused, however, to receive him, and Thomas returned to Canterbury.