Becket’s Blood

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September 1635

 

One fine morning Robert Smythe, the city of York’s most popular pulpiteer, went to the doctor.

“Reverend Smythe! And what can I do for you?”

“I have, of late, been troubled by these pains in my breast. Well, it is not so much pain as it is pressure. It almost feels like someone is sitting on my chest.”

“Are there any other symptoms?”

“No.”

“No shortness of breath, or shooting pains in the arm?”

“Well, now that you mention it, the pain in the arm was more of an irritation than a pain, and the shortness of breath I assumed was just my age creeping up on me.”

“I see, well, let’s get a look at you. Take off your shirt please.”

“What?”

BB-sthscp“I want to listen to your heart and organs,” the physician said as he opened a beautiful leather box and took out a stethoscope. The cup and ear pieces were silver as was the tee which split the sound to both ears. The tubes were sewn from supple, flexible leather and a horn spring replaced the spring steel which would hold an up-time instrument to one’s ears.

The doctor placed the cone to the preacher’s chest. “Take a deep breath and hold it please.” He listened for a bit. “Exhale.” He moved the cup to the man’s back. “Inhale and hold.” He shifted the scope to the chest where he moved it around a bit after he said, “Take several deep breaths.”

“What is that thing?” the preacher asked.

“It is called a stethoscope. It was made in Grantville in the Germanies. A merchant stopped in a month ago and demonstrated this one.”

“Does it work?”

“I was shocked. It is almost miraculous, a very ingenious device. Would you like to hear?” He asked taking it out of his ears and putting it in his patient’s.

“Truly incredible,” Reverend Smythe said.

“Yes, it is. Do you know anything about Grantville?” The doctor asked by way of stalling. He had bad news and did not want to tell the most popular preacher in York just how little time he had left on earth.

“I’ve heard a lot of wild tales. Of course I normally wouldn’t have believed them. But a . . .” He paused to consider the right word; he did not want to admit an old colleague and dear friend was involved. “. . . an acquaintance of mine, brought a book to me which claims to be a reprint of a history book written in the year 1958.”

“Oh, how interesting. Perhaps I could borrow it sometime.”

“I would be happy to lend it to you if I still had it but the acquaintance was not willing to part with it.”

“Too bad. Did you learn anything of interest?”

“Well, first of all, none of it applies. History has already been changed. After all, Grantville is not in the book. Then, of course, since it was an American history book there wasn’t a lot about England or Europe. Notably, in 1776, the American colonies rebelled against King George III. In that history, the Americans went on to great things and the English language was spoken in an Empire, which circumnavigated the globe. Sadly, this will not happen now because Good King Charles—” By way of much practice, he actually managed to say it with a straight face. “—has ceded the new world to the French.”

“I see. There wasn’t any mention of a certain physician from York, was there?”

“No, I am afraid neither of us was named.” They both chuckled. It was a sad chuckle, though. After all, who doesn’t wish to be remembered in history?

“Reverend Smythe,” the physician said, having screwed up his courage, “I am afraid I have bad news for you.”

****

 

Six Months Later—March 1636

 

Reverend Smythe left off massaging his upper left arm. He left his carefully prepared notes on the announced topic sitting on the side table and rose to the pulpit to begin the homily.

The doctor’s words were fresh in his head. “Your heart is giving out. You might have a year. It might be as little as a few days. When you get shooting pains down your left arm that is a sign of the end.”

The sanctuary was full. Robert braced himself with a hand on either side of the lectern to gather his strength for the task before him. The crowd looked up in respectful anticipation. They were used to a lively, entertaining discourse, often on the very edge of political perdition. He had been admonished on several occasions of late to quit skirting the boundaries and stay well away from political topics.

His bishop had been explicit. “Robert, for heaven’s sake, man, leave the king out of your sermons. I’ve always known you had Puritan leanings, and I’ve always appreciated your wisely keeping them to yourself.” The bishop’s frown deepened as he continued, “But ever since you read the book you gave me, you have forgotten to be sensible.” At Smythe’s not quite uttered protest, the bishop raised his hands. “I know you feel the king has sold England’s future for a bowl of pottage.”

In point of fact, Robert Smythe had only lent the book to the Bishop. When the Bishop deemed it too dangerous to circulate and would not give it back, Robert was a bit upset.

“It isn’t likely to work out so England ends up having an Empire where the sun never sets and the English language dominates the world, now that everyone knows about it before it can start,” he said.

The bishop waved his hand as if chasing off a fly. “I’m telling you as a friend,” he said, “you have been noticed. Be certain you are being watched and leave politics alone.”

Today, with the distraction of the pain and the doctor’s words foremost in his mind, he would not be anywhere near the edge.

****

“The great whore of Babylon sits on the seven hills of Rome.”

The congregation stirred in anticipation. Reverend Smythe’s rants on Roman Catholicism were notable and always a topic of conversation for at least a fortnight.

“And her daughters follow in their mother’s evil and adulterous ways.” There was an uneasy rustling in the pews. Several people glanced at the person next to them in concern.

“Yes! I mean the Church of Rome which wrongly and shamelessly calls itself catholic and is not. And yes, I mean the Lutherans and the Calvinists, who have left off following Christ and now follow after men. And yes, I mean our own Church of England to our shame and disgrace. The daughters of Rome, who have so loudly decried their mother’s immorality still have not left the arms of her illicit lovers.

” ‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ sayeth the Lord. Yet there is the Church of England as there are many churches in many nations, some who defy Rome and some who are in communion with Rome, who answer to the state and wallow in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat who did cause the children of Israel to sin.”

The first to leave were those who sat in the back. Enjoying a notable sermon was one thing. Getting noted for it was another. The good reverend had gone too far this time.

“We are plagued with pestilent poperies,” Smythe continued, thumping the pulpit in time with his alliteration. “The putrid pus of Parliament’s pandering to the monarchy’s claim to being the head of the church in England, our own pitiful pope-let, binds the government and the church together in an abomination that is a sharp shadow, the mirror image of Rome. Yes, we decry Rome’s sins. Yet we cling to them, heart and soul.”

At this, several families quietly, or not so quietly, got up and left. More importantly, a single man whispered to the companion next to him, “Stay and observe. I will call the guard,” before slipping out of the chapel.

“In Acts 14:22 did Paul not say we must go through much tribulation to enter into the Kingdom of the Lord?

“And from where has tribulation and persecution arisen?

“It issues forth, a noxious stream, from the springs called the governments of this world with whom the great whore and her daughters have laid down in debauchery and sin. Idolatry and whoredom, whoredom and idolatry.”

His head shook as almost as a terrier shakes a rat while his voice went from loud and clear to low, soft, and gravelly as he spoke the last half of the paired couplets. It was a voice still clearly audible in the far corners of the vaulted room even in its soft melancholy sadness.

The quote of Ephesians 6:12 blasted forth from the pulpit like a roar of thunder. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

BB-kngchrlsThe roaring thunder did not abate with the quote. “Yes, we do indeed wrestle against principalities, the king of England, the head of the Church of England, two thoughts with but half a mind, lost in the darkness of this world; half a mind with no room for the truth of the Lord or the good of the nation. What is good for the king is what is good for the nation, in what passes for thought in the mind of our monarch. ‘I am the nation,’ sayeth the king. And what does he feel is good for the king? Why whatever takes his fancy, whatever the king wants.”

He paused as if to gather a thought, “Why does he dare not call Parliament? Because they will call him to task for what he has done with the taxes he has raised. But will they call him to task over the vile evil of unevenly yoking the church of the Lord and the reign of man?” He pounded the pulpit hard enough to be heard between each of the next four words. “Nay,—they—will—not!” The preacher did not seem to notice how badly his hand was throbbing which it most surely was.

“The king tells us he does not rule by permission of Parliament. Nay, he rules by divine right. He answers to the Lord and the Lord alone. If we have a good king, it is a gift of the Lord. A poor king is a punishment visited upon us for our wicked ways. And if we have a mindless idiot for a king who was married to a wife who was an even greater mindless idiot, then surely it is because we have been very wicked indeed!” The words very wicked indeed were gargled so far back in the speaker’s throat they almost hurt the ears of those who were left.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Smythe roared as the man who had told his companion to wait and observe reentered the church and stood in the back by the doors.

“Blessed are they who turn first to the Lord because they are poor and have nowhere else to turn. And the King of England is busy seeing to it there will never be a shortage of blessed people in this so sadly afflicted land. As fast as he drives so many into starvation, he sees to it there is a plentitude of people to fill the ranks of the poor. He is indeed a punishment for our wickedness!

“What wickedness you ask?”

Again the voice went from a near-roar to a near-growl and still it was somehow clearly understandable in the farthest corner of the great hall.

“The wickedness of believing in the divine right of Kings! The Magna Carta tells us we as English subjects have rights! If we have rights, then the king has limits. If the barons could force the king’s signature on the great charter then did the king not admit his right to govern derived from the consent of the governed?

“Christ said, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto the Lord the things that are the Lord’s.’ But how can we do that? How can we separate the two, when the Lord and Caesar in the person of the king stride hand and hand across the backs and the faces of the good people of this land?

“The Lord told the priest of Israel to stay out of government and the kings of Israel to stay out of the temple. The daughters of Rome, like their noble mother before them, bind the temple and the throne together in an unlawful incestuous marriage. ‘Come ye out from amongst them and be ye separate sayeth the Lord.’ How can the church call the government to repentance when the church is the government? When they are one and the same? Did not Henry II cry out, ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?’ just before Becket was assassinated between the communion rail and the altar? And was Becket not appointed to the job of archbishop by the hand of the very same king who called for his death?”

The church was half-empty by now, and people continued to leave.

BB-cnstn“Constantine wanted a unifying agent to rebind the empire into a single whole. He chose Christianity. The bishops and all the popes, yes the popes! The Pope of Antioch, the Pope of Alexandria, the Pope of Constantinople, the Pope of Rome who now claims to be the only one. The popes and the bishops sold themselves to Constantine, choosing to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season rather than suffer the afflictions of the people of the Lord. The bride of Christ knowing her husband still lived and would return did in his absence shamefully take an adulterous lover. She has married the kings of this world.”

Smythe paused and grimaced from an exceptionally sharp pain shooting down his arm. “For many will say to Christ on that day, did we not prophesy in thy name? Did we not cast out demons and do many great works? Did we not burn many vile witches and heretics? Did we not build many great cathedrals? Christ will say unto them, ‘Depart from me ye workers of iniquity I never knew you.’ On that day, he will ask Rome and her daughter the Church of England, ‘Who are you? Go to your lovers the kings of this world and say unto them, save me.’ ”

“Constantine compelled all to be baptized under pain of death. It was not the loving call of Christ, ‘Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest,’ but the stark choice, convert or die. Constantine decreed all must conform. And today the king of England does likewise command us.”

By this time the church was very thinly populated.

The doors of the church banged open. The guard marched in two by two and did not stop until they reached the communion rail. It was not the regular city guard, but a unit of the mercenary army bought by the king of England with French money and now used to suppress all dissent.

“Be seated,” Reverend Smythe said. “The Eucharist will follow the homily.”

The head of the guard spoke in a voice trained to carry across a battlefield. “Reverend Smythe, you are under arrest in the name of the king on charges of high treason and heresy.”

Smythe smiled. If he lived long enough, he would be executed, perhaps even burned at the stake. There was a list of notable preachers in the history book who were executed. Perhaps now he would be remembered. Besides, it felt good to speak the truth plainly. His right hand rubbed his left arm from shoulder to elbow to ease the shooting pains. The end, as he well knew, was near.

“Depart from me ye workers of iniquity. This house is a house of prayer. You have made it a common stew. Return like the mindless curs you are to the corrupt master you have chosen to serve in the place of the Lord your God.”

“Take him,” was all the leader said.

Robert lifted the heavy pulpit Bible over his head in both hands. “Sola Scriptura.” The labor of holding it there, on top of the excitement, on top of the exertion of filling the vast hall with his voice, took its toll, and Reverend Robert Smith collapsed under the strain. The Bible fell and tumbled into the feet of one of the guards and he stumbled over it before he helped gather the Reverend up off the floor and carried him out. Smythe would never regain consciousness in this life on earth.

By the week’s end, it seemed every shepherd in his isolated croft knew of how the king’s men had stormed the church in York. From Land’s End to the Isles of Scotland, all knew that the kingsmen had beaten Reverend Smythe to death between the communion rail and the altar. It was told that they trampled the Bible.

The tale of their leaving a streak of blood as they dragged the body feet first down the aisle and out the door, backside up, with the face bouncing from step to step, was oft-repeated. One version claimed that the blood stains were still there, that they would not wash away. Another version claimed that it was washed clean only for the stain to reappear with the rising sun.

Yet another version claimed that the reappearing blood was as fresh each morning as it was in the hour it was first laid down, and the groans of the dying clergyman could clearly be heard filling the sanctuary in the dark of night. Every version averred that the stunned men of the packed congregation stood with their wives and children and could do nothing but watch when faced by halberds, swords, and pistols.

Some people muttered. Some few who knew the future history asked quietly, “Where is Cromwell?” Hotheads met in secret as hotheads are wont to do. There they cursed the king, discussed matters of state, and considered what might be done. It seemed, indeed, that the blood would not dry and the voice crying out in the dark of night in a church in York disturbed the sleep of a nation.

 

About Terry Howard

I have in my life been paid for working as, in or at: lawn care, onion topping, haying, fruit picking, general farm labor, fast food, retail, truck driver, construction, gear stacker, stock puller, truck loader, ice house production, auto body/paint shop, janitorial, tutoring, printer’s assistant, stage actor, plastic extrusion, sculptor, teacher, bus driver, direct sales, title examiner, interior decorating, route delivery, waiter, deck hand, marine engineer, reftan/dairy hand, aluminum extrusion and stamping, kosher chef, ren-fair manager, general contractor, landlord, several other things that I do not care to mention and, now, for writing.

I was born in Michigan City Indiana, where my father worked as a machinist while pastoring a General Baptist Church, which makes me a Hoosier, but in my family a Hoosier is an Ozarky who didn’t make it to Detroit. It has been said, and I attest to the truth, that the Celts are alive and living in the Ozarks under assumed names.

I have lived in nine states and abroad. After dropping out of high school to go to college I have studied formally in two colleges, one university, and one graduate school. I have learned much more from studying informally in other settings. My wife, Lauri, and I currently live in California.

6 thoughts on “Becket’s Blood

  1. leegibson

    Bravo! We readers know the answer to”Where’s Cromwell?” Are we safe to assume that this story is canon and that Crazy King Charley not widthstanding, Cavalier heads will roll under Roundness axes? Terry Howard’s very creative plotlines and characters take as much effort to keep up with as any of Virginia’s tangled webs?
    Keep’em commin
    Lee Gibson

  2. wiley coyote

    Lovely Parable and Lovely Writing!
    I Must use both my Love of the Cathedral in York and my muddy boots, and my years of service to water and wastewater for the Forces, NATO & USA: PUTIN & CHARLES= DIVINE RIGHT.
    It is time to Tell–NO DIVINE RIGHT!
    NO RIGHT TO USE NUKES!
    Wc

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