Herbert of Bosham (circa 1120 - 1190)
Biographer of St. Thomas Becket,
Herbert was born in Bosham circa 1120 and joined Thomas Becket's household sometime before 1162. He was to give his master advice on the performance of his duties, and to assist and even direct his studies of Scripture. Herbert remained closely attached to St. Thomas during the arduous and troubled years of his episcopacy and exile down to almost the eve of the final scene in Canterbury Cathedral.
Of all the archbishop's followers he was the keenest antagonist of the king and the royal "customs", quite ready on occasion to beard Henry II to his face or to undertake dangerous missions to England. After the martyrdom Herbert seems to have lived mainly on the Continent where the Archbishop had despatched him on the eve of his murder, and he complains that he was neglected by the friends and adherents of the master whom he had served so faithfully; he records, however, a friendly interview with the king himself. We know nothing of him after the year 1189.
As a biographer Herbert had many advantages. He shared St. Thomas's ideals and was an eyewitness of most of the incidents of his episcopacy. He had sat by him, for instance, during the stormy scenes of the trial at Northampton. Herbert was undoubtedly one of the closest advisors of Thomas Becket throughout his career as archbishop, is well known to historians of the life and times of the archbishop. His version of the events of Thomas Becket's life, the Historia Thomae, is cited hundreds of times in the sizable body of modern historiography of his master Thomas Becket.
Herbert's commentary on Jerome's Hebrew Psalter
Herbert also wrote a Commentary on Jerome's Hebrew Psalter, basically about how to interpret the Bible. In 385 A.D. Jerome had gone to Israel and translated the Psalms from Hebrew into Latin. Jerome's interpretation was largely allegorical, for example when Jerusalem is mentioned, it was identified as goodness and and Babylon as evil. This way of understanding the Bible was widespread in the Middle Ages, and continues today in some Christian traditions (some consider it to be anti-Semitic). Herbert argued for a more literal and historical understanding and suggested that Christian should ask the Jews for guidance in order to obtain a better understanding of the Psalms.
Concerning the build up to Becket's death:
Herbert reports that Henry told Becket: “Why don’t you do what I want you to do, for, if you would, I would entrust everything to you.” According to Herbert, the archbishop said he was reminded of the devil’s temptation to Christ, from Matthew 4:9: “All these things will I give thee, if thou will fall down and worship me.”
Here is his Herbert's account of what followed soon after::
The events leading up to the murder of Thomas Becket (December 1170) as recorded by Herbert of Bosham
On the day of our Lord's Nativity, which was, if I mistake not, about the twenty-seventh (actually the 24th) day after our arrival in England, the archbishop mounted the pulpit and preached to the people. At the end of his sermon he predicted that the time of his departure drew near and that shortly he would be taken from them. And when he said this concerning his departure, tears rather than words burst from him. Likewise the hearts of his hearers were beyond measure moved with grief and contrition, so that you might have seen and heard in every corner of the church weeping and lamentation, and the people murmuring among themselves, "Father, why do you desert us so soon, and to whom do you leave us so desolate?" For these were no wolves but sheep who knew the voice of their shepherd and grieved when they heard him say that he would so soon leave this world, although they did not know when, or where, or in what way this would come to pass. Truly, had you witnessed these things, you would have said that you heard with your ears and saw with your eyes that beast of the prophet's vision whose face was that of a lion and of a man. The service ended, the archbishop, who had shown himself so devout at the Lord's table that day, afterwards made merry, as was his wont, at the table of this world. Moreover, as it was the feast of the Nativity, although a Friday, he ate meat, as on other days, thereby demonstrating that on such a festival it was more religious to eat than to abstain.
On the morrow of the Nativity, that is, on the feast of the blessed martyr Stephen, he called apart the disciple who wrote these things, and said to him, "I have arranged to send you to our lord, the king of the French, to our venerable brother, the archbishop of Sens, and to other princes of that land, to tell them what you have seen and heard concerning this peace, how for us it is a peace which is no peace, but rather turmoil and confusion." The disciple, unable to restrain his tears, made answer, "Holy father, why have you done this? Why act in this way? I know for certain that I shall see you in the flesh no more. I had determined to stay faithfully at your side; truly, so it seems to me, you are seeking to deprive me of the fruit of your consummation, me who have hitherto continued with you in your temptations; nor shall I be, as now I see, a companion of your glory, who have been partner in your pain." Then said the archbishop amid a flood of tears, "Not so, my son, not so; you will not be deprived of the fruit, if you fulfil your father's commands and follow his counsel. Nevertheless, what you have said is indeed true, that you will see me in the flesh no more. Yet I wish you to go, especially since the king holds you in greater suspicion than the others, where the cause of the Church is at stake."
So, on the second day after Christmas, being the feast of St John the Evangelist, in the darkness of the night, for fear of being waylaid, I took leave of my father with lamentation and many tears, again and again begging and receiving his blessing. As he himself had foretold, I never again saw him in the flesh, nor shall see. Yet, and with this I end my history, I pray with my whole heart, with all my soul and all my strength, that him, whom I shall not see again in time, I may be accounted worthy to see in eternity, and may be made partner of his crown, as I was his comrade in the battle. "
Herbert of Bosham's description of the death of Becket
Up to this point in this little historical
book I have related faithfully and unswervingly, for the edification of
the church of God, for those now alive and for those to come, not what I
have received from others, but what I myself saw and heard about such a
pillar of the church. Now, because in order to finish the story of this
holy man, I have made a place not for what I have myself seen, but for
what has been told by others, my fingers begin to grow stiff and the pen
begins to move more slowly and to tremble, trembling because it relates
haltingly what was heard and seen not by itself, but by others. Indeed we
have introduced what was heard and seen by many holy men, and what should
undoubtedly be believed, lest God reproach us for our incredulity, as he
reproached the incredulity and hardness of heart of those who saw him rise
from the dead and did not believe.
While he was [thus] speaking, behold! the executioners having ransacked the bishop’s palace, rushed together through the cloisters; three of whom carried hatchets in their left bands, and one an axe or a two-edged glaive, while all of them brandished drawn swords in their right hands. But after they had rushed through the open door, they separated from each other, Fitz-Urse turning to the left, while the three others took to the right. The archbishop had already ascended a few steps, when Fitz-Urse, as he hurried onwards, asked one whom he met, “Where is the archbishop?” Hearing this, he turned round on the step, and, with a slight motion of the head, he was the first to answer, “Here am I, Reginald. I have conferred many a benefit on you, Reginald; and do you now come to me with arms in your hands?” “You shall soon find that out,” was the reply. “Are not you that notorious traitor to the king?” And, laying hold on his pall, he said, “Depart hence;” and he struck the pall with his sword. The archbishop replied, “I am no traitor; nor will I depart, wretched man!” and he plucked the fringe of his pall from out the knight’s hand. The other repeated the words, “Flee hence!” The reply was, “ I will not flee; here your malice shall be satisfied.” At these words the assassin stepped back, as if smitten by a blow. In the meantime the other three assailants had arrived; and they exclaimed, “ Now you shall die!” “ If,” said the archbishop, “you seek my life, I forbid you, under the threat of an anathema, from touching any one of my followers. As for me, I willingly embrace death, provided only that the church obtain liberty and peace at the price of my blood.” When he had said these words, he stretched forth his head to the blows of the murderers. Fitz-Urse hastened forward, and with his whole strength lie planted a blow upon the extended head; and he cried out, as if in triumph over his conquered enemy, “Strike! strike!” Goaded on by the author of confusion, these butchers, adding wound to wound, dashed out his brains; and one of them, following up the martyr, (who at this time was either in the act of falling, or had already fallen) struck the pavement with his sword but the point of the weapon broke off short. They now returned through the cloister, crying out, “Knights of the king, let us go; he is dead!” And then they pillaged whatever they found in the archbishop’s residence. See here a wonder. While he was yet alive, and could speak, and stand on his feet, men called him a traitor to the king; but when he was laid low, with his brains dashed out, he was called the holy Thomas, even before the breath had left his body.
This blessed martyr suffered death in the
ninth year of his patriarchate, on the fourth of the calends of January
[29th Dec.], being the third day of the week, A.D. 1170, while the monks
were singing their vespers. His dead body was removed and placed in the
shrine before the altar of Christ. On the morrow it was carried by the
monks and deposited in a tomb of marble within the crypt. Now, to speak
the truth - that which I saw with my eyes, and handled with my hands - he
wore hair-cloth next his skin, then stamin, over that a black cowl, then
the white cowl in which he was consecrated; he also wore his tunic and
dalmatic, his chasuble, pall, and miter; Lower down, he had drawers of
sack-cloth, and over these others of linen; his socks were of
knitting wool, and he
had on sandals. If any one (as he ought) desires to know more of this
martyr, let him read those books or writers which I have mentioned above,
namely, Herbert, John, William, Benedict, and Gervase: and let him not
omit the letters of the same saint. Others there are who probably have
written respecting him; but even if it be so, they cannot tell all that
ought to be known about him.
Herbert of Bosham