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Past and Present: Thomas Carlyle, 1843

Book 2 Chapter 13: In Parliament

Of Abbot Samson’s public business we say little, though that also was great. He had to judge the people as Justice Errant, to decide in weighty arbitrations and public controversies; to equip his milites, send them duly in war-time to the King; -- strive every way that the Commonweal, in his quarter of it, take no damage.

Once, in the confused days of Lackland’s usurpation, while Cœur-de-Lion was away, our brave Abbot took helmet himself, having first excommunicated all that should favour Lackland; and led his men in person to the siege of Windleshora, what we now call Windsor; where Lackland had entrenched himself, the centre of infinite confusions; some Reform Bill, then as now, being greatly needed. There did Abbot Samson ‘fight the battle of reform,’ -- with other ammunition, one hopes, then ‘tremendous cheering’ and such like! For these things he was called ‘the magnanimous Abbot.’

He also attended duly in his place in Parliament de arduis regni; attended especially, as in arduissimo, when ‘the news reached London that King Richard was a captive in Germany.’ Here ‘while all the barons sat to consult,’ and many of them looked blank enough, ‘the Abbot started forth, prosiliit coram omnibus, in his place in Parliament, and said, That he was ready to go and seek his Lord the King, either clandestinely by subterfuge (in tapinagio), or by any other method; and search till he found him, and got certain notice of him; he for one! By which word,’ says Jocelin, ‘he acquired great praise for himself,’ -- unfeigned commendation from the Able Editors of that age.

By which word; -- and also by which deed: for the Abbot actually went ‘with rich gifts to the King in Germany;’ [Jocelini Chronica, pp. 39,40] Usurper Lackland being first rooted out from Windsor, and the King’s peace somewhat settled.

As to these ‘rich gifts,’ however, we have to note one thing: In all England, as appeared to the Collective Wisdom, there was not like to be treasure enough for ransoming King Richard; in which extremity certain Lords of the Treasury, Justiciarii ad Scaccarium, suggested that St. Edmund’s Shrine, covered with thick gold, was still untouched. Could not it, in this extremity, be peeled off, at least in part; under condition, of course, of its being replaced, when times mended? The Abbot, starting plumb up, se erigens, answered: “Know ye for certain, that I will in no wise do this thing; nor is there any man who could force me to consent thereto. But I will open the doors of the Church: Let him that likes enter; let him that dares come forward!” Emphatic words, which created a sensation round the woolsack. For the Justiciaries of the Scaccarium answered, ‘with oaths, each for himself: “I won’t come forward, for my share; nor will I, nor I! The distant and absent who offended him, Saint Edmund has been known to punish fearfully; much more will he those close by, who lay violent hands on his coat, and would strip it off!” These things being said, the Shrine was not meddled with, nor any ransom levied for it.’ [Jocelini Chronica, p. 71].

For Lords of the Treasury have in all times their impassable limits, be it by ‘force of public opinion’ or otherwise; and in those days a Heavenly Awe overshadowed and encompassed, as it still ought and must, all earthly Business whatsoever.

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