After a stormy parley with him in his chamber they withdrew to arm. Thomas was hurried by his clerks into the cathedral, but as he reached the steps leading from the transept to the choir his pursuers burst in from the cloisters. "Where," cried Reginald Fitzurse in the dusk of the dimly-lightel minster, "where is the traitor, Thomas Beket?" The Primate turned resolutely back: " Here am I, no traitor, but a priest of God," he replied, and again descending the steps he placed himself with his back against a pillar and fronted his foes. All the bravery, the violence of his old knightly life seemed to revive in Thomas as he tossed back the threats and demands of his assailants. "You are our prisoner," shouted Fitzurse, and the four knights seized him to drag him from the church. " Do not touch me, Reginald," shouted the Primate, "pander that you are, you owe me fealty; "and availing himself of his personal strength he shook him roughly off. " Strike, strike," retorted Fitzurse, and blow after blow struck Thomas to the ground.
A retainer of Ranulf de Broc with the point of his sword scattered the Primate's brains on the ground. "Let us be off," he cried triumphantly, "this traitor will never rise again".
The brutal murder was received with a thrill of horror throughout Christendom; miracles were wrought at the martyr's tomb; he was canonized, and became the most popular of English saints; but Henry's show of submission to the Papacy averted the excommunication which at first threatened to avenge the deed of blood. The judicial provisions of the Constitutions of Clarendon were in form annulled, and liberty of election was restored to bishopricks and abbacies. In reality however the victory rested with the King. Throughout his reign ecclesiastical appointments were practically in his hands, while the King's Court asserted its power over the spiritual jurisdiction of the bishops. The close of the struggle left Henry free to complete his great work of legal reform. He had already availed himself of the expedition against Toulouse to deliver a blow at the baronage by allowing the lower tenants to commute their personal service in the field for a money payment under the name of "scutage," or shield-money. The King thus became master of resources which enabled him to dispense with the military support of his tenants, and to maintain a force of mercenary soldiers in their place.
The diminution of the military power of the nobles was accompanied by measures which robbed them of their legal jurisdiction. The circuits of the judges were restored, and instructions were given them to enter the manors of the barons and make inquiry into their privileges; while the office of sheriff was withdrawn from the great nobles of the shire and entrusted to the lawyers and courtiers who already furnished the staff of justices. The resentment of the barons found an opportunity of displaying itself when the King's eldest son, whose coronation had given him the title of King, demanded to be put in possession of his English realm, and on his father's refusal took refuge with Lewis of France. France, Flanders, and Scotland joined the league against Henry; his younger sons, Richard and Geoffry, took up arms in Aquitaine. In England a descent of Flemish mercenaries under the Earl of Leicester was repulsed by the loyal justiciars near S. Edmundsbury; but Lewis had no sooner entered Normandy and invested Rouen than the whole extent of the danger was revealed.
The Scots crossed the border, Roger Mowbray rose in revolt in Yorkshire, Ferrars, Earl of Derby, in the midland shires, Hugh Bigod in the eastern counties, while a Flemish fleet prepared to support the insurrection by a descent upon the coast. The murder of Archbishop Thomas still hung around Henry's neck, and his first act in hurrying to England to meet these perils was to prostrate himself before the shrine of the new martyr,. and to submit to a public scourging in expiation of his sin. But the penance was hardly wrought when all danger was dispelled by a series of triumphs. The King of Scotland, William the Lion, surprised by the English under cover of a mist, fell into the hands of his minister, Ranulf de Glanvill, and at the retreat of the Scots the English rebels hastened to lay down their arms. With the army of mercenaries which he had brought over sea Henry was able to return to Normandy, to raise the siege of Rouen, and to reduce his sons to submission. The revolt of the baronage was followed by fresh blows at their power.
A further step was taken a few years later in the military organization of the realm by the Assize of Arms, which restored the national militia to the place which it had lost at the Conquest. The substitution of scutage for military service had freed the crown from its dependence on the baronage and its feudal retainers; the Assize of Arms replaced this feudal organization by the older obligation of every freeman to serve in the defence of the realm. Every knight was bound to appear at the King's call in coat of mail and with shield and lance, every freeholder with lance and hauberk, every burgess and poorer freeman with lance and helmet. The levy of an armed nation was thus placed wholly at the disposal of the King for purposes of defence.
The measures we have named were only part of Henry's legislation. His reign, it has been truly said, "initiated the rule of law" as distinct from the despotism, whether personal or tempered by routine, of the Norman kings. It was in successive "Assizes" or codes issued with the sanction of great councils of barons and prelates, that he perfected by a system of reforms the administrative measures which Henry the First had begun. The fabric of our judicial legislation commences with the Assize of Clarendon, the first object of which was to provide for the order of the realm by reviving the old English system of mutual security or frankpledge. No stranger might abide in any place save a borough, and there but for a single night, unless sureties were given for his good behaviour; and the list of such strangers was to be submitted to the itinerant justices. In the provisions of this assize for the repression of crime we find the origin of trial by jury, so often attributed to earlier times. Twelve lawful men of each hundred, with four from each township, were sworn to present those who were known or reputed as criminals within their district for trial by ordeal.