Earlier today I read this ringing line purportedly from Henry II, the first Plantagenet king of England.
But now it was used to describe what an insider said was happening with Trump in the White House: he can’t handle direct confrontation so he pours gasoline all over the people he doesn’t like and waits for someone to light a match.
I used to be an intimate of Henry II. He was one of my two favorite English kings. (The other was the last Plantagenet, Richard III.) So I take contemporary references to him quite personally, especially since I know why he found Becket a major pain in the ass. It had to do with the proper jurisdiction for criminal acts: Henry was correct; Becket was not.
How did I get hooked on English history? I remember the precise moment, and the place where it happened. I was gazing down at a plaque on the floor of Mary Queen of Scot’s bedroom in Holyrood House Palace, Edinburgh. The plaque memorialized the place where David Rizzio, Mary’s secretary and personal musician, was stabbed to death by a cabal of assassins including Mary’s husband.
Right there, on the floor, a man had died, screaming.
History wasn’t “history”; history was real life, real people.
I went home and began to read, and continued reading for many years. What continually absorbed me was not what happened but the people who caused it to happen, or who were there when it happened. Which is how I came to know Henry II, an interesting guy to hang with.
As I again read Henry’s supposed plaint and saw it (mis)applied to Trump, I remembered a far more throbbing passage connected to Henry II — his epitaph, written by his illegitimate son, Geoffrey of Chaucer. The words moved me so powerfully when I first read them, I memorized the whole thing.
And I still remember the last part — which could be and should be a message to Trump, and all would-be autocrats who believe they command the world.
Who reads these lines, let him reflect
Upon the narrowness of death,
And in my case behold
The image of our mortal lot.
This scanty tomb doth now suffice
For whom the earth was not enough.