The Legend of Becket's Parents Legends of old England by Edwin Hartland

IN connection with the renowned Thomas Becket a curious story is related of the marriage of his parents. It is said that Gilbert, his father, had in his youth followed the Crusaders to Palestine, and while in the East had been taken prisoner by a Saracen or Moor of high rank. Confined by the latter within his own castle, the young Englishman's personal attractions and miserable condition alike melted the heart of his captor's daughter, a fair Mohammedan, who enabled him to escape from prison and regain his native country. Not wholly disinterested however, in the part which she acted in this matter, the Moor's daughter obtained a promise from Gilbert, that as soon as he had settled quietly in his own land, he should send for, and marry his protectress. Years passed on but no message ever arrived to cheer the heart of the love-lorn maiden, who thereupon resolved to proceed to England and remind the forgetful knight of his engagement. This perilous enterprise she actually accomplished and though knowing nothing of the English language beyond the Christian name of her lover and his place of residence in London, which was Cheapside, she contrived to search him out; and with greater success than could possibly have been anticipated, found him ready to fulfil his former promise by making her his wife. Previous to the marriage taking place she professed her conversion to Christianity, and was baptised with great solemnity in St. Paul's Cathedral, no less than six bishops assisting at the ceremony. The only child of this union was the celebrated Thomas Becket, whose devotion in after-years to the cause of the church may be said to have been a befitting recompense for the attention which her ministers had shown in watching over the spiritual welfare of his mother.

This singular story has found credence in recent times with Dr. Giles, M. Thierry, Mr. Froude, and M. Michelet; but by one of the most judicious modern biographers of Becket, Canon Robertson, it is rejected as a legendary tale, wholly unsupported by the evidence of those chroniclers who were Becket's contemporaries. It gave rise, both in England and Scotland, to more than one ballad, in which the elder Becket's imprisonment in the East, his liberation by the aid of the Moorish damsel, and the latter's expedition to Britain in quest of him, are all set forth with sundry additions and embellishments. In one of these, which bears the name of Lord Beichan, the fair young Saracen, who, by some extraordinary corruption or misapprehension, is recorded under the designation of Susie Pye, follows her lover to Scotland, and there surprises him at the very hour when he is about to unite himself in marriage to another lady. The faithless lover, on being reminded of his previous compact, professes the utmost contrition, and declares at once his resolve to wed the Saracen's daughter, who had given such evidence of her love and attachment to him. by making so lone and dangerous a journey The hapless bride, who would otherwise have speedily become his wife, is unceremoniously dismissed along with her mother; and the nuptials of Lord Beichan and Susie Pye are then celebrated with great magnificence. Another ballad on the same subject is entitled Young Bekie, but the heroine here is represented as the daughter of the king of France, and distinguished by the title of Burd Isbel. By such romantic embellishments, and so incongruous and ridiculous a nomenclature, did the ballad-writers of a later age embody in verse the story of the parents of the renowned archbishop of Canterbury.