Gaye Mack’s Blog

THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR HENRY II & THOMAS BECKET~JANUARY 30, 1164

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 2 Comments

By January 30 1164, King Henry II of England  had evidently had enough of the ecclesiastical hierarchy protecting its own in criminal matters.  In an effort to curb the power of the Church’s courts, Henry laid down a document of sixteen articles known as the Constitutions of Clarendon.  Initially Henry’s Archbishop, Thomas Beckett and the bishops of the realm reluctantly agreed to observe the guidelines of Henry’s document including the article stating that if a member of the church committed a crime, they would be tried in the state court in addition to an ecclesiastical court.  This was particularly relevant to the exposure of priests charged with serious felonies having to answer to a secular court and punishment.

 So restrictive were Henry’s articles through the eyes of the clergy, particularly in matters of such crimes as well as  property and excommunication, that although Becket agreed to the articles as we might say today, ‘in principle’, he refused to sign the order.   On October 8, 1164 Henry ordered Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle to answer charges of ‘contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the Chancellor’s office’ of which Becket was convicted.

 Becket bolted, fleeing to the continent where he was protected by King Louis VII of France.  For six years Henry attempted to bring his archbishop to heel through various power plays of repercussion countered by Becket’s threats of excommunication against the king, bishops and the kingdom.    Finally in 1170 Pope Alexander III brokered a diplomatic compromise that allowed Becket to return from England; however, the peace between Archbishop and King did not last and on December 29, 1170 Becket was assassinated by four of Henry’s knights who misunderstood (or did they?) the King’s cry, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest!”

 A selection of the articles making up the Constitutions of Clarendon is as follows, noting that article three was particularly grievous to Becket and his fellow clergymen.

 1. If a controversy arises between laymen, or between laymen and clerks, or between clerks concerning patronage and presentation of churches, it shall be treated or concluded in the court of the lord king.

3. Clerks charged and accused of any matter, summoned by the king’s justice, shall come into his court to answer there to whatever it shall seem to the king’s court should be answered there; and in the church court to what it seems should be answered there; however the king’s justice shall send into the court of holy Church for the purpose of seeing how the matter shall be treated there. And if the clerk be convicted or confess, the church ought not to protect him further.

4. It is not permitted the archbishops, bishops, and priests of the kingdom to leave the kingdom without the lord king’s permission. And if they do leave they are to give security, if the lord king pleases, that they will seek no evil or damage to king or kingdom in going, in making their stay, or in returning.

6. Laymen ought not to be accused save by dependable and lawful accusers and witnesses in the presence of the bishop, yet so that the archdeacon lose not his right or anything which he ought to have thence. And if there should be those who are deemed culpable, but whom no one wishes or dares to accuse, the sheriff, upon the bishop’s request, shall cause twelve lawful men of the neighborhood or the vill to take oath before the bishop that they will show the truth of the matter according to their conscience.

8. As to appeals which may arise, they should pass from the archdeacon to the bishop, and from the bishop to the archbishop. And if the archbishop fail in furnishing justice, the matter should come to the lord king at the last, that at his command the litigation be concluded in the archbishop’s court; and so because it should not pass further without the lord king’s consent.

14. Chattels which have been forfeited to the king are not to be held in churches or cemeteries against the king’s justice, because they belong to the king whether they be found inside churches or outside.

 

Window Depicting Assassination of Thomas Becket~Canterbury Cathedral

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THE NEW YEAR NOT OPTIMISTIC FOR THOMAS BECKET ON DECEMBER 29, 1170

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 1 Comment

While there was no shortage of dysfunction in King Henry II of England’s relationship skills, (let us not forget his on again, off again marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, nor the desire of his three sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John wishing him dead at various junctures), the soap opera-ish saga between Henry  and his best friend-turned persona non grata, Thomas Becket, is legendary.   On this day 843 years ago, Becket who would become the most revered saint in England, was brutally murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four of Henry’s knights who perhaps, misunderstood the message behind Henry’s  supposed outburst, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest!” (or words to this effect)

Most accounts agree that Becket was murdered in the late afternoon around dusk, which might have been(given the time of year) around 4 p.m. or during the Office of Vespers.  The knights having hot-footed it(or rather, hot-sailed) from France across the Channel arrived at the Cathedral demanding that Becket travel to Winchester to account for his actions(there seemed to be a question having to with with the use of Henry’s money) and to reinstate those whom he’d excommunicated. Becket refused, which was not a surprise, intransigence being one of his characteristics.

The following is an ‘eyewitness’ account from Edward Grimm who may have been a monk(sources vary on this point). Initially Grimm observed the attack  from a hiding place near the altar before becoming involved and himself, wounded.   Although his account was written some time later, it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe that Grimm’s lens was influenced by Becket’s subsequent elevation to sainthood.  Nevertheless, his ‘eyewitness report’  is often referenced and therefore we can assume  some accuracy to his words.

“The murderers followed him[Becket]; ‘Absolve’, they cried, ‘and restore to communion those whom you have excommunicated, and restore their powers to those whom you have suspended.’

“He answered, ‘There has been no satisfaction, and I will not absolve them.’

‘Then you shall die,’ they cried, ‘and receive what you deserve.’

‘I am ready,’ he replied, ‘to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay.’

“Then they lay sacrilegious hands on him, pulling and dragging him that they may kill him outside the church, or carry him away a prisoner, as they afterwards confessed. But when he could not be forced away from the pillar, one of them pressed on him and clung to him more closely. Him he pushed off calling him ‘pander’, and saying, ‘Touch me not, Reginald; you owe me fealty and subjection; you and your accomplices act like madmen.’

“The knight, fired with a terrible rage at this severe repulse, waved his sword over the sacred head. ‘No faith’, he cried, ‘nor subjection do I owe you against my fealty to my lord the King.’

“Then the unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which should put an end to this miserable life and give him straightway the crown of immortality promised by the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended his cause and that of the Church to God, to St. Mary, and to the blessed martry Denys. Scarce had he said the words than the wicked knight, fearing lest he should be rescued by the people and escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded this lamb who was sacrificed to God on the head, cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred unction of the chrism had dedicated to God; and by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who tells this. For he, when the others, both monks and clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted Archbishop and held him in his arms till the one he interposed was almost severed.

“Then he received a second blow on the head but still stood firm. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living victim, and saying in a low voice, ‘For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.’

“Then the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay, by which the sword was broken against the pavement, and the crown which was large was separated from the head. The fourth knight prevented any from interfering so that the others might freely perpetrate the murder.

“As to the fifth, no knight but that clerk who had entered with the knights, that a fifth blow might not be wanting to the martyr who was in other things like to Christ, he put his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to say, scattered his brain and blood over the pavement, calling out to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; he will rise no more.’

Becket window

Window Depicting Assassination of Thomas Becket~Canterbury Cathedral

References:
   Abbot, Edwin A., St. Thomas of Canterbury (1898); Compton, Piers, The Turbulent Priest (1964); Hollister, Warren C., Medieval Europe: a short history (1975)

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CHRISTMAS, THE CHRIST-MASS AND MERRY MAKING IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND AT CHRISTMASTIDE

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

For today’s post, I decided to return to medieval history, taking a break from the recent posts that speak to astrological events and Dr. Bach’s flower remedies.  No question, there is and will be a great deal more out there regarding interpretations of the Mayan Calendar, today’s Solstice and the tightening of the Pluto-Uranus square, among other astro-events to keep us on our toes.

 Despite the recent horrors we’ve witnessed in the global news, still… much of the world is in the throes of celebration leading up to, what was known as the Christ-Mass.  I thought it would interesting to visit (or for some, re-visit) where these traditions, many still very much alive today, originated.  With my warm wishes and blessings for you and yours this holiday season, I offer the following excerpt from, Pleasures and Pastimes of Medieval England, written by Compton Reeves and published by Oxford University Press, 1998. 

 “Our word Christmas is derived from the Middle English usage “Christ’s Mass,” and central to the celebration of the Nativity was the liturgical activity which had been established by the year 600, and did not change in the Middle Ages. In Medieval England there were, in fact, three Masses celebrated on Christmas Day. The first and most characteristic was at midnight (the Angel’s Mass), catching up the notion that the light of salvation appeared at the darkest moment of the darkest date in the very depth of winter. The second Christmas Mass came at dawn (the Shepherd’s Mass), and the third during the day (the Mass of the Divine Word). The season of Advent, the forty days of leading up to Christmas, was being observed in the Western Church by the year 500. St. Nicholas was a very popular Medieval saint, and his feast day came in Advent (6 December), but he did not play his part in Christmas as Santa Claus until after the Reformation.

 Also important in the celebration of Christmas was the banquet, which necessarily varied in sumptuousness with the resources of the celebrants.  The menu varied with soups and stews, birds and fish, breads and puddings, but a common element was the Yule boar, an animal for those who could afford it or a pie shaped like a boar for more humble tables.  Churches and houses were decorated with ivy, mistletoe, holly or anything green, which remained up until the eve of Candlemass.  The gift-giving of the season was represented by the New Year Gift, which continued a tradition of Roman origin.  The later Christmas present was not part of a Medieval Christmas.  The sorts of things that people might have done to entertain themselves at Christmas apart from eating is succinctly summarized in a letter written by Margaret Paston on Christmas eve 1459 after she had inquired how her Norfolk neighbor, Lady Morley, had conducted her household in mourning the previous Christmas, just after Lady Morley had been widowed:

“…there were no disguisings[acting], nor harping, luting or singing, nor any lewd sports, but just playing at the tables[backgammon] and chess and cards.  Such sports she gave her folk leave to play and no other.”

A medieval Christmas celebration was not over in a day, but continued until 6 January(the Egyptian winter solstice), the Feast of the Epiphany on the 12th day after Christmas Day.  Epiphany celebrated the visit of the wise men, the Magi, around whom many layers of legend accumulated as they came to be conceptualized as three oriental kings who visited the infant Christ at Bethlehem in Judea.  Epiphany also symbolized the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.  The Monday after Epiphany was called Plough Monday, and it was then that ploughing began.

There was no absolute standard about ending the Christmas season with Epiphany, and many carried it through to forty days after Christmas, the date of an ancient pagan festival on 2 February. This is now celebrated as Candlemas, or the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or alternatively as the Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple. In one of the most elaborate processions of the year, all parishioners came to Mass with a penny and a candle blessed before the procession, both of which were offered to the priest as part of the parochial duties of the faithful. Other candles were blessed and taken away by the faithful to be used for such things as giving comfort during thunder storms or while sick or even dying. Such candles were thus important for giving people a light of solace in the face of hostile forces and stressful events. And thus Candlemas was a closure for the long season commencing with Advent that drew Medieval Christians to concentrate on the miraculous gift to humanity of Christ, and the promise of salvation, while leaving at the same time space for fun, feasting, and socializing.”

 medieval door II

Medieval Christmas Door

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EVOLUTIONARY ASTROLOGY, THE TEACHER-LIFE, THE TRANSFORMER

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Balance, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Karmic and Self-Discovery Astrology, Writer's Work Leave a comment

For this posting, I’ve asked Simon Bentley, Principal of the White Eagle Lodge’s School of Astrology (based in England), to be a guest.  He has kindly given permission to post his piece, ‘Life, the Transformer’, giving us a perspective on soul growth and how the sacred science of astrology can assist each of us on our journey.  Many thanks, Simon!

 I wonder if we have ever stopped to think what the word [transform] actually means? Literally, the prefix ‘trans’ means ‘across’, so that ‘transformation’ comes to mean ‘moving across to another form’, and so, changing form. If we aren’t careful, we use this word very glibly, but looked at from a spiritual perspective it is a word of crucial importance, since we are constantly attempting to transform ourselves, change into a form suited to our current position on the spiritual path.

Eventually, we shall all learn to transform continuously, but until we reach such a point of evolution it tends to happen in fits and starts and is not always welcomed…Astrologers recognize that Pluto, despite the fact that astronomers ‘demoted’ it in recent years, is the planet that symbolizes this factor in our growth, and when it’s particularly strong in a horoscope one can be sure that there are significant transformational processes going on in the life.

At this time, Pluto tends to be manifesting in terms of those occurrences and changes in life that seem completely fated, over which we appear to have no control.  The ‘fits and starts’ mentioned above tend to bring to light some kind of major change, the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another, closely linked with Pluto’s action.   However, bearing in mind that every life, every incarnation of every soul, is part of the grand transformational process that eventually brings us to divinity, the significance of the word ‘transformation’ means far more in astrology than simply a reference to what Pluto may do. The whole of life is in some way transformational, and so it could be said that astrology is a science that illuminates the transformational process we call ‘life’. Astrologers are often called upon for advice when there are crises in life, turning points – moments of transformation, if you will.

 Astrology can help the soul to understand the process and therefore to be less apprehensive about it and to handle it more harmoniously. Most of life’s problems, as well as often being the inevitable outworking of karmic patterns, are brought about by our tendency to resist this process: astrology, by at least attempting to explain it, helps to remove our all too natural tendency to resist.  This raises an interesting point, especially for astrologers themselves.

It has always been considered that the planet of our science is Uranus, and I would not dispute that astrology is a Uranian occupation, revealing, as it does, spiritual truth and the action of the divine will in human life. However, if astrology is also an assistant to transformation, surely it is also Plutonic? Personally I have often suspected as much, and what I have found is that while astrology is undoubtedly Uranian, Pluto is commonly very active in the horoscopes of those who become professional astrologers.

As professionals they are called upon to help others to cooperate actively with the transformational process in their lives. But there are also implications for the astrologers themselves, and the origin of their vocation. They too are undergoing transformations in their own personal lives, and what they see and experience through their clients is part of their process as well.

 The use of the wonderful tool we call astrology is always, therefore, a two-way experience; if properly accomplished it’s that classic win-win situation which we all like to achieve! The client is better enabled to cope with his or her transformation; the astrologer is transformed to a degree simply by doing the job and thus learning from the client. So we could say that astrology itself can be – and hopefully is – used to hasten this process and thus speed up evolution, both individually and, through that, of the whole world.

©LOGO OF THE WHITE EAGLE LODGE

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DIGGING UP THE BONES-‘INTERESTING’ MEDIEVAL DISCOVERIES

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Worth the Read, Writer's Work 3 Comments

Several archaeological projects with the potential of revealing answers to some of England’s medieval mysteries have  been in the news and are worth mentioning here for my fellow medieval history buffs and writers. 

Earlier this fall I posted a piece on medieval mortuary chests and the project I witnessed that’s underway in Winchester Cathedral.  As I posted, this project is focusing on assigning  specific identities to the bones of Wessex’s early monarchs and bishops; remains that were carelessly ‘dumped’ into assorted chests by Oliver Cromwell’s troops. No easy feat for present day archaeological detectives!

 As this project proceeds, up north in Leicester a major ‘accidental’ discovery hit the news just as I was returning from England in mid September.  In late August, while working on a dig under a city car park, workers discovered skeletal remains with spinal abnormalities and a “cleaved-in skull.” Archaeological authorities called in from Leicester University ‘suggest’  these remains could be those of King Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings, who died in 1485 during the battle of Bosworth, England’s last of significance, in its ‘War of the Roses’. 

 Prior to his demise at Bosworth, Richard’s climb to the throne is a story full of complexities, family rivalries, evil doings and political maneuverings, not the least of which are suspicions that he ordered the murder of his two young nephews in the Tower, thus eliminating any rival claims to the throne.

 As a defeated enemy of Henry Tudor, founder of the Tudor dynasty, Richard was given a low-key burial in the Franciscan friary of Greyfriars.  Although demolished in the 1530’s, there’s evidence that his burial site survived.  If DNA testing against descendants of Richard’s family confirm the current archaeological theories, this would be a remarkable discovery.  Additional  controversy has also surfaced regarding a suitable burial place for the remains, should they be Richard’s.  Earlier this week after various news reports concerning this issue,  it was revealed that should speculations be confirmed, Richard’s remains would be interred in Leicester’s cathedral…but that was this week.  We shall see.

 And, although not as recent as the discoveries in Winchester and Leicester, there’s more.  In 2005 the London press reported that along with the discovery of  13th and 14th century royal tombs,  work using radar in London’s Westminster Cathedral, pinpointed the original tomb of King Edward the Confessor,  one of the most revered of British saints and one of the last Saxon kings, who died months before the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Until this discovery it was assumed that Edward’s tomb was placed near Westminster’s current high altar as implied in medieval records.  However, further research revealed this was not the case.  In 1269, King Henry III had  a shrine built to honor and contain Edward’s remains.  He also had the altar moved and with it, Edward’s tomb which he had placed it under the shrine.  Today, the shrine rests approximately ten feet behind the  present high altar.   Edward as a king does not hold a high place in history as some of his more famous peers, but nevertheless, his presence has endured.  Although made long after his death, the main royal crown is called St. Edward’s Crown and the Coronation Chair is sometimes called St Edward’s chair.

 His family was of the Wessex dynasty and when his half brother, Hardecanute, died in 1042, Edward was named king. He was then succeeded by Harold, killed in the Battle of Hastings, which then ushered in the reign of William the Conqueror and the Normans.  After Hastings, Edward’s reputation for piety grew…Pope Alexander III canonized him in 1161 and for four hundred years he was considered the patron saint of England until 1415 when this status was replaced by St. George.

 Happily the advent of 21st century technology is allowing us fascinating peeps into the ancient past with the prospect of solving mysteries that have mystified many of us for years!

Inquiring minds want to know:  what is your favorite medieval legend that remains unsolved?  Is it Arthur, the ‘Princes in the Tower’ or perhaps…???

 

 Floor Plan of Westminster Abbey and Edward the Confessor’s Tomb and Shrine

 

Recommended historical fiction readings re:  War of the Roses

  • The Kingmaker’s Daughter-Phillipa Gregory
  • A Dangerous Inheritance-Alison Weir

 

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