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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