Anselm - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

A Compromise

The synod of London was the first that had been held in England since the tenth year of the Conqueror's reign, and throws an interesting light upon the social conditions of the time, especially with regard to the discipline of the clergy. The fact that these had become extremely worldly both in dress and habits is seen in the canons enacting that they must "be clad in proper garments of one colour" with plain shoes, in place of the twisted horns so much in fashion at the court. They must have their heads 'tonsured,' that is, the crowns shaved in remembrance of the crown of thorns worn by their Redeemer; they must not be present at 'drinking-parties,' nor drink 'to the pin,' that is, from peg-pots, marking out how much was to be swallowed at each draught?

Monks must not rent farms, nor must the clergy help to decide on any case involving capital punishment, nor act as bailiffs for laymen. Nine abbots were deposed for buying their offices, and the marriage of clergy was strictly forbidden. The fashion among men of wearing the hair long was again condemned, and a blow was struck at the slavery still existing in England by the enactment against "the wicked trade used hitherto, by which men are sold like brute beasts."

Whether these 'canon laws' were actually put into force or not, the effect of the synod, as showing that the Church, at least, was sincere in the fight against evil, must have been very marked in raising the moral tone of the country. That at any rate the bishops who were present were much impressed with the old archbishop's zeal and earnestness is seen by its almost immediate sequel.

Henry, as we have seen, had appointed William Giffard, a noted courtier and chancellor under William, to be Bishop of Winchester. This man had received 'investiture' from Anselm, but so far had not been consecrated.

When Henry called upon Anselm to consecrate Giffard and with him the new Bishops of Salisbury, and Hereford, he refused on the score that the latter had not declined to accept investiture from the King.

In great wrath Henry called upon Gerard Archbishop of York, to consecrate all three, and preparations were duly made. Suddenly, however, Reinhelm of Hereford, the Queen's chancellor sent back the episcopal ring and staff to the King, declaring that he ought never to have accepted them, and that to be consecrated at the hands of Gerard rather than Anselm would bring down a curse upon his head. This, coming from a courtier, was passing strange, but a stranger thing yet was to happen.

When the bishops assembled for the consecration of the other two, Giffard interrupted the service by declaring that he would face beggary rather than be appointed in such fashion.

The opinion of the 'man in the street' was on his side. "The shout of the whole multitude who had come together to see the issue rang out. With one voice their cry was that William [Giffard] was a friend of the right, and that the bishops were no bishops but perverters of justice."

The angry King at once sent for Giffard and threatened him with the severest penalties if he persisted in defying him; but the bishop-elect stood firm. "He could not be drawn aside from the right; so he was despoiled of all that he had and banished from the realm."

The return of the messengers sent to the Pope made matters no better, but rather worse. In his letter to the King, Paschal made it absolutely clear that he did not intend to move one inch from the position of his predecessors with regard to investiture. At the same time he sent a letter to Anselm. The state of feeling was now so tense between King and archbishop that the latter would not open this epistle, lest Henry, finding it unsealed, should accuse him of tampering with the contents.

Weeks and months had passed away in silence when suddenly the King appeared at Canterbury in the Mid-Lent of 1103. His patience was at an end, it appeared, and he had now determined to take a leaf out of his father's book, and awe his troublesome subject into submission. He had forgotten, however, that the softest material is often the least yielding to the knife. Anselm received him courteously, and having heard his demands, offered to read him the unopened letter from Rome.

"Certainly not," said the King. "What has the Pope to do with me or mine? The rights of my predecessors are mine own, and whoso will tamper with them must know he is my enemy."

The threat was not lost upon Anselm, who quietly repeated that he was in no position to alter the decrees of the Holy See, even if he so wished: but that in other respects he did not wish to deprive Henry of anything that might be his.

For three days Henry withdrew to consider his next step, and the chronicler paints a vivid picture of the anxiety of the Christ Church monks as to the issue.

"They were in great alarm, for they thought their father was straightway to be taken from them. I seem to see the faces of the very lords upon whom the King depended for advice all wet with tears, as with swelling hearts they descried the approaching woe. And then the monks praying and pleading before the great rood, and piteously imploring Christ Crucified to turn one look of pity on His Church and save her from the impending calamity."

On the third day the King, evidently at his wits' end, proposed that Anselm himself should go to the Pope and see what personal influence could do to bring about an adjustment of affairs. It was the only way in which Henry could 'save his face,' as we say, and preserve his dignity on the matter. It would remove Anselm from the scene of conflict, and probably he hoped he would never return. But it came hard upon the old man of seventy, dim-sighted and difficult of hearing, to face anew the perils of that long journey in the hottest time of the year, and "with no hope of succeeding, as he had no wish to succeed."

Not unnaturally he wished for delay, to avoid at least the appearance of running away from his charge.

"Let us wait till Easter, that I may hear what the bishops and the chief men of the kingdom advise, and then give my answer."

"So the case was ended for the time," says Eadmer, "and they parted from each other on good terms."

At the Easter court held at Winchester, barons and bishops agreed that with such an object in view, the journey, however perilous, should be undertaken; and the old man bowed his head in assent. "Since it is your desire that I go, I go, though my strength has left me and the weariness of age creeps on apace. But should I succeed in getting to Rome, be assured that neither by prayer nor advice of mine will be done anything to compromise the liberty of the Church or mine own honour."

"The King will send an envoy with you," they assured him, "but do you bear witness to nothing he says but what is true."

The charge was capable of a double meaning, but Anselm replied, undaunted by the hidden insult:

"What I say, I say; and by the mercy of God I will never contradict a man that tells the truth."

So he set out, four days later, upon his second journey to Rome, not this time as a harassed exile, but "in the King's peace, invested with all that belonged to him."

Everywhere, as he journeyed toward Italy, he met friends, and wearied with the summer heat was glad to spend some weeks in the grateful shade of the cloisters of Le Bec.

Henry, indeed, urged him by letter not to go farther, but to save himself fatigue by doing his business by messengers. He probably preferred that Anselm should not tell his own story at Rome. But the spirit was still undaunted in that frail body, and by the end of August he had crossed Mont Cenis and was on his way to the Holy City.

There he found William of Warelwast, wiliest of envoys and well versed in the affairs of the papal court, who had spared no pains to press the King's cause.

In a public audience granted to him and to Anselm, he urged the advantage to the Holy See of making sure the allegiance of England. As the Pope and Anselm both sat in silence, the cardinals and other bishops began to take his side. "The wishes," they said, "of so great a man as the King of England ought not to be overlooked."

But Anselm still sat silent, "being unwilling that mortal man should be made the door of the Church."

Then Warelwast became more vehement.

"Be it known to you all," he cried, "that not to save his kingdom will King Henry give up investiture."

"Then," replied the Pope, hitherto silent, "know thou that not to save the King's life will Paschal allow him to have it."

This settled the matter. A firm but kindly letter was sent to Henry, assuring him of consideration in all other matters and of interest in his family affairs, but explaining that the right of investiture must be reserved to the Church, since such was God's will. "Why should we resist thy wishes unless we knew that by yielding we should be resisting the will of God."

So the envoys departed, travelling together over the Alps, but parting at Piacenza, where a strange message from the envoy altered Anselm's plans of return.

"The King, our lord, bids me say to you, that if you return to behave to him as Lanfranc did to his father, he will be delighted to welcome you."

"Have you nothing more to say?" asked Anselm.

"Nothing more. I am speaking to a man of wit," was the reply; and Anselm understood so well that he turned with downcast heart to Lyons, once more to seek the hospitality of Archbishop Hugh.

It was clearly another artifice of Henry to gain time, though he could not resist the temptation of seizing the archbishop's revenue meantime.

For nearly a year and a half he kept Anselm in this strange manner an exile, corresponding with him from time to time, and assuring him, "there is no man living whom I would rather have in my kingdom with me than you, if there was nothing with you against it."

The Queen writes in more sincere strain, assuring him of her influence upon her husband on his behalf, though obviously sorry that he cannot give way a little here and there, and hinting that it was said in England that it was Anselm's fault that the Pope had stood firm, and that he was really the prime mover in the whole matter. It was a grotesque charge to bring against one ever eager to be considerate for others and to give way in all things lawful, while absolutely loyal to the law of the Church; and the old man answers with unusual asperity: "You tell me that they say it is I who forbid the Pope to grant investiture. Tell them that they lie."

Still they pestered him with cruel slanders.

"He was led away by his 'iron will'; he was a coward and 'had fled from his flock and left them to be torn to pieces'; 'he was busying himself about other men's matters and neglecting his own work.'"

Meantime he waited in vain for the Pope to take stronger measures, or for Henry to give in and finding both hopeless, determined to exercise his lawful powers and excommunicate this rebel against the Church.

He set out for England, but on his way heard that Adela, Countess of Blois, the King's sister, lay dangerously ill. Apart from the fact that she was one of his own spiritual children, the car of Anselm was never deaf to the cry of those in need of consolation, and he at once turned out of his road to visit her. But when she recovered, he plainly told her, though with great reluctance, that "for the injury which for two years Henry had done to God and to himself, he was come to excommunicate him."

The Countess realized the serious effect this action would have upon her brother, and promptly set to work to prevent it being carried out. To Henry she did not try to lessen the danger of his position. He was, as a matter of fact, on the very brink of war with his brother Robert, a war undertaken in the hope of making himself permanent master of Normandy. Never did he more need the support of people on both sides of the Channel, and now he could not shut his eyes to the fact that "in many places in England, France, and Normandy it was noised abroad that the King himself was on the point of being excommunicated by Anselm; and thereupon many mischiefs began to be hatched against a Power not over-much loved, which it was thought might be more effectually carried out against one excommunicated by a man like Anselm."

At that time Henry was staying at the castle of L'Aigle, the very spot where in bygone years he and his brother Rufus had played a practical joke upon their despised elder brother, throwing a pail full of dirty water over him from a balcony overlooking the courtyard where he stood.

It looked now as if that boyish act of insolence was like to be bitterly avenged by Robert, and the heart of Henry must have grown heavy indeed when he heard that the hand of the Church was also to be openly against him, that the day of excommunication was very nigh. He was in no mood to turn a deaf ear to his sister's representations, begging her instead to arrange an interview with Anselm as soon as possible.

The Countess hastened to bring the archbishop to the castle, where "they found the King overjoyed at Anselm's coming and not a little softened from his old harshness."

There is no doubt that he received his former opponent with all honour and affection, and that he was ready enough to restore the revenues of his see. But it is equally clear that the question of investiture was not yet settled entirely in the archbishop's favour, seeing that, when certain inquiries were made as to the advisability of Anselm's return to England, the King replied: "By all means tell him to go, so long as he does not refuse to acknowledge my bishops"—none of whom had held out against his wishes in the matter.

Under the circumstances, and finding that Henry meant again to send messengers to Rome, Anselm determined to await the issue at Le Bec. He had not been blinded by Henry's pretense of affection, nor to the reason of this new delay, and he wrote strongly to the King, warning him that "for a bishop to be kept away from his flock was a greater evil than to be deprived of revenues," and threatening to send an envoy of his own to the Pope if further time were wasted.

From other letters of his at this time we see the force of the remark of Eadmer to those who in after years, if not then, would blame the archbishop for neglect of his see:

"I copy these letters in full that whoever reads it may see where lies the responsibility of the miseries which befell England during Anselm's exile, and the prolongation of that exile."

The bitterest part of the whole contest must have been the knowledge of the work left undone, the crying need of a shepherd, in the land of his adoption. A pathetic letter signed by several English bishops must have wrung his very heart.

"We have waited for peace," they say, "but it has departed from us. Laymen have broken in, even unto the altar. Thy children will fight with thee the battle of the Lord, and if thou shalt be gathered to thy fathers before us, we will receive at thy hands the heritage of thy labours. Delay then no longer. We are ready, not only to follow thee but to go before thee if thou command us; for now we are seeking in this cause not what is ours, but what is the Lord's."

Anxiously day after day did the gentle old warrior, burning for leave to return to his flock, strain his eyes toward the city from which alone could come help. In the spring of 1106 the answer came in the form of a compromise.

"God having touched the King's heart," wrote Paschal, "so that he now showed a disposition to obey the apostolic see, he ought to be met halfway."

This was done by authority to release from excommunication all those bishops and abbots who were under its threat for having done homage to the King, and to all who might do so in the future, until "by the gentle showers of thy preaching," the King should give way. The responsibility was no longer the archbishop's, and Anselm prepared to return at once.

But the frail body had been too often over-taxed, and such alarming fits of illness overtook him that travel was impossible. The King himself came over to Normandy for his last campaign against Robert that August, and hastened to visit the old man in the infirmary of Le Bec. Anselm was gradually recovering strength by that time, and was able to gain Henry's agreement to many reforms he had in mind; then leaving the King to continue the triumphant course which ended in Robert's defeat at Tenchebrai, he made his way slowly to England.

There the Queen met him with all her old affection, and made ready for him with her own hands his bed and table at his various halting-places; and the brave heart in the frail old body was no less cheered by the confidence shown in him by Henry during his absence.

"The King," he writes, "has commended to me his kingdom and all that belongs to him, that my will might be done in all that is his; in which he has shown me the kindness of his goodwill toward me, and his affection for me."

When the King returned, the conditions made by Paschal were made known, and the famous 'concordat' or agreement ended the long dispute.

"On the 1st of August (1107) an assembly of bishops, abbots, and chief men of the realm was held in London, in the King's palace. . . . Then, in the presence of Anselm, the multitude standing by, the King granted and decreed that from that time forth forever no one should be invested in England with bishopric or abbey by staff and ring either by the King or by any lay hand. And Anselm also allowed that no one elected to prelacy should be refused consecration on account of homage done to the King."

It was a wise compromise; for the Church under the symbol of staff and ring, kept her right of spiritual 'investiture' intact; while the homage, which represented the lands and revenues belonging to the position, was still paid to the ruler of the land.

It was won "by the single-minded constancy of an old man at a distance from Rome, whose main weapon was his conviction of the justice of his cause, and his unflinching and undeviating steadiness." It was won, moreover, not by the brute force that appealed most strongly to a brutal age, but by a force of personal character which was one of the greatest triumphs of the eleventh century. Even the savage nature of William the Red had been touched by Anselm's sweet gentleness, for on the last occasion they saw one another he had bowed that tawny bullet head of his to receive the old man's blessing.

And in spite of the real annoyance caused by Anselm's determination to hold out on a question the true inwardness of which he failed to grasp, the clever, astute Henry Beauclerc could not but admire, respect, and love him.

The feeling of the people of England as a whole had always been upon the side of the archbishop, though they probably misunderstood his long absences as much as they regretted them; and now indeed their rejoicings at his return were overshadowed by the knowledge that the weary old man must soon lay aside his work for ever.