Anselm - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

The Contest Begun

It was at the court held at Gloucester at the Christmas of that same year that the first mutterings of the storm were heard. The occasion was the calling together of the chief men of the kingdom—the remains of the old English Witan—to deliberate with Rufus concerning his proposed invasion of Normandy, and Anselm was there as newly consecrated primate. It was his office on this occasion to fulfill the custom of those days of solemnly recrowning the King, during the service held to call down a divine blessing upon his deliberations.

There was another reason for his appearance at court. In former days a bishop, on receiving office, paid a certain sum of money called a 'heriot' to the king, like any other tenant-in-chief. When this degenerated into something much resembling 'simony,' or the buying and selling of Church offices, the custom became no longer obligatory, but was usually continued in the form of a voluntary gift. Hence when William declared his urgent need for raising money for his projected invasion, Anselm offered him five hundred pounds as his contribution. But the Red King looked sourly upon it, and rudely intimated that a thousand was the least he would accept, and this the archbishop utterly refused, saying that the lands of his see had been already so impoverished by the King's demands that he would allow the tenants to be oppressed no further.

He determined, however, to reason with the King, and sought him out in personal interview.

"Do not, my lord, refuse to accept my offer," said he. "It is your archbishop's first gift but it will not be his last. You will be better served by receiving small and frequent sums in a spirit of friendly liberty than by forcing me to pay one large sum under servile conditions. If I am left free and on friendly terms with you, you can have your will of me and mine; but if you treat use as a slave of you will have naught from either me or mine."

To which mild and reasonable words Rufus made surly answer: "Keep your talk and your money to yourself and may there light a curse upon it; mine own is enough for me; and get you gone from the court."

Whereupon Anselm departed, saying quietly to his compeers that he intended to give the five hundred pounds to the poor.

Meantime preparations for the war against Normandy were being pushed on apace; and we may pause here in the story of Anselm to glance briefly at the relations then existing between the two countries.

The fact that so many of the English barons held possessions in Normandy had, ever since the death of the Conqueror, made it a matter of importance that the two countries should be united under one lord. The weakness of Duke Robert's character and the strength of his brother's position pointed to only one solution of the difficulty, and ever since the year 1090 there had been intrigues going on to set William up as Duke of Normandy. Once indeed the Red King had actually landed, and being met by a crowd of Robert's subjects all eager to pay allegiance to him would no doubt have been made Duke had not Robert prevailed upon Philip I, King of France, to bring an army to his help. This is interesting as being the first step in that long series of contests between France and England which only ended in the nineteenth century.

The result was a treaty (Caen, 1091) in which many promises were made by Rufus in return for the cession of certain coveted places, amounting, as the chronicler dryly remarks, to "a great part of Normandy."

When William returned to England, Robert accompanied him, saw him through a struggle with Malcolm King of Scots and returned without the fulfillment of any of his brother's promises as far as English estates were concerned; nor did the next two years make his position any the better but rather the worse. For his faithless brother was almost openly plotting to gain the allegiance of his barons, and a faint attempt on his part to denounce the King by means of envoys as 'faithless and forsworn' was promptly answered by a declaration of war.

It was at a great meeting of the court held at Hastings at the beginning of Lent, and preparatory to embarking for Normandy, that Anselm next came into open collision with the King.

The unbridled license of the court of Rufus was seen to its fullest disadvantage on such an occasion. The very dress of the courtiers was an indication of their vicious character, and stands in strong contrast to the stern and simple energies of an age in which might was right and civilization still in an elementary stage. It was the fashion to wear the hair long, parted down the middle, crimped and tied with ribbons. Men also wore long sweeping robes, shoes with pointed toes curved like horns, and long, wide sleeves falling well over the hands. The trailing skirts were loose and open, and caused a shuffling effeminate way of walking that suited well the beribboned and plaited heads of hair.

In his Ash Wednesday sermon before the court these things were openly attacked by Anselm, who, moreover, refused the customary blessing with the ashes to all those whose hair was long. To the astonishment of the aggrieved courtiers he next demanded audience of the King, and very simply but very firmly appealed to him for aid in his task as archbishop. The time was not propitious, for William was cursing his luck in that contrary winds had delayed his sailing, and only tolerated the archbishop's presence because he hoped his prayers might act like a spell to secure fair weather.

But Anselm went straight to the point. The needs of the day were twofold. If the archbishop were to make himself felt throughout the land, if the Church were ever to be heard, if discipline was to exist at all there must be held synods, or Church Councils, for the reform of evil customs; and the vacant posts in monasteries must be filled by God-fearing abbots.

William listened with an evil sneer to all this.

"When I want a council I will call one at my own time, not yours," said he; "nor do I see why you want one."

"Because," said Anselm, "unless discipline is strongly exercised the whole land will become like Sodom."

"And what do you hope to get out of it? jeered the King.

"No good, perhaps, for me, but much for God and yourself," was the undaunted answer.

"Enough," stormed the Red King. "Say no more about it."

But Anselm stood his ground and spoke in the strongest terms of the evil done by keeping the post of abbot vacant, and the danger to the King's own soul, until William burst out: "Are not mine abbeys mine own? You do as you like with your manors. Shall I not do my will by mine abbeys?"

"They are yours only to defend and protect, not to ruin and despoil," replied the archbishop; upon which the angry King cried: "Know that your words greatly offend me. Your predecessor would not have dared to address my father in such terms. I will do naught for you."

"I had rather you be angry with me than God with you," was the quiet reply.

Anselm and Rufus


Anselm left the royal presence in disfavour but by no means disheartened, and shortly after sent a messenger asking again for his friendship and aid, and offering amends in everything wherein he had offended.

"If he will not grant it, let him say why," he added. The King, however, though frankly acknowledging that he had no grievance against the archbishop, refused to grant his friendship "because I don't see why I should."

This cryptic utterance was explained to mean that Anselm had not attempted to buy the favour of William with money; and his fellow-bishops urged him to do so as being the only way out of the difficulty. But this Anselm absolutely refused. "Far be it from me to do such a thing; besides, my tenants have been stripped to their skins already. Shall I now flay them alive?

"Offer him the five hundred pounds the rejected before," they suggested; to which he replied that that was impossible as the greater part had already gone to the poor.

When this was reported to William his wrath knew no bounds. "Tell him," he roared, "that yesterday I hated him much and to-day I hate him more. And let him know that to-morrow and for all the other to-morrows I will hate him with a more and more bitter hatred. Never will I have him for father and archbishop; as to his blessing and his prayers, I will have none of them. Let him go where he will."

And so Anselm left the castle of Hastings in disgrace and disfavour, bullied, raved at, jeered at by the courtiers he had rebuked so lately, yet strong and calm in the inward sense of right.

Twice within his first year as archbishop had he thus incurred the King's displeasure. The next occasion was to be concerned with the question of 'investiture,' the real point of contest between Church and Crown during this period of English history, as we have seen it had already become in Europe.

Some of us are inclined nowadays to regard this 'investiture struggle' as one of the 'dry bones' of history, important only to those immediately concerned, and playing no interesting part in the development of the country at large. This, however, is only very partially true. The actual details of the ritual of the reception of the 'pallium and the method of investiture' may no longer concern any but ecclesiastical historians and archaeologists, but to the lover of the past and to those who would trace the gradual progress of social ideals and life, the whole question must be looked at from a broader point of view. It was no mere struggle between Pope and King as to the rights of each; nor was it a question of papal supremacy, such as arose in England some four and a half centuries later; for though Rufus may have found it convenient to ignore the existence of the Pope as head of the Church, his subjects as a whole had no doubt whatever about the fact.

What we must realize is that in those days the one crying need was a system of discipline, law, and order which would tend steadily to raise the moral tone of a nation far from united, in which the mixture of ideals and notions, inevitable in so great a change as the Conquest, had resulted in a condition of confusion and laxity. In those days there were no Acts of Parliament to enforce even an outward standard of morality; this could only be done by some system of Church discipline, possibly only when the position of the Church was clear and unassailable in the eyes of every man. Anything that lowered the aspect of that Church was bound to weaken the moral condition of the country; and the great danger was that this lowering would come when feudal laws placed the bishop or the abbot on the same footing as the boron or tenant-in-chief. If once the principle which gave the king a right to invest his ecclesiastical subject with 'spiritual' as well as 'temporal' powers were conceded, the power of the Church as a lever in the discipline and morality of the nation had passed away. The bishop had become the 'king's man' in every sense, and it depended upon the character of the sovereign as to what the moral condition of England would become.

This had been already proved by Anselm when he boldly informed Rufus that, during the years in which the archbishopric had stood vacant, the country had "well-nigh become a Sodom"; and in the state of affairs which existed during the eleventh, and twelfth centuries, the office might almost as well have been unoccupied as filled by one who, by giving up the liberty of the Church, had sacrificed the right of that Church to self-expression.

So, if we are inclined to wonder at the apparently absurd importance that Anselm attached to receiving the 'pallium,' or stole worn by an archbishop, straight from Rome and refusing to take it from the King's hands, we must remember that these things were but the outward symbols of a great principle, upon which depended in those days not only the effective life of the Church, but also the revival of religion in the hearts of individuals throughout Christendom.