Anselm - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

The Fey King

This time of peace for the harassed soul of the archbishop was soon to come to an end. In October of that same year (1098) he was invited to be present at the council of Bari, where an attempt was made, half-hearted enough, to heal the great schism of the Eastern and Western Church by considering anew the difficulty of the Greeks in accepting that clause of the Creed which declares that the Holy Ghost "proceeds from the Father and the Son."

There were few speakers of eloquence to defend the orthodox position, and hence, after a time, Urban beckoned to Anselm, who had taken up an inconspicuous position among the other bishops. The audience had been wondering as to the identity of the slight ascetic stranger seated in their midst; and they wondered still more when they had heard the eloquent and lucid speech in which he defended the Creed of the Western Church.

When this subject had been disposed of, without, however, convincing the opponents of the Creed, Pope Urban suddenly brought before the council the affairs of Anselm himself. The whole history of his relations with Rufus was revealed and the opinion of the council was asked.

Looking pitifully upon the serene countenance and shrunken form of the man whose silver-mouthed eloquence they had just heard in defense of the faith, the bishops unanimously declared that William deserved nothing less than excommunication.

"That is my opinion also, and we will now proceed to act upon it," declared the Pope, "for over and over again has his life been made subject of complaint to the apostolic see."

But there was one whose merciful heart moved him even now to intercede for the sinner; and he was the only one of all those present who had personally suffered at the King's hands. Falling at the Pope's feet, Anselm earnestly besought him to grant a period of further indulgence to William before declaring him a heathen and an outcast, to whom none owed allegiance or even the ordinary charity that exists between man and man.

In deference to his request, a respite was granted to William, and Anselm forthwith followed the Pope back to Rome. There he found the messenger who had taken letters both from himself and from Urban to King William, requesting that he would respect his rights and property, and especially the tenants who lived upon lands belonging to the primate's see. The man reported that William had glanced through the Pope's letter but had refused to open that of Anselm, declaring, moreover, that if his messenger did not quit the land at once, he would have his eyes torn out.

Hard upon the steps of this envoy came another, that same royal chaplain, William of Warelwast, who had overhauled the primate's private baggage at Dover. He brought from his master an insolent oral message to the Pope. "My lord the King was astonished at your asking him to give up Anselm's property, and his reason is this. When Anselm wanted to leave England, he told him that if he did so, the whole of his property as archbishop would be forfeit. As the threat was disregarded he feels he has done quite right in carrying it out."

"Has he any other charge against him," asked the Pope.

"None that I know of," replied William of Warelwast.

"What!" cried Urban, "he has despoiled the Primate of England because he chose not to give up his visit to Rome, the Mother of Churches! Return at once and tell your master that if he restores not this property, and lets me know thereof by the third week of Easter, the sentence of ex-communication shall be passed upon him."

"I would treat with you in private before I leave," was the envoy's reply.

No doubt he bribed those who had influence with Urban; certainly we find him loitering unrebuked about Rome till it was too late for the King's reply to be brought back at the time appointed. In the end Urban gave William another respite till the Michaelmas of 1099; and his chaplain at last took his departure.

Knowing how little use it was to give the King further license to oppress the unhappy tenants of Canterbury, Anselm was more than a trifle disheartened at this procedure.

"Seeing which things," writes Eadmer, "we understood that we vainly looked for counsel or help there, and we resolved to ask leave to return to Lyons."

It seemed, however, as though holy and learned men were not so common at the papal court that Anselm could be readily spared. He was desired to wait for the council held in the Vatican at Rome at the ensuing Easter, and meantime was given a suite of rooms close to those used by Urban and treated with a deference and honour that must have seemed empty enough to one upon whose soul lay heavy the wrongs of his people at home.

At the council at Rome the main question brought up was that of 'investiture.' It seemed good to Urban that the principles of Hildebrand should be now reaffirmed in stronger terms and with an important addition. Not only were the clergy forbidden to receive the investiture of churches from the hands of laymen, but they might not become the 'men' of laymen, that is, they were not allowed to do homage for their lands to lay overlords; and the sentence of excommunication was passed against all who should do so in the future.

When this decree was about to be read out to the assembly, a curious and dramatic incident occurred. The man chosen, for his loud and ringing voice, to declare the decree, was Reinger, Bishop of Lucca, who, standing probably in a marble pulpit halfway down the basilica, began to perform his task. He had not read very far when he stopped, and looking round about him at the sea of faces, cried with troubled mien and voice, "What do we here? We are burdening men with laws and yet we dare not resist the cruelties of tyrants. Hither are brought the complaints of the oppressed and the spoiled; from hence, as from the head of all, counsel and help are asked for. And what is the result? There sits one amongst us from the ends of the earth, in modest silence, still and meek. But his silence is a loud cry. The deeper and gentler his humility and patience, the higher it rises before God, the more should it kindle us. This one man, this one man, I say, has come here in his cruel affliction and wrongs, to ask for justice from the apostolic see. This is the second year he has awaited it, and what help has he found? If you do not all know whom I mean, it is Anselm, Archbishop of England," and with that he struck his staff violently three times upon the floor.

"Brother Reinger," cried the Pope, considerably taken back and abashed. "Enough, enough! Good order shall be taken about this."

"There is good need," cried the bishop, "for otherwise the thing will not pass with Him who judges justly."

But Pope Urban was too harassed by political affairs willingly to incur an open quarrel with England, even if it had been Anselm's wish that he should proceed to the extremity of excommunication. Eadmer, indeed, speaks bitterly of his weakness, when he says: "On the following day we got leave and left Rome, having obtained naught of judgment and advice through the Pope save what I have said."

It was something, however, that Urban had held Anselm to his position, and prevented him from throwing up his office, as he certainly seems to have been ready to do in the face of this hopeless state of affairs. Nor would the excommunication of William have helped the miserable condition of England at that time, since public opinion would scarcely have been strong enough to depose him.

In the next July, when Anselm was staying with Archbishop Hugh at Lyons, Pope Urban died and was succeeded by Paschal II, to whom Anselm at once wrote a full account of his case. He presses the new Pope in this letter to take up his cause, and "not to bid me return to England except on such term as may render it possible for me to set the law and will of God and the apostolic decrees before the will of man. Otherwise I should let it appear that it is a duty to set man before God, and that I had been justly despoiled for desiring to go to Rome."

From the reports Anselm had from time to time of the state of affairs in England, we can understand his feeling that it would be hopeless to return unless some strong measures could be taken.

When William heard of Urban's death, his remark was, "May the hatred of God light on him who cares!" after which he inquired what manner of man was his successor.

"A man in some sort like Anselm," was the reply.

"By the Face of God, he is no good then," cried the King. "But he may look to his own affairs, for he shall not get the better of me. I am free now, and I mean to use my freedom."

He already held the revenues of the sees of Canterbury, Winchester, and Durham, of which Ranulf the Firebrand was nominally bishop, beside that of a great number of churches and abbeys. The state of the country, even allowing for the exaggerated horror of a chronicler monk, can be gathered from a contemporary description.

"After Anselm's departure mercy and truth departed with him, shunning the land; and justice and peace were driven out after them. Holiness and chastity were under a blight; sin walked the highways openly and unabashed, disdainfully confronted and defied all law, and gathering fresh courage day by day from its success triumphed wantonly. The very heavens held England in horror, and the nations were amazed. Thunders shook the earth, thunderbolts and lightnings glanced all round, rain fell in floods; the winds of heaven were at their wildest; hurricanes shook the church towers till they fell; famine raged abroad; pestilence laid hold of man and beast; the soil was left unfilled; and there was none to tend the living as there was none to bury the dead."

For after Anselm's departure the Red King had thrown off all outward respect for religion and morality, so that men whispered that he had altogether sold his soul to the Evil One. He had openly seized Normandy for his own, thus breaking all pledges made to his brother Robert, ravaged Wales, and by his acceptance of the overlordship of Aquitaine during Count William's absence in the Holy Land, bade fair to make himself master of the greater part of France.

Successful wherever he went, his own people, sorely oppressed by the need of providing the sinews of war, began to whisper again. The King was surely 'fey,' and some terrible judgment was about to fall upon him. Dreams and portents poured in from every side during that year 1099.

A monk of St Albans monastery, which had been plundered again and again by the King, saw, in a vision, a crowd of English saints, and among them Anselm the archbishop, standing before the judgment-seat of God. A long list of charges against the King was brought forward by each in turn, until the Almighty summoned St Alban, and handing him an arrow said: "Come, thou first martyr among the English, avenge the saints of England, whom a tyrant outrages." The saint flung the arrow to the nether regions, crying: "Take, O Satan, all power over King William."

Certainly it seemed as though his conscience was dead in those last days. "Those who knew him best declared that he never went to rest at night but he did so a worse man than he had been upon awaking in the morning, and never saw the morrow's light but he did so a worse man than when he had closed his eyes." But the end of that dark soul on earth was nearer than men believed. On the second day of August, having eaten and drunk more than usual, William went forth to hunt in the New Forest, the fruits of ''his father's pride, his people's hate," the region which had already claimed the lives of his brother and his nephew. [Richard, third son of the Conqueror, died from an injury suffered while hunting; and Richard, natural son of Duke Robert, had been accidentally shot near the same spot.]

When curfew rang the Red King lay dead colder an oak-tree, pierced by an arrow shot by an unknown hand. The fact that Walter Tyrrell, a favourite courtier, promptly fled abroad does not prove that he killed him, either by mistake or of set purpose, seeing that he stoutly denied it even when he had nothing to gain or lose by the denial.

The only thing that is certain is that the rest of the hunting-party, directly it was known that the King was dead, rode off in different directions, leaving the corpse upon the ground. There it was found by some charcoal-burners, who unwillingly lifted it on to a rough cart, "like the carcass of some fallen boar," and brought it next morning into Winchester. There it was met by a few frightened clergy and monks, and a tail of inquisitive rabble, and brought to the minster, where a grave had been hastily prepared, probably in a tower forming part of the old church outside the present cathedral. Not even the most time-serving prelate could be induced to bury him with the rites of the Church he had mocked; and he made his end as an 'unshriven malefactor,' since, as the chronicler briefly says, "he died in the midst of his unrighteousness, without repentance and without restitution."



A legend of the time says that on the night of the King's death, a little company of monks who were in the constant companionship of St Anselm at Lyons had retired to rest, and one of them, being restless, had just shut his eyes to court slumber when there appeared to him a young man "in bright apparel" who stood and called him by name. "'Adam, art thou asleep?' 'No,' replied the monk. 'Wouldst thou hear news?' asked the youth. 'Gladly would I' 'Then know for certain,' said the other, 'that all the quarrel between Archbishop Anselm and King William is at an end.' At which words the monk eagerly lifted up his head, and, opening his eyes, looked round. But he saw no one."

A week later arrived the actual news of William's end. If men looked to find it give relief and satisfaction to Anselm they were greatly mistaken. Once before he had been made responsible for the welfare of that lost soul, and he had never ceased to hope that a like chance might come again. Bowing his head upon his hands he burst into bitter weeping, saying: "I would rather have died myself than that the King should have made an end like this."