Anselm - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton




Anselm Leaves England

The year that followed the reception of the 'pallium' was free from harass for Anselm as far as the King was concerned, though the Chronicle speaks of it as a time of suffering for England. The rebellion of certain of the great barons of the north country, while it kept William too busy to worry the Church through its archbishop, meant heavy exactions for his subjects; and when this was followed by one of the ever-recurring Welsh wars, the frequent summoning of the levies of tenants prevented the proper tilling of the ground; and this resulted in a failure of crops which caused almost a famine in the land.

Meantime the archbishop had been left as the King's regent over the south and east of England during his absence in the north, and was obliged to take up his residence at Canterbury, as the most central spot from which to perform his manifold duties. Burdened thus with responsibility, the archbishop yet undertook the uncongenial task with his wonted cheerfulness, encouraged by the devoted affection of his Christ Church monks, and hoping to be free ere long to carry on that work of spiritual enlightenment and moral discipline of which England stood so much in need.

But it seemed as though his sensitive soul was never to be really immune from the stabs of coarser men. Walter of Albano, the legate, had made use of his time to inquire into the state of morality of the country, and somewhat appalled at the result wrote to Anselm requiring him to meet him and discuss the distressing condition of affairs.

Recognizing that Walter had preferred to make his investigations by the aid of his disloyal bishops rather than confer with him during the many opportunities which Anselm's sojourn at the court had given him, the archbishop was justly hurt. His letter in reply, though restrained as usual is marked by a very evident tone of reproach: "He knows well the appalling state of religion in the land, but of what use to talk about it. Any decisions they might come to were worthless without the consent of the King; and apart from that, Anselm cannot now leave his post of duty for any such end. Surely there was time enough for such discussion at the court, where Walter in such strange fashion avoided his company."

Then Walter wrote more strongly. The real cause of much of the trouble, said he, was the unfortunate relation which existed between the archbishop and his bishops. The latter had done their best, but they could not altogether support a superior who had done homage to a king not then in communion with Rome—as represented by Urban—and had been consecrated by bishops who were in like case with the King.

With pious unction he represented these good men as having serious scruples about their share in the matter, and hence in the validity of the consecration, since Anselm had received the staff and ring, emblems of his rights as baron, from a layman.

Stung with the rank humbug of this statement, knowing as he did the character of the truckling time-serving bishops, each one of whom had received 'lay investiture' himself without the smallest scruple, Anselm answered with weapons of polished irony that must have pierced even the thick skin of the mischief-making legate.

It was news to him that the bishops had been separated from the Church, since they never denied that Urban was Pope, but merely postponed their recognition of him; and as subjects of the Holy See had they consecrated him. And if what they said were true, it was passing strange that the Pope, knowing how and by whom Anselm had been consecrated, should have sent the 'pallium' "by your charity" not as to a schismatic but to a recognized bishop; and no one should know these things better than my lord of Albano.

"If this accusation seemed serious to you, why did you not speak to me of it before conferring he 'pallium '? If it seems to you contemptible, you yourself can judge how you ought to spurn it under foot. You call God to witness that so far as lay in your power you have defended my cause, and that this has prevented you until now from completing your mission. I thank you for your goodwill to defend me, but I am not aware that on my side you have met with any hindrance in the completion of your mission. Your Reverence says that you have been unable to confer with me and with the others as much as you would have wished. It is for you to know the cause of that inability. For myself, I know that I long and strongly wished to speak with you before I had the opportunity; even when I was able, it was a more scant opportunity than I had desired."

Even a saint is entitled to resist ill-bred interference and underhand disloyalty; and one would like to have seen the face of Cardinal Walter as he read the letter. Soon afterward, he took his departure to Rome, where, judging by subsequent events, he was not able to conceal a very wholesome respect and admiration for the man who had treated his wily methods with such dignified irony and restraint. He had, however, succeeded better than he knew in troubling the gentle and sensitive soul of the archbishop; and many of the later trials that darkened the days of Anselm may be directly traced to his mischievous words. For though he had been brave enough and broad-minded enough to face the difficulty of lay investiture by accepting the symbol of his rights as 'prelate-baron' from the hands of William, so long as he could be certain of maintaining the right of spiritual investiture through the 'pallium' received from the hands of the Pope, the recent papal enactments, repealing those of Hildebrand, and strictly forbidding homage to a layman, were bound to be disquieting.

Was this perhaps the real reason why Walter of Albano had treated him with such apparent discourtesy; and was the Holy Father, for whose rights he had striven so bravely, regarding him as a disloyal subject?

A tougher and more worldly-minded man would have treated the suggestion with contempt; and though we have to realize that even a saint cannot always rise above the limitations of his temperament, we must confess that the matter weighed too heavily upon the archbishop and influenced him unduly in his subsequent actions.

It is but fair, however, to remember that Anselm was ageing fast; that he had gone through two years of incessant harass, had found himself in positions against which his whole natural instinct rebelled, and save for a triumph, empty enough in itself, even if it did mark the success of a great principle, had little but failure to face as far as his real work as a minister to diseased souls was concerned.

The latter part of that same year 1095 saw stirring scenes abroad. In the words of Florence of Worcester:

"Pope Urban came into France and held a council at Clermont at which he exhorted the Christians to go to Jerusalem and subdue the Turks, Saracens, and other pagans. At this exhortation, and during the Council, Raymond, Count of Toulouse, took the cross, and many others with him, and vowed that they would undertake the pilgrimage for God's sake, and accomplish what the Pope had recommended. This being noised abroad, the rest of the people in Christendom in Italy, Germany, France, and England, vied with each other in preparing to join the expedition.

"After this," he continues, "Robert, Earl of Normandy, proposing to join the crusade to Jerusalem, sent envoys to England, and requested his brother King William that, peace being restored between them, he would lend him ten thousand silver marks, receiving Normandy in pledge. The King, wishing to grant his request, called on the great English lords to assist him with money, each according to his means, as speedily as possible. Therefore the bishops, abbots, and abbesses broke up the gold and silver ornaments of their churches, and the earls, barons, and viscounts robbed their knights and villeins, and brought to the King a large sum of money. With this he crossed the sea in the month of September (1096), made peace with his brother, advanced him six thousand, six hundred and sixty-six pounds, and received from him Normandy as a security for its repayment."

The courtesy of the chronicler does William more than justice. No desire to further his brother's wish impelled him to act thus, but a very clear determination to use this golden opportunity to annex the long-coveted duchy during his absence.

As his contribution, we find Anselm offering two hundred marks (166 13s. 4d.). Living still the life of a simple monk, and utterly without money of his own, the great Archbishop of all England was obliged to borrow the money from the foundation at Christ Church, on a mortgage of his manor at Peckham, on the rents of which, we read, they were able to build a wing of their new cathedral at Canterbury, "from the great tower eastward."

Indirectly enough, this fulfillment of William's desire as regards Normandy was the means of bringing Anselm once more upon the stage of ecclesiastical warfare.

With time hanging heavily on his hands, the Red King determined to undertake another of those many expeditions into Wales which mark the unsettled character of Western Britain in those days. On this occasion he was, however, singularly unsuccessful, for, as the chronicler says, "though he vowed he would exterminate the whole male population, he was scarcely able to take or kill one of them, while he lost some of his own troops and many horses."

Returning from this failure in very ill humour, Rufus determined to vent his spleen upon a man whom he had never forgiven for once getting the better of him. Reading between the lines of the chronicles of the day we may suppose that Anselm had, during this time, frequently applied to the King for permission to hold a synod of his clergy, or to take other means to restore faith, discipline, and morals in the land; and that his request had been persistently disregarded. Now Rufus suddenly began to assert his own grievances, and pointed out in most uncivil terms that the troop of men furnished by the archbishop as a tenant-in-chief for the campaign had been both inefficient and badly equipped; and that Anselm must be prepared to answer for his remissness before the King's court.

Now the King's court of those days has been well described as only another name for the King's despotism; and Anselm knew only too well that not there would he find justice for his cause. Quite possibly there was much truth in the charge brought against him, for a practical ability in the oversight of military affairs was no part of his equipment as archbishop. Anyway, it was the last straw upon a burden growing heavier and more hopeless day by day, and the old man could bear it no longer.

Finding, when he attended the Whitsuntide court at Windsor in that year 1097, that the suit was really going to be pressed; noting, moreover, a lack of sympathy among those who should have supported him that must have sorely wounded that finely tempered soul, Anselm made up his mind to a step he had long been contemplating as the only solution of his difficulties.

He sent a message therefore, through some of the more friendly barons, asking leave to go to Rome and as before the request was promptly refused.

"Why," asked the King with an evil sneer, "should such a man wish to go to Rome? He cannot have committed sins which need absolution from the Pope? And if he wants advice, he is better able, surely, to counsel the Pope than the Pope to counsel him!"

"I will wait until next time," was the archbishop's calm reply, and accordingly in August he renewed his request, the suit against him having been meanwhile tacitly dropped.

But this course of Anselm's was the last thing William wished, since it would show forth to the world the misgovernment of his country and might embroil him in a very awkward altercation with Urban. Yet we cannot but suspect that there lurked in the royal mind a notion that this was perhaps the easiest way in which he could get rid the one man who had dared consistently to oppose him, and obtain possession of his coveted revenues.

For when the question came up for consideration at the court held at Winchester in 1097, the King, while still refusing his leave, intimated that if he went without it, the property of the archbishop would be forfeit.

At a meeting of his bishops, Anselm seems to have laid before them the impossibility of going on as he was, hampered at every turn, unable to get their co-operation or that of the King in any of the work pertaining to his office. But they, secure in the support of the worldly-minded Rufus, made reply that they could not look at the matter from the lofty point of view that was possible to a monk, without relatives, and a stranger by birth to this land. They were men of the world, with others dependent on them, "they could not afford to rise to his heights or despise the world with him."

The clear eyes of Archbishop Anselm saw through the flimsy argument.

"Go," said he, "to your master. For me, I will hold by my God."

He insisted next on an interview with the King, who warned him that he was about to break his promise made to uphold the ancient customs of the realm.

"Only so far as these customs agree with righteousness and with the law of God," replied the archbishop.

"Neither one nor the other was ever named!" shouted King and council in one breath.

"Not named?" cried Anselm boldly. "What does that matter? No Christian may promise to obey customs that do not agree both with righteousness and the laws of God."

In the pause that followed he hastened to press his point home; but the King and barons rudely interrupted.

"Oh! oh! he is giving us a sermon!"

"You will," cried the archbishop's silver voice through the unseemly clamour, "that I swear never again to appeal to St Peter or his Vicar; and I tell you that to forswear Peter is to forswear Christ, who set the Apostle over His Church. When I deny Christ, I will readily pay the penalty in your court for demanding this license."

The council broke up in confusion, but the undaunted attitude of the old man had made due impression.

A message sent after him hastily by William was to the effect that if he went, he must take away nothing that belonged to the King.

"Does he mean my horses, clothing, and furniture?" asked Anselm. "For perchance some might say that they belonged to him. But even if I go naked and afoot, I go."

Even the mean-spirited King must have felt a little ashamed of such a message, for he replied that Anselm must be gone to the coast within ten days, and that there a royal officer would arrange what he might take with him. Seeing that he had gained his point, the generous-hearted archbishop retraced his steps along the Canterbury road and re-entered the King's presence.

"I am going, my lord," he said, "and had I gone with your good will it had been better for all concerned. But to me the welfare of your soul will always be dear, and as I know not when we may meet again, I commend you to God; and both as a spiritual father to his beloved son, and as archbishop to king, I desire, if you refuse it not, to give you God's blessing and my own."

Even the hard heart of the Red King was touched by the simple, generous words. "I refuse not thy blessing," he said, and bent his head to receive it.

And so they parted, on that October morning, 1097, and never met again.

Yet William was too absolutely rotten at the core to spare him one last insult. The archbishop, armed only with pilgrim's staff and scrip taken from the altar of his cathedral, had made his way to Dover, where he was detained by unfavourable winds. There he was joined by William of Warelwast, the King's chaplain, who was entertained hospitably, during the days of waiting, at the archbishop's table. Just as he was about to embark, this William demanded that all the baggage should be searched lest Anselm was carrying money out of the kingdom; but none was found.

Anselm went forth as a simple monk, with Iwo companions, Baldwin of Tournay and Eadmer, his devoted friend and biographer. But though William the Red at once seized his possessions and kept them till his death, the monk was still Archbishop of Canterbury; and none but the Pope could deprive him of the office.

An attempt has been made by some historians to establish the fact that the real cause of Anselm's 'quarrel' with the King was his refusal to be tried in the royal court on the charge of providing an inadequate levy for the Welsh war. That such was not regarded as the cause by contemporary chroniclers is seen from the following extract from Florence of Worcester, a witness by no means unduly hostile to the King.

"Some affirmed," says he cautiously, "that at this time (September 1097) they saw a strange and as it were flaming sign, in the shape of a cross. Soon afterward a quarrel took place between the King and Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, because, from the time of his being made archbishop he had not been suffered to hold a synod, nor to correct the evil practices which had grown up in all parts of England."