Anselm - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

The Return of Anselm

One of those who had been with William in that ill-fated hunting in the New Forest was Henry, younger brother of the King, a man in his thirty-second year. The moment he realized what had happened, he had turned his horse's head and ridden off to Winchester, twenty miles away, to demand the keys of the royal treasure hoard. Close behind him thundered the hoofs of the horse of William of Breteuil, its keeper, and a partisan of the absent Robert, to whom, by the treaty of Caen, the crown should now have come.

The first news that the idlers in the Winchester streets received of the King's death probably came through the noise of the quarrel between the two men as they stood outside the castle. A crowd collected round them—possibly a half-hearted shout for "King Henry" was raised—upon which the young man put his hand upon his sword and made it clear that he was ready to fight for what he wanted. The keys were given up, and next day, after the hurried burial of that dishonoured corpse, a hasty election of Henry as King was made "by such of the Witan as were near at hand."

Waiting only to disarm prejudice by appointing the dead King's chancellor, Giffard, his own personal friend, to the vacant see of Winchester, the new King rode off post-haste to London, where he was crowned next day by Maurice, Bishop of London.

"On the day of his consecration," says the chronicler, "he gave freedom to the Church of God, which in his brother's time was put up to sale and let to farm; he discontinued the exaction of the unjust dues and oppressive taxes with which the kingdom of England was burdened, and firmly established peace in his dominions, and ordered it to be preserved. Not long afterward he committed to custody in the Tower of London, Ranulf, Bishop of Durham, and recalled Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, from France."

These last two acts did more than anything else to mark the promise of better things for England. All decent men would rejoice at the downfall of the corpulent tyrant who for so long had 'flayed the Church'; and no less would they rejoice at the recall of one who had won universal respect even from those who had been strongly on the late King's side.

The message sent to Anselm begged him to hasten his return and advised him to avoid Normandy, from which quarter Henry rightly judged the first muttering of revolt would be heard. For Robert the Duke was on his way back from the Holy Land, pouring out threats against his faithless brother; and the old desire to keep the two countries under one head was strong enough to make the allegiance of Anglo-Norman barons exceedingly doubtful.

So Anselm set sail from Wissant and landed at Dover in the latter part of September, almost exactly three years after he had left these shores.

The court, he found, was being held at Salisbury, and thither he hastened, hearing on every side as he journeyed the note of relief and joy in the new accession. But before Anselm could share in the rejoicing one important matter must be decided between him and the King. He had not lived abroad for nothing during those three years, during which his close communication with the heart of Christendom had bound him to obey more scrupulously than ever the commands of the Roman pontiff; and in any question concerning the supremacy of Church over State he was under the strongest obligation to uphold the honour of the cause for which he stood.

And the question arose at once. After warmly embracing the man for whom he had evidently conceived a real affection and respect, Henry expressed his regret that he had not been able to wait to receive his crown from his hands, and suggested that Anselm should, without further loss of time, do homage to him as King for his archbishopric.

He was met with an uncompromising refusal, not a little surprising to one who had possibly seen the archbishop do homage to his brother thirteen years before, and who had heard nothing of recent papal decrees upon the subject.

But Henry was no bully, nor could he afford to lose the friendship and support of the most respected man in the kingdom; so when Anselm quoted the canons and explained the decisions of councils in which he himself had taken part, he suggested that the question be postponed till the following Easter. This would give time to approach Pope Paschal anew on the matter, and meantime he was quite prepared to admit the archbishop to the rights of his see without the ceremony.

To this compromise Anselm, longing as ever for an opportunity of carrying out his high purpose of purifying and raising the tone both of clerics and laymen, willingly agreed, and meantime threw himself eagerly into the work of aiding the King to strengthen his position. Here he was soon able to be of marked assistance.

Henry was anxious to make himself the more acceptable to the English by marrying Edith, daughter of Malcolm of Scotland and Margaret, grandniece of Edward the Confessor, the chief royal representative of the old Saxon line. But a strange atmosphere surrounded the girl. On her father's death, she, a beautiful, clever child, was sent to the nunnery at Romsey, ruled over by her aunt, Christina. The tale is told that William the Red, hearing of her fairness, insisted on entering the convent church under the pretense of saying his prayers, and wandering thence into the cloister garden "to enjoy the fresh scents of its lilies and its roses," found there a fairer flower than these. The abbess, however, knowing the character of her kinsman, hastened to throw a veil over her niece's head, and declared her to be a professed nun. This veil she insisted upon her wearing, though the girl declared that she never did so save under the compulsion of 'hard words and harder blows'; and that when alone she was wont to tear it from her head and to trample it underfoot.

When Henry sought her hand in wedlock, however, the abbess withstood him to the face, and considering the scandal that his marriage with a nun would have made, the King might have dropped the project had not the girl wisely and frankly appealed to Anselm for a decision as to the justice of her cause.

A narrow-minded bigot, standing only for the rights of his order, would have decided against her. The archbishop, on the contrary, having listened with his usual patient tenderness to her impetuous tale, and mindful of the ill-result of any 'hushing-up' in the matter, called a council at Lambeth, and laid the case before them. He reminded them that Lanfranc had himself released from vows certain women who had actually and willingly taken the veil for protection during the early troubles of the Conquest, and having brought witnesses to prove the truth of Edith's tale, bade them decide the matter openly once for all.

When they replied that she was nun neither in will nor deed, he at once declared his full agreement, and forthwith married her to Henry in the November of the year 1100.

No doubt the proud Norman barons who sneered at King and Queen as "Godric and Godgifu"—Goodman and Goody—would have raised a protest had they dared; but it is a significant fact that they did not dare to do so with Anselm and England on the side of Edith, the "Good Queen Maud "of later days, when the substitution of the Norman for the English name showed how she had won all hearts.

Henry's next difficulty was with Robert of Normandy, who landed in England to demand his rights in July 1101. His cause had been fanned both in England and Normandy by the 'firebrand bishop,' who had managed to escape from prison by means of a coil of rope sent to him hid in a big flagon of wine.

Doubts as to the loyalty of the majority of his barons made Henry's position a grave one, especially as it was found that the fleet sent to repel Robert's advance had actually helped to bring him across the Channel. Landing at Portsmouth, the Duke marched direct upon Winchester, which was only saved by an appeal to that streak of generosity and chivalry which makes Robert, if the weakest, the most lovable of the Conqueror's sons. The young Queen Edith lay within the walls, expecting the birth of her first child, and she was Duke Robert's god-daughter. Drawing his army off, he marched along the road to London, and was met near Alton by the King.

A halt was called, and after a pause, the two brothers rode out to meet one another and embraced 'mouth to mouth,' while their warriors stood by in grim approval.

They met again in friendly conference at Winchester, where Eadmer declares that "Anselm saved the crown to the King." Whatever part he played, the whole affair was settled in friendly wise by promising Robert a yearly sum of three thousand marks to quit him of all his English rights; and he went home well pleased.

To those who rank the fashion of compromise and easy good nature above the obligations of duty and principle, it would seem a pity that this state of friendly good-will and mutual esteem between King and archbishop was of such brief duration. For soon after the departure of Robert, the first deputation sent by Henry to the Pope returned, bringing letters of kindly but unmistakable refusal to give way an inch concerning the question of investiture. The King's action showed signs of that curious cunning which appears again and again in his character. Under the pretense that the answer of the Pope had been altogether favourable, he summoned Anselm to court to do homage himself and to consecrate those bishops who had been elected to the vacant sees.

"It is impossible," said the archbishop firmly. "If I were to disobey the Pope's decisions as declared in council and confirmed in his letter to myself, I should make myself excommunicate."

"I know nothing about that," said the King "But I will not lose the customs of my predecessor nor tolerate within this realm anyone who is not man of mine."

The threat was evident, but Anselm refused to be intimidated. He would not again leave, by his own desire, the lambs of his flock, and replied bravely: "I can but do my duty in my church and diocese and you must decide for yourself whether you wish to do violence to me and mine."

Once again his devotion to a principle of which few but himself realized the full importance had made him an outcast among his fellows. The bishops and nobles to a man supported the King; and only the unsettled state of the country owing to the rebellion of Robert of Belesme, that 'restless and pitiless' baron, withheld Henry from trying to carry his point by force. He proposed therefore a second embassy to Rome, and sent to represent himself the Archbishop of York and two other bishops, while Anselm was content to send only his friend, the monk Baldwin, and another.

In the year 1702 the return of these was made the occasion of a council held in London to consider their report. As a matter of fact, the embassy had turned out entirely in favour of Anselm. "Shall I annul the decrees of the holy Father for the threats of one man?" Paschal had asked indignantly when the envoys pressed the matter in Henry's favour, and his letter to the King, while full of praise for the fair beginning of his reign, urged him to secure the friendship of God and the loving alliance of the Papacy by avoiding investiture of bishops and abbots. To Anselm he wrote in terms of unmistakable encouragement: "Do what thou halt done; say again what thou hast said."

Great then was the archbishop's surprise when Henry, instead of mentioning the contents of his own letter, called upon the bishops of the embassy to state the result of their mission by word of mouth. Smoothly enough they announced that Pope Paschal, addressing them in private audience, had agreed that Henry should 'invest' with staff and ring, as long as he was careful to appoint the right sort of men, and had sent word by them to the archbishop to accept their statement.

This was going too far, and Anselm at once produced his letter and called upon the King to do the same. Henry refused, and a strange scene followed. For when the two monks protested, the bishops took refuge in haughty disdain of their evidence; and when asked to explain the Papal letter, replied that such things were "no more than pieces of sheepskin with a lump of lead hung to them," and hinted that the testimony was worthless "of paltry monks who when they renounced the world lost all weight in considerations of secular affairs."

"But this is no secular business," said Baldwin.

"We know you," they replied, "to be a man of sense and vigor; but difference of rank itself requires us to set more by the testimony of an archbishop and two bishops than by yours."

"But what of the testimony of the letter?" persisted Baldwin; to which they answered with a sneer: "When we refuse to receive the testimony of monks against bishops, how could we receive that of sheepskins?

"Woe! woe!" burst forth from the shocked and excited monks. "Are not the Gospels written on sheepskins?"

These beginnings of a very pretty quarrel were soothed by another attempt at compromise on Henry's part. He would send another embassy to the Pope, and in the meantime must be free to invest new bishops, with whom Anselm must agree to live in communion though he need not consecrate them.

To this the archbishop agreed, though even his patience must have nearly reached its limits, for he at once wrote to Paschal begging him to state quite clearly what he wanted done, so as to leave no loophole for escape.

"I am not afraid," he wrote, "of banishment, of poverty, of torments, or death; for all these, God strengthening me, my heart is ready in obedience to the apostolic see and for the liberty of my Mother Church; all I ask is certainty, that I may know without doubt what course I ought to hold by your authority."

Meantime he used his power as archbishop to carry out a project that had long lain very near his heart, and prevailed upon the King to call a synod, or council of the bishops and abbots of the whole realm, to consider remedies for the disorders in the religious and moral state of the country; which synod met together on Michaelmas Day in the year 1102.