Anselm - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

The Council of Rockingham

The expedition of William the Red to Normandy was a failure and an expensive one; a result, as Eadmer unkindly hints, of the loss of the archbishop's prayers and blessing. Already the first mutter of the storm had been heard in the King's evident fury that Anselm had refused to consider himself liable, like any lay subject, to provide him with money for this undertaking; and the archbishop could hardly have been unprepared for the opposition with which William met his next request.

It was the custom that each archbishop should visit Rome to receive his 'pallium' within a year of his consecration, as an outward sign of his recognition by the Church at large. This 'pallium' was a stole woven from the wool of two lambs which were consecrated each year on St Peter's Eve in the Church of St Agnes at Rome. The stole of white wool marked with four black crosses symbolized the spirit of purity interwoven with the four cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, temperance, and prudence; while the words of the blessing pronounced over it as it lay on the altar-tomb of St Peter emphasize its meaning as marking the unity of the Church.

"May this he to the wearer a symbol of unity and a mark of perfect union with the Seat of the Apostle."

For the reception from the Pope of this stole, already overdue, Anselm begged permission of the King to go to Rome in the beginning at the year 1095.

"To which Pope?" was the surly query.

"To Urban," replied Anselm; to which William promptly answered that he had never accepted Urban as Pope; and that neither he nor his father had permitted a pope to be recognized without their leave. "To challenge this right is practically an attempt to take my crown from me."

Nor would he listen for a moment to Anselm's protest that he had declared his allegiance to Urban as a condition of his consecration, and they parted in mutual disgust.

No doubt Rufus was on the look-out to find some excuse to drive the archbishop from his see, and this seemed a fitting opportunity; but he had mistaken his man. Not so soon was Anselm to throw up the responsibility he had so unwillingly accepted. A big question had been raised; the question of the acknowledgment of any pope in England at all, for William, while declining Urban, had not recognized his rival; and the archbishop at once demanded a meeting of the Great Council to consider the matter.

Early in 1095 this was called at Rockingham Castle, a lonely erection on the borders between the great Derbyshire woodlands and Northamptonshire, built by the Conqueror to watch the doubtful loyalty of the iron-workers of the district, a "peculiarly barbarous class of men."

The King, with his intimates, held himself sulkily aloof from the Council, which was held after Mass in the chapel of the castle on the third Sunday in Lent. From the first Anselm knew that the feeling of those present was against him, and seeing that most of the bishops were very much the 'King's men,' this was hardly a matter of surprise.

At once he laid before them his difficulty of combining allegiance to the Vicar of St Peter and to a King who had plainly said: "Be assured that in my realm you shall have no part unless you prove to me that according to my wish you refuse all submission and obedience to Urban." He pointed out that it was a serious thing to despise and deny the Pope; and an equally serious thing to break his faith to the King. "But that too is serious which is said, that it is impossible for me to keep the one without breaking the other."

The reply of the bishops was characteristically wary:

"If it were a matter of conscience, no man was better able to deal with it than himself. If he asked for their advice, he must submit himself first to the King's will."

"Having said these words," says Eadmer, an eye-witness of the whole affair, "they were silent and hung down their heads, as if to receive what was coming on them."

The answer of Anselm was an impassioned appeal to the Scriptures, turning upon the text, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's," and a refusal to abate one jot or tittle of what was owing to the 'Vicar of St Peter.'

Loud cries of irritation and disagreement followed, so full of anger that Eadmer declares "they might have been thought to be declaring Anselm worthy of death." Not one of these time-servers, who who were guiltily consious of having bought their benefices and of having sacrificed all such principles to obtain their will, would take Anselm's decision to the king; and so the archbishop was fain to carry it himself. He returned at once to his seat in the chapel, where the council had broken up into little groups still in angry and perplexed discussion; for the point raised might land them unwillingly enough in open breach with the papal power. But the chief person concerned, weary of waiting for the result, and peacful in spirit amid all these warring powers, "leaning his head against the walls, fell into a calm sleep."

The royal answer, when it came, carried the war into the opposing camp. Anselm was reproached as a disloyal subject, a troubler of the general peace, and as trying to destroy the power and independence of the Crown. Let him act like a reasonable being, since to acknowledge Urban could do him no good, while to win the favour of the King would protect him against any anger shown by the Pope at his defction. "Let him assert his freedom, let him be free, as became an Archbishop of Canterbury, from any foreign interference and all would be well."

When the weary archbishop asked for time in which to take his night's rest before he gave his final answer, his words were seized upon as a sign of wavering, and one of the bishops, Willioam of Durham, undertook to bully him into submission. He brought a message from the King: "There msut be no delay unless the archbishop were prepared at once to clothe the King again with the dignity of which he had tried to deprive him. If not, he calls down the hatred of Almighty God upon himself, and we, his subjects, join in doing so, if he grant even for one hour the delay you ask for. Therefore decide at once or prepare to meet the doom prepared for those who would rob their sovereign of the chief prerogative of his rule."

To which high-sounding words Anselm made quiet answer:

"Whoever will prove that because I will not renounce my obedience to the venerable bishop of the holy Roman Church I am violating my faith to my King, let him come forward, and he shall find me ready to answer him as I ought and where I ought."

The simple straightforwardness of the man had gone straight to the point. Only the Pope himself could judge such a matter; and neither Rufus nor any of his truckling followers wished to bring about a breach with Rome.

There were those in the listening throng of bystanders whose hearts were more loyal to the Church than her own professed ministers, and their sympathy was with the archbishop. From among their ranks there now stepped a young knight who knelt at Anselm's feet and said, very simply and feelingly:

"Lord and father, thy spiritual children, through me, beseech thee not to let thy heart be troubled by these things. Remember how holy Job upon the dunghill routed the devil and avenged Adam, whom the devil had routed in Paradise."

It was a sense of justice and fair-play that had stirred this unknown man openly to take the side of the weary and badgered archbishop; and his words caused Anselm great cheer. "He perceived that the feeling of the people was with him," says Eadmer, "and so we were glad, being confident that the voice of the people is the voice of God."

So in silence and perhaps shamefacedness, the bishops dispersed.

The King was, however, furious at their ill-success. "What is this?" he cried. "Did you not promise that you would treat him according to my will, judge him, and condemn him?"

Haltingly the Bishop of Durham suggested that the only thing left to do was to take the ring and staff, outward signs of his office, from him by force and expel him from the kingdom. But to this the barons, hitherto almost silent spectators of the dramatic scene, would not agree. They knew too well the advantage of keeping some check upon the tyranny of the King, apart from the fact that their respect for the office of the spiritual head of the kingdom was by no means dead.

"To what, then," cried the King, "do you agree?" For this I swear, that while I live I will not have an equal in my kingdom. Begone and consult among yourselves; for by the Face of God, if you do not cast him out to please me, I will cast you out to please myself."

Upon which one of the chief of the baronial party ruefully remarked: "Of what good are our consultations? For we spend the whole day weaving our plans and shaping them this way and that, and meantime Anselm, on his side, planning nothing at all, goes to sleep; and lo! when we set our schemes before him, with one breath of his lips he sends them flying like so many cobwebs!"

In despair the Red King turned to the bishops, who, however, could only shake crestfallen heads and declare their inability to sit in judgment on their superior, the Primate of all Britain.

"At least you can renounce your obedience to him and all bonds of brotherly friendship, even as I now withdraw from him all protection and support, and refuse to hold him as archbishop or father in God," replied the angry King. And this, to their infinite shame, all the bishops save Gundulf of Rochester, proceeded to do.

The simple reply of the archbishop to this message and procedure embarrassed William as much as it shamed the truckling bishops.

"You may refuse to me subjection and friendship, "said he, "but I find it none so easy to do the same by you; and I shall continue to show you a father's and a brother's love, and try to turn you from the error into which you have slipped. To the King, who refuses to have me for archbishop and father, I promise, on my part, all faithful service, and, as a father should, will love him and care for his soul, as I shall also continue to maintain the service of God as Archbishop of Canterbury."

What was to be done with such a man? In despair William turned again to his barons. They must also renounce Anselm. "No man shall be mine who chooses to be his!" But here the barons stood firm. "We were never his men and so cannot abjure a fealty we never swore. But he is our Archbishop and we cannot refuse his guidance, especially as he has done nothing amiss."

Baulked on every side the Red King wreaked his fury on the hapless bishops, and in this the barons seem to have joined. "This or that bishop, "says Eadmer, "you might hear branded now by one man, now by another, with some nickname, accompanying bursts of disgust, Judas the traitor, Pilate, Herod, and the like. Those who admitted they had only renounced obedience to Anselm so far is he claimed it by right of Papal authority were driven out and forced to skulk away to a corner of the building. Here they soon found it wise to do what they had often done before; they gave a large sum of money and so were received back into the King's favour."

Meantime affairs took a sudden turn. Bereft of the King's protection, Anselm determined that his wisest course was to quit the kingdom, either because his personal safety was at stake, or, as seems more probable, to settle the 'pallium' question by going straight to Rome. He therefore electrified all that was left of the council by demanding a safe-conduct to the nearest seaport. This was, however, the last thing William desired; for Anselm would still be in possession of his archbishopric, and his treatment by the King would, moreover, form an excellent excuse for either Robert of Normandy, Philip of France, or Pope Urban himself to take up his cause.

So he proposed that the whole question should be left undecided until the following Whitsuntide; and Anselm, agreeing to this in the hope of peace, though abating no jot of the principle at stake, was allowed to ride away. But this truce did not prevent the Red King from annoying him in every way he dared during the interval, as the following extract from Eadmer will show:

"This being done, and leave received from the King, Anselm returned to his see, foreseeing within himself that the peace and the truce were a mere flimsy and tyrannous veil to the royal hatred and to the tyrannous oppression that was soon to break forth. Nor had he long to wait.

"Not many days had elapsed when the King, on account of the late disagreement, banished Baldwin [Anselm's chief adviser] from the kingdom, and also two monks in attendance on the prelate; and by so doing inflicted on him the cruelest of wounds.

"And I might tell of other things—how his chamberlain was arrested in his very chamber before his very eyes, and other of his dependents condemned by unjust judgment, stripped of their goods, and afflicted with countless ills. And all this did the royal faith and the royal loyalty do within the period of the truce. During that interval the Church of Canterbury was, in all her dependencies and belongings, visited with such a cruel storm of persecution that it was agreed, with but few exceptions, that she had been better off in the old days without a pastor than now under a pastor reduced to such straits as these."

Which frame of mind, one need hardly say, is exactly what the crafty King wished to bring about.