Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Empress Mathilda's Opinion of The Constitutions

Around about Christmas time in 1164, John of Oxford had, on his way back to England from the Papal Curia, at the time in Sens, where he had been on King Henry's business concerning Becket, passed by way of the Empress Mathilda, king Henry's mother, who held court at Le Pré near Rouen. There he tried to darken Becket's reputation before her. He had argued that Becket had done everything out of conceit. He claimed that the Liberty of the Church [Becket's central cause] was being used by the Bishops, not for the benefit of their flocks, but rather to fill their coffers, as in England accused persons when brought before and prosecuted in the Bishops' courts, were not punished by being forced to repent their deeds but were rather given fines to pay. He claimed that God cannot be on Becket's side, as since he had become archbishop, he had surrounded himself not with those of a humble religious nature, but rather with the intellectual sons of nobility. He asserted, that in dispensing benefices, Becket had looked to his own interests rather than to God’s, promoting persons of a notorious character. John of Oxford said that Becket's flight into exile had nothing to do with the Constitutions of Clarendon, but had arisen out of a money dispute between Becket and the King.

Pope Alexander III had also previously asked her to attempt to intercede between her son and Becket.

Defending Becket at the Empress Mathilda's court on this occasion  was Brother Nicholas, Prior of the abbey of Mont St Jacques Rouen.

The Empress said that she had not been privy to the king's business concerning the Church. She asked for the Constitutions of Clarendon to be read out to her in Latin and then that each of its chapters should be explained to her in French. She approved of some of the clauses, for example the clause about not excommunicating the king's justices and servants without the king's permission. But she disapproved of many of the clauses. She particularly disapproved that they had been set down in writing. The bishops had not been required to give their approval to such laws in this manner before.

She defended her son skillfully excusing his zeal for justice and saying that it was the Bishops who were wicked. She identified the cause of the dispute as particularly arising from Bishops who had indiscriminately and recklessly ordained many persons without having first appointing them to a benefice or presenting them with a living, and who were, in consequence, poor, and who out of poverty were ready to commit crimes. Such persons were not afraid of losing their benefice, if they had none to lose. Nor would they fear punishment in the king's court as the Church protects such persons, Nor were they worried that they might be sent to the Bishop's prison, as which Bishop would want to bear the expense of keeping them locked up? Indeed, in contrast sometimes a single cleric can have the benefit from as many as four, or up to even seven prebends [benefices], yet Canon Law supposedly prohibits the holding of even two. The case of Richard of Ilchester was a clear example of the latter. It immediately occurs to one just how many disputes concerning presentation have arisen from these bad practices.

Nicholas urged Becket for the sake of God and the Liberty of the Church hurriedly to prepare a letter to the Empress which he would deliver, expressing in it just how much he shared her opinion, no matter distasteful to him this might be. 

This line of diplomacy did not succeed. Empress Mathilda told Becket that in order to recover the king's grace he would have to show the greatest humility and the most conspicuous moderation.

Extract from

Nicolai De Monte Rotomagensi ad Thomam Cantuariensem.
Thomae Cantuariensi archi-episcopo frater Nicolaus de monte Rothomagensi.
Reversi ad dominam imperatricem, quae injunxistis, ex ordine cuncta narravimus iterato. Consuetudines regis verbo narravimus, quia magister Herbertus perdiderat schedulam. Hoc etiam adjunximus, quod consuetudinum quaedam contra fidem Jesu Christi, aliae fere omnes essent contra libertatem ecclesia). Propter quod timendum erat ei et filio suo de aeterno periculo, et etiam temporali. Tunc vero praecepit nobis mittere ad vos propter consuetudines illas. Volente Deo, ea ipsa die reperta est schedula, et die sequenti, omnibus ejectis a thalamo a conspectu suo, praecepit nobis eas Latine legere, et exponere Gallice. Mulier de genere tyrannorum est, et quasdam approbabat. Sicut est illud de non excommunicandis justitiis et ministris regis sine licentia ejus. Ego tamen alia exponere nolebam, nisi de hoc prius disceptarem, ostendens evangelicum praeceptum, quo dicitur ad Petrum: Dic ecclesice, Sfc. Non: Dic regi. Et alia multa. Quam plurima capitulorum improbavit. Et hoc modis omnibus ei displicuit, quod in scripturam redacta essent: sive quod episcopi coacti forent, ut aliquam promissionem facerent de ipsis custodiendis. Hoc enim a prioribus factum non est. Post multa igitur verba cum ab ea vehementer inquirerem, quae posset esse prima pacis occasio, hanc ei indicavimus, et assensit: si forte fieri posset, ut dominus rex mitteret se in consilium matris suae, et aliarum rationabilium personarum, quae taliter rem moderarentur, ut cessante promissione et scriptura antiquae regni consuetudines observarentur, adhibito tali moderamine, ut nec per judices saeculares libertas ecclesiae tolleretur, nec ita episcopi abuterentur ecclesiastica libertate. Scitote, quod domina imperatrix in defensione filii sui versuta est, eum excusans tum per zelum justitiae, tum per malitiam episcoporum; tum in deprehendenda origine conturbationis ecclesiae rationabilis et discreta. Dicit enim quaedam in quibus ejus sensum et laudavimus et adjuvimus. Episcopi clericos indiscrete ordinant, qui nullis ecclesiis titulantur. Ex quo fit, ut ordinatorum multitudo paupertate et otio ad turpia facta prolabatur. Non enim timet perdere ecclesiam, qui nulli titulatus est. Non timet pcenam, quia illum ecclesia defensabit. Non timet episcopi carcerem, qui mavult impunitum transire conversum, quam pascendi vel custodiendi sollicitudinem adhibere. De ordinatione illius, qui ecclesiae non titulatur, quod irrita sit ad injuriam illius qui eam fecit, testatur synodus Chalcedonensis, una de quatuor, quas Gregorius sicut quatuor evangelii libros tota devotione complectitur. Hoc et alii plures canones. Item uni clericulo quatuor aut septem ecclesiae tribuuntur aut praebendae, cum sacri canones ubique manifeste prohibeant, ne clericus in duabus ecclesiis connumeretur. Hujus iterum pravae consuetudinis occasione quantae de dationibus et praesentationibus ecclesiarum controversiae uascantur, attendite. Super hac re locuta est domina imperatrix occasione Ricardi de Ivelcestre. Verum taceant episcopi, qui hoc faciunt suis parentibus, quod laici sibi servientibus. Item quod multas pecunias suscipiant episcopi propter peccata apud eos excusatorum, satis canonibus non consentit. Quia licet pcena sacrilegii sit pecuniaria, non tamen semper erit: sed quibuscumque personis ad quas sacrilegii querimonia pertinet, juste persolvitur. Quia ergo ex his et similibus nascitur ecclesiastica perturbatio, mirandum valde est, cur securis episcopalis judicii non ad radicem arboris, sed ad ramusculos adhibeatur. Divina siquidem dispensatione actum est, ut ex tali radice fructus amaritudinis publice nasceretur. Quapropter libertatem ecclesiae propter Deum diligitis: quod praedicta vobis displiceant, verbis et factis ostendite. Et si literas ad dominam imperatricem miseritis, id ipsum ex aliqua parte significate. In verbo veritatis vobis dicimus, quod amore rectitudinis et salutis animae nostrae, quae praedicta sunt, scripsimus. Si quae insipienter dicta sunt, date veniam. Et sint occulta quae diximus. Festinantius ad vos mittere non potuimus. Siquidem eo tempore, quo consuetudines coram domina imperatrice legimus, cum omni festinantia literas istas praeparavimus, vobis mittendas. Nunc rogamus attentius, ut literas vestras nobis dirigatis, statum vestrum et propositum continentes. Quidquid injunxeritis, fideliter exequemur. Iterato veniam postulamus, et de prolixitate, et de audacia.

Extract from


Unfortunately, he [prior Nicholas] was preceded at Rouen by the enemies of the archbishop, with John Oxford at their head, who beguiled Empress Mathilda's spirit and warned her against Thomas by their malicious misrepresentations. When listening to them, the prelate only took advice for his pride and ambition, and when defending the liberties of the Church, it was to enlarge its treasures, not to save souls . God could not be with him because from the very start of his episcopacy, he dismissed the godly surrounding himself with noble scholars; he distributed benefits to men of notorious infamy, to make them his creatures. At the bottom of it all, the articles concerning customs mattered little to him , but he would not have deserted his See, if his greed had not feared for his prey. Embittered by the treacherous speech, Mathilde saw Thomas as nothing but a greedy and ambitious prelate, who wanted the same throne as her son , and his friends as accomplices in his rebellion.

Three days after the departure of slanderers, Nicolas appeared before her. This haughty princess, whom a historian has described as the greatest women (maximum mulierum), but whom has retained all the pride of her [former] imperial position and as a daughter of the Conqueror, gave a severe reception to the Prior of the Mont-aux-Malades. Conceited words, bitter reproaches about his journey from Sens, an absolute refusal to hear excuses and receive the letters he was carrying [from the archbishop], were all he gained at his first hearing. A second attempt also failed completely. However, the faithful ventured the prior to return for a third time with his mission. Mathilda, touched by his perseverance, and gradually appeased, finally consented to receive the letter from the archbishop, but not in presence of witnesses and unseen from her clerics, as she feared the wrath of the king. She ordered Nicolas to read it to her.

In this message, Thomas complained about how the princess had spoken hostile words  against him, especially those she said in public, and about letters she had written to the king contrary to the cause of the church. Mathilda denied all these facts; she was even sure that her son was concealing his thoughts, because he knew less devoted to her pleasure and freedom of the church, then she added:

"I sent him one of my clerics to learn about his plans regarding the status of churches and the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury. When I learn if I can expect any fruit from my intercession, I will use my skills to re-establish the peace."

Very pleased to have received this promise, Nicolas took his leave of the Empress , and rushed to Nonant manor near Bayeux, where Arnulf [bishop] of Lisieux lived. The latter prelate received him with open arms, and readily agreed to the secret letter of  Thomas, and seemed to try hard all his envoy added that in its favour, has,

"It is true, he said, I am ranked among his opponents (at Sens in front of the Pope), but principally only because in secret, I was working for his interests. I highly recommended him and his cause to the sovereign pontiff. We asked the pope's approval for the customs, but only those which we knew repeal for which was impossible. If the king communicated to me his plans, it was because I had asked him  for the freedom of the church and her good graces for the Archbishop, because I'm so sensitive to his misfortunes  if I suffer for myself or for my own. No debt to the church binds me in Normandy, I would sooner share his exile."

Arnulf promised again to send an express message to England to sound out the opinion of the court and to inform Thomas by letter, and pointed out a few ways that might hasten the conclusion towards peace. But it is well known that his actions were never responded to in a delicate language. So long as there was war between the church and the kingdom, Henry II  never consulted him ever again..

From Nonant, Nicolas returned immediately to the Empress, and began without delay to deal with the delicate matters concerning the customs. But unfortunately the copy of which had got lost. But he delivered from memory a schedule of those fateful items which placed the church at the mercy of the prince to the strife of the kingdom. Nicolas explained to Mathilda that they were mostly contrary to the faith and the freedom of the church, "that is why," he said, "that you and your son the king are threatened with the wrath of God in this world, and eternal torment in the next."

Rattled by a language so resolute, the princess, finally was able to decide for herself. She wanted Nicolas to dispatch an express message to Burgundy to get from Thomas a copy of Customs. Luckily they were found, and on the next day, alone with the Empress in a private chamber, he read her the Latin text then explained them in French. But, as he himself says, this woman, descends from a race of tyrants. She highly approved of several of the articles, and especially that which forbade bishops to denounce [excommunicate] the king's ministers, without his permission.

In an effort to show her the errors of her ways, Nicholas invoked many passages of scriptures, and emphasised this: "If your brother sins, go represent him his fault, in particular, if you are not heard, take with you one or two persons; and if they are not heard then tell it to the church, and if you were not heard by the church, let them be to you as a heathen and a publican". "Tell the church," repeated the prior, " but no, tell the King."

Bible Gateway. 1951. 
Bible Gateway passage: Matthew chapter 18

Defeated on this one point, Mathilda immediately cut to another, and to the admission of her opponent, deployed in defence of her son a skill and penetration far superior than is usually shown by her sex. The discussion was on the sixteenth article, among others, which forbade bishops to ordain peasant children without the permission of their masters. This furnished the occasion for an easy triumph. In justification of this law the Pope himself had tolerated it. It raised itself as a constraint against those bishops who ordained a multitude of jobless clergy. From there, idleness, vagrancy, anguish and soon crimes committed by these ecclesiastics. Could they be made to fear the king's justice? The Church covered itself against its attacks. The loss of their church? They do not know how to clean it. Episcopal prisons? the bishops left unpunished sins to save themselves the trouble of keeping and feeding prisoners. And that did not  include the matter mentioned by the princess about some of the monetary fines which are appropriated by some prelates contrary to the dictates of the Canon Law.  And on the innumerable lawsuits raised by pretenders to benefits. And on the number of churches given away to the number of five or six, to underage clerics. They are silent these bishops who distribute stipends to their nephews, as secular lords give land to their vassals. Nicolas admitted that by doing so, the canons of the Council of Chalcedon haad been violated, one of the four, he said, that St. Gregory had revered as being equal to the four Gospels

Concerning the remainder, the victory was the prior's on almost all the points, and he extracted from Matilda an almost universal condemnation of the Customs. She especially blamed her son for having compiled the laws and forced the bishops to swear adherence, a process unknown to antiquity. It remained to restore the agreement between the king and the archbishop on these delicate matters, and that is what Nicolas urged the princess. As she hesitated on the means, he proposed a compromise on the following basis:

1 King to accept the mediation of his mother, and some other illustrious people;

2 The Customs shall cease to be written down as laws, and the bishops restricted to giving their oath;

3 However they will be observed, but that secular judges shall give them an unlimited extension, and without bishops abusing the freedom of the Church.

Mathilde approved the wise moderation which Nicolas wished to lay quarrel to rest, in managing at the same time both the rights of the Church and the emotional sensitivity of a shady monarch. But the project was not followed up. The will of Henry II was too lofty, his resentments too violent and he had to extinguish them with blood.

Travel, Nicholas' negotiations, conferences with Matilda, lasted until the end of December (1164). Towards the feast of the Epiphany, he rendered an account to the archbishop, who was confined by the pope in the abbey of Pontigny.



Saint Thomas (à Becket) (2000). "Letter 41: Nicholaus of Mont-Rouen to Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury"The Correspondence of Thomas Becket: Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170. Volume 1. Oxford University Press. pp. 158–69. ISBN 978-0-19-820892-1.

James Craigie Robertson. Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (Canonized by Pope Alexander III, AD 1173). Cambridge University Press. pp. 184–. ISBN 978-1-108-04929-0.

James Craigie Robertson (1859). Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. pp. 153–5

Richard Hurrell Froude (1839). Remains. pp. 131–6.
[This is a translation into English of the letter]

S. Thomas of Canterbury. pp 103-6
William Holden Hutton (1899)

Harkin, Daniel V., "An Annotated Translation of the Correspondence of John of Salisbury: Letters 136-175" (1946). Master's Theses.
Paper 202.
p. 6  Letter 136: John of Salisbury to Archbishop Thomas Becket
p. 25 Letter 140: John of Salisbury to Bishop Henry of Bayeux
p. 56 Letter 144: John of Salisbury to Archbishop Thomas Becket
p. 61 Letter 145: John of Salisbury to Archbishop Thomas Becket

In 1166
p. 90 Letter 155: Archbishop Thomas Becket to Nicholas, Guest Master of Mount St. Jacques 

Under these circumstances, you may be certain, and may intimate to my lady Empress, that shortly -- nay, forthwith--as I live and God is my strength, I shall unsheathe against the person and domains of the king the sword of the Holy Ghost, more piercing than any two-edged sword, to overthrow stubborn flesh and save a spirit swooning and all but quenched. Persuade my lady, then, to hold me excused for the future in a matter which I may no longer disguise; let her be sure that, if her son comes again to life, hears the voice or God and accepts his mother's counsel, he will find me prompt for God's honor and his own wishes. Meanwhile, as God is my witness, I mourn her dying son with as much grief as I hopefully long and pray for his honor and salvation. I say this in sorrow, weeping, groaning, and sighing as though applying a fiery cautery to my own bowels, cut by keen steel from the bosom that housed them. God Himself knows this, and it is not right that I any longer practice an impious piety to His own injury by preferring to Him my earthly mother, father, sister, or even sovereign.l2 "There is no sorrow like to this sorrow, but "the charity of God," and the advantage and honor or Him Whom I serve, "presseth us" to endure this courageously. Farewell. Remember me to my brothers, and urge them to pray for me, that I may receive "the spirit of counsel and our forti tude"; and to pray for my lord king, that he may have "the spirit of knowledge and for godliness," so that he may make his peace with the church ot· God and with me ln the Lord.

Kuszynski, Casimir F., "Translations of Letters One-Hundred Seventy-Six to Two-Hundred Six of John of Salisbury" (1943). Master's
Theses. Paper 642.
p. 45 Letter 179: John of Salisbury to Becket
p. 58 Letter 180: John of Salisbury to Becket  

p. 136 Letter 196: John of Salisbury to Nicholas, Guest Master of Mount St. Jacques, Rouen

See also Becket Correspodence

Materials for the history of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, canonized by pope Alexander III, A. D. 1173. Vol. 5 & 6

p. 159- CTB 41 Nicholas Prior of Mount St Jacques, Rouen to Becket, Christmas Season 1164  - MTB 76
p. 211- CTB 49 Empress Mathilda to Becket, July-Aug 1165 - MTB 275
p. 383- CTB 94 Nicholas of Mount St Jacques, Rouen to Becket, before 6th July 1166 - MTB 209
p. 469 - CTB 101 John of Salisbury to Becket , 14th July - before 1st Aug 1166 - MTB 217
p. 549- CTB 113 Nicholas of Mount St Jacques, Rouen to Becket - MTB 254
p. 623- CTB 132 Nicholas of Mount St Jacques, Rouen to Becket, August 1167 - MTB 284
p. 155- CTB 40 Becket to Empress Mathilda, December 1164   - MTB 75
p. 343- CTB 83 Becket to Nicholas Prior of Mount St Jacques, Rouen, after 12th June 1166 - MTB 184

The Empress Matilda and Church Reform
Marjorie Chibnall
Transactions of the Royal Historical Society
Vol. 38 (1988), pp. 107-130
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal Historical Society
DOI: 10.2307/3678969

Guy, John (5 April 2012). Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 270–. ISBN 978-0-14-193328-3.

Histoire du prieuré du Mont aux Malades lès Rouen, par l'abbé P. Langlois.
Léopold Delisle,
Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes, (1853)
volume 14:1, pp 78-9,

P. Langlois (1851). Histoire du prieure ́du Mont-aux-Malades-les̀-Rouen et correspondance du prieur de ce monastère avec Saint Thomas de Cantorbeŕy 1120 - 1820 d'après les archives du prieuré et les manuscrits de la bibliothèque nationale; avec planches et pièces justificatives la plupart inédites. Fleury. pp. 3–.

Epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu. 2013. 
Epistolæ: Letter sent by Matilda, empress, queen of the Romans.
To Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury

Johnfoxe.org. 2011.
The Acts and Monuments Online:
The letter of Matild the Empresse and mother to the kyng, to Thomas becket.

Legal Canon on Number of Benefices

Gratianus (de Clusio); Justus Henning Böhmer (1861). Decretum Gratiani: emendatum et notationibus illustratum Gregorii XIII pont. max. jussu editum ... Gratian Distinctio LXX: Migne. pp. 70–.

Empress Matilda/Mathilda/Maud


Marjorie Chibnall (1991). The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English. Blackwell.

Marjorie Chibnall (8 October 1993). The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-631-19028-8.

Adrian Morey; C.N.L. Brooke. Gilbert Foliot and His Letters. Chapter VII: The Case for the Empress Matilda: CUP Archive. pp. 105–.

England under the Angevin kings Kate Norgate Volume 1

The Scholar's History of England Volume II Sir James Ramsay

Matilda (1102-1167) (DNB00) - Wikisource

Jim Bradbury (2011). Stephen & Matilda: The Civil War of 1139-53. History Press Limited. ISBN 978-0-7524-7192-1.

Geoffrey de Mandeville; a study of the anarchy J.H. Round

Marjorie Chibnall, ‘Matilda (1102–1167)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

Matilda (1102–1167): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/18338

Oskar Roessler (1897). Kaiserin Mathilde, Mutter Heinrichs v. Anjou, und das Zeitalter der Anarchie in England. E. Ebering.
Kaiserin Mathilde, Mutter Heinrichs von Anjou

Author(s): J. Evans
Source: The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Numismatic Society, Vol. 14 (APRIL, 1851
–JANUARY, 1852), pp. 66-71
Published by: Royal Numismatic Society

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42682098

British Museum - Silver penny of Matilda

220px-MatyldaAnglie.jpg (220×211) Great Seal of Matilda

Marjorie Chibnall (2000). Piety, Power and History in Medieval England and Normandy. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-86078-821-8.


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