Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Case of Battle Abbey. AD 1157

Battle Abbey had been erected by order of William the Conqueror on the site of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. William died before the monastery was finished. However, being a royal foundation it was a peculiar. Its Foundation Charter [Carta Prima]  supposedly issued by William grants the abbey and its monks many liberties and special privileges, among them immunity from episcopal jurisdiction, that is the Abbey was to be completely independent from the oversight of the local diocesan bishop.  The Carta Prima not only exempted the monastery from the authority of the local bishop, but it conferred the exemption to the same extent as that enjoyed by the metropolitan church of Canterbury.  It granted freedom from all tax and service whatsoever; the right of free warren in all its manors; treasure-trove; the right of inquest; sanctuary in cases of murder and homicide; and it even gave the abbot the royal power of pardoning any condemned thief whom he should pass or meet going to execution.

In 1157 Hilary, the bishop of Chichester, challenged the right of the abbot of Battle Abbey to have exemption from his authority. This was the famous Case of Battle Abbey.  Hilary's case was based on Canon Law, in which he was a considerable expert, and a communication from Pope Adrian who demanded that the abbot should attend a special hearing at Chichester to hear the pope's orders, one commanding the abbot to obey the bishop. Hilary argued that only a papal privilege could exempt a monastery from episcopal oversight, and that Battle Abbey had been granted no such privilege by any pope. The abbot appealed through the agency of his brother, Richard de Luci, to the king.

The Canon that directs abbots to obey bishops is the following:-
The eighth decree of the 4th Ecumenical Council held at Chalcedon AD 451 stated that the clerics of charitable homes, monasteries, or oratories of martyrs should be subject to the bishop of the territory. 

May 1157 the trial dealing with the case was held in the presence of king Henry II at Colchester Abbey. The principal question was concerned with whether or not the pope had the right to overrule the king on matters of religion in England. In the end King Henry II decided the case between Hilary, bishop of Chichester and Walter de Luci, abbot of Battle Abbey, in favour of the abbot and his monastery's independence.

Becket, who was at the time the King Henry's Chancellor, acted as lawyer during this case, in defence of the abbot and the liberty of Battle Abbey against the bishop. Because of the skill he displayed in this role in handling a potentially troublesome priesthood, it was said that Becket won over the king, leaving a huge impression on him, so much so that the latter became very desirous of promoting him to archbishop of Canterbury when the opportunity arose. Here was a person the king could seemingly trust in protecting his interests during the testing times of church versus state relations

It has been suggested in modern times with very good cause that the charters upon which the abbot based his case were forgeries. That really does not matter as king Henry, during the case, personally validated  their veracity. They were not in fact denounced till 1234. It would be highly anachronistic for the outcome of the case and its judgement to be reversed now because of this. At the time everyone believed they were genuine.

The Abbot of Battle was a mitred abbot, as were those of Abingdon, St Alban's, Bardney, Bury St Edmunds, St Augustine's Canterbury, Colchester. Croyland, Evesham, Glastonbury, Gloucester, St Benet's Hulme, Hyde, Malmesbury, Peterborough, Ramsey, Reading, Selby, Shrewsbury, Tavistock, Thorney, Westminster, Winchcombe, and St Mary's York. 


England; England. Sovereign (1066-1087 : William I) (1998). Edited D. Bates. "Liberties granted by William I to Battle, Abbey of St. Martin: Acta of William I Nos. 13-25"Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum. Oxford University Press. pp. 130–73. ISBN 978-0-19-820674-3.

England; Henry William Carless Davis; R. J Whitwell (1913). Regesta regum Anglo-Normannorum 1066-1154: Regesta Willelmi Conquestoris et Willelmi Rufi 1066-1100. At the Clarendon Press. pp. 16–.

Mark Antony Lower (1851). The chronicle of Battle Abbey, from 1066 to 1176. J.R. Smith. pp. 3–.

The story of the case is related here
Mark Antony Lower (1851). The chronicle of Battle Abbey, from 1066 to 1176. J.R. Smith. pp. 74–116

The Dublin Review November 1860. St Thomas and Battle Abbey: W. Spooner. 1861. pp. 1–.

James J. Spigelman (2004). Becket & Henry: The Becket Lectures. James Spigelman. pp. 49–53. ISBN 978-0-646-43477-3.

The Foundation of Battle Abbey
A Charter of William II to Battle Abbey, A.D. 1094
A. J. Collins
The British Museum Quarterly
Vol. 12, No. 4 (Sep., 1938), pp. 122-128

Battle Abbey and Exemption: The Forged Charters
Eleanor Searle
The English Historical Review
Vol. 83, No. 328 (Jul., 1968), pp. 449-480

Christopher Harper-Bill (1999). "Emma Mason: William Rufus and The Benedictine Order". Anglo-Norman Studies XXI: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1998. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 113–. ISBN 978-0-85115-745-0.

Michael Gervers (2002). Dating Undated Medieval Charters. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. pp. 107–. ISBN 978-0-85115-924-9.

James Craigie Robertson (1859). Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. pp. 61–.

James Craigie Robertson (1859). Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. pp. 326–.

Saint Thomas (à Becket) (2000). The Correspondence of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170: Letters 176-329. Oxford University Press. pp. 1394–. ISBN 978-0-19-820893-8

John Allen Giles (1846). The Life and Letters of Thomas À Becket: Now First Gathered from the Contemporary Historians. Whittaker and Company. pp. 90–.

Hugh James Rose; Samuel Roffey Maitland (1832). The British Magazine. John Turrill. pp. 454–.

Thomas Becket martyr patriot
Thompson, Robert Anchor
CHAPTER V. p.77-
The King Upon The Judgment-Seat — The Battle Abbey Case.

Eleanor Searle (1974). Lordship and community: Battle Abbey and its banlieu, 1066-1538. Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

John Guy (2012). Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel. Random House Publishing Group. pp. 103–7. ISBN 978-0-679-60341-2.
Saint Thomas (à Becket) (2000). The Correspondence of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170: Letters 176-329. Oxford University Press. pp. 1394–. ISBN 978-0-19-820893-8.

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