Monday, 9 December 2013

The Latin Lives of Saint Thomas Becket and his Exile in France

Translation of

Les Vies LatinesJoseph Van Der Straeten  Actes Du Colloque International de Sedières. (19-24 Août 1973) Editions Beauchesne. pp. 27–32.

The Latin Lives of Saint Thomas Becket and his Exile in France
by Joseph Van Der Straeten
[Internation Conference of Sedières 19-24 August 1973]

The goal of the Conference being principally to deal with Saint Thomas and France, we propose to give an an overview of the authors of the Latin Lives of Thomas Becket who reported on the places where the archbishop stayed during the time he spent in exile in France.

I. Listing of the Lives Examined

The Vitae Sancti Thome episcopi et martyris are numerous. Few saints, even famous ones, have had the honour of so many biographies drawn up so rapidly after their deaths. We have confined ourselves to the oldest Lives, composed by contemporaries of the Martyr himself. The date of the composition of these Lives, if one likes, their chronological order, has been made the object of discussion amongst historians. For our purposes the question is not a major one, the differences between the remainder are at most only a few years. A large consensus has been established for the following chronological order:

1. William of Canterbury (W. of C.), BHL 8184, composed between June 1172 and December 1174.
2. Edward Grim (Ed. G.), BHL 8182, composed around 1172.
3. William Fitz-Stephen (Fz St.), BHL 8176, composed in 1173-74.
4. Anonymous II (of Lambeth A. II.), BHL 8188, drafted ca 1172-1173.
5. Benedict of Peterborough (B. of P.) BHL 8170, completed in 1174.
6. John of Salisbury (J. of S.), BHL 8180, composed between April 1173 and July 1176. 
7. Anonymous I (Roger de Pontigny? An. I), BHL 8183, drafted 1176-177
8. Alan of Tewkesbury (Al. of T.), BHL 8181, completed in 1179.
9. Herbert of Bosham (H of B), BHL 8190, completed in 1186.

[BHL = Reference numbers in Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, 2 vol. Bruxelles, Société des Bollandistes, 1898-1901; Supplement 1911. This work classifies the texts [lives] of the saints in alphabetical order, and lists the editions.

II What circumstances led St Thomas to flee into Exile?

At the beginning of October 1164, King Henry II summoned his vassals and the bishops of the kingdom to Northampton. detained by illness; either Thomas arrived there late or he came in time having only missed one session? The case is not clear, but it was used against him. Further, the king was angered by Thomas' rejection of the Constitutions of Clarendon (January 11644), and sought to humiliate the archbishop by crushing him financially by even asking him to justify the amounts [of money] which Thomas had spent when he was Chancellor, which Henry the Younger [the King's son], acting on behalf of [his father] the king, had explicitly declared that the accounts for which had been settled the moment when Thomas was consecrated as [arch]bishop. In seeking to impeach him using the barons and bishops, Henry II violated the ecclesiastical [custom of] privilege of the forum [or benefit of clergy]. Seeing bad faith in the king and hesitation amongst the bishops, Thomas realized that his freedom was threatened and that his rights had no chance of being recognized: he had to defend himself first by putting himself out of the reach of the spiteful and scheming Henry II.

On 14th October he left Northampton by night and headed southwards, where on reaching the coast he waited for a favourable opportunity to cross over to France.Travelling most of the time in disguise and under the cover of darkness, he was welcomed by friends in hideouts where he laid up for a while after having been on horseback for two weeks, after which he succeeded in finding a frail skiff. Leaving before dawn on Tuesday November 2nd, he landed that same day at about 5pm on the beach of Oye [Flanders], about a league [about 2.5 miles] from Gravelines. This proud chancellor of Henry II, who had once been decked in splendour and honours, arrived now in this same country [France], chased by his master, wading through the mud of a beach at low tide, unknown, suffering from the bad weather. His exile was going to last exactly six years.

III. Where did he stay during his exile in France?

Thomas arrived in France with a faithful servant and two companions. To the other members of his entourage he gave instructions to join him at the abbey of Saint-Bertin. All of his intimates and his clerks did not follow him into exile; among his biographers only one or two partook of his exile (John of Salisbury, but not staying with him; Herbert of Bosham, staying with him all the time); others came to visit him (William Fitz-Stephen). Let's see what each of these authors tells us about which places Thomas stayed in.

All do not specify equally the circumstances which accompany the facts. The eight biographers unanimously mention Thomas' stay for two years at the abbey of Pontigny, and saving Alan of Tewkesbury, his retreat during the other four years of his exile into [the monastery] of St. Columba of Sens. Most relate of the visit which Thomas made to the king of France, Louis VII (1137-1180), at Soissons and to the pope Alexander II (1159-1181) who was staying for the time being at Sens, the emperor Frederic Barbarossa having occupied the Papal States. Less numerous are the biographers who report on the presence of Thomas at the various encounters of Louis VII and Henry II on the one hand, and on the other hand the successive delegates appointed by the pope in their attempt to mediate in the quarrel between the Plantagenet and his archbishop. Of the scores of meetings set up for this purpose among those specially mentioned were Montmirail (6th Jan 1169), Montmartre (18th Nov 1169) and the place where peace was finally concluded: Fréteval (22nd July 1170). The meeting at Pontoise (18th April 1165), which failed through the fault of Henry who backed out of it, is only related by Fitz-Stephen; three biographies (William of Canterbury, Fitz-Stephen and Herbert of Bosham) speak of the presence of Thomas at a meeting which took place between Gisors and Trie (18th Nov 1167).  Regarding the moment when Thomas in exile first reached the soil of France Fitz-Stephen's and Herbert's are the most precise. He landed at Oye near Gravelines; for William [of Canterbury] this was near "Merc" [Marck, Pas-de-Calais], for the others, that is to say John of Salisbury, Anonymous II, Alan [of Tewkesbury] and Anonymous I, simply in "Flanders". On the contrary William [of Canterbury], Fitz-Stephen, Anonymous, and Herbert [of Bosham] are in agreement when naming the port from which Thomas reembarked for England: Wissant.

But Thomas did not only leave his refuges at Pontigny or Sens to meet with the pope, the king [Henry II] or the king [of France]. He also went to other places on other occasions.Thus from Alan of Tewkesbury we learn that he accompanied Alexander III as far as Bourges, when the pontiff was returning to his [Papal] States. William [of Canterbury, Anonymous I and Herbert [of Bosham] tell of Thomas' presence at Vézelay at Pentecost. 12th June 1166, where he struck down with excommunication during the solemn mass, seven of Henry's minister-counsellors. An identical sentence was pronounced on Palm Sunday, at Clairvaux, but this time again the bishop of London, Gilbert Foliot;it is Fitz-Stephen who has given us this information. The same biography, makes an allusion, in the course of his narrative, of a meeting he held with Thomas at Fleury-sur-Loire, and he informs us that after the Peace of Fréteval, the archbishop met twice with Henry II, at Tours and at Amboise, to settle finally the terms for his return to England. Concerning the face to face meeting in Amboise, he notes "that day they talked for a long time".  This was to be their last conversation together down here [on Earth]; they had, however, arranged to meet again in Rouen: Thomas would be there, but not the king.

IV . Summarizing with Herbert of Bosham

Herbert is the only biographer noted, who remained all the time by his side in exile. Most of the situations mentioned in part by the others are filled out in his narrative, with, here and there, a few extra details. Quickly going along with him about the itinerary which Thomas made in France, we can form a fair overview .

Thomas arrived on the beach just before [the village of] Oye at the end of the day, on Tuesday, November 2nd, 1164. By evening he was at Gravelines in a hostel. From there he first went to the abbey at Clairmarais, then to Saint-Bertin, where he found Herbert and came across some of Henry II's envoys who been sent in pursuit of him. So he went to hide in a nearby chapel, called "The Old Monastery" (Eldemenstre) by the locals and kept silence for three days. After a short stop at Saint-Bertin, he set out for Soissons, escorted both by Milo, bishop of Thérouanne and the abbot of Saint-Bertin . With God's assistance, says Herbert of Bosham, King Louis VII  arrived in the town on the following day. He hastened to greet the archbishop and to offer him his protection. "The king and the archbishop spent a few days together in the city" but Thomas was anxious to meet with the Pope, at Sens. Here he had ample opportunity to present his case to the Roman Pontiff (he stayed a month said Edward Grim, about three weeks said Herbert) and had to guard against the influence of some cardinals there who were hostile to him. But he had to find somewhere to live: Pope obtained for him the hospitality of the Abbey of Pontigny (Thomas arrived there in December 1164, and stayed there until November 1166). 

After about 18 months which he passed in silence, prayer and study, finding no sign of change or regret being shown by his persecutors, he decided to act. He went to Vezelay, and on the day of Pentecost (June 12, 1166) solemnly during mass, he did strike seven of Henry II's councillors with excommunication. Henry reacted by putting pressure on the Cistercians, who were meeting in General Chapter (September 1166) for them to no longer grant asylum to this disturber. Thomas then sent Herbert to Louis VII asking for his protection. The king let Thomas choose for himself his new refuge; the archbishop selected Sainte-Colombe, the Benedictine abbey.

Herbert then relates the multiple efforts deployed by the different sides, to arrive at a reconciliation and an equitable settlement. Thomas was summoned by the cardinals William of Pavia and Odon to meet with them between Gisors and Trie, but the legates of Alexander III were circumvented by Henry II, and they could not give satisfaction to the archbishop. For his part, the king of France had many "interviews with the king of England," writes Herbert, "and he always invited us and offered his arbitration" (Pacis nostrae in iis se mediatorem interponens). This was the case for Montmirail, Montmartre, and Fréteval. Herbert deliberates at length on the progress made at these meetings, and he puts into the mouth of Thomas and his advisors interminable speeches delivered along the road on horseback! Into the narrative he randomly inserts particular detail that we are interested in, so, for example, he notes that after Montmirail they stopped at Chartres en route to Sens, and after Montmartre they stepped into the Temple, in Paris. We already knew already from Fitz-Stephen, that after Fréteval Thomas saw Henry II twice, at Tours and at Amboise. Herbert confirmed the meeting at Tours, but instead of Amboise he indicates Chaumont, near Blois. There is no doubt, however, that he is speaking about the same encounter. It was Thomas who took the initiative and wanted, not to discuss anymore the arrangements to take, but to renew an old friendship  "non quidem ut vel quicquam exigeret repeteret, sed ut solum regem videret ut si posset sic fieri antiquam familiaritatem and amicitiam, quatenus Dominus permitteret, reparet". It was also, as Fitz-Stephen pointed out, their last meeting here, because on the following day, writes Herbert, Thomas and his companions returned to Sens meaning to say goodbye and thanks to their benefactors. After which they entered "upon the territory of Boulogne, at the port of Wissant" where, after a delay of three days, they set down on the headland by Sandwich.

V. Necessary Complements.

That the biographers of St. Thomas confirm and add to each other, it is clear that each of them only provides us with fragmentary evidence. Moreover, it could be supposed, a priori, that the itinerary of the exile they allow us to construct contains many gaps. Moreover in the XXIIth century one did not travel in the modern way: it was normal to take several stages to get from one place to another; even rushing, Thomas still took two days to get from Chartres to Sens.

To fill these gaps it is necessary, therefore, to consult other sources: the voluminous correspondence of St. Thomas, the chronicles of the time. If we were to do so here, it would distract us from our purpose. We will only give some indications to allow us to have a glimpse into what further investigations could provide as additions.

Thomas tells us himself that he was in Étampes (in a letter to Jean de Poitiers); that he met with the Archbishop of Rouen at Pontoise and he had an interview with Henry II in Saint-Léger-en-Yvelines (in letters to Alexander III). John of Salisbury, so vague in his Vita S. Thomae, is more concrete and more loquacious in his letters to his friend Bartholomew, the bishop of Exeter. He tells him how Thomas went on a pilgrimage to Soissons before visiting Vézelay. For three days the archbishop prayed to the Virgin Mary, St Gregory , "founder of the Church of England" and St. Drausinus that they come when summoned to the future combats "ad quem confugiunt pugnaturi". On the way to Vézelay, Thomas stopped in Rigny. Hugh de Poitiers , author of Historia Vizeliacensis , shows us Thomas exercising the role of mediator and acting in that capacity for the archbishop of Lyons at the  monastery of Crisenon. Thomas would even go to Flanders, but this was at the time of the end of his exile. The Chronicon Sithiense (Saint-Bertin ) relates in fact that before he returned to his country, he was the guest of the Count of Flanders at his castle in Male (near Bruges) and there consecrated a chapel. The count gladly acted as his escort whilst he remained on his land.

Chronological Summary of the places where St. Thomas was [during his exile in France]

2 Nov.1164               Oye (Near Marck)           Fz St., W.of C.
2 Nov 1164               Gravelines                 Fz St.
3 Nov 1164               Clairmarais                Fz St., Al.of T., An.I, H.B.
Ca 5-10 Nov 1164         Saint-Bertin               W.of C.,Ed.G., Fz St. Al.of T., H.B.
Mid-Nov 1164             Thérouanne                 An.I
Mid-Nov 1164             Soissons (at Louis VII's)  W.of C., Ed.G., An.I, H.B.
Nov-Dec 1164             Sens(with Alex.III,1 mnth) W.of C., Ed.G., Fz St.
                                                    J.of S., An.II, Al.of T., An.I, H.B.
Dec 1164                 Pontigny (stay of 3 years) W.of C., Ed.G., Fz St. Al.of T., H.B.
18 Apr 1165              Pontoise                   Fz St.
Summer 1165              Bourges                    Al.of T.
1-3 June 1165            Soissons (pilgrimage)      J.of S. (letter)
10 June 1166             Rigny                      J.of S. (ibid.)
12 June 1166             Vézelay                    An. II, H.B., J.of S.(letter)
End June 1166            Pontigny                   J.of S. (letter), H.B.
Nov. 1166                Sens (stay of 4 yrs)       W.of C., Ed.G., Fz St., J.of S.,
                                                    An. II, An. I, H.B.
18 Nov. 1167             Gisors-Trie                W.of C., Fz St., H.B.
6 Jan. 1169              Montmirail                 W.of C., Fz St., An. II, Al.of T., 
Jan. 1169                Chartres                   H.B.
7 Feb. 1169              St-Léger-en-Yvelines       St. Thomas (corresp.)
Mar (?) 1169             Étampes                    (ibid.)
13 April 1169            Clairvaux                  Fz St.
18 Nov. 1169             Montmartre                 W.of C., Fz St., H.B.
End Nov. 1169            Paris (Temple)             H.B.
22 July 1170             Frèteval                   W.of C., Ed.G.. Fz Et., An. II,
                                                    An. I, H.B.
Autumn 1170              Tours                      Fz St.
Autumn 1170              Amboise (Chaumont)         Fz St., H.B.
Nov. 1170                Sens (leaving)             H.B.
Nov. 1170                Male (Bruges)              Chronicon Sithiense
Nov. 1170                Rouen                      Fz St.
Begin Dec.1170           Wissant                    W.of C., Fz St., An. I, H.B.Date Date unkown                   Fleury sur Loire           Fz St.
                         Pontoise (?)               St. Thomas (corresp.)
                         Crisenon                   Hist. Viz.

Some Further References

Somewhere between Gisors and Trie - Wikimapia

St. Thomas Becket  landing at Sandwich

Mélanges d'histoire offerts à M. Charles Bémont (1913) Paris pp. 151-62

Louis Halphen,
Les Entrevues Des Rois Louis VII et Henri II Durant l'Exil de Thomas Becket en France

Guy, John (5 April 2012). Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 315–. ISBN 978-0-14-193328-3.

Saint Thomas (à Becket) (2000). The Correspondence of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170: Letters 1-175. Oxford University Press. pp. 203–. ISBN 978-0-19-820892-1.

Saint Thomas (à Becket) (2000). "Letter 144: The Conference Held between Gisors and Trie. 19 Nov 1167". The Correspondence of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170: Letters 1-175. Oxford University Press. pp. 665–. ISBN 978-0-19-820892-1.

Frank Barlow (1990). Thomas Becket. University of California Press. pp. 126–. ISBN 978-0-520-07175-9.
Frank Barlow (1990). Thomas Becket. University of California Press. pp. 136–. ISBN 978-0-520-07175-9.
Frank Barlow (1990). Thomas Becket. University of California Press. pp. 306–. ISBN 978-0-520-07175-9.

Richard Barber (2003). Henry Plantagenet. Boydell Press. pp. 125–. ISBN 978-0-85115-993-5.


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