Saturday, 26 April 2014

Thomas Saga: Customs of the King Condemned By The Pope

Circa 29th - 30th November 1164

Extracts from 

Eiríkr Magnússon. Thómas Saga Erkibyskups: A Life of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Icelandic. Volume 1 Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-04921-4.



Chapter XLII: How Thomas Cometh to the Pope's Court



The messengers of archbishop Thomas were anigh aud 
overheard, as has been said before, what came to pass at 
the meeting this day before the lord pope ; and therefore 
they take a loving leave with apostolic blessing, wending 
their way back again. They have to bring back to their 
lord tidings by which he waxeth right blithe, both from 
the lord pope and from the king of the French, with 
this news moreover, that his enemies could not carry out 
their errands. For this reason it seemeth good to God's 
man to go and meet the lord pope, sooner rather than later. 
And now God sendeth him such great comfort, that 
worshipful folk come to him and ofler him their attend- 
ance through France, both for his honour and his safety 
against enemies. Among these men it may be fitting 
to name the noblest, hight Milo, bishop of Terouane 
and another, the abbat Gotschal. 

Now the archbishop rideth away from the monastery 
of the holy Bertin up into France to a certain city called 
Soissons, where he tarrieth over night. Straightway the 
next day Louis, the king of the French, cometh there, 
by the will of God, showing such great kindness to lord 
Thomas as that, without delay, he goeth to the chamber 
wherein the archbishop sitteth. And a meeting of great 
joyance the two good men had between them. The lord 
king grieveth over all the heavy trials which the arch- 
bishop has had to suffer, and therewithal he speaketh 
thus:-

" Whatever favours and needful things you may be 
" pleased to accept in our kingdom shall be at your 
" own disposal Let our means and true good-will be 
" your support as long as our Lord suflfereth that you 
" stand in need of our charity." 

This liberality and truly kingly bounteousness the 
holy Thomas thanketh for in fair words. In Soissons he 
tarrieth for several days, whereupon he taketh blithe 
leave. King Louis seeth him off in so goodly a fashion 
that he giveth him many knights from among his 
courtfolk both to be his guides, as also to see that he 
lack nought on his journey, whereof he may happen to 
stand in need. Thus the archbishop cometh to the court 
of the pope, and having arrived there, findeth out soon 
and swiftly, that some of the cardinals turn towards 
him a right scanty favour, and full clearly he under- 
standeth whence such things must needs proceed ; yet 
none the less he getteth, that very same day, sweet leave 
to come before the lord pope. Now words fall here 
much after the same fashion as those, whereof you read 
before concerning the king of the French, in that the 
lord pope, and the cardinals who show their hearts to 
be with God, grieve the worry and the trouble the arch- 
bishop hath had over and above the suffering of exile. 
And after a little while the lord pope speaketh thus to 
the archbishop : 

" At present, brother, you will withdraw to your 
" chamber and go to rest ; but to-morrow you will come 
" before us and our brethren, setting forth the matters 
" which divide the church and the king in England." 

And so it falleth, that lord Thomas receiveth blessing 
and goeth to his chamber 


Chapter XLIII: How Thomas Readeth Out the Charges

Eiríkr Magnússon Thómas Saga Erkibyskups: A Life of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Icelandic. Cambridge University Press. pp. 293–. ISBN 978-1-108-04921-4.




Now when as the holy Thomas sitteth in quiet in his 
chamber^ he maketh known to his clerks how the lord 
pope had commanded that on the next following morning 
should be laid before him under due heads, the causes of 
the contention between him and king Henry. He now 
calleth upon them, asking if any one of them will take it 
upon him to expound the matter. But it is a soon told 
tale, that for this task they all of them deem themselves 
unfit, and therefore lord Thomas understandeth that this 
difficult matter must needs fall to himself. Now cometh 
round the hour of his being called in, when such a 
worthy welcome is given to him by the lord pope, as to 
be shown to a seat even next unto him. Having sat 
a-thinking for a little while, the archbishop prepareth 
to rise, in order to deliver his speech standing out of 
reverence for the pope ; but the lord pope maketh a sign 
to him to sit down. He then beginneth his delivery, 
setting out in the manner following 

" It is known to people,'' said he,  "that once on a time I 
" was with king Henry, when I was wont to give good 
" heed to this one thought, that in no great matter should 
" I run counter his will. But since the Lord God suffered 
" that I should turn away thence to take upon me some 
" oversight of holy church, unworthy though I were 
" thereof, it seemed to me, that I had departed the place 
" where it behoved me to do all things even as the king 
" desired. Now have I set myself slightly against his 
" will, and straightway all his friendship has fled away 
" from me. Yet although it has estranged itself from me 
" for a while, I am in need of no man's aid, should I have 
" a mind to buy it back again ; for if I choose to say yea 
" to all his will, he itf at peace with me at once. Now 
" although Englishmen, my fellow-countrymen, carry 
" abroad the rumour that I have betaken myself out of 
" the land of my kin out of mere treachery, it is cer- 
" tainly no fair rendering of the story. If a guilty man 
" always findeth this the heaviest affliction, to be ban- 
" ished from his country, it would right ill beseem me to 
" estiaaige myself from my church, my flock, my duty ; 
" and to suffer this dishonour of exile and poverty with- 
" out any reasonable cause, for nought but mere blame 
" and rebuke. Now, how the truth of the affair standeth, 
" will, mayhap, by God's will, be clear anon." 

Then he taketh forth the roll, which he had carried erst away 
from Clarendon, whereon there stand written the customs 
of the king of England ; and then speaketh to the lord 
pope:

" Holy father," said he, " here is the cause of my 
" exile, and if you give leave thereto, then, to-day, let 
" it both come to your hearing and undergo the decision 
" which you are minded to pass thereon, for I did not 
" deem that I had any power myself to consent to the 
" novelties which stand written here." 

The lord .pope ordereth them to be read. Whereupon 
the archbishop readeth. 

First there standeth even this, which the king^s men 
dictated, that such as follow are the royal customs in 
England. 

If differences arise between learned men and lay- 
folk, between a clerk and a laic, about any rent or in- 
come of holy church, those differences shall be examined 
at the king^s court, and shall be decided even there. 

Secondly. In whatsoever matter two or more clerks 
happen to be at variance with layfolk, let them come to 
the king's court, having first received a summons through 
the bailiffs and, these having tried the cases of the clerks, 
let them be sent before the bishop's court. This to be 
done, in order that the secular power and layfolk may 
know all the better with what wisdom the church frameth
her judgments. But if a cleric be convicted on evidence 
or shall confess, let him have no defence thenceforth 
from the church. 

Thirdly. No archbishop, or diocesan bishop, nor any 
one of the upper men of authority in the church shall go 
away from England, unless with the leave of the king, 
and yet only on the condition, that they swear to show 
the king no unfaith while they are away. 

Fourthly. When a laic has been excommunicated by 
a bishop, he shall swear no oath before being absolved, 
but only appeal his case to the judgment of the church. 

Fifthly. No person shall be excommunicated by the 
bishops who has on hand a royal office or lordship in the 
land, until the king or his steward has been seen on 
that matter, whereupoji the ju3ticiary of the country shall 
take the case in hand and give decision in those things 
which appertain unto the kingdom. But whatsoever the 
justices leave for the church, let that go before the 
bishop. 

Sixthly. Let appeals in England be made in such 
way, that the archdeacon appeal to the bishop, and the 
diocesan bishop to the archbishop. But should the arch- 
bishop forbear dealing rightly with a case, the king's 
power shall press him to pass judgment thereon, for no 
appeal shall be allowed out of the realm to the lord pope. 

Seventhly. When an arch-throne, a bishop's see, an 
abbatship, or a priory shall become reft of their heads by 
the death of their rulers, these estates with their revenues 
shall thereby fall to the crown, yielding thither their 
yearly income. But at such time as it pleaseth the king 
that a person should be chosen to fill the place of the 
departed, he will call together into his chapel such of the 
learned folk as he chooseth, that by their counsel and 
his consent the ruler be choseu. In this same place he 
who has thus been elected shall make an oath to be 
faithful to the king in life and limb and earthly honour.

Eighthly. If a guilty person break a lawful sum- 
mons of a bishop or an arch-deacon, he may be put 
under an interdict, but nowise be excommunicated, if he 
happeneth to be of a town, a castle, or a village belong- 
ing to the king ; for the king's chief justice of the place 
wherein the summoned person hath his dwelling shall 
wreiEkk right on him. If, however, he neglect this, let the 
summoned be at the mercy of the king ; and then the 
bishop shall be allowed to inflict punishment for that 
which appertaineth to him in the case. 

This is the ninth custom of king Henry : If a learned 
man and a laic differ about any property, as to whether 
it belong to the church or to the crown, let twelve lay- 
men be nominated into a court to judge which of the 
two is in the right ; and then let the case go as they 
judge according to circumstances, either before the king's 
power, or before the judge of the church.

Chapter XLIV: How Thomas Overcame The Cardinals

Eiríkr Magnússon Thómas Saga Erkibyskups: A Life of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Icelandic. Cambridge University Press. pp. 299–. ISBN 978-1-108-04921-4.



Now, when the archbishop had proceeded thus far in 
his delivery, the cardinals make known, who they were, 
and how far from the way of rightwiseness they went 
in these affairs for the sake of their unlawful friend- 
ship to king Henry ; but in this case is one especially to 
be named as the dearest friend of the king at the pope's 
court, he namely, hight lord cardinal William, bishop of 
the city which is called Pavia. He layeth himself openly 
out for backing the king with so many shifts that it 
giveth God's man right great trouble on that day ; for 
the cardinal spareth neither clerkship nor wiliness, whilst 
he keepeth both hands at work, one for the praising, of 
the king of England, and the pleading of his cause, and 
the other for the shaming of archbishop Thomas. Such- 
wise he pleadeth on behalf of the king, that all the 
oppressions for the harming of the church, which have 
been read even now, he clothes in a fine garb and beau- 
tifieth with the fair colour of lawfulness, in order that 
the same might all the rather be permitted or be well 
borne with in some measure. But the doings of God's 
man, his proceedings and flight abroad, he deemeth so 
vile as to warrant him putting to the archbishop the 
question, why he, a primate, did list to bring so great 
a disturbance into the church of God for such a small 
matter. The purpose of this cardinal is set forth in the 
book called Speculum Historiale : namely, that he as- 
sumed the archbishop to be a man of a lesser and weaker 
breast than came to be proven afterwards ; and that his 
speaking before the lord pope would proceed from alien 
wisdom and wording, but not from his own reasoning ; 
and that when the clauses which have just been men- 
tioned should come upon him unawares, his scanty wis- 
dom would be confounded and turn out to the greatest 
shame for such a mighty lord. But all this went quite 
another way than he had thought, for he got the shame 
who had sown for it ; for such, haply, is oft enough the 
working of guile, that it often woundeth its own author. 
So, too, matters fared in this place ; for it became known 
on that day to all folk, better than ever before, that the 
worthy lord archbishop Thomas had been healed through 
his own wisdom, by the grace of God, in a greater 
degree than he had just been wounded by one inferior 
to himself. Now although there be no long tale to tell 
of the affair, yet it will seem to a wise man a thing 
worthy of attention, how he confounded this cardinal. 
It fell in this way, that at first he listeneth with good 
heed to the whole of his speech, but when that was 
over, he giveth his answer, beginning with the clause 
which came first in the order. But the manner in 
which he undid, knot by knot, all that net of craftiness, 
which the cardinal had set for entrapping therein the 
freedom of the church, brought a right sweet delight 
unto the hearts of those who listened thereto. For the 
aforesaid Speculum saith that, from specially cited de- 
cretals of the holy fathers, he brought forward convinc- 
ing testimonies, as to how this custom or that stood 
straight against the church, and as to what hurt it must 
needs bring upon the people of God, if it were allowed 
to gain power in the church ; hereby then is clean swept 
away the garb which the cardinal had given these cus- 
toms ; and to everyone it is now clear, that his words 
were rather lying than lawful, and aimed rather at tread- 
ing the clergy under foot than bringing peace to them. 
Things therefore fell out even as Qod would, inasmuch 
as the holy Thomas got the greatest honour both from 
the lord pope, and all such whom the darkness of envy 
had not struck with blindnesa But those who had been 
dragged into the deep might nowise see the truth. But 
from the things that follow hereafter it will be fully 
manifest, how the eye of the pope's reason had already 
now become clear and right-sighted, through the holy 
and lawful interpretation of the lord archbishop Thomas, 
while he giveth decision and passeth judgment on that 
which was condemnable, but treateth with lenity that, 
which it seemeth the right of the church may endure, 
as will be clear from what follows hereafter.


Chapter XLV: Customs of the King Condemned

Eiríkr Magnússon. Thómas Saga Erkibyskups: A Life of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Icelandic. Volume 1 Cambridge University Press. pp. 303–. ISBN 978-1-108-04921-4.



The nine customs which were read afore in the 
consistory of the lord pope concerning the unmeasured 
masterfulness of king Henry were the weightiest, and the 
most hurtful to the holy church. But the seven which 
are not named seemed in some measure endurable. But 
over these nine, which aimed further, the lord pope 
sorroweth in such way, that he may not restrain his tears 
in thinking that any christian king should list to seize 
in such a manifold manner to himself the right of holy 
church against the commandments of God and the 
sentences of the holy fathers ; and therefore he passeth 
thereon the final decision that these nine customs are 
accursed abuses, and shall be condemned and excluded 
from the whole church of God. When the pope hath 
dictated this sentence, he turneth to archbishop Thomas 
and speaketh thus :

" These customs bear witness, how deep you fell, 
" brother, when at the peril of your consecration, you 
" consented or swore to uphold them against the catholic 
" freedom of the church. And if you had not arisen 
" afterwards, or got our absolution, your affairs would 
" now have come to a perilous plight ; for otherwise the 
" deed, by which you brought your consecration into such 
" danger, would thrust you away from that honour and 
" office which you once received. But God be praised 
" now, that His mercy has opened your eye to what you 
" did amiss, and that you have so well redeemed your 
" station that, through your steadfast abiding in the law, 
" you have had to encounter troubles and hurtful deal- 
" ings, poverty and exile, and therefore it behoveth to 
" show you true love and all such support, as the Roman 
" mother may afford to yield and accord to you. Now 
" go with our benediction and the blessing of God unto 
" your chamber." 

This day's meeting cometh to such end, that each one 
betaketh him to rest.

CHAP. XLVI How Thomas resigned. 



The morning after the customs of king Henry were 
condemned, as the pope sitteth with the cardinals in his
chamber, archbishop Thomas cometh in from without, 
and prayeth for leave to speak. This being granted, he 
goeth up, and falleth on his knee^ before the lord pope 
with these words : — 

" Ood demandeth from the christian that he speak 
" the truth from heart and mouth ; and this it is our 
" bounden duty to do every where, but most espe- 
" cially so before your countenance, holy fiebther. I there- 
" fore have to confess, that my miserable offence bringeth 
" upon the holy church of Ood, the heavy troubles which 
" she has now to endure in England ; for I did not enter 
" by the right door into the fold of the holy church of 
" God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ ; for I was called 
" to this o£Sce and honour, not by a lawful election, 
" but rather was I installed in this see by the overbear- 
" ing will of the king. Thereby it came to pass, 
" that I consented to this hard task against my will, 
" rather for the sake of the king than my Creator. 
" It is therefore nowise to be wondered at^ that many 
" things go against me. Now although the manner 
" of my entering into the divine office is right fear- 
" ful to me, yet I dared not give the arch-see into the 
" power of king Henry, urged though I was by my 
" brethren to do so. But now, by the will of God, I 
" have come to the place, where I may rightly deliver 
" myself of this trouble. I therefore give my arch- 
" see up into your power, holy &ther, that sinful and 
" feeble that I am, I may not bring that flock into 
" woful downfall, which I ought to lead towards eternal 

" joy." 

Having thus spoken, he draweth fixingHaving spoken thus, he walketh out of the room. 
But the lord pope sitteth behind in tears as did most of 
those who sat therewithin ; for such a sorrowful speech, 
given forth and pronounced by such a man, might well 
go to the heart of any good man. Those, too, who were 
familiar friends of the holy Thomas have now fallen 
into great sadness of heart, lest he should get no right- 
ing of his affairs, they being moreover placed in a 
foreign land, and therefore standing all the more in need 
of comfort from Qod ; and that they soon get, as I shall 
now relate. 

The lord pope Alexander now setteth himself, with 
the cardinals, to dealing with this matter and the dis- 
sension between the king and the archbishop. And 
forthwith there burst forth sundry proposals, some of the 
cardinals saying that, belike, it must be most to the mind 
of the king, that the ruler of Canterbury be changed, now 
that Thomas had resigned of his firee will. They also sMy, 
that it would be most likely to bring peace to himself, 
if he were translated to another church. But those who 
brought forward tliis counsel must have best known 
themselves which they had most at heart, the presents 
of the king of England, or the purchase of a settled 
peace for the holy church. Against this stand other- 
cardinals, saying : 
" Shall this be right before Qod, that 
" archbishop Thomas be reft of his dignity and office, 
" because it is the will of king Heniy, having already 
" had not only to forego fatherland and freedom, but 
" also to encounter peril of life and limb, on account 
" of the waylayings of his enemies? Or what will 
" worldly lords then shortly say to the bishops, if 
" this shall be allow^ to come to pass? what, but 
" this that, whenever they shall be withstood in aught, 
" they will command the bishops either to give up their 
" honour, or to crouch before them ? Or who among the 
" rulers of the holy church will be likely to undertake to off his hand the 
" consecration ring, and handeth it to the lord pope, pray- 
" ing him to choose another ruler for the church of Can- 
" terbury, a stronger one in the godly warfare : 
" For I never did choose for myself or bear the dignity 
" and name of a bishop by duly ministering to that 
" office."

" yield her an availing aid or wardship, if for that very 
" protection which they afford her they must needs be 
" tortured, both by the church and the power of the 
" king? Unhealable harm and downfall shall then be 
" the lot of the catholic church, if things shall be allowed 
" to go on in such manner. It will, therefore, be clear to 
" all good men, that no other way is lawful or com- 
" mendable in this affair, than this one, that Thomas be 
" restored to his full honour and dignity." 

In this manner the cardinals strive among them ; for 
the friends of king Henry pray the lord pope openly to 
shape his course agreably to the will of the king. Yet, 
none the less, the matter cometh, even according to the 
will of God, to such an end that the lord pope ordereth 
Thomas to be called in, when he thus speaketh to him:

" Now first becometh it manifest unto us, from thy 
" faithful deeds, how praiseworthy a zeal thou hast 
" shown and showest still on beha]^ of the laws of the 
" church, and the church itself, and the clergy. We have 
" also heard how pure a confession thou hast made of 
" thy election. And, moreover, thou hast of thy own 
" free will given thy office up into our hand. We have 
" therefore determined, in the name of God and the holy 
" apostles, Peter and Paul, to deliver the arch-see of 
" Canterbury again into your hand with unshorn 
" honour, power, and dignity." 

With these words the lord pope giveth to the blessed 
Thomas again the consecration ring, in token of archi- 
episcopal honour and dignity, thus speaking to him : 

" Inasmuch as we are brothers in tihe matter of banish- 
" ment, let us go in fellowship together, God permit- 
" ting, while we are both alive. But because you 
" have long led a merry life, it seemeth to us right 
" fitting that, in your trials and longsuffering, which 
" you must needs endure for the name of God, you 
" should become father and fellow of poor folk; we 
" name for you, therefore, a dwelling-stead in Pontigny, 
" that you live there after hennit fashion with the 
" Grey-Friars there ministering. Lay aside the greater 
" costs, but let a few familiar clerks and attendants 
" accompany you, and abide the day which God shall 
" send for our peace and rest" 

In such way come to an end the affaira of holy Thomas 
at the pope's court, that he receiveth apostolic bless- 
ing, and rideth to Pontigny with no greater following 
of people than the pope had signified. The other folk 
of his suite betake themselves to such places as he 
himself ordaineth. But though all the others are scat- 
tered about, yet master Herbert of Bosham may be 
named as one who parteth not from archbishop Thomas ; 
for between them there was a dear love, as has been 
read afore. And it was but fitting that he should always 
be in fellowship with the archbishop, since it was he who 
afterwards was to write many things concerning his trials 
and his glorious life, and these the more truthfully, the 
better it was known to him how they had come to 

pass. 

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