Sunday, 24 March 2013

Giles: Election of Thomas Becket as Archbishop

Extract from
John Allen Giles (1846). The Life and Letters of Thomas À Becket: Now First Gathered from the Contemporary Historians. Whittaker and Co.. pp. 100–.


Theobald's Death -- Of The Events Which Followed It, And Of Becket's Election To The Archbishopric Of Canterbury.

Thus far had Thomas Becket risen by his talents alone to the highest civil station in the kingdom: an event now occurred which placed him at the head of the ecclesiastical affairs also; for on the 18th of April 1161, the aged archbishop Theobald was laid in the grave, after having presided twenty-two years over the Church of Canterbury. The remainder of that and half the next year would seem to have been occupied in such intrigues and negotiations as usually followed when an office fell vacant, conferring so much wealth and dignity. If it had been Henry's wish to intrude the chancellor into the see of Canterbury by every means in his power, however hasty or imprudent, he would not have suffered more than a year to elapse before the election took place: nor on the other hand, if he had wished to convert the archiepiscopal revenues to his own use, would he have limited his usurpation within so brief a period. It is more probable that the king passed the intervening months in pondering more fully on the propriety of electing the chancellor, which, perhaps, before the vacancy had actually occurred, though often lightly mentioned to his courtiers, had not yet become the settled purpose of his mind. The court was at this time in Normandy, and in the beginning of the year 1162, the chancellor was sent over to England on several matters of public business, one of which was to make preparations for crowning the young prince Henry as his father's successor, and to obtain an oath of allegiance to him from the barons, "but principally," says Gervase of Canterbury, "with the intention of getting him elected to the archbishopric of Canterbury. A short time after, namely, in the month of May, a deputation arrived at Canterbury from the king, consisting of [Hilary] Bishop of Chichester, [Bartholomew] of Exeter, [Walter] of Rochester, the abbat of Battle, and his brother, Richard de Lucy [
cf. Gervas. Cantuar.]" grand justiciary of the realm, "bringing the king's command under his seal, to the convent, for the prior with the other monks to meet the bishops and clergy of England at London, and proceed to the election of an archbishop and primate."

The account of what took place on the arrival of these commissioners is given as follows by the

monk of Pontigny [Roger de Potigny] somewhat more fully than by the other biographers, though in substance it is identical. "The bishops entered the chapterhouse of Canterbury, and having first spoken at much length of the kindness and condescension of the king, they deputed Richard de Lucy to communicate their message to the monks: whereupon Richard de Lucy addressed them thus: 'Since my lords the bishops have determined that I shall declare to you the king's pleasure, be it known to all for a certainty, that our lord the king, as you have already heard from their lordships, is most zealous in everything which concerns the Lord God, and is devoutly attached to the service of our holy Church: and especially to this Church of Canterbury here present, to which he is bound by filial affection, as he regards her as his own especial mother in the Lord. Wherefore, that she may not be disturbed or injured by the protracted want of a pastor, be it known to you all that the election of an archbishop is left to your free choice; yet so that you elect a person worthy of such an honour, and equal to the burden of it. For you cannot be ignorant that our lord the king has never in such matters attempted to do anything, save what he has considered pleasing to God and of advantage to His
Church. For the rest, therefore, it is your especial province and duty to elect one, under whose protection you may rejoice both before God and before men. For if the king and the archbishop shall be united together in the strong bonds of affection, and shall mutually and amicably support one another, there is no doubt that happiness will await our times, and the state of the Church continue in peace and tranquillity. But if, which God forbid, things should turn out otherwise, the dangers which may result, the troubles, the difficulties, and the tumults which may arise, together with the loss of our worldly goods, and the danger to our souls, I do not think your holinesses can have lost sight of.'"

With these words Richard concluded, and the bishops expressed their approbation of what he had said: whereupon 
offended them, namely, his irregular exterior, and with willing hearts and one consent elected him archbishop. The bishops, therefore, "whom the king had sent for this very purpose, appointed a day for the prior and monks of Canterbury to meet them in council at London; that whatever remained which Jwas requisites to complete the solemnity of the election might there be done before all the bishops and abbats of the realm, and in presence of the young king his son. For the king, his father, had now givenCover the kingdom to him, andhadrorocure'a for him, by means of the chancellor, the homage and oath of allegiance of the barons. He had, moreover, written to him about the election to the archbishopric of Canterbury, signifying that whatever should be done in that matter in his son's presence, should meet with his own approbation and consent.
In consequence of these proceedings, the bishops aforesaid, in the king's name, convoked all the other prelates and abbats of the kingdom, together with the priors of the conventual churches, the earls and nobles, and all the king's officials on a fixed day in the city of London. When they were all assembled on the appointed day, the prior of Canterbury reverently proclaimed before all the bishops then present, the election which had taken place at Canterbury, with the king's consent and by his mandate, before the three bishops whom he had sent for that purpose: stating that, by the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, they had unanimously and according to the canons elected Thomas, chancellor of the kingdom, to be their archbishop. Whereupon the bishops, who had been sent by the king, and had witnessed the proceedings at Canterbury, having spoken in favour of the form of election, and of him on whom it had fallen, all present gave their consent, and with one accord raised their voices in thanksgiving to Almighty God.
One, however, there was, Gilbert Foliot, bishop of London', who opposed and murmured at the election; but when he saw the unanimity of the others, and that his own solitary malice would effect nothing, he gave his consent also. He was a man advanced in years, of much learning, and of the monastic profession; it was also the generally received opinion that he had himself long aimed at being made archbishop. After the election all the bishops approached the young king, asking his assent, favour, and approbation to what they had done: to all of which the young king, with much pleasure, gave his approbation accordingly. Moreover, the great officers
'Or rather bishop of Hereford; but there are great chronological difficulties attending the translation of Gilbert Foliot to the see of London.
of state, to whom the king had also addressed letters on the subject, hailed the election with joy, and devoutly gave their confirmation of it. But Henry of Winchester, no less famous for his high birth than for his prudence and piety, said to the young king, " My lord, the chancellor, our archbishop elect, has for a long time possessed the highest place in the house of the king, your father, and in the whole kingdom, which he has had entirely under his government; nor has any thing been done during your father's whole reign without his advice and pleasure. We demand, therefore, that he shall be delivered over to us, and to the Church of God, free from all civil obligation or service of the court, from all suit or accusation or any other matter whatsoever, that from this very hour and ever after he may be at liberty and at leisure to act freely in God's service. For we know that the king, your father, has delegated to you his authority in this matter, and will gladly confirm whatever you shall do therein." The young king listened with pleasure to his request, and delivered Thomas over to the Church according to the words of Henry of Winchester, free absolutely from all civil obligations. But Thomas himself, from the first moment that his own promotion was talked of, opposed it by every means in his power: knowing full well that it was impossible for him to serve two masters at once, whose wills were so much at variance; and that whoever should be made archbishop of Canterbury, would be sure either to offend God or the king. But God had ordained otherwise, and Henry of Pisa, priest and cardinal and legate of the apostolic see, and also a monk of the Cistercian order, urged him, by all means, to undertake the office; and so his election was made and brought to completion in the way that we have just described.
The most important part of Becket's elevation to the see of Canterbury was now over, for the unanimity with which all parties concurred in the choice, is certified by all the contemporary writers6; but there were still many minor ceremonies to be performed.
On the Thursday before Whit-Sunday, the writ of election was read by Henry bishop of Winchester, in the refectory of the abbey of Westminster, without opposition: on the following Whit-Sunday the new archbishop received priest's orders (for he was yet only deacon) in the church of Canterbury, from the hands of Walter, bishop of Rochester, who also claimed the right of performing the consecration in place
'Ralph de Diceto, archdeacon of London, and during part of the subsequent troubles secretary to king Henry, says that "Thomas, archdeacon and chancellor, was formally elected to of the bishop of London, for the see of London had not yet been filled since the death of Richard. This claim, however, was not allowed.
"On the day fixed for the consecration, the bishops assembled at Canterbury, and with them a large number of abbats and religious men of all ranks, eager to be present at the consecration of so great an archbishop, and to participate in the prayers and blessings that would then be bestowed. Thomas also came on the appointed day, attended by a large number of the clergy and other persons of dignity: the bishops went out to meet him with the monks and clergy, and an immense multitude of the common people, receiving him with every kind of honour, and
the archbishopric, no one objecting:" and John of Salisbury, in a letter written to the archbishop, in 1166, comments upon one of the hostile communications which Becket had just received from Gilbert, bishop of London, in the following terms:—
"As to the falsehoods which he has dared to assert respecting your lordship's elevation, I care little for them. I was myself present at it, and saw it all. He was the solitary individual who did not express pleasure at your nomination; and he, as was then evident, and is still abundantly so, had been foremost among the aspirants to your lordship's see. Yet even he was soon shamed out of his opposition, for every one saw through his ambition and impudence. Whatever then were his secret intentions, (of these God takes cognizance,) he was one of the first to give his vote in your favour, and the loudest in his praises of the election."

with acclamations of joy: so great was their delight that no language can describe it. But Thomas paid no attention to all these tokens of the public satisfaction: he advanced on foot with humility and contrition of heart, and with his eyes filled with tears, thinking less of the honour than of the burden which he was about to take upon him. He was ordained and consecrated archbishop by Henry of Winchester; for he was the most eminent of the bishops, both for his piety and his high birth, for he was a monk and brother of Stephen of Blois, who succeeded the first Henry on the throne of England, which he held twenty years. For William the bastard was succeeded by William Rufus, who drove into exile the illustrious archbishop of Canterbury, saint Anselm, and was slain while hunting by an arrow from a certain knight, directed not by accident but by Divine Providence, as was generally supposed. To him succeeded his brother Henry, who was the father of Matilda, and was a most magnificent and powerful sovereign. After him reigned the above-named Stephen of Blois, brother of the bishop of Winchester, and of the illustrious Count Theobald the elder. Whilst Stephen was still alive and reigning, Henry, son of the empress Matilda, came over and obtained the sovereignty. It was in the eighth year of his reign that Thomas was consecrated archbishop in the city of Canterbury.7"
On the completion of this solemn ceremony, messengers, among whom was the archbishop's clerk and private friend, John of Salisbury, were dispatched to inform the sovereign pontiff of what had taken place. The pope, surrounded by his cardinals, gave them audience, and letters were read from the king, and from the prior and convent of Canterbury. The election met with general approbation, and after a short delay, the messengers returned to England, bearing with them the pall, by which it was supposed that the head of the Church gave power to discharge the archiepiscopal functions. This "mystic government and badge of an archbishop *," was deposited on the high altar in the church of Canterbury, from whence it was taken by Becket himself, who advanced, clothed in his pontifical robes, and tendered the solemn oath which was usual on such occasions.

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