Sunday, 15 June 2014

Henry of Houghton, Becket's Envoy to the Pope, October to November 1163

At or around the time or just after the Council of Westminster in October 1163 Becket sent a cleric as his personal messenger or envoy with letters for the Pope and a number of Cardinals of the Papal Curia, at Sens in France, where Pope Alexander III was resident in exile at that time. This messenger was sent to petition for support and seek advice against King Henry's programme to weaken the Church's liberties or privileges in England, and to explain verbally to the Papal Curia what was happening. That envoy was Master Henry of Houghton. The sending of this envoy was tantamount to committing a form of treason, as it was law of the land that the king's express permission was required for the senior clerics to leave the kingdom or to communicate with the Pope. Becket begged the Pope to listen to Henry Houghton as if he had come himself in person. Becket describes what was happening to the Church as a sea of calamity as a ship heading to be wrecked, that the secular power was wanting to take over the Church's rights and privileges, and that the canons of the Church were failing to protect the clergy from this.

"To His Holiness Pope Alexander.
"The letter of consolation, which your holiness has vouchsafed to send me, would be a balm to a mind less deeply wounded than my own: nay, if my sorrows had proceeded from a single cause, I should have seen a ray of hope that they would soon be over. But the malice of the times increases daily; our wrongs, and Christ's, which makes us feel them still more, become greater and greater, and wave follows wave so fast in this sea of calamity, that we see nothing but shipwreck before us. There is no chance left for us, but to arouse Him who is sleeping in the vessel, and say, 'Lord save us, we perish!' The iniquity of our persecutors vents on us its malignity the more freely, because of the attenuated condition of the holy Roman see: so that what they heap upon our heads, be it good or bad, runs down over our beards even to the skirt of our clothing. Christ is despoiled even of that which He earned for himself with his own blood: the secular power has wrested from Him his inheritance; the authority of the holy fathers is set at nought, and the canons of the Church fail to protect even the clergy. But it would weary your holiness to relate in writing our sufferings; we have, therefore, sent master Henry, whose fidelity is known to you as well as to us; and what he will tell you by word of mouth is entitled to your belief, as much as if we ourselves had spoken it. And would to God, holy father, that we could address you by our own mouth, rather than by another's. We speak to you as to our father and to our lord; let this not be told in public, for whatever is said to you in the conclave, is brought to the king's ears. Woe is me, that I am reserved for times, in which such evils have come upon us. What privileges did we once enjoy, and with what bitter bondage are we now atoning for them! Truly we would have fled, that our eyes might not see the violation of the Crucified One! But whither should we flee, save to Him, who is our refuge and our strength?
Let your consideration be directed, my lord, to the matter of the Welsh, and Owen who calls himself their prince; for our lord the king is most excited and indignant on this subject.

Dearest father and lord, farewell!" 


CTB 12 Becket to pope Alexander
Lupus 18
Giles TB 1
MTB 29 
Litterae consolationis

To enumerate or set down in writing all that we are suffering would be long and wearisome, so we are sending to your paternal kindness Master Henry, a loyal servant to both you and us, in whose mouth we have put each and every detail, to explain to you as he has seen and heard what happened. Please believe him as you would ourselves, if we were speaking to you in person.

CTB 13 Becket to Humbold bishop of Ostia
Lupus 19
Giles TB 44
MTB 30
Sanctitati vestrae

CTB 14 Becket to Bernard bishop of Oporto
Lupus 20
Giles TB 34
MTB 31
Hortatur nos

CTB 15 Becket to Albert cardinal priest
Lupus 21
Giles TB 30
MTB 32
Nil nobis hac tempestate

CTB 16 Becket to Hyacinth cardinal deacon 
Lupus 22
Giles TB 49
MTB 33


Frank Barlow (1990). Thomas Becket. University of California Press. pp. 131–. ISBN 978-0-520-07175-9.


James Craigie Robertson. Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury Volume 5. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-04929-0. pp 48-55.


Giles TB
Saint Thomas (à Becket); John Allen Giles (1846). Epistolae Sancti Thomae Cantuariensis. Apud Whittaker et socios. pp. 1–.

Universität Zürich Corpus Corporum:

John Allen Giles (1846). The Life and Letters of Thomas à Becket: Now First Gathered from the Contemporary Historians. Whittaker and Company. pp. 196–.


Henry Houghton's Report

CTB 20 A Messenger to Archbishop Thomas of Canterbury
Ca 9th Nov 1163
Lupus 23
Giles TB 375
MTB 36
Comitem Flandrie

"Messenger [Master Henry] to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
"I did not see the count of Flanders, and thought it neither safe nor worth my while to lose time in trying to find him.
"At Soissons the French king listened to my business with much pleasure, and forwarded the abbat of St. Mard, a man of gravity and discretion, in my company, with letters to the pope:but the more important parts of his instruction were committed to him by word of mouth, for the king would not trust his secretary to write them. On taking my leave, his majesty, holding my hand in his, pledged himself on his royal word, if ever you visited his dominions, to receive you, not as a bishop or even as an archbishop, but as a brother-sovereign. The count of Soissons, also, assured me solemnly, that if you ever came into his territories, all his revenues should be placed at your lordship's disposal, and. if I would take Sens on my way back, he would write you a letter to the same effect."

"Having finished my business at Soissons, I hastened to court in the prior's company, through the estates of Earl Henry, because this way was the shortest, and my companion was a guarantee for my safety. Two days before I was admitted to the pope's presence, the prior delivered the king's letters, and the commission with which he was entrusted by word of mouth. At length I had an audience: His Holiness, on receiving me, sighed deeply, and betrayed other signs of dejection. He had already heard all that took place in the council,—the persecution of the Church, your lordship's firmness, which of the bishops stood by you, how he went out from among you who was not of you, and the sentence passed upon the cleric; indeed every thing, even what had been done most secretly, was known before my arrival to the whole court, and even talked of in the streets. A private interview was then granted me, in which I laid before His Holiness the several heads of our memorial. He, on his part, praised God without ceasing, for vouchsafing to the Church such a shepherd: indeed the whole court loudly extol in your lordship that courage, in which themselves are so lamentably deficient. As for themselves, they are lost in imbecility, and fear God less than man. They have just heard of the capture of Radicofani in Tuscany, and in it of the pope's uncle and nephews, together with several castles belonging to the fathers of certain cardinals, which have surrendered to the Germans. Besides this, John de Cumin has now been a long time at the emperor's court, and count Henry absents himself from the pope's presence, and no messenger has of late arrived from the king of England: and other concurring events have so terrified them, that there is no prince whom they would dare to offend; nor would they, if they could, raise a hand in defence of the Church, which is now in danger all over the world. But of this enough.
"What has been the success of your lordship's petitions, you will doubtlessly hear from the prior, and from the bishop of Poitiers, who by God's grace arrived here the day before myself, and has laboured in your lordship's cause with most friendly zeal. His Holiness declines altogether to offend the king, and has written to the archbishop of York, in a tone rather hortatory than commanding. However, he will send over a brother of the Temple, to mediate between your lordships on the subject of the Cross, and to settle any dispute that may arise in the interim. At all events, the archbishop of York is not to carry his cross in your diocese; this we obtained by dint of perseverance. To the bishop of London he has written in the same strain, and the only effect of the letter will be to make his pride insolent. Indeed, the pope feels this, and sends your lordship a copy of the letter, that you may judge for yourself whether to forward or retain it. As to the profession, his lordship of Poitiers has debated this point with the pope repeatedly, and we have at last obtained a promise, that if on being demanded, it is formally refused, then his holiness will extort it. The bishop will explain this in his second letter; the subscription will distinguish the second from the first. In the matter of St. Augustine's we can obtain nothing. The pope asserts that he has himself seen grants of his predecessors which he cannot revoke, securing the privileges now claimed by that monastery. Lastly, on our requesting that His Holiness would send your lordship a summons to appear before him, heanswered with much apparent distress,' God forbid! rather may I end my days, than see him leave England on such terms, and bereave his Church at such a crisis.'
"May God preserve your lordship in all your ways. At Citeaux, Pontigni, and Clairvaux, by the pope's request, prayer is offered daily for yourself, and your Church. May my lord inform me shortly how he fares, that my spirit may be consoled in the day of its visitation."


James Craigie Robertson. Materials for the History of Thomas Becket Volume 5. Cambridge University Press. pp. 58–. ISBN 978-1-108-04929-0.

John Allen Giles (1846). The Life and Letters of Thomas à Becket: Now First Gathered from the Contemporary Historians. Whittaker and Company. pp. 198–.

Richard Hurrell Froude; James Bowling Mozley (1839). Remains of the Late Reverend Richard Hurrell Froude: v. 2.. J. G. & F. Rivington. pp. 67–.

Saint Thomas (à Becket); John Allen Giles (1846). Epistolae Sancti Thomae Cantuariensis. Apud Whittaker et socios. pp. 253–.

Christianus Lupus (1682). Epistolae et vita Divi Thomae Martyris et Archiepiscopi Cantuariensis, . typis Eug. Henrici Fricx. pp. 1–

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