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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Which happened in England through Thomas Becket


was an evil thought, and all the more atrocious because manifold ties had been already gradually formed between the two populations. How could they ever become fused into one nation if the one was always plotting the destruction of the other?

It was not merely by alliances of blood and family, but even still more by great common political and ecclesiastical interests that the English nationality, which contains both elements, was founded. And, in truth, the leading impulse towards it was that the conquerors, no less than the conquered, felt themselves oppressed by the yoke which the two supreme authorities laid on them, and hence both combined to oppose them. But centuries elapsed before this could be effected. The first occasion for it was given when the two authorities quarrelled with each other, and alternately called on the population to give its voluntary aid.

For, as the authorities which represent the objective ideas are of different origin, they have never in our Western Europe remained more than a short time in complete harmony with each other. Each retains its natural claim to be supreme, and not to endure the supremacy of the other. The one has always more before its eyes the unity of the whole, the other the needs and rights of the several kingdoms and states. Amidst their antagonism European life has moulded itself and made progress.

Close as their union was at

the time of the Conquest of England, yet even then their quarrel broke out. Though the Conqueror pledged himself again to pay a tribute which the Anglo-Saxon kings had formerly charged themselves with, and which had been long unpaid, yet this was not sufficient for the Roman See: Gregory VII demanded to be recognised as feudal lord of England. But this was not what William understood, when he had allowed the papal banner to wave over the fleet that brought him to England. It was not from the Pope's authorisation that he derived his claim to the English crown, as if this had been merely transferred to him by the Papal See, but from the Anglo-Saxon kings, as whose heir and legal successor he wished to be regarded. He answered the Pope that he could enter into no other relation to him than that in which his predecessors in England had stood to previous popes.

For the first time the popes had to give up altogether the attempt to make kings their feudal dependents; they attempted, however, an almost deeper encroachment into the very heart of the royal power, when they then formed the plan of severing the spiritual body corporate, which already possessed the most extensive temporal privileges, from their feudal obligation to the sovereigns. The English kings opposed them in this also with resolution and success. Under the influence of the father of scholasticism, Anselm of Canterbury, Primate of England, a satisfactory agreement was arranged long before the Concordat was obtained in Germany. In general there was little to fear, as long as the Archbishop of Canterbury had a good understanding with the Crown; and this was the case in the first half of the 12th century, if not on all points, yet, at least on all leading questions. Far-reaching differences did not appear until the higher ecclesiastics embraced the party of the Papacy, which happened in England through Thomas Becket.

_Henry II and Becket._

It was precisely from him that this would have been least expected. He had been the King's Chancellor, or if we may avail ourselves of a somewhat remote equivalent expression, his most trusted cabinet minister, and had as such, in both home and foreign affairs, rendered the most valuable services. The introduction of scutage is attributed to him, and he certainly had a large share in the acquisition of Brittany. It was through the direct influence of the King that he was elected archbishop.[22] But from that hour he seemed to have become another man. As he had hitherto rivalled the courtiers in splendour, pleasure, and pomp, so would he now by strictness of life equal the sanctity of the saints; as hitherto to the King, so did he now attach himself to the interests of the Church. It might, so we may suppose, be some satisfaction to his self-esteem, that he could now confront his stern and mighty sovereign as Archbishop 'also by the grace of God,' for so he designates himself in his letter to the King; or he might feel himself bound to recover the possessions of his Church, which had been wrested from it by the Crown or the high nobility. But, as spiritually-minded men are moved more by universal ideas than by special interests, so for Becket the determining impulse without doubt lay above all in the sympathy which he devoted to the hierarchic movement in general.

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