40 Bishop Trouble

The 1160's. A time of consolidation of the Angevin Empire, still ruled by a dynamic, young and aggressive Henry. But mainly remembered for the start of the  struggle between church and state – or more accurately, the struggle between Henry and Thomas Becket. We start that well trodden paths, with a bit about 12th Education and Brittany thrown in for good measure

40 Bishop Trouble

The Beckets

Gilbert and Matilda Becket were Normans, who came to London to make their fortunes. Gilbert at first suceeded handsomely, being able to afford a grand house between ironmongers Street and Old Jewry. Young Thomas was given an academic education, but according to all it was the physical life that appealed to him as a young man. He hunted and hawked at the estates of Roger L'aigle, and he loved all forms of sports.

Thomas's early career

Gilbert's business started to struggle, so Thomas would have to earn his keep. After a stint in the household of a family friend, Thomas was placed int eh household of Theobald of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was something of a coup, and Thomas made the most of it, rising to become an Archdeacon. Then, Theobald decided he needed a placeman in the houshold of the king; so when the Chancellorship of England came up, Theobald went and spoke to the king


Henry and Thomas got on like a house on fire by all accounts – giggling and playing like children, Thomas kept a magnificant household, dressed in the grandest of clothes, advocated the most aggressive of foreign adventures – and generally just seemed to be a man of the material rather than spiritual world.


Thomas BecketBut oh dear, when he put on the robes of the Archbishop he also donned the hairshirt. His appointment was not well received by the Bishops, who knew full well they were getting Henry's man. So Thomas set out to prove his independence, by opposing the king at every turn. It came to a head at Westminister when Thomas led the Bishops in opposing an unconditional oath to support the customs of the realm. Henry was livid.

The Constitutions of Clarendon

Henry wanted to clarity about process of justice and the relationship between church and state. The Consitutions were meant to do this – a writing down of the English customs. He also wanted to push Thomas's nose in it, by forcing him to submit. Thomas and the English bishops were subjected to 3 days of abuse and pressure from Henry and the lay barons, but they stood up to it. Then Thomas bottled it, and signed them – leaving his bishops leaderless,

But, on the road outside, Thomas recanted. I suspect he only signed the thing to get out of Clarendon. Henry was now out to get rid of his Archbishop.

You can download the Constitutions of Clarendon below. I have put some notes into the text for explanation.

Download The Constitutions of Clarendon

Medieval Education

School: was quite common, but revolved often around there being a local priest orMedieval Education relied on the church monastery with a passion to provide the school. The curriculum was focussed on the acquisition of Latin as it's main aim

University: from 1096, Oxford is clearly one of the leading centres of higher education in England. But Universities as we think of them don't yet exist; what we have is towns with a concentration of Masters. The basic curriculum is the trivium, i.e. grammar, logic and rhetoric, and the quadrivium, i.e. arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. You could keep going and get into law, theology or medicine. 

7 thoughts on “40 Bishop Trouble

  1. Hello,
    This is completely off-topic from your fabulous first installment of a history of Beckett and Henry, but how might I find the History of England on facebook? I’ve accidentally found your personal profile, and I’m assuming you don’t want blog followers like myself ‘friending’ you.
    Unless this is indeed the profile to which you allude each podcast? http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001388309010
    Thanks a bunch for all your wonderful, thorough and gratis work!

  2. I also wanted to know how to find you on Facebook. I adore your podcast and would find it much easier to comment on Facebook.
    By the way you have the most charming accent! 🙂

  3. Hi Nancy. I like the whole Facebook commenting thing – but have a bit of a struggle to understand and use it properly…
    Thanks for the comment on the accent – I have to tell you that listening to myself is excrutiating. Surely that can’t be the way I sound!? But I’m beginning to get used to it…

  4. Ahh, yes. Henry and Becket. This at least is something I actually DID learn about in school. Here in the Deep South of the USA, we don’t get a lot of English or European history in our public schooling, really, but I do remember covering this. (In English class, though, not World History). It’s been more than a quarter century since I’ve heard any of it, so it’s not old hat at all. It was interesting enough at the time for me to still remember just a bit of it. As a high school student, I enjoyed senior English class because we covered things like this (as they related to Literature, I suppose). And we got to watch films instead of reading dull textbooks (aha- maybe THAT’s why some of it stuck). Naturally we got exposed to a little Shakespeare around then, too, and, (oddly enough), Greek Mythology. Why Greek mythology in English class I dunno, but I enjoyed it. (Again, I guess it was pigeonholed with Literature somehow.)

  5. Henry II clearly was a tyrant. His manner of dealing with Becket at the Council of Northampton October 1164 without doubt shows him to have been one. Maybe later he relented, after Thomas had been declared a martyr, but still, like all of his ilk, both the Normans and Plantagenets, these were all robber barons of the nastiest type, true to their Viking nature, from whom they all descend.

  6. Hi Jim..well yes, I accept that Henry II was an autocrat, and pretty brutal when he was opposed; and that he hardly covers himself in glory over the whole affair. The events at Northampton do read more like some kind of school bully whipping up the crowd than the affairs of state. I’d still argue, though, that the definition of a tyrant is someone who places his own interests over those of the state, and I think Henry’s basic motivation was to achieve efficiency and clarity of the law, for example. After all, on of the consequences of Becket’s resistance is the rather daft benefit of the clergy which we would have been much better without. But of course other views are available!

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