1. Notes on the dispute between Henry and Becket


AS - Level A Level History Revision (4. Dispute with Thomas Becket) Note on 1. Notes on the dispute between Henry and Becket, created by Charlotte Peacock on 02/04/2014.
Charlotte Peacock
Note by Charlotte Peacock, updated more than 1 year ago
Charlotte Peacock
Created by Charlotte Peacock almost 10 years ago

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The conflict between Henry II and Becket arose from the restoration of royal authority. During Stephen's reign the Church had independent leadership. The new King was concerned with legal issues, and ensuring that the crown/secular authority was higher than ecclesiastical 

The death of Becket contributed towards the great rebellion - public hostility towards Henry for this murder was severe. 

Why did unity between church and state collapse?Personal quarrel - two men were once friends. Becket, due to his rapid promotion from archdeacon to archbishop, had changed and grew apart from Henry due to his new responsibilities. Caused conflict with the King, who interpreted it as treachery. First serious quarrel at the royal court held at Clarendon, Jan 1164. Henry asked Becket for the same customs and privileges that Henry I held over the Church - declined by Becket. 

Constitutions of Clarendon: The name given to what Henry called his 'customs', Becket his 'iniquities' [immoral/unfair behaviour]. The constitutions represent the King's version of what was normal and proper in the relationship of the church and state. One area of concern was the treatment of 'criminous clerks' - these pious criminals received lenient sentences when tried in an ecclesiastical court opposed to a crown court. Men of the Church often got away with rape and murder. Punishment for churchmen would often be degradation. Henry fought for these churchmen to be tried in crown courts, suffering normal secular penalties. Becket objected, stating that 'God does not judge twice for the same offence'. Thus, tensions rose. 

Why can Becket be blamed for his exile?Less than a year after conflicts with Henry, Becket was in exile - was too arrogant to follow the King's rules. He tried to leave England without the King's permission, breaking customs. Prior to him leaving, Becket was challenged by the angered Henry on two occasions: in Sep there was a claim that Becket had denied one of his own tenants justice in his own court, and then was later asked to account for money received several years earlier when he was chancellor. Becket is to blame for his exile as his tenants disobeyed him, refusing to transport him to France -  His knights (including Richard de Lucy) renounced their homage to him. Bishops also asked the Pope to depose Becket. Fearing for his safety, Becket fled England in disguise 2 November 1164 

Why did Becket return to England in Dec 1170?Henry wanted Becket to return, as a disaffected archbishop was bad for public relations. Henry also wanted to crown his youngest son Henry, to avoid another disputed succession crisis after his death like Matilda and Stephen. Though Becket refused, and condemned this coronation, Henry persisted, with the archbishop of York performing the ceremony Angered by this disobey, Becket excommunicated those involved in Young Henry's coronation. After this dispute, peace was made between the pair at Freteval, allowing Becket to return home. 

Theobald of Canterbury was able to nominate one of his favourite clerks as archdeacon of Canterbury - Becket. He then became royal chancellor in 1155

Positive relations with the King led to a further promotion in 1162,  with Becket becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, the year after Theobald died. (Empress Matilda thought this a bad appointment). Just over a year after, the unity fell apart

Two powerful men of contrasting personalities - good line for an essay

Becket stayed first at the Cistercian monastery of Pointigny - was forced out by Henry's threat to retaliate against the Cistercian houses.

When Henry appealed for Becket to return, to perform his son's coronation, the King would not renounce the customs written down at Clarendon. Becket, in any reconciliation, insisted on reserving 'the customs of his order'. This is why the archbishop of York performed the ceremony instead. 

On Christmas day Henry, not for this first time, spoke angrily of the archbishop. Four of Henry's knights took it upon themselves to visit the archbishop, intending on arresting him and taking him to the King on 29 Dec 1170. However, it soon turned into an ill-tempered brawl, with Becket being murdered in his own cathedral.

Henry was horrified when he heard the news of Becket's death. Peace was ratified at Avranches in May 1172, where the King swore to abolish any new customs harmful to the church which had been introduced in his reign. He promised to supply troops to the Holy land, and himself go on crusade. 

During Becket's exile, both Thomas and Henry launched propaganda campaigns to win the Pope over to their cause.

Why did Henry want to assert his authority over the church? By 1162 Henry had become interested in the jurisdiction claimed by the church within his lands. He was jealous of his father, who had got rid of the church in his lands. During Stephen's reign the lack of governance had led to the church gaining more power on the half-paralysed secular administration. When Henry came to power, nobody expected the peace to last long. 

As soon as Becket received his pallium from the pope he adopted extreme and provocative stands on ecclesiastical immunities, just as he had aggressively pursued royal rights as chancellor.

Becket's arrogance and inconsistency alienated many of his colleagues, particularly Archbishop Roger of York. 

Signs of Becket's piety: from 1165 he seems to have worn a monastic habit of some form. Also began to wear a hair shirt next to his skin, and to indulge in violent flagellation (beating)

Meetings at Montmirail and Montmartre failed to achieve anything; both were alike in their hatred of loosing face. A reconciliation was finally reached in July 1170 at Freteval. However, when he returned in December Becket refused to lift the excommunication of the bishops involved in the coronation of YH

Henry: 'will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest?'

Within a decade of Becket's death, 703 miracles were recorded, with his tomb a focus of pilgrimage. His death transformed Becket's career and achievement

He was promoted beyond his abilities, as demonstrated through the mess he made of the great opportunity in 1162

Becket served the church better dead than alive. Dead - canonised by the pope, miracles at his tomb, Henry did penance for his participation, and conceded that clerks should be tried in a secular court. Alive - he had been arrogant, and somewhat an embarrassment to his colleagues. 

More appropriate to view the dispute between Becket and Henry as a chapter in the eternal struggle between church and state (good for a conclusion)

As the Pope faced competition from the anti-pope, backed by Frederick Barbarossa, Alexander tried to keep his allies, including the English King. Thus, Becket's stand was quite weak. However, as soon as the danger from Barbarasso receded, the Pope gave Becket unqualified support

The pope wasn't overly concerned with the rights of the Archbishop, more the rights of the church and its supremity

Bishops may have joined the King at the C of C as they feared to loose their lands and goods

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