THE CANTERBURY LETTERS.*
THE story of the great struggle between Baldwin and Hubert, Archbishops of Canterbury, and the Convent of Christ Church, has been told by the chronicler Gervase. Gervase himself belonged to the fraternity, and his account may be supplemented and cor- rected by the Epistolw Cantuarienses, which represent, partially at least, the other aide of the question. The compiler, who was a. monk of Christ Church, appears to have included all the docu- ments bearing upon the subject to which he could get access. Besides the correspondence of the prior and convent, which occu- pies about a third part of the volume, we have about twenty letters written by the two Archbishops, and a very varied collection of letters from a series of Popes, ending with Innocent Ill., from our own Kings Henry IL and Richard I., and from other emineat persons, both lay and spiritual, who plunged or were drawn into. the conflict. Many of the formal documents are of course exceed- ingly tedious ; on the other hand, some of the letters written by the agents whom the litigants employed to represent them at. Rome and elsewhere are very interesting, and furnish us with valuable details about life and manners. On the whole the volume deserves a careful study. It is not often in matters of history, as it is here, that we can get every man to tell his own story. And the subject in dispute in some respects curiously anticipates the great questions which were brought to an issue more than three centuries afterwards in the Reformation. The editor, Mr. Stubbs, has given the student most efficient help.
In theory the Archbishop of Canterbury was abbot of the con- vent of Christ Church ; in practice this relation was found, on both sides, to be in the highest degree inconvenient. The Primate of the English Church was too important a person to be subject. to the control which a chapter would ordinarily exercise over its. chief. The convent, on the other hand, was impatient of the pre- ponderating influence of so powerful a head. The difficulties of the situation had been aggravated by the weakness or the par- tiality of a series of monkish archbishops. Baldwin and his suc- cessor sought for a remedy in a scheme the object of which, though nowhere explicitly stated, seems to have been to sever the connec- tion between the convent and the see. The monks naturally resented so great a curtailment of their dignity and power, ani their appreciation of this injury was quickened by an immediate pecuniary loss with which they were threatened. Baldwin opened the campaign by` obtaining in March, 1185, from Pope Lucius III. a letter authorizing him in general terms to reclaim from the con- vent certain concessions made to it by his predecessors, and to reform that establishment. On the strength of this he seized in • Chronicles and Memorials of the Reign of Richard I. Vol. II.:—Epistola Cantuarietueu The Letters of the Prior and Convent of Christ Church, Canterbury. From 4.D. 1187 to A.D. 1199. Edited by William Stubbs, MA., Vicar of Narestooa, Librarian to the AM/bishop of Camerbury, dm. London: Longman mud Co. 1865. the December of that year the Xenia, certain Christmas and Easter dues paid by the manors of the convent, not unlike the fines which ecclesiastical corporations have always preferred to rack- rents, and belonging, it would seem, by right, to the head of the chapter. In the following January he took possession of two churches belonging to the convent. Later in the same year he obtained leave from Urban III., who had by this time suc- ceeded to the Papal chair, to found a college of secular canons, in honour of SS. Stephen and Thomas (of Canterbury). The plan was conceived on a magnificent scale. There were to be seventy canons. The King himself was to have a stall ; one was to be assigned to each Bishop of the province. Other canonries were to be filled by the rectors of churches to which the Archbishop or the convent presented. The new establishment was evidently meant to supersede Christ Church. The monks at once appealed to the Pope. The Archbishop retorted by suspending the prior and forbidding all egress from the convent. The prior, however, immediately escaped, and made his way to Verona, where the Pope then was. The cause of the convent at once commended itself to Urban. The question indeed was one on which the Papal policy could not b3 doubtful. Every monastery was an outpost of Rome, and few outposts were so important as that which claimed to command the Primacy of England ; Baldwin's plan, -on the contrary, was essentially national in principle. Urban accordingly issuel repeated mandates to the Archbishop, en- joining him to desist from the execution of his design. Of these mandates Baldwin, encouraged by the support of the King and of the majority of the Bishops, took no further notice than to hurry on the building and to treat the monks with increased severity. The Pope, who was incessantly -occupied by his feud with the Imperialists, answered the renewed complaints of the convent by issuing fresh letters, as ineffectual as the old. His patience, however, was wearing out. In October, 1187, he ordered the Archbishop to demolish the new church, -annul the foundation, desecrate the site, and suspend the clergy. E the same month he died. Some said that his heart was broken by the capture of Jerusalem by &Min ; it seems that his wrath with the disobedient prelate had at least as much to do with it. Peter of Blois, Archdeacon of Bath. Baldwin's agent, tells the story graphically. "Pope Urban," he says, "had left Verona, and was journeying to Ferrara. I was riding with him, and began to entreat him very earnestly and zealously for the Arch- bishop. I commended to him that man of God, as a vessel chosen of God, a vessel solid in faith, perfect in humility, prudence, courage, and charity." This sort of talk was very naturally intolerable to the passionate old-man. "Growing terribly angry, he cried out, Please God, I may never dismount from -this horse, and never mount it or any other again, if I do not -dismount him from his archbishopric!' He had scarcely spoken when the gold cross, which was carried before him by a subdeacon, fell shattered at our feet. The same day he was seized with a grievous dysentery, was carried by water to Ferrara, and there, never mounting horse again, expired within a few days." In a letter to his principal Peter breaks out into the most fervent and unseemly rejoicing at this event. "Blessed be the Holy Spirit," he cries, 4' who doth not desert those that trust in Him !" and he thanks God for having removed "the most destructive and haughty of persecutors." The convent and its friends were in despair ; the Archbishop made sure of success, for a personal friend, Albert, Cardinal of St. Lorenzo, had succeeded, by the title of Gregory VIII. He prepared to use his opportunity. In January, 1188, the convent was blockaded, and the monks shut up within the walls. The siege was not raised for more than a year and a balf. During all this time they subsisted upon alms. They contrived, however, to send envoys with the tale of their wrongs to Rome, where by this time another and more friendly Pontiff, Clement III., was in power, for Gregory had died after a reign of two months. The messengers braved the terrors of the wintry Alps, and one of them recounts in an amusing letter his experiences on the Great St. Bernard. "Being nearer to Heaven," he exclaims, somewhat profanely, "and more confident of being heard, I said, 'Lord, restore me to my brethren, -that I may tell them, that they also come not into this place of tor- ment.'" In April the convent achieved a success which seemed to promise decided results. The Pope promised to send a Legate, who would see his mandates fnlfillad, and named for- that office a friendly prelate, the Bishop of Ostia. The new envoys were on their way home when they were stopped by terrible tidings. The plague had broken out in Rome, and five of the brethren had died within thirteen days. Before the end of the year both the prior and the Bishop of Ostia had followed them. Before this the envoys had returned to Rome, and the Pope appointed a new Legate, Ralph de NigeL Again they started for England, but a fatality seemed to pursue them. Ralph fell ill on the way, and died at Mortara. A third Legate, John de Anagnia, was more fortunate, and reached England, where, however, he accomplished nothing. Henry IL died, and Baldwin found in his successor a more vigorous supporter. Henry was an old and broken man, and had bitter memories to restrain him. Richard was resolved to brook no opposition. He compelled the convent to submit to arbitration. Both parties made concessions. The monks regained their property ; the Archbishop was to proceed with his new foundation, but was to transfer it to Lambeth. The Legate was politely dismissed, but he left behind hint a protest against the arrangement as having been extorted from the convent by force. The quarrel, however, was not renewed in Baldwin's lifetime. He left England indeed, in the spring of the next year, to join the Crusade. One gloomy letter from his chaplain informed the convent that he had reached Acre, and found the Christian camp in a terrible condition of disorder and licence. In January, 1192, came the news of his death. The King was absent, and for once the monks made good the claim, so often preferred by them in vain, to elect to the Primacy. They chose Reginald, Bishop of Bath, an old supporter of their cause, but he died before he was confirmed. They were obliged to accept as his successor the nominee of the King, Hubert, Bishop of Salisbury, an active and able etatesman, who inherited Baldwin's feelings and designs. Before long the struggle was renewed. For a time the Archbishop seemed likely to triumph. Richard strongly supported him, and the Pope, Celestine III., was indifferent, or even friendly. Then the aspect of affairs was changed. Celcstine died, and was &lc- ceeded by a Pontiff who knew how to make his will respected. In November, 1198, Innocent III. issued his final commands. The church at Lambeth was to be demolished ; if that was not clone within thirty days the Archbishop was to be suspended, and all persons abetting him in his resistance, the King himself in- cluded, were to be excommunicated. Hubert yielded, and the mandate was executed. When in the April of the succeeding year Richard died, Hubert finally abandoned the struggle. All that he could do was to save his dignity by referring the cause, not to the Papal delegates, but to arbitrators agreed upon by the convent and himself. In November, 1200, the final award was pronounced. The Archbishop might build and endow, out of his own estates, a entail church at Lambeth; but this was not to con- sist of secular canons, nor was any ordination or consecration to be celebrated in it. The money matters were settled on the principle of respecting vested rights. In all essential points the triumph of the convent was complete. The monks perhaps better deserve the sympathy which we are inclined to give to the Archbishops. They acted the part of confessors with dignity and courage, and they had a firmer grasp of princi- ples than their antagonists. Tenacious of wealth and power they naturally were,. but at the same time they were con- sciously loyal to Christian unity, as men then conceived of unity. It is not likely that either Baldwin or Hubert felt anything beyond a genuine desire to rid the see of an irksome in.ctunbrance. It is only the experience of after centuries that discovers to us the deeper and more permanent meanings of their acts, as strivings after national. independence in spiritual things.
These documents give us valuable glimpses of some familiar characters. Richard shows himself as something more than the savage man-at-arms which we are accustomed to think him. But nothing is more interesting than the instantaneous change which is produced when Innocent LLL appears upon the scene. No name among the Roman Pontiffs is associated with recollections more odious to Englishmen, but it.is impossible to withhold our respect from his mighty genius and commanding will. The letters of the convent are written in a style which do credit to the cultiva- tion of the house. There are frequent traces of secular learning, especially of acquaintance with the Roman poets. Ovid and Lncan are, as usual, the favourite authors. It is amusing to find one cor- respondent quoting the "Si fracias illabatur orbis," &e., as from St. Jerome. It only remains for us to say that Mr. Stubbs has performed his task as editor with very great ability.