Henry II lost more than he gained as a result of the Becket crisis 1162-1170 Essay

Submitted By jon011
Words: 1558
Pages: 7

“Henry II lost more than he gained”. How valid is this view of the outcome of Henry’s conflict with Becket.

As always the validity of a conclusion is dependant on the perspective of the assessor, and particularly, on this occasion, the assessor’s own opinion of why the conflict began, how it escalated and what exactly Henry aimed to achieve from entering into such a dispute. In the opinion of Warren the conflict was in “the quest for clarification and definition”, a belief proven by Henry’s attempt to enforce the constitutions of Clarendon onto the Bishops in January 1164. However, it is my opinion that Henry’s primary objective for the conflict was to gain truly undisputed legislative authority and power over all issues of land tenure, and therefore revenue, and that “the charge that Henry was bent on the destruction of the Church’s liberty, if not the Church itself, was simply Becket’s attempt at self-justification”.

In terms of maintaining a balanced relationship of authority with the Church, as had been the case whilst Theobald Du Bec had held the Bishopric of Canterbury, it would be fair to conclude that this balance shifted considerably in favour of the Church following the death of Becket on December 29th 1170. An integral part of the make up of the English church, even before the Norman invasion in 1066, had been a relative sense of autonomy from the Papacy and the continental system of Episcopal administration. Maintaining this sense of independence from the more bureaucratic system of the continent was, supposedly, one of Henry’s major points of conflict with Becket, who desired a greater freedom for the English Church. In these terms Henry was indeed forced to concede, and agreed to allow greater freedom of access to Rome for all members of the clergy, as well as consenting to the re-introduction of Papal legates. However, despite being forced into conceding these points of principle, mostly due to the weak negotiating position Henry had been, understandably, placed in after Becket’s murder, he was able to retain a degree of influence over the legate’s activities within England, as Henry was given authority to “supervise their access”.

Henry was also forced to concede the over-riding authority of the Papal court in Rome, and also recognise them as the pinnacle of international justice. In fact it can be argued that Henry lost the most, in terms of authority, to the Papacy and not necessarily the English Church and their Bishops. Henry was also forced to grant the freedom of clergy to appeal to the Papal court, if they felt so inclined. Thus indicating a major shift in favour of the Church in terms of overall spiritual authority and control over the English ecclesiastical system. However, the categorisation of these forfeits as “losses” depends on whether Henry truly desired significant reform in these areas, and, in truth, the Church had always held a dominant position in terms of spiritual authority even before the Becket conflict.

One the most prominent points of compromise following Becket’s demise was the settlement over the trial of “criminous clerks”, possibly the most prominent point of conflict over principle during the entire Becket saga. It was agreed that the trial of “criminuos clerks” would continue to be under Canon Law, however it would no longer be possible for secular clerks to claim protection from Ecclesiastical courts in an attempt to forego meaningful justice. Despite losing out on the most fiercely argued topic of the Becket conflict, with Becket on one occasion even quoting St Jerome, stating: “God does not judge twice in the same case”, when asked to oppose the King’s proposal for joint trials at the Westminster courts in October 1163. Henry, arguably, achieved a degree of increased influence over ecclesiastical processes, and therefore this compromise did not represent a total “loss”.

Perhaps the most undervalued consequence, in terms of relative importance to…