Causes of the Becket Crisis

Long term tensions

  • Issues of royal and ecclesiastical jurisdiction in England
  • Between 1072 and 1076, William I and Lanfranc ordered there should be a much clearer distinction between the respective jurisdictions of lay and church courts
  • In a writ the king announced all spiritual offences and allother offences committed by a member of the church should only be tried where the bishop chooses and not in the secular court
  • However this created the issue of what could be considered a spiritual offence and what couldnt. The ambiguity of the writ allowed the church to exploit justice and use it as a defence to protect clergy men, or anyone in a clergyman's household, going to royal courts and suffering the kings justice
  • Development of canon law - the early 12th century had witnessed substantial developments in canon law due to influence of the reform papacy and rise in universities such as Bologna whihc specialised in the study of canon law - increasing number of clergy acquires specialised training law, ecclesisatical courts proliferated and became busier. It was the standardisation of legal matters within the church which influences Henry's attitude to royal justice 
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  • Key principle for Henry was to ensure royal justice over criminous clerks
  • Over 100 murders were committed by chrurchmen between 1154 and 1164, including the bishop of Worcester who had committed murder, but was protected by the courts on account of his office
  • In October 1163, Henry raised the issue of immunity of convicted clerks from secular punishment, and how he believed that secular crimes should be tried in secular courts, not eccesiastical courts as the missuse of church courts had resulted in 1/6 of the population claimimg immunity from royal jurisdiction 
  • Henry saw church courts as being to leniant towards clerics, as they saw excommunication and defrocking as an embarrassment to the church so rarely used them as punishment , whereas the church saw the King's court as being to harsh.
  • With the support of the other bishops, Becket insisted on clerical immunity and condemned the concept of double jeopardy, trial and punishment by two courts for the same offence, as Henry had suggested. This issue is also addressed in chapter 3 of the Constitutions of Clarendon, which Becket found most offensive as he believed God himself will not judge the same business twice. Caused vindictive fury in the king as Becket, who he appointed to provide Henry with a foothold in the church, had committed himself to defining the rights of the church 
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Long term tensions

  • Letters of John of Salisbury suggest relations between church and crown deteriorating before Becket, conflict was an issue with AB Theobald. Theobald was anxious to prevent conflict between himself and Henry 
  • However under Stephen, the church was compelled to to encroach on 'half paralyzed secular administration' (Barlow) and as a result gained a degree of independence over their own institution, which Henry felt it necessary to reclaim. The church appeared to disregard the traditional customs between the state and authority
  • The Constitutions of Clarendon 1164 set forth to amend this; the focus was asserting the crowns right lost under Stephen, to control elections, ensuring political control over the church
  • In 1135, 50% of bishops were not royal clerks, and Becket was the first since 1120. This lack of crown influence over elections was a result of chruchmen paying Stephen for the right to elect their own bishops and abbots 
  • Henry wanted to return to the relationship between the king and clergy that had been enjoyed by his grandfather
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Henry's Personality

  • Becket was relucatant to take the position of AB, warning Henry 'you may come to hate me as much as you love me now'. Henry saw Becket's disaffection as a personal betrayal
  • Having elevated him to the postions of chancellor and AB despite his 'low birth', he saw his disobediance as a personal affront to his generosity. His refusal to acede to paying sheriff's aid directly to the royal exchequer ate Woodstock in 1163 was the first of a series of personal grievances for Henry, who had expected him to remain loyal - instead Becket returned his chancellor seal in 1163, and recognised a new spiritual overlord
  • Becket was keen to act full as AB as he had chancellor, and therefore recognised that his new position required him to be seen as the defender of the pope's rights in England, having been made papal legate in 1166. This was intensified by Becket's trial at Northampton in 1164, which can be argued to be a personal blow dealt by Henry, as Poole argues 'his conduct was both outrageous and undignified'
  • The spiteful attack launched by Henry can be seen as a consequence of these personal grievances he had with Becket, and Becket's failure to attend court ove a land issue with John the Marshal was used by Henry to accuse himof having contempt and defiance for royal authortity. As a result he fled to Potigny Abbey in France where he lived in exile for 7 years, whilst Henry ordered the exile of Becket's friends and family in retaliation 
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Becket's Personality

  • April 1166 Becket was appointed Alexander III's legate in England, which gave him the power of excommunication. Upon hearing that Henry YK had been crowned by the AB of Y and bishops of London and Salisbury in 1170, Becket used papal favour to excommunicate all 3 clerics, punishing those who personally offended by ignoring the AB of Canterbury's privilege to crown monarchs
  • Becket's stubborness affected the chances of peace at Montmirail and Montmartre in 1169, where he refused to accept the kiss of peace and at Freteval in 1170, he refused to lift the excommunication he placed upon the 3 clerics even though Henry had agreed to compromis, allowing Becket to return from exile
  • 'Becket brought a violent death upon himself because he could not admit his reading of the situation had been mistaken' (Warren)
  • However Becket's changing personality could have been necessary to fit the role Henry had given to him - Henry had considered Becket a loyal servant to the crown, and himself, as he had used his skills as chancellor to tax the church to fund the Toulouse expedition in 1159. Henry hoped for him to remain loyal to the crown so he could his use his postion to exert political control over the clergy - his unanticipated transformation both suprised and enraged Henry, failed to acknowledge that the purpose of his consecration was to bring the church under royal control
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