Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: John Foxe
Editor: Michael Best
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The Book of Martyrs: Selection (Modern)


[Conflict over the appointment of the new Archbhishop of Canterbury]

8The year of our Lord 1203, about the month of July, Hubert, the Archbishop of Canterbury, deceased: whose decease, after it was in Canterbury to the monks known, and afore his body was yet committed to the earth, the younger sort of the monks there gathered themselves together at midnight and elected their superior Reginald, and without the king's license or yet knowledge, privily placed him in the metropolical seat, singing Te Deum at midnight. And because the king should not make their election void, they charged him by virtue of his oath to keep all secret by the way and to show nothing what was done before he came to the Pope; but he, contrary to his oath, so soon as he came into Flanders, opened abroad all the matter and uttered their counsel, whereupon the monks, being not a little grieved with him, sent him privily unto the court of Rome out of hand. The next day the elder monks sent to the king, desiring him of his gracious license canonically to choose their archbishop. The king most gently and favorably granted their petition, requiring them instantly, and desiring that for his sake they would show favor to John Gray then Bishop of Norwich, as they did indeed, e[l]ecting him into that see of their high primacy. Moreover, because the authority of kings and princes was then but small in their own dominion without the Pope's consent and confirmation to the same, he sent also to Rome of his own charges to have the foresaid election ratified by the Pope. The suffragans of Canterbury then (being not a little offended at these two elections) sent speedily to Rome to have them both stopped, for that they had not been of counsel with them. And hereupon at the last grew a most prodigious tumult.

9The next year after, the suffragans of the province of Canterbury on the one side and the monks of Canterbury on the other side came afore the Pope with their brawling matter. First the monks, presenting Reginald their superior, desired that their election might be confirmed. The suffragans likewise complained that the monks would presume to choose the archbishop without their consent, and therefore desired by divers reasons the first election to be of none effect. The pope, deciding the matter between both, pronounced with the monks, charging the suffragans and bishops to meddle no more with that election but to let the monks alone. The monks of Canterbury, now having the whole election in their own hands, fell also at square among themselves, the younger sort with the elder. The younger sort, which had chosen Reginald their superior, would that election to stand. The elder sort of the monks replied again, saying that the first election was done by stealth and by night and by the younger part, also without the counsel of other monks. Over and besides, it was done without the king's license or appointment and without the due solemnity thereunto belonging.

10And as concerning our election, (said they), it was done in the clear light of the day, by which it had authority in presence of our liege lord the king, and his council being willing to the same.

11This allegation thus propounded, the suffragans' proctor, or man of law, stood forth, and proved the former election to be good and this latter to be void and of no value, after this sort. Whether the first election (saith he) were just or unjust, ye ought first by the law to have condemned it afore ye should have presumed to the second, but this ye did not; therefore is this your later doing no election at all, and the first therefore is rather to be ratified than yours. When they had thus multiplied talk on both sides, with many frivolous allegations, a long time, and could not agree upon one person, Pope Innocent condemned both their elections, commanding them to choose Stephen Langton, then cardinal of St. Chrysogon, for their archbishop. The monks then answered, that they durst not so do without consent of their king and for that it was prejudicial to their ancient liberties. The pope by and by (saith the text) as one in a fury, taking the words out of their mouths, said thus unto them: "We will you to know, that we have full power and authority over the church of Canterbury, neither are we wont to tarry the consent of princes; therefore we command you, in pain of our great curse, that ye choose him only whom we have appointed."

12The monks, at these words abashed and terrified, though they much murmured in their hearts, yet consented they all in one and thereupon sang Te Deum. Only Doctor Helias Brantfield withdrew himself from that election, whom the king had sent for the admission of the Bishop of Norwich.

13Thus was Stephen Langton, in the high church of Viterby, by the Pope's hand made Archbishop of Canterbury. From thenceforth (saith Matthew Paris) the Pope could do no less but mightily defend him from all vexation and danger, considering that he was his own dear darling, and a child of his own creation.

14Upon this occasion, King John conceived an exceeding displeasure against the clergy and monks of Canterbury, as he had good cause, they doing so many evils against his princely prerogative. Without his license they elected their archbishop and put by the Bishop of Norwich, whom he had appointed. They wasted a great part of his treasure for the wars; and to bring all to the devil, they made Stephen Langton their high metropolitan, whom he took for a grievous enemy to the whole realm, being always so familiar with the French king. Wherefore in his anger he banished them out of the land, to the number of threescore and four, for this their contumacy and contempt of his regal power.

[Letters between King John and the Pope]

14The monks of Canterbury thus being expulsed, the king forthwith sendeth messengers to the Pope with his letters, wherein he doth sharply and expressly expostulate with the Pope. First, for that so uncourteously he repulsed the election of the Bishop of Norwich and set up one Stephen Langton, a man unknown to him and brought up amongst his enemies a long time in the kingdom of France, consecrating him Archbishop of Canterbury and letting the other go. Also (which is more) for that it redoundeth to the subversion and derogation of the liberties appertaining to his crown; for notwithstanding his consent past (being before of the monks not made privy, which should have so done), yet he rashly presumed to promote and prefer another. Wherefore he cannot marvel (he saith) enough, that neither the said pope, nor the court of Rome, doth consider and revolve with themselves how necessary his love and favor hath been always hitherto to the see of Rome, and that they consider not what great profit and revenues have proceeded hitherto to them out of the realm of England, the like whereof hath not been received out of any other country besides on this side the Alps. He addeth moreover and saith that for his liberties he will stand (if need be) unto death, neither can he be so removed and shaken off from the election of the Bishop of Norwich which he seeth to be so commodious to him and profitable. Finally, he thus concludeth, saying, that in case in this his request he be not heard, he will so provide by the seas that there shall be no such gadding and coursing any moreover to Rome, suffering the riches of the land no more to be transported over, whereby he should be himself the less able to resist his enemies. And seeing he hath of his own at home archbishops, bishops, and other prelates of the church, both of Englishmen and of others, sufficiently provided and instructed in all kind of knowledge, therefore he shall not need greatly to seek for judgment and justice further abroad.

15When these came to the Pope's intelligence, be directeth letters again to the king in this form:

16"Innocentius, pope, servant of the servants of God, to our wel-beloved son in Christ the king of England, health, and apostolical blessing. Whereas we have written to you heretofore, exhorting and entreating you after a humble, diligent, and gentle sort concerning the church of Canterbury, you have written to us again after a threatening sort and upbraiding manner, both spitefully and also frowardly. And whereas we more and above that our right and duty required have borne and given to you, you again for your part have given to us not so much as by right and duty you are bound to do. And though your devotion, as you say, hath been to us very necessary, yet consider again that ours also is not a little opportune and expedient for you. And whereas we in such like cases have not showed at any time the like honor to any prince as we have unto you, you again have so much derogated our honor, as no prince else hath presumed to do besides you alone, pretending certain frivolous causes and occasions -- I cannot tell what -- why you would not condescend to the election of Stephen Langton, cardinal of St. Chrysogono, chosen by the monks of Canterbury; for that the said Stephen (as you say) hath been conversant and brought up amongst your enemies, and his person is to you unknown. But you know what is the proverb of Solomon, The net is cast, but in vain in the sight of the flying birds," etc.

17With much other matter in the same epistle, wherein he falleth into the commendation of Stephen Langton his cardinal, declaring how learned he was in the liberal arts, and in divinity, insomuch that he was prebendated at Paris; also come of an honest stock and an Englishman born, and not unknown to the king, seeing the king had written his letters thrice to him before. Declaring moreover in the said letter how the messengers of the king had specified to him another cause, which was for that the monks of Canterbury, which had to do in the election, came not to him before for his consent. Declaring moreover, in the said letter, how the said messengers of the king entreated in the king's behalf, that forasmuch as the Pope's letters, wherein the king was commanded to send his proctors to Rome for the same matter, came not to the king's hand, neither did the monks direct any such letters or message to the king to have his consent; therefore the Pope, considering the same, would grant so much for the regard of the king's honor that the monks of Canterbury should not proceed without the king's assent therein. And for so much as that hath not been done as yet, therefore they desired some delay therein to be given sufficient for the doing thereof. Whereunto he said that he had granted and fulfilled their request in sending his letters and messengers once or twice to the king for the same purpose, although he said it was not the manner of the see apostolic, who had the fullness of power over the church of Canterbury, to wait for princes' consents in such elections, who then could not be suffered to do that which they came for. Wherefore, in knitting up his letter, he thus concludeth in these words:

18"And therefore, seeing the matter so standeth, we see no cause why we should require or tarry for the king's favor or consent any more therein, but intend so to proceed in this matter, neither inclining on the right hand nor on the left, according as the canonical ordinances of the holy fathers shall direct us; that is (all impediments and delays set aside) so to provide that the church of Canterbury be not any longer destitute of her pastor. Wherefore be it known to your discretion or kingly prudence, that forasmuch as this election of Stephen Langton hath orderly and concordly thus proceeded without fraud or deceit upon a person meet for the same, therefore we will for no man's pleasure, neither may we without danger of fame and of conscience, defer or protract any longer the consummation of the said election. Wherefore, my well-beloved son, seeing we have had respect to your honor above that our right and duty required, study to honor us so much as your duty requireth again so that you may the more plentifully deserve favor both at God's hand and ours, lest that, by doing the contrary, you bring yourself into such a peck of troubles as afterwards you shall scarce rid yourself of again. For this know for a certain, in the end it must needs fall out that he shall have the better unto whom every knee (of heavenly, earthly, and infernal creatures) doth bow, whose turn I serve in earth, though I be unworthy.

19Therefore settle not yourself to obey their persuasions, which always desire your unquietness, whereby they may fish the better in the water when it is troubled, but commit yourself to our pleasure, which undoubtedly shall turn to your praise, glory, and honor. For it should not be much for your safety in this cause to resist God and the Church, in whose quarrel that blessed martyr and glorious bishop Thomas hath of late shed his blood; especially seeing your father and your brother of famous memory, then kings of England, did give over those three wicked customs into the hands of the legates of the see apostolic. But if you yield yourself humbly into our hands we will look that you and yours shall be sufficiently provided for, that no prejudice may arise hereupon to you-ward. Given at Lateran the tenth year of our popedom."

[England falls under the Pope's interdiction]

20Thus hast thou, gentle reader, the glorious letter of the proud pope; I beseech thee mark it well. Now to the story. After this letter was sent out, not long after proceedeth a charge and commandment sent into England unto certain bishops there, requiring them by authority apostolical, that if the said king would not receive the said prior of Canterbury and his monks, then they should interdict him throughout all his realm. For the executing whereof four bishops were appointed by the usurped power of the Pope's bulls: namely, William, Bishop of London, Eustace, Bishop of Ely, Walter, Bishop of Winchester, and Giles, Bishop of Hereford. Which said four bishops went unto the king and showed their commission from the Pope, as is aforesaid, willing him to consent thereto, etc.

21But the said king refused the same, and would by no means grant to their request. Whereupon they, departing from his Grace, went the morrow after the Annunciation of our Lady, and pronounced the said general interdiction through out all England so that the church doors were shut up with keys and other fastenings and with walls, etc.

22Now when the king heard of this, he began to be moved against them, and took all the possessions of the four bishops into his hands, appointing certain men to keep the livings of the clergy through out the realm, and that they should enjoy no part thereof. Which being done, the bishops, seeing the same, cursed all them that kept or should meddle with church goods against the will of them that owed them; and understanding, for all that, that the king nothing regarded their doings, they went over sea to the Bishop of Canterbury and informed him what had happened; who, hearing the same, willed them again to return to Canterbury, and he would come thither to them, or else send certain persons thither in his stead that should do as much as if he were there himself. Then when the bishops heard this, they returned again to England, to Canterbury, and the tidings came shortly to the king that they were come thither again. And because he might not himself travel to them, he sent thither bishops, earls, and abbots to entreat them, that the archbishop whom he had chosen might be admitted; promising the prior and all the monks of Canterbury in his behalf that he should never take any thing of the Church goods against the will of them that owe them: but would make amends to them of whom he had taken any such goods, and that the Church should have all her franchises in as ample manner as in Saint Edward's time, the Confessor, it had.