Chapter V: Of The Ancient And Present Estate Of The Church Of England

There are now two provinces in England, of which the first and greatest is subject to the see of Canterbury, comprehending a part of Lhoegres, whole Cambria, and also Ireland, which in time past were several, and brought into one by the archbishop of the said see, and assistance of the pope, who, in respect of meed, did yield unto the ambitious desires of sundry archbishops of Canterbury, as I have elsewhere declared. The second province is under the see of York. And, of these, each hath her archbishop resident commonly within her now limits, who hath not only the chief dealing in matters appertaining to the hierarchy and jurisdiction of the church, but also great authority in civil affairs touching the government of the commonwealth, so far forth as their commissions and several circuits do extend.

In old time there were three archbishops, and so many provinces in this isle, of which one kept at London, another at York, and the third at Carleon upon Usk. But as that of London was translated to Canterbury by Augustine, and that of York remaineth (notwithstanding that the greatest part of his jurisdiction is now bereft him and given to the Scottish archbishop), so that of Caerleon is utterly extinguished, and the government of the country united to that of Canterbury in spiritual cases, after it was once before removed to St. David's in Wales, by David, successor to Dubritius, and uncle to King Arthur, in the 519 of Grace, to the end that he and his clerks might be further off from the cruelty of the Saxons, where it remained till the time of the Bastard, and for a season after, before it was annexed to the see of Canterbury.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is commonly called the Primate of all England; and in the coronations of the kings of this land, and all other times wherein it shall please the prince to wear and put on his crown, his office is to set it upon their heads. They bear also the name of their high chaplains continually, although not a few of them have presumed (in time past) to be their equals, and void of subjection unto them. That this is true, it may easily appear by their own acts yet kept in record, beside their epistles and answers written or in print, wherein they have sought not only to match but also to matethem with great rigour and more than open tyranny. Our adversaries will peradventure deny this absolutely, as they do many other things apparent, though not without shameless impudence, or at the leastwise defend it as just and not swerving from common equity, because they imagine every archbishop to be the king's equal in his own province. But how well their doing herein agreeth with the saying of Peter and examples of the primitive church it may easily appear. Some examples also of their demeanour I mean in the time of popery - I will not let to remember, lest they should say I speak of malice, and without all ground of likelihood.

Of their practices with mean persons I speak not, neither will I begin at Dunstan, the author of all their pride and presumption here in England. . . .

Wherefore I refer you to those reports of Anselm and Becket sufficiently penned by other, the which Anselm also making a shew as if he had been very unwilling to be placed in the see of Canterbury gave this answer to the letters of such his friends as did make request unto him to take the charge upon him

"Secularia negotia nescio, quia scire nolo, eorum namque occupationes horreo, liberum affectans animum. Voluntati sacrarum intendo scripturarum, vos dissonantiam facitis, verendumque est ne aratrum sanctae ecclesiae, quod in Anglia duo boves validi et pari fortitudine, ad bonum certantes, id est, rex et archiepiscopus, debeant trahere, nunc ove vetula cum tauro indomito jugata, distorqueatur a recto. Ego ovis vetula, qui si quietus essem, verbi Dei lacte, et operimento lanae, aliquibus possem fortassis non ingratus esse, sed si me cum hoc tauro coniungitis, videbitis pro disparilitate trahentium, aratrum non recte procedere," etc.

Which is in English thus

"Of secular affairs I have no skill, because I will not know them; for I even abhor the troubles that rise about them, as one that desireth to have his mind at liberty. I apply my whole endeavour to the rule of the Scriptures; you lead me to the contrary; and it is to be feared lest the plough of holy church, which two strong oxen of equal force, and both like earnest to contend unto that which is good (that is, the king and the archbishop), ought to draw, should thereby now swerve from the right furrow, by matching of an old sheep with a wild, untamed bull. I am that old sheep, who, if I might be quiet, could peradventure shew myself not altogether ungrateful to some, by feeding them with the milk of the Word of God, and covering them with wool: but if you match me with this bull, you shall see that, through want of equality in draught, the plough will not go to right," etc.

As followeth in the process of his letters. The said Thomas Becket was so proud that he wrote to King Henry the Second, as to his lord, to his king, and to his son, offering him his counsel, his reverence, and due correction, etc. Others in like sort have protested that they owed nothing to the kings of this land, but their council only, reserving all obedience unto the see of Rome, whereby we may easily see the pride and ambition of the clergy in the blind time of ignorance.

And as the old cock of Canterbury did crow in this behalf, so the young cockerels of other sees did imitate his demeanour, as may be seen by this one example also in King Stephen's time, worthy to be remembered; unto whom the Bishop of London would not so much as swear to be true subject: wherein also he was maintained by the pope . . .