CHAPTER X. THE COURT OF HENRY

In the years that followed the Assize of Northampton Henry was at the height of his power. He was only forty-three, and already his triumph was complete. One of his sons was King of England, one Count of Poitou, one Lord of Britanny, one was named King of Ireland. His eldest daughter, wife of the Duke of Saxony, was mother of a future emperor, the second was Queen of Castile, the third was in 1176 married to William of Sicily, the wealthiest king of his time. All nations hastened to do honour to so great a potentate. Henry's counselors were called together to receive, now ambassadors from Sicily, now the envoys of the Emperors both of the East and of the West, of the Kings of Castile and Navarre, and of the Duke of Saxony, the Archbishop of Reims, and the Count of Flanders.

In England the king's power knew no limits. Rebellion had been finally crushed. His wife and sons were held in check. He had practically won a victory over the Church. Even in renouncing the Constitutions of Clarendon at Avranches Henry abandoned more in word than in deed. He could still fall back on the law of the land and the authority which he had inherited from the Norman kings. Since the Conqueror's days no Pope might be recognized as Apostolic Pope save at the king's command; no legate might land or use any power in England without the king's consent; no ecclesiastical senate could decree laws which were not authorized by the king, or could judge his servants against his will. The king could effectually resist the introduction of foreign canon law; he could control communications with Rome; he could stay the proceedings of ecclesiastical courts if they went too far, or prejudiced the rights of his subjects; and no sentence could be enforced save by his will. Henry was strong enough only six years after the death of Thomas to win control over a vast amount of important property by insisting that questions of advowson should be tried in the secular courts, and that the murderers of clerks should be punished by the common law. He was able in effect to prevent the Church courts from interfering in secular matters save in the case of marriages and of wills. He preserved an unlimited control over the choice of bishops. In an election to the see of St. David's the canons had neglected to give the king notice before the nomination of the bishop. He at once ordered them to be deprived of their lands and revenues. "As they have deprived me," he said, "of all share in the election, they shall have neither part nor lot in this promotion." The monks, stricken with well-founded terror, followed the king from place to place to implore his mercy and to save their livings; with abject repentance they declared they would accept whomsoever the king liked, wherever and whenever he chose. Finally Henry sent them a monk unknown to the chapter, who had been elected in his chamber, at his bedside, in the presence of his paid servants, and according to his orders, "after the fashion of an English tyrant," and who had then and there raised his tremulous and fearful song of thanksgiving. Towards the close of his reign there was again a dispute as to the election of an Archbishop of Canterbury. The monks, under Prior Alban, were determined that the election should lie with them. The king was resolved to secure the due influence of the bishops, on whom he could depend. "The Prior wanted to be a second Pope in England," he complained to the Count of Flanders, to which his affable visitor replied that he would see all the churches of his land burned before he would submit to such a thing. For three months the strife raged between the convent and the bishops in spite of the king's earnest efforts at reconciliation. "Peace is by all means to be sought," he urged. "He was a wise man who said, 'Let peace be in our days'. For the sake of God choose peace, as much as in you lies follow after peace" "The voice of the people is the voice of God," he argued in proposing at last that bishops and monks should sit together for the election. "But this he said," observed the monks, "knowing the mind of the bishops, and that they sought rather the favour of the king than of God, as their fathers and predecessors had done, who denied St. Anselm for Rufus, who forsook Theobald for King Stephen, who rejected the holy martyr Thomas for King Henry." Henry, however, won the day, and his friend and nominee, the good Bishop Baldwin of Worcester, singular for piety and righteousness, was set in the Primate's chair. Of this archbishop we read that "his power was so great and so formidable that no one was equal to him in all England, and without his pleasure no one would dare even to obey the commands of the Pope.... But," adds the irritated chronicler, "I think that he would do nothing save at the orders of the king, even if the Apostle Peter came to England about it."