CHAPTER V. WILLIAM RUFUS AND ANSELM
Having taken possession of Normandy, William returned to England at Easter in 1097. The Welsh had been making trouble again, and the king once more marched against them in person; but a country like Wales was easily defended against a feudal army, and the expedition accomplished little and suffered much, especially in the loss of horses. William returned probably in no very amiable mood, and at once sent off a letter to Anselm complaining that the contingent of knights which he had sent to meet his obligation of service in the campaign was badly furnished and not fit for its duties, and ordered him to be ready to do him right according to the sentence of the king's court whenever he should bring suit against him. To this letter Anselm paid no attention, and he resolved to let the suit against him go by default, on the ground that everything was determined in the court by the will of the king, and that he could get no justice there. In taking this position, the archbishop was putting himself in the wrong, for the king was acting clearly within his legal rights; but this fact Anselm probably did not understand. He could not enter into the king's position nor his own in relation to him, but he might have remembered that two years before, for once at least, the king had failed to carry through his will in his court.
The case came on for trial at the Whitsuntide court at Windsor, but before anything was determined Anselm sent by certain barons to ask the king's leave to go to Rome, which was at once refused. This action was evidently not intended by Anselm as an appeal of the case to Rome, nor was it so understood by the king; but for some reason the suits against him were now dropped. Anselm's desire to visit Rome apparently arose from the general condition of things in the kingdom, from his inability to hold synods, to get important ecclesiastical offices filled, or to reform the evils of government and morals which prevailed under William. In other words, he found himself nominally primate of England and metropolitan of the great province of Canterbury, but in reality with neither power nor influence. Such a condition of things was intolerable to a man of Anselm's conscientiousness, and he had evidently been for some time coming to the conclusion that he must personally seek the advice of the head of the Church as to his conduct in such a difficult situation. He had now definitely made up his mind, and as the Bishop of Winchester told him at this time, he was not easy to be moved from a thing he had once undertaken. He repeated his request in August, and again in October of the same year. On the last occasion William lost his temper and threatened him with another suit in the court for his vexatious refusal to abide by the king's decision. Anselm insisted on his right to go. William pointed out to him, that if he was determined to go, the result would be the confiscation of the archbishopric, - that is, of the barony. Anselm was not moved by this. Then the bishops attempted to show him the error of his ways, but there was so little in common between their somewhat worldly position as good vassals of the king, and his entire other-worldliness, that nothing was gained in this way. Finally, William informed him that if he chose he might go, on the conditions which had been explained to him, - that is, of the loss of all that he held of the king. This was permission enough for Anselm, and he at once departed, having given his blessing to the king.
No case could be more typical than this of the irreconcilable conflict between Church and State in that age, irreconcilable except by mutual concessions and compromise, and the willingness of either to stand partly in the position of the other. If we look at the matter from the political side, regarding the bishop as a public officer, as a baron in a feudally organized state, the king was entirely right in this case, and fully justified in what he did. Looking at the Church as a religious institution, charged with a spiritual mission and the work of moral reformation, we must consider Anselm's conduct justified, as the only means by which he could hope to obtain freedom of action. Both were in a very real sense right in this quarrel, and both were wrong. Not often during the feudal period did this latent contradiction of rights come to so open and plain an issue as this. That it did so here was due in part to the character of the king, but in the main to the character of the archbishop. Whether Lanfranc could have continued to rule the Church in harmony with William Rufus is an interesting question, but one which we cannot answer. He certainly would not have put himself legally in the wrong, as Anselm did, and he would have considered carefully whether the good to be gained for the cause of the Church from a quarrel with the king would outweigh the evil. Anselm, however, was a man of the idealistic type of mind, who believed that if he accepted as the conditions of his work the evils with which he was surrounded, and consented to use the tools that he found ready to his hand, he had made, as another reformer of somewhat the same type once said of the constitution of the United States in the matter of slavery, "a covenant with death and an agreement with hell."