Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Investiture Controversy and William of Saint-Calais

Norman Portal of Durham Cathedral
This entrance may well date back to
the time of the episcopacy of William
of Saint-Calais
William of Saint-Calais was a monk of LeMans whom William the Conqueror named as Bishop of Durham in 1080.  Durham was a particularly important See—its position as the northernmost Diocese (and major city) in England rendered it key in the defense of the realm against the Scots.  In the eleventh and twelfth centuries—and indeed  into the fourteenth century—border skirmishes between the Scots and the English were common.  Durham’s position was so crucial that its bishop was not only a Lord Spiritual of the English Kingdom but a Count Palatine and as such is rather unique among the hierarchy having civil as well as ecclesiastical jurisdiction.  Indeed, the bishops of Durham, while technically counts, were “prince-bishops” in as that their "county palatine" was a principality, that is a semi-autonomous region governed by the Bishop/Count Palatine with vice-regal powers.  That is to say that as Count Palatine, the  Bishop exercised  his governmental power as the direct representative of the King.  While the crown had over the centuries endowed most dioceses with substantial lands to support a bishop, the cathedral, and other institutions, Durham was also invested with extensive lands to permit the Bishop/Count to defend the county and exercise the king’s governance and justice there.  In addition to revenue producing lands, the Bishop also held  several castles for the defense of the frontier with the Scots. 
     William of Saint-Calais served William the Conqueror well  but when he died he deserted the new King, William II, also known as William Rufus.  William Rufus was neither the man nor the king his father was.  When William the Conqueror died, he left his primary domain—the Duchy of Normandy—to his older son, Robert Curthose, and his (what he perceived to be) less important domain—England—to his second son, William.  Many of the nobles rose in rebellion against William Rufus in an effort to put Robert Curthose—the more talented son—on the throne of England as well as Normandy.  While Bishop William of Saint-Calais did not join in the rebellion, he supported it and did not come to the aid of William Rufus with troops as was his duty as a vassal to the king.  It was not a wise move.  William Rufus put down the rebellion, retained his throne, and brought the rebels—including the Bishop—to trial.  And here is where the story becomes interesting to us as we look at the issues of the Gregorian Reform. 
     The Bishop argued that he could not be tried in a secular court because he was a Bishop and thus could only be tried in an ecclesiastical court.  The King insisted that he was not being tried as a bishop, but as a vassal who had failed to perform his sworn duty of supplying aid and assistance to his liege lord, the King, in time of war.  The legal knot is that William was not only a bishop who was a vassal but was a vassal and held land and castles from the king precisely because he was a bishop.  In this particular case, even the Church (in the person of Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury) did not seek to protect William.  It was clear to them that he had failed, not as bishop but as vassal, but it highlights the complex relationship in which not only William but most bishops found themselves.  Their temporalities—the lands that supported them in their work and ministry (and comfortable, or more-than-comfortable, lifestyle) came from the King or Nobleman or Emperor in whose realm their diocese stood.  They were thus dependent on the civil ruler for their sustenance while they did God’s work. 
     It was customary for the king (or Emperor, or even a major nobleman) to invest his vassals when they received their fiefs.  In case of a secular noble this was not a problem.  It worked like this.  The Earl of Wessex died.  His heir came to the king, knelt before the king and placing his hands in the king’s hands, pledged to be a faithful vassal to his liege, the king.  The king then invested him with the earldom—the various signs and robes of authority.  The problem was with a bishop becoming a vassal.  The Archbishop of Bamberg dies.  The newly elected (by the Cathedral Chapter—the clergy attached to the Cathedral) Archbishop (and usually elected at the nomination of the Emperor) comes and kneels before the Emperor, pledging to serve him as vassal.    The Emperor then invests him with his symbols of office—in this case, ring, miter, crozier—and seats him in the Archbishop’s chair.  Hmmm.  It looks like the bishop is receiving his spiritual authority from the Emperor.  The Emperor—who understood himself to be the Vicar of Christ—didn’t have a problem with this.  But the pope did.  This leads to what we call the Investiture Controversy and it was the main issue of the Gregorian Reformation.    

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