|Anselm of Bec|
The period during which first Lanfranc and then Anselm served as Archbishops of Canterbury (1070-1109) is marked by a concern for Church Reform. This concern was not limited to England—far from it; this is the period of the Gregorian Reformation, named for the Italian monk and Church reformer, Hildebrand, who reigned as Pope Gregory VII. And very much in the tradition of the Gregorian Reform, Lanfranc, and even more Anselm, would struggle to free the Church from Crown control.
The first issue to arise was a dispute over the refusal of Thomas of Bayeux as Archbishop-Elect of York to swear allegiance to Lanfranc as Primate of the English Church. Thomas claimed that as an Archbishop himself he did not owe any submission to Canterbury. The problem was that York had only one suffragen diocese—Durham—and Thomas needed three bishops to himself be consecrated. As all the other bishops in England were suffragens of Canterbury, Lanfranc held the better hand. Thomas could not be consecrated without Lanfranc’s authorization permitting two or more of is suffragens to help in the consecration, and Lanfranc would not grant it without Thomas taking an oath of submission to him. Pope Alexander II told the two fighting prelates to resolve the matter in England. Now Lanfranc could have used his influence with William the Conqueror to resolve the issue but did not want the Crown to get involved in making decisions for the Church. This was a significant step away from royal control of the Church—a policy that would more or less guide the English Church over the next four and a half centuries until Thomas Cranmer would surrender the Church’s independence to Henry VIII. Lanfranc convoked a synod at Winchester in 1071 under the presidency of a Papal Legate and that synod decided in Canterbury’s favor. The Canterbury-York dispute merits an entry (or two or three) of its own and I don’t want to get sidetracked here, but continue on with a wider view of the tenures of Lanfranc and Anselm at Canterbury.
Both men were Church reformers and anxious to clearly delineate the lines of authority and in particular to assert some measure of independence of the English Church from the English Crown. To do this they appealed for support to the papacy which was given because it fit the papal policy at the time to free the Church from outside governance. The papacy itself was fighting for its freedom from the Imperial control of the Hohenstaufen Emperors. But Lanfranc and Anselm were concerned about internal Church reform and not merely its freedom from outside influence. Both archbishops tried to enforce celibacy on the secular clergy and to foster reform within the monastic establishments. Success in either adventure was only relative but still not inconsiderable. They also wanted to insure that men were chosen for bishops because of their suitability for that office and not because of political influence. They wanted to protect church property from being seized by powerful landlords and to protect the clergy from coercion by feudal magnates. Again, any Church reformation at the time needs to be looked at in terms of relative success but the health of the English Church improved in the thirty years these two men served as primates. The decrease of royal and noble control over the Church was balanced by increased power of prelates and a growing influence of the papacy over the English Church