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ALMOST every historical inquiry is beset with difficulties. It might, perhaps, seem to the ordinary observer that it should be an easy matter, with the expenditure of just a little trouble and labour, directed with an honesty of purpose, to determine what are the undoubted facts in the story of the past, and to disentangle the certain from those elements of the uncertain with which most human relations are overlaid and embroidered. This, however, in practice is frequently, if not generally, found to be most difficult, and the reason is not far to seek. The human mind is so constituted that it intrudes itself and its own views into most considerations in such a way, that facts become distorted to accord with the individual method of regarding them. Many people come to history to find evidence for something they wish to prove, and their eyes consequently magnify what they expect to see, whilst, probably quite unconsciously, they obscure, or diminish, or discount what does not accord with their preconceived notions. If this be true in regard to facts, all the more certainly is it the case with respect to inferences or deductions which have to be drawn from them, in order to explain their existence or to point their moral. Everyone who has made the endeavour will recognise how difficult it is accurately to determine the sense of even one document, and what stern self-discipline is requisite as the first condition of every critical inquiry or historical investigation.
In briefly introducing the present study of the relations between the Church and State in the reign of Henry III, it is perhaps well to make one or two remarks upon the way in which I would desire to approach the question. That attitude of mind, to which I have just referred, so detrimental to any fair examination of the facts, is confined to no party and, as far as I know, is induced by no special views on religious matters. As a rule it is obviously increased by direct controversy; as the immediate necessity of gaining a dialectic triumph over an adversary, of defending a chosen position or of pushing forward an advantage, is not conducive to the tone and temper of mind needful for the formation of a balanced judgement. My endeavour in this volume has been to state the facts as far as possible in the language of the old chroniclers and of the letters and other documents of the reign.
On the one side and on the other, in regard to the relations between England and Rome in the thirteenth century, there has been, it seems to me, a tendency-I may call it, perhaps, a natural tendency—to minimise and exaggerate. Those holding one set of opinions have been, perhaps, too blind to the difficulties which undoubtedly did exist between England and Rome at this period, and which were certainly not light difficulties. Those holding other views have, it seems to me, been equally hasty in assuming that these difficulties were religious or spiritual difficulties. I make every excuse for the mistake-as I hold it to be-because to them the word Rome has become almost a symbol for a certain body of religious views and the expression for a system of religious teaching opposed in many things to that of mere nationalism in religion. When, then, it was seen that difficulties really did exist, and existed for a considerable time and to a considerable extent, in the thirteenth century between this country and the Roman authorities, it was easy enough to rush to the conclusion that the conflict between them must have more or less affected, even if it did not lead to, any complete rupture in the religious relations between England and the Roman See. It would be easy enough to illustrate this view from current literature, but I fancy that it is so well recognised, that there is no need to occupy the reader's attention further in this matter. The question of importance and interest really is, how far this position is tenable in view of the documents and papers of the period. In the following chapters I have endeavoured to set forth the materials for forming a judge- / ment. Here, perhaps, I may be permitted to state what, after much study, I think is the only verdict which can be passed consistently with the facts; and to sum up, what I believe to be the story of the reign of Henry III, so far as the Church is concerned. (1) The pope, by the act of King John, had obtained a position of paramount importance in this country. What a suzerain was to a feudatory state, that the pope of Rome was to England. The country was a fief of the Holy See; and the name of feudal overlord, possessed by the pope, was no mere empty title, but represented a power which was acted upon and insisted upon again and again in spite of opposition. (2) This opposition was fully as strong, if not indeed stronger, on the part of the bishops and clergy than it was on the side of the laity. (3) That there was grave discontent against the Roman officials cannot be doubted for one moment. In fact it could hardly have been deeper, and was manifested by ecclesiastics, if possible, even more than by lay
men. (4) But it was a discerning discontent, and it was absolutely confined to opposition to the pecuniary policy of the papal officials in their constant demands made upon the revenues of the English churches and to the appointment of foreigners to English benefices. (5) Throughout the agitation—and it was both considerable and extending over a long period of time—not only was there no attack made upon the spiritual supremacy of the popes, but that supremacy over the Church Universal was assumed in every document emanating from England, and this spiritual supremacy was constantly asserted to have been established by Christ Himself. Moreover, as those who will read my pages can see for themselves—or, better still, having read my pages, will go to the original documents
—the spiritual side of the papacy is frequently insisted on in unmistakable terms. Men who, like Grosseteste, were the most determined in their opposition to what I may call the claims of the papacy in temporal matters, were, like him, the most clear-sighted in their perception of the pope's indefeasible and divine right and duty to rule the Universal Church in matters spiritual. In fact, Grosseteste even went beyond this, and fully conceded to the Apostolic See in theory the power of dealing out to whom it would the ecclesiastical benefices of this or any other country. “I know and truly acknowledge,” he says, “that to the lord pope and the holy Roman Church belongs the power of dealing freely with all ecclesiastical benefices " throughout the world. This is an important declaration on the Catholic theory of papal authority; whilst the whole of the bishop's acts are a practical protest against local abuses of that power.
Without wishing in the least to justify the constant demands made by the popes upon England for money, or still less the packing of English benefices with foreign ecclesiastics, we should in justice remember the position and responsibilities of the popes at this period in European politics. Ancient history could show nothing like the system which bound the nations of Christendom together. Previously, States consisted of but one nation; the new Roman Empire embraced vigorous and flourishing nations united in one faith and one empire in the papal system, which had its origin in the opposition of Catholic countries to those in schism. A modern historian has said, that in the ages of faith “it was considered no disgrace to pay tribute to St. Peter; and it was considered a particular honour to receive from the successor of St. Peter a crown which, being sanctified by papal protection, could not be withdrawn.” In other confederacies of States each lost something of individual independence and their princes something of sovereignty when they were merged in a supreme power. In the papal system, which made and preserved mediaeval Europe as it was entering on modern times, the nations found the guarantee of their independence and the princes the support of their sovereignty in the protection afforded them even by the spiritual sword of the Roman pontiffs.
1 Grosseteste, Epistolae, 145.
In this voluntary submission to the pope as to their feudal lord, the princes of the middle ages did not perceive any such loss of dignity as we to-day might imagine, or indeed any loss at all. By the beginning of the thirteenth century Spain and Portugal had become tributary to the pope, and the act of King John, discussed in the first chapter of this book, was only the legitimate consequence of that of Henry II. When the first of the Plantagenets stood in need of assistance, he acknowledged