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Kings and Churchmen

close up shot of king s crown on brown box

Today, I will be writing and discussing the importance of churchmen who supported kingship during the mediaeval ages, stretching from the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE to the discovery of America by Europeans in 1492 CE by Christopher Columbus.

For this article, I will be discussing the kingship focus Kings of England, why churchmen were an essential pillar of Kings and a force for support, legitimacy and backing if a ruler was not the support of the military classes, which include knights and nobility, and finally the peasant and merchant classes.

For a king to maintain his power, he must have the support of the church, nobility or merchant classes.

Without a combination of these things, Edward II of England was proposed in 1327 CE, and Richard II of England, deposed in 1399 CE, were both easily overthrown due to the lost support from the political community within their respective kingdoms.

William the Conqueror

Archbishops and kings

During England’s first four Norman kings after the Norman conquest in 1066, William the Conqueror from 1066 to 1087, William Rufus from 1087 CE to 1100 CE, Henry I of England from 1100 CE to 1135 CE and finally, King Stephen, who ruled from 1135 CE to 1154 CE of these kings it was the last three who relied on support archbishops and churchmen to maintain power.

William the Conqueror derived his support for his rule from the nobility, who were provided lands after the successful defeat of England’s last Anglo-Saxon king, Harald Godwin, at the Battle of Hastings.

He also received support by giving land to his half-brothers and friends. In the later rule in the 1080s CE, his brother Odo was also an Archbishop, and the Earl of Kent rebelled against his brother or, at the very least, overstepped his authority by relying on support for the arrest of his brother from his Archbishop of Canterbury Lanfranc, (born c. 1005 CE, Pavia, Lombardy — died May 28, 1089 CE, Canterbury, Kent, Eng.)

Italian Benedictine, archbishop of Canterbury (1070 CE to 1089 CE) and trusted counsellor of William the Conqueror, was primarily responsible for William’s reign’s excellent church–state relations after the Norman Conquest of England.

It was William the Conqueror’s Archbishop Lanfranc who enabled and gave support to William’s arrest and his brother Odo, who is also a churchman and due to that fact, the protection of being legally tried by the Church under Roman law and the Cannon law.

The Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out that Odo was also the Earl of Kent so that he could be tried under a secular court outside the confines of the Roman Catholic Church of the time.

During the Conqueror’s death in 1087 CE, he removed his son, Robert II, Duke of Normandy, who ruled from 1087 CE to 1106 CE at the Duke of Normandy, from the succession of the English throne in favour of his younger brother William Rufus.

William II of England became king through the support of Lanfranc.

William Rufus established royal authority within the King of England; without that support, the coup d’état launched by Rufus would have been impossible due to the nobility in England mainly staying away from the conflict between the two eldest sons of William the Conqueror Rufus and Robert Curthose.

Henry I of England

Henry I of England

William Rufus was killed during a hunting accident in 1100 CE.

He was succeeded three days later by his youngest surviving brother, King Henry I of England, who reigned from 1100 CE to 1135 CE.

At the time of succession, he lacked the support of the reigning nobility in England.

This was due to two primary reasons.

The first is the eldest brother, Robert II, Duke of Normandy, who had just returned successfully from the first Crusade and was the eldest surviving son of William the Conqueror.

King Henry, during the first two years of his rule, had to rely upon the military support of the Church of England, particularly the Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury OSB, also called Anselm of Aosta after his birthplace and Anselm of Bec after his monastery.

Anselm was an Italian Benedictine monk, abbot, philosopher and theologian of the Catholic Church who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 CE to 1109 CE.

Robert invaded England in 1101 CE; he had the support and backing of the majority of nobility within the English political community.

In contrast, King Henry had the dominant backing of the English church and access to their military.

Ultimately, Robert II, Duke of Normandy, backed down and returned to the continent.

Within five years, King Henry secured his power within the kingdom of England.

He invaded Normandy in 1105 CE, finally conquering the Duchy by 1106 CE during his rule over England and Normandy for the next 29 years of his rule being unchallenged by internal rebellion.

King Stephen of England

England’s Last Norman King

King Stephen I of England ruled from 1135 CE to 1154 CE.

He was a direct descendant through a daughter of William the Conqueror.

He was made king after William Atheling died during the tragedy of the White Ship in 1120 CE, which cost King Henry the only male and legitimate successor, barring his daughter Empress Matilda and her children.

Stephen secured his kingship due to a coup d’état against his first cousin Matilda, the wife of Geoffrey Plantagenet, the Count of Anjou, with the Anglo-Norman and Angevin nobility having a deep-seated animosity.

This hatred and mutual distrust, particularly of the Norman and English churches, was against the woman’s rule.

King Stephen had the support of his primary Archbishop and supporter during his rule, his youngest brother, Henry Bishop of Winchester.

The churchmen of Normandy and England were incredibly against the rule of a woman due to the Roman Catholic Church being predominantly controlled by men and having a celibate nature to the institution growing from religious reforms.

It was the male-only inclusiveness of men at the exclusion of women and the fact that the Norman dynastic succession was ad hoc and contradictory, which meant that any political claimant with the appropriate support and a strong chance of claiming the English crown.

In the historical context of the time and the 11th century, England was conquered twice, first by Cnut the Great in 1016 CE and then by William the Conquer in 1066 CE.

The English crown changed hands Ten times with Alethred, Sven Forkbeard, Alethred, Edmund Ironside, Cnut, Harold, Cnut II, Eadward II, William the Conquer, and William II.

By looking at the context and support of the churchmen, we can see why Kings relied so much upon the church and nobility’s approval and why King Stephen was openly chosen to be the King of England.

During his 19 years of rule, he was dominated by civil war. Ultimately, the continuous support from the Anglo-Norman church in England maintained his power and his life even when he was briefly captured by the forces of Emperor Matilda in 1141 CE.

In 1141 CE, Stephen was captured at Lincoln, and his defeat seemed certain.

However, Matilda’s arrogant behaviour antagonised even her own supporters (Angevins), and Stephen was released in exchange for her captured ally and illegitimate half-brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester.