Papal support – In the spring of 1066 Duke William of Normandy sent Gilbert, Archdeacon of Lisieux, to Rome as his messenger to enlist the support of Pope Alexander II 1061-73 for his plans to dispute King Harold's succession to the English throne by force of arms.
The Duke's adviser, Abbot Lanfranc of Saint-Etienne at Caen, had drawn up the Norman case, of which the main argument was that Harold had committed perjury and that therefore the Duke was justified in using violence against him.
The Pope, a friend of Lanfranc from their schooldays in northern Italy, happily gave his blessing to William's enterprise, and according to the Norman sources he sent a papal banner as sign of his approval.
The position of Pope Alexander II (r.1061 - 1073) in Rome was precarious - he was threatened on many political fronts:
- by the Emperor Henry IV,
- by an anti-Pope Honorious II, and
- by the Lombards and the Greeks on mainland Italy.
Alexander was supported by his advisor and heir-apparent, Chancellor Hildebrand. However, Norman support was crucial for his own political and personal survival on the Italian mainland.
By giving a Papal “blessing” and thus a papal banner to Roger de Hauteville for his conquest of Sicily, Alexander was securing future support for his own cause.
However, in this instance, the papal banner was granted to Roger to aid his removal not of another Christian power but of non-Christians - that is: Muslims.
It was purely a matter of politics not religion that prompted William to seek, and Alexander to give, the papal banner (1063-1065).
There are two arguments that could be made:
- that William was appealing to the Papacy on a matter of inheritance, involving the question of “laesio fidei”. Now, the Papacy was within it rights to adjudge matters of inheritance - however, whilst not in a position to dispose of the English Crown, the Curia could be asked to consider the respective titles or claims of the disputants.
- that William promised Alexander that he would “clean up” the corruption within the English Church - which was the removal of Archbishop Stigand from Canterbury, whose election was considered irregular Robert of Jumiéges had been elected (1050) however, when Edward the Confessor removed all Normans from power (c.1052), Robert fled back to Normandy and Stigand was eventually elected). However, with the advantage of hindsight, Stigand was not removed until four years after the Conquest (1070).
When Harold broke his 'oath' to support Duke William's claim to the English throne, it fell on two members of the church to find a solution from which the Church would most benefit.
- Prior Lanfranc of the Abbey of Bec, a trusted servant to Duke William, who was entrusted to go yet again to Rome to gain papal support for William.
- While in Rome, Archdeacon Hildebrand (future pope Gregory VII), the political power behind the papal throne, had his own plans far beyond assisting the Norman Duke.
It is probable that these two formidable ecclesiastical politicians had met on Lanfranc's earlier mission to Rome to obtain papal sanction and blessing on the marriage of Duke William and Matilda. This mission was successful and we can assume that two such similar clergymen established a strong and useful partnership.
Archdeacon Hildebrand's plan was to establish a temporal power base throughout Italy and beyond, by using those newly seized lands established by Norman mercenaries, such as Robert Guiscard Conqueror of Naples.
Some of these new nobles had sworn themselves as fiefs to Holy Mother Church, thus these 'Priest-Knights' obtained political recognition through the Church.
By increasing the number of devoted Normans willing to conquer new lands for the church and establish new fiefs, Rome could obtain a massive power base not only in Italy but over the alps and indeed wherever such fiefs could be founded.
The Archdeacons only problem was the lack of Normans capable of seizing such lands. It would further these plans greatly if the Duke of Normandy and perhaps the future King of England would give his support if not his available nobles.
There also arose the question that if Duke William was willing to submit to the authority of Rome on a temporal matter, namely the question of the succession, would William be willing to submit England as a fief to Rome!
It was with these prizes in mind that Archdeacon Hildebrand used his considerable power within the Assembly of Cardinals to promote and support the claims of William Duke of Normandy.
Prior Lanfranc presented the arguments in support of William, while Hildebrand brought about the decision. For not only was Harold of England on trail as an oath breaker and a violator of sacred relics but also the Church and State of England was brought under question.
The King of England had not sent the levy to Rome known as Peter's Pence (A substantial subsidy paid to the papacy since the 9thC), the Church in England had allowed the act of simony to spread within its body and it was argued by William's envoys that the state of England had descended into a near barbarous condition (proven to be untrue in 1062 by visiting papal legates) and that only by the appointment of a of King who was a God fearing dutiful son to the Holy Father would England be restored into the brotherhood of the Christian World.
It was clear that some of these charges were unreasonable;-
- England had a most devout ecclesiastical body with a church that owned nearly 20% of the landed wealth
- Simony and the withholding of Peter's Pence was common among many other Christian lands also, could not be presented at the trial.
- Also, a Papal legate in 1062 found no issue with the English church, even with the murky 'Archbishop Stigand?
With such evidence and interests, the excommunication of Harold was foregone.
Papal support in the form of the Papal Banner, a Relic and a Papal Blessing were (supposedly) issued.
While copies of the Papal Blessing were made and sent from the Abbey of Bec to all those heads of state who may wish to join William in his crusade, clearly indicating the position of the Church.
In fact, prior to the “conquest”, the Church held only 20% of lands - whilst after 1066, they gained a mere 5% more.
These were only issued by the papacy during this era to endorse wars against muslims or against those who had rebelled against Papal authority (Harold had not) and NOT against fellow Christians.
They were also only associated with the remission of sins and not for the penances that were later imposed on the Normans by Erminfrid of Sion in 1070.
Had the pope ever actually issued a commission to William at all?
Peter’s Pence had been promptly paid to the Vatican since Alfred’s time, without demur.- why would the papacy back an unknown quantity against an established and major European power who had loyally subjected themselves to the papacy for over a century and a half?
“A realistic assessment of the probabilities would appear to indicate that no Papal support was in fact provided for William’s expedition.”
Ian Walker (“Harold: The last Anglo-Saxon King”)
William of Jumieges never mentioned one, but contemporaries who did mention a Papal banner are;
William of Poiters
"the gift of a banner as a pledge of the support of St. Peter whereby he might the more confidently and safely attack his enemy."
("The Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans and King of the English").
William of Malmesbury
"That no rashness might stain his righteous cause he sent to the Pope, formerly Anselm, bishop of Lucca, asserting the justice of the war he had undertaken with all the eloquence at his command. Harold neglected to do this; either because he was too proud by nature, or because he mistrusted his own cause, or because he feared that his messengers would be hindered by William and his associates, who were watching all the ports. The Pope weighed the arguments on both sides, and then sent a banner to William as an earnest of his kingdom."
(“Gesta Regum” )
While the question as to if William promised to make England a Papal fief continued to be denied throughout William's life. Is it coincidence that Archdeacon Hildebrand's plans never succeeded, as William's possible support through Norman adventurers failed to appear?
By 1066 William was now 'free' of all hostile, rival neighbours through conquest or natural death, whilst England was completely isolated.
The papacy was key- William sent envoys to Rome, but Harold did not.
William's envoys visited;-
- ·Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, William's embassy's visit here was a partial success, the Emp's advisors (in his minority) refused to directly aid William but agreed to defend Normandy from any aggressors, thus denying all potential English allies in Europe from getting through- if any defied the Pope?
- ·Swein II had his own designs for England, and also refused martial aid to Tostig, but did swear not to press his claims or send aid to H either (which he unofficially did for H anyway by allowing mercenaries to sail to Harold. Did Swein tell William's embassy of T's earlier visit?). Some say that Swein promised William support- even if nominal- from fear of Hardrada.
- ·King Philip of France next. William swore to pay homage to Philip for the kingdom of England!! IRONIC? Philip's advisors(inluding Baldwin- William's own father-in-law) wouldn't give troops, they were fearful of william growing too powerful. They argued that if they supported him and he was successful, it would cost them too dear in knights and money for little return, whereas if he failed they would face the wrath of an all-powerful harold!
- ·Baldwin of Flanders- ruling france during the young french King Philip's minority, was effectively William's vassal, but as his father-in-law he swore to safeguard Matilda and eldest son Robert in Normandy while William was on campaign. He cannily avoided giving direct aid(despite Flemish/English traditional hostility, ie.Viking raids from Flanders in the past and harbouring exiled enemies of England) only a promise of neutrality, despite harbouring Tostig(his in-law as was Harold!)- enemy now of England.
- ·Pope Alexander II Spring Finally William sent an embassy, led by Archdeacon Gilbert of Liseux, to the pope in S.Italy (put into power by the Norman, R.Guiscard in the early 1060's) in a masterstroke of PR and desperately needing to uphold his shaky claim to the English throne (mainly Ed's "promise" of 1051 and Harold's "oath" of 1064), gave his blessing to William for a 'Crusade' to England(under obligation?)- supposedly giving his embassy a Papal banner- thus effectively barring any European 'Christian' nation from aiding the 'usurper' and 'sacriligious' Harold,
Why did King Harold not even bother to send one to Rome?
- ·Harold's supporter Archbishop Stigand of York would not be recognised by the Papacy- despite Archbishop Ealdred having the main role in his crowning.
- ·He knew the Pope had been placed in office by the powerful Norman-Sicilians (The pope was threatened by the Emperor Henry IV, by an anti-Pope Honorious II, and by the Lombards and the Greeks on mainland Italy. Therefore, appeasing the Normans was paramount.), thus it was a waste of time.
- ·English succession was NOT a papal matter, but for the Witan, so inconsequential. A bastard had no claim to the crown, under English law.
- ·Maybe he remembered Tostig's almost disastrous embassy to another pro-Norman Pope (Nicholas II) in 1061- where Bishop Ealdred was also present?
- ·Maybe he remembered the narrowly avoided "ambushes" on his own travels on the continent during the 1050’s - now all 'hostile' to him via William and the pope, that had been laid for him whilst escorting the aetheling during 1057?