England under the Normans and Angevins, 1066-1272

By H. W. C. Davis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE BECKET CONTROVERSY

HENRY of Anjou ascended the throne with a fixed determination to ignore the predecessor upon whom, with some injustice, he laid the sole responsibility for nineteen years of anarchy. If he ever mentioned Stephen it was to call him a usurper; the arrogant and unforgiving temper of Matilda, to whom the youth owed his earliest lessons in the art of government, can be traced in this and in some other features of his early policy. He never extended his favour to those who had supported the dead king, but crushed them if he could, and, if he could not, let them understand that they were fortunate to keep their lands and titles. Henry of Blois, relegated, for the first time in his life to a position of obscurity, left England in profound chagrin; the earls of Stephen nursed their offended dignity at a safe distance from the court. But the old partisans of the Empress did not fare much better. Nigel of Ely, it is true, was invited to reorganise the Exchequer which his uncle, Bishop Roger, had virtually created; the advice of the Primate received the respectful attention which was due to his invaluable services. But the King's private ear was monopolised by new and unknown men; and he was an enigma to those by whose exertions he had been elevated to the throne. The little that they knew of him suggested gloomy apprehensions. They saw for themselves that he was rash and riotous and unconventional. They expected, from his record in Normandy and Anjou, to find him the slave of passion and intolerant of all restraining influences. He gave the impression of volcanic energy. There was little doubt that he would make his mark, but much doubt whether his reign would be for the good of Church or State. Rumour said that he disliked ecclesiastical pretensions, and the language of his friends gave countenance to the report.

Becket as Chancellor

-199-

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