miercuri, 29 noiembrie 2017

The Monarchy vs. the Church in Medieval England

   We know from history that church and religion had always played an important role in uniting Empires or bringing them down. Looking trough out England we see the importance, the struggles and developments of church and different religious believes. Through various periods many conflicts between the state and church raised, but also many benefits on both sides prevailed.
The Middle Ages followed the fall of Western Roman Empire and the Christian Religion was put to an end after the decline of Romans in England.  The Roman occupation was driven out of what we know today as “England” and “Wales” by multiple attacks from Germanic invaders and hordes of Saxons from the east, Irish and Attacotti tribe from the west. By the early 400’s the Western Roman Empire effectively withdrawn from Britain and in it’ s place a new wave of migration came.
In the 440’s under the Anglo-Saxons worshiped multiple pagan gods.
Later on, wanting to eliminate paganism, Gregory I sent 40 monks as missionaries to England. Augustine, leader of the missionaries, after negotiations with King Ethelbert of Kent was granted land at Canterbury and built a monastery there, him becoming the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
Believing that the hierarchical model of the Church would grant them royal authority, the Anglo Saxons encouraged English conversion. The Church gave educated advisers and administrators, through whom the kings benefited on a more efficient control of the kingdoms. The Church and the state established this connection at an early stage in English history.
In the Early Middle Ages the structure of societies was hierarchical. The king was the absolute monarch and under him were the noblemen called “thegns” and the freemen called “churls”. The geburs and the slaves were the lower classes with almost no rights.
In 757 Offa was crowned, he continued Ethelbald’s work conquering Kent, Sussex, Anglia and a part of Wessex, naming himself “King of All England”. In his lifetime England prospered and began to emerge as a European power. However, shortly after his death Mercia collapsed under Anglo-Saxon dynasties and Vikings raids and invasion.
The Vikings attacked monasteries and damaged English learning and Latin fall out of use.
After campaigns against the Vikings Alfred the Great (849- 899 – crowned 871) helped repair the ravages and he himself translated a series of books, one of them being Pope Gregory’s Pastoral Care. His most important act was to unify Roman, Christian and Saxon law in the Doom book (the basis of modern British law). The period of peace under Alfred’s successors ended with a campaign of destructions conducted by the Vikings.
During the Middle Ages the Church provided religious leadership. Slowly but gradually she become one of the most powerful institutions. In this period the Christian Churches suffered a schism and the Orthodox Christian Church appeared in the east and the Roman Catholic in the west. The power on the Roman Catholic Church was granted to the Pope, him being the head of the church. Below the Pope were in this order : the cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests. The Pope had all the necessary authority of religious as well as political leader.
 At that time peasants had strong religious beliefs and they thought that in order to escape punishment they had to keep sacred spiritual rituals, and be part of sacraments. They believed in God, Heaven and Hell and they were thought that their salvation from Hell was the Church and her way of leading them away from sins.
The Church became a set of politics and dominated all the aspects of life including publications of books and even policy making of the state.
Under William of Normandy (crowned on Christmas Day 1066) the Christian Church also became rich and powerful in England and Wales. Many Churches, Cathedrals and a great stone tower were built. Practices from Normandy were introduced trough new churchmen.
About this time the first Crusade took place. In 1095 the religious war started, and it was a military campaign against Muslims of Middle East. It was aiming to purge the dominant Muslims from the holy lands. They were led by European kings and nobles and used to travel in groups with red crosses stitched to their clothes. The campaign was barbaric and included mass executions of Muslims and Jews.
Back to William the Conqueror, he was succeeded by his sons, William II and Henry I, tough Henry’s only son drowned in “The white Ship” leaving a question over succession.
 Eventually Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois was crowned. And on Stephen’s death King Henry II was crowned and he became the most powerful ruler in Europe.
The power of England growing so did the power of the church, after various interferences Henry decided to try to manipulate the situation by making Thomas A Becket, his loyal friend,  the Archbishop of Canterbury.
But the appointment of his friend in this new role did not go as he wanted. Becket began to follow a strict path being now loyal to the Church. He didn’t allowed Henry to control him and he even fled to France in 1164. Reconciliation between this two old friends was irremediable wrecked after six years when Becket punished the bishops who had supported the King. Henry II got so angry that he ordered four knights to take care of the matter. In the end they killed Thomas A Becket in the Canterbury Cathedral. 
After Becket’s death, Pope Alexander III increased Church’s influence, using this opportunity of Henry not being able to resist. Thomas A Becket’s murder changed the relations between Church and State until Reformation.
King John , was crowned in 1199 after conspiring against his father, Henry II, and his brothers. He is remembered as the king that angered the Pope and got the Church services suspended. He lost vast territories in France and increased taxes on his subjects. This led to a rebellion that later obligated him to put his seal on Magna Carta.
The Magna Carta is an important legal document in the beginning history of democracy. Among the 63 most important Magna Carta clauses were those guaranteeing the freedom to the Church to make it’s own appointments.
The Late Middle Ages started with the reign of Edward I and the rise of the Parliament. His successors took steps to restore the royal power, but the Black Death arrived in England.
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. The term of “bubonic plague” refers the most common variant of it. It was so devastating that the churches ran out of land for graves and resorted in burials in “plague pits”.
The deadly sickness triggered different reactions, in face of death some turned their face to the Church, prayed and made rituals for salvations and others looked away and lost confidence in church.
With the number of priests decreasing and the one of deaths increasing rapidly, Pope Clement VI granted remission of sins to all who died of Black Death.  The church charged money for some of their services and as a result it quickly became richer.
Many believed that the plague was God’s punishment for sinful ways. They went as far as to accuse minorities that they engineered the plague.
We can see through history that Christianity became an influential force in society always being in the center of power. It was not only part of the religious culture but also took power in administration, law and government.

Bejan, R. Britain Past and Present ( Iași, Institutul European)
Okland, J. British Civilization – An Introduction
Parkinson, J. Remember, Remember – the fifth of November ( Michael O’Mara Books Limited)

Nota bene!
This is are some notes I made for my homework on English Civilization back in 2016

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