“The consequences of Thomas Becket's death were a victory for King Henry II.” Assess the validity of this view with reference to the years 1170 to 1179. (45 marks)

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  “The consequences of Thomas Becket's death were a victory for King Henry II.” Assess the validity of this view with reference to the years 1170 to 1179. (45 marks)   Thomas Becket, first friend and then chancellor to the King of England progressed to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 and perhaps the most notable man of his time. His character and personality made him a person to be feared and respected, and Henry frequently felt the force of his uproars. During Becket's life and more especially after his promotion to primacy Becket caused trouble for Henry. 29 December 1170 saw Thomas Becket lying murdered in his own cathedral, dying as a martyr for the freedom and rights of the Church and also his own stubborn nature. Later consequences of Becket's demise proved somewhat victorious for Henry; however the immediate responses caused perhaps more trouble than Becket had. With his country in uproar Henry left for Ireland to sort out his affairs over there leaving his people to live and forget the Saint Thomas Becket. With an interdict laid on England by the Pope, Henry had good reason to leave, spiritually unprotected in an era when religion was paramount many people panicked and the favour towards Henry turned unfavourable. Seemingly un-victorious and troubled years, however Henry pulled through them remarkably well and deserves his modern title as being remembered as one of the greatest kings England ever had.   Henry entered England as King in 1154, taking over from his cousin Stephen's disastrous and anarchy-ridden reign. Reforms were set into place immediately, settling affairs in order to ease his reassertion of royal rights over the country, the nobility and the Church. Seeking to mould his reign into a latter version of his grandfather’s Henry I, Henry used the principles and guidelines he saw in place when he was young to build his new kingdom upon. Later known as the Constitutions of Clarendon Henry’s hostile takeover brought order and sense to a country confused and muddle by the rule of an incompetent. During his reforms, Henry II was able to take control over excess land, titles and Church offices, as such he became the possessor of many vacant sees taking the financial revenue for his treasury perhaps the most notable being ‘Canterbury’. When the death of Theobald of Bec the previous archbishop to Canterbury came Henry took the opportunity to post one of his men in this power role as the head of the English Church, it appeared a good idea to appoint a royal man. Through using Becket, Henry could more effectively subdue the Church and this regain control over it, limiting its outreach and hold on his kingdom, but what he failed to account for was Becket's change in attitude and his ultimate conversion to the powerful position he held. Once again no longer under secular influence, Henry lost his foothold to a man as obnoxious, stubborn and steadfast as himself. Once an ally, now an enemy it is unsurprising Becket’s death came from royal hands.   Thomas Becket was installed as archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 and his eight years of possessor of his highly coveted position was rife with struggle. In 1164 Henry II formalised the Constitutions of Clarendon and even had them written down to avoid loopholes and misinformation, counting on Becket to sign them, however now the Pope and God’s many Becket refused to have worldly laws restrict the Church and refused to sign it. An incensed Henry banished him and Becket ran away to France, clearly during Becket’s lifetime Henry would not be gaining the upper hand – or in his opinion, he would not have the chance to restore the natural order. One of his main goals of reformation – the reformation of religious control – was now indefinitely put on hold, un-victorious years were sure to follow with constant disagreements and fall outs between the once friends. Thus the aftermath of Becket’s death was so important to Henry, now free of his one opponent he was able to institute the rights and rules he had tried to implement nearly a decade earlier. The 1170s saw Henry gain great control over the Church and accomplish the deeds he had tried but failed to institute. In the 1170s, Henry was able to gain hold of any vacant ecclesiastical offices and appoint whomever he chose for example in 1173 Henry appointed six new bishops in rigged elections, with Becket out of the picture Henry was in charge again. Though an advocate for the Church, Becket proved unpopular among his fellow clergy who felt his open revolt against the King’s wishes went too far, believing instead that they should rather let Henry have the upper hand than be removed from their homes and employment. Perhaps then not ideal Church men, but the sort of Church men Henry would tolerate. And toleration meant safety. New appointments in every Church office were weak and servile and chosen especially to be docile and obedient to the state, the following two archbishops of Canterbury Richard and Baldwin were all those qualities and thus Henry’s voice became the predominant focus for the Church, whether they believed Henry ordered Thomas’ execution or not no one wanted to end up like Becket.   From the death of Thomas Becket, Henry gained a lot and certainly the upper hand. Eager to please, Pope Alexander III was keen to keep on good terms with Henry swiftly lifting the interdict that had been placed over England as a consequence of the murder. The Pope decided it was more advantageous to let Henry keep some of his constitutions that potentially face the gradual extermination of his clergy as so despite his insistence that Henry dropped the constitutions that affected the affairs and power of the Church, he was allowed to try clergy who had committed criminal offences in the lay court if it was their second or subsequent offence. Though not a complete victory, this was still an improvement and Henry saw himself as one step closer to his dream kingdom. Henry also gained the advantage when negotiating the issue of excommunication, as a consequence of Becket’s demise and the previous action of the young Henry’ coronation also in 1170 many royal officials and tenants-in-chief were excommunicated immediately and Henry himself receive threats of excommunication (albeit which never materialised). Henry did not like it that the Pope had so much power over England, perhaps even more than he did considering the importance of religion, and so he arranged that royal subjects could only be excommunicated through him, limiting the Pope’s power to excommunication of his clergy only. Henry also held the upper hand on Anglo-Rome communication disallowing all petitions to Rome except those that were favourable or neutral towards the crown with all those detrimental banned, Henry had to demonstrate to his kingdom that he was the superior power and the Church came second to him and through Becket’s death and the subsequent negotiations he was able to prove this.   The Constitutions of Clarendon still remained a touchy subject between Church and state, but Henry cleverly manoeuvred around the Pope’s words of having to repeal any new laws contrary to the Church, Henry maintained that they were ‘customs’ and ‘traditions’ and therefore not new but old and it was in fact the Church that was introducing new methods. Thus Henry was not limited by the agreement of the treaty of Avranches and was able to continue as before, except now he had no opposing figure for people to flock around. When negotiating terms with the papacy in the Concordat of Avranches in 1172 which aimed to secure terms that would allow the interdict on England to be removed and would reconcile Henry to the Church, it was required that Henry would serve a crusade in the East as part of his penance. Yet he managed to skip out of this as well. Instead founding several monasteries as a substitute and contributing 20,000 marks to the crusading cause. Having thus settled the disputation between the Church and state a relative calm was reignstated, through Henry's public displays of penance. Anxious for spiritual and worldly redemption his piety won him back the favour of his people and Henry was acquitted of any intentional wrongdoing.   Yet, despite these victories over Becket and more largely over the Church, Henry faced great problems during the aftermath of Thomas Becket’s death as well. 1170-1179 turned Henry II’s kingdom upside down, whilst in his death Becket became an idolised figure Henry was increasingly becoming represented as a tyrant. Though beneficial to him, the Concordat made at Avranches was also detrimental leaving him in debt to the papacy, having to accept humiliating terms that put him completely under the Pope’s control. His penance in 1774 at Canterbury, though a moral display for his people was another humiliating experience for Henry the Great King alongside the banning of the constitutions of Clarendon, Henry had been beaten down a long way from his high post. Perhaps the most dangerous part of the whole affair was the interdict laid over Henry’s continental lands, not just England where the event had taken place, but also his lands in France, the Aquitaine and Anjou, Normandy, Gascony and Poitou but also Ireland and this was a cause for alarm. With religion one of the most important factors of the medieval people’s lives an interdict was atrocious with a hold on all religious services marriages, christenings etc. Henry faced a potential divide in his ‘Angevin Empire’ when forced to choose between a King and a lifted interdict it is hard to say which they would have chosen had Henry waited longer to compromise with the papacy. Notwithstanding all of this perhaps the biggest threat to his fragile victory was the rebellion he faced in 1173-1174 from his family and nobility. Tired with his Henry-centric way of running things the determined to take the crown from him and so the little power Henry had regained after the murder of England's posthumously famous priest was slowly being sucked from him. His family united against him, most of whom held some of the most powerful land in France, Henry was genuinely faced with an adversary that would be able to beat him.   Becket’s death gave Henry the opportunity to press forward with the plans he had made with Becket for his kingdom that became impossible once Thomas turned against him and thwarted his plans at every corner. By playing against the Pope and the anti-pope Henry was able to secure terms and conditions that would be most advantageous for him and his kingdom. Though his victory seems easy and inevitable, the papacy had a real power hold over England and Henry really had to fight to loosen its grip on his lands. Despite the hardships he faced from family and subjects Henry virtually succeeded in restoring his lands to the position they were in during his grandfather’s reign; the goal he had set all along. The fact that he sunk and then triumphed over his adversary is a testament to his great strength of character and to the real power and authority he wielded and held not only over his lands and subjects but the subjects and lands he didn’t own and more especially his authority over the papacy. Historian Barber said that “with Becket gone Henry neither won nor lost” and this is perhaps the most accurate description of the whole affair, both triumphing and surrendering over and to different ideals it is hard to decide whether the wins make up for the losses and vice versa.      

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