Church and State

The changing balance of power between Church and State is a history of dynamic tension. Who should be in the ascendant the monarch who held possession of the land or the representatives of God on earth?

In the history of Charing Archbishop’s palace, these tensions were played out between successive kings and the most senior clergyman of the land – the Archbishop of Canterbury – and, in turn, the most senior churchman on earth, the Pope.

Kings sought to consolidate power by having their choice of archbishop confirmed by the pope and tie the Church’s power to theirs by making the archbishop an officer of the state. Eleven Archbishops of Canterbury were appointed to the most senior state position after the king, the Lord Chancellor, and three were made Keeper of the Seal.

Popes, in turn, sought to exercise their power over the king by their control of who could hold the See of Canterbury.

Of the eleven archbishop-chancellors, none better exemplified this tension than the first, Thomas Becket. It was a tension that severed the closest of friendships and earned Becket his death. See BECKET – MURDER, MIRACLES AND PILGRIMAGE for more on this story.

Where some fell out of favour with the king, others fell out of favour with the people for their perceived closeness to the king. Archbishop Simon Sudbury, Chancellor to the young King Richard II, became a focus of hate in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 and was beheaded after being captured by the mob.

Similarly Archbishop Morton, architect of the Tudor improvements to Charing Palace at the end of the 15th century, was unloved as an archbishop-chancellor by rich and poor alike for his innovative tax raising policies. See CHARING TALES – CHARING FORKS OUT for more. He, however, avoided Sudbury’s fate

Richard II’s tempestuous reign proved no easy time for his archbishop-chancellors. Thomas Arundel was a two time chancellor to Richard. Despite being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Richard in 1396, he immediately fell foul of the capricious king as a result of tensions between his brother and the king that stemmed from events ten years earlier.

Arundel’s brother, returning to England at the archbishop’s request on Richard’s promise of pardon, was executed for treason in 1397 and Arundel, threatened with his own trial on similar charges, Archbishop Arundel fled to Italy.

Arundel had his revenge two years later when he returned to England with Henry Bollingbroke who claimed the crown from Richard to become Henry IV. Arundel went on to serve Henry throughout his 14-year reign, as archbishop and as chancellor on two further occasions.

Perhaps the ‘perfect storm’ in Church-State politics was that surrounding the last archbishop to reside at Charing Palace – Thomas Cranmer.

Cranmer, in siding with his king in the secession of the Church of England from the Church of Rome in the Reformation and thereby putting his king above the pope, earned first excommunication for heresy in 1533 and then a fiery death on the same grounds at the hands of Henry VIII’s near successor, Queen Mary I, three years later.

Main image: Becket before Henry II – British Library 040005, detail/© British Library Board 2017