Rockingham Council Cut Anselm

Dan Graves, MSL

Rockingham Council Cut Anselm

In the eleventh century, when the papacy split between pope Urban II and antipope Clement, it affected the whole Christian world, including faraway England. King William Rufus, in a moment of serious illness, "repented." He compelled Anselm to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Later, he regretted this choice. When Anselm asked for permission to obtain his pallium (a white, woolen band indicating high church authority) from the pope, William asked which pope. "Urban, of course," said Anselm.

Seeking a quarrel with the scholarly archbishop, the king said that it was not the archbishop's decision to choose who would be recognized as pope by England. Anselm might as well try and take the crown from him! Anselm defended himself as best he could. He said that he could loyally serve both pope and king, and persuaded William to summon a council of bishops and nobility to resolve the issue.

On this day, March 11, 1095, the bishops and nobles met in Rockingham. The king maneuvered behind the scenes. Anselm himself addressed the assembly. "My brethren, Sons of the Church of God, for so I call all you who are assembled here in the name of the Lord, please pay attention and on the question which you have been convened to discuss give to the best of your ability the help of your considered opinion." He reminded the bishops that when he was forced to become Archbishop, he had plainly declared his allegiance to Urban. "At that time, no one had a complaint against me," he protested.

Now he asked them to "examine whether it be possible for me, while retaining allegiance to the King, to keep obedience to the Apostolic See." He added, "To me it is a terrible thing to show disrespect to and disown the Vicar of St. Peter; a terrible thing, too, to transgress the allegiance which under God I have promised to maintain to the King; terrible most of all to be told that it will be impossible for me to be true to one of these loyalties without being false to the other."

The nobles and bishops feared William too much to stand with Anselm. Anselm declared he would yield to Caesar what was Caesar's and to God what was God's. The bishops turned against him, refusing to bear his reply to the king. They urged him to yield, pointing out that Urban was too far away to help him. When Anselm could not be turned from his determination and no accusations or arguments stood up to his wise answers, the king renounced him as Archbishop and required everyone else to do the same. The bishops complied, but the nobles put them to shame by refusing to follow their quisling example.

William secretly obtained the pallium and tried to browbeat Anselm into receiving it from his hand. Anselm would not give in. Eventually, the king had to allow a bishop to take the pallium to Canterbury and lay it on the altar, where Anselm, as highest clergyman in the land, placed it on himself, demonstrating that his authority came from the church, not the king.


  1. "Anselm, St". Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
  2. "Anselm, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  3. Dark, Sidney. Seven Archbishops. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1944.
  4. Eadmer. The Life of St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury. Edited with introd., notes, and translation by R.W. Southern. New York: T. Nelson, 1962.
  5. Hook, Walter Farquhar, 1798-1875. Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London, R. Bentley, 1865 - 1884.
  6. McKilliam, Annie E. A Chronicle of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London: J. Clarke, 1913.
  7. Rigg, J. M. St. Anselm of Canterbury, a chapter in the history of religion. London: Methuen & co., 1896.
  8. Rule, Martin. The Life and Times of St. Anselm: Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Britains. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, 1883.
  9. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated May, 2007.

Originally published April 28, 2010.

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