Archbishop Anselm 1093-1109: Bec missionary,
Canterbury Primate, Patriarch of another world
Sally N. Vaughn
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code
NESTLING quietly in the Eure Valley, not far from
Rouen, the Abbey of Bec, it is easy to forget, was one of the most
important religious houses of its day. Monks of Bec were ubiquitous
in the revitalisation of the religious life in 11th-century
Normandy. It is no coincidence that the main hostelry in the little
village outside the abbey gates is called Le Cantorbery, as,
post-Conquest, the abbey was also to play no small part in the life
of the see of Canterbury: Archbishop Lanfranc was a monk of Bec, as
was his pupil and successor, St Anselm.
In this book, part of Ashgate's Archbishops of
Canterbury Series, Sally N. Vaughn adds to her already considerable
contribution to our understanding of Anselm, and of the life of the
English Church in his day. She does so in seven chapters,
introducing us first to the important letters that survive in the
archives at Lambeth Palace, and then considering the importance of
Anselm's identity as a monk of Bec; his view of the Southern
Primate's ministry; his stormy relationship with William Rufus: "an
old sheep yoked to a wild bull"; the total breakdown of the
relationship between Archbishop and King, and Anselm's exile in
Rome; Anselm's return to England after Rufus's suspicious death,
and his more peaceful dealings with Henry I; and, finally, his
elevation of the see of Canterbury to a position of power, dignity,
and influence which it had not previously enjoyed, and which
brought him into inevitable conflict with Archbishops Gerard and
Thomas II of York.
The book closes with a good number of documents
relating to each chapter, each presented in the original with an
English translation directly opposite: a great boon to students
whose grasp of Latin may be shaky.
Given that Vaughn is based at the University of
Houston, it should not surprise us that this study of an Italian
man who became a French monk and then an English archbishop is
aimed at an American market. The quaint spellings and the dots
after contractions become less grating as the book progresses, and
although the layout of the introduction is odd in places, the rest
of the book is an easy read, with the added benefit of notes at the
bottom of the page rather than at the end
of the chapter - which can be infuriating. There is the odd slip
- the curse of the auto-correct function, for example, which
renders "plantatio" as "plantation" - but nothing that detracts
from the overall usefulness and excellence of the whole.
In this work, Vaughn seeks to illuminate three
particular areas: the influence of Bec on Anselm's work at
Canterbury; the circumstances surrounding the death of William
Rufus; and the conflict between Anselm and Rufus - on which she
provides a reading that reassesses and, to some extent, mitigates
the obloquy cast on the King by successive historians.
On Anselm the theologian, the book does not supersede
the earlier scholarship of the late Sir Richard Southern and
others; nor is that its aim. Rather, Vaughn seeks to present a
reassessment of Anselm's states-manship - "[his] view of God's
cause in England" - and does so admirably.
Dr James is Visiting Tutor in Ecclesiastical
History at St Stephen's House, Oxford.