Friday, 19 September 2014

Becket's Spy Ring

Extract from a letter from John of Salisbury to Bartholemew, bishop of Exeter

John Allen Giles (1846). The Life and Letters of Thomas À Becket: Now First Gathered from the Contemporary Historians. Whittaker and Company. pp. 400–.

"Everything around us is so beset with spies and snares, that good and honest people do not dare to express their thoughts freely to one another, either by word of mouth or by letter. Iniquity is daily forming paltry schemes against innocence: conscience is constantly goading it on, and so all men and all things around them abound with treachery and suspicion."

Extract from

Frank Barlow (1990). Thomas Becket. University of California Press. pp. 129–30. ISBN 978-0-520-07175-9.

Thomas was always a fighter. He took up the struggle immediately and
pursued it to the end. He quickly established a widespread intelligence
network. Herbert was probably his spy-master and the outstations were
at Rheims (John of Salisbury), which was well placed to get news from
Germany, especially through Gerard la Pucelle, Rouen (Nicholas, prior and
guestmaster of the hospital of Mont-St-Jacques) and Poitiers (Bishop John).
The main apparent weaknesses (it has to be remembered that some secret
sources may have been successfully concealed) were the lack of really productive
agents in the papal and royal courts. Although Master Lombard joined
the curia probably at the beginning of 1169 there was never a great flow
of top-level information. And, although Thomas always had sympathizers
in the royal court, Walter de Lisle was uncovered at the end of 1166 and
the trickle of news seems never to have been sufficient to give the exiles
a full understanding of the royalist plans and manoeuvres. Also, Nicholas
soon pulled out and in the end the two Johns were discouraged. Thomas
then relied increasingly on William, archbishop of Sens, and other French
bishops and supporters. The dossier of this largely secret, and from the
king's point of view treasonable, correspondence is enormous: some 700
items; and most business was done by word of mouth.

Herbert of Bosham mentions there were secret sympathizers in the royal court,
Materials Vol iii. p. 412.


Frances Andrews; Brenda M. Bolton; Christoph Egger; Constance M. Rousseau (2004). Pope, church, and city: essays in honour of Brenda M. Bolton. Anne J. Duggan: Thomas Becket's Italian Network: BRILL. pp. 177–. ISBN 90-04-14019-0.

Charles Donahue jun., ‘Pucelle, Gerard (d. 1184)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Nature of Hagiography

When composing the Life of a Saint, the hagiographer's purpose, the hagiographic method, is to place a very large emphasis, in its pattern of composition, on narration rather than on historical facts. The subject's saintly life and attitude to faith and God become more important, and, of course, the miracles that were said to flow from his/her death and relics. The story of saints were used by the Church as part of its teaching.

The evolution of a cult of a saint is a legitimate study for a scientific historian, its effect on a society. the question why someone became a saint. The provable and confirmable events in the life of a "political saint" like Becket are also legitimate to study, and the history which surround them. Selective recourse to hagiographies may be necessary, as the only documents necessarily available.

The historian's purpose, however, is not to make anyone a national hero, or a saint, or to judge what or who was good or bad, nor to criticise historical holocausts, but to organise and make sense of the events that have occurred in the past. Interpretations of these and statements about lessons for the future must clearly be identified as  personal opinion.

Readers and consumers of history are expected to be critical in their understanding of the topics they are studying.


John Anthony Burrow; Ian P. Wei (2000). Medieval Futures: Attitudes to the Future in the Middle Ages. Phyllis B. Roberts: Prophecy, Hagiography and St Thomas of Canterbury: Boydell & Brewer. pp. 67–. ISBN 978-0-85115-779-5.