On this day in 1095 the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of the land, the nobles and the King came together at the Council of Rockingham, to discuss some shit about the pallium and receiving it from the pope. It probably tells us something about the popularity of the king and the archbishop among their own peers, that the bishops sided with the king in the argument that ensued and the nobles sided with the archbishop. There was, of course, a bit of fallout after the event, but in order to have the faintest idea what they were arguing about in the first place, it’s necessary to have a little bit of context. These medieval types were very complicated and decidedly odd.
The archbishop in question was called Anselm. All things considered he was probably a good one. He was quite holy, cared about reforming the church and all those nice sorts of things, although that said, he had a fair amount of money, so his holiness only went so far. Like just about anyone with a bit of influence, he was of the French persuasion and had been the abbot of a monastery in Normandy before his accession to Canterbury. He and the king were at loggerheads from the get go. That king was William II better known as William Rufus.
Rufus’s image has been handed down to us by the chroniclers of the time. They hated him, but this was because he didn’t give a flying fart about the church. As a result they painted the picture of an evil man whose court was corrupt and a non-stop of orgy of, well orgy type things; mostly sex but also cruelty and devil worship. The chroniclers were pretty much the Daily Mail of the Middle Ages. Rufus was no angel and he was exceptionally spoilt and greedy, but unfortunately his life wasn’t a crazy merry-go-round of debauchery, he just didn’t care to be all pious, which was pretty unusual in his day and age.
There are two other issues that need to be considered in this vastly unimportant affair: the papacy and the pallium. At the time there were two popes, well a pope and an Antipope (please note this is not the same as an Antichrist, although it would be a lot more fun if it was). Urban II (named because he was well into Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah) was the pope most people recognised, Clement III was the Antipope. William Rufus decided that he preferred Clement III and wasn’t going to recognise Urban. Confused yet? Well here comes the pallium! It’s a strip of material that goes over the bishop’s frock and when seen from either the front or the back is shaped like the letter Y. The only person who could bestow it was the pope and at this point in the Catholic church’s illustrious history, the pope was making bishops pay big money to get one off him. Those popes and their simony! What a bunch of utter thieving bastards!
So, there’s the background. More or less. The council was called because Anselm wanted to go to Rome to get his pallium, but Rufus didn’t want him to go because he wasn’t down with Urban and, to be perfectly honest, because he just liked making life difficult for Anselm who got right on his tits. The council ended in deadlock and when the bishops all legged it down to the pub, Rufus phoned Rome and made Urban send a legate over – a special emissary type, from his mouth to the pope’s mouldy ear, sort of person – and to bring the pallium or else. The legate came, so did the pallium. Rufus suddenly found he could pick out Urban in a crowd. He told Anselm he could have the pallium, but he wasn’t going to get it from the pope, but from William himself. Anselm sulked, there was more fannying about and eventually Anselm got his letter Y, but not long after that he had to go into exile because Rufus was so irritated by him that he threatened to punch him up the throat.
Anselm’s exile did not last for too long; by 1100 William Rufus was dead by an arrow through the chest. There are many versions of how this came to be. The most popular is that someone mistook him for a squirrel and fired the arrow at him by mistake. This is a lovely story, but William Rufus did not look like a squirrel (he had blond hair, a ruddy face, wall-eyes and a pot-belly). Another story is that he was hit by an arrow that was intended for a stag but misfired. This may be the truth, or he may, as many believe, have been murdered for taking too much money off the church and getting too many backs up. Either way, he was dead, Anselm was back in the hood and Urban, well Urban was probably spinning some radical mash-ups back in the Vatican.
There is something to be learned from this strange and convoluted tale. People have odd notions that life was simpler and less confusing in ye olden days and this small snapshot from days of yore proves once and for all that it really bloody was not!
Today was the birthday of George Harrison, the best looking of all the Beatles. He played guitar and wrote some beautiful music, including Something, which is rated by those who know about these sort of things, as one of the most beautiful songs ever written.
In the aftermath of the Beatles split, Harrison continued to create music as a solo artist and many years later with The Travelling Wilburys. He also became an accidental film producer when he stepped in to help out the Monty Python team whose Life of Brian had been left high and dry by EMI who pulled out because they were a bit scared of the material. Harrison got together the £2 million they needed to get the film made. He hadn’t intended to go into the film business, but he did and over the next 16 years produced films such as Mona Lisa and Withnail and I before selling his company – Handmade Films – in 1994.
In many ways, George was the easiest Beatle to like. He didn’t divide opinion like John did, he was far nicer to look at than Ringo and he didn’t have a mouth like a cat’s arse, like Paul. His death in 2001, nearly 21 years after the murder of Lennon, was another hard loss for all fans of the Beatles, anyone who’d enjoyed the films he’d helped to get made, and for many who just thought he was a top bloke who should have hung around for a lot longer.
These small paragraphs cannot really do justice to George Harrison, so go and read more about him, listen to Something, chant Hare Krishna and when night falls, look up at the stars and wish a very lovely man a very happy birthday. Thank you for all of it, George, especially Mandy mother of Brian!