Front Page Titles (by Subject) AN UNPUBLISHED REVOCATIO OF HENRY II 1 - The Collected Papers of Frederic William Maitland, vol. 3
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AN UNPUBLISHED “REVOCATIO” OF HENRY II 1 - Frederic William Maitland, The Collected Papers of Frederic William Maitland, vol. 3 
The Collected Papers of Frederic William Maitland, ed. H.A.L. Fisher (Cambridge University Press, 1911). 3 Vols. Vol. 3.
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AN UNPUBLISHED “REVOCATIO” OF HENRY II1
Under the above heading, in a recent number of this Review2 , Mr Herbert brought to light a document that he had unearthed from “a late fifteenth-century copy3 .” Grateful to him for his discovery, I none the less think that some one should enter a modest caveat against this document, more especially because all that concerns the murder of Becket still interests many people who have little time or taste for critical study. Now, if genuine, this instrument is of first-rate importance, for in clear words it tells us how Henry II in the hour of his penance formally and solemnly abandoned that profitable guardianship of vacant churches which was exercised by him, his predecessors, and successors, and whereout they sucked no small advantage. Here upon the threshold is a reason for circumspection. When compared with all the concessions that Henry unquestionably made at Avranches, a renunciation of la régale, as Frenchmen conveniently call it, would have been so supremely important that surely we should long ago have heard of this splendid triumph won for the churches by the martyred archbishop. And then, when this grand surrender was disregarded, and the king went back to the bad old way, surely a shameless breach, not merely of plighted faith, but of a written and producible charter, would have raised a storm of execration audible through all the ages.
Circumspecte agamus. Let us look at the form of this instrument, for its form is very curious. In reproducing its initial lines I will, within brackets, suggest two small changes (an ablative for a dative) which, so I think, will greatly improve the style, but fatally damage the substance.
In Dei nomine Amen etc. Anno domini millesimo c. lxxiiij. Coram venerabilibus in Christo patribus et dominis Alberto divina dignacione tituli Sancti Laurencii in Lucina et Theodino tituli Sancti Vitalis presbiteris Cardinalibus et apostolice sedis legatis. Priori [but read legatis, Priore] et conuentui [but read conuentu] Ecclesie Cantuarie ac aliis quamplurimis regni Anglie personis in ecclesia conuentuali Sancte Trinitatis Cantuarie predicte congregatis. Nos Henricus Dei gracia Rex Anglie, Dux Normannie etc....in hiis scriptis publice et palam reuocamus...concedimus...volumus...promittimus...Acta sunt hec anno supradicto.
Now Mr Herbert and his immediate warrantor, who lived in the fifteenth century, see here a letter addressed by Henry II to the prior of Canterbury and some other people. Mr Herbert adds that “obviously the date should be 1172,” not 1174, and suggests that the letter was written at Avranches, where Henry met the cardinals. But, I would ask, have we often seen a mediaeval letter which took the following form?
In the Name of God Amen. On such a day. In the presence of so and so. To so and so. We Henry...revoke...grant...promise. These things were done on such a day.
There is no Salutem, no Noverit, no Sciatis, no Valete, no Data, no reference to seal or signature. The names of the witnesses, if any, stand at the beginning. And who are the addressees? “The prior and convent of the church of Canterbury and very many other persons of the realm of England congregated in the aforesaid church of the Holy Trinity at Canterbury.” Have we often seen the like of that address? And, on the other hand, do not the initial and final words of this instrument, the initial In Dei nomine Amen and the final Acta sunt hec etc., seem to be those of no letter but of an “act,” the record of an ecclesiastical court?
In truth a few strokes of the pen—nearly as few as will turn 1174 into 1172—will convert this highly irregular letter into a respectably regular “act.” Thus:—
In the Name of God Amen. On such a day, etc., in the presence of the Legates, the Prior and Convent of Canterbury, and divers other persons of the realm of England congregated in the church of Canterbury, We, Henry...revoke...grant...promise...These things were done on such a day.
To this my reply must be that this document seems to me to be trying its hardest to tell just that plain untruth. Not, perhaps, with guilty intent, for it may be the outcome of some innocent exercise in the art of composing acta, and a forger who thought that he could, with impunity, put a pair of papal legates just wherever he pleased would have had much to learn in his nefarious business.
As to the date, it confirms my suspicion. In 1174, as anybody might easily learn, Henry was at Canterbury, and a penitential scene was enacted in the cathedral. It was a memorable scene, even though the cardinals were not presiding and the guardianship of widowed churches was not renounced.
English Historical Review, Oct., 1899.
Ib., XIII. 507.
Brit. Mus. Add. 34807.