Monday, August 13, 2012

How to Piss off a King (aka Why you should Always Mean what you Say)

Now that I'm back home, I've been walking at the lake every day again, working off all the pain au chocolate, muller rice, and Pret a Manger brownies that always seem to make their way into my mouth when I'm in England.  The walk around the lake is about 3 miles, and takes me about 50 minutes to complete.  I've been doing it every day, in the evenings when it's not so hot.  Generally I listen to an audiobook - right now I'm listening to one called Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla (he so totally got a raw deal in posterity).  But the other day I caught up on a bunch of podcasts from BBC History Magazine - their History Extra podcast is one of my favorites.

If you read Pillars of the Earth, you kind of know the story of Thomas Becket, who was martyred when soldiers sent from Henry II murdered him in 1170.  Poor Henry.  I have a lot of sympathy for him.  To start with, he appointed Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury because he and Thomas were supposedly friends.  Thomas had worked for Henry as his Chancellor.  Then Henry appoints him Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas has a "Road to Damascus" conversion, and suddenly Thomas is fighting Henry every which way.

So for years Thomas is driving Henry crazy, and Henry is stuck with an unruly Archbishop who won't put royal supremacy over papal law and do the things Henry asks him to do, as King.  And Thomas is all, "I'm standing up for the power of God," when he was probably just being a little brat.  Ok, maybe he was partly standing up for God, but there was definitely a part of him that was being a brat.

So then Henry, after years of putting up with this ungrateful man, has a hissy fit.  Apparently Henry used to have lots of hissy fits, and people just ignored him until he calmed back down.  He was seriously emotional  Well, you would be too if your wife was supporting a rebellion against you; one that was led by your sons.  Doh!  So Henry has a hissy fit and says, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"  And some younger men of Henry's, who weren't so familiar with his hissy fits, are all like, "oooh, we will!  we will!  We'll impress the king and kill the Archbishop!"

So they go riding off into the night like a bunch of punks, show up at Canterbury, kill Thomas, and then Henry has to do penance.  He has to dress as a penitent, go to Canterbury on a pilgrimage, and beg forgiveness of everyone so that the Pope doesn't excommunicate him.  At this point, I'm kinda like, "Poor Henry," right?  He was just doing his thing, having his hissy fit, and it got all taken out of context.

Which is why there are two lessons for the day:

First, don't be a yes-man Chancellor, and then suddenly get a spine when you're appointed Archbishop.  That isn't going to be good for you if you like your head attached to your shoulders.

Second, if you're a King, and you're surrounded by yes-men who are eager to please you, watch it when you talk about people you'd like to have killed.  Because you just never know when you're going to have to wear thorns and beg forgiveness of people you can't really stand.

BBC HistoryExtra Henry II Podcast:

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