Corbeil, William of (DNB00)

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CORBEIL, CURBUIL or CORBEUIL, WILLIAM of (d. 1136), archbishop of Canterbury, was doubtless born at the little town of Corbeil, on the Seine, halfway between Paris and Melun, unless indeed the unimportant village, Corbeil-le-Cerf, some distance south of Beauvais, has a better claim to this distinction. He studied at Laon under the famous Anselm of Laon, where he dwelt in the house of the bishop and acted as tutor to the sons of ‘Ranulf, chancellor of the king of the English’ (Liber de Miraculis S. Mariæ Laudunensis, ii. c. 6, in Migne, vol. clvi.) A Ranulf was chancellor from 1107 to 1123; but a plausible attempt has been made to identify the father of William's pupils with Ranulf Flambard, the notorious bishop of Durham, and minister of William Rufus, one of whose clerks William undoubtedly was (English Historical Review, No. 5, pp. 103–12). In that capacity he was present in 1104 at the great ceremonies which attended the dedication of the new cathedral and the translation of the relics of St. Cuthberht to a wor- thier shrine within it, and was one of those who with Alexander, brother of Eadgar, king of Scots, were commissioned to visit the relics to ascertain their genuineness (Symeon Dunelm. i. 258, cf. ii. 269, Rolls Ser.) It is curious that the clerk of Flambard should also be described as a special friend of Anselm. This may possibly point to some change in William's character, which ultimately led him, ‘gratia meliorandæ vitæ,’ as Symeon says, to renounce the world for the quasi-monastic position of a canon regular of the order of St. Augustine. This rule had recently been introduced into England, and found a special patron in Richard of Belmeis [q. v.], bishop of London, one of the most important of Henry I's ministers. Belmeis founded a house of Austin canons at St. Osyth or Chich in Essex, and made William its first prior.

On 19 Sept. 1122 Archbishop Ralph died. After an interval of nearly five months Henry I held a great gathering of magnates at Gloucester to deliberate as to the appointment of his successor (2 Feb. 1123). Besides a large number of bishops, earls, and knights, the prior and some of the monks of Christ Church were in attendance. The latter declared that they had resolved to elect a monk of their own body, and requested the king to mention which of them would please him best. The bishops, however, who were nearly all seculars, urged the king to appoint a clerk. The secular magnates, the earls and knights, sided with the monks, who for two days withstood the pressure of the bishops. But the will of Bishop Roger of Salisbury was all-powerful with Henry, and ultimately led him to adopt the policy of the bishops. At last four clerks were selected, and it was agreed that whomsoever of the four the chapter should select should be appointed archbishop by the king. One of the four was William, and on him the final choice of the monks fell, as an Augustinian canon was the nearest approach to a monk which circumstances allowed them to select. They had, however, great misgivings, because only three seculars had previously been appointed successors of St. Augustine; and, though a monkish writer admitted that he afterwards did nothing they ought to be sorry for, the relations between William and his monastic chapter were never very cordial (Symeon Dunelm ii. 269; Chron. Sax. s. a. 1123; {{sc|Will. Malm. Gesta Pontif. p. 146; Ordericus, bk. xii. c. 16, in Migne, Patrologia, clxxxviii. 896; Hen. Hunt. p. 245; Hoveden, i. 180).

Henry's ratification of the compulsory choice of the monks completed the preliminaries, but a new difficulty arose over William's consecration. Thurstan of York, who had recently succeeded in vindicating the independence of the northern archbishopric, offered to perform that ceremony. But William refused, except on the impossible condition that Thurstan would acknowledge him as primate of all England. Finally William was consecrated at Canterbury by his own suffragans on 18 Feb. Gervase says that he was consecrated by Richard of Belmeis, William Giffard of Winchester and other bishops assisting; but the continuator of Florence of Worcester says that the Bishop of Winchester consecrated him, while another authority asserts that the Bishop of London was already suffering from paralysis.

The disputes of the rival primates still continued. William at once proceeded to Rome to obtain the pallium, and Thurstan, fearing lest his enemy should obtain some advantage over him in the papal curia, started off on the same destination, on the pretext of a summons to a council then being held at Rome. King Henry, who seems to have done his best to support William, sent a strong embassy, including the Bishop of St. David's and several clerks, to Rome to help him. But Thurstan managed to get there first and to prejudice the curia against William to such an extent that on his arrival he found great difficulties in attaining the object of his mission. It was objected that he had been elected uncanonically in the royal court, ‘in curia quæ a cruore dicitur, ubi sanguinum judicia fiunt,’ that the chapter had not consented to his election, that the choice of a clerk was contrary to the orders of St. Augustine, and that he had not been consecrated by his brother archbishop. In addition the old question of the relations of York and Canterbury seems to have been revived. For seven days he was unable to obtain an interview with the pope, and Calixtus II in his previous patronage of Thurstan had already manifested his hostility to Canterbury (Gervase, i. 72). At last the strenuous intercession of King Henry and of his son-in-law, the Emperor Henry V, just released from excommunication, had its effects on Calixtus. Moreover, ‘they overcame Rome by what overcomes all the world, gold and silver’ (Chron. Sax. s. a. 1123). In a public audience William bitterly complained of Thurstan's persistent hostility and derogation of the rights of the see of Canterbury. Thurstan's unsatisfactory answer and inability to produce the documents on which he relied for the support of the liberties of his church induced the pope to confer the pallium on William, but he postponed making any decision as to the claims of the rival churches. Both prelates returned home. A papal legate, the Cardinal John of Crema, was sent to England to settle the question on the spot (Sym. Dunelm ii. 269, 273). On his way back to England William visited the king in Normandy (Flor. Wig. cont. ii. 78). On his arrival he was enthroned at Canterbury, and consecrated Bishops Alexander of Lincoln and Godfrey of Bath.

The legation of John of Crema (1125) excited great indignation in England, as attacking the rights of Canterbury and the English church. Received with great pomp by both William and Thurstan, John on Easter day usurped William's function by officiating at high mass in Canterbury Cathedral. The spiteful monks regarded this indignity as a retribution for the election of a clerk as archbishop. In the legatine council held on 9 Sept. in Westminster Abbey the cardinal took precedence over both archbishops, though in the writs of summons William claims that the council was celebrated with his assent (Wilkins, i. 408). The canons passed were mainly directed against the married clergy (Gervase, ii. 279–81, gives them at length); but nothing effectual was settled with regard to Thurstan and William. In consequence probably of this, both archbishops again started for Italy on the conclusion of the council, Thurstan accompanying the legate, and William being summoned by his rival, though his indignation at the proceedings of the legate and a desire to prevent the continuance of such missions also contributed to take him there. He was, however, well received by the new pope, Honorius II, and won an important victory by obtaining for himself the appointment as papal legate in England and Scotland, while Thurstan had to return empty-handed. This was the most important act of William's archbishopric. It secured him personally an immediate precedence over the northern primate, though at the expense of some diminution of the independence of his own see. It saved England for a time from the unwelcome presence of an Italian legate. It became the precedent for the later custom of making the archbishop of Canterbury the ‘legatus natus’ of the Roman see. The supreme jurisdiction of the pope was thus admitted, though in English hands it assumed its least offensive form (Stubbs, Const. Hist. iii. 229; the bull, dated 25 Jan. 1126, is in Wilkins's Concilia, i. 409).

Even now, however, William's difficulties with Thurstan were not at an end. Soon after his return Thurstan rushed into a new quarrel because his rival alone was suffered to impose the crown on the king's head at the Christmas court at Windsor. Again, William refused to allow Thurstan to bear his primatial cross erect before him within the southern province, and turned his cross-bearer out of the royal chapel. At a council held by him at Westminster in 1127, as archbishop and legate, Thurstan refused to attend. At the council of 1129, however, Thurstan got over his scruples, and on one occasion went so far as to ask for William's advice. After the secession of several monks from the abbey of St. Mary's, York, to which the establishment of the great Cistercian house of Fountains was ultimately due, Thurstan wrote a long and temperate letter to William, as legate, dwelling on the advantages of intercommunication between the chief rulers of the church and asking him to join in protecting the stricter monks and to co-operate with him in restoring order in the divided monastery (Walbran, Memorials of Fountains, pref. xxx–xxxii. Surtees Society, and pp. 11–29, where the letter is printed in full). It is unknown whether William interfered or not. If he did, his good offices were of no avail.

With King Henry William seems to have generally remained on fair terms. In 1126 he was the first to take the oaths to observe the succession of Matilda. At Michaelmas 1129 he, with the king's permission, held a council at London to deal with the chronic difficulty of the married clerks. It was agreed by the bishops that the offenders were all to put away their wives by St. Andrew's day or give up their benefices. But the king took advantage of the simplicity of the archbishop and allowed all who paid him a sufficient fine to keep their wives; at which the bishops were both sorry and angry (Hen. Hunt. p. 251; Chron. Sax. s. a. 1129).

William of Corbeil was, like his early patrons Flambard and Belmeis, a great builder. He received a gift from the king of the church and castle of Rochester, a see always intimately connected with the archbishopric, and to which William had appointed his archdeacon John as bishop. There he continued Gundulf's great works by constructing the lofty and massive keep of the castle which is still standing (Gervase, ii. 381; cf. Hasted, Kent, iv. 695, from Regist. Priorat. Christi Cant. and G. T. Clark, Mediæval Military Architecture, ii. 421). He also took an active interest in the rebuilding of the cathedral of St. Andrew in that city, and attended its dedication, 5 May 1130. His benefactions to the chapter were also numerous (Thorpe, Registrum Roffense). Immediately before that he had celebrated, with a magnificence that contemporaries could only parallel by the opening of Solomon's Temple, the dedication of the magnificent new cathedral at Canterbury which Lanfranc had begun, Anselm continued, and to which William himself had contributed largely (4 May 1130). The kings of England and Scotland and a whole crowd of bishops, earls, and barons were present. Henry signalised the event by giving the collegiate church of St. Martin's, Dover, to the church of Canterbury. He resolved to refound St. Martin's, to turn out the secular canons, whose corrupt life was, according to the monks, but typical of their class, and put in their place Augustinian canons from Merton, for whose greater protection from the distractions of town life he transferred the college from the old church within Dover town to a new and sumptuous structure in the neighbouring country, built with Caen stone. But the monks of Christchurch at once claimed that the church was theirs and not the archbishop's. Though the prior supported the archbishop, a bolder champion of their rights was found in a monk named Jeremias, who prevented the bishops of St. David's and Rochester from introducing the Merton canons, and appealed to Rome on behalf of the rights of Christchurch. The archbishop's death was accelerated by his hurrying from his sick bed at his manor house of Mortlake to support by his presence the unlucky canons. Advantage was taken of his death to secure St. Martin's for Benedictine monks as a cell of Christchurch (Gervase, i. 96, ii. 383; Dugdale, Monasticon, iv. 528, 544).

Another quarrel broke out between William and Hugh, abbot of St. Augustine's, Canterbury (Gervase, Thorn in Twysden, Scriptores Decem, p. 1798). His restoration of the abandoned nunnery at Minster in Sheppey proved more fortunate than his attempt at Dover (Dugdale, Monasticon, ii. 50, from charter of Henry IV to Minster; cf. Leland, Collectanea, i. 89).

In 1134 William became involved in a quarrel with Bishop Alexander of Lincoln, which drove both prelates to Normandy to lay their grievances before King Henry. Next year, when Henry died, William, after some hesitation, consented to the election of Stephen. His weak plea for delay and circumspection and his insistence on the oaths he had sworn to maintain the succession of Matilda were overborne by the improbable assertion of one of Stephen's partisans that Henry on his deathbed had released them from their oaths. On 22 Dec. 1135 he crowned Stephen at Westminster, doubtless consoling himself for his perjury by the full promises of increased liberties for the church which Stephen had offered in his charters (Will. Malm. Hist. Novella, lib. i. cap. 11). But lovers of portents noticed that in his flurry the archbishop forgot the kiss of peace, and that the consecrated host slipped from his trembling hands (Gervase, ii. 383). He officiated at the burial of Henry I at Reading. But before long he removed from court disgusted, because at the Easter feast of 1136 Henry, earl of Huntingdon, the son of David, king of Scots, was placed by the new king in the most honourable position on his right hand. William's health, however, was now breaking up. His journey from Mortlake hastened his end. He died at Canterbury on 21 Nov. 1136, and was buried in his cathedral. The partisans of the Angevins rejoiced that within a year of his perjury he had lost his life (Hen. Hunt. p. 256).

William of Corbeil seems to have been a weak man, easily moulded by his surroundings, and without very decided character. Good luck rather than wit won him his exalted station. His panegyrists can only say that he was a man of modest life and of good education (Symeon, ii. 269), and that he was very religious, rather affable, and neither inert nor imprudent (Will. Malm. Gesta Pontif. p. 146). Henry of Huntingdon, however, roundly declares that his glories could not be celebrated, for they did not exist (De Contemptu Mundi, in Rolls edition, p. 314). The author of the ‘Gesta Stephani’ (p. 6) goes still further in denouncing him as a hypocrite, whose meekness and piety were but cloaks to an avarice which massed up treasures that it would have been better to distribute in alms.

[Gervase of Canterbury, Henry of Huntingdon, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Symeon of Durham, all in Rolls Ser.; William of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontificum (Rolls Ser.) and Historia Novella (Eng. Hist. Soc.); Gesta Stephani and the Continuator of Florence of Worcester, both in Eng. Hist. Soc.; T. Stubbs's Act. Pont. Ebor. in Twysden's Scriptores Decem. The modern life in Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury, vol. ii. ch. v., is fairly accurate though carelessly incomplete; Canon Raine's Life of Thurstan in Fasti Eboracenses, especially pp. 193–7, gives from the northern authorities a very different account of the relations of the two archbishops from that generally accepted in the south, or even at Durham.]

T. F. T.