Crispin, Gilbert (DNB00)

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CRISPIN, GILBERT (d. 1117?), abbot of Westminster, was the grandson of Gilbert Crispin, from whom the Crispin family derived its surname (Miracula in App. ad Lanf. Opp.) The last-named Gilbert Crispin is in the ‘Histoire Littéraire’ (x. 192) identified with Gilbert, count of Brionne, the guardian of William I's childhood, and grandson of Duke Richard I of Normandy (cf. Will. of Jumièges, viii. c. 37, iv. c. 18). There do not seem, however, to be sufficient grounds for this identification, though the close connection of both families with the newly founded abbey of Bec, of which the Count of Brionne was the first patron, gives it some probability.

More certain is the identification of the abbot of Westminster's grandfather with the Gilbert Crispin to whom Duke Robert of Normandy (d. 1035) had given the frontier fortress of Tellières to guard against the French (Will. of Jumièges, vii. c. 5). But it is possible that this Gilbert Crispin is rather the uncle than the grandfather of the abbot. From the treatise alluded to above we learn that Gilbert Crispin (so called from his short curly hair, a characteristic which was handed on to his descendants) married Gonnor, the sister ‘senioris Fulconis de Alnov.’ Of this Gilbert's three sons, Gilbert, William, and Robert, the first was made governor of Tellières; the third became a man of note at Constantinople, where he perished by Greek poison; while the second brother, the father of our Gilbert, was appointed viscount of the Vexin by Duke William. William Crispin held the castle of Melfia (Neaufle) of the duke, and was also the possessor of estates in the neighbourhood of Lisieux, a district which he never visited without calling upon Abbot Herluin of Bec. A delivery from a French ambush, which he ascribed to the efficacy of Herluin's prayers, made him a still more devoted patron of this monastery (De nobili Crispinorum genere, ap. Migne, vol. clviii.) He married Eva, a noble French lady (d. about 1089), and by her was the father of Gilbert Crispin, whom, while yet ‘in a tender age,’ he handed over to be educated by Herluin at Bec. He afterwards withdrew from the world and was made a monk by Herluin about 1077, an event which he survived only a few days (ib.; Chron. Bec, ap. Migne, p. 646).

Crispin is said to have become a perfect scholar in all the liberal arts while at Bec, whence he was called by Lanfranc to the abbey of Westminster, over which church he ruled for thirty-two years (De nob. Crisp. gen. p. 738). If we may accept the evidence of Florence of Worcester (ii. 70), he died in 1117, and according to his epitaph (quoted in Dugdale) on 6 Dec. This would serve to fix his appointment to the office in 1085 a.d., a date which agrees sufficiently well with the year of his predecessor's death, 1082, as given in the ‘Monasticon’ from Sporley (ed. 1817). On the other hand it is hard to reconcile this date with the second dedication of his ‘Disputatio’ to Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, who did not succeed to this office before 1123 a.d., unless we allow Alexander's title to be an addition of the copyist.

Crispin is said, without authority, to have ‘visited the universities of France and Italy, to have been at Rome, and to have returned by way of Germany’ (Stevens, quoted in Dugdale). It is more certain that in 1102 he caused the body of Edward the Confessor to be taken up from its tomb, and found it to be still undecayed (Ailred of Rievaux ap. Twysden, p. 408). At the beginning of Lent 1108 he was sent by Henry I to negotiate with Anselm about the consecration of Hugh to the abbey of St. Augustine's, Canterbury (Eadmer, p. 189). According to Peter of Blois he was one of Henry's ambassadors to Theobald of Blois in 1118 (Hist. Litt. de France). Among Anselm's letters there is preserved one of congratulation to Crispin on his appointment to Westminster (L. ii. Ep. 16, ap. Migne, clviii. 1165; cf. Ep. 36, also to an Abbot Gilbert). The ‘Histoire Littéraire’ declares that Crispin was once at Mentz; but this statement seems due to a misinterpretation of the commencement of the ‘Disputatio Judæi,’ which says that the Jew in question had been brought up at Mayence, and not that the discussion took place in that town. Indeed, it is evident from the allusion to the converted London Jew (col. 1106) that the whole incident refers to London or Westminster.

Crispin is the author of two works still preserved. His ‘Vita Herluini’ is our principal authority for the early days of Bec. His account of Herluin's death is so minute that there can be little doubt he was in the monastery when it occurred. It is referred to as the standard authority on this subject by William of Jumièges (vii. c. 22), and Milo Crispin in the preface to his ‘Vita Lanfranci’ (ap. Migne, clix. col. 30). Crispin's second great work is entitled ‘Disputatio Judæi cum Christiano,’ and is an account of a dialogue on the christian faith held between the Mayence Jew mentioned above and the author. This Jew, who was well versed both in ‘his own law and in our letters,’ used to visit the abbot on business. The conversation would frequently turn to more serious matters, and at last it was agreed that the two disputants should hold a sort of dialectical tournament, each appearing as the champion of his own faith. It was at the request of his audience that Crispin reduced his argument to writing. He dedicated it, at all events primarily, to Anselm, whom he begged to criticise it fearlessly. A second dedication at the very end of the treatise is addressed, as has been before noticed, to Alexander, bishop of Lincoln. It is to these two paragraphs that we owe our knowledge of the circumstances under which the work was written.

Other works have been assigned to this author by Pits and others: Homilies on the Canticles; treatises on Isaiah (dedicated to Anselm) and Jeremiah; on the fall of the devil, on the soul, and on the state of the church; a work against sins of thought, word, and act; a commentary on Lamentations (preserved in manuscript in the monastery of St. Aubin at Angers); and another on the Epistles of St. Paul (preserved in the abbey of St. Remi at Rheims) (Hist. Litt. x. 196–7). According to the writer of Crispin's life in the work last quoted, the Abbot of Westminster is not the author of the ‘Altercatio Synagogæ et Ecclesiæ,’ published under his name by Moetjens (Cologne, 1537), nor of the similar work published by Martene and Durand (in their Anecdota, v. 1497, &c.). The same writer adds to Crispin's genuine treatises a Cotton MS. on the procession of the Holy Spirit.

According to William of Jumièges, Crispin was as distinguished in secular and divine knowledge as he was by nobility of birth (vii. 22). The treatise ‘De nobili Crispinorum genere’ praises his attainments in philosophy, divinity, and the liberal arts in which he was a perfect adept: ‘sic in (eis) profecit … ut omnes artes quas liberales vocantur ad unguem addisceret.’

[William of Jumièges; Chronicon Beccense, Vita Herluini and Miracula vel Appendix de nobili Crispinorum genere; Epistolæ Anselmi and Disputatio Judæi cum Christiano, in Migne's Cursus Patrologiæ, vols. cxlix. cl. clviii. clix.; Histoire Littéraire de France (Benedictins of St. Maur), x.; Mabillon's Annales Benedictini, iv. 565–6; Dugdale's Monasticon (ed. 1817), i.; Florence of Worcester, ed. Hog for Engl. Hist. Soc.; Eadmer, ed. Martin Rule (Rolls Series); Crispin's Vita Herluini is published in Migne (Lanfranc volume), cl.; the Disputatio Judæi in vol. clix.; Gallia Christiana.]

T. A. A.