Gilbert the Universal (DNB00)

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GILBERT the Universal (d. 1134?), bishop of London, is described as ‘natione Britannus’ by Richard of Poitiers, who probably means a Breton rather than a Welshman (ap. Bouquet, p. 415). Le Neve makes him a relative of ‘Henry, bishop of Ely’ (?Hervey, bishop of Ely, 1109–33), at whose ‘suggestion he left his school at Nevers’ for England (ed. Hardy, ii. 188; cf. Stubbs, p. 162). Le Beuf prints a charter which shows that in 1120 he was a ‘magister’ at Auxerre, probably directing the episcopal schools there (Le Beuf, iv. App. No. 19), and the Nevers necrology proves him to have been treasurer in this city also (ib. ii. 468), where, according to Henry of Huntingdon, he was teaching at the time of his appointment to London (ed. Arnold, p. 307; cf. Harpsfeld, p. 350). Other contemporary authority makes him at that epoch a canon of Lyons (Cont. of Florence of Worcester, ii. 89). He was already ‘grandævus’ when, thanks to Henry I and Archbishop William de Corbeil of Canterbury, he was consecrated on 22 Jan. 1127 bishop of London, in succession to Richard de Belmeis [q. v.] (ib.; Henry of Huntingdon, p. 247; Matthew Paris, ii. 153). Florence seems to date his consecration 27 Henry I (i.e. 1127); but as his predecessor did not die till January 1127–8 (Stubbs, p. 25), it should perhaps be 1128 (Florence of Worcester, p. 89; cf. Ralph de Diceto, i. 245; Henry of Huntingdon, p. 247). About 1 Aug. 1129 Gilbert took part in the great council of London which condemned the marriage of priests (Henry of Huntingdon, pp. 250–1); on 4 May 1130 he was present at the Canterbury consecration, and a little later at that of St. Andrew's in Rochester (Anglo-Saxon Chron. ii. 227). It was perhaps about this time that he sent his blessing to St. Bernard, who praised the poverty of his life (Epp. Bernardi, No. 24). His name appears twice in the pipe roll of Henry I, which is ascribed to 1130–1 (Rot. Mag. Pip. pp. 55, 61). He seems to have died on 12 Aug. 1134, while accompanying the bishop of Llandaff (Urban) to Rome (Auxerre Martyrology, p. 716; Ralph de Diceto, i. 247; Matthew Paris, ii. 159). Orderic Vitalis, however, appears to put his death in 1136 (v. 78); Mabilon assigns it to 1133 (Note ap. Migne, clxxxii. coll. 127–8), and the ‘Margam Annals,’ by implication, to 1134 (Ann. Margam, p. 13). Henry of Huntingdon accuses Gilbert of excessive avarice. To the surprise of his contemporaries he died without making a will, and Henry I confiscated his ‘infinite’ wealth (Henry of Huntingdon, De Cont. Mundi, pp. 307–8). When appointed to London, Gilbert's reputation was almost unequalled, and he had no peer from England to Rome (ib.) Harpsfeld suggests that he owed his cognomen ‘Universal’ to his encyclopædic attainments (Harpsfeld, p. 350). His nephew tells us that he was a great benefactor to his diocese (De Mirac. Sancti Erkenwaldi, by his nephew, quoted in Wharton, pp. 51–2; cf. Hardy, i. 294); St. Bernard commends his humility, and the church of Auxerre celebrated the anniversary of his death in recognition of wealth it had received from him (Auxerre Martyrology, p. 716).

The ‘Auxerre Martyrology’ styles Gilbert ‘veteris et novi testamenti glossator;’ his nephew assigns him a treatise on the Old Testament, written before his elevation to London (Wharton, p. 51); and St. Bernard speaks of his eagerness ‘divinam … revocare et renovare scripturam’ (Ep. 24). These phrases seem to point to an exposition of the whole Bible, which, however, appears to be now lost, except a treatise on Lamentations. This compilation, of which in the last century there were two copies at St. Aubin's, Angers, winds up with the words ‘Hæc … hausi Gislebertus Autissodoriensis ecclesiæ diaconus’ (Hist. Lit. p. 240). Gilbert may also be the author of treatises on other parts of scripture (Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, &c.), which in some manuscripts are joined to this exposition. But his writings appear to have been partly confused with those of his namesake, Gilbert of Auxerre, who is said to have died in 1223 (ib. pp. 240–2), and even with those of Gilbert Foliot [q. v.], bishop of London (ib.) The whole question as to his works is discussed in the ‘Histoire Littéraire,’ Fabricius, Tanner, and the other writers cited below. His great renown may be inferred from the ascription of so many works to his pen; from his nephew's boast ‘ut supra vires [esset] illius actus describere, quæ universa Latinitas laudat;’ from Henry of Huntingdon's words, ‘artibus eruditissimus … singularis, unicus;’ and from Richard of Poitiers' testimony, which couples him with Alberic of Rheims, as two of the greatest teachers of the time (Wharton, p. 52; Henry of Huntingdon, p. 307; Richard of Poitiers, p. 414). He is styled ‘the Universal’ by Florence's continuator, Henry of Huntingdon, Orderic, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and nearly all the contemporary writers who mention him.

[Histoire Littéraire de France, vol. xi.; Stubbs's Registrum; Le Beuf's Histoire d'Auxerre, ed. 1855; Hardy's MS. Materials for English Hist. (Rolls Ser.); Henry of Huntingdon (Rolls Ser.), ed. Arnold; Ralph de Diceto (Rolls Ser.), ed. Stubbs; Anglo-Saxon Chron. (Rolls Ser.), ed. Thorpe; Matt. Paris (Rolls Ser.), ed. Luard; Margam Annals in Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ed. Luard; Orderic Vitalis, ed. Le Prevost (Soc. de l'Hist. de France); Epistolæ Sancti Bernardi ap. Migne, vol. cxxxii.; Martyrology of Auxerre ap. Martène's Ampliss. Collectio, vol. vi.; Richard of Poitiers ap. Bouquet, vol. xii.; Pipe Roll of Henry I, ed. Hunter; Florence of Worcester, ed. Thorpe (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Wharton's Historia de Episcopis Londiniensibus.]

T. A. A.