Oxford, John of (DNB00)

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OXFORD, JOHN of (d. 1200), bishop of Norwich, presided, according to Roger of Wendover (Rolls Ser. i. 26), at the council of Clarendon 'de mandato ipsius regis,' 13 Jan. 1164. Early in February he was sent to Sens, with Geoffrey Ridel [q. v.], archdeacon of Canterbury, and afterwards bishop of Ely, to ask from Alexander III his consent to the constitutions of Clarendon and the substitution of Roger of Pont l'Evêque [q. v.], archbishop of York, for Becket as papal legate. The former request was refused, the latter granted in a modified form (Materials for the History of Archbishop Thomas Becket, Rolls Ser. v. 85-6, 91-2, i. 38). John returned to England, bearing letters from the pope dated Sens, 27 Feb., and was with Henry II at Woodstock in March (Eyton, Itinerary of Henry II, p. 70). In November, after Becket's flight, he was sent with several bishops and others on an embassy to Louis VII and the Count of Flanders, to request that they would not receive the archbishop (Gervase of Canterbury, Rolls Ser. i. 190). They were not favourably received, and John of Oxford, after again visiting the pope unsuccessfully (Materials, i. 61), went on to the Empress Matilda, to whom he accused Becket of contending for church privileges for the sake of personal ambition and worldly lucre (ib. Rolls Ser. v. 145-6). In April or May 1165 he was sent with Richard of Ilchester [q. v.], archdeacon of Poitiers, and afterwards bishop of Winchester, to negotiate with the Emperor Frederic I about the marriage of the king's daughter Matilda to Henry the Lion of Saxony. They were present at the council of Würzburg on Whitsunday, 23 May (full accounts in Materials, v. 182 sqq.) At this council, so Frederic solemnly declared, the English envoys swore on their own behalf and that of their master to obey the antipope Paschal. John of Oxford later on as solemnly denied that he had taken any such oath (ib. v. 450), but he was always henceforth known among Becket's party by the nickname of 'Jurator.' On his return he accompanied the king in his disastrous expedition against the North-Welsh. Shortly after this, on the appointment of Henry of Beaumont to the see of Bayeux, he was made dean of Salisbury (Le Neve, Fasti,ed. Hardy, ii. 613; Eyton, Itinerary, p. 89), in spite of the previous injunction of Alexander III that no one should be appointed without the consent of the canons, the greater part of whom were in exile (Materials, iii. 92, 392). On Whitsunday, 12 June 1166, Becket at Vézelay formally excommunicated him because he had 'fallen into damnable heresy by taking the oath to the emperor, and had communicated with the schismatic Archbishop of Cologne, and had usurped the deanery of Salisbury contrary to the pope's decree' (Materials, v. 383, 388, 393, &c.) This sentence was confirmed by the pope (ib. p. 392). The bishop and chapter of Salisbury were at the same time warned not to admit him to the deanery. On 24 June the bishops of the province of Canterbury appealed to the pope against the sentence, and Jocelin, bishop of Salisbury, warmly espoused the cause of John of Oxford, and was in consequence suspended by the archbishop. John of Oxford appears to have abandoned the title of dean for a time (Eyton, Itinerary, p. 102). He was sent in November on a mission to Rome. Becket wrote at once to warn the Archbishop of Mainz against him (Materials, vi. 52). The mission had considerable success. He procured his own absolution and confirmation in the deanery, after he had surrendered it absolutely into the pope's hands. He induced the pope to send two cardinals, Otto and William, to report upon the dispute between Henry and Becket. He appears further to have obtained a dispensation from the pope for the marriage of Henry's son Geoffrey to Constance, the heiress of Brittany, which opened a prospect of a vast coalition among the holders of great Frank fiefs under the English king and hostile to Louis VII (ib. vi. 140, 146, 147, 151-3, 170-1; Eyton, Itinerary, pp. 102, 103). Protests reached Rome from every quarter against this change in the papal attitude; but the dean of Salisbury returned in triumph, boasting everywhere of his success (Materials, vi. 246 et passim). 'Gravissimum in ecclesia Gallicana scandalum fecit Johannes de Oxeneford qui suo perjurio de Romana tam facile triumphavit,' wrote Alice, queen of Louis VII, to the pope (ib. p. 468). In England he was still more vigorous in action. In January 1167 he had an interview with the king in Guienne, and was sent into England. Landing at Southampton, he found the Bishop of Hereford waiting to cross over to Becket. 'On finding him he forbade him to proceed, first in the name of the king, and then of the pope. The bishop then inquired .. . whether he had any letters to that purpose. He asserted that he had, and that the pope forbade him and the other bishops as well either to attend [Becket's] summons or obey [him] in any particular until the arrival of a legate de latere domini papie. . . . The bishop insisted on seeing the letters; but he said that he had sent them on with his baggage to Winchester. . . . When the Bishop of London saw the letters, he cried aloud as if unable to restrain himself, “Then Thomas shall no more be my archbishop”' (ib. vi. 151-2).

On 16 Aug. 1169 the king sent John of Oxford to meet the new legates Gratian and Vivian, and he took them to Domfront, and was present at the interviews which ensued. In November he was sent to Benevento to negotiate further with the pope. In January 1170 he returned, bringing letters from the pope; he had secured the issue of a new commission to compose the quarrel (ib. vii. 204 seq. 236, &c.) Before many months peace had been made, and Becket was escorted to England by his old foe, famosus ille jurator decanus Saresberiensis' (Materials, iii. 115, 116, vii. 400; Garnier, p. 160). The duty was faithfully performed, and the firmness of John of Oxford alone prevented outrage upon the archbishop by his enemies on his landing (Materials, iii. 118, vii. 403-4; Garnier, p. 164). He was not at Canterbury at the time of Becket's murder; but early in 1171 he returned to the king, and during the next few years remained either with him or with his son, the young king Henry (Eyton, Itinerary, passim). In 1175 his long services received a further reward. On 26 Nov. 1175 the king, at Eynsham, conferred on him the see of Norwich, 'concorde Norwicensium . . . archiepiscopi conventia, cardinalis auctoritate.' He was consecrated 'bishop of the East Angles' at Lambeth by the Archbishop Richard of Dover [q. v.] on 14 Dec.(Ralph de Diceto, Rolls Ser. iii. 403; Le Neve, fasti, ed. Hardy, ii. 459). In 1176 he was despatched, with three companions, to escort the king's daughter Johanna to Sicily. The hardships of the journey are fully narrated by Ralph de Diceto (Rolls Ser. i. 416-17). He delivered the lady in safety on 9 Nov., and returned at once to report to the king the success of his embassy (ib. pp. 415, 417). In the reconstruction of the judicial system in 1179 John was appointed, with the bishops of Winchester (Richard of Ilchester) and Ely (Geoffrey Ridel), 'archijusticiarius' (ib. ii. 435). In his later years he appears to have retired from political life. He was present at the coronation of King John (Roger of Hoveden, iv. 90). He died on 2 June 1200. His life affords a striking example of the entire absence of specialisation among the men whom Henry II employed in his great reforms. He was, as diplomatist, judge, statesman, and ecclesiastic, one of the most active of the agents through whom Henry II carried out his domestic and foreign policy.

Dr. Giles (Joannis Saresberiensis Opera, vol. i. pref. pp. xiv-xv) attributed to John of Oxford & treatise 'Summa de pœnitentia,' of which manuscripts exist in the Bodleian Library and in the Burgundian Library, Brussels. Tanner had previously assigned this to John of Salisbury. But there is no evidence internal or external to support its ascription to either author. No literary works are ascribed to John of Oxford by any contemporary writer, but he was a patron of other writers, and among them Daniel of Morley [q. v.], who dedicated to him his 'Liber de Naturis Inferiorum et Superiorum.'

[Materials for the Life of Archbishop Thomas Becket (Rolls Ser), ed. Robertson and Sheppard, 7 vols.; Gervase of Canterbury (Rolls Ser.), ed. Stubbs; Garnier de Pont Sainte-Maxence, ed. Hippeau, Paris, 1859; Lord Lyttelton's History of Henry II; Lives of Becket by Robertson (1859), and Morris (2nd ed. 1885); Stubbs's Constitutional History of England; Eyton's Itinerary of Henry II; Pipe Rolls; Jones's Fasti Ecclesiæ Saresberiensis.]

W. H. H.