Roger of Salisbury (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 49
Roger of Salisbury

by Charles Lethbridge Kingsford
1904 Errata appended.
Contains subarticle Roger Pauper (fl. 1139).

ROGER of Salisbury (d. 1139), also called Roger the Great, bishop of Salisbury and justiciar, was of humble origin, and originally priest of a little chapel near Caen. The future king, Henry I, chanced, while riding out from Caen, to turn aside to this chapel to hear mass. Roger, guessing the temper of his audience, went through the service with such speed that they declared him the very man for a soldier's chaplain, and Henry took him into his service. Roger, though almost wholly unlettered, was astute and zealous, and as Henry's steward managed his affairs with such skill that he soon won his master's confidence (Will. Newb. i. 36, ap. Chron. Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, Rolls Ser.) After Henry became king, he made Roger his chancellor in 1101. In September 1102 Henry invested Roger with the bishopric of Salisbury. In this capacity Roger attended Anselm's council at Michaelmas; but though the archbishop did not refuse to communicate with him, he would not consecrate Roger or two other intended bishops who had lately received investiture from the king. Henry then appealed to Archbishop Gerard [q. v.] of York, who was ready to perform the ceremony, but the other two bishops declined to accept consecration from Gerard, while Roger prudently temporised, so as neither to anger the king nor to injure the cause of Anselm (Will. Malm. Gesta Pontificum, pp. 109–10). The consecration was in consequence postponed, but Roger nevertheless resigned the chancellorship, in accordance with the usual practice, soon after his investiture as bishop. He may possibly have resumed his office as chancellor in 1106, but, if so, again resigned, when he was at last consecrated in the following year. The contest between the king and archbishop on the question of investitures was formally settled in August 1107, and on 11 Aug. Roger and a number of other bishops were consecrated by Anselm at Canterbury (ib. p. 117; Eadmer, p. 187).

Shortly afterwards Roger was raised to the office of justiciar. William of Malmesbury (Gesta Regum, ii. 483) speaks of him as having the governance of the whole kingdom, whether Henry was in England or in Normandy. But it is uncertain whether he really acted as the king's lieutenant in his absence, or even whether the name of justiciar yet ‘possessed a precise official significance’ (Stubbs). He is, however, the first justiciar to be called ‘secundus a rege’ (Hen. Hunt. p. 245). Roger was one of the messengers sent by the king to Anselm in 1108 to induce him to consecrate the abbot of St. Augustine's in his own abbey, and was present in the Whitsuntide court of that year at London, when he joined with other bishops in supporting Anselm's contention as to the consecration of the archbishop-elect of York (Eadmer, pp. 189, 208). Roger was responsible for the peaceful administration of England during the king's long absences in Normandy. On 27 June 1115 he was at Canterbury for the consecration of Theodoald as bishop of Worcester, and on 19 Sept. for that of Bernard of St. Davids at Westminster (ib. pp. 230, 236). In 1121 he claimed to officiate at the king's marriage with Adela of Louvain, on the ground that Windsor was within his diocese; but Archbishop Ralph d'Escures [q. v.] resisted, and entrusted the duty to the bishop of Winchester (ib. p. 292; Will. Malm. Gesta Pontificum, p. 132, n. 3). Roger was in the king's company when Robert Bloet [q. v.] died in their presence at Woodstock, January 1123. Robert and Roger had arranged to prevent the election of a monk to the vacant archbishopric of Canterbury, and through Roger's influence William of Corbeuil was elected in the following February, and Roger took part in his consecration at Canterbury on 18 Feb. (English Chronicle, 1123). At Christmas 1124 Roger summoned all the coiners of England to Winchester, and had the coiners of base money punished (ib. 1125). In 1126 Robert, duke of Normandy [q. v.], was removed from Roger's custody (ib. 1126). At Christmas Henry held his court at Windsor, and made all the chief men of the country swear allegiance to his daughter Matilda. Roger was foremost in recommending this oath (Hen. Hunt. p. 256), but he was afterwards first to break it. William of Malmesbury relates that he often heard Roger declare that he took the oath only on the understanding that Henry would not marry Matilda except with his advice and that of his nobles, and that therefore he was absolved when Matilda married Geoffrey of Anjou without their consent (Hist. Nov. p. 530). Roger was present at the consecration of Christ church, Canterbury, on 4 May 1130.

When, after the death of King Henry on 1 Dec. 1135, Stephen of Blois came over to secure the crown, Roger took his side with little hesitation. His adhesion secured the new king the command of the royal treasure and the administration, and thus contributed chiefly to Stephen's success. He attended Stephen's coronation, and after Christmas went with the king to Reading. At Easter 1136 he was with the king at Westminster, and he witnessed the charter issued at Oxford in April (Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, ii. 262–3; Select Charters, p. 121). Stephen naturally retained him as justiciar. His influence was all-powerful, and Stephen declared he would give him half England if he asked for it; ‘he will be tired of asking before I am of giving.’ When Stephen proposed to cross over to Normandy, he intended to leave the government of England in Roger's hands during his absence. But a false report that Roger was dead recalled Stephen to Salisbury, and the expedition was postponed to the spring of 1137 (Ord. Vit. v. 63). The whole administration of the kingdom was under Roger's control; his son Roger (see below) was chancellor, his nephew Nigel (d. 1169) [q. v.] was bishop of Ely and treasurer, and a second nephew, Alexander (d. 1148) [q. v.], was bishop of Lincoln. The three bishops used their resources in fortifying the castles in their dioceses. Roger's intention may have been to keep the balance of power in his own hands. His power and wealth excited the enmity of the barons in Stephen's party (Will. Malm. Hist. Nov. p. 548), or, as another writer alleges, made the king suspicious of his fidelity (Ord. Vit. v. 119). According to the author of the ‘Gesta Stephani’ (p. 47), Count Waleran of Meulan was Roger's chief accuser. Ordericus relates that Waleran, Earl Robert of Leicester, and Alan de Dinan stirred up the king. Stephen summoned Roger and his nephews to come to him at Oxford on 24 June 1139. Roger, with a foreboding of evil, unwillingly started on his way, saying, ‘I shall be of as much good at this council as a young colt in a battle’ (Will. Malm. Hist. Nov. p. 548).

At Oxford Earl Alan's followers picked a quarrel with the bishops' men, and in the riot Alan's nephew was killed. Stephen declared that the bishops' men had broken his peace, and demanded that in satisfaction the bishops should surrender the keys of their castles. The bishops demurred, and Stephen then arrested Bishop Roger, his son Roger the chancellor, and Alexander of Lincoln. Nigel fled to his uncle's castle of Devizes. Stephen at once marched against him, taking his prisoners with him. On appearing before Devizes, the king confined Roger in the cowhouse, and threatened to hang the bishop's son if the castle were not surrendered. By Stephen's permission Roger had an interview with Nigel, whom he rebuked for not fleeing to his own diocese. Nigel, however, refused to yield. Roger then declared that he would fast till the castle surrendered. After three days his concubine, Matilda de Ramsbury, who held the keep, surrendered it to save her son's life, and Nigel was then compelled to yield (Will. Malm. Hist. Nov. p. 548; Gesta Stephani, pp. 49–50; Cont. Flor. Wig. ii. 108; according to Ord. Vit. v. 120–1, Roger's fasting was involuntary). The surrender of Devizes was followed by that of Roger's other castles of Sherborne, Salisbury, and Malmesbury. Bishop Henry of Winchester, the king's brother and papal legate, at once protested against the treatment of the bishops, and summoned Stephen to appear at a council at Winchester on 29 Aug. Eventually a compromise was arranged, by which the bishops were to surrender the castles other than those which belonged to their sees, and confine themselves to their canonical rights and duties. Stephen had to do penance for his treatment of the bishops. The incident was the ruin of Stephen's prospects, since it shattered his hold on the clergy and on the machinery of government. But Roger did not survive to take any share in the political consequences of his breach with the king. He died at Salisbury on 11 Dec., according to some accounts, from vexation at his ill-usage (Will. Malm. Hist. Nov. p. 557; Hen. Hunt. p. 266; Cont. Flor. Wig. ii. 113, where the date is given as 4 Dec.; Will. Newb. i. 382, says that Roger went mad before his death). Roger was buried in his cathedral, whence his remains were translated on 14 June 1226, on the removal of the see to the new city and cathedral in the plain (Reg. St. Osmund, ii. 55). A tomb in the modern cathedral of Salisbury has been conjectured to be Roger's (Archæologia, ii. 188–93); it bears an inscription commencing

    Flent hodie Salesberie, quia decidit ensis
    Justitie, pater ecclesie Salesberiensis.

But the last lines of this inscription imply that the bishop referred to was of noble birth, and it is perhaps more probable that the tomb belongs to Bishop Jocelin (d. 1174) (cf. Reg. St. Osmund, ii. p. lxxv).

In Roger, the statesman completely overshadowed the bishop, and fifty years after his death he was regarded as the prototype of those prelates who allowed themselves to be immersed in worldly affairs (Ralph de Diceto, ii. 77). Yet William of Malmesbury expressly states that Roger did not neglect the duties of his ecclesiastical office, and that he accepted the justiciarship only at the bidding of the pope and of three archbishops—Anselm, Ralph, and William (Gesta Regum, p. 484). Through his five years' administration of church affairs in the interregnum after the death of Anselm, though the bishoprics were used as rewards for state services and the spiritual life of the church was little regarded, the evils that had prevailed under William Rufus were avoided. If bishops were appointed from motives of state, the men chosen were on the whole worthy. From a worldly point of view, the advantages of the system established by Roger were great; it secured for the administration of state affairs the most capable officials, and men who were less exposed to temptation than laymen.

Roger's main energies were devoted to the work of secular government; under his direction ‘the whole administrative system was remodelled; the jurisdiction of the curia and exchequer was carefully organised, and the peace of the country maintained in that theoretical perfection which earned for him the title of the Sword of Righteousness’ (Stubbs). His great-nephew, Richard Fitzneale [q. v.], in the ‘Dialogus de Scaccario’ (Stubbs, Select Charters, p. 194), attributes to Roger the reorganisation of the exchequer on the basis which lasted down to his own time. It was perhaps a defect in Roger's character that he concentrated so much power in the hands of his own relatives. But the great administrative family that he founded served the state with conspicuous ability for over a century. Besides Roger's nephews Alexander and Nigel, his son, the chancellor, and his great-nephew, Richard Fitzneale, this family probably included Richard of Ilchester [q. v.] and his sons Herbert and Richard Poor [see Poor, Herbert, and Poor, Richard] (Stubbs, Pref. to Rog. Hov. vol. iv. p. xci n.) His failings were family ambition and avarice.

In the accomplishment of his designs he spared no expense. Above all else he was a great builder, particularly of castles. He founded the castles of Sherborne and Devizes, added to that at Salisbury, and commenced a fourth at Malmesbury. The castle of Devizes is described as the most splendid in Europe (Hen. Hunt. p. 265). Freeman speaks of him as having ‘in his own person brought to perfection that later form of Norman architecture, lighter and richer than the earlier type, which slowly died out before the introduction of the pointed arch and its accompanying details … The creative genius of Roger was in advance of his age, and it took some little time for smaller men to come up with him.’ But after the anarchy ‘men had leisure to turn to art and ornament, and the style which had come in at the bidding of Roger was copied by lesser men almost a generation after his time’ (Norman Conquest, v. 638–9). Besides his castle-building, William of Malmesbury relates that Roger made new the cathedral of Salisbury, and adorned it so that there was none finer in England (Gesta Regum, p. 484). Nor was Roger unmindful of the temporal welfare of his see. Through his influence with Henry I and Stephen additional endowments and prebends were obtained for the cathedral (cf. Reg. St. Osmund, vol. ii. pp. xlvii–viii; Sarum Charters, pp. 5–10). He also annexed to his see the abbeys of Malmesbury and Abbotsbury, which after his death recovered their independence (Will. Malm. Hist. Nov. pp. 559–560). Two copes and a chasuble that had belonged to Roger were preserved at Salisbury (Reg. St. Osmund, ii. 130, 133). Roger lived openly with his wife or concubine, Matilda de Ramsbury, who was the mother of his acknowledged son, Roger Pauper (see below). Alexander of Lincoln and Nigel of Ely, who owed their education and advancement to Roger, seem to have been his brother's sons.

Roger Pauper (fl. 1139), chancellor, was the son of the great Bishop Roger, and is supposed to have been called Pauper or Poor in contrast to his father's wealth (Cont. Flor. Wig. ii. 108; Will. Malm. Hist. Nov. p. 549; Genealogist, April 1896, where Count de la Poer argues that Le Poher or Poor is a territorial name). He became chancellor to King Stephen through his father's influence, and as chancellor witnessed three charters early in the reign, including the charter of liberties granted at Oxford in April 1136. He retained his post down to June 1139. The part which he and his mother played in the overthrow of the bishops and capture of Devizes is described above. Roger Pauper was kept in prison for a time, and eventually released on condition that he left England.

[William of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontificum, Gesta Regum, and Historia Novella, Henry of Huntingdon, Eadmer's Historia Novorum, Register of St. Osmund, Sarum Charters and Documents (all these in Rolls Ser.); Gesta Stephani, and Flor. Wig. (Engl. Hist. Soc.); English Chronicle; Ordericus Vitalis (Soc. de l'Hist. de France); Freeman's Norman Conquest; Stubbs's Constitutional Hist.; Norgate's England under the Angevin Kings; Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville; Foss's Judges of England, i. 151–9; Boivin-Champeaux, Notice sur Roger le Grand.]

C. L. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.237
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
104 ii 26 Roger of Salisbury: after minster insert He witnessed the charter issued at Oxford in April