Somerset Historical Essays/Bishop Jocelin and the Interdict

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Somerset Historical Essays by Joseph Armitage Robinson
Bishop Jocelin and the Interdict

VI.

BISHOP JOCELIN AND THE INTERDICT


The passing of the twelfth century into the thirteenth is a moment of great interest in English history, alike in the Church and in the State. The strong hand of a great king had been withdrawn from the helm of the nation; his successor had spent his whole time and force on enterprises of enthusiasm outside England: and when Richard of the Lion's heart was gone, his brother John lost Normandy for ever and was shut up to misgovern England. Henry the Second had waged war on the exaggerated ecclesiastical claim represented by Thomas Becket: he had lost the battle by a misadventure which made his antagonist a martyred saint; yet for all that he attained his ends, and held Church and State in reasonable harmony. But he died in misery and disappointment. His son Henry had been crowned king in his father's lifetime—a dangerous experiment intended to secure the succession. He had proved gravely disloyal, and with his brothers Richard and John had embittered his father's latter years. Then he himself was cut off by an early death in 1183. So it was that in 1189 the kingdom fell to Richard, who at once made vast preparations for the Crusade, which was to bring to him glory and dishonour, treacherous imprisonment in a foreign land and treacherous disloyalty at home.

These were the events of Bishop Jocelin's youth. He was a boy at Wells when Thomas was murdered at Canterbury. His father, Edward of Wells, is known to us only from a few charters.[1] We gather from them that he purchased lands at Wells and at Lancherley a neighbouring village; and that he had two sons, Hugh and Jocelin. He attests one charter as Edward Troteman. Jocelin himself is once called Jocelin Trotman, but usually Jocelin of Wells, as Hugh is called Hugh of Wells. A charter in the archives of the city of Wells is of interest because it is attested by the father and both his sons. This is Bishop Reginald's confirmation of the municipal privileges granted by Bishop Robert before him. 'Hugh the clerk' attests, and afterwards Edward of Wells, and then presently Jocelin of Wells. This suggests that Hugh's father and brother attest as laymen, while Hugh has precedence, as the custom was, on the ground of being in orders. All these charters belong to the later years of Bishop Reginald's episcopate; for the earliest shows us Alexander as the subdean, which points to the years 1186-7, and the bishop died in 1191.

K. Richard had been followed on his Crusade by Baldwin, the devout and strenuous archbishop of Canterbury. In fact Baldwin was the first to reach Acre; but there, encouraging and blessing the motley host, he passed away in November 1190. A year afterwards Bishop Reginald was elected to Canterbury (27 Nov. 1191); but within a month he died, on the morrow of Christmas Day. The new bishop of Bath was Savary, cousin to Bishop Reginald, a strange adventurer to whom Wells owes little or no gratitude. He had followed the king to Sicily, and had secured the promise of any bishopric that should fall vacant in his absence. As the first was Canterbury, and Savary was not yet in priest's orders, he schemed for Reginald's appointment as primate, and for his own succession at Bath. While still abroad he got his plans through, and he was consecrated at Rome on 20 September 1192. But he had much more to do before he returned. K. Richard was taken prisoner at the end of that year, and Savary saw a new opportunity. He was in the forefront of the negociations for the king's release, for he claimed cousinship with the Emperor Henry. The see of Canterbury was still unfilled: why should he not now take Reginald's place? So the captive king against his will wrote to commend him to the monks of Christ Church, though he also wrote secretly to secure the appointment of Hubert Walter. When this scheme had failed, Savary fell back on another which he had previously taken in hand. The great abbey of Glastonbury lay in his new diocese. As the archbishop was the abbot of the monks of his cathedral church of Canterbury, and as Winchester, Worcester, and Bath itself had a like arrangement, why should Savary not be the abbot of Glastonbury and make that also a cathedral church? There would be no more quarrels then between bishop and abbot, and the bishop of Bath and Glastonbury would be a great prelate indeed. So the emperor made the king agree to this new proposal. But the forces with which Savary had to reckon were greater than he had supposed, and the chief part of his episcopate was taken up with his long fight with the monks, which he carried on largely from abroad. At last after various successes and reverses the matter was brought to a conclusion, not quite as Savary wished, yet much in his favour. For the new and strong pope Innocent III decided that he should be styled the bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, taking a fourth part of the abbey's estates as his own share, while the rest was left to the monks under a prior appointed by agreement of both parties.[2]

It is of interest to note that the dean and chapter of Wells were on Savary's side in the struggle. The ever-growing predominance of the great monasteries was a danger to parochial and diocesan life. Doubtless the canons of Wells had suffered from the overshadowing might of their proud neighbours, and thought with many good men of the day that the abbey ought not to be independent of the bishop. We catch one glimpse of Jocelin the canon on 28 January 1200, as he goes with the precentor, the subdean, and another canon (John de Bohun, doubtless a relation of the bishop) to enforce Bishop Savary's orders, and returns in the evening with five of the recalcitrant monks to be held as temporary prisoners at Wells. He little knew then that he was to inherit the episcopal quarrel.

Bishop Savary was so little at home that we have but few records of his episcopate, and therefore from the scarcity of documents Jocelin's history at this period is almost a blank. But we find him attesting as canon a grant of Bishop Savary appropriating the church of Hardington to the abbey of Keynsham.[3] Hugh of Wells attests this charter by his official: from which we gather that he already held the post of archdeacon. Hugh appears at an earlier date than this to have entered Savary's service; for on one occasion the bishop styles him his clerk. Jocelin, on the other hand, entered the service of Robert, the prior of Bath, who gave him an annual pension till he could find him a benefice. Soon afterwards he presented him to the church of Dogmersfield in Hampshire, an episcopal manor of Wells. The grants which record this are attested by Hugh as archdeacon of Wells, and they probably belong to the year 1204.[4]

By this date both Hugh and Jocelin had entered the royal service. They were probably introduced to it by Simon the archdeacon of Wells, who was a kind of vice-chancellor to the king, despatching his letters and charters in the necessary absence of the chancellor, Archbishop Hubert Walter. Before Simon became bishop of Chichester, Hugh was with him accompanying the king on his foreign journeys.

Of this Simon something must be said by way of digression, in order to explain the sort of service which in time brought both Jocelin and his brother to the episcopate. If Simon was not a model archdeacon, he was at any rate a typical one. Modern writers following Matthew of Paris have agreed to call him Simon of Wells: but this is an error. It is not clear that he was ever at Wells in his life. But he was Simon archdeacon of Wells. We first find him as archdeacon in a charter of K. Richard given at his new castle of Chateau Gaillard on the Seine, 'by the hand of Simon de Camera, archdeacon of Wells' (15 June 1198).[5] Simon de Camera, then, was his name, and we can trace him thereby a few years back, when he attests as Simon de Camera a charter (not a royal one) which is also attested by Hubert Walter the archbishop.[6] We may perhaps gather that he began his career in the service of the archbishop, and as Hubert Walter was the king's chancellor he thus came to be the king's vice-chancellor. Simon was abroad with K. Richard when he died, April 1199; and he continued to serve in the chancery of K. John. He followed the king everywhere in Normandy, and he was frequently with him as he restlessly moved from place to place in England. Only two Wells documents bear a trace of him. In one he attests a charter of Archbishop Hubert to the abbey of Bee, whose abbot held a stall in the cathedral church of Wells:[7] the other belongs to the city of Wells, being a confirmation of its privileges given by K. John, Sept. 1201, 'by the hand', most appropriately, 'of Simon archdeacon of Wells '; yet given not at Wells but at Chinon.[8]

It must not be inferred that the post of archdeacon at the end of the twelfth century was a sinecure. Archdeacons had a great deal of highly responsible work to do; and it required a special legal training, which often had been gained at the universities of Bologna and Paris. But this very fact had as a consequence that an able young archdeacon was snapped up for the king's business, as by far the best qualified man to be found; and then the archdeacon's work had to be done by deputy. Simon de Camera had probably got his legal training before he became an archdeacon: but it often happened that a new archdeacon went off at once to pursue his studies abroad. We have an example of this in Bishop Reginald, who when he was made archdeacon of Salisbury had gone off to learn his business in Paris.

Another specimen archdeacon of John's reign is also furnished by the Somerset diocese. William of Wrotham was archdeacon of Taunton; but it is startling to find from the Rolls of Letters Patent that for several years his principal function was to superintend the Cinque Ports, and to see that no ships came across or set out without the king's special licence directed to him. And in 1206, when the king assembled all the ships of his fleet at Portsmouth, he commanded that they should look for orders to William of Wrotham, archdeacon of Taunton.

We are now in a position to understand the work upon which Hugh of Wells was about to enter. We find him at Rouen in the service of the new king, 26 Aug. 1199, in company with Simon archdeacon of Wells.[9] In March 1203 the king gave him a stall at Lincoln, where he was afterwards to be bishop; and, when Simon was elected to the see of Chichester in April 1204, Hugh took his place in the king's chancery and also in the archdeaconry of Wells.

Jocelin his brother had already been drawn into the same service, and in February the king gave him the benefice of Lugwardine in Herefordshire, allowing him to have a perpetual vicar in the person of Master Alard, who afterwards was his subdean at Wells. It may be that Hugh, as a Wells man and a canon of Wells, felt more strongly than Simon had felt the responsibility of his archdeaconry, and that it was found convenient that Jocelin should frequently act in his place at the court. In the early part of 1205 Jocelin despatches the king's letters from Lexington, Windsor, and Winchester. But two events were soon to happen, which were to affect for good and ill his future career. On 13 July 1205 Archbishop Hubert Walter died: on 8 August, far away in Italy, that incessant wanderer Bishop Savary found, as his epitaph says, his last day of life and his first day of rest. Once again the two sees were vacant at the same moment. We will consider the fate of the less important first.


The Election of Bishop Jocelin

When the news of Savary's death reached England, the king chanced to be in Somerset. In the earlier years of his reign he had spent nearly all his time in Normandy; but in 1204 he was in Somerset for a fortnight (4–19 July), and twice he visited Wells. And now in August 1205 he spent another fortnight in these parts: on 3 Sept. he was at Glastonbury, the next day at Pilton, and the next at Wells.

The abbey of Glastonbury was highly excited: the moment had come for a fresh struggle for liberty. The king acquiesced, and the monks appealed in piteous terms to the pope to dissolve the unnatural union between the abbey and the bishopric. The canons of Wells and the monks of Bath alike supported them, and from every quarter appeals poured in. The king himself wrote to Innocent III on 7 November, desiring him to promote 'the reformation' of the church to its ancient state; and on 7 December he arranged a loan of 700 marks for the monks who were starting for Rome.[10]

Meantime the dean and canons of Wells had taken advantage of the king's visit to get afresh confirmation of the royal gifts of North Curry and Hatch, with the added privilege of a weekly market. Their charter was given at Bristol on 10 September, ' by the hand of Hugh of Wells, archdeacon of Wells '; and it was attested by a former canon, John Cumin, the archbishop of Dublin.[11]

Proceedings were now on foot for the election of a new bishop. The monks of Bath appointed four of their number as electors, and the chapter of Wells nominated for the purpose Alexander the dean, William the precentor, Thomas the subdean, and Master Ralph de Lechlade. These proctors for the election followed the king to Nottingham (28 Sept.–2 Oct.), and then met him again at Windsor (1—4 Nov.). They were with him yet again in Dorset and Wilts in the early weeks of January 1206, and at Lexington in the first days of February.

Why the proceedings were so protracted does not appear. It may be that the king waited for the pope to reply to his letter about Glastonbury. But Innocent III was not to be hurried, and he on his part may have wished to hear who was proposed as the new bishop. At length he wrote to the monks, in a letter which became famous as a precedent, that no change could be made in the vacancy of the see: he would however hear their appeal when there was a bishop to plead on the other side. This was on 14 March. But on 25 March he writes again; for he has heard of the election: and he now instructs his legate, John Ferentinus the cardinal, to allow the monks to elect an abbot for themselves, as the election has been made to the see of Bath by the monks of Bath and the chapter of Wells. A few days later he sends another letter (31 March), ordering an enquiry as to the exchange which Bishop Savary had made with K. Richard of the city of Bath for the abbey of Glastonbury: it had evidently been suggested to the pope that the transaction was tainted with simony.

The choice of Church and king had fallen on Jocelin; and we naturally ask why Jocelin was chosen, and not his elder brother Hugh. We cannot answer the question. It may be that the king was not willing to spare either of the brothers as yet from his service. It is certainly curious to find that at the beginning of January the king presented Jocelin to the benefice of Winsham. It looks as though he did not contemplate his appointment to the bishopric. Indeed as late as 9 March a charter is issued at Nottingham 'by the hand of Jocelin of Wells', who does not yet bear the style of 'the elect of Bath', as he does when he attests at Winchester on 20 April.

On 23 April the king writes from Dogmersfield to commend the bishop-elect to the papal legate; and on 3 May he issues three Letters Patent dealing with the temporalities of the see. Hitherto they had been in the charge of Hugh of Wells, archdeacon of Wells, and William of Wrotham, archdeacon of Taunton, who had custody alike of the episcopate of Bath and of the abbey of Glastonbury. Thus the diocese was for the moment fortunate in having two of its archdeacons in the king's employ. The first of the three Letters Patent issued on 3 May 1206 deals with the city of Bath which Savary had granted to K. Richard, and with the portion of the Glastonbury estates which Savary had held. These remain in the king's hands, but are to be in the custody of Jocelin the bishop-elect and of Hugh archdeacon of Wells, till other order shall be taken. The second restores to Jocelin the temporalities of the see of Bath as they were before Savary's time under Bishop Reginald. It goes on to declare as before that the city of Bath and the share of Glastonbury which Savary held are to be in the custody of Jocelin and Hugh, until the Roman curia shall have decided what is to be done about Glastonbury. The third letter is addressed to the knights and tenants of the episcopate of Bath, bidding them do their homage to Jocelin as their lord.

These documents are quite explicit, Jocelin is 'the elect of Bath', not of 'Bath and Glastonbury'. The king is expecting the separation, and he does not claim the city of Bath, as his own, but considerately places both that and the Glastonbury share in the custody of the bishop-elect and his brother the archdeacon of Wells.

On 5 May 'the elect of Bath' was still despatching the king's letters at Fremantle; five days after this the bishopric of Lincoln fell vacant, but the king took no steps to fill it for the next three years. Possibly Bath would have remained vacant as long, but for the pressing problem of the abbey of Glastonbury.

Jocelin was consecrated at Reading on Trinity Sunday, 28 May 1206, by William of St. Mere l'Eglise, the bishop of London, with nine other prelates assisting: for the archbishopric of Canterbury was still vacant, and a fierce struggle had already begun to be waged about it. To that struggle we must now turn leaving Bishop Jocelin for a while.

The Election to Canterbury

The monks of Christ Church had long claimed, and the popes had favoured their claim, to be the sole electors to the primatial see. But the claim was one which in practice neither the bishops nor the king could possibly allow. When Hubert Walter was dead, the monks determined on speedy action in the hope of forstalling both king and bishops. They secretly elected their subprior Reginald and sent him off under a strict injunction of silence to get papal confirmation of what they claimed was for once a perfectly free election. It was a mad act, hopelessly irregular, and speedily rendered futile. For the archbishop-elect, once across the channel, could not refrain from advertising his new dignity, and the report of it flew back to England. Bishops and king were alike outraged, and the terrified monks confessed their error, and offered to make a new and regular election in conference with the bishops of the province. The king's nominee was John de Gray, who had been an archdeacon employed in the royal chancery, like Simon and Hugh the successive archdeacons of Wells. He was now bishop of Norwich, a man of no mark; but the king liked him, and as it was no time for divided counsels the bishops agreed to support him. He was duly elected at Canterbury on 11 December 1205. The pope had now two candidates before him, each furnished with credentials from the Christ Church monks; but the first was disqualified by the irregularity of his election, and the second was a mere creature of the king. Innocent III was the ablest pope since Hildebrand. He took his time, and presently rejected both candidates. He then demanded that a fresh election should be made in his presence by a large deputation of Canterbury monks fully accredited, and confirmed in his presence on behalf of the bishops and the king. K. John acceded to this, having first pledged every one concerned to vote for no one but John de Gray. But the pope was not to be hoodwinked: he bade the envoys follow their consciences and elect the best Englishman they knew. There sat among the cardinals an English churchman of European reputation, who had been highly distinguished in the university of Paris, and had on his call to the cardinalate been congratulated in letters from K. John himself as an honour to the English name. If they were to elect at all in such circumstances, their choice could not be doubtful. Stephen de Langton accordingly was elected by fifteen out of the sixteen monks; and was at once accepted on behalf of the bishops. The king had been outwitted by a better diplomatist than himself, and it would have been well if he had taken his defeat with a good grace. But when the monks at home confirmed the action of their envoys, his hand fell heavily upon them, and he taunted them with perjury, thereby admitting that he had tampered with the electors. To the pope he replied that he would have nothing to say to a man of whom he knew no more than that he had lived his life among his enemies in France. Innocent's answer to this was to consecrate Stephen de Langton on 17 July 1207. The archbishop set out for home, and got as far as Pontigny, which had been the refuge of Thomas Becket fifty years before.


Bishop Jocelin and the Interdict

We may now return to Bishop Jocelin, who was not as yet affected by these untoward events. He was now the bishop of Bath: so he invariably styles himself and is styled by others, until after his return from exile in 1213. He was high in the favour of the king, who on 30 December 1206 sent him a hundred head of deer to stock his park at Dogmersfield, and on 10 May 1207 gave him three tuns of wine. On 3 March Jocelin obtained from the king for himself, the chapter of Wells, and the monks of Bath a full confirmation of all their respective possessions and privileges. On the 27th, Ash-Wednesday, in concert with his chapter at Wells he made an ordinance for the daily celebration of the mass of the Blessed Virgin, whose cult was now everywhere coming into exceptional prominence.[12] Jocelin still attests the king's charters from time to time, and is with him at the Witham Charterhouse in Somerset on 23 July, where he and Hugh are transacting the business of the king's 'camera', together with Elias of Dereham.

On 13 September the king came to Wells, and Jocelin must have explained to him his desire to make this his principal seat: for a few days afterwards (16 Sept.) the king grants him leave to enclose his park, and presently (26 Nov.) supplements this grant by a licence to divert the public road for this purpose—to wit, the king's highway from the east side of his garden towards Dultingcote, under the hill known as the Tor, and also the road running through Reward to Coxley, subject to his providing land for roads outside his park-wall.

Jocelin, on the other hand, had, it would seem, accommodated the king by giving him what had been the bishop's house at Bath; and to it the king orders wine to be sent on 6 October.[13] On 28 Jan. 1208 Jocelin was with the king at Fremantle; and on 3 March the king came again to Wells for two days. It was an anxious moment: for the pope's thunderbolt, long held in suspense owing to John's skill in protracting negociations, was now about to fall. When John had ejected the Canterbury monks in July 1207 and had flatly refused to receive Stephen as archbishop, the pope told the bishops of London, Ely, and Worcester to intercede, and, if they failed, to lay the whole of England under interdict. Negociations followed: on 21 Jan. 1208 the king writes to the three bishops that he is ready to obey the pope, 'saving his royal rights and liberties'; and on 19 Feb. he grants a safe-conduct until Easter to the archbishop's brother, Simon de Langton, in order that he may come over to discuss the situation. On 12 March Simon met the king and the bishops at Winchester—Jocelin no doubt being among them. It was a stormy scene. When the king repeated his readiness to obey with the proviso already mentioned, Simon said that his instructions were to require obedience absolute and unconditional. The king's passion was up, and he swore 'by God's teeth' that he would pack off bishops, clergy, and monks to the pope., the moment the interdict was proclaimed; and would cut off the nose and ears of every Roman ecclesiastic he could find in his realm: as for the bishops, let them be gone at once, as they valued their lives. Two days later in a proclamation to the men of Kent he stated his case calmly and well:

Know ye that Master Simon de Langton came to us at Winchester on the Wednesday before Mid-lent, and in presence of our bishops asked us to receive. Master Stephen de Langton his brother as archbishop of Canterbury; and, when we spoke with him of the saving to us in this matter of our royal rights, he told us he would do nothing for us in the matter except we should place ourselves wholly in his hands (nisi ex toto poneremus nos in misericordiam suam). Now this we send you that ye may know what evil and wrong is done to us in this affair; and we bid you give credence to that which Reginald de Cornhill shall say to you from us, as to that which was there done between us and the bishops aforesaid and Simon, and as to what must now be done in the matter of this our order. Witness myself at Winchester, the fourteenth day of March.

The next days were spent in making preparations for the impending interdict. He was determined to confiscate the property of all bishops, clergy, and monks who should refuse to celebrate divine service as usual. A series of letters may be read in the Patent Roll, all issued from Marlborough and Clarendon on 17 and 18 March, appointing royal bailiffs for the confiscation of the various dioceses. The very first, as it happens, concerns Bishop Jocelin's diocese. It is less explicit than some of the others, and conveys no distinct threat. But a shudder must have run through the county at the name of Gerard d'Athée, a heartless foreigner who was in charge of Gloucester Castle and whose reputation was of the very worst.

The king to all clergy and laity of the diocese of Bath. We command that as from the Monday next before Palm Sunday ye look to Gerard d'Athée as our bailiff for the diocese of Bath; and meanwhile give credence to him in what he shall say to you on our behalf concerning our affairs. Witness myself at Marlborough, the seventeenth day of March.

A like letter to Exeter follows. Then a letter to Durham, more expressly worded: Robert de Vieux Pont will inform them 'of the negociations at Winchester in the matter of the church of Canterbury, and in what manner we broke off, and of the wrong inflicted on us by our lord the pope, and we will that as concerns the clergy and their goods and possessions he should do as we have given him orders'. Similar letters were written to the counties of Oxford and Berks. Then comes a letter to Lincoln, which was now without a bishop: it commits into the hands of William de Cornhill, archdeacon of Huntingdon, and Gerard de Camville 'all lands and goods of abbots and priors and all religious, and also of all clergy of the Lincoln diocese, who from this time forth shall refuse to perform divine offices'. A like letter follows to Ely; and doubtless there were more which were not enrolled.

On 23 March the king writes to the bishop of London to hand over to the justiciar, Geoffrey fitz Peter, the letters patent which he had issued to the three bishops regarding his readiness to obey the pope. On that day, Passion Sunday, or on the next, the three bishops published the interdict, and fled across the sea, together with the bishop of Hereford and perhaps another.

By the terms of the interdict all churches were closed; and, though the sacraments of baptism and marriage were administered under restrictions, the dead were buried, so Roger de Wendover says, in ditches like dogs. There were special provisions by which monasteries at such times were permitted to conduct their services secretly, in a low voice, and without ringing of bells: but all these the pope now cancelled, allowing no exceptions. The Cistercians indeed, obeying the injunction of the head of their order abroad, refused to abandon their services, even opened their doors and shouted their chants.[14] But they had to give way; and, when a year later the pope gave relaxation so far as the monasteries were concerned, the Cistercians alone found themselves excluded from the boon.

But how far was the interdict observed apart from the monasteries? The monastic annalists inform us that the laity were indifferent: the pressure of taxation suddenly ceased, for the king had ample resources in the confiscated wealth of the Church, and 'there was a full abundance of victuals'.[15] The lay-folk appear to have stood by the king, who championed the rights of the English crown against a foreign ecclesiastical potentate. Those of the clergy who took the same line, and indeed there must have been many, are not to be hastily condemned.[16] The pope was far away, the king was near; and on paper at least the king's cause was as good as the pope's. For he had offered to receive the archbishop and do everything short of surrendering the ancient rights of his predecessors.

What of Bishop Jocelin at this moment? We must be careful not to draw any conclusion from the appointment of a bailiff for his diocese a week before the interdict was proclaimed: for even the diocese of Winchester, whose bishop, Peter des Roches, consistently supported the king, was not exempted from this measure, as we incidentally learn from a writ which restored him his rights on 5 April. Five days after this Jocelin's diocese was similarly restored to him. Hugh his brother was still at the court, transacting the king's business as usual. On one of the two days on which the letters patent to the dioceses were being issued, the burgesses of Yarmouth got a charter from the king at Marlborough ' given by the hand of Hugh de Welles, archdeacon of Wells, on the 18th day of March '. This charter is witnessed by three bishops: Peter des Roches, the bishop of Winchester; John bishop of Norwich, the king's unlucky candidate for the archbishopric; and Herbert Poore, the bishop of Salisbury, who never seems to have crossed the sea at all. Jocelin's name is not there: he may perhaps have withdrawn for the moment to consider what his course was to be.

But on 16 Sept. we find the king at Wells, issuing orders as to his ships at Portsmouth; a week later Jocelin and Hugh are with him at Taunton, and on 28 Sept. Jocelin attests a royal charter at Blackmore. And both the brothers spent Christmas with the king at Bristol.

At the beginning of the new year the pope made another move in the game. Finding the interdict unavailing, he threatened to excommunicate the king in person. John replied as before by opening negociations. Once more Simon de Langton has a safe-conduct to last for three weeks after Easter, and the terms of it directly concern us: 'in coming to London to speak with our venerable fathers the bishops of Winchester and Bath, and with Geoffrey fitz Peter our justiciar, and other our faithful counsellors, on the matter of the church of Canterbury, concerning which the lord pope has made request to us by his letters'. This is attested by the bishops of Winchester and Bath and the justiciar, at London 23 March 1209. Jocelin, then, is one of three whom the king puts forward to represent his case in conference. Nothing came of this, except the postponement of the excommunication for a time.

The king was at Bristol on 10 May, and afterwards spent two days at Bath. On 3 June Jocelin was at Wells, meeting his dean and canons, and making a rearrangement by which the church of Wedmore, which Bishop Robert had assigned to the subdean, was henceforth to belong to the dean, and the church of Wookey previously attached to the deanery was to be the subdean's portion. This ordinance is dated in the chapter of Wells on the 3rd of June in the fourth year of Bishop Jocelin, by his hand and that of Dean Alexander and the chapter.[17]

Meanwhile something else had happened which was to have a serious influence on Bishop Jocelin 's conduct. Five bishoprics were now vacant in England, and the pope wrote to the chapters concerned that, if they did not proceed at once to elect, he would himself appoint and would punish their disobedience.[18] The chapter of Lincoln got the king's permission to elect Jocelin's brother, Hugh of Wells.[19] On 21 June the pope wrote to Stephen the archbishop to examine three at least of the electing canons as to whether the election was canonically regular, and to enquire as to the character of the bishop -elect. He wrote again on 29 July to say that if Hugh cannot purge himself to the pope's satisfaction his election is to be annulled.

In the meantime the king had been again at Wells, on 6 July. Further efforts were being made to bring about a reconciliation, and at the end of August the two brothers were present at a great conference at Dover, where a scheme was drafted which seemed for the moment to have brought the matter to a settlement.[20] The king's excommunication was postponed afresh on 2 Sept. for three weeks: the archbishop even crossed to Dover (2 Oct.). But it was all to no purpose, and he and the bishops who had come over soon went back again (c. 8 Oct.). The king's excommunication followed.

At this point we lose sight of Jocelin. His brother Hugh was sent by the king to receive consecration at the hands of the archbishop of Rouen. But he went to Stephen de Langton, and was consecrated by him at Melun on 20 Dec. 1209. The king immediately seized on the estates of the bishopric of Lincoln. We may suppose that Jocelin left the country about this time. The king's excommunication had changed the situation: the last hope of a peaceful settlement was gone. Excommunication must fall on his own head, if he dared serve the king any longer.

It was three and a half years more before K.John confessed himself beaten, and humbled himself in the dust before the imperious pontiff who was about to fling him from his throne. The curtain is lifted for one instant only upon the two brothers. Our records happily contain a copy of Bishop Hugh's first will, which he made near Bordeaux, six months before his return.[21] Its last sentence discloses his affection for Wells. 'Further, to the fabric of Wells 300 marks; to increase the common fund of Wells, to the use of the vicars and canons, 300 marks; to be divided among the vicars, 40 marks.' This was ' done at St Martin de Garenne, on St Brice's day, in the third year of his episcopate, in presence of Jocelin bishop of Bath, Master Helias de Derham, Master John de Ebor', Master Reginald de Cestria, Master William, Roger and Helias chaplains, Peter de Cicestria, William de Hamme'. The last two were canons of Wells; one of' them a future dean, the other a future precentor. If Hugh's episcopate be reckoned from his consecration on 20 Dec. 1209, the date of this document must be 13 November 1212.


Concluding Reflections

This enquiry has been directed to the elucidation of certain facts which have been strangely overlooked. I have not attempted to prejudge the question whether Jocelin and his brother were justified in standing so long by the king. It is a new question: for every modern writer—apparently without exception—who has dealt with the matter at all, has informed us that Bishop Jocelin published the interdict with the three bishops in 1208, and immediately crossed the sea.[22] We have shown by accumulated evidence that this was not so. For a year and a half after the publication of the interdict the two Wells brothers were the trusted counsellors of the king.

Jocelin's political position did not escape contemporary criticism. A satirical poem of the time contrasts Bath, Norwich, and Winchester with the three stalwarts, London, Ely, and Worcester; and just mentions, without special virulence, that Rochester and Salisbury were still at home. I venture to turn the stanza which relates to Bishop Jocelin:[23]

If one should ask my lord of Bath
How many marks the exchequer hath,
He promptly will the sums rehearse
He gathers for the royal purse:
In such a decalogue he's wise;
For canon law he has no eyes.

We leave the whitewashing of K. John to the regicide William Prynne. That eccentric writer's learned tomes had the merit of rendering available for the first time the documents of the reign preserved in the Tower of London. But he failed to discern that Matthew Paris, though a 'monkish historian', was not papal but anti-papal in his proclivities; and, throwing aside all the chronicles, he chose to judge John by the record evidence only—in other words, by the state documents of his own chancery. The king's reputation can never recover from the indictment of his unredeemed worthlessness drawn by Bishop Stubbs.[24] Were he not so despicable, we should more easily recognise that his cause was one which the sober judgement of Englishmen was bound to uphold. Innocent III, who never let an opportunity pass, saw his way to make the election of the primate of all England a matter to be settled between the pope and the monks of Canterbury. To the English people this was intolerable. The great justiciar, Geoffrey fitz Peter, who diligently sought peace, rose nevertheless at a critical moment and carried all the barons with him in refusing to counsel the king to forgo the proviso 'saving the royal rights and liberties'. Under any other king the nation must have won. But Innocent was doubtless wise, in dealing with so faithless a prince, to insist that complete restitution must be made before there was talk of privilege. The archbishop and the bishops promised to plead (as well they might) for the traditional rights of the English sovereign, if John would first obey and restore; and they assured the king that the pope would be willing to allow the privilege when justice had been done. But we may doubt, as all England doubted, whether they spoke the pope's mind; and indeed the issue showed that Innocent knew not moderation or mercy.

But however we judge the situation, the fact is now ascertained—and it is a contribution to the study of this perplexing period—hat two solid Somerset men, whose names are not merely beyond reproach, but are an honour to the churches which they ruled—men of business habits perhaps, rather than of political imagination—remained at the king's side, as the best hope they had of making peace, and refused to undertake what was called 'the thankless pilgrimage', until the king's personal excommunication made it impossible for them to serve him any more.

  1. See Appendix D.
  2. The story is fully told by Adam of Domerham (pp. 352 ff.): see above, pp. 68 ff.
  3. R. iii. 112.
  4. Bath Chartul. ii. 64-6.
  5. Round, Ancient Charters (Pipe Rolls Soc.), p. 109.
  6. Ibid., p. 103: cf. Round, Doc. in Fr., p. 498.
  7. Wells ch. 17.
  8. Church, Early Hist. of the Ch. of Wells, p. 391.
  9. Round, Doc. in Fr., p. 392.
  10. See Adam of Domerham, and the Charter Rolls, which are the main authorities for what follows.
  11. R. i. 9, and Charter Rolls.
  12. R. iii. 128 b (by an error Jocelin is here called bishop of Bath and Glastonbury). For other dates at this period reference is in general to the Charter Rolls and Rolls of Letters Patent and Close, ed. Hardy (Rec. Comm.).
  13. Rot. Lit. Pat. On 19 March of the next year the king assigns 'what had been the bishop's camera' at Bath to W. Crassus (ibid.). But for the previous entry we might have been misled into connecting this with the proclamation of the Interdict (see below, p. 151).
  14. The abbot of Citeaux took the technical ground that no authentic copy of the pope's bull had been sent to the monasteries. The Cistercians got small thanks from the king, who told them he valued their money more than their prayers (Gervase, II, cix and 105).
  15. Winchester Annals.
  16. Margam Annals, p. 28 'faventibus ei et eonsentientibus omnibus laicis et clerieis fere universis, sed et viris euiuslibet professionis multis.'
  17. R. i. 58.
  18. Cat. of Papal Letters, 2 Jan. 1209.
  19. On 25 May Hugh is 'Lincoln, elect.'
  20. Gervase, II, pp. c, ci.
  21. R. iii. 248 b.
  22. Roger de Wendover (Rolls Ser. ii. 46), followed by Matthew of Paris, after describing the cessation of religious services on account of the interdict, says: 'Quid plura? Recesserunt latentcr ab Anglia Willelmus Londinensis, Eustachius Eliensis, Malgerus Wigorniensis, Jocelinus Bathoniensis et Egidius Herefordiensis episcopi, satius arbitrantes saevitiam commoti regis ad tempus declinare quam in terra interdicta sine fructu residere.' This is perhaps the source of the error. Yet it need not be taken to mean that all these bishops left England at once, though, if we had not evidence to the contrary this might well seem to be its meaning. As however Roger de Wendover appears to have written towards the end of his life (†1236), and is ill-informed as to the promulgation of the interdict and the personal excommunication of the king, the most probable explanation is that he made a mistake. He knew that Jocelin did go into exile, and no doubt he thought that he went at once.
  23. T. Wright, Political Songs, Camd. Soc, 1839, p. 10:

     Si praesuli Bathoniae
     Fiat quandoque quaestio,
    Quot marcae bursae regiae
     Accedunt in scaccario:
     Respondet voce libera,
     Mille, centum, et caetera,
     Ad bursam regis colligo:
     Doctus in hoc decalogo,
     Caecus in forma canonis.

  24. Preface to Walter of Coventry (Rolls Ser.), vol. ii.