Somerset Historical Essays/Early Somerset Archdeacons

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Somerset Historical Essays by Joseph Armitage Robinson
Early Somerset Archdeacons



Archdeacons reappear in England after the Conquest. In the period immediately preceding it the very title had almost died out: but the new Norman bishops introduced the foreign custom by which a diocese was divided into three or four archdeaconries.[1] Although Giso (1061-88), the Lotharingian bishop brought over by K. Edward, was an ardent reformer, we do not find an archdeacon in the diocese of Wells until 1084. In that year the Gheld Inquest mentions Benselin the archdeacon as holding a hide and a half under Bishop Giso. Two years later the Domesday Survey says that Benthelin (designated archdeacon in the Exeter Book) holds the church of Yatton.[2] And Benzelin the archdeacon attests a Bath charter of Bishop John, which appears to belong to the early years of his episcopate.[3] It appears therefore that Benselin was Bishop Giso's archdeacon, appointed in all probability after K. William's decree of 1076 enforcing the distinction between the ecclesiastical and civil jurisdictions, and maintained in office during the early years of Bishop John, when the see was transferred from Wells to Bath.

The next name we meet with is that of Girbert, who attests the Dunster charter of William de Moion in the time of William Rufus. This charter was confirmed by Archbishop Anselm, and should perhaps be assigned to 1094–7.[4] In 1106 Girbert attests Bishop John's record of his gifts to the church of Bath.[5] Here he is preceded by two other archdeacons, Walcher (' Walkerius ') and Robert, who perhaps were senior to him in appointment; but they do not occur again. Girbert however is at the bishop's court at Bath on 30 June 1120 (?), where again we find three archdeacons: 'cum archidiaconis tribus, Johele Salisberiensi et Girberto Bathensi et Araldo'. [6] It may be that Johel was acting in a temporary capacity: he attests a Salisbury charter of about the same date.[7] We shall find that somewhat later archdeacons of other dioceses not unfrequently are employed in Somerset. We must not hastily draw a conclusion from the descriptions of Johel and Girbert as archdeacons of Salisbury and Bath respectively: they bear the titles of the dioceses, not necessarily of their particular archdeaconries.

Arald who was present at this court at Bath appears again on 4 April 1122 in a group of witnesses: 'archidiaconi et capellani episcopi, Johannes, Araldus, Atselinus, Vitalis, Osuuardus'.[8] As Atselin occurs elsewhere as bishop's chaplain, we may assume that the archdeacons here are two only, John and Arald. John, who attests first, was the bishop's nephew, of whom we have spoken elsewhere.[9] Bishop John died 29 Dec. 1122: Bishop Godfrey was consecrated 26 Aug. 1123, and he died 16 Aug. 1135. In the Bath Chartulary (i. 57) Bishop Godfrey's gift to the church of Bath is placed under 1136: though this is obviously wrong, we may suppose that the charter was granted towards the end of his life. It is attested by John and Arald archdeacons, who are followed by William prior of Taunton and three canons of Wells.

To sum up for the first period, we find that in Bishop Giso's time there is but one archdeacon, and that he continues in office for a while under Bishop John. Soon afterwards however there are three archdeacons, a usual number under the Norman bishops. No local title has so far appeared, except Bathensis (c. 1120); but it is probable that the diocese was already divided into three archdeaconries, as it certainly was a little later.

The next period comprises the episcopate of Robert and the eight years' vacancy which followed. There is an unfortunate lack of evidence for Bishop Robert's first ten years, and we cannot be sure that we have any charter of his earlier than 1146.[10] No earlier archdeacon reappears under Bishop Robert; but we frequently meet with a new group of three—Eustace, Martin, and Hugh: the order varies, but Eustace is generally first. The first to drop out is Martin, and his place is taken by Robert (Ath. 87). It is a curious fact that not one of these three persons occurs as archdeacon in any of the Wells charters: our knowledge of them comes entirely from other sources.[11] The three occur together in five charters: Br. 51 (c. 1146), B. i. 61, Ath. 187, Br. 54, and another to be described presently. The first of these confirms a grant made in 1146: the second, the Bath Donation, is attested by Simon abbot of Athelney whereas Ath. 187 is a charter of Benedict his successor. These four charters may be assigned conjecturally to 1146-8.

The fifth charter is Bishop Robert's confirmation of W. de Falaise's grant of St Andrew of Stoke (Stoke Curcy, now Stogursy) to the monks of St Mary of Lonlay.[12] Its first witness is Ivo dean of Wells; then follow Martin archdeacon of Bath, Eustace archdeacon of Wells,[13] Hugh de Turnay[14] archdeacon de ultra Perret, Samuel vice-archdeacon of Wells. The special interest of this charter lies in its mention of the three Somerset archdeaconries: that 'beyond the Parrett' was afterwards called the archdeaconry of Taunton.[15] It is also interesting to find for the first time a vice-archdeacon.

We have no record of any of these persons as archdeacons after 1159;[16] but Master Eustace and Master Martin are found in charters after this date,[17] and it is just possible that these are the archdeacons retired from office.[18]

A fixed date is given us by the Huish charter (R. i. 26), which is attested at Wells at what appears to be a full synod, 4 Nov. 1159. Besides the chapters of Wells and Bath we have here the abbots of Mechelney and Athelney, the priors of Glastonbury, Montacute, Taunton, and Bruton; and then at the end Robert and Thomas archdeacons. Robert and Thomas are again together without local designation in the Wells charter 6 and R. i 46, both c. 1160–4.

As archdeacon of Wells Robert attests three of Bishop Robert's charters,[19] and one in the vacancy after his death († 31 Aug. 1166).[20] Moreover in R. i. 20 Bishop Robert confirms a lease made by Robert 'our archdeacon' of land in Wells, the profits to go to the archdeacon [of Wells] perpetually. In five other charters he occurs without local title. We may place him conjecturally c. 1155–69. Thomas occurs as archdeacon of Bath, 14 March 1165:[21] we cannot trace him later than this. It would appear then that towards the end of Bishop Robert's life two archdeacons only are in office: but it must be remembered that the evidence is of a fragmentary and incidental kind, and our results may be modified if further charters become available.

Our enquiries thus far have thrown no light at all on the actual work that archdeacons were called upon to do: we have merely seen them attending the bishop's court and attesting his charters. The nature of our documents is such that the functions of an archdeacon are only quite exceptionally referred to. One of the charters however (Reg. Osm. i. 245) happens to mention the archdeacon's chapter. This is a composition between the churches of Salisbury and Bath, about the year 1157. There had been a controversy of long standing in regard to the chapel of Alveston. This chapel was now surrendered to Bath, subject to a payment to be made annually to Salisbury through the canon who held the church of Bedminster, which though in the diocese of Bath was a prebend in the church of Salisbury. There is a further clause to the effect that, 'in view of the good fellowship and fraternal charity which has long existed and, please God, will continue to exist between the two churches, the bishop of Bath with consent of his clergy allows this liberty to the prebend of Bedminster: viz., that the vicars of the canon there should come to the chapter three times a year, or four times in case of necessity, and not oftener, and that on the archdeacon's summons; but should never go to the chapter of the [rural] dean: and, if it should happen that the vicars are impleaded, they shall not answer to a charge except in the presence of the canon of Bedminster, and in some fit spot that has been duly appointed'. There is just enough here to give us a glimpse of the archdeacon of Bath summoning the clergy to some central place of meeting three or even four times in the year to transact the business of an archidiaconal chapter.[22]

The kindly relation between Salisbury and Bath, and the desire of the clergy to escape from archidiaconal jurisdiction, both find illustration in a correspondence between the dean and chapter of Wells and the dean and chapter of Salisbury, which took place a few years earlier. In order to understand its bearings something must be said as to the constitution of the cathedral chapter and its relation to the archdeacons of the diocese. A new cathedral system was brought into England by some of the Norman bishops after the Conquest. Almost simultaneously (1090–1) Thomas of Bayeux, Remigius of Fecamp, and Osmund of Seez established chapters after the Norman model at York, Lincoln, and Salisbury. These were bodies of secular canons, consisting of four principal 'persons' or 'dignities'—dean, precentor, chancellor, and treasurer; next to whom ranked the three or more archdeacons, then the subdean and succentor, and after these the ordinary canons. At Lincoln and Salisbury the change coincided with the removal of the see and the building of a new church in the grand style. In Somerset there was indeed a removal of the see from Wells to Bath; but this removal, so far from producing a similar result, was the very reason why the formation of a secular chapter on the new lines was delayed for half a century.[23] It was to Bishop Robert in the middle of K. Stephen's reign, that the honour fell of reconstituting Wells after the fashion, as he said, of 'the well-ordered churches of England'. It was natural that Bishop Robert should look to the neighbouring diocese for guidance. The fame of Osmund's constitution was in all men's mouths, and we have documentary evidence that two or three times in Robert's episcopate the dean and chapter of Salisbury were consulted on points of order.

The first matter of enquiry directly concerns us here. It was probably in the early part of 1155 that Reginald the precentor and Master Martin were sent to Salisbury on behalf of Dean Ivo and the chapter of Wells to enquire what was the 'dignity' and privilege of the dean of Salisbury, and in particular what 'dignity' and authority he had in the city of Salisbury. The answer was given in a letter of Robert Warelwast, then dean of Salisbury, who was consecrated to the see of Exeter on 5 June 1155. The dean is said to be in the first place archdeacon of the city and suburb, and then of all prebends within the Salisbury diocese; and to be answerable in no way for this archidiaconate to the bishop, except it be in the matter of Peter's pence, which however the bishop or archdeacon must receive through the dean.[24]

It is interesting to trace the source of this reply. It is plain that in making it Robert the dean of Salisbury referred directly to the Institutio Osmundi, that is, the charter granted by Bishop Osmund in 1091.[25] There we read that 'the subdean is to hold from the dean the archdeaconry of the city and suburb '; and, in an earlier passage, that the dean and all the canons are ' to have their own court in all their prebends within the diocese, together with the dignity of archdeacon'. Here the language is somewhat vague. It might niean that each canon had his own court and his own archidiaconal dignity in his particular prebend; and we shall find it so interpreted in a later Salisbury letter. Or it might mean that the dean and chapter conjointly exercised authority in all prebends: which would be as much as to say that the dean was the archdeacon as representative of the chapter; and so Dean Robert of Salisbury interprets it. Such was the case at Lichfield c. 1190; whereas at Lincoln, and afterwards at Wells, each canon had separate jurisdiction.[26] We may fairly conclude from the nature of the reply that the dean and canons of Wells had not at this time a copy of Osmund's Institutio which they could consult for themselves, though at a later period it formed the basis of their Statuta Antiqua.

It would appear that the archdeacons were still irrepressible; for the next dean of Salisbury, Henry de Beaumont, writes on behalf of his chapter to Dean Ivo as follows: 'As to the question at issue between you and your archdeacons, the law and custom here is this. Archdeacons have no power in prebends over canons or their clerks or parishioners: for the canons themselves are archdeacons in their own prebends, and they must present their clerks to the dean for orders, and the dean must present them to the bishop. Hence it is plain that it is quite contrary to our customs that priests or clerks of canons should be summoners or apparitors to archdeacons, since they owe them no kind of subjection: but the churches and chapels which are in our diocese, whether on our own estates or not, are entirely free from the vexation and servitude of archdeacons. Our subdean holds from the dean the archdeaconry of the city and suburb, in regard to all persons to whomsoever they appertain.'[27]

Immediately after this letter there follows in the Wells register a letter from the dean and canons of Salisbury to R. bishop of Bath; and this is followed by a letter from Henry dean of Salisbury to Richard dean of Wells.[28] From its position we may assume that in the former letter Robert (not Reginald) is the bishop addressed: it is a reply to certain questions raised under seven heads, of which one only concerns us here: 'Each of the canons', it declares, 'is archdeacon over his own men in his prebend, and the churches of prebends are in no way subject to the archdeacons'.

We must now return to our series of archdeacons. We saw that Robert and Thomas appear together in 1159, but with no local designations. Robert however is frequently styled archdeacon of Wells, and Thomas occurs by himself as archdeacon of Bath in 1165.

We have reached the period in which the king makes promising young men archdeacons in consideration of services rendered or to be rendered in the administration of royal affairs. Somerset will be found to provide conspicuous instances of this practice in the years which follow. Some of the archdeacons will be absentees, who are hardly ever in their archdeaconries and must have done their work by deputy. The result is confusing. Documents indeed are more numerous than before; but it is more difficult, as from the historical point of view it is more important, to ascertain the dates of their tenure of office. Archdeacons of other dioceses are found acting in Somerset, and sometimes we are tempted to suppose that an archdeacon who appears for a short period is in reality a deputy who signs with the style of his principal. If the investigation on which we must enter is minute and tedious, it has more than an antiquarian value. The charters of K. Henry II are with few exceptions undated, and the years in which archdeacons come and go are among the materials which historians must use in order to date them. Hardy's edition of Le Neve's Fasti is the standard book to which they naturally turn: so much of the documentary material which the Somerset Record Society has recently made available was unknown sixty years ago, that it is no discredit to the editor of that great work to say that its tables of Somerset archdeacons in the twelfth century are altogether untrustworthy.[29]

The king's hand soon makes itself felt, as we learn from two letters of Pope Alexander III. From one of these letters we learn that there was a vacancy in the archdeaconry of Bath before the death of Bishop Robert († 31 Aug. 1166). The pope writes to John Cumin, an active agent of the king, requiring him at once to surrender the archdeaconry of Bath, which he had presumed to claim for himself on the ground of a lay appointment, having dared to take it away 'from the bishop of Worcester, in the person of Master Baldwin, to whom we had confirmed it by our formal writ while the bishop of Bath was still alive'. John Cumin is required to surrender it at once to the bishop of Worcester on pain of excommunication. The letter is conjecturally dated in May 1168.[30] We shall deal with the matter more fully elsewhere, and show from the evidence of the Pipe Rolls that John Cumin was holding the archdeaconry from 1166 to 1172.[31] Indeed he attests as archdeacon of Bath c. 1170.[32] He may have got his position regularised by the pope; for it is probable that he did not abandon it until he became archbishop of Dublin in 1182.

We cannot identify Master Baldwin; but as the pope confirmed him in his office we must find him a place in our list c. 1165.

We have next to consider a more perplexing person, Thomas archdeacon of Wells, who is also frequently known as Thomas archdeacon of Bath. We begin his story by turning again to the correspondence of Alexander III. The pope writes to the dean, precentor, and chapter of Wells to the following effect. ' We have learned from Master E. that he was appointed canon with your consent by the late bishop R., who undertook on ordaining him deacon to provide him in the name of a prebend with an annual pension of forty shillings until a prebend should fall vacant. When the bishop was dead and the revenues of the see were diverted to the public purse, a prebend did fall vacant; but the king conferred it on Thomas his clerk, to whom he afterwards gave another prebend as well, with the archdeaconry to which it is attached, though no one is permitted to hold two prebends in one and the same church. Thereupon Thomas, relying on the royal authority, presumed to confer on Stephen his brother the fruits of the former prebend. Since therefore it belongs to us to correct ecclesiastical abuses of this kind, we require you at once to assign to Master E. that prebend with its fruits which Thomas after obtaining the archdeaconry is said to have conferred on his brother Stephen: for that is held to be not given, which is given by one who has not the right to give it.'[33]

We cannot with certainty identify Master E., nor tell whether the pope's interference enabled him to get a prebend. But it seems unlikely that Thomas the archdeacon modified the comfortable arrangement which with the king's consent he had made with his brother Stephen. A charter of about 1190 shews us the two brothers acting conjointly in regard to the prebend of Whitchurch (in Binegar). It is an agreement between Thomas archdeacon of Wells and Stephen de Tornaco canon of the prebend of Whitchurch and Roger de Palton, whereby the said Thomas and Stephen his brother grant to the said Roger a watercourse, &c, in exchange for land in Wells.[34] Stephen de Tornaco presents to the parsonage of Binegar a few years later, apparently in the vacancy of the see after Bishop Reginald's death:[35] and we find him as a canon at the election of Bishop Jocelin in 1206. It looks as though Thomas kept his hold on the prebend in conjunction with Stephen de Tornaco, who may have retained it in his own right at a later date.[36]

We now look again at the Pipe Rolls. In the year from Mich. 1170 to Mich. 1171 arrears are entered against Thomas archdeacon of Wells, viz. £7 for that year and £7 for the year before. It appears from this that Thomas had become archdeacon of Wells about Mich. 1169. In 1171–2 a like sum is debited against Thomas archdeacon of Bath. But clearly the same person is meant; for the debt is now reckoned as £21, and it stands against Thomas archdeacon of Bath until it is finally paid off by him in 1179–80. We might imagine from this that Thomas was archdeacon of Wells from Mich. 1169 to Mich. 1171, and then became archdeacon of Bath. But the following facts are sufficient to shew that he was known by both titles.

(1) A charter of K. Henry II given at Feckenham, and placed by Eyton c. March 1170, is attested by Thomas archdeacon of Wells.[37] (2) Early in June 1170 the king sent to the archbishop of Rouen Thomas 'the new archdeacon of Bath', in the matter of the young king's coronation which took place soon after on 14 June.[38] (3) A charter of the young king, issued at Winchester before the end of 1170, is attested by Thomas archdeacon of Wells.[39]

It would seem therefore that, while he himself attests charters as archdeacon of Wells, he was known to the world outside as archdeacon of Bath, the designation being taken from the diocese to which he belonged: the greater celebrity of Bath would fully account for this. He attests numerous charters as archdeacon of Wells until c. 1192,[40] and we still find him in office c. 1195.[41]

In 1173, as we learn from a letter of Arnulf bishop of Lisieux, he was charged with a mission to the papal court to plead for the consecration of Bishop Reginald; but the mission was frustrated by the opposition of the young king who would not let it proceed.[42] Some two years later we have a charter of K. Henry II [May 1175–June 1176] which records that Thomas archdeacon of Wells had renounced his right, real or supposed, over ten churches belonging to the abbey of Glastonbury, and that henceforward the archdeacons of Wells were to hold the church of South Brent as a prebend in the church of Wells.[43] It is interesting to find him again as Thomas Agnellus archdeacon of Wells, the writer of a eulogistic homily on the death of the young King Henry († 11 June 1183), part of which is printed in the appendix to the Rolls Series edition of Ralph of Coggeshall.[44]

We have still to deal with a mysterious Thomas de Erlegh, who appears now as archdeacon of Wells and now as archdeacon of Bath. We find him (1) attesting William de Malreward's grant of the church of Tiverton to the nuns of Kingston St Michael:[45] the witnesses are Thomas de Erlega archdeacon of Wells, Richard archdeacon of Bath, and Ubert precentor of Wells—an attestation which points to the period 1175-84: (2) attesting Alexander de Pirou's grant to Athelney; witnessed by Reginald bishop of Bath, Thomas de Erleghe archdeacon of Bath, and Master Walter prior of Buckland.[46] Walter was prior of the canons of Buckland who were finally suppressed in 1186. (3) In a Bruton charter Bishop Reginald's confirmation of the church of Perreton[47] is notified by him to his ' very dear kinsman Thomas de Erlega, his archdeacon '. K. Henry's gift of this church is dated by Maxwell-Lyte at the end of 1181 or the beginning of 1182: and it would seem that Bishop Reginald's confirmation was itself confirmed by Archbishop Richard who died in Feb. 1184. We thus get 1182–3 as the date of this reference to Thomas de Erlegh as Bishop Reginald's kinsman and archdeacon. (4) Br. 123 is a confirmation of Bishop Reginald's attested by 'Thomas de Erleia, &c.' We cannot be sure whether the word 'archdeacon' was added in the original or not.

The Buckland chartulary will show us that William de Erlegh had an uncle Thomas who was an archdeacon; and to that source we must now turn. A priory of canons was founded at Buckland by William de Erlegh at some date subsequent to the coronation of the young Henry (14 June 1170). The founder speaks in his charter of introducing 'religionem canonicam' by the hand of Thomas the archdeacon, his uncle. In consequence of a scandal which occurred in the lifetime of the founder, it was decided that the foundation should be changed into a house of sisters of the Order of St John at Jerusalem. William of Erlegh died, as we gather from the Pipe Rolls, in or before the year 1177. The transfer was not formally completed until 1186. At this latter date the Buckland charters mention 'Thomas the archdeacon ' several times (Buckl. 11, 330, 331). It is natural to think that the Thomas here spoken of as archdeacon is Thomas de Erlegh, though he is never so named in the Buckland chartulary.

We find 'Thomas de Erlega clerk' in an Athelney charter (no. 65) which is earlier than 1159: so that his clerical career in Somerset had begun long before the episcopate of his kinsman Bishop Reginald. He may well have become archdeacon in 1169. As William de Erlegh claimed in virtue of his fee to be the king's chamberlain,[48] his family would be known at court, and his uncle might come at an early age under the royal notice and thus obtain the archdeaconry during the vacancy of the see.

On the whole it appears reasonable to identify Thomas of Erlegh with Thomas the archdeacon of Wells whom we have traced from 1169 to c. 1195. We must now retrace our steps and return to the beginning of Bishop Reginald's episcopate; for our investigation of Thomas the archdeacon of Wells has carried us over more than twenty- five years. Reginald, the son of Bishop Joscelin of Salisbury, was elected in May 1173, consecrated abroad on 23 June 1174, and then enthroned at Bath on 24 November. Who were his archdeacons?

It is now plain that one of them was Thomas archdeacon of Wells. In Bishop Reginald's first year we find that Thomas has a colleague named Richard, and both of them are described as ' archdeacons of Bath'.[49] We have moreover some reason to believe that John Camin was at this time archdeacon of Bath. This bears out the conclusion to which we have been gradually led, that archdeacons not unfrequently were known by the name of the diocese, irrespective of the particular archdeaconries which they administered. The charter just referred to is of an unusual character. Between Oct. 1174 and Mich. 1175 the church of Haselbury was given by William fitz William fitz Walter as a prebend of Wells in presence of Richard of Ilchester the newly consecrated bishop of Winchester. Bishop Reginald is not mentioned, nor the dean of Wells. But Albert [Ilbert] the precentor and Thomas and Richard archdeacons of Bath attest; as also Alured the sheriff of Somerset and Stephen the prior of Taunton.[50] Why this document is under the seal of the bishop of Winchester does not appear. But Richard of Ilchester was a great man in the west, and had recently been in charge of Glastonbury: and Haselbury is in the deanery of Ilchester. William fitz Walter had planted regular canons at Haselbury in St Wulfric's time; but the foundation had collapsed, as the hermit is said to have foretold.[51]

Thomas and Richard occur again as 'archdeacons of Bath' in the gift of Buckland Dinham for a prebend.[52] Haselbury and Buckland were confirmed to the dean and chapter by Alexander III on 15 June 1176.[53] Thomas and Richard 'archdeacons' (but without local title) are together again in a charter of Bishop Reginald concerning Yatton.[54]

Continuing to trace Richard archdeacon of Bath, we note a group of three charters making gifts of churches which are not included in the confirmation of Alexander III (15 June 1176), but are included in a confirmation by Bishop Reginald which itself appears to be confirmed by Archbishop Richard (before Oct. 1182). These are Chilcomton, Brunfeld, and Harptree.[55] Here we find together Henry archdeacon of Exeter and Richard archdeacon of Bath.[56] The same combination meets us in an additional grant to Buckland Dinham, and in Bishop Reginald's charter to the city of Wells.[57]

Who is this Henry archdeacon of Exeter? We learn from the Berkeley charters and the chartulary of St Augustine's Bristol that he was son of Robert fitz Harding, and so great-grandson of Eadnoth the staller of K. Edward the Confessor. He had been treasurer to K. Henry II before he came to the throne.[58] He attests in 1154 as dean of Mortain;[59] and he appears as archdeacon of Exeter shortly before the death of Robert fitz Harding († 5 Feb. 1171).[60] He died at Rome in 1188, while awaiting consecration as archbishop of Dol.[61]

What concerns us here is that Henry archdeacon of Exeter attests no less than six Wells charters between 1176 and 1182, in each case being followed by Richard archdeacon of Bath. It appears to be a general rule that an archdeacon from another diocese should take precedence of the home archdeacons. It may be that Henry-was only present as a guest, and the six charters may have been granted nearly at the same time: indeed there is so much similarity in the lists of witnesses that this is quite probable. But it is also possible that he was employed for a time in archidiaconal work by Bishop Reginald, perhaps in the temporary absence of Thomas the archdeacon of Wells.

We must now bring together the remaining notices of Richard archdeacon of Bath. He attests the gift of Scaldeford (Shalford in Essex) for a prebend [1176-80], and its ratification.[62] This is not in Alexander III's confirmation of 15 June 1176; but its confirmation by Gilbert Foliot bishop of London is attested by Ralph de Diceto archdeacon of Middlesex, and therefore cannot be later than 1180.He also attests Bishop Reginald's confirmation to Bruton of the churches of Shepton Montague and Middleton.[63] The former church had been given sede vacante, and Robert the archdeacon of Wells had inducted the canons: the latter, given by William de Clyvedon, seems to have had a similar history. The confirmation was probably obtained early in Bishop Reginald's time. The confirmation of a gift at Carscumbe, which also is attested by Richard archdeacon of Bath, seems to belong to the same period.[64] Once more, we find him in a puzzling charter of Master Ralph de Lechlade, which seems to have been given before the death of Bishop Jocelin of Salisbury [f 18 Nov. 1184]; and yet not long before, as William [of St Faith] attests as precentor of Wells.[65] Here we find together Richard archdeacon of Bath and Richard archdeacon of Coutances. Leaving then Richard archdeacon of Bath, whose limits are c. 1175-84, we proceed to consider this foreign archdeacon, who makes a frequent appearance in Wells documents.

Five weeks after his consecration Bishop Reginald is found at S. Lo, on Sunday, 28 July 1174, dedicating the first church built in honour of St Thomas the Martyr. The grant of this church to the canons of S. Lo is sealed by Richard bishop of Coutances and Reginald bishop of Bath; and its first attestations are: Savary, William. Richard, and Robert archdeacons.[66] We may assume therefore that Richard archdeacon of Coutances had crossed to England at Bishop Reginald's invitation, and while retaining his old title had taken up archidiaconal work in the diocese of Bath.[67]

In four charters he attests as archdeacon of Coutances without any colleague. One of these falls certainly between Oct. 1186 and Nov. 1189.[68] Another bears the date of 1189.[69] The third falls probably between 1186 and 1188,[70] as also does the fourth.[71] This last charter has a peculiar interest from the form of the attestation: 'Ricardo Constancie archidiacono Tanton'. This is the earliest example of the use of Taunton in the title of an archdeacon, although we have already had an archdeacon 'of beyond the Parrett' before 1159, and shall find another so styled after 1196.[72]

That it was the archdeaconry of Taunton that was being administered by Richard of Coutances is further shown by a Buckland charter dated 8 Nov. 1186, which is attested by Thomas archdeacon of Bath, Ralph archdeacon of Wells, and Richard archdeacon of Coutances.[73] With this is to be compared a Wells charter in which, after Geoffrey archdeacon of Salisbury, we have Thomas archdeacon of Wells, Ralph archdeacon of Bath, and Richard archdeacon of Coutances: this falls probably between 1186 and 1188.[74]

Another Buckland charter shows us Geoffrey archdeacon of Salisbury, Ralph archdeacon of Bath, and Richard archdeacon of Coutances.[75] And a Wells charter of which the original is preserved (no. 9) is attested by Master Ralph de Lechlade archdeacon of Bath and Richard archdeacon of Coutances. The evidence accordingly suggests that Richard of Coutances was acting as archdeacon of Taunton c. 1184–9.[76]

Ralph de Lechlade, who has already begun to figure as archdeacon of Bath, held the office but a short time. He attests, not as archdeacon, but with his earlier designation of 'magister' only, from about 1188 to 1206.[77] After that he was precentor for six or seven years; and finally he was dean, at some period between 11 July 1215, when Leonius was still in office, and April 1220, when Peter of Chichester had succeeded. In addition to the attestations already noted above, we find him alone as archdeacon of Bath in R. i. 40 (c. 1186–8), Buckl. 317 (probably of the same date), and Buckl. 341, which confirms a charter of 1185. He is found without local title in Buckl. 331, Br. 134, and Wells eh. 48, all of which appear to belong to the same period. We seem therefore justified in concluding that Master Ralph de Lechlade acted as archdeacon of Bath c. 1168-8.

About the year 1190, at the very end of Bishop Reginald's episcopate, we meet with two new archdeacons of Bath, Robert and Godfrey. They attest together after Thomas archdeacon of Wells in R. i. 24, 38 b, and 60, all apparently charters of 1190-1. Godfrey also occurs after Thomas archdeacon of Wells in R. i. 11 and 21 b, charters of the same date.

Robert occurs more frequently as 'Master Robert de Gildeford archdeacon of Bath', as in R. i. 11 b, 37 b, 41, 59 b, all probably c. 1190–1;[78] also without local title in R. i. 35 [c. 1189], 39 b, Ad. de Dom. ii. 345, which again are of about this date. In R. i. 37 we seem to trace him after this date; and, if we may trust the dating of Buckl. 150, he is still archdeacon on 17 Nov. 1195. Finally we note that among the 'Sarum Charters' (Rolls Ser.) we have a charter (no. Ixx) which seems to be not earlier than 1196, which is attested by ' Robert archdeacon of beyond the Parrett'.[79]

We have said nothing as yet of the most notable name in the series of our early archdeacons, Peter of Blois archdeacon of Bath. Indeed the Wells records give no proof that he ever set foot in the diocese. Yet it is certain that he once visited his archdeaconry; for in one of his letters he complains of the prior of Wallingford who had refused him hospitality on his return journey.[80] It may suffice here to say that he became archdeacon of Bath, in succession, apparently to John Cumin, in the early part of 1182 (not as is commonly said in 1175); and that he exchanged this archdeaconry for that of London in the latter part of 1203 or early in 1204 (not in 1192). His history is dealt with by itself.[81] We have no further concern with him here, except to say that he had a vice-archdeacon, who, as he complains in another of his letters, was somewhat unceremoniously suspended by Bishop Reginald.[82]

John Cumin and Peter of Blois open an era of absentee archdeacons, men of mark whose energies are engaged elsewhere. Thus Simon de Camera first appears as archdeacon of Wells 15 June 1198: he issues royal charters during the early years of K. John, until his appointment to the see of Chichester in April 1204. Then his place is taken, alike in the royal chancery and in the archdeaconry, by Hugh de Welles archdeacon of Wells, who becomes bishop of Lincoln in May 1209. About the same time the archdeaconry of Taunton was systematically neglected by William of Wrotham, who occurs as archdeacon of Taunton 17 April 1205, and seems to have retained his office until his death, c. 1217. His main function was to command the Cinque Ports and to be generally responsible for the king's navy.

The appended table will show the tentative results of the present enquiry:

Archdeacon of Wells

c. 1076–c. 1090 Benselin

Archdeacons of Bath

c. 1094–c. 1120 Girbert
c. 1106 Walcher
c. 1106 Robert
c. 1120–c. 1135 Arald
c. 1122–c. 1135 John


c. 1146 Eustace
c. 1159 Robert
1169 Thomas
1198 Simon de Camera 
1204 Hugh de Welles


c. 1146 Martin
c. 1159 Thomas
c. 1165 Baldwin
1166 John Cumin
1182 Peter of Blois (till 1204) 
c. 1186-8 Ralph de Lechlade
c. 1190-1 Godfrey


c. 1146 Hugh de Tournai
c. 1175 Richard (prob. of Taunton)
c. 1184 Richard de Coutances
c. 1190 Robert de Gildeford
c. 1205 William de Wrotham

  1. The subject is carefully treated by Dr Frere in his Introduction to Elizabethan Articles and Injunctions (Alcuin Club Collections, 1910), i, pp. 35-53.
  2. Victoria County History, Somerset, i, pp. 458, 351.
  3. Bath Chartularies (Som. Rec. Soc, vol. 7), i. 51.
  4. Ibid. i. 34; cf. 65.
  5. Ibid. i. 53.
  6. Ibid. i. 49. This is the record of a case which opened by the recitation of a writ from William, the king's son. As Prince William was drowned in the White Ship near the end of 1120, the date given in the chartulary (1121) is probably a mistake.
  7. Reg. Osm. i. 381. The charter of Hen. I which confirms this charter must be dated 1121-2 (not c. 1109): see Round, Geoffrey de Mand., p. 433.
  8. B. i. 54.
  9. See above, p. 55.
  10. Two charters have been assigned to his first year: one the Ordinatio prebendarum (R. i. 31), by a note at the close; the Bath Donation (B. i. 61), by a note at the beginning. But internal evidence is decisive for a later date in each case: see above, pp. 56 f., 60.
  11. Chiefly from the chartularies published by the Somerset Record Society: Bath (referred to as B.), Bruton (Br.), Athelney (Ath.).
  12. Hist. MSS Comm., 9th rep., i. 253 b (Eton College).
  13. Eustace attests what seems to be a later charter (Reg. Osm. i. 245: c. 1157) as archdeacon of Bath. This is a composition between Salisbury and Bath, and the matter concerns the Bath archdeaconry (see below, p. 76). We may suppose therefore that, when Martin ceased to act and Robert came in (Ath. 87), Eustace had taken the archdeaconry of Bath and left Wells to the new archdeacon.
  14. Hugh is described as 'de Turnai' in Ath. 87, where he occurs with Eustace and Robert.
  15. Robert [of Gildeford] is archdeacon de ultra Perret in Sarum Charters (Rolls Ser.), p. 58, lxx [? 1196-1205].
  16. Eustace and Martin appear in B. ii. 273; Eustace and Hugh (with Robert) in Ath. 87; Eustace in B. i. 66, 70, Reg. Osm. i. 269 (1151) and 245 (c. 1157: in this, which is a composition between Salisbury and Bath, he is styled archdeacon of Bath); Martin in B. i. 67 (1153); Hugh in Br. 52, Ath. 149.
  17. Wells ch. 5 ( = R. iii. 245 b) has Master Eustace. Master Eustace and Master Martin attest R. i. 20 (1163-6), Br. 182, and a Kenilworth charter printed in Hearne's Ad. of Dom. i. 295. On 14 Mar. 1165 (R. i. 36 b) they do not appear; nor after this date.
  18. In the case of Master Martin this is not unlikely. He has the title of Master in Ath. 187, though it is not given to his fellow-archdeacons Eustace and Hugh. Moreover, the letter from Salisbury (R. i. 29, before 1155) mentions Master Martin; and if he had just ceased to be archdeacon, he would have been a suitable envoy in the dispute which apparently had arisen between Dean Ivo and the new archdeacons.
  19. R. i. 23 bis, Br. 182.
  20. Br. 105.
  21. R. i. 36 6.
  22. For the archidiaconal chapter compare a later document, R. i. 35 b (1238): 'And further that the rector and parishioners of Suthbarwe shall attend the chapters of the archdeacon of Wells like the other rectors and parishioners of that archdeaconry, and be subject to that archdeacon, and the church shall answer to that archdeacon touching the cathedraticum and every other right of the archdeacon.' South Barrow church had been given to the common fund, but was not a prebend.
  23. See above, pp. 54 f.
  24. R. i. 29.
  25. See Frere's Use of Sarum, i. 259 ff. 'Dignitas decani est, et omnium canonieorum, ut episcopo in nullo respondeant, nisi in capitulo, et juditio tantum capituli pareant. Habent etiam curiam suam in omnibus prebendis suis, et dignitatem archidiaconi ubicunque prebende assignate fuerint in parrochia nostra, sive in ecclesiis, vel decimis, aut terris; ita quidem quod nulla omnino exigentia in dono vel in assisa, aut aliqua alia consuetudine ab episcopo, vel a quolibet alio, fiat in prebendis eorum ': and lower down, ' subdecanus a decano archidiaconatum urbis et suburbii (possideat)'. The portions italicised occur in Dean Robert's letter.
  26. See Lincoln Statutes (H.B.S.), ii. 27 ' Decanus jurisdictionem archidiaconalem habet in prebendis canonicorum et in ecclesiis ad communiam pertinentibus ' (Lichf. c. 1190): and for Lincoln, ibid. 154.
  27. R. i. 29 b: the date may be anywhere between 1155 and 1164.
  28. Henry of Beaumont was 'elect of Bayeux' in Sept. 1165: see above, pp. 61 f.
  29. The same must be said of the table of the deans of Wells for the same period.
  30. Jaffé-Wattenbach, Regesta Pontificum (1886), ii, p. 208. The letter is printed in Memorials of Thomas Becket (Rolls Ser.), vi. 422.
  31. See below, Appendix C.
  32. Delisle, Notes sur les chartes originates de Hen. II, p. 15; cf. p. 30. See also Eyton, Itinerary, 158 n.
  33. Jaffé-Watt. ii. 397. The letter is printed in Mansi's Concilia, xxi. 1090, but with serious mistakes, from Antonii Augustini archiep. Tarracon. opera, iv. 205 a.
  34. R. iii. 370.
  35. R. i. 101 b.
  36. Thomas the archdeacon of Wells is never called Thomas de Tornaco: but there is a Thomas de Tornaco who frequently attests with Stephen de Tornaco, sometimes before but generally after him. This Thomas de Tornaco becomes succentor and then precentor (c. 1209-16). Hugh de Turnay, of whom we have spoken above, may have been of the same family; as no doubt was William de Tornaco, who had at one time the parsonage of Binegar (R. i. 101 b), then became archdeacon of Stowe and afterwards of Lincoln, then dean of Lincoln (1223): suspended in 1239, he became a monk at South Park. He was one of several Somerset men who followed Bishop Hugh de Welles to Lincoln.
  37. Eyton, Itinerary, p. 1.35. Possible dates for this charter seem to be: MayJune 1165, Sept. 1165-Mar. 1166, Mar. -1 June 1170. The last is the most likely; for the church of Birling in Kent, which this charter confirms (Monast. v. 101), was given according to the Bermondsey Chronicle in 1168.
  38. Mem. of Th. Becket, vii. 311, a letter to St Thomas from 'amicus quidam' c. June 1170, says: The archbishop of Rouen and the bishop of Nevers had been commissioned by the pope to stop the coronation: the bishop of Nevers reached Caen just as the prince left, and it was now impossible for him to cross: 'de cetero sciatis Thomam novum archidiaconum Bathoniensem nuper a rege ad archiepiscopum Rothomagensem venisse, et a Nivernensi episcopo transeundi inducias impetrasse usque ad sequentem dominicam: publice enim Thomas ille clamavit, et mult] alii quotidie clamant, regem in proximo esse venturum: quod penitus est falsissimum.' The king in fact did cross c. 24 June.
  39. Cat. of Charter Rolls, 6 Mar. 1318; inspeximus of charters of St Augustine's Bristol (no. 2).
  40. Cf. R. i. 101 b, an institution by Dean Alexander to the parsonage of Binegar, apparently sede vacante. Once we find him as archdeacon of Bath attesting with ' Ralph archdeacon of Wells ': but as Ralph [de Lechlade] regularly attests as archdeacon of Bath, we must suppose an error of inversion on the part of the copyist of this charter (Buckl. 11: 8 Nov. 1186): cf. the signatures of the nearly contemporaneous charter, R. i. 35 b.
  41. In the Pipe Roll of 6 Ric. I (1194-5) we read: 'De hidagio de Somerseta assiso ad redemptionem domini regis per Tomam archidiaconum de Welles et Alexandrum decanum de Welles,' &c. (Madox, Exchequer, 411).
  42. Arnulfi Episiolae (ed. Giles), no. 85, p. 238.
  43. R. i. 25, printed in Hearne, Ad. of Dom. i. 229. The attestation is 'T. Roberto cancellario', &c. Ralph de Warneville is doubtless meant, who was chancellor from May 1173 till he became bishop of Lisieux in 1182. He is miscalled 'Robert de Warnevilla' in a chartulary of S. Georges cited by Delisle, Mém. sur les charles de Hen. II, p. 21. In each case the scribe has wrongly expanded an original 'R'.

    The date of the charter is arrived at thus: Bishop Reginald was consecrated in June 1174: K. Henry returned to England in May 1175: the churches of Pilton and S. Brent were confirmed to the dean and chapter of Wells by Alexander III on 15 July 1176.

  44. The 'Historia Norwegiae', a brief sketch of the introduction of Christianity into Norway by an anonymous writer of the end of the twelfth century, is dedicated to Agnellus. See Monum. Historica Norvegiae (ed. Gustav Storm, 1880), p. 72: 'Tu igitur, o Agnelle, iure didascalico mi praelate, utcunque alii ferant haec mea scripta legentes non rhetorico lepore polita, immo scrupulosis barbarismis implicita, gratanter ut decet amicum accipito.' It is held that the person here addressed is Thomas Agnellus archdeacon of Wells: cf. Eng. Hist. Rev., Apr. 1921, p. 304.
  45. Monasticon, iv. 400.
  46. Ath. 33.
  47. Br. 146.
  48. See Buckland Chartulary, p. xix: from the Red Book of the Exchequer, A.D. 1166.
  49. R. iii. 390 b.
  50. Richard was consecrated to Winchester 6 Oct. 1174. Alured was sheriff of Somerset Mich. 1170 to Mich. 1175.
  51. Monasticon, vi. 214. St Wulfric († 1154) was buried in the church of Haselbury by Bishop Robert. William 'canonicus de Haselb'y' attests the City Charter of Bishop Reginald (Church, Early History of Wells, pp. 362 ff.).
  52. R. i. 60 b.
  53. R. ii. 46.
  54. R. i. 61.
  55. R. i. 38 b, 25 b, and 60: also in Bp Reginald's confirmation of Brunfeld, i. 25 b.
  56. R. i. 60 b.
  57. Church, ut supra.
  58. Berkeley ch. no. 1 (Jeayes, p. 2) is attested by 'Henricus f. Roberti' [c. Jan. 1153]: no. 2 by 'Henricus thesaurarius' [c. Nov. 1153]. The chartulary of St Augustine's Bristol (fo. 17 f.: Hist. MSS Comm. 4th rep., app. p. 364) shows a grant by Henry, duke of Normandy and count of Anjou, of the advowson of the church of Berkeley to be held as Robert fitz Harding held it: he wills that Henry fitz Robert his treasurer may have the said church of the said canons, yielding therefrom to them a yearly 'canonem'.
  59. Jeayes, Berkeley Charters, p. 10, who notes 'Fifth son of Robert Fitzharding'. He attests in 1157 as dean of Mortain Henry IPs charter to Savigny (Delisle, Introd. to Charters of Hen. II): see Gesta Henrici II, pp. 44, 60. Also a charter of Henry II to Bishop Reginald at Winchester [1174-84]: Cal. of Ch. Rolls, 11 Nov. 1324, inspex.
  60. Monast. vi. 364, a charter of Robert fitz Harding enumerating apparently all his grants to St Augustine's Bristol: it includes Horefield, which was confirmed by the young king Henry [June-Dec. 1170]: see above, p. 82, n. 3. 'Henry archdeacon of Exeter' also attests a grant of Robert fitz Harding to her son Nicholas, before Domina Eva and Robert her son (Jeayes, p. 15).
  61. Eyton, Itinerary, p. 291. Le Neve gives 'Henry Fitzharding' as archdeacon of Exeter ' about the year 1148 ', but with no reference to his authority.
  62. Both in R. i. 48.
  63. Br. 106.
  64. Br. 264.
  65. Reg. Osm., i. 268.
  66. Gallia Christiana, xi, Instr. col. 245 (Round, Doc. in France, 911). The same four archdeacons attest a charter of Richard bishop of Coutances, 10 Mar. 1172 (Doc. in Fr. 1217). Cf. Doc. in Fr. 982, 1070.
  67. Richard de Bohun bishop of Coutances was brother to Jocelin de Bohun bishop of Salisbury, the father of Bishop Reginald. It is quite likely that Richard archdeacon of Coutances was also a Bohun, and perhaps a near relative of Bishop Reginald: see the next note.
  68. R. i. 47 (Aulescomb for a prebend). Here ' Richard Const' archdeacon ' is followed by 'Roger his brother'. Probably this is the Roger de Bohun who attests R. i. 45 (church of Estun), 1190-1, and whose expenses are paid at the time of Bishop Jocelin's election (Close Rolls, 7 John, p. 63, 20 Jan. 1206: cf. ibid., p. 59). He is to be distinguished from Master Roger, nephew of Dean Alexander (Ad. of Dom. ii. 368 [Feb. 1197]; Close Rolls, p. 59), who is almost certainly Master Roger de Sandford, a canon of Wells.
  69. Buckl. 12: the bishop is said to be Savary, which must be an error.
  70. Bath, ii. 756.
  71. Br. 240.
  72. See pp. 75, 89.
  73. Buckl. 11, where, as we have noted above (p. 82), the scribe has inverted the titles of Bath and Wells.
  74. R. i. 35 b.
  75. Buckl. 181.
  76. He reappears under Bishop Savary (who was also a Bohun) in a Martock charter (before 1200), and in Cleeve charters [1192-7]: Round, Doc. in Fr. 709, 386, 388.
  77. In Wells ch. 11 Master Ralph de Lechlade attests with Alexander subdean, before Mich. 1188. A little later (perhaps) Master Robert de Geldeford archdeacon attests with Alexander subdean (R. i. 35 b).
  78. Also in a Martock charter of Bp Reginald [1190–1], 'magistro Roberto de Belleford archidiacono Bathonfiensi],' Doc. in Fr. 764.
  79. 'de Ultrapret', as it is printed. Cf. above, p. 75.
  80. Ep. 29.
  81. See below, pp. 100 ff.
  82. Ep. 58.