Somerset Historical Essays/The First Deans of Wells

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Somerset Historical Essays by Joseph Armitage Robinson
The First Deans of Wells



St Osmund was the nephew of the Conqueror. He became bishop of Salisbury in 1078, three years after the united sees of Sherborne and Ramsbury had been removed to Old Sarum. His first task was the building of his cathedral church in the grand Norman fashion: his next was to provide for a large body of clergy to offer a splendid worship to God day and night. In earlier days the clergy of the bishop's church were called his family: the endowments of the see were common to him and to them, and he was directly responsible for their bodily needs. But the Normans brought new ideas in this and in other matters. They moved the bishop's seat from the country to the town: they built new churches on an unexampled scale: they assigned part of the estates to the cathedral clergy, as prebends for individual canons and as a common fund to be divided among those who were actually in residence. An independent corporation was thus created, with a dean at the head as president of the chapter and ordinary of the church, a precentor to look after the services and the music, a chancellor to rule the schools and provide the books, and a treasurer to care for the vestments and other valuables.

This was the system which was transplanted from Normandy to England, and appears simultaneously at York, Salisbury, and Lincoln about the year 1091. St Osmund seems to have been the leading spirit: at any rate he wrote down his brief Institution, and Salisbury became the pattern church to which almost every other looked for guidance. Wells was slow in following, and for a good reason. Giso was an excellent bishop, brought from Lorraine by Edward the Confessor. He had already reformed his church, not on Norman but on Lotharingian lines, bringing his canons together in a semi-monastic life, with a common dormitory, refectory and cloister. He therefore would not move his see from the country to the town as the Norman bishops were doing. He survived the Conqueror, and died in 1088. Then John of Tours, his successor, deserted Wells and took the abbey church of Bath as his cathedral, and the monks became his chapter. Wells was desolate for the next fifty years. The bishop of Bath, as he was now called, gave its estates to his nephew under the title of provost, and the canons left their new home to live in separate houses on the pittances provided by the provost: the buildings fell into ruin and Giso's work was all undone. At last, about 1140, under Bishop Robert, Wells revived: the church was restored or rebuilt: the Salisbury system was introduced, the chapter was reconstituted under a dean, and the right of election of the bishop was henceforth shared with the monks of Bath, although it was not for a hundred years more that the bishop began to use the double title of Bath and Wells.

Such is the story in brief: but we must look back for a moment to the dark period under Bishop John of Tours (1088-1122). In Bishop Giso's time the estates of the canons had been managed by a provost chosen by themselves out of their own number.[1] But they were handed over by Bishop John in the first instance to his steward Hildebert, who assigned but a meagre allowance to the canons.[2] Nor were matters improved when John, the bishop's nephew and archdeacon, became their provost. He claimed that the lands were his by hereditary right, subject only to a charge for the support of the canons. The next bishop, Godfrey (1122-35), disputed the claim and sought to restore the alienated property; but John, the archdeacon and provost, had friends at court, and no redress could be obtained while K. Henry lived. Bishop Godfrey died, 16 Aug. 1135, leaving matters in this deplorable condition. Soon afterwards John the archdeacon fell sick, and repented of his usurpation. On his death-bed he charged Reginald, his brother and heir, to see to it, for the eternal welfare of them both, that restitution was duly made.[3]

Robert, the next bishop, had been a monk of the first Cluniac foundation in England, the priory of Lewes. Henry of Blois, the brother of K. Stephen, who had himself been trained at Cluny, was now holding the abbacy of Glastonbury together with the bishopric at Winchester: he had discovered merit in the young monk of Lewes and had called him to preside over his monastery of St Swithun at Winchester; he had also employed him in the affairs of Glastonbury. Stephen was wholly in Bishop Henry's hands when he came to claim the crown of England, and there can be no doubt that Robert's election to the see of Bath was brought about by this powerful patron. At K. Stephen's Easter court of 1136 the bishopric was granted to Robert, who had already been canonically elected.[4]

Bishop Robert's first years were full of storm and stress. A considerable part of Somerset was ravaged by K. Stephen's enemies, and in the spring of 1138 the bishop was himself captured while defending the king's interests near Bath. Moreover in the preceding year a fire had broken out in Bath and had destroyed the monastery, seriously damaging the great church which had only just been completed. Accordingly it was probable that some time would elapse before the new bishop could turn his attention to Wells. Whilst he was at Glastonbury, indeed, he must have heard the bitter cry of the misused canons; and we may well believe that on becoming bishop he at once laid his plans, if he could do no more, for the reconstitution of the cathedral church on the new system which York, Lincoln, and Salisbury had already borrowed with excellent results from the great churches of Normandy.

It has been assumed, on the authority of a note appended to the Ordinance in which Bishop Robert records the outlines of his new constitution,[5] that the abolition of the provostship, the appointment of a dean, the recovery of the estates and their distribution into prebends, all took place within the first year of his episcopate. The note indeed plainly states that 'this was transacted in the presence of Henry bishop of Winchester, and afterwards confirmed by the witnesses following; namely, the archbishops, William of Canterbury and Thurstan of York, and the bishops, Roger of Salisbury, William of Exeter, Simon of Worcester, and others'. The archbishop of Canterbury died, as is well known, within a year of his crowning of K. Stephen, on 21 Nov. 1136. William Warelwast, the bishop of Exeter, survived till 27 Sept. 1137; but he was blind for some time before his death, and he was not present at K. Stephen's great Easter court of 1136.

To accept this note as giving the true date of the Ordinance would require us to compress what in the most favourable circumstances must have been the labour of years into the brief and troubled period of Bishop Robert's first six months. Moreover the chief seat of the bishopric was not then Wells, but Bath; and it is not reasonable to suppose that the new bishop's attention should at first be wholly concentrated on a church which for nearly half a century had fallen from its high estate.

The form of the appended clause is in itself unusual. If it comes from Bishop Robert himself, and not from a scribe of later date, it must be intended to mean that Henry bishop of Winchester had been consulted at an early stage, and that the archbishops and bishops had given a general approval to Bishop Robert's proposal to introduce the new cathedral system at Wells. But that the Ordinance itself in the form in which we have it was thus approved by them is demonstrably untrue.[6]

One clause suffices to show that it cannot have been written before the end of the year 1159. After enumerating the prebends into which he had distributed the earlier possessions of the canons, the bishop proceeds to speak of two new prebends which he has added of his own benefaction. The first is Yatton: the second is described in these words: 'Huish in Brentmarsh and the church of Compton, which we have given to the same St Andrew to be held in entire and peaceable possession as a perpetual patrimony, we have united to form one prebend '. Fortunately for our purpose we have in the Liber Albus (R. i. 26) an elaborate charter, in which the bishop relates that Huish in Brentmarsh, a member of his manor of Banwell, had been granted by his predecessors to various persons, lay and clerical, and by himself to Master Alured and then to Master Richard de Montacute; and that he feared lest some powerful layman who could hardly be refused should petition for it in the future and so it should pass altogether into lay hands. He proceeds to say that he has determined to secure it by making it a perpetual prebend of the church of Wells, in order that the number of the canons may thereby be increased and the praises of God be the more fully and joyfully rendered in the choir. This charter is dated at Wells, 4 Nov. 1159.

If any doubt could be raised as to the meaning or validity of this charter, it would be set at rest by a comparison of the bull directed to Ivo dean of Wells by Adrian IV on 22 Jan. 1158 with the bull directed to Richard his successor by Alexander III on 15 June 1176.[7] For in the later bull Huish and the church of Compton duly appear among the possessions confirmed to the dean and canons, whereas they are not named in the earlier bull which was issued, as we have seen, in the year before the new prebend was created.

We are now in a position to review Bishop Robert's record of his new institution without being hampered by the supposition that the statements which it contains must all be referred to the first six months of his episcopate.[8] He begins by declaring that after the divine mercy had raised him to the bishop's seat he had anxiously striven to banish all abuses from the churches committed to his care, and to root out all causes of contention. Accordingly, finding the church of Wells crushed by the wrongful exactions of the provostship, he had taken counsel with the archbishops, bishops, and other religious persons of England, and then at the request of the canons themselves had appointed a dean of Wells, to whom he had granted such dignities, liberties, and canonical customs as were usual in the well-ordered churches of the land.

This is not properly speaking a foundation charter, but a record under the bishop's seal of the more important points of his action. It was probably suggested by Bishop Giso's account of his institution of canons and distribution of properties, which closes, as does Bishop Robert's, with an appeal to his successors to secure the stability of his work.[9]

The dean alone is mentioned at the outset, but in a later paragraph there is an incidental notice of the precentor; and there can be no doubt that the constitution was framed on the pattern of Sarum and provided also for a chancellor, treasurer, subdean, and succentor. To the dean and chapter of Salisbury Dean Ivo and his chapter had already applied for guidance some years before this Ordinance of Bishop Robert was drawn up, and we have the answer of Robert dean of Salisbury (who in 1155 became bishop of Exeter), in which he describes the dignitas decani so far as it relates to archidiaconal jurisdiction.[10]

The distribution of the common estates of the canons into separate prebends is the next topic of the Ordinance; and when the bishop comes to speak of the large estate of Combe we pick up again the story of Reginald, the brother and heir of John the archdeacon and provost. We learn from another source that in pursuance of his brother's injunction Reginald had come to Bath and surrendered into the new bishop's hands the lands and rents of the canons which his father and brother had unjustly usurped, and that he became precentor of Wells and received in addition to the precentorship the prebend and whole manor of Combe.[11] This is in harmony with the statement of the Ordinance: 'We have granted Combe as a single prebend to Reginald the precentor for his life, mindful of the benefits conferred on our church by his uncle, Bishop John of good memory'. After Reginald's decease five prebends were to be made out of Combe.

After reciting his new gifts of Yatton, and Huish with the church of Compton, the bishop grants and confirms (1) half a hide in Wotton and a virgate of land which Giso of happy memory gave to the chapel of St Mary, (2) half a hide which Godfrey gave to St Cuthbert's church at its dedication, and (3) the tithe of his own wine. Lastly, he provides a special solatium for the canons who attend the night offices. He ends with an appeal to his successors to preserve and confirm his work.

It is not possible to fix the exact year in which the constitution thus briefly outlined had actually come into being. It was clearly in full play before June 1155, as is shown by the correspondence of Dean Ivo with the chapter of Salisbury to which we have already referred. A charter of Bishop Robert preserved in the Bruton chartulary[12] takes us back with reasonable security another eight or nine years: for the bishop thereby confirms a gift made in 1146 to the church of St Mary at Bruton by Alexander de Cantelupe, and it is likely that this confirmation would be speedily obtained: the bishop's confirmation is witnessed by Ivo the dean and Reginald the precentor.[13]

If we could fix the date of Bishop Robert's 'Donation' to the monks of Bath,[14] we might perhaps get earlier evidence for the new chapter at Wells; for Ivo attests it as dean. But this charter, like the 'Ordinance' for Wells, is a record of the bishop's actions, and its date demands a special investigation. Meanwhile we may consider one further source of information, which must not be left out of account, though its evidence is somewhat indirect and confused.

In 1840 Dr Hunter edited for the Camden Society a brief narrative contained in a Bath chartulary which by some unexplained process had found its way into the library of Lincoln's Inn.[15] The writer seems to have been a member of Bishop Robert's new chapter, who survived the eight years' vacancy of the see which was closed by Bishop Reginald's consecration on 23 June 1174. The heart of the document is a brief record from the pen of Bishop Giso, which describes how he came to his see and what pro vision he made for the canons of his cathedral church. It is almost of the nature of a charter, and it closes with an appeal to his successors to cherish his new foundation and a warning against any violation of the dispositions he had made. It is not unlikely that Bishop Giso foresaw the removal of the see to Bath, which under his successor brought about the very violation which he deprecated. The writer who has embodied this valuable record then proceeds to narrate the misfortunes which befell the canons under Bishop John of Tours and Bishop Godfrey. We have drawn upon him already for the story of the repentance of John the archdeacon and the restitution made by his brother Reginald. We now learn further that, after Bishop Robert had peaceably held the restored estates 'for some twenty years or more', Stephen being dead and Henry II upon the throne, the nephews of Reginald endeavoured to disturb the settlement, and forced the church into a lay court contrary to ecclesiastical law.[16] We seem in this to hear an echo of the controversy between Becket and the king. Happily however the matter was compromised, and the claimants were bought off at a meeting at Bath on 14 March 1165.[17]

The question which immediately interests us is the limit of the period, here vaguely described as 'viginti fere annos vel ultra', during which Bishop Robert had quiet possession of the disputed properties. The revived controversy began, we are told, in Dean Ivo's time and after K. Henry II had come to the throne; and the church was troubled for a considerable time ('diutine vexata') before the settlement was arrived at under Dean Richard in 1165. We may perhaps infer from this narrative that Bishop Robert had recovered the properties about 1143; but if other evidence should be found pointing to a rather earlier date, say 1140, it would not be inconsistent with the story we have been considering.

We may also note that the author of this narrative states at an earlier point (p. 24) that in regaining the estates Bishop Robert was aided by Henry bishop of Winchester, who was at the time legate of the Holy See. Now Bishop Henry's legatine commission dated from 1 March 1139, but he did not immediately make it known: it lapsed with the death of Innocent II on 24 September 1143. Thus we are again pointed to the years 1140-3 as the probable period of the re-foundation of the chapter at Wells.

If we have been obliged to reduce Ivo's tenure of the deanery by cutting off five or six years at the beginning, we shall make some compensation by adding three or four years at the end. It has been generally assumed that Richard 'de Spakeston' succeeded him as dean in 1160: but the Bruton chartulary (p. 29) contains a confirmatory grant by Thomas archbishop of Canterbury, made in presence of the king and his court at Woodstock, and followed by a royal confirmation which is attested by Ivo dean of Wells.[18] Another witness is Richard archdeacon of Poitiers. This is Richard of Ilchester, who afterwards became bishop of Winchester. He does not appear to attest charters as archdeacon of Poitiers until about March 1163. W T e may take it therefore as practically certain that the occasion here referred to was the famous council held at Woodstock in the first week of July 1163.

Our earliest charter evidence for Richard as dean of Wells is the composition made with the precentor's nephews at Bath on 14 March 1165. But we have a letter addressed to him as dean by Henry de Beaumont the dean of Salisbury, which perhaps belongs to the preceding year.[19] Philip de Harcourt bishop of Bayeux died 7 Feb. 1164: Henry de Beaumont attests a charter as 'elect of Bayeux' c. Sept. 1165;[20] but it appears that he was elected before the death of Hugh archbishop of Rouen († 11 Nov. 1164),[21] and that his consecration was delayed. As far then as our knowledge at present extends, we seem to be justified in placing Dean Ivo's death towards the end of 1163 or in the course of 1164.

The first dean of Wells, then, held office for nearly a quarter of a century (c. 1140-64). In the early years of his rule much must have been doing on the fabric of the church. It is probable that the church of Bishop Giso's time was sadly out of repair, and had to be almost, if not altogether, rebuilt. The ' Historiola ',[22] after speaking of Bishop Robert as having rebuilt the church of St Peter at Bath at great expense, says: ' Nor should it be forgotten that the church of Wells was built by his counsel and assistance '. It goes on to say that at its consecration three bishops were present, namely, Jocelin of Salisbury, Simon of Worcester, and Robert of Hereford. Jocelin became bishop of Salisbury in 1141: Robert of Bethune died at Rheims during the council, 16 April 1148: we can thus give the ceremony an approximate date. But we are quite in the dark as to the nature and extent of the work that had been done: we only know that within forty years it was determined to build anew from the foundations, and we cannot point to much more than a single stone of Bishop Robert's church: this is part of the base of a Norman pier, dug out of a wall some sixty years ago, and now lying on the stone bench in the north aisle of the choir. A century later it was still remembered that Bishop Robert had given lands at Dultingcote 'at the dedication of the old church';[23] the grant thus referred to is preserved, and also a lease of the lands made by Dean Ivo and the chapter, which has a special interest as giving us the names of a number of the canons.[24]

There is little that we can tell of Dean Ivo's personal story. On 14 Nov. 1148 he and two of the canons, Master Alfred (Aluredus) and Edward, accompanied their bishop on the occasion of the Translation of St Erconwald at St Paul's.[25] On 13 Dec. 1157 Ivo was at Gloucester, where he attested in presence of the king a composition between the abbey and Roger the archbishop of York.[26]

Four letters from the dean and chapter of Salisbury are preserved in the Liber Albus I.[27] Two of them are addressed to Dean Ivo, and relate to the rights of the dean and canons in their own churches and estates, setting forth how they are 'wholly emancipated from the vexation and servitude of archdeacons'. The other two belong to the period of his successor, and deal with various points on which guidance was sought from the usage of the church of Sarum.

The original endowment of the deanery is of sufficient interest to detain us for a few moments. It is called by Bishop Robert Wedmoreland, and is the high ground which separates the marshes of the rivers Axe and Brue. Wedmore itself is eight miles due west of Wells. Its name recalls historical memories of Alfred and the Danes. This territory was part of the ancient demesne of the Saxon kings. Glastonburyin deed showed charters which recorded that K. Centwine (676-85) gave it to Bishop Wilfrid, who in turn gave it to Abbot Beorhwald (c. 705-9).[28] But the abbey failed to hold it, and we find K. Alfred in his will granting it to Edward his eldest son. In later days it was given to Bishop Giso by K. Edward the Confessor, whose queen Edith gave Merk and Mudgeley as well. Out of this great property the new deanery was endowed by Bishop Robert, and six prebends also were created. Four of these consisted of yearly payments by the dean of 100 shillings each: another was the church of Wedmore, which was the portion of the subdean: the sixth was Biddisham, which (with the exception of one virgate) was constituted 'a prebend for the repair of the church of St Andrew and the purchase of ornaments for the same', with the obligation however of providing a vicar. Besides Wedmore and the excepted virgate at Biddisham the dean held Merk and Mudgeley, and also the church of Wookey. The prebend of Litton was also assigned by Bishop Robert to the deanery.[29] Dean Ivo received from K. Henry II a grant of free warren on his lands at Wedmore.[30]

Richard, the second dean of Wells, c. 1164-89.

It has been usual to speak of the second dean of Wells as Richard de Spaxton, and to date his accession in 1160. But we have seen that Dean Ivo was at the king's court at Woodstock at some time after 25 Jan. 1168, the day on which the king crossed to Southampton; and that the occasion probably was the council held there in the first week of July, when Becket quarrelled with the king over the payments made to the sheriffs. The year 1160 was tentatively suggested by Archdeacon Archer, the learned investigator of the Wells records in the first part of the eighteenth century. He based his conjecture on Bishop Robert's confirmation of a grant made by Robert the archdeacon to Gilbert Cawete (R. i. 20): but as this is attested by Richard archdeacon of Poitiers it is almost certainly not earlier than March 1168. Our first certain notice of Richard as dean is, as we have said, on 14 March 1165; but he may have come into office in the preceding year. His designation as 'Richard de Spaxton' has led to needless confusion. This name occurs twice in Wells charters and once in a charter of Buckland Priory. In R. i. 37 b (cf. R. hi. 187 b) we have Bishop Reginald's confirmation of a grant concerning the church of Stowey made by Maud de Chandos: it is attested by Master Ralph de Lechlade, Master Robert de Gildeford, Jocelin the chaplain, Herman de Wivelscombe, Richard de Spackestona dean, and others. If the dean of Wells were here intended, some explanation would be required of his attesting after two at least of his canons. Again, in R. hi. 250 Maud de Chandos confirms a gift to the church of St Mary of Stowey at its dedication, and the attestation includes, after the names of several canons of Wells, ‘R. decano de Spackestun et de Modiford’. Finally, we have the Buckland charter of Simon le Bret, attested by Master Robert archdeacon, Richard de Spaxton dean, and others: . this bears date 17 Nov. 1195, several years after Dean Richard had been succeeded by Dean Alexander.[31] It is plain therefore that we must distinguish between Richard dean of Wells and Richard de Spaxton who was rural dean of Spaxton and Mudford.[32]

The year in which Richard ceased to be dean of Wells is commonly given as 1180: but this again is certainly wrong for we have an award[33] given by R. abbot of Ford, W. abbot of Binedon and R. dean of Wells, who had been appointed commissioners by Urban III in a bull dated at Verona, ' xii kal. Septembr.' This date can only mean 21 August in 1186 or 1187: and in deference to the current view the editor of the Calendar of Wells MSS (1907) has obelised the dean's initial and appended a note in which he says: 'Dean Alexander seems to have been contemporary with Pope Urban III'. But the correctness of the copy in Liber Albus I has since been demonstrated by the recent publication of the chartulary of Buckland Priory: for there we find Bishop Reginald's confirmation of K. Henry II's grant placing sisters at Buckland instead of the ejected canons. This grant is attested by Richard dean of Wells, and it is dated 8 November 1186.[34]

It is plain from these two documents that Dean Richard's decease has been considerably antedated;[35] and we must prefer the wiser judgement of Archdeacon Archer, who placed it conjecturally in 1188. Even this is probably too early, as appears when we try to date the appointment of his successor.

The Buckland charter of 8 Nov. 1186 is attested by Master Alexander; and this is the earliest date at which his appearance in documents connected with Wells can be fixed with certainty. But there are three charters which he attests as subdean, and one of these is witnessed also by Robert fitz Paine as sheriff of Somerset, an office which he held from Mich. 1184 to Mich. 1188.[36] Therefore Alexander must have become subdean at some time between Nov. 1186 and Mich. 1188. With our present knowledge it is reasonable to suppose that he was subdean in 1187-8, and became dean in 1189 or 1190.

Accordingly we date Dean Richard's tenure of the deanery provisionally as c. 1164-89. Of himself we know but little. The Pipe Roll for 1169-70 tells us that he was fined ten marks for having imprisoned one of the king's Serjeants. More to his credit is that in the last years of his life he co-operated with Bishop Reginald in his preparations for the rebuilding of the church of Wells. But, strangely enough, his real interest as a builder lay elsewhere: for the Evesham Chronicle gratefully records that the completion of the cloister and the nave of the abbey church under Adam the abbot was chiefly due to the assistance of Richard the dean of Wells.[37] We search in vain to discover the reason of this interest in Evesham Abbey. Dean Richard appears once as attesting an Evesham charter;[38] but no abbot or monk of Evesham appears in the Wells documents of the period.

We have noted already that not long after Dean Richard's entry upon his office the long-drawn controversy with the nephews of the precentor found its close and the threatened estates of the dean and chapter were finally secured. This was in March 1165. Some eighteen months later the good Bishop Robert, the founder of the new regime, passed away on the last day of August 1166. The bishopric remained vacant owing to the quarrel between Becket and the king: the new bishop Reginald, appointed in May 1173, was consecrated abroad on 23 June 1174 and enthroned at Bath on 24 November.

Thus for spiritual purposes the bishopric was vacant for eight years. To this period belongs an undated letter of Alexander III to the dean, precentor, and chapter of Wells, in which he requires them to assign a prebend wrongfully usurped by Thomas the arch deacon and his brother Stephen to Master E., a canon appointed by the late bishop with promise of a prebend when a vacancy should occur.[39] The prebend in question would seem to have been Whitchurch (in Binegar), and if so it is clear that the pope's order was not carried out (cf. R. iii. 370): as Archdeacon Thomas was high in the king's favour, it is likely that nothing happened to disturb him or his brother. Master E. is possibly to be identified with Master Eustace, who attests Bishop Robert's charter concerning fairs at Wells, and some others which belong to the years 1163-6. The incident is of interest as showing that a canon might have to wait some time before he could become a prebendary. And the pope's letter to Dean Richard became famous for the obiter dictum that no one could hold two prebends in the same church: it was added to the Decretals and became part of the Canon Law.

Alexander, the third dean of Wells, c. 1189-1213.

We ha ve said that it is reasonable to suppose that Master Alexander, the canon who held the prebend of Hengstridge, became subdean in 1187-8, and succeeded Richard as dean in 1189 or 1190. The earliest clear evidence of his attesting as dean is in a charter of Bishop Reginald's which is also attested by Savary archdeacon of Northampton. This charter must have been issued before Savary left England to go to K. Richard at Messina, where he seems to be in the first months of 1191: from Messina he went to Rome, where he was consecrated as Bishop Reginald's successor in the see of Wells in 1192. It is thus practically certain that Alexander was dean in 1190: and the fact that we can still point to twenty-three charters which are attested by him as dean under Bishop Reginald, before Dec. 1191, makes it not unlikely that his accession should be dated in 1189.

When did he cease to be dean? The last dated document which he attests is the ordinance made by Bishop Jocelin at Wells on 3 June 1209, by which the dean obtained the church of Wedmore and the subdean received in exchange the church of Wookey.[40] The country had then been under interdict some fourteen months, and before the end of the year 1209 Bishop Jocelin, who had remained at the king's side till his personal excommunication, was in exile in France. It is almost certainly during this period of exile that Dean Alexander died. Bishop Jocelin returned in Jufy 1213, and at the Michaelmas chapter of that year, at which several acts of importance were passed, Alexander's place as dean is found to be filled by Leonius.

It has been suggested that Dean Alexander was, like Bishop Reginald and Bishop Savary, a member of the Bohun family. Some plausibility was given to this suggestion by the fact that a brother of Engelger de Bohun was called Alexander: but as he attests a charter of their father, Richard de Meri (c. 1105),[41] we can only say that the name Alexander occurs in the family. The ground of the theory would appear to have been that on two occasions we have mention of Roger, nephew of the dean of Wells;[42] and that about the same time, we find a Roger de Bohun.[43] But the former is styled ' Master Roger ', and is almost certainly to be identified with Master Roger de Sandford, a canon of this period.[44]

The first two or three years of Alexander's tenure of the deanery were the closing years of Bishop Reginald's episcopate. The building of the new church had begun about the year 1186, and Alexander who then held the prebend of Hengstridge, on the Dorset border near Templecombe, made a generous grant towards the work.[45] We may be confident that as dean he did his utmost to further it, and that to him it was mainly due that the dark days of Bishop Savary's episcopate are not marked by any break in the continuity of the building.

Of this gloomy period we must now give some account, as their loyalty to the bishop brought the dean and many of the canons into painful conflict with the monks of the great neighbouring abbey.[46] On 29 Nov. 1191 Bishop Reginald was elected to the archbishopric of Canterbury; but within a month he* died (26 Dec). Savary his cousin was consecrated to the see of Bath at Rome, 20 Sept. 1192. At this time K. Richard was a prisoner in Germany, and Savary who claimed kinship with the emperor Henry VI was engaged in the negociations for the king's release. He persuaded the emperor to insist on K. Richard's assent to an arrangement by which the abbey of Glastonbury should become like the abbey of Bath a cathedral monastery with the bishop as the abbot, the city of Bath being given to the king in exchange. To further this end he also arranged that the abbot of Glastonbury, Henry de Sully, should at once be promoted to the vacant see of Worcester. Savary proceeded to England and took possession of the abbey; but the king on his return made him surrender it until the pope's decision should have been received. On receiving the bull of Celestine III Savary, who was then at Tours, requested Dean Alexander to go to Hubert Walter, the archbishop of Canterbury, taking the letters executory addressed to the archbishop by the pope, and entreat him to act upon them.

The archbishop delayed, and at length in the autumn of 1196 the dean went with the envoys of Savary to Glastonbury to present a letter from the bishop declaring the contents of the papal bull. He was refused admittance into the chapter house, but in the prior's chamber the dean opened the letter and read it out in the presence of some eight of the monks, one after another of whom slipped away as the reading went on. The dean then departed, and on the morrow the subprior and others came over to Wells, and read in the dean's presence an appeal to the pope.

Thereupon Bishop Savary went to Rome and obtained a prohibition to the monks that they should not elect an abbot. This he forwarded to Dean Alexander, and in the first week of February 1197 the dean sent it by Master Roger his nephew and others to Glastonbury. The prior could not be found, but they met with the subprior and two of the monks who were engaged in the 'new work' of the monastery. Master Roger handed them the document, but they said they could not receive it in the prior's absence. Some six monks now came out from the mass in St Mary's chapel, and Master Roger read the prohibition aloud.

At length the archbishop, who could delay no longer, required the monks to admit the bishop's proctors. These were accompanied by Dean Alexander and five of the canons of Wells: they presented their credentials in chapter, and were received, the king's proctors retiring.

The monks now appealed to K. Richard in Normandy, and on 29 Aug. 1197 the abbey was again taken into the king's hands. Hereupon once more the dean of Wells went to Glastonbury on 8 Sept., in company this time with the prior of Bruton, to prevent a letter from the bishop warning them against disobedience. Then about Michaelmas the monks sent envoys to the king, at the request of William Pica, one of their n amber who was returning from the Roman court. They returned with the news that the abbey was entrusted to them and that there was to be a free election of an abbot. The king was to write to the new pope, Innocent III, to explain that he had been forced by Bishop Savary and the emperor to grant away the abbey at a time when he could not refuse. This he had already explained to the late pope († 8 Jan. 1198) and to some of the cardinals.

On 25 Nov. 1198 William Pica was elected abbot in the king's exchequer. The bishop replied by excommunicating him and his supporters. On 6 April in the next year K. Richard died. Savary having obtained the consent of K. John, the archbishop sent Bernard archbishop of Ragusa and Henry archdeacon of Canterbury to enthrone him at Glastonbury on Whitsunday (6 June 1199). On the day before William of St Faith the precentor of Wells—William of no faith ('Willelmus sine fide dictus'), as the monks called him in the letter which they wrote to their absent abbot—went to Glastonbury and obtained by violence the key of the gate. On Bishop Savary's arrival the monks appealed to the pope: but the bishop broke open the doors of the church, and 'having indecently arrayed the canons of Wells and other seculars in the vestments of the abbey' he entered in procession. Some eight 'traitor' monks met him, and the ceremony was performed. The recalcitrants were imprisoned in the infirmary, but next day they bowed to the inevitable and signed a document of submission with their own hands. This was signed and sealed, among other witnesses, by Alexander dean of Wells and William the precentor.

But it was a consent under duress, and soon revolt broke out,: and thereupon William of St Faith the precentor of Wells, Thomas Dinant the subdean, Jocelin 'afterwards bishop', John de Bohun, and a band of lay folk came to Glastonbury on 25 Jan. 1200, and after a scene of violence in the church carried off five monks as prisoners to Wells, where they were incarcerated for eight days, after which they were dispersed among various monasteries.

Innocent III heard William Pica and Bishop Savary in Rome, and quashed the abbot's election on 23 June 1200. The poor man and three of the monks died almost at once, poisoned (said some) by Savary: after further delays a division of the abbey properties, by which the bishop received one-fourth, was made by papal commission, 8 Sept. 1203. The pope's confirmation of this bears date 17 May 1205. Within three months Bishop Savary died (8 Aug.) in Italy.

The monks now raised again their lamentable cry. The king, several of the bishops, and various monasteries and chapters petitioned the pope to restore the abbey to its ancient independence; and we are glad to have a letter from Dean Alexander and the canons of Wells, of whom Jocelin the future bishop was one, assuring the pope that Bishop Savary's scheme, however well-intentioned on the part of those who had carried it through, had proved a disastrous failure.

We need not follow the story, for it no longer concerns the dean of Wells. But before the matter was settled the Interdict had come and gone, and the great pope was dead. It was not until 17 May 1219 that Bishop Jocelin abandoned the double title of Bath and Glastonbury, and the twenty-six years of distressful conflict came to an end.

The accession of Bishop Jocelin in 1206 had given to the church of Wells a bishop who was a native of the city and a former member of the chapter. Like his brother, Hugh of Wells, who presently became bishop of Lincoln, he had been employed in the king's chancery; and when he determined to make Wells his principal seat of residence and build a noble palace there, K. John favoured his design, made him a present of deer, and authorised him to divert the road from Wells to Shepton Mallet, sending it upon the hill and down again, in order that he might enclose his park. When the Interdict came he still held by the king as long as was possible, and endeavoured to negociate terms of peace: only when after eighteen months the king was personally excommunicated, did he join his brother Hugh in France.[47]

What the practical effect of the Interdict upon the dean and canons was we are unable to ascertain: nothing in the records throws any light on the matter. Before its removal and the bishop's return it would seem that Dean Alexander had passed away.

In conclusion something must be said of the relation between the two chapters of Bath and Wells in the episcopal elections, subsequent to the time of Bishop Robert who had reconstituted the chapter of Wells on a new footing. When after the lapse of nearly seven years the election of a new bishop was at last possible, the dean and chapter of Wells, having obtained the king's licence, elected Reginald, son of Jocelin de Bohun the bishop of Salisbury. Owing to political complications it was not until a year later (18 Apr 1174) that Pope Alexander III's confirmation of the election was obtained. The document is addressed to the dean, archdeacons, and chapter of Wells, and makes no mention at all of the church of Bath. Whether a similar document may have been addressed to the prior and monks we do not know: but it is unlikely that they should have taken no part in the election. Indeed from the silence of the Wells documents it seems probable that, since the removal of the see from Wells to Bath under Bishop John, they alone had been the electors. When Bishops Godfrey and Robert were appointed the canons of Wells had as yet no dean, and were in no position to make good their claim.

There is no direct evidence that Bishop Robert had attempted to make provision for future election. What we know is that Dean Richard and his chapter asserted their right with success. Either immediately before or shortly after their action had been confirmed by the papal decree, Alexander III wrote to the dean, precentor, archdeacons, and chapter of Wells, confirming their right of episcopal election, as they had held it 'for two hundred years down to the time of Bishop John, who set his seat in the church of Bath'. To avoid controversy in the future they and the monks are ordered to meet and arrive at a common choice, which the dean of Wells is to declare in accordance with the ancient custom of his church, and the elect is thereupon to be presented to the archbishop of Canterbury. The letter is dated at Anagni on 8 January: the year may be 1174, 1176, or 1178.

Notwithstanding this decree the monks of Bath at the next vacancy elected Savary without notice given to the canons of Wells: the election was confirmed and he received consecration at Rome. It was probably after this miscarriage that Dean Alexander yielded the point of precedence as to the declaration of election, and made an agreement to the effect that on a vacancy both parties should meet and the prior of Bath should declare the election, unless it should happen that he himself should be chosen, in which case the dean of Wells should declare it: it was further agreed that the bishop should be enthroned first at Bath and then at Wells.[48]

Bishop Jocelin's election was duly made by both chapters; but on his death the monks again forestalled the canons in electing Roger as his successor. A costly litigation followed, and in the end it was arranged that the election should be held by both parties, alternately at Bath and at Wells, that the bishop should be enthroned first at Bath and then at Wells, and that he should henceforth use the double title of Bath and Wells.


  1. Our information is mainly drawn from the so-called 'Historiola' (Ecclesiastical Documents, Camden Society, 1840), of which we shall say more presently. There (p. 19) we read of their provost 'Ysaac nomine'. The Gheld Inquest (Vict. Co. Hist., Som., i. 531) mentions 'Isaac the prepositus of the canons'. The name 'Isaacsmede', which occurs in Wells documents from 1176 onwards, may have come from him.
  2. Hildebert dapifer attests charters in 1100 and 1106: Bath Chartul. (Som. Rec. Soc, vol. 7), i. 41, 53. It is nowhere stated that he was Bishop John's brother, but this inference has been drawn from the fact that John the archdeacon claimed to inherit the estates from his father; and this John and his brother Reginald were certainly the bishop's nephews.
  3. 'Historiola,' p. 23.
  4. 'Canonica prius electione precedente' (Bath Chartul. i. 60). As much stress has been laid by historians on this clause in Bishop Robert's grant, it may be worth while to call attention to a similar statement in a charter of Bishop Godfrey (ibid. i. 57), in which he speaks gratefully of K. Henry, 'qui mihi gratuita munificentia sua post canonicam electionem episcopatum dedit.'
  5. Wells Registers, R. i. 36, R. iii. 9 (with further witnesses). It is printed by Canon Church, Early History of the Church of Wells, App. A, p. 352.
  6. The late Canon Church in his Early History of the Church of Wells, while accepting the date 1136 for the Ordinance, was too good a historian not to recognise that it could not have come into effect so soon on account of the alienation of some of the properties: accordingly he regarded it (p. 18) as giving the outline of the bishop's plan.
  7. R. ii. 45, 46: the former is misdated in the Cal. of Wells MSS, i. 533.
  8. The appended note is probably due to some copyist who in ignorance referred the Ordinance to the early part of Bishop Robert's episcopate, and desired to give the names of the archbishops and bishops alluded to in the text of the document.
  9. See below, p. 60.
  10. . i. 29. The next dean of Salisbury also wrote to Ivo, and afterwards to Ivo's successor, with regard to certain Sarum customs.
  11. 'Historiola', p. 24.
  12. Som. Rec. Soc, vol. 8, p. 11.
  13. The attestation is of interest not only as giving us the names of the three archdeacons who constantly meet us in the period before 1159, but also as placing them before the precentor ; the two archdeacons of the later period, Robert and Thomas, do not (unless quite exceptionally) take precedence of the precentor. The witnesses are thus given:
    'Testibus: Communitate ejusdem ecclesie [i.e. St Mary of Bruton]
    Ivone decano,
    Eustacio, Hugone, Martino archidiaconis,
    Reginaldo cantore et toto capitulo.'
  14. Bath Chartul. i. 61.
  15. Dr Hunter gave this narrative the title 'Historiola de primordiis episcopatus Somersetensis'. The volume in which it is published is called Ecclesiastical Documents: the narrative is found on pp. 189-95 of the Lincoln's Inn MS (see Bath Chartul. ii. 105).
  16. 'Eos [sc. ecclesiam et episcopum et ipsum precentorem] ad capitulum in curiam laycam coram judicibus contra canones traxerunt': 'Historiola', p. 26.
  17. R. i. 36.
  18. An inspeximus of this charter occurs on 1 March 1314 (Cal. of Patent Rolls), With the addition of 'Nicholas chaplain' after 'Adam de Gernemue'.
  19. R. i. 29.
  20. Eyton, Itinerary of Hen. II, p. 84. The reference in Le Neve (ii. 613) to the Gloucester Chronicle is an error: the passage to which he refers is from Robert of Torigny's Chronicle (Domit. 8, f. 78 b) and is in itself inexact. This error has led the compiler of the Sarum Fasti into a further mistake as to the charter cited by Eyton, which has nothing to do with Gloucester.
  21. A letter was written by Archbishop Hugh to the bishop-elect of Bayeux: see Gallia Christ, xi. 864 (ed. Paris, 1874).
  22. pp. 24 f.
  23. R. iii. 3 ff.
  24. R. i. 46.
  25. Inspeximus in Charter Roll, 12 Edw. III, no. 40 (cf. Patent Roll, 6 Hen. VI, pt. 1, m. 21).
  26. Gloucester Chartulary (Rolls S.), ii. 106.
  27. R. i. 29.
  28. See above, p. 32.
  29. In Bishop Jocelin's time the subdean was given the church of Wookey, and the dean obtained the church of Wedmore, thus consolidating his property. The prebend of Litton became separated from the deanery, and it was held (c. 1240) by the celebrated Master Elias of Dereham (R. i. 96).
  30. R. i. 58: given at Pacey (ad Pacem), probably in November 1158 (Eyton, Itinerary, p. 42).
  31. 'Richard de Spakest[on] then dean' attests a grant to St Andrew of Stoke (Stogursy) in a charter at Eton College (Hist. MSS Comm., 9th rep. i. 354 a). An earlier charter of Bishop Robert now at Eton College (ibid. 9th report, i. 353 b) is attested by Hugh dean of Spaxton.
  32. It is much to be wished that the old spelling of this place-name (Modiford, or Mudiford) might be restored.
  33. R. i. 37.
  34. Som. Rec. Soc, vol. 25 (1909), pp. 7 f.
  35. Further evidence is given by a charter in Round's Doc. pres. in France, p. 320.
  36. (1) R. i. 35 b; (2) and (3) Wells charter no. 10, an inspeximus of the charter attested by the sheriff, and probably made soon afterwards.
  37. Chron. Evesh. (Rolls Ser.), pp. 101 f. 'Claustrum etiam, quod Mauritius et Reginaldus abbates pro parte fecerant, et navis ecclesiae cum adjutorio decani de Welles maxime et aliorum bonorum virorum ejus [sc. Adami] tempore perfecta sunt. … Ejus tamen tempore fuit Rieardus decanus de Welles, qui acquisivit redditum quindecim marcarum de ecclesia de Ambresleia [v. l. Ombresleye] ad opera ecclesiae istius, et optimas confirmationes earundem, et qui fecit aulam quae nunc est abbatis. Iste enim decanus pensionem ecclesiae de Baddebi et quosdam alios redditus acquisivit; unde cereus ante magnum altare et corpora sanctorum perenniter ardens appositus est. Cujus etiam maxime auxilio et ecclesia et ornamenta et omnia predicta perfecta sunt.'
  38. Monasticon, ii. 19.
  39. Jaffé-Wattenbach, ii. 397. See below, p. 80.
  40. R. i. 58. 2
  41. Round, Doc. in Fr., no. 669.
  42. Adam of Domerham, ii. 368 (Feb. 1197); Close Rolls, 4 Nov. 1205.
  43. R. i. 45 (1190-1); Close Rolls, 20 Jan. and 20 Apr. 1206.
  44. Close Rolls, 19 Jan. and 20 Apr. 1206; R. i. 11 (6 June 1205), Wells charter 37 (c. 1209).
  45. R. iii. 383 b.
  46. See Ad. of Dom. ii. 352 ff.
  47. See below on Bishop Jocelin and the Interdict, pp. 141 ff.
  48. The documents are contained in the Wells charters 40 and 45, and are printed by Church, pp. 397 ff. The miscarriage concerning Bishop Savary's election is mentioned in R. i. 93-5.