Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Aymer de Valence (d.1260)
AYMER or ÆTHELMÆR (Ethelmar) de Valence, or de Lusignan (d. 1260), bishop of Winchester, was a younger son of Isabella, widow of King John, by her second husband, Hugh X, count of La Marche. Isabella having died in 1246, and the fortunes of their house being depressed in consequence of the failure of their father's rebellion, Guy of Lusignan, William of Valence, and Aymer, who was then in orders, came to England in 1247 to enrich themselves. Henry III received his half brother with great joy. Besides procuring several livings for Aymer, he compelled different bishops and abbots to assign him 'innumerable' pensions, so that his revenues soon equalled those of an archbishopric. Among the various acts of injustice by which the king enriched his brother at this time, the strong pressure put on the abbot of Abingdon to force him to present Aymer to the rich church of St. Helen in that town excited Special indignation. On the resignation of Nicolas, bishop of Durham, in 1249, Henry tried hard to procure the election of his brother. In spite, however, of the king's threats, the chapter rejected Aymer as too young and too ignorant for the office, and Henry was for the time forced to be content with adding the rectory of Wearmouth to his many benefices. So numerous had these and other sources of revenue become, that it was said Aymer might well forget what they were and what each was worth, and he was obliged to appoint a steward to manage his rapidly-increasing wealth. When William, bishop of Winchester died in 1250, Henry determined that his brother should succeed him, and sent two of his chief clerks to persuade the monks to elect him. They refused on account of his youth, his lack of full orders, for he was only an acolyte, and his ignorance. Then the king himself visited the chapter, and commanded them with threats to elect his brother. The monks yielded, for they knew that there was no help to be had from the pope. Very sorrowfully they obeyed the king's command, for the Poitevin thus forced upon them as the head of their noble and wealthy church could npt speak their language, and would, they believed, avoid consecration, for they knew that he only sought the revenues of the see. Aymer was elected on 4 Nov. 1250, and his election was confirmed at Lyons by Innocent IV on 14 Jan. of the following year. On his return to England he gave a splendid banquet at Winchester to the king and queen to celebrate his entrance on his office. Few, if any, of his guests were Englishmen, and this neglect of the native nobility did not escape remark. The papal confirmation was doubly scandalous in the eyes of Englishmen. Not only was Aymer, they said, the first to hold an English bishopric without being a bishop, but the pope gave him leave to retain the revenues he derived from the church before his consecration. Although he was now splendidly provided for, the king forced the abbot of St. Albans to grant him a yearly pension of ten marks.
The bishop-elect of Winchester attended the assembly of bishops held at London on 18 Oct. 1352 to deliberate on the pope's grant to the king of a tenth of the revenues of the clergy for three years. Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, opposed the demand. Aymer argued that, as pope and king were united, the clergy had no choice; and that, as the French had agreed to a like demand, the English ought to do the same. He seems, however, to have said this as the king's advocate, for he agreed with Grosseteste and most of the other bishops in refusing to be bound by the grant. The king was very wroth with him for this, and when Aymer took leave of him with the words, 'I commend you to the Lord God,' answered, 'And I you to the living devil,' reproaching him bitterly with ingratitude. Soon after this Aymer quarrelled with Boniface of Savoy, archbishop of Canterbury, the uncle of the queen. During the archbishop's absence from England, he instituted a certain clerk as prior of the hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr, at Southwark. The archbishop's official, finding that the rights of Canterbury had been infringed on, called on the prior to resign, and on his refusal excommunicated him. The prior continued contumacious, and the official had him seized and taken to the archbishop's manor of Maidstone. When Aymer heard this, he gathered a band of men, and with the connivance of William, his brother, and John of Warrenne, his brother-in-law, sent them to seize the official. They sought him at Southwark and then at Maidstone, and not finding him there, set fire to the house. At last they found him at the manor of Lambeth, and brought him with many insults to Farnham. Aymer did not dare to keep him, and drove him from the castle. The archbishop excommunicated all concerned in this outrage. Aymer, however, commanded the dean of Southwark and others to declare the sentence of no effect. The foreigners at the court were divided, the Poitevins against the Provencals, the king's men against the queen's men, while the English heartily wished that they would destroy one another. The archbishop succeeded in stirring up popular feeling against the bishop-elect by laying his case before the university of Oxford. At the festival of Epiphany in the next year, the king as usual being at Winchester for Christmas, a reconciliation was arranged, and Aymer swore that the violence done was without his knowledge and will. In the parliament held at London in April 1253, the bishop-elect, with two others, was sent by the bishops to the king to entreat him to allow the church liberty of election. Henry answered that the bishops of his appointment had better resign, and turning to Aymer, reminded him how he had gained his bishopric for him by threats and entreaties when, on account of his youth and his ignorance, he ought to have been at school. The next year Aymer appears to have promised to join the king, who was then fighting in Gascony.
Aymer made the monks of Winchester bitterly repent their compliance with the king's order to elect him, for he greatly oppressed them, keeping them shut up in the church for three days without food. They fled from his violence, and took shelter in other monasteries. He dispossessed the prior, and filled the convent with men of a baser sort, whom he made monks of his house. Even the king disapproved of his violence. The prior appealed to Home. Henry warned his brother of the insatiable thirst of the papal court for gold, and in answer Aymer boasted that the spring of his wealth would not dry up. His gifts exceeded the gifts of the prior, and he gained the suit. The prior he had set up kept his office, but his false monks grew weary of their life and left the convent, and he made the old monks come back to their house again. He managed to get some profit even out of his suit with the prior. In order to gain money to carry on their case, the convent had recourse to the Caursins (or Caorsini),the great money-lenders of the day. Aymer paid the debt on condition of receiving the isle of Portland and some other places from the convent. After he was dead the monks petitioned the king that these places might be given back to them, for they said that they had been taken from them unlawfully. Aymer had no sympathy with English feeling in any shape, and when in 1255 the bishops were in difficulty owing to the demands of Rustand, the papal envoy, they suspected that his heart was not with them, and so took no counsel with him. In 1250 he was in Poitou from 25 Jan. to 17 Sept. On the death of Walter Gray, archbishop of York, the king refused to confirm the election of Sewall de Bovill, for he hoped to get the archbishopric for Aymer. Sewall, however, lost no time in applying to Rome; his election was confirmed by the pope, and the king's scheme failed. In January 1257 Aymer was sent on an embassy to France to gain a prolongation of the truce. Later in the year he was again sent with other ambassadors to the French court to demand the English rights, but he and his fellows had nothing but hard words. He was foremost in persuading Richard of Cornwall to accept the crown of Germany offered to him in this year. When in 1258 the parliament of Oxford created a committee of twenty-four for the redress of the grievances set forth in a petition of the barons, Aymer and his brothers, Guy and William, were among the twelve nominated by the king. They refused to swear to the provisions drawn up for the reform of the state, and would not give up the royal castles they held. For fear of Earl Simon, William, Guy, and Geoffrey left Oxford suddenly, and fled to Aymer at Wolvesey. The castle was attacked by the barons. In the negotiations which followed it was at first proposed to allow William and Aymer to remain in the country; but it was finally decided that all the brothers should go with their followers. Their property was seized, and they were not allowed to carry away more than 6,000 marks. The feeling against Aymer was very strong. Not long before this his men had ill-used and slain a clerk who had been appointed by John FitzGeoffrey to a church of which he claimed the patronage; and when complaint was made to the king, Henry excused him. It was generally believed that before he and his brothers left England they poisoned the Earl of Gloucester and others at a feast at Aymer's house at Southwark. On their arrival in France they met with a cold reception. Aymer asked leave to stay in Paris to study. As, however, the French queen complained that the Poitevins had insulted her sister, the Queen of England, Lewis would not have them in his capital. Almost as soon as they landed they were followed by Henry of Montfort, eager to avenge the insults they had heaped on his father. He stirred up the French against them. Aymer and his brothers shut themselves up in Boulogne, and were kept in there almost by a kind of blockade. At last the bishop-elect was allowed to pass into Poitou. The castellan of Dover intercepted 1,000 marks which were being sent to him from England. Part of this sum was employed by the barons in defraying the expenses of an embassy they sent to Rome to complain of his conduct. The ambassadors carried letters setting forth the mischief and wickedness of which he had been guilty, urging the pope to annul his appointment, and declaring that the barons were determined not to allow him to return, and that even were they otherwise minded, the people of England would never suffer it. The next year, 1259, the chapter of Winchester elected Henry Wengham, the chancellor to the bishopric, and the king conferred the election conditionally, declaring his approval in case Aymer was unable to obtain consecration. Alexander IV, however, was by no means inclined to listen to the representations of the baronial party, and on 16 May 1200 consecrated Aymer at Rome. The bishop set out on his journey to England, intending to lay the country under an interdict in case he was not received. He died in Paris on 4 Dec, to the great joy of the English people. His body was buried in Paris, and his heart was sent to Winchester Cathedral, where his tomb may still be seen, and where, it is strange to read, many miracles were worked.
[Matthew Paris, Majora Chronica, Ilistoria Anglorum; Annales de Theokesberia, Burton, Winton, Waverleia, Dunstaplia, Osneia, Chron. T. Wykes in Annales Monastici, Rolls Ser.; Prothero, Simon de Montfort; Pauli, Simon de Montfort; Stubbs's Constitutional History; Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ.]