Belmeis, John (DNB00)
BELMEIS or BELESMAINS, JOHN, John of the Fair Hands (d. 1203 ?), bishop of Poitiers, and archbishop of Lyons, was a native of Canterbury, and was in his early years brought up in the household of Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury. According to Bale, who has preserved or invented several early details, John was born of illustrious parents, but, finding the opportunity for study too scant in his native country, he travelled to Gaul and Italy in search of knowledge, where he profited so much that on his return he was held 'princeps literatorum.' John of Salisbury, who was with Belmeis in Apulia, probably about 1156, praises him above all the men he had ever met for his knowledge of the three tongues (i.e. Latin, Greek, and Hebrew) (Polycraticus, viii. c. 7, with which cf. vi. 24 Metalogicus ii. prologue, and Baronius, sub anno 1156). Bale adds that John was an intimate friend of Adrian IV; but, according to Pits, this intimacy with the only English pope occurred in Adrian's papacy, and after John had been made canon and treasurer of York. William of Canterbury tells us that John was originally one of a little band of three churchmen who influenced Theobald in his ecclesiastical appointments, mainly, it would seem, to their own advantage (cf. FitzStephen (R.S.), iii. 17). The other two members of this group were Thomas Becket and Roger, afterwards archbishop of York. We may place the date of this friendship in the last years of Stephen's reign, as it seems that of the three John became treasurer, and Roger archbishop of York in 1154, while Thomas was made archdeacon of Canterbury in 1153.
In 1157, when firm ground in Belmeis' biography is first reached, he was present when Henry II inquired into the claims of Battle Abbey. Somewhere about 1158 he appears acting a very prominent part in the famous Scarbrough case of clerical extortian, that seems to have determined Henry II to make his attack an the ecclesiastical privileges. On this occasion Belmeis, the treasurer of York, appears as the chief maintainer of the rights of his order, and advised that the money should be restored and the offender left to the mercy of his bishop. The king, he urged, had no claim in the matter. At the outbreak of the Becket controversy, Belmeis was, according to Becket's biographer, FitzStephen, a close friend and protégé of the archbishop, and to prevent Becket profiting by his counsel, Henry II removed him in 1162 to the see of Poitiers, but the ceremony of consecration does not seem to have taken place till next year, when it was performed by the pope himself at the council of Tours (cf. Robert de Monte, sub. 1162, and Ralph de Diceto, i. 311, and ii. I20). But though abroad the new bishop seems to have been a staunch supporter of his order. An extant letter written some few months after this date is full of the kindliest feeling for his old friend. Next year we find that the bishop of Poitiers had been maintaining Becket's nephew, Geoffrey, and even giving him money. Towards the middle of 1164 we have another affectionate letter from John of Poitiers to Becket. Here the bishop speaks out his mind boldly, and declares that though, owing to the schism in the church and the necessities of the times, they had not resisted unto blood and had even stooped to dissimulation, yet no one could say that they had yielded to threats or acquicsced in impious plans. The letter indirectly explains that Belmeis did not not go more frequently to plead Becket'a cause with the pope, because the people of his diocese, with whom there are other indications to show that he was little in sympathy, were only too ready to carry news of these visits to the king in the hope of doing the bishop harm, Belmeis had, however, taken care to engage the interests of the abbot of Pontigny, in whose abbey Becket, a few months later, took refuge. Neit year (1165), in another letter, Belmeis advises Becket to receive thankfully whatever the French king offers, and hints at the same time that the archbtsbop would do well to be content with a moderate retinue. The same year he recomended Becket to attend a conference with the empress and the archbisbop of Rouen, having only one or two monks in his train, so that by contrast with his former state an chancellor he might move men's hearts to pity. But above all things be advises Becket to have all questions as to the way and form of his return settled before he reached England ; for abroad he has the Count of Flanders and the empress at his back, whereas in England men speak only what the king wills. Next year (1166) a determined attempt was made to take away the bishop's life by means of a poisoned draught. Early in 1167, as Henry's envoys were returning from Rome by way of France, Becket asked Belmeis to ascertain all he could as to the success of their mission; but, as they were bound not to make any confession to the bishop, Belmeis had to trust to such scraps of information as he could pick up from the dean at whose house they lodged. Two years later, when it was hoped that Becket would make some concession at the meeting of Montmirail, but would only substitute 'salvo honore Dei' for 'salvo ordine nostro,' and the conference was broken off in anger, the bishop of Poitiers appears in the part, of a reconciliator. He was sent after Becket to Etampes, begging him to leave all things to the king's will; Becket had often openly longed for peace, let him now show that his wish was sincere. But he could only get for answer that the archbishop would promise nothing to the prejudice of the divine law. It was on this occasion that Becket reproached his old friend with the words; 'Brother, beware lest God's church be destroyed by you; by me, with God's favour, it shall not be destroyed,' John, being loth to carry back the archbishop's true message, translated it into a desire on Becket's part to commit his cause to Henry before all other mortals, adding a prayer that the king would provide (as a christian prince should) for the honour of the church and the archbishop's person. This design, however kindly meant, broke down. In the next few years we find the name of John, bishop of Poitiers, mentioned in Sainte-Marthe's 'Gallia Christiana' as occurring in several documents of the time. He was present at the council of Albi tn 1176 (Sainte-Marthe, ii. 1180), and in the same year he appears beating back an incursion of plundering Brabantines from his province (Ralphe de Diceto, i. 407), Next year he was one of the witnesses when Henry II bonght La Marche from its count for 15,000/. (December 1177), and, if we may trust Stephen of Tournay, was legate of the holy see both before and after this year. In 1178, when the king of France and England determined on taking measures for the supression of the growing heresy in Toulouse, John of Poitiers was one of the five chief ecclesiastics sent to convert that region, and was present when the heretics were solemnly excommunicated before the assembled people of Toulouse. By this time John may have won the love of his diocese, for we are told on contemporary authority that four years later, at his departure from his cathedral city, the cross of St. Martial shed tears (Hoveden, iv. 17). In 1179 the bishop of Poitiers was present at the great Lateran council (D'Achery, i. 638). Two years after he was elected archbishop of Narbonne, and went to Rome for the sake of receiving the papal benediction from Lucius III. This pope, however, had him elected to the more important see of Lyons instead, an appointment which seems to have been greatly to the satisfaction of his contemporaries (December 1182). There still remains a letter written by Stephen of Tournay to the new archbishop, congratulating him on his preferment, and speaking of 'that admirable and lovely contest between the churches,' i.e. the rivalry between Narbonne and Lyons, as to which should win the bishop of Poitiers for its head. According to Sainte-Marthe the new archbishop did homage to Frederic Barbarossa in 1184, and was confirmed in his rights over the city of Lyons. Five years later we find him extracting from Philip Augustus an acknowledgment that the right of guarding the vacant see of Autun belonged to the archbishopric of Lyons ; for the king on the death of the last bishop had seized all the regalia into his own hands (D'Achery, iii. 554). In 1192 Sainte-Marthe tells us he was engaged in dedicating a chapel to the memory of his old friend Thomas of Canterbury. During all these years he seems to have kept up some connection with his native land and with Canterbury. We have several letters written to him by the convent of Christ Church, begging him to use his influence on its behalf; and it is to him that Ralph de Diceto appeals on a question of church history (Ralph de Diceto, i. 5, 6). In the middle of 1193 he appears to have resigned his see, and in the course of the next year to have crossed over to England to perform his vows at the tomb of Becket (8 Sept.). William of Nasburgh's words seem to imply that he was present at the council of London (10 Feb. 1194), and there sjX)ke on behalf of the absent Richard I. He then retired to St. Bernard's abbey of Clairvaux, where he spent the rest of his life in meditation and prayer. The reasons given for this retirement in a letter to the bishop of Glasgow (Mabillon's Analecta, 478-79) are his dissatisfaction at having to be so constantly present at scenes of bloodshed in the exercise of his archiepiscopal functions, and a desire to foretaste the sweetness of heaven by following the contemplative life on earth for a little space before he died. He seems to have retained the church of Eynesford as a provision for his old age (Epist. Cant., R.S., 472), and this living, though disputed for a time, he was finally allowed to hold till his death (p. 513). In Adam the Benedictine's 'Life of St. Hugh of Lincoln' we catch a last glimpse of the aged archbishop. When, in the last year of his life (1200), St. Hugh was returning through Burgundy to London, he visited Clairvaux at the special request of Belmeis, whom he found intent on study. Asking the old man to what he devoted himself chiefly, he received for answer that meditation on the psalms demanded all his intellectual energy. According to Sainte-Marthe, John was still living in 1201, when Innocent III presented the abbey with a selection of prayers to be sung in honour of St. Benard, and, if we may trust the letters of the same pope, in December 1203, Belmeis seems to have been a man of great learning for his age. Robert de Monte calls him 'vir jocundus et apprime literatus.' Bale mentions among his writings thirty-two letters to the Archbishop of Canterbury ; an invective against the saime ; certain 'orationes elegantes;' and a history, apparently of his own times. None of these latter works appear to be extant now ; but many of his letters are to be found scattered among the collections bearing the names of Thomas Becket, John of Salisbury, and Gilbert Foliot.
[William of Canterbury, Herbert of Bosham, William FitzStephen, and Letters of Thomas Becket in materials for the History of Thomas Becket (Rolls Ser.), vols, i.-vi. ; Ralph de Diceto (Rolls Ser.), i. 307, 31 1, ii. 120, &c. ; Roger Hoveden (Rolls Ser.), ii. 148, 151, iii. 274, iv. 17, 127; Vita Hugonis Lincolnensis (Rolls Ser.), 324 ; William of Newburgh, l. v. c. 3 ; Epistolæ Cantuarienses (Rolls Ser.), 245, 275, 513, 541. &c. ; Sainte-Marthe's Gallia Christiana, ii. 1180, iv. 130, vi. 56 ; D'Achery's Spicilegium (ed. 1733, Venice), i.638, ii. 1180, iii. 554; Migne's Cursus Completus Theologiæ, ccix. 877-882; Stephen of Tournay, apiul Migue, ccxi. 328, 373 ; Epistolæ Innocentii III, apud Migne, ccxv. 213-220, ccxiv. 1032 ; John of Salisbury's Polycraticus and Metalogicus, apud Migne, cxcix. 735. &c. ; Baronius' Annales Ecclesiastici (ed. Pagi, 1746), xix. 103, 524, 525 ; Robert de Monte, in his Aucturarium Sigeberti Gemblacensis, ap. Migne, clx. 496, 539 ; Bale, 218 ; Martene's Anecdota, iv. 1290; Migne's Histoire Littéraire de la France, xvi. 477-483 ; Pits, 261 ; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.]