Benedict (d.1193) (DNB00)

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BENEDICT (d. 1193), abbot of Peterborough, whose birthplace is unknown, was probably a monk of Christ Church, Canterury, of which monastery he became prior in 1175, having also, in the previous year, been appointed chancellor to the new archbishop, Richard of Dover. According to Bale he was educated at Oxford. In 1177 he was elected to the abbacy of Peterborough, and died in that office at Michaelmas, 1193. His biographer, Swafham, gives him the character of one sufficiently learned, well versed in monastic discipline, and having a thorough knowledge of the world. Succeeding to an abbot who had involved the monastery in heavy debt, he began at once to fulfil the part of an energetic reformer. He cleared off the debts, redeemed the church plate and other goods which had been pledgea, and recovered lands which had been alienated. On one occasion he is said to have even appeared in arms to enforce his claim. He was an ardent builder. He completed a portion of the nave of his church, built the great abbeygate and certain chapels, and was busy on other works when death overtook him. He stood well in favour with King Richard, at whose coronation he was present ; and indeed, if we are to believe Swafham, he was on terms of unusual intimacy with the sovereign ('valde specialiter amicus et familiaris'). He used his opportunities well in securing the rights and liberties of his house by royal charters. He did not, however, as has been stated by different writers, hold the appointment of vice-chancellor during Richard's absence from England. The Benedict upon whom that office was conferred during the quarrel of Prince John with Chancellor Longchamp in 1191, was undoubtedly Benedict of Sansetun, afterwards bishop of Rochester [see Benet or Benedictus, Magister, d. 1226].

Swafham gives a considerable list of manuscripts which were transcribed and added to the monastic library by Benedict's orders. Most of them are biblical, theological, and law books; but among them occur also Seneca, Martial, Terence, and Claudian. His own literary work included a history of the passion and another of the miracles of Thomas Becket. Bearing in mind the probability of his having been a monk of Christ Church, Canterbury, it is not too much to suppose, with regard to these two works, that 'the former possibly, the latter certainly, was founded on his own knowledge as an eyewitness' (Stubbs's Introd. to Gesta Hen. II p. li). The 'History of the Miracles' has been edited by Canon Robertson in the 'Materials for the History of Thomas Becket' (Rolls Series), 1870. The History of the Passion' has only survived in fragments embodied in the work on Becket known as the 'Quadrilogus.' The work, however, with which Benedict's name is most prominently connected is the 'Gesta Henrici Secundi; but with the authorship of it he apparently had nothing to do. This chronicle is found in two early manuscripts of different recensions. The first (Cotton MS, Julius A. xi.) appears to have been transcribed from the original work while it was still passing through the author's hands. To it is prefixed a copy of the genealogy of Henry II written by Ailred of Rievaulx, at the head of which appears the title, intended to cover both genealogy and chronicle. 'Gesta Henrici II Benedicti abbatis.' The occurrence of this title has been the cause of the ascription of the work to Benedict. It is, however, explained by a passage in Swafham; for there can be little doubt that the manuscript is the identical volume ('Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi et Genealogia ejus') which that writer tells us was transcribed by Benedict's orders together with the other manuscripts which he added to the library. Independently of this explanation, also, the last two words of the title may be taken to mean simply 'the gift of Benedict the abbot.' Who was the real author of the 'Gesta' is not known. Professor Stubbs has suggested that the work may be, in an altered form, the lost 'Tricolumnis of Richard Fitz-Neal, the author of the 'Dialogus de Scaccario.'

[Roberti Swaphami Historia Cœnobii Burgensis, printed in the Historise Anglicanae Scriptores varii, ed. Sparke, 1723; Gesta Henrici II, ed. Hearne, 1735, and Stubbs (Rolls Series), 1867; Hardy's Descriptive Catalogue of Materials for English History (Rolls Series), vol. ii. 1865, pp. 340, 341, 493.]

E. M. T.