Carilef, William de (DNB00)

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CARILEF, WILLIAM de, Saint (d. 1096), bishop of Durham, began his ecclesiastical career as a secular priest in the church of Bayeux, but was moved by the example of his father to become a monk in the monastery of St. Carilef, now St. Calais, in the county of Maine. He showed great diligence in discharging his monastic duties, and rapidly rose to hold office in his monastery till he succeeded to the dignity of prior. His fame spread, and he was chosen abbot of the neighbouring monastery of St. Vincent. His practical capacity commended him to the notice of William the Conqueror, who in 1080 appointed him bishop of Durham, to which office William was consecrated on 3 Jan. 1081. He succeeded to a troubled diocese, where his predecessor Walcher had been murdered by his unruly people. He set to work at once to carry out a change which Walcher had contemplated, the substitution in the church of Durham of regular for secular canons. Monasticism had revived in Northumberland through the influence of Aldwin, prior of Winchcombe, who with two companions had travelled to the north that he might rekindle the fervour of monastic life which he read in the pages of Bede. Aldwin and his followers settled at Jarrow and Wearmouth, where they rebuilt the ruined buildings and formed monastic settlements. Bishop William wished to gather these monks round the church of Durham and commit to their care the guardianship of St. Cuthbert's relics. He consulted King William and Queen Matilda, who advised him to act cautiously and obtain the sanction of the pope. Gregory VII readily assented to a change which favoured the spread of monasticism. In 1083 Bishop William substituted monks for secular canons in the church of Durham, and as the small revenues of the see were not sufficient to maintain three monasteries, the new foundations of Jarrow and Wearmouth were merged in the monastery of the cathedral. Their monks were brought to Durham, and the existing body of canons, who lived according to the rule of Chrodegang, were offered the choice of resigning or becoming monks. With one exception they all preferred to go; the dean was with difficulty persuaded by his son, who was himself a monk, to make the monastic profession. Aldwin, the reviver of northern monasticism, was made the first prior of Durham. The monks received their lands as separate from those of the bishop; their prior was to have the dignity of an abbot; they were made perpetual guardians of St. Cuthbert's Church and St. Cuthbert's relics.

Simeon, the Durham chronicler, describes Bishop William as learned in secular and theological literature, industrious in affairs, sufficient in the discharge of his episcopal duties, subtle in mind, a wise counsellor, and eloquent in speech. To the monks of Durham he was a kindly, prudent, and firm ruler, and they seem to have seen the best side of his character. In public affairs his subtlety led him into intrigue. During the reign of William I he was a valued counsellor of the king, of whom all men stood in awe. William II at his accession made him his chief minister, probably justiciar, and committed the administration of public affairs to his hands (Flor. Wig. sub anno 1088). The favour shown to him by the king was one of the causes of the discontent of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, which led him to rebel against his nephew (Will. Malm. Gesta Regum, bk. iv. ch. 1). To the surprise of all men Bishop William was treacherous to his master and joined in the revolt, ‘doing as Judas did to our Lord’ (A.-S. Chron. sub anno 1088). His motive in this is difficult to understand; probably he wished to stand well with both parties. He took credit to himself for securing Hastings to the king's side; but when war seemed imminent he withdrew on pretence of gathering his troops and sent the king no help. If he hoped to temporise and hold the balance between the two parties, he was mistaken, for the king ordered his immediate arrest. Bishop William answered from Durham that he would come to the king if he had a sufficient safe-conduct, but he added that not every man could judge a bishop. The sheriff of Yorkshire was loyal to the king, and ordered his men to lay waste the bishopric, so that Bishop William was almost blockaded in Durham. Still he contrived to do as much harm as he could to the king's cause in the northern parts. In two months the rebellion was put down, and William II proceeded to call the treacherous bishop to account.

Bishop William's conduct is condemned by the southern chroniclers; but the northern historians regard him as in some way an ill-used man, who was himself the object of a conspiracy. Probably the monks of Durham were easily won over by the plausible accounts of one who was a munificent patron and a sagacious ruler (Freeman, William Rufus, Appendix C). At all events Bishop William showed great dexterity in his attempts to remedy the evil consequences of his political duplicity. William II summoned him before the gemot, and the bishop set to work to devise means of escape. He pleaded the privileges of his order; he offered to purge himself of the charge of treason by his personal oath. The king refused all his offers and demanded that he should appear and be tried as a layman. Then the bishop negotiated about the terms on which he should appear and about the possession of his castle during his absence. Finally he agreed that his castle should be held by three of his barons, and that if he were found guilty he should be at liberty to go beyond the sea.

On 2 Nov. 1088 the gemot met at Salisbury, and Bishop William put forth all his acuteness in raising legal quibbles at every turn to prevent any discussion of the real issue. He was a skilful lawyer and a clever and copious speaker (‘oris volubilitate promptus,’ says Will. Malm. Gesta Pontificum, 272). He objected that his fellow-suffragans were not allowed to give him their counsel; finally he denied the right of laymen to judge a bishop; he would only answer to the archbishop and bishops and would speak with the king. Lanfranc was the chief speaker in opposing his claims, and it was decided that he must acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court, or the king was not bound to restore his lands. He persisted in declining to admit this jurisdiction in the case of a bishop, and appealed to the apostolic see. Hugh of Beaumont, on the king's part, accused him of treason, and the bishop answered by again appealing to Rome. The pleadings were still going on when William II brought matters to an issue: ‘I will have your castle, as you will not follow the justice of my court.’ Still the bishop raised new points about his safe-conduct, the delivery of the castle, the ships which were to take him abroad, and an allowance of money for his maintenance. The castle was taken by the king on 14 Nov., and after some delay Bishop William was allowed to sail to Normandy.

There he was warmly welcomed by Duke Robert, who gave him the chief post in the administration of the duchy. He probably found himself more profitably employed than in prosecuting his appeal to Rome; at all events we hear no more about it. He longed, however, to return to England, and took an opportunity of regaining the favour of William II by rescuing a garrison of his soldiers who were besieged in a castle in Normandy. Duke Robert became reconciled to his brother, and on 3 Sept. 1091 Bishop William was restored to the possessions of the bishopric. During his absence he had not forgotten his monks, and sent them from Normandy a letter of advice about their conduct, which he ordered them to read aloud once a week (Simeon of Durham, Rolls Ser. i. 126). He brought back with him vessels and vestments for his church, and, what was more important, a plan for a new cathedral, of which the foundation-stone was laid 11 Aug. 1093, in the presence of Malcolm, king of Scotland.

Bishop William certainly deserves the credit of being one of the greatest of the builders who have adorned England. In the space of two years and a half that remained of his pontificate he built so much of the cathedral of Durham that he practically decided its lasting form. He finished the choir, the arches of the lantern, and began the nave. He conceived the purest and noblest specimen of Romanesque architecture in England. Moreover, he added to the castle which William the Conqueror had built at Durham, and its most striking part is the chapel, in which Bishop William used the skill which was displayed on a greater scale in the cathedral.

Bishop William did not content himself with these works and with the business of his diocese. Unfortunately for his fame he regained the favour of William II and helped him to carry out his unworthy plans. The scheming character of the bishop showed itself only too clearly in his willingness to help William II to rid himself of Archbishop Anselm. Bishop William felt no respect for Anselm's simple and noble character. He laid legal traps for him and devised means of annoyance which might give a plausible reason for his deposition, led by the hope that if Anselm were gone he might succeed him as archbishop. The story of the persecution of Anselm need not be told again; but in the meeting of the council at Rockingham (March 1095) Bishop William was the man who above all others maintained the royal jurisdiction over bishops. The man who seven years before had put forward at Salisbury the plea of exemption from royal jurisdiction now showed the same cleverness in arguing against such a plea. He promised the king that he would make Anselm renounce the pope or would compel him to resign his episcopal office. When Anselm was firm, and refused to answer save ‘as he ought and where he ought,’ Bishop William was so far consistent as to admit that reason was on the side of one who stood on the Word of God and the authority of St. Peter. But he had the meanness to propose recourse to violence; let Anselm be deprived of his ring and staff and be expelled the kingdom. When this was rejected by the lay lords, William's technical ingenuity suggested to his brother bishops that they should withdraw their obedience from Anselm. William's conduct at Rockingham was in every way base and unworthy. He showed himself to be a man of great cleverness who pursued his end with desperate tenacity, and when once engaged in a war of wits forgot everything save the desire to win an immediate advantage. To promote his own interests he attacked at Rockingham the position which, to save himself, he had strenuously maintained at Salisbury. He was a man without principles in public matters. His versatile mind and ready eloquence covered an indifference to the real issue and hopeless shallowness of thought (‘homo linguæ volubilitate facetus quam sapientia præditus,’ Eadmar, Hist. Nov. bk. i.).

Bishop William went away from Rockingham discredited in the eyes of all men. His counsel had led the king into difficulties, and he had again lost the royal favour. His restless mind chafed under his disgrace, and he was suspected of renewed treachery. Robert Mowbray, earl of Northumberland, rebelled against the king, and the bishop of Durham's attitude was ambiguous. The king summoned him to his court, and the bishop pleaded illness as an excuse. The king repeated his command, and the bishop, who was really ailing, was forced to drag himself to Windsor. There his illness increased, and on Christmas day 1095 he took to his bed. It is pleasant to know that he was visited in his sickness by Archbishop Anselm. On his deathbed it was proposed by some of his monks who were present that he should be buried in the stately church which he had founded; but William refused to allow his corruptible remains to be laid in the same building as the uncorrupt body of St. Cuthbert. ‘Bury me,’ he said, ‘in the chapter-house, where my tomb will be always before your eyes.’ He died on 2 Jan. 1096. His body was carried to Durham and was buried in the chapter-house according to his wish, amid the tears and lamentations of the monks.

The character of William de St. Carilef is puzzling. It is hard to reconcile the clever, selfish, unscrupulous statesman with the wise administrator and sagacious reformer of his diocese. He was probably a man whose cleverness was superficial, and did not go beyond the capacity to do what seemed obvious for the moment. At Durham his duty was tolerably clear, and he did it with sagacity and winning sympathy. He was beloved by his monks. His architectural plans were marked by the finest feeling for the capacities of the art of his time. In public matters his path was not so clear. He had no principles to guide him, and his actions were swayed by selfishness.

[The northern authority is Simeon of Durham, Hist. Dunelm. Eccles. ed. Arnold, Rolls Series, i. 119, &c.; also, with the Hist. Regum, ed. Hinde, Surtees Society; the account of the trial at Salisbury is a Durham document, ‘De injusta venatione Willelmi primi episcopi,’ in Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum, i. 245, &c.; the southern authorities are William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, bk. iv. ch. 1; and Gesta Pontificum, bk. iv.; Florence of Worcester's Chronicle, and Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, sub annis; Eadmar, Hist. Nov. bk. i.; of modern writers see Hutchinson's Durham,i. 133; Stubbs's Constitutional Hist. ch. xi.; the public life of Bishop William has been fully examined by Freeman, William Rufus, i. 119, &c., and the authorities discussed in Appendix C.]

M. C.