Chesney, Robert de (DNB00)

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CHESNEY, ROBERT de (d. 1166), ('cujus cognomen est de Querceto,' 'of the Oakwood:' Hen. Hunt ), fourth bishop of Lincoln, was by birth an Englishman, but, as his name indicates, of a Norman family. At an early age he was appointed archdeacon of Leicester, and is mentioned by his contemporary, Henry of Huntingdon, in his letter 'De Contemptu Mundi' (p. 302), as holding that office with great credit. While still a young man he was chosen bishop of Lincoln, on the death of Alexander [q. v.], by the common consent of the whole church of Lincoln (Dicento, i. 258), towards the close of 1148, and was consecrated at Lambeth by Archbishop Theobald, 19 Dec. of the same year. According to Henry of Huntingdon (p. 281), the king (Stephen), clergy, and people all accepted his election with the greatest joy. As archdeacon, Diceto (also his contemporary) tells us, he had acquired a reputation for great simplicity and humility, which would render him a welcome successor to the haughty and ostentatious Alexander, who had been far more a feudal baron than a bishop. Chesney was received at his episcopal city with the greatest tokens of joy and devout reverence, both by clergy ana people, who, 'having expected much in their new bishop, found him exceed their anticipations' (Hen. Hunt. ib.) The young bishop, however, evidently a quiet, unambitious man, had not the strength of character or practical wisdom required in a critical epoch. Alan, Becket's biographer, while praising his simplicity, speaks very slightingly of his judgment: 'simplex quidem homo et minus discretus' (Gervase, i. 183; Becket Materials, ii. 327). Giraldus Cambrensis, not however the most trustworthy of witnesses, charges him with having inflicted enormous loss on the see of Lincoln by his over-readiness to give away what was not rightly his own to give. Some of the episcopal estates he bestowed on his nieces as marriage portions, while four churches and a prebena were alienated by him for the benefit of the Gilbertine priory of St. Catherine's, outside the South Bargate of Lincoln, which he had founded immediately after his consecration to the see. Not content with the more modest lodging in the tower over the Eastgate assigned to his predecessor. Bishop Alexander, by Henry I, he purchased for a considerable sum a site for a new episcopal residence in 1155, on which he began the erection, on a scale of much grandeur and 'at great cost,' of the palace which was afterwards carried on by his successors, Hugh of Avalon and Hugh of Wells, and finally completed, after the lapse of two centuries, by Bishop William of Alnwick [q. v.] He also, previous to 1162, purchased of the brethren of the Temple, for a hundred marks, their original house, 'The Old Temple,' in the parish of St. Andrew's, Holborn, as a London residence for the bishops of Lincoln. By these costly works the bishop contracted a debt with Aaron the Jew of Lincoln, the most celebrated money-lender of his age, amounting to 300l. This sum was charged upon the see, the 'ornamenta' of the cathedral church beings pledged to the unbeliever as security for its repayment, to the great scandal of the church; but these were redeemed by Chesney's successor, Geoffrey, afterwards archbishop of York, on his accession to the see. Chesney obtained the grant of some markets and fairs, and the addition of a prebend to make up for that granted to the Gilbertines (Girald, Cambr. Op. vii. 34-6). But he inflicted farther injury on the see of Lincoln by his quiescence in the claim of the great abbey of St. Albans, which was at that time within the diocese of Lincoln, for exemption from episcopal control. Independence of the bishops in whose dioceses they were locally situate had long been an object of ambition to the greater monasteries; but the abbey of Battle was hitherto the only one which enjoyed such independence. The struggle between Chesney and the abbey was, however, altogether an unequal one. The abbot of St. Albans, Robert de Gorham, was much more than a match for Chesney in boldness and vigour, and the matter of controversy had been already virtually decided. Chesney was really free from serious blame in the matter. He might have carried on the struggle more energetically, but he could not have prevented the recognition of the independence of the monastery. That had been already ordained by Pope Adrian IV [q. v.], who was a native of the domain of St. Albans, of which house his father had been a monk for more than fifty years. It had also been accepted by his successor, Alexander III, and had received the assent of Henry II. After much controversy 'the cause came finally for settlement before the king in the chapel of St. Catherine, at Westminster Abbey, in March 1163. The will of Tinghurst, Buckinghamshire, of 10l. annual value, having at Henry*s suggestion been offered to the bishop by way of compromise, was accepted by him. His claim of jurisdiction was formally renounced, the act being confirmed by Becket, then archbishop of Canterbury, who granted the monastery as complete independence of the bishops of Lincoln as that the had hitherto enjoyed of the bishops of Wmchester or Exeter (Matt. Paris, Gesta Abbatum S. Alb. ed. Riley, i.; 136-67; Chron, Majora, ii, 219). The final agreement between the contending parties is given by Wendover (Flares Histor. ed. Coxe, 11. 292). Mortification at the humiliating issue of the struggle may probably have been the cause of the failure of health which was allowed as an excuse for his absence firom the council held at Tours in the month of May of the same year (Diceto, i. 310). He had previously taken part in the consecration of Roger, archbishop of York, 10 Oct. 1164, a fortnight before Stephen's death, and three years later, 17 July 1157, he was one of the bishops at the council of Northampton, by whom the final agreement was drawn up between Archbishop Theobald and Silvester, abbot of St. Augustine's, concerning canonical obedience (Gervas. Dorobern. i. 158, 164). He was also one of the consecrators of Thomas Becket as archbishop of Canterbury, 3 June 1162. As one of Backet's suffragans, Chesney could not avoid bearing a part in the struggle for supremacy between the sovereign and the archbishop. At the outbreak of the dispute between Henry and Becket in 1165, Ernulf [q. v.] counselled the king to detach some of his suffragans from the primate. Henry accordingly summoned Chesney to his presence at Gloucester, together with Roger, archbishop of York, as 'the most pliable of the bishops,' and induced them to desert Becket and attach themselves to his interests (Hoveden, i. 221; Vita S, Thorn, Anon., Materials, iv. 30; Will. Cant. ib. i. 14; Grim, ib. ii. 377). In January 1164, Chesney attended the council of Clarendon, where he united with the other prelates, including Becket himself, in the solemn engagement to observe the ' ancient customs ' of the realm (ib. iv. 206, V. 72). In the October of the same year we find Chesney with other bishops at the council of Northampton, which proved the crisis of the struggle. Here he exhibited his simplicity and lack of discretion. At the discussion between Becket and his suffragans, with locked doors, as to whether the archbishop should render the accounts demanded by Henry, after various leading bishops had given their advice, Chesney thus tersely declared himself in favour of submission. 'It is plain,' he said, 'that this man's life and blood are sought after. He must either give up that or his archbishopric. And if he loses his life, I do not see what good his archbishopric is to do him' (Alan Tewk. Vita S. Thom., Materials, ii. 327; Gervas. Dorobern. i. 183). On the last and most memorable day of the council, 13 Oct., when by Henry's permission the bishops waited upon the archbishop to entreat him to throw himself upon the king's mercy, Chesney had recourse to the 'silent eloquence of tears' (FitzStephen, Vita S. Thorn, ib. iii. 66). if we may trust the 'Annals of Worcester Abbey,' Chesney was one of the envoys despatched by Henry immediately after Becket's flight from Northampton to convey his letters to the pope at Sens, charging Becket with traitorous conduct (Annal. Monast. iv. 381). Chesney did not live to witness the tragical end of the long and bitter struggle in which he had been called reluctantly to take part. This 'man of great humility passed to the Lord' 27 Dec. 1166 (Girald. Cambr. vii. 36, 164; the date given by Diceto, i. 329, 26 Jan. 1167, is certainly erroneous).

[Henry of Huntingdon (Rolls Series), pp. 281, 302; Gervase of Canterbury, i. 168, 164, 183; Roger of Hoveden. i. 221, 269; Diceto, i. 268, 310, 329; Girald. Cambrensis, vii. 34, 198; Materials for the Life of Becket, i. 14, ii. 327, 377. iii. 66, iv. 30, 206, 314, v. 72; Wendover, ed. Coxe. ii. 292; Monastic Annals (Gloucester), ii. 169 (Worcester), iv. 381; Perry's St. Hugh of Lincoln.]

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