Comyn, John (d.1212) (DNB00)

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COMYN, JOHN (d. 1212), archbishop of Dublin, was in his early life a trusted official and chaplain of Henry II. His devotion to his master's service is shown by his employ- merit on several important embassies during the quarrel between Henry and Archbishop Thomas, against the latter of whom he showed such zeal that he ultimately incurred the penalty of excommunication (Robertson, Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, vi. 602, Rolls Ser.) In 1163 he was sent on a mission to the court of the emperor, and the length of his stay alarmed both Becket and Pope Alexander III (ib. v. 59). In 1166, when the king appealed from Becket's sentence to the pope, Comyn was sent with John of Oxford and Ralph of Tamworth to the Curia, and succeeded in obtaining the appointment of two cardinal legates to hear and determine in England the quarrel of king and archbishop (ib. vi. 68, 84, 147; Hovedon, i. 276, ed. Stubbs). He left Rome early in 1167, but was accused soon after of showing to the antipopethe secrets of Becket's correspondence, and Alexander ordered the legates to punish him strictly if his guilt could be satisfactorily established (Robertson, vi. 200). In connection with this may be put a letter of Alexander to Comyn himself, ordering him to abandon the archdeaconry of Bath obtained through lay patronage (ib. vi. 422). But he failed to satisfy the archbishop at least, who bitterly complained to the pope that Comyn was wandering through France and Burgundy, loudly boasting that he had succeeded in withdrawing France from Becket's side, and proclaiming that if he only dared reveal the secrets of the papal court he would convince every one that Thomas would soon be overthrown (ib. vii. 237). This must have been during his journey to Rome on a second embassy, for we find him again there at the time of Becket's murder, an event which suspended all relations between him and the pope, and ruined the negotiations for a settlement which his dexterity had almost brought to a successful issue. His last important embassy was in 1177 to Alfonso of Castile and Sancho of Navarre, at the time when they were referring their dispute to the mediation of Henry II (Benedictus Abbas, i. 157, ed. Stubbs). On this occasion his name is mentioned first among the commissioners sent by the king. Comyn had, however, other employments at home. In 1169 and following years he served as justice itinerant in the south-western counties. In 1179 he was one of the six justices to carry out the new four-fold circuits into which Henry II then divided the country. His work lay in the northern division (Hoveden, ii. 191). Of ecclesiastical preferment, though he had never received priest's orders, he had already held the canonry of Hoxton in St. Paul's (Le Neve, ed. Hardy, ii. 397), besides the unlucky archdeaconry of Bath, and in 1170 the custody of two vacant bishoprics. But early in 1181 the death of the famous Irish saint, Lawrence O'Toole (Lorcan O'Tuathal), left vacant the archbishopric of Dublin. Henry determined to make that see for the future a pillar of English rule in Ireland. He at once seized upon the possessions of the archbishopric, and on 6 Sept. some of the clergy of the cathedral appeared before a great council at Evesham, where the king's influence soon procured from them the election of John Comyn as the new archbishop, with a semblance of canonical form (BenedictusAbbas, i. 280 ; Hoveden, ii. 263 ; Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernice in Opera v. 358-9, Rolls Ser.) Comyn proceeded to Rome for the pallium. He was well received by Lucius III, who on 13 March 1182 ordained him priest at Velletri, and on Palm Sunday consecrated him bishop. According to some contemporary authorities, Lucius also made him a cardinal (Giraldus, v. 358 ; Benedictus Abbas, i. 287). But it would be more than unusual in the twelfth century for a cardinal to reside elsewhere than at Rome, and in all his official acts there is no trace of Comyn claiming the title. He left Rome in time to be present at the Christmas court of Henry II at Caen (Benedictus Abbas, i. 273), and in August 1184 was present at a council at Reading which in vain endeavoured to elect an archbishop of Canterbury (ib. i. 317). Immediately after he proceeded to Ireland for the first time, in order to prepare the way for the arrival of Earl John, to whom his father had already assigned the government of the new dependency (September 1184). In April 1185 he received John on his arrival, and with the other English colonists swore fealty to him (ib. i. 339), but he was unable to prevent the complete failure of the new ruler. He was accused, however, of surreptitiously obtaining from John a charter investing him with very extensive legal privileges (Gilbert, Viceroys of Ireland, p. 50). Next year Comyn was again in England, was present at Henry's Christmas court at Guildford (Ben. Abb. ii. 3), and was sent by the king to meet the cardinal Octavian, who had been sent from Rome to be legate of Ireland, and to crown John king of that island ; but Archbishop Baldwin persuaded Henry to send the legate back his mission unaccomplished (ib. ii. 4). A little later Comyn seems to have attached himself to Henry's revolted sons, and in June 1188 went on a mission from Richard in Aquitaine to his father. In September 1189 he was present at Richard's coronation at Winchester (Hoveden, iii. 8), and also at the series of councils held by the new king before his departure for the crusade (ib. iii. 8, 14, 15, 24). The next few years were mainly passed by Comyn in Ireland, in carrying out the policy which had been foreshadowed by his appointment. Politically he made the archbishops of paramount importance in the colonial government, so that they often enjoyed more power and more confidence with the king than the viceroys themselves (Gilbert, Viceroys, i. 45 sq.) Legally his acceptance of the estates of his see as a barony, and the charters of immunities which further dignified his position, mark an important step in the feudalisation of Ireland. Ecclesiastically he aimed at the extirpation of the last remnants of the local usages of the Celtic church in favour of the newest patterns of Roman orthodoxy. But though the champion of England and Rome, he was a zealous defender of the rights of his see as he conceived them, and a magnificent and bountiful benefactor of the church. This is shown by the large number of his grants still preserved in such collections as the cartularies of St. Mary's Abbey, by his refoundation of the convent of nuns at Grâce Dieu (Archdall, Monasticon Hibernicum, new ed. ii. 84), and endowing it with the church of St. Audoen in Dublin (Gilbert, Hist. Dublin, i. 277), by his obtaining possession of the Arroasian priory of All Saints from the bishops of Louth (Butler, Reg. Prior. Omnium SS. juxta Dublin, Irish Archæological Society), by his enlargement of the choir of the cathedral church of the Holy Trinity (now Christ Church), which St. Lawrence had already made Arroasian (Gilbert, Hist. Dub. i. 101), and above all by his great foundation of St. Patrick's, which a successor in the archbishopric raised to the dignity of a second cathedral. In 1190 he demolished an ancient parish church in the southern suburbs of the city, the legend about whose foundation went back to St. Patrick himself, and erected in its place a college for thirteen prebendaries of holy life and sound knowledge of literature, to spread 'the light of learning, which was more wanting in Ireland than in any other part, of Christendom.' With that object any prebendary who went beyond sea for study was allowed, despite his non-residence, to retain his emoluments and commons. All the liberties enjoyed by the canons of Salisbury were secured by charter to the canons of St. Patrick's. Earl John himself founded an additional prebend. On St. Patrick's day 1191 the church was consecrated with great pomp (Mason, History of St. Patrick's, with appendices containing the foundation charters). Comyn was also a benefactor of the city of Dublin (Gilbert, Hist. and Municipal Documents of Ireland, pref. xxv, Rolls Ser.)

Comyn was as vigorous in the management of his see as splendid in his foundations. Soon after his consecration he got a bull from Lucius III (13 April 1182) that no archbishop or bishop should hold a synod within his province without his consent. From this sprang a controversy of centuries in duration between the archbishops of Dublin and Armagh with reference to the primacy of the latter and their right to bear their crosier erect within the province of Dublin. In 1184 he got from Earl John a charter allowing him to hold courts all over Ireland, 'as well in cities as in exterior lands' (Sweetman, Cal. Irish State Papers, 1171-1251, No. 1789), and in 1185 the union of the impoverished see of Glendalough with the archbishopric was secured at the next vacancy. In 1186 a provincial synod was held and a large number of canons passed, with the object of repressing the characteristic irregularities of the Irish clergy. Another synod was held at Dublin in 1192. In 1195 he rescued the body of Hugh de Lacy from the natives and buried it at Bective.

In 1197 Comyn had a serious quarrel with Earl John's deputy, Hamon of Valognes. Indignant at the viceroy's usurpations of ecclesiastical property, the archbishop excommunicated him and his followers, put the archbishopric under an interdict, and sought safety from Hamon's vengeance in exile. His property was seized, but extraordinary miracles showed that heaven favoured the cause of the persecuted prelate. Yet Comyn could for a long time get no justice either from John or from King Richard, and was himself put into prison in Normandy. At last Innocent III interfered, and in a bull, dated Perugia, 18 Sept. 1198, reprimanded John and secured the bishop's return (Baluke, Ep. In. III, i. 215-16). Valognes purchased back favour by a grant of lands to the archbishopric (Hoveden, iv. 29; cf. Gilbert, Viceroys, p. 57), and gave John one thousand marks to have peace touching his Irish account (Cal. Irish Doc. No. 91 ). The reconciliation between John and the archbishop must have been complete, as in May 1199 the latter was present at the former's coronation at London (Hoveden, iv. 89). Next year Comyn assisted (23 Nov.) at St. Hugh's funeral at Lincoln (Magna Vita S. Hugonis, p. 353, Rolls Ser.) In 1201 he was at the coronation of Queen Isabella at Canterbury (An. Burton in An. Monast. i. 206). In 1203 he returned to Ireland, and in 1204 he again quarrelled with John about the acts of foresters and other royal officers, and was summoned from his see to answer the charges brought against him. But in 1205 a reconciliation was effected, and the viceroy, Meyler Fitz Henry, was directed to restore and protect Comyn in all his lands and liberties (Cal Irish Doc. 1171-1251, Nos. 202, 276). Little is heard of Comyn's acts for the rest of his life. He died at an advanced age on 25 Oct. 1212, and was buried in the choir of his cathedral of Christ Church (Annals of St. Mary's, Dublin, ii. 279, 312, Rolls Ser.) Giraldus (Expug. Hib. in Opera, v. 358, Rolls Ser.) praises him for his cultured eloquence, his zeal for justice and the rights of his church, but complains of the tyranny of the secular arm to which he was subjected. He is said to have written some epistles and a discourse on the sacraments of the church, besides drawing up the canons summarised in Ware (Tanner, Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica, p. 212). There is nothing improbable in his belonging to the great family of Comyn, which later in the thirteenth century attained such importance in Scotland, and which in his time was more Northumbrian than Scottish; but there seems to be no direct evidence to substantiate the statements in Dempster (Hist. Eccles. Gentis Scotorum, iii. 348).

[Hoveden; Benedictus Abbas; Giraldus Cambrensis; Robertson's Materials for the History of Thomas a Becket; Gilbert's Historical and Municipal Documents of Ireland and Chartularies of St. Mary's Abbey, all in Rolls Series; Sweetman's Calendar of State Papers (Irish Series), 1171-1251; modern accounts are in Harris's Ware, i. 314-18; Foss's Judges of England (for his judicial career), i. 229-30; Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland, i. 45-7; Mason's History of St. Patrick's.]

T. F. T.