Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bartholomew (d.1184)

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BARTHOLOMEW (d. 1184), bishop of Exeter, was a native of Brittany. He was for some time archdeacon of Exeter. His appointment to the bishopric was due to the influence of Archbishop Theobald, who shortly before his death wrote a most urgent letter recommending him to the notice of Henry II and his chancellor, Becket (1161). While bishop he is said to have ordained Baldwin, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, to the priesthood, and in later times to have made him archdeacon. Bartholomew comes into prominence in connection with Becket. He was one of the two bishops appointed by Henry II to secure the election of his great chancellor to the see of Canterbury. In 1164 he consented to the Constitutions of Clarendon. He was also present at the council of Northampton in the same year, and when Becket asked advice of the assembled bishops as to how he should meet the king's demand for the accounts of his chancellorship, Bartholomew gave his metropolitan the blunt recommendation that it was better for one head to be endangered than for the whole church to be in peril. Later he threw himself at Becket's feet repeating similar words, and received the harsh reproach that he was a coward and not wise in the things that belonged to God. In the long Becket controversy he seems to have steered a middle course, and to have succeeded in offending neither party. In 1164 he was one of the five bishops sent with Henry's appeal to Alexander III at Sens, and, being the last of them to speak, exhorted the pope to settle the dispute without delay by sending legates. The next year (1165) Gilbert Foliot wrote to the pope that he had not received the full share of Peter pence due from Bartholomew's diocese, and added that, when he represented this deficiency to the bishop, Bartholomew replied by taking back the sum he had already brought. However, he managed to explain his conduct in this matter to Alexander's satisfaction. Though apparently keeping on good terms with the king, Bartholomew was yet in communication with the other party. John of Salisbury advises his brother to prefer this bishop's advice to his own, and, in sending him a summons to be present at a council in Becket's name, gives him the fullest power of evading it if he thought well (1166); and indeed Bartholomew deserved this trust, for he had about the same time refused to join in an appeal to the pope against Becket. A desperate effort seems to have been made by his brother bishops in 1167 to force Bartholomew to declare himself on one side, but apparently without success. Alexander III, who was accustomed to call him and the bishop of Worcester the two candlesticks of the English church, in 1169 gave him, in concert with the archbishop of Rouen, the power of absolving the excommunicated bishops. When Gilbert Foliot was excommunicated in his own cathedral, he crossed over the sea, and received absolution at the hands of these two prelates. Next year Bartholomew took part in the coronation of the young Henry, and was the only bishop who escaped excommunication for his share in that ceremony. On Becket's death the see of Canterbury was left vacant for more than two years, and in this interval Bartholomew seems to have been very active in ecclesiastical matters. He appears to have been appointed to investigate into the conduct of the prior of St. Augustine's at Canterbury, and wrote a most indignant report to the pope on the conduct of that dignitary, and the disorder and waste of the community he was supposed to rule. Letters are preserved, written by him to Alexander III, begging him to confirm the elections lately made to Hereford and Winchester, and urging him in the strongest terms not to disallow the election of Richard of Dover to the see of Canterbury; though in after days, if we may trust Giraldus Cambrensis, he would have been only too ready to recall his recommendation (see Giraldus Camb. Rolls Ser. vii. 58, 59). After Becket's death Canterbury Cathedral was closed for nearly a year, and on its reopening Bartholomew preached the first sermon, choosing for his text the words: ‘According to the multitude of my sorrows have thy consolations rejoiced my soul.’ In May 1175 he was present at Westminster when the archbishop's canons were promulgated, and in July at the council of Woodstock, when pastors were chosen for the vacant churches. Two years later he signed Henry II's award between the kings of Castile and Navarre at the great council of Westminster. Only two months before this, having been commissioned to inquire into the state of Amesbury nunnery, he dismissed the abbess, who seems to have been leading a notoriously loose life, and reformed the whole establishment (Walter of Coventry, Rolls Ser. i. 274). These appear to have been his last recorded acts before his death, which occurred in 1184. Leland and other English biographers give Bartholomew great praise for his learning, and add that he and Baldwin used to dedicate their works to each other. One of Bartholomew's last treatises must have been his ‘Dialogus contra Judæos,’ if Leland is right in saying that this was dedicated to Baldwin when bishop of Worcester (1180–4). Amongst others of Bartholomew's writings enumerated by the same authorities are a work on Thomas à Becket's death, one on predestination, and another entitled ‘Penitentiale,’ of which a copy still exists among the Cotton MSS. (Faust. A. viii. 1). Bartholomew seems to have been friendly with the most learned men of his age. Walter Map praises his eloquence in the ‘De Nugis Curialium;’ St. Hugh (afterwards of Lincoln) seems to have been acquainted with him, and Giraldus Cambrensis devotes several pages to an account of his life, and relates several stories, which seem to show that Bartholomew had a strong turn for uttering stinging remarks. He also tells us that it was to Bartholomew that William de Tracy made a confession of the terrors in which he lived after having borne a part in Becket's death; and Giraldus adds that from the time of this confession the bishop always maintained that Henry was responsible for the archbishop's murder. For a full list of Bartholomew's writings see Pits and Tanner.

[Leland, 225; Bale, 224; Pits, De Angl. Script. 249; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Materials for the Life of Thomas Becket (Rolls Ser.), ii. 328, 339, 402, &c., iii. 92, 117, 513, iv. 16, 354, v. 14, 72, 210, 295, vi. 71, 320, 606; Ralph of Coggeshall (Rolls Ser.), 20; Roger of Hoveden (Rolls Ser.), i. 230, ii. 78, 121, 130, 289; Map, De Nugis Curialium, i. xii; Vita Hugonis ap. B. Perzii Bibliothecam Asceticam, x. 262, &c.; Migne's Cursus Patrologiæ, cxcix. 362, cciv. 642; Giraldus Cambrensis (Rolls Ser.), vii. 62.]

T. A. A.