Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/John de Villula (d.1122)

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1231748Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 29 — John de Villula (d.1122)1892William Hunt

JOHN (d. 1122), called de Villula, bishop of Bath, a native of Tours, was a skilful physician and gained much wealth by his art, which he is said to have acquired rather by practice than by study (Gesta pontificum, p. 195). He received the bishopric of Somerset from William Rufus in 1088, and was consecrated in July. The king employed him in many important affairs and treated him as a friend. A movement, sanctioned by the council of London in 1075, was in progress by which episcopal sees were removed from villages to towns, and the abbey of Bath being vacant by the death of Abbot Alfsige, John, on his accession, obtained it from the king for the benefit of the bishopric and moved his see thither. He further bought from the king for 500l. the city of Bath, which had lately been burnt. The office of abbot thus became merged in that of the bishop, the prior and monks became the bishop's chapter, and the bishop became the lord of the city. John loved the society of learned men, and finding his monks, who were probably for the most part Englishmen, slow-witted, despised them, and took away their possessions; but in 1106, when he had got together a new body of monks, he gave them back what he had taken, and also granted the convent an estate near Bath, consisting of part of the present Bath Easton, Warley, and Claverton, which he had purchased for 60l. He rebuilt the church of Bath, which had become his cathedral church, and gave it many ornaments. The bases of some Norman columns at the east end of the present church are fragments of his work. Meanwhile at Wells he destroyed the dormitory, refectory, and cloister which his predecessor, Bishop Gisa [q. v.], had built for the canons that they might live according to the Lotharingian plan, forced them to live among the laity, and out of the materials, and on the site, of the destroyed buildings raised himself a house. Against the will of the canons he delivered part of their estates of the annual value of 30l. into the hands of Hildebert, his steward, who appears to have been his brother; the lands were held by Hildebert and his heirs as provosts of the canons, and they paid each canon a fixed yearly sum out of the profits. Bishop John was present at the dedication of the Cathedral at Old Sarum on 5 April 1092, and at the dedication of the abbey church of Battle on 11 Feb. 1094. He visited William de Carilef [q. v.], bishop of Durham (d. 2 Jan. 1096), in his last illness. On 15 Oct. 1097, while he was attending the king's council at Winchester, Archbishop Anselm [q. v.] sent for him and two other bishops, and appealed to them to listen to what he had to say on his side. They answered that they must consult with the other bishops. He obtained three confirmations of the grant of the city of Bath from Henry I, and one from Robert, duke of Normandy. In 1102 he was present at the synod of Westminster, and on 11 Aug. 1107 assisted Anselm at the consecration of five bishops at Canterbury. He died in old age on 29 Dec. 1122, having been suddenly seized after dinner on Christmas day with a pain in the heart, and was buried in the presbytery of his church at Bath. The enclosures round the chief mineral springs in the city are believed to have been built by him, And he is said to have founded two baths there. He was a man of cheerful and courteous disposition.

[Historiola ap. Eccl. Docs. pp. 21, 22 (Camden Soc.); Canon of Wells ap. Anglia Sacra, i. 560; Will, of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontiff, pp. 194, 195 (Rolls Ser.), and Gesta Regum, iv. cc. 338, 340 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Symeon of Durham's Hist. Regum, ii. 268 (Rolls Ser.); Florence, ann. 1102, 1122 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Chron. Monast. de Bello, p. 41 (Anglia Christ.); Eadmer's Hist. Nov. ii. col. 399, iii. col. 437 (Migne); Dugdale's Monasticon, ii. 257, 266-8; Freeman's Cath. Church of Wells, pp. 35-8, 166, Norman Conq. iv. 398, 422; Will. Rufus, i. 136, 138, ii. 483-90; Gent. Mag. Nov. 1864, 3rd ser. xvii. 624-30, by Bishop Stubbs on the provostry of Wells; Somerset Archæol. Soc.'s Proc. xix. ii. 2, xx. i. 31, 33, ii. 114-19; Godwin's De Præsulibus, pp. 366, 367, ed. 1743; Cassan's Bishops of Bath and Wells, pp. 89-99.]

W. H.