Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Palmer, Richard (d.1195)

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PALMER, RICHARD (d. 1195), archbishop of Messina, was born in England of noble parentage, and was educated in France. His surname may indicate that he had been on a pilgrimage to Palestine before settling in Sicily, where, like many of his countrymen about this time, he found employment under the Norman kings. He was one of the principal counsellors of William the Bad, and early in that monarch's reign, perhaps in 1155, was elected bishop of Syracuse. The first mention of Richard seems to occur on 6 Dec. 1157, when, as elect of Syracuse, he witnessed a charter of William the Bad (Pirri, Sicilia Sacra, i. 74). When, in 1161, William was imprisoned by some of his nobles at Palermo, Richard was foremost in rousing the people, and by his eloquence excited them to the king's rescue. It was Richard also who in 1162 mitigated William's wrath against Salerno, and saved that city from destruction. When William the Bad died early in 1166, Richard was by his will appointed one of the chief counsellors of his son William the Good. Richard was anxious to obtain the archbishopric of Palermo, which see was then vacant. In this endeavour he had for a rival Gentilis, the bishop of Agrigentum, or Girgenti. Gentilis, by accusing Richard of pride and arrogance, stirred up the other bishops against him. The opposition failed for a time, but was afterwards renewed, on the ground that Richard had caused the removal of Gaito Petrus from the court by calling in Gilbert, count of Gravina, as grand constable. Gentilis and his supporters contrived to procure from Alexander III a summons for Richard to come to the papal court for consecration, hoping by this means to remove him from the royal presence. Richard evaded the command for the time, and then, by bribing Richard de Mandra, count of Molise, the royal constable, induced the count and Margaret, the king's mother, to declare that his presence was necessary for the royal service, and that his consecration must be postponed till a more fitting occasion. Peter of Blois [q. v.] who came to Sicily in company with Stephen of Perche in 1167, twice makes reference, possibly in allusion to Richard, to the absorption of the Sicilian prelates in affairs of state (Epist. 84, ap. Migne, cc. 1461, and De Institutione Episcopi, Migne, ccvii. 1110). During the early part of the reign of William the Good, Richard Palmer discharged the duties of chancellor, in conjunction with Matthew the Notary; but Stephen of Perche, a kinsman of the queen, was chosen archbishop of Palermo, and then made chancellor. Stephen endeavoured, by the gift of two casals or villages, to appease Richard, who nevertheless opposed the chancellor when, in 1168, he had Peter the Notary imprisoned, declaring that such a proceeding was contrary to Sicilian, if not to French, custom. According to one account, it was to Richard that Peter of Blois appealed against the attempt to force a brother of the Count of Loricello on the canons of Girgenti in place of Gentilis (Pirri; P. Blesensis Epist. 10, ap. Migne, ccvii, where the letter is given as addressed to G. capellanum regis Siciliæ). Eventually the disturbances in Sicily were composed by the resignation of Stephen of Perche, and on 29 Sept. 1169 Richard was one of those who were appointed ‘Consulares Curiæ’ during the king's minority (Grævius, iii. 728). A short time previously Richard had at length been consecrated, and had obtained from the pope, on 28 April 1169, the pallium, together with the privilege that his see was to be immediately subject to papal authority (Migne, cc. Epist. 616).

During the few previous years Richard had been in correspondence with Thomas Becket. In 1168 Thomas wrote to him thanking him for his letters, and recommending to him his nephew Geoffrey. In 1169 Thomas thanked Richard for his kindness to his relatives in their exile, and asked his favour for Stephen of Perche. But in another letter to the Bishop of Ostia, Thomas accused Richard of having supported ‘our persecutors with money and advice,’ and alleged that he had been won over by the hope of obtaining the bishopric of Lincoln (Materials for History of Thomas Becket, vi. 396, vii. 26, 143). Richard is said to have counselled the marriage of William the Good with Joanna, daughter of Henry II of England, and he appears as one of the witnesses of the marriage settlement (Rog. Hov. ii. 97). When Joanna came to Sicily in 1177, Richard was one of the envoys sent to meet her with the fleet at St. Gilles, and took part in her coronation. He witnessed a charter on 12 Dec. 1172 as ‘regis familiaris’ (Grævius, iii. 733). At Syracuse he adorned his church with mosaics, and inserted glass in the windows. Richard was translated to the archbishopric of Messina before 9 Feb. 1183, when Lucius III ordered his suffragans to obey him (Documenti per servire alla Storia di Sicilia, 1st ser. i. 32). He was archbishop of Messina when Richard I captured the city during his stay in Sicily in 1190. The archbishop was one of the supporters of Tancred, and on 4 Oct. formed one of the embassy who endeavoured to avert the English king's wrath (Richard of Devizes, p. 22, Engl. Hist. Soc.) On 15 Feb. 1195 he obtained protection for himself and his church from the emperor, Henry VI (Documenti, i. 33). He died on 7 Aug. 1195, and was buried in the church of St. Nicolas at Messina. His tomb bore the inscription:

    Anglia me genuit, instruxit Gallia, fovit
    Trinacris; huic tandem corpus et ossa dedi.

Some of Richard's charters as archbishop of Messina are printed in the ‘Documenti per servire alla Storia di Sicilia,’ 1st ser. i. 34–9. He is described as a learned and eloquent man (Hugo Falcandus, 290 C). Bale gives him a place in his ‘Centuriæ’ (xiii. 74) as author of a book of epistles. None of Richard's letters seem to have survived, though he apparently corresponded with Thomas Becket and Peter of Blois. The latter author, after he was settled in England, wrote to Richard, perhaps about 1180, refusing an invitation to return to Sicily, and urging him to return himself, and spend his last years in his native land (Epist. 46).

[The Chronicles of Romuald of Salerno and Hugo Falcandus, ap. Muratori viii.; Pirri's Sicilia Sacra, ap. Grævius, Thesaurus Antiq. et Hist. Siciliæ, ii. 74, 82, 293–5, 608–11, iii. 728; Petri Blesensis Epist. 10, 46, 84, ap. Migne's Patrologia, ccvii.; Documenti per servire alla Storia di Sicilia, 1st ser. vol. i. fasc. i., Soc. Siciliana per la Storia patria; Caruso's Bibl. Hist. Siciliæ, ii. 985–6; La Lumia's Storia di Sicilia sotto Guglielmo il Buono, pp. 56–7, 66, 68–9, 73, 78, 124, 174; other authorities quoted.]

C. L. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.214
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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