Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Walter of Palermo

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WALTER of Palermo (fl. 1170), archbishop of Palermo, primate and chancellor of Sicily, was sent to Sicily by Henry II of England as an instructor for young William II of Sicily, for whom Henry had destined his daughter Johanna. So at least Pits reports, but others make Walter the tutor of the Sicilian princes during the lifetime of the old King William. Peter of Blois [q. v.], a friend and correspondent of Walter, succeeded him as tutor of the young king when the Englishman became archbishop of Palermo. Walter was first archdeacon of Cefalù in the province of Palermo, then dean of Girgenti; then under William II he was, according to Hugo Falcandus, violently thrust upon the see of Palermo, against the will of the canons (March 1168). A party at court, headed by the queen mother, opposed his election, and tried to persuade Alexander III to annul it. Their protests were, however, in vain; the pope not only confirmed the 'election' of Walter, but by a special grace excused him from coming to Rome for consecration, 'and sent him the pallium by the hands of John, cardinal of Naples.' Walter now became one of the chief ministers of the Sicilian kingdom, and, after a long rivalry with Matthew the chancellor, displaced the latter in his office, and united it with his archbishopric. It was at his instance that William II gave his 'friend' Constantia in marriage to Henry, the German king (Henry VI), son of Frederic Barbarossa, and ordered all his nobles to swear to the succession of Henry and Constantia (1188), if the reigning sovereign left no heirs. William died without children in 1189 (December); but Walter's plans about the succession were foiled, and Tancred, count of Lecce,was brought to Sicily and crowned king. Walter held the see of Palermo for twenty-five years 'with great praise' (1168-1193); he wrote some works, of which not even the titles have survived, except in one instance a book on the rudiments of the Latin language. In 1172 we hear of Walter visiting Salerno with the king, William II, and 'Matthew the vice-chancellor;' in 1178 the envoys of the Emperor Frederic, sent to conclude a peace with King William, were insulted by Sicilian rustics, and made their complaint to Walter, 'ammiratus et archiepiscopus.' He left the 'guardianship of the royal person and palace' to Count Gentili de Palear. In 1188 Walter and Matthew are described by Richard of S. Germano as the two strongest pillars of the kingdom, whom all magnates obeyed, and through whom men most easily obtained their requests of the sovereign. The archbishopric of Monreale was carved out of the diocese of Palermo in 1188 through the intrigues of Matthew's party against Walter.

Pits wrongly gives the year of Walter's death as 1177; the place was probably Palermo. An interesting letter of Peter of Blois to Walter in 1177 gives him a description of the appearance and habits of Henry II of England, and declares that the king had very little to do with the murder of Thomas Becket. He also urges him to assist pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.

[Laon MS. 449; Richard of S. Germano; Sicilian Chronicle from death of William II to time of Frederic II, in Pertz's Monumenta Germanise Historica, xix. 323, 324; Romoald, archbishop of Salerno, Annals, A.D. 893-1178, in Pertz's Monumenta, xix. 437, 439, 460; Hugo Falcandus, in Muratori's Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. vii.; Peter of Blois, in Migne's Patr. Lat. ccvii. 195, Ep. 56 A.D. 1077, with a note at this place by Peter of Gussanville; Pits, Relationum Historicarum de rebus Anglicis tom. i. pp. 140-1; Bocchus Pyrrhus, Notitia Prima Ecclesise Panormitanæ.]

C. R. B.