Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/282

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Alexander
Alexander
268

in 1129, was rendered ineffective by the connivance at the married clergy by the king, unwilling that ‘the good old customs of England should be changed.’ As one of the chief ecclesiastics of the realm, Alexander was present when, on 4 May 1130, the ‘glorious choir of Conrad,’ added to the cathedral of Canterbury, was consecrated by Archbishop William in the presence of Henry I and his brother-in-law, David, king of Scotland (Eadmer, Historia Novorum, c. 26). In 1134, Henry being then in Normandy, Alexander and Archbishop William crossed the Channel to lay before the king some dispute relating to their diocesan rights ‘pro quibusdam consuetudinibus parochiarum suarum’ (Hen. Hunt, ut supra, p. 220), of which we know nothing definitely.

Alexander, like his far greater uncle Roger, presents an example of the secular type of ecclesiastics, to which the greater part of the bishops of that day belonged, displaying far more of the temporal potentate than of the spiritual dignitary, rather barons than bishops. Holding their lands by military tenure, surrounding themselves with armed retainers, builders and fortifiers of castles, they were distinguished from the wealthy and powerful laymen by little more than their spiritual powers and clerical immunities, and a celibacy which was too usually merely nominal. The contemporary author of the ‘Gesta Stephani’ gives us this portrait of Alexander (the translation is from Canon Perry's Life of St. Hugh, p. 73): ‘He was called a bishop, but he was a man of vast pomp and of great boldness and audacity. Neglecting the pure and simple way of life belonging to the christian religion, he gave himself up to military affairs and secular pomp, showing, whenever he appeared in court, so vast a band of followers that all men marvelled’ (Gest. Steph. (Eng. Hist. Soc.), p. 47). The immense revenues he derived from his ecclesiastical estates were insufficient for his profuse expenditure, and he is charged by his contemporaries with abusing his power to extort money by unjust means to maintain his splendid retinue and ostentatious living. Henry of Huntingdon, writing after his death of a patron whom in his lifetime he had styled ‘pater patriæ, princeps a rege secundus,’ ‘flos et cacumen regni et gentis,’ says: ‘Desirous to excel other nobles in his magnificent gifts and the splendour of his undertakings, when his own resources did not suffice he greedily pillaged his own dependents to bring his smaller means to a level with the larger means of his rivals. But yet in this he failed, since he was one who was ever squandering more and more’ (Hen. Hunt. p. 226, ed. Savile).

The Normans were mighty builders. Alexander shared to the full in the passion of his age and rank. He emulated his uncle Roger, celebrated as the greatest builder of his age, in the extent and magnificence of his architectural works. These were first military works. At the three chief points of his episcopal domains, Sleaford, Newark, and Banbury, he raised strong castles, on the plea—‘ut dicebat’—that such fortresses were absolutely necessary in a time of lawlessness and violence for the protection and dignity of his see, ‘ad tutamen et dignitatem episcopii’ (Will. Malm. Hist. Novell. lib. ii. p. 102; Girald. Cambr. Vit. Remig. cap. xxii. vol. vii., Rolls Series). Then, when the tide of fortune was turning, and he was made to feel, as William of Newbury has reported (c. vi.), ‘that that sort of building was not looked on as altogether suitable to the episcopal character, he began to build religious houses, as it were to expiate his fault, erecting as many monasteries as he had erected castles, and filling them with religious men.’ The earliest of these foundations was the Cistercian house of Haverholme, near Sleaford, established in 1137 and transferred to Louth Park in 1139, Haverholme being made over to the newly established order of Gilbertines of Sempringham. In 1138 Alexander erected another Cistercian monastery at Thame, and in 1140 a house of Austin canons at the deserted seat of the bishopric at Dorchester-on-Thames. He also rebuilt the chancel of the mother church of Lindsey St. Mary's at Stow, in the best style of the day, vaulting it with stone; and on the partial destruction of his cathedral at Lincoln by fire, we are told that he restored it with such wonderful skill that it was ‘more beautiful than before and second to none in the realm;’ and to guard against a second conflagration he roofed the whole edifice with a stone vault, one of the earliest examples in England of what had long been a common feature on the other side of the Channel (Gir. Cambr. Vit. S. Remig. ubi supra; Hen. Hunt. ut supra, p. 225). It is noted, however, by Giraldus that these ‘works of satisfaction’ were built out of the revenues of the church, not out of Alexander's private means, so that he was ‘robbing one altar to clothe another,’ and depriving himself of all merit in what he did.

The chief crisis in Alexander's career took place in 1139, in the early years of Stephen's reign. The oath imposed by Henry I on the bishops and chief men of the realm at the Westminster Council, held Christmas 1126–27, had been taken by Alexander, following the lead of his uncle Roger, and they