Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Peter des Roches

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PETER des Roches (d. 1238), bishop of Winchester, a native of Poitou, served under Richard I in his wars as knight and clerk, and became one of his chamberlains, witnessing in that capacity a charter dated 30 June 1198 (MSS. Dom. Fonteneau, in municipal library of Poitiers, lxxii. 58; M. Lecointre-Dupont, Discours à la Société des Antiquaires de l'Ouest, p. 6). On 19 June 1199 he was acting as treasurer of the chapter of St. Hilary of Poitiers (Close Rolls, i. 1 b), and on 30 July of the same year received from King John, as prior of Loches, all the king's rights in the gifts of the prebends of that church. He continued in John's service as a clerk, accompanying him in his journeys abroad (see Close, Charter, and Patent Rolls). On 26 Dec. 1202 he was sent to arrange a truce with Philip Augustus, and, among other favours, received from John on the following 3 Jan. the deanery of St. Martin's of Angers (Patent Rolls, pp. 22, 22 b). The loss of Poitou and Anjou by John deprived Peter of these benefices. But in 1205 he received the lands of the Countess of Perche in England (Norman Rolls, p. 131), and the custody of the bishoprics of Chichester (1 April 1204) and Winchester (21 Sept.) during their vacancy, with the perpetual vicarship of Bamburgh. Before 5 Feb. 1205 he was elected to the see of Winchester (Close Rolls, i. 18 b). The election was disputed; but he and his rival, Richard, dean of Salisbury, went to Rome (‘Osney Annals’ in Ann. Monast. iv. 51), and Peter triumphed. He received consecration from Innocent III himself on Sunday, 25 Sept. (Annales de Wintonia, ii. 79). He brought back an ineffective papal mandate regulating the collection of Peter's pence, of which he was to be receiver-general for the kingdom (Annales de Waverleia, ii. 257). He at once applied the revenues of his see to the discharge of his debts, probably incurred in the purchase of the rich presents which he distributed at Rome (Rog. Wend. ii. 9).

On the death of Hubert Walter, on 12 July 1205, John's long struggle with Innocent III began. Peter throughout stood by the king, and though his lands, like those of the other bishops, were seized by way of retaliation for the papal interdict, John ordered them to be restored on 5 April 1208 (Rymer, Fœdera, Record ed. i. 100). On 23 March Peter received a charter confirming the liberties of the bishopric (Charter Rolls, p. 183). In 1209 he, Geoffrey Fitz-Peter, earl of Essex [q. v.], and the Earl of Chester [see Blundevill, Ranulf] led an army into Wales, and in the first week of October took part in some abortive negotiations with Stephen Langton [q. v.] at Dover (Ann. Wav. ii. 263). Peter's avowedly secular ambition was attacked at the time in the satire of ‘Flacius Illyricus’ (Wright, Political Songs, Camden Soc., pp. 10, 11):

Wintoniensis armiger
Præsidet ad scaccarium,
Ad computandum impiger
Piger ad evangelium,
Regis revolvens rotulum;
Sic lucrum Lucam superat,
Marco marcam præponderat,
Et libræ librum subjicit.

Peter and the bishop of Norwich [see Grey, John de, d. 1214] were almost the only bishops left in England in 1211, when Innocent III threatened to depose John; and, despite Peter's known devotion to John, the papal envoy Pandulf [q. v.] imposed on him and the bishop of Norwich the duty of absolving John's subjects from their allegiance (Annales de Burtonia, i. 215). At the end of July 1213, after his surrender and absolution, the king went to Poitou, and left the realm in the charge of Peter and Geoffrey FitzPeter; but he directed them to follow the counsel of Langton (cf. Rog. Wend. ii. 82).

In October, on the death of Geoffrey Fitz-Peter, Peter succeeded to the office of justiciar, much to the disgust of the barons, who resented the promotion of an alien (Ralph Coggeshall, p. 168). Next year he acted as one of John's pledges for the payment of forty thousand marks to the church and for the observance of the peace with the archbishop (Rog. Wend.. ii. 101; Ann. Burt. i. 221). On 1 Feb. (Rymer, Hague edit. i. 59) he became guardian of the realm for a second time in the king's absence. He mainly occupied himself in sending help in men and munitions of war to the king, and the barons' anger turned to fury (Ann. Wav. ii. 281). In the crisis ending in the granting of the Great Charter which followed John's return on 19 Oct., he acted throughout as the king's trusted servant. After Innocent III had annulled the Great Charter, Peter, the abbot of Reading, and the legate Pandulf joined in urging Langton to promulgate the papal sentence of excommunication against the barons, and, on Langton's refusal, suspended him (Rog. Wend. ii. 154–5). They afterwards furnished Innocent III with the names of the barons to be personally excommunicated (Matt. Paris, Chronica Majora, ii. 643). The following year (1216) Peter was sent with others on the fruitless mission of seeking to induce Philip Augustus to prevent his son Louis from invading England (Ralph Coggeshall, p. 180). Among the French invader's first successes was the capture of Peter's castle of Odiham, after a stubborn defence of sixteen days (Rog. Wend. ii. 182–3). On 29 May, at Winchester, he excommunicated Louis and his adherents, but fled with the young king, Henry III, next day, on his approach (Ann. Wint. ii. 82).

At the coronation of Henry III at Gloucester, on 28 Oct., Peter, under the authority of the legate Gualo, placed the plain circlet of gold on the young prince's head and anointed him king (Rog. Wend. ii. 198). He was appointed Henry's guardian, either by the earl marshal, acting as custos regis et regni (Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, ed. P. Meyer, Soc. de l'Histoire de France, 1893–4, ii. 198), or, according to Peter's own claim, by the common consent (cf. Walt. Cov. ii. 233). His position as guardian did not prevent him from accompanying the royal army, and taking a decisive part in the relief of Lincoln (20 May 1217). The legate left the army on its march at Newark, leaving to Peter, as his deputy, the absolution and encouragement of the troops, who had assumed white crosses (Annales de Dunstaplia, iii. 49). ‘Learned in war,’ Peter led the fourth division of the army, and was entrusted by the earl marshal with the command of the arbalisters, whom he directed to kill the horses of the Frenchmen when they charged (Guillaume le Maréchal, ii. 222, 224). While reconnoitring he left his retinue, and alone penetrated to the castle of Lincoln, which was held by its lady against the French. After encouraging her with news of help, he ventured into the town, where he discovered a gate between the castle and town which was easy to batter down. He then returned to his army, and, after some fighting, brought it into the city (ib. ii. 230–2). Peter played a less glorious part in the battle of Dover (24 Aug. 1217). According to Matthew Paris (Chron. Maj. iii. 28) he, the earl marshal, and other barons, on the approach of the French fleet of Eustace the Monk, declined to take part in the attack, roughly telling Hubert de Burgh [q. v.] that ‘they were neither soldiers of the sea, pirates, nor fishermen; but he could go and die.’ The eulogistic metrical biography of the earl marshal does not corroborate the story. When Louis of France departed in 1217 he handed over the Tower of London to Peter (Fragment of Merton Chronicle in Pièces Justificatives to Ch.-Petit Dutaille's Louis VII, p. 515). In 1219, when the earl marshal lay on his deathbed, he commissioned his son to withdraw King Henry from Peter's custody and transfer him to the legate Pandulf. The bishop of Winchester resisted almost by force the execution of the order, but ultimately for the moment yielded up his charge (Guillaume le Maréchal, ii. 286–90). After the death of the earl marshal, however, on 14 May 1219, Peter continued to act as guardian of the king, whom he entertained at Winchester at the following Christmas (Rog. Wend. ii. 237; Walt. Cov. ii. 259), and shared with Hubert de Burgh and Pandulf the direction of the government.

He was present at the siege of William de Fortibus, earl of Aumale, in Biham, early in 1221; but on 19 Sept. he took the cross, and left England with the bishop of Hereford and Faukes de Breauté [q. v.] (Ann. Wav. ii. 295). Peter had been elected archbishop of Damietta, and that place seems to have been their destination; but on the news of its capture they turned homewards (Ann. Dunst. iii. 75; Ralph Coggeshall, p. 190). He attested several acts of the king in the latter part of the year (Close Rolls, i. 470 b, 472 b, &c.) On 18 Sept. 1222 he gave the first benediction to Richard of Barking, the new abbot of Westminster; and in the same year took part in an arbitration which decided that that abbey was independent of the bishop of London (Matt. Paris, iii. 74, 75).

Jealous of Hubert de Burgh and the natural head of the Poitevin party, Peter was probably more than privy to the plot which was concerted in 1223 by his friend Faukes de Breauté, the Earls of Chester and Aumale, and Brian de l'Isle, to surprise the Tower of London and remove the justiciar. Hubert denounced him as a traitor to the king and kingdom, and he retired from the council violently threatening the justiciar (Ann. Dunst. iii. 84). Langton brought about a temporary reconciliation at Christmas at Northampton, and Honorius III, in a letter to Henry on 18 Jan. 1224, intervened in Peter's behalf (Royal Letters Henry III, i. 218). But Hubert, who had the ear of the king, used his power against Peter. The bishop and the earl of Chester retaliated by withdrawing, in 1224, from the army, which had been sent against Faukes de Breauté, with whom they probably had an understanding (Ann. Dunst. iii. 86). But in the same year the bishop was with the king's army in Wales (Close Rolls, i. 606 b). On 28 Sept. Henry III summoned him to answer for his encroachments on the royal forest rights in Hampshire (ib. i. 633), and the bishop replied by an excommunication directed against the foes of the church (Ann. Wint. ii. 84). Next year (1226) the king and the bishop resumed friendly relations (cf. Close Rolls, ii. 19; Royal Letters Henry III, i. 261).

Though Henry still trusted Peter, he was weary of the bishop's tutelage. In February 1227 the king, at the instigation of Hubert, renounced his guardianship, and dismissed all his followers from the court. The king's attitude, coupled with the continued strength of Hubert's influence, led Peter to quit England and join the crusade which was preparing under the leadership of Frederick II. Henry had already written, on 3 Nov. 1226, recommending him to the emperor's favour (Close Rolls, ii. 204). Frederick II, on his arrival in the Holy Land in 1228, found there a considerable army, of which the bishop of Winchester was one of three leaders (Rog. Wend. ii. 351). Cæsarea and Joppa were fortified mainly with the aid of Peter's money, and after the conclusion of Frederick's truce (18 Feb. 1229) he and the bishop entered Jerusalem together on 8 April (Palm Sunday) (Ann. Margam, i. 37). Among the accusations brought against Frederick II by Gregory IX was one of having besieged Peter and his companion, the bishop of Exeter, in their houses while in the Holy Land. But Matthew Paris says Peter des Roches mediated successfully between the pope and the emperor (Chron. Maj. iii. 490), and Frederick appealed to the testimony of Peter and his fellow-bishop that his truce with Saladin was not a dishonourable one (Richardus de S. Germano in Muratori's Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, tom. vii. col. 1016; see also letter of 28 Aug. 1230 in Huillard-Bréholles, Histoire Diplomatique de Frédéric II, iii. 218). During his stay in the Holy Land he, with the concurrence of the patriarch of Jerusalem, caused the order of the canons at St. Thomas the Martyr at Acre, founded by Hubert Walter, to be changed into a house of the order of the Sword of Spain, and had it removed to a healthier situation, nearer the sea. Peter started home in 1231, having succeeded in ingratiating himself with both pope and emperor. On his way through France he arranged a truce for three years between the king of France on the one side and the king of England, with the earls of Brittany and Chester, on the other. He arrived at Winchester on 1 Aug. 1231, and went to the assistance of the king in Wales, giving him more aid than all the other bishops put together. At the close of the campaign he invited the king, the justiciar, and the other royal officers to spend Christmas with him at Winchester, where he lavished on them enough victuals, vestments, gold, silver, jewels, and horses to have sufficed for a royal coronation (Ann. Dunst. iii. 126; Rog. Wend. iii. 13).

The bishop employed his accession of popularity to avenge himself on Hubert. Suitable weapons were not wanting. The bishop had been charged by the pope to excommunicate eighty-one persons who had despoiled the Italian clergy in England, and the guilty persons had met with no discouragement from Hubert. Peter, moreover, suggested to the king that the royal poverty, which prevented him from taking active measures against the plundering raids of Llywelyn of Wales [see Llywelyn ab Iorweth, d. 1240] on the border counties, was due to the bad government or dishonesty of his ministers. Hubert and his friends were displaced, Stephen Segrave [q. v.] was made justiciar, and a nephew of Peter des Roches, Peter de Rievaux [q. v.], was made treasurer (29 July 1232, Rog. Wend iii. 31). The late justiciar was summoned to answer an inquiry into his administration [see Burgh, Hubert de]. At his trial he brought various accusations against Peter. But the bishop had triumphed, and was now supreme. He and his partisans had ‘immutably perverted the heart of the king’ (Matt. Paris, iii. 244).

Armed bodies of Poitevins were summoned from beyond seas. All offices were filled by Peter's adherents, most of whom were his fellow-countrymen. Richard Marshal, third earl of Pembroke [q. v.], placed himself at the head of the malcontents, and, demanding the dismissal of Peter and the Poitevins, talked of driving out the king and his evil counsellors, and electing another ruler in case of refusal. The bishop, on his part, boasted that he had been the trusted adviser of the emperor, and would counsel no half-measures (Matt. Paris, iii. 240, 246; Annals of Winchester, ii. 86). The news that foreign mercenaries had arrived led the barons to refuse to attend two councils summoned by the king, one at Oxford on 24 June 1233, and one at Westminster on 11 July (Rog. Wend iii. 51). Pembroke fled to Wales and allied himself with Llywelyn, whereupon Peter and Stephen Segrave advised Henry to summon his military tenants to Gloucester on 14 Aug. In that assembly Pembroke was proclaimed a traitor, and the king declared war on him. On 9 Oct. a council met at Westminster. When complaint was made of the treatment of the earl marshal, Peter insolently claimed for the king despotic rights over the persons and property of rebellious barons. The bishops thereupon excommunicated Peter and the king's other evil counsellors, despite Peter's remonstrance that he was exempt from their power and was subject only to papal censure. In November Peter accompanied the king in his campaign about Gloucester against Pembroke, but the king's inadequate forces compelled him to remain inactive. The earl's supporters, under Richard Siward, ravaged the bishop's lands at Winchester.

But Henry was growing tired of Peter's domination. As far back as 24 June 1233 a Dominican friar, Robert Bacon [q. v.], assured Henry he would never have any peace until he dismissed him (Matt. Paris, iii. 244). It was rumoured that the bishop of Winchester had promised to make the realm subject to the emperor (Rog. Wend iii. 66). At length he overreached himself by procuring the election of his friend, John le Blund or Blunt [q. v.], as archbishop of Canterbury. He lent money to Blunt, and wrote to the emperor in his favour (ib. iii. 50; Matt. Paris, iii. 243). But the pope quashed the election on the ground that Blunt was a pluralist, and named Edmund Rich [q. v.], whose arrival was the signal for Peter's fall. The bishops at once drew up a long accusation against Peter. Henry was reminded that it was owing to Peter's counsels that his father had lost the love of his subjects. The king was deeply impressed by Edmund's saintly character, and on 10 April 1234 he ordered Peter to retire to his bishopric, and cease to occupy himself with secular affairs (Rog. Wend iii. 78). On 11 May Peter's enemies burnt his town of Ivinghoe. In a great council on 1 June the archbishop of Canterbury read a copy of the letter which Peter had sent to Hugh FitzGerald in Ireland, directing him to murder the Earl of Pembroke on his arrival in that country. The king said that, in ignorance of its contents, he had affixed his seal to the document under the compulsion of Peter and his other counsellors. Peter and his nephew were summoned to the royal presence to account for their financial administration and their use of the royal seal. An attempt at flight on their part was foiled at Dover, and they took refuge in Winchester Cathedral (28 June). On 2 July Richard Siward and others made a vain search for them, and captured the horses of the bishop and the prior. Peter excommunicated them, and laid an interdict on the church and city; but the marauders at once repented and were absolved. The city and church were reconciled the day after (Ann. Wint. ii. 86). Next year Peter was pardoned by the mediation of the archbishop of Canterbury (Flores Historiarum, ed. Luard, ii. 213).

On 11 March 1235 he left Winchester to place his wealth and military experience at the service of the papacy, by invitation of Gregory IX, who was at war with the Romans (Ann. Wint. ii. 87; Matt. Paris, iii. 304, 309; Rog. Wend iii. 103). Henry warned the emperor, Frederick II (27 April 1235), against placing any confidence in Peter's account of the recent proceedings against him, and feared that Peter might create in Frederick's mind hostility to his present counsellors (Royal Letters, i. 467). The papal expedition proved successful. Peter and Raymond VII of Toulouse defeated the Romans at Viterbo with great slaughter (Matt. Paris, iii. 304). He returned to England, broken in health, about 29 Sept. 1236 (ib. iii. 378). When Frederick II summoned a conference of princes at Vaucouleurs, Henry selected Peter des Roches as one of his representatives. But he refused the mission, on the ground that the king, who, in his latest communication with the emperor, had spoken ill of him, would expose himself to a charge of fickleness if he now pronounced him a trusted counsellor (ib. iii. 393). In the same year the legate Otho brought about a public reconciliation between Peter and Hubert de Burgh and his other enemies (ib. iii. 403). His last public utterance was characteristic. An embassy had come in 1238 from the Saracens, asking aid against the Tartars. Peter, who happened to be present, gave his opinion, ‘Let the dogs devour one another and perish. We, when we come to the remnant of the enemies of Christ, shall slay them, and clean the surface of the earth; and the whole world shall be subject to one catholic church; and there shall be one shepherd and one flock.’ He died on 9 June 1238 at Farnham. His heart was buried at Waverley, his body in a modest tomb he had chosen for himself in Winchester Cathedral (Matt. Paris, iii. 489; Ann. Wav. ii. 319).

Peter was the founder of numerous churches. On his manor of Hales, which John had granted him for that purpose on 16 Oct. 1214 (Charter Rolls, 201 b), he erected a Premonstratensian abbey, which was nearly finished on 5 June 1223 (Close Rolls, i. 530; Dugdale, Monasticon, ed. 1817–33, vol. vi. pt. ii. p. 926). In 1221 he founded at Winchester a house of Dominican friars (Dugdale, vol. vi. pt. iii. p. 1486). His other foundations were the Premonstratensian abbey of Titchfield in Hampshire in 1231 (ib. vi. 931), the Austin priory of Selborne in the same county in 1233 (ib. vi. 510), and a hospital of St. John the Baptist at Portsmouth some time in John's reign (ib. vi. 761). He intended to found two Cistercian abbeys, and left money and instructions in his will for that purpose. They were founded by his executors in 1239, one at a place which was called ‘locus Sancti Edwardi’ on 25 July, and the other at Clarté-Dieu in France (Ann. Wav. ii. 323). He left fifty marks to the house of St. Thomas of Acre.

Peter des Roches was a typical secular bishop. By turns he was warrior, military engineer, builder, financial agent, statesman, and diplomatist, and his life almost began and ended amid the clash of arms. Never sparing in magnificence when the occasion demanded it, he was an admirable manager, and left his bishopric in an excellent condition. The monks of St. Swithin's, Winchester, like the people and barons of England, found him a hard master, and they objected to the election of William de Valence, another foreigner and the king's nominee, to the vacant see, ‘eo quod Petrus de Rupibus durus ut rupes fuerit’ (Annales de Theokesberia, i. 110).

[The Charter, Patent, Close, Norman, and other Rolls published by the Record Commission, are of primary importance, especially for the earlier years. The narrative sources are Roger of Wendover, the Chronica Majora of Matthew Paris, the Annals of Winchester, Dunstable, Worcester, Osney, Margam, Burton, and Tewkesbury (in Annales Monastici, ed. Luard); Ralph Coggeshall, the Historical Collections of Walter of Coventry, including the Chronicle of the Canon of Barnwell, and the continuations of Gervase of Canterbury and William of Newbury (all published in the Rolls Series). The French poem L'Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal (ed. P. Meyer, Societé de l'Histoire de France, 1893–4) supplies several interesting episodes, and contradicts the previous authorities on some points. The chief modern works are Stubbs's Constitutional History, Ch.-Petit Dutaille's Étude sur la vie et le règne de Louis VII (1187–1226), Paris, 1894, and M. Lecointre-Dupont's Pierre des Roches, évêque de Winchester (Poitiers, 1868). The last book attributes to Peter's influence the efforts put forth to hold the English lands in Aquitaine and reconquer those already lost.]

W. E. R.