Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Peter of Aigueblanche
PETER of Aigueblanche (d. 1268), bishop of Hereford, was a Savoyard of high rank (‘natione Burgundus,’ Flores Hist. ii. 480), and belonged to a junior branch of the house of the lords of Briançon, viscounts of the Tarentaise or valley of the upper Isère in Savoy, and possessors of considerable estates in Graisivandan (Menabrea, Des origines féodales dans les Alpes occidentales, pp. 408–410, 462). The younger branch of the house derived its name from the fief of Aigueblanche, also situated in the Tarentaise. Peter seems to have been a son of the younger brother of Aimeric de Briançon, who was the head of the house after 1234. The Briançons were closely attached to the rising fortunes of the house of Savoy. Accordingly, Peter of Aigueblanche became the clerk of William of Savoy, the warlike bishop-elect of Valence, one of the numerous sons of Count Thomas of Savoy; Matthew Paris describes him as William's ‘familiaris clericus et procurator expensarum’ (Hist. Major, iv. 48). He accompanied his master to England when the latter, in 1236, escorted his niece Eleanor of Provence [q. v.] on her journey to England to become the wife of Henry III, and was thus brought into close contact with the English king. William left England in 1237, and Peter probably accompanied him. But on his master's death at Viterbo in November 1239, Peter returned to England, and was warmly received by the king. He became the warden of the king's wardrobe. In 1239 he was already archdeacon of Salop. Shortly after Henry procured him the bishopric of Hereford, vacant by the retirement of Bishop Ralph of Maidstone into the Franciscan convent at Gloucester. The see was poor, and Henry was reluctant to bestow on Peter a trifling recompense for his services. He consequently made a vain effort to induce the monks of Durham to permit the election to the palatine bishopric of Durham, which had been vacant since 1237, of either Peter of Aigueblanche or his wife's uncle, Boniface, the future archbishop of Canterbury. On the failure of this proposal, Peter, on Sunday, 23 Dec. 1240, was consecrated bishop of Hereford at St. Paul's by Walter Cantelupe, bishop of Worcester, and Walter Grey, archbishop of York (Matt. Paris, iv. 74–5). The king was present, with a large number of nobles. The monks of Canterbury protested against his consecration elsewhere than in their cathedral. Peter held the bishopric until his death; Henry III thrice repeated his attempts to procure his translation to a richer see—in 1241 to London, in 1254 to Lincoln, and in 1256 to Bordeaux. But the king's efforts met with no success.
Peter was ignorant of the English tongue (ib. v. 442, ‘Anglicum idioma ignoravit’), and made no effort to carry on the administration of his see in person. He was still the king's ‘special councillor,’ and continued closely attached to the service of the court and of the queen's uncles. Of these latter Peter of Savoy [q. v.] now chiefly represented the family in England. The bishop of Hereford witnessed the grant made to this prince of the earldom of Richmond in 1241, and was, early in 1242, despatched with him on a mission to France. They were commissioned to announce to the Poitevins faithful to the English cause the speedy arrival of Henry III to raise troops for the projected war in Poitou, and to negotiate for a marriage between Richard, earl of Cornwall, Henry III's brother, and Sanchia, the younger sister of Queen Eleanor. The bishop showed great activity, sometimes alone, sometimes in conjunction with Peter of Savoy. He spent most of the summer in Guienne, at Bordeaux and Bazas, where Henry III now held his court; but he also found time for a hasty journey to Provence, where, on 17 July, he and Peter of Savoy signed at Tarascon the marriage treaty for the alliance of Richard and Sanchia (the act is printed by Wurstemberger, Peter II von Savoyen, iv. 87, and in Cibrario and Promis, Documenti e Sigilli di Savoja, ii. 143; Mugnier, pp. 39– 40, describes minutely the seal of the bishop affixed to it). On 17 Aug. Peter of Aigueblanche was again witnessing documents in Guienne. He probably returned to England with Henry in October 1243.
Another of the queen's uncles, Boniface, bishop-elect of Belley, had been in 1241 nominated to the see of Canterbury, but he did not appear in England until 1244. In the interval Peter of Aigueblanche acted as his agent in England, receiving in 1243 permission to reside in the archiepiscopal manor at Lambeth, and in the same year appointing, as Boniface's proctor, officials throughout the archbishopric of Canterbury (Tewkesbury Annals, p. 133). He also availed himself of his position to pay some of the debts of his old master, William of Valence, from the archiepiscopal funds. When at length the papal consent was given to Boniface's election to Canterbury, Peter was instructed to solemnly hand over to him the pallium sent from the papal court on 12 April 1244 (Berger, Registres d'Innocent IV, vol. i. Nos. 585, 586). On Boniface's arrival in England he associated himself closely with Peter in defending the bishop of Winchester, William of Raleigh [q. v.], from the immoderate displeasure of Henry. The result was a breach between the king and the Savoyard bishops, who were backed up by the pope and by the stricter clerical party. Peter went with Bishop Walter of Cantelupe to remonstrate with Henry at Reading, but Henry fled to London to avoid their ‘wholesome admonitions’ (Matt. Paris, iv. 285, 294–5). Henry was soon, however, followed and rebuked. Boniface wrote to Peter, urging him to persevere in his rebukes to the king (ib. iv. 297–8), and at last Henry gave way.
Towards the end of 1244 Peter went beyond sea along with the bishop of Worcester, the archbishop-elect, Boniface. Matthew Paris makes a great mystery of their ‘secret business’ (ib. iv. 403), but their main object was to visit the pope at Lyons and attend the council there. On 15 Jan. 1245 Boniface was consecrated at Lyons by Innocent IV in person, the two English bishops assisting. The council was opened on 28 June and closed on 17 July. Peter attended its sessions. When the pope granted the see of Canterbury the firstfruits of all vacant benefices within the province for seven years, he made the bishop of Hereford collector of this unprecedented tax (ib. iv. 508). Jointly with Archbishop Boniface, Peter received on behalf of Henry III the homage of Count Amadeus of Savoy, and granted him back the castles of Bard and Avigliano, and the towns of Susa and Saint-Maurice in the Valais, possessions which Amadeus condescended to hold of the English king in return for a yearly pension (cf. Royal Letters, ii. 200–1, in which Peter gives Henry III reasons why the holding of the lordship of these Alpine passes will be to the advantage of England). Peter received several marks of the pope's special favour, among others the right of not admitting papal provisions unless the bulls expressly mentioned that the provision was granted notwithstanding this concession.
In October 1249 Peter was commissioned, jointly with Peter of Savoy, to treat for a prolongation of the truce with France. At the same time he was empowered with the archbishop of York to clear up a possible irregularity in Henry III's marriage, by reason of a precontract between him and Joan of Ponthieu. It was not until 29 March 1251 that Peter pronounced in the cathedral of Sens the papal sentence which nullified the precontract and validated the marriage of Henry and Eleanor (Wurstemberger, vol. iv. Nos. 242, 269). In 1250, Peter, like many other English barons and prelates, took the cross, with the view of following Saint Louis on his crusade (Matt. Paris, v. 98). He took, however, no steps to carry out his vow. He was still beyond sea when the parliament met in October 1252. He returned to England with Boniface on 18 Nov., and joined the archbishop in a fierce quarrel with William of Lusignan, bishop-elect of Winchester, one of Henry III's half-brothers.
In August 1253 Peter accompanied Henry III to Gascony, and busily occupied himself with the affairs of that distracted province. He punished the marauding of some Welsh soldiers so severely that certain of the English barons, their lords, threatened to leave the army (ib. v. 442). His name almost invariably appears in the first place on the numerous letters patent which he witnessed about this time (e.g. Rôles Gascons, i. 270, 271, 272). It has been inferred that he was in consequence the chief of the king's council in Gascony (Mugnier, p. 104), but it is clear that his precedence is simply due to his episcopal rank. Towards the end of the year Peter was sent on an important mission to Alfonso X of Castile to negotiate the proposed double marriage of Edward, the king's son, with Alfonso's sister Eleanor, and that of Beatrice, the king's daughter, with one of Alfonso's brothers. On Peter's return from Toledo, Henry confirmed his acts at Bazas on 8 Feb. 1254. In consideration of his ‘grave expenses and labours and his laborious embassy to Spain,’ Henry remitted Peter an old debt to the crown of 300l., granted him the custody of two Shropshire manors, and made him a present of three tuns of Gascon wine (Rôles Gascons, i. 305, 307). Peter was the first witness to the grant of Wales, Ireland, and Gascony to the king's son Edward on 14 Feb. 1254 (ib. i. 309). He then returned to Spain with John Mansel, and on 31 May 1254 signed a treaty with Alfonso at Toledo, by which the Castilian king yielded up his pretended claims on Gascony. In October he was with Henry at Bordeaux, just before the king's re-embarkation for England. He was thence despatched, along with Henry of Susa, archbishop of Embrun, to Innocent IV, who, in March 1254 had granted the Sicilian throne to Henry III's younger son, Edmund [see Lancaster, Edmund, Earl of, (1245–1296)], and was now threatening to revoke the grant if help were not sent to him in his struggle against Manfred. Peter was given full powers to treat. But Innocent died at Naples in December, and Peter of Aigueblanche completed the negotiations with Innocent's successor, Alexander IV. On 9 April 1255 Alexander duly confirmed the grant of the Sicilian throne to Edmund on somewhat stringent conditions. He also made a series of grants of church revenues in England to provide Henry with funds for pursuing Edmund's claims. Among these was a tenth of ecclesiastical revenues according to the new and strict taxation. This latter had originally been assigned to the crusade, and Peter had in 1252 been appointed with others to collect it and hand it over to the king when he went beyond sea (Bliss, Cal. Papal Letters, i. 279). These exactions were resented with extraordinary bitterness by the English prelates and monasteries, and the majority of the monastic chroniclers accuse Peter of Aigueblanche of being the author of their ruin. Peter's methods of procuring money were certainly characterised by much chicanery. According to Matthew Paris (Hist. Major, v. 510–13, ‘De nimis damnosa proditione Episcopi Herefordensis’) and the Osney chronicler (pp. 107–8), he procured from the king blank charters, sealed by various English prelates, and filled them up at Rome with pledges to pay large sums of money to various firms of Florentine and Sienese bankers who had advanced money to the pope on Henry's account. Most of the English bishops and monasteries were consequently called upon to pay sums of money to Italian bankers. Peter seems to have procured a blank document dated at London on 6 Sept. 1255, with the seals of seven English bishops, and to have subsequently inscribed in it words making it appear that the bishops had witnessed and consented to Peter's acceptance, as their proctor, of the conditions attaching to the papal grant of Apulia to the English king (Muratori, Antiquitates Ital. vol. vi. col. 104 D). This seems to have been interpreted by Henry as pledging the credit of the English clergy to support Edmund's attempt on the Sicilian crown, and all the expenses involved in it. Paris speaks of Peter's ‘foxlike cunning,’ and says that ‘his memory exhales a detestable odour of sulphur.’ The Osney chronicler draws the moral that prelates should keep their seals more carefully in the future (cf. Dunstaple Chronicle, p. 199; Wykes, pp. 125–7; Cont. Flor. Wig. ii. 185).
In May 1255 Alexander IV commissioned Rustand, a papal subdeacon and native of Gascony, to collect the crusading tenth in England. His arrival excited a great commotion among the English. In the parliament of October 1255 Henry could get no money, and Richard of Cornwall violently attacked the bishop of Hereford (Matt. Paris, v. 520–1). At the same time the prelates met in London, and, headed by the bishop of Worcester, resisted Rustand and appealed to the pope (ib. v. 524–5). Peter strove in vain to divide them (ib. v. 527). It was said that he had bound the English bishops to pay two hundred thousand marks to the pope. Meanwhile, Peter crossed over to Ireland, where also he was empowered to collect the tenth. He travelled armed, and was surrounded by a band of armed men (ib. v. 591). Paris adds that he took a large share of the spoil as his own reward.
Peter did not remain long in England or Ireland. In 1256 he was again in Gascony, where he acted as deputy for the new duke, Edward. On 17 Jan. 1257 he received a letter of thanks from Henry for his services in Gascony (Fœdera, i. 353). It appears from this that he was conducting important negotiations with Alfonso of Castile and with Gaston of Béarn. But he was now of ponderous weight, and was moreover attacked with a polypus in his nose, which disfigured his face. He was compelled to retire to Montpellier to be cured. Matthew Paris rejoices indecently in the bishop's misfortunes, and sees in his ‘shameful diseases’ the judgment of God for his sins (Hist. Major, v. 647). But either Matthew exaggerated Peter's complaints, or the Montpellier doctors effected a speedy cure. In the summer of 1258 Peter was in Savoy, and began his foundation at Aiguebelle, which he completed several years later. Peter was again in England in 1261, when he was one of three persons elected on the king's part to compromise some disputes with the barons (Ann. Osen. p. 129). His past history necessarily made him a royalist partisan during the barons' wars, and his border diocese, where the marchers and Llywelyn of Wales took opposite sides, was exposed to the fiercest outbursts of the strife. Late in 1262 Llywelyn threatened Hereford, and Peter, on the pretext of a fit of the gout, kept himself away from danger at Gloucester, while providing the castle of Hereford with garrison and provisions. In June 1263 Henry visited Hereford and wrote angrily to the bishop, complaining that he found in that city neither bishop, dean, official, nor prebendaries; and the letter peremptorily ordered him to take up his residence in his cathedral city under pain of forfeiture of temporalities (Wilkins, Concilia, i. 761). Peter was forced to comply; but the result justified his worst fears. When regular hostilities had broken out in May 1263 between Montfort and the king, he was the very first to bear the brunt of the storm. The barons swooped down on Hereford, seized him in his own cathedral, robbed him of his treasure, slew his followers, and kept him a close prisoner at Eardisley Castle (Liber de Antiquis legibus, p. 53; Rishanger, p. 17, Rolls Ser.; Cotton, p. 139). The Savoyard canons whom Peter had introduced into the cathedral shared his fate (Flores Hist. ii. 480). Even the royalist chronicler Wykes (p. 134), though rebuking the barons for sacrilegiously assaulting God's anointed, admits that Peter had made himself odious to the realm by his intolerable exactions. The marcher lord, John Fitzalan of Clun, now seized Peter's castles at Bishop's Castle and Ledbury North, and, being on the king's side, was enabled to hold them until the bishop's death, six years afterwards (Swinfield Roll, p. xxii). Moreover, Hamo L'Estrange, castellan of Montgomery, took violent possession of three townships belonging to Ledbury North, and alienated them so completely from the see that in the next reign they still belonged to Llywelyn of Wales. As both these marches were on the king's side, it looks as if Peter was made a scapegoat of the royalist party. It is probably during his present distress that Peter alienated all claims to certain churches which he had hitherto contested with St. Peter's Abbey, Gloucester (Hist. et Cart. Mon. Glouc. ii. 276, 284, Rolls Ser.)
On 8 Sept. the king and the barons patched up an agreement, and Peter, with his companions in misfortune, was released (Flores Hist. ii. 484; Rishanger, De Bello, p. 14). Before the year was out he accompanied Henry III to await the arbitration of St. Louis at Amiens (Flores Hist. ii. 486; Rishanger, De Bello, p. 17; Ann. Tewkesbury, pp. 176, 179). After the mise of Amiens he still lingered on the continent, being disgusted with his unruly diocese, whose temporalities were still largely withdrawn from his control. In February 1264 he obtained from the pope an indulgence that, in consideration of his imprisonment and the other ills he had suffered ‘at the hands of certain sons of malediction,’ he should not be cited before any ordinary judge or papal legate without special mandate (Bliss, i. 410). After the battle of Lewes he was with Queen Eleanor and the exiles at Saint-Omer, hoping to effect an invasion of England (‘Ann. Lond.’ in Stubbs's Chron. of Edward I and Edward II, i. 64, Rolls Ser.)
Before the final triumph of the royalist cause, Peter retired to Savoy, and never left again his native valleys. He had always kept up a close connection with his old home. Besides his ancestral estates he had acquired some ecclesiastical preferment in Savoy. Up to 1254 he held the Cluniac priory of Ynimont in the diocese of Belley, which in May 1255 he exchanged for the priory of Sainte-Hélène des Millères (Bliss, i. 301). On 7 Sept. 1255 Boniface granted to the new prior the castle of Sainte-Hélène, to be held of him as a fief.
It was now that Peter published the statutes for his college of canons near Aiguebelle, and completed the construction of the buildings destined to receive it. He dedicated his foundation to St. Catherine, and established in it a provost, precentor, treasurer, and ten other canons, five of whom were necessarily priests, and who were to perform the service according to the use of Hereford. The statutes, dated 21 April 1267, were published for the first time by M. Mugnier (pp. 299–307), who points out (p. 233) that Peter pointedly abstained from obtaining the sanction or recognition of his acts from the bishop of Maurienne, the diocesan. Soon afterwards he drew up his will. To his nephew, Peter of Aigueblanche—who had succeeded to the lordship of Briançon and the headship of the house, and was at a later period the favourite friend of Peter of Savoy—he left nearly all the property that was not bequeathed to the college of St. Catherine. The witnesses to the will included several canons of St. Catherine's. He died on 27 Nov. 1268, and was buried, as he had directed, in his collegiate church, where, in the fifteenth century, a sumptuous monument of bronze was erected over his remains. The monument and great part of the church were destroyed during the French Revolution. It is described and partly figured in ‘Archæologia,’ xviii. 188. The surviving portion forms the present church of Raudens.
Despite Peter's evil reputation, he gave proof of liberality not only at Aiguebelle, but also at Hereford, where he was a liberal benefactor of the cathedral. If he packed the chapter with his kinsfolk, he showed zeal in forcing non-resident canons to reside for half the year in the churches where they held a prebend, and in making them proceed to the grade of holy orders necessary for their charge. In 1246 his new statutes on these points duly received papal confirmation (Bliss, i. 229). He was celebrated in the church of Hereford for his long and strenuous defence of the liberties of see and chapter against ‘the citizens of Hereford and other rebels against the church.’ He bought the manor of Holme Lacy and gave it to his church, appropriated the church of Bocklington to the treasurer, gave mitres, and chalice, vestments and books, and various rents (Monasticon, vi. 1216). Peter also left lands producing two hundred bushels of corn for the clerks of the cathedral, and as much for the poor of the city. As regards the fabric of his church, he is sometimes reputed to be the builder of the beautiful north-west transept of Hereford Cathedral, though in its present form it is clearly of later date. Between this and the north end of the choir-aisle he erected a sumptuous tomb for himself, which remains the oldest monument to a bishop of Hereford, and is certainly the most striking monument in the cathedral. The delicacy of the details of the sculpture is thought to suggest Italian rather than English or French models. The bishop is represented in the effigy with a beard and moustache (Havergal, Fasti Herefordenses, pp. 176–7; Monumental Inscriptions of Hereford, p. 3). The monument is figured in Havergal's ‘Fasti Herefordenses,’ plate xix. It is not clear whether it remained a cenotaph, or whether, after the very common custom of the time, some portions of the bishop's remains were brought from Savoy to be placed within it. It was generally believed at Hereford that the body lay there and the heart in Savoy; but the reverse seems much more likely.
Bishop Peter's younger kinsfolk were amply provided for in his church at Hereford. He appointed one of his nephews, John, to the deanery of Hereford. After his uncle's death this John claimed his English lands as his next heir; but it is not clear that he succeeded in England (Calendarium Genealogicum, p. 185), though in the Tarentaise we find him sharing in the inheritance with Aimeric, his brother. Another claimant, Giles of Avenbury, drove him away from the deanery of Hereford. However, on an appeal to Rome he was reinstated (Swinfield Roll, lxxvii, clxxi, &c.) He lies buried at Hereford, in a tomb near his uncle's monument. Dean John secured for his nephews, Peter and Pontius de Cors, the church of Bromyard (ib. ccv), so that it was long before the diocese of Hereford was rid of the hated ‘Burgundians.’ Another nephew of the bishop, James of Aigueblanche, was archdeacon of Salop and canon of Hereford, and authorised by Innocent IV to hold a benefice in plurality so long as he resided at Hereford and put vicars in his other churches (Bliss, i. 229, cf. p. 232). In 1256, however, he was allowed five years' leave of absence to study (ib. i. 338). Other Hereford stalls went to other nephews, Aimon and Aimeric, of whom the latter, who became chancellor of Hereford, performed homage in 1296 to the archbishop of Tarentaise for the lordship of Briançon as head of his family (Besson, Mémoires pour l'histoire ecclésiastique des diocèses de Genève, Tarantaise, Maurienne, &c., ed. 1871). Nor were the bishop's elder kinsfolk neglected. His brother, the clerk, named Master Aimeric, was in 1243 promised by Henry III a benefice worth sixty marks (Rôles Gascons, i. 152).[François Mugnier's Les Savoyards en Angleterre au XIIIe siècle et Pierre d'Aigueblanche (Chambéry, 1890) is a careful book that collects nearly all that is known about Peter's career, and gives complete references to the Savoyard authorities, and a most valuable appendix of inedited documents, though it misses some of the English authorities, and does not always disentangle Peter's biography from the general history. Wurstemberger's Peter der Zweite, Graf von Savoyen (4 vols. Bern, 1856), also contains important notices of Peter, and in the fourth volume an appendix of original documents, many of which illustrate his career. The chief original sources include Matthew Paris's Hist. Major, iv. v. and vi., Annales Monastici, Flores Historiarum, Bart. Cotton., Rishanger's Hist. Angl. (all in Rolls Ser.); Expenses Roll of Bishop Swinfield, Rishanger's Chron. de Bello (both in Camden Soc.); Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i.; Berger's Registres d'Innocent IV, Bibl. de l'École française de Rome; Potthast's Regesta Pont. Roman.; Epistolæ e Reg. pont. Rom. tome iii., in Monumenta Germaniæ Hist.; Bliss's Calendar of Papal Registers (papalletters), vol. i.; Francisque Michel's Rôles Gascons, in Documents Inédits; Havergal's Fasti Herefordenses, Le Neve's Fasti Eccl. Angl. i. 459–82, ed. Hardy; Godwin, De Præsulibus, 1743, pp. 485–6; Phillott's Diocesan History of Hereford, pp. 76–82.]