Robert de Bethune (DNB00)

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ROBERT de Bethune (d. 1148), bishop of Hereford, was a native of Bethune in Artois, and a man of noble family (R. de Torigni, p. 121; Monast. Angl. vi. 131; Anglia Sacra, ii. 299). He was educated under his brother Gunfrid, a teacher of repute. Eventually he himself became a teacher, but would take no payment from the poor, and from the rich only what they were pleased to give. After a time he renounced profane learning in order to devote himself to theology, and studied under Anselm of Laon and William of Champeaux. After his studies were over, Robert refused to expound in public assemblies or to take fees for lecturing, but gathered a few companions about him in religious houses. He determined to enter a religious order, and, after consulting an abbot, Richard, decided to join the lately established house of Augustinian canons at Llanthony in Monmouthshire. There he was received by Ernisius, the first prior, and soon won a high reputation for piety. About 1121, after the death of Hugh de Lacy, Robert was sent to superintend the buildings at Weobley, and worked on them with his own hands as a mason. At last he fell ill, and was recalled to Llanthony. Not long after Ernisius died, and Robert, much against his will, was chosen to succeed him (ib. ii. 299–302). Under Robert's rule Llanthony became a model house, and won the favourable notice of Roger of Salisbury (Gir. Cambr. vi. 39; John of Hexham, ii. 284). In 1129 Pain Fitzjohn [q. v.] and Miles of Gloucester [see Gloucester, Miles de, Earl of Hereford], the constable, recommended him to Henry to be made bishop of Hereford. Henry warmly agreed, and so did William of Corbeuil, the archbishop. William, however, reminded the king that Robert had a little previously evaded the king's wish to make him an archbishop, and urged that they should proceed cautiously. Robert, on hearing of what was intended, induced his diocesan, Urban, bishop of Llandaff, to refuse him absolution from his present office. So the matter was delayed for a year, until Pope Innocent ordered Urban and Robert to give way. Robert then accepted the bishopric (Anglia Sacra, ii. 304–5).

Robert was consecrated by William of Canterbury at Oxford on 28 June 1131 (Stubbs, Reg. Sacr. Angl. p. 27). As bishop he was not less successful than as prior. When the canons of Llanthony were hard pressed by the Welsh, Robert gave them shelter in his own palace at Hereford, and also bestowed on them lands at Frome and Prestbury. After two years he induced Miles of Gloucester to found the second Llanthony in Gloucestershire. The new priory was consecrated by Robert in 1136 (Anglia Sacra, ii. 312; Monast. Angl. vi. 132). In the same year the bishop was present in the council at Oxford when Stephen granted his second charter, to which Robert was one of the witnesses. During the troubles of Stephen's reign Robert did what he could to maintain peace and remedy the evils of anarchy; he consecrated many chapels ‘as a protection for the poor and having respect to the warlike troubles of the times’ (Eyton, i. 37, 207). In 1138, owing to the warfare at Hereford, Robert was spoiled of his house and possessions, and had to leave the city; but he would not abandon his see, and sojourned for a while in various monasteries and castles in his diocese (Anglia Sacra, ii. 313). In September 1138 he accompanied the legate Alberic to Hexham and on his mission to Carlisle to endeavour to appease the Scottish war (Richard of Hexham, pp. 169–70). Soon after he returned to Hereford, where he repaired and purified the cathedral, which had suffered in the late disturbances.

Politically Robert seems to have followed the guidance of Henry of Winchester; he witnessed Stephen's Salisbury charters in December 1139, but after the coming of the empress he joined her and was regularly present at Matilda's court during 1141 (Round, pp. 46, 64, 82–3, 93). When, in 1143, Miles of Gloucester demanded a heavy contribution from the church lands, Robert withstood him. The earl resorted to violence, and Robert then excommunicated him and his followers, and laid the diocese under an interdict (Gesta Stephani, pp. 101–2). Gilbert Foliot appealed to the legate against Robert's severity (Foliot, Epist. 3). Miles died soon afterwards, and Robert was one of the bishops who decided the dispute between the monks of Gloucester and canons of Llanthony as to the earl's place of burial. In 1145 he was commissioned by Eugenius III to decide the suit of Oseney Abbey with St. Frideswide's as to the church of St. Mary Magdalen at Oxford (Annales Monastici, iv. 26). In the spring of this year he witnessed a charter of Stephen in association with Imarus, the papal legate. In 1147 he adjudicated on a dispute between the abbeys of Shrewsbury and Seez as to the church of Morville (Eyton, i. 35, viii. 214). In 1148 Robert, though in feeble health, went at the pope's bidding to attend the council at Rheims, where the heresy of Gilbert de la Porrée was to be considered. King Stephen allowed only Robert and two other bishops to go to the council (John of Salisbury, Hist. Pontificalis ap. Mon. Hist. Germaniæ, xx. 519). On the third day of the council Robert fell ill, and he died at Rheims on 16 April (Anglia Sacra, ii. 315–19; the date is given variously as 14 April (Chron. S. Petri Glouc. i. 18). On his deathbed Robert was visited by the pope, and received absolution from many archbishops and bishops. There was a hot contest between the monks of Rheims and the bishop's clerks as to who should have the honour of Robert's burial, but he was ultimately buried at Hereford (Anglia Sacra, ii. 319–21). Robert was called ‘the good bishop’ (Annales Monastici, iv. 26). In the midst of feudal anarchy he stood forth as the fearless champion of peace and justice. William of Malmesbury, writing in Robert's lifetime, says his fame was so high that the pope trusted him in English affairs next to the legate and archbishop (Gesta Pontificum, p. 305). His learning and piety are extolled not only by his eulogiser, William of Wycumb, and by the canon of Llanthony, but by many other writers of his time (ib. p. 304; Chron. S. Petri Glouc. i. 18; R. de Torigni, p. 121; Gesta Stephani, p. 101; John of Hexham, ii. 284). There are three letters addressed to Robert de Bethune among the epistles of Gilbert Foliot (Epp. 9, 50, 74, ap. Migne, Patrologia, cxc. 754, 780, 794). A letter from Robert to the famous Suger, abbot of St. Denys, is extant among the latter's letters (Migne, clxxxvi. 1359).

[William of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontificum, Chron. S. Pet. Gloucestriæ, Gesta Stephani, Richard of Hexham, and Robert de Torigny ap. Chron. Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, John of Hexham ap. Symeon of Durham, Annales Monastici (all these in Rolls Ser.); Cont. Flor. Wig. (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Chron. of Llanthony, ap. Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum, vi. 131–133; Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville; Eyton's Antiquities of Shropshire. There is a life of Robert de Bethune by his friend and chaplain William of Wycumb, who was fourth prior of Llanthony; it is printed in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, ii. 299–321.]

C. L. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.234
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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364 i 22f.e. Robert de Bethune: for Flanders read Artois