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Home arrow History arrow Officers and accountability in medieval England : 1170-1300


As his comments on Hubert Walter showed, Gerald of Wales did not think much of the competencies required of Exchequer officials—at least as qualifications for episcopal office.[1] ‘A bishop should be deemed most vile if he who has the greatest honour does not excel in knowledge and sanctity since, praiseworthy by neither conduct nor learning, such a person has presumed to lord it over others (preesse), ignorant of how to serve them (prodesse).’[2] The sentiment was widespread and venerable: pastores should strive to prodesse, not preesse.[3] Yet in England, Gerald complained, ‘whoever is good at being a tax collector immediately deserves to be deemed a great prelate in the English Church’. It was from the Exchequer’s ‘gymnasium’ that ‘almost all the English bishops are raised to honours’.[4] Gerald’s insinuation is that one’s numeracy says nothing for one’s literacy, yet it is through the latter spiritual learning that men merit high religious office.[5] For Gerald it was not appropriate to transfer norms from one office to another. Accountancy and the prelacy should not mix. In Gerald’s eyes, Walter was further compromised because of the royal offices he held, first Justiciar, then Chancellor, the former of which he was forced to abandon, following the Canterbury monks’ complaints before Innocent III.[6] He was, scorned Gerald, like ‘a fish out of water, when he cannot live without worldly cares or the court, ignorant— or feigning ignorance—of having read the Apostle, that no-one fighting for God involves himself in the world’s work’.[7] Bishops were different from the other officers analysed here. Those others lacked sacramental powers. Sacramentally all bishops were equivalent, even the bishop of Rome who claimed his power complete because it was from St Peter, and his responsibility [sollicitudo] greater, if shared.[8] Nor were episcopal appointments temporary. Gerald would be right in those respects about the qualitatively different nature of the bishop’s office. But as Gerald’s protests show, there was anxiety about the episcopate being reduced to ‘just another office’. Almost at the end of his Gemma ecclesiastica he bemoans how close have become the institutions and interests of prelate and prince. That inappropriate convergence means that prelates’ eminence and the standing of their office has become extremely hazardous. ‘I do not say that bishops cannot be saved; but I do say that in these days it is harder for bishops than for other men to be saved’.[9] In the period under discussion, for better or worse, an important strand in the church’s solution to this was the tendency to make bishops increasingly accountable and dismissible largely at the Bishop of Rome’s discretion, in relation to the contours of their office, and in relation to the inquisitorial methods analysed below.

Gerald’s attitude to Hubert Walter oscillated, partly in line with his hopes for Walter’s patronage.[10] Around 1194 Gerald had even dedicated the Description of Wales to Walter, having already given him a copy of the Journey through Wales. The second version of the Journey (c.1197) Gerald dedicated to the Bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Avalon, of whom he would also write a Life (c.1213—19), completed shortly before Hugh’s rapid ten-month canonization process (16 February 1220).[11] Adam of Eynsham’s Life of Hugh (c. 1212) also offered criticism of Hubert, describing Hugh’s frequent reproofs of the Archbishop for his excessive attention to the ‘administration of the respublica at the expense of his ‘pontifical office’. Adam pointedly related how Hugh then recalled his diocesan subordinates, both clerks and priests, to the ‘path of straighter living and the integrity of clerical discipline’.[12]

Gerald of Wales, Hubert Walter, Hugh of Avalon: scholar and bishop-aspirant, royal minister and archbishop, bishop and saint. Each exemplifies a different set of later twelfth- and thirteenth-century values and abilities, and entry points for reflection on episcopal character. All of those entry points pertain to conceptions of episcopal responsibility. That relationship between projections of a bishop’s character, his responsibilities—and, if need be, his accountability—therefore requires explanation. Two exempla from Adam of Eynsham’s Life of Hugh can open out many of these themes. The first concerns Hubert Walter.

On his deathbed in 1200 Hugh was visited by Hubert Walter. Hugh’s primate and superior began solicitously enough, inviting Hugh to ask forgiveness of any he had hurt. The Archbishop went on to make clear that he was thinking of himself——to whom Hugh should apologize for all his provocations, offences given despite the obedience the Bishop of Lincoln owed. Hugh replied,

It is true that after making a thorough examination of conscience I know well that I have often angered you. Yet I do not consider that I should repent of this, but I rather grieve that I did not do so more frequently and earnestly. I am, however, firmly resolved under God’s all-seeing eyes to do so more often if I am spared [death].

I remember how often I weakly kept silent about matters where I should have spoken out but did not do so in order to appease you, because I knew that you would not take it patiently if I did. My sin was that I declined to offend you rather than my heavenly Father. For this reason, I ask pardon for my serious offence against God and against you, my father and my primate.[13]

Adam does not relate Hubert Walter’s response.

The anecdote raises important themes in relation to episcopal responsibility and accountability. First, conscience played a central role in bishops’ own expression of their episcopal responsibilities.[14] Secondly, conscience was extended to the responsibility for the direct denunciation of colleagues with ostensibly defective consciences, even and including one’s superiors.[15] Fraternal correction, first in private, following the apostolic tradition, was a basic model.[16] Thirdly, reproofs by an inferior were problematic in fact—in that the inferior would probably feel constrained from correcting his superior and the superior conceivably disinclined to accept any criticism.

A second exemplum from the Life of Hugh is interesting for its method of correcting faults. The case concerns an adulterous parishioner of Hugh’s, when as a young deacon he administered the ‘rule [regimen] of a parish’. When Hugh ‘learned of the evil rumour [famam malt] I took it badly; I looked into the matter with the utmost care’, and it was indeed ‘discovered and confirmed’. He brought the man before him, privately, and confronted him with the allegation. Both this and a second confrontation before two or three other witnesses (following the Gospel precept) failed to shift the parishioners obdurate impenitence. So, again following the Gospel precept, since the matter was ‘plain to everyone’ [omnibus manifestum] Hugh ‘one solemn day put it to him openly in church’ [media in ecclesia quadam die sollempnipalam coargui].17 He denounced the ‘hideousness of his shame, his handover to Satan for the destruction of his flesh’ at which, finally, the man, ‘completely terrified and desperate, dashed into the middle of the church’ [territus uehementer et confusus, in medium prosiliuii] to renounce his sins, ‘not without sobbing and showers of tears’.

Adam’s primary concern is to demonstrate how Hugh fulfilled the Gospel precept of correction, by following the correct sequence of reproof. The procedure (its ordo) which Hugh followed in practice also requires attention, however. First, Hugh is made aware of a public belief about a person’s guilt of a crime—in this case a ‘parishioner defamed [infamatam] of adultery’ (part of Adam of Eynsham’s chapter heading). He then acts on his own authority, ex officio as it were. There is no accusation made against the parishioner. Hugh acts because of the infamia and because the parish’s governance (regimen) is entrusted to him. Addressing the former is a responsibility of the latter. Thirdly, Hugh investigates (inquisiui) the matter. Adam’s framing of Hugh’s account is important. It was prompted by a question Adam says he asked Hugh once about fraternal correction, when Hugh was ‘sitting down with many learned men’, including men specifically ‘skilled in both canon and civil law’.[17] [18] It is striking and of immediate interest to this chapter that the procedural components of the case follow canonical inquisitorial procedure, that emerging means of inquiring ex officio, on the basis of infamia, into crimes (excessus), particularly those attributed to prelates and clerics.[19]

A Burgundian aristocrat by birth, Hugh was a deacon at St Maximus there between c. 1160 and c.1163. Hugh died in 1200. Adam finished writing the Life c.1212. The timespan is precisely that during which inquisitorial procedure was being developed, before its emergence into the mainstream of canonical law at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, where inquisitorial procedure figured as canon eight, Qualiter et quando (its opening words).

The suggestion is not that Hugh of Avalon invented ‘inquisitorial procedure’. (Adam may, in 1212, easily have wished to present Hugh as having been intuitively prescient in his own approach to pastoral correction during the 1160s.) The point of this second exemplum from Adam of Eynsham is rather to illustrate that one can identify relatively ‘untheorized’, ‘vernacular’ illustrations of inquisitorial procedure in non-legal records. By this I mean simply that important aspects of the relevant formal action can be indicated that may not be the designed product of legal theory. Such instances encourage an analysis that places a greater stress on the reciprocal relations between the ‘high’ formal theory of romano-canonical procedure and more intuitive ad hoc responses within a given society.[20] The corollary is that a lesser emphasis is put on the idea that lawyers’ autonomous reflection is a sufficient explanation of socio-legal change or the notion that the inherent aesthetic attraction of legal systems per se is sufficient to explain their success.[21] This is a slightly different furrow to the productive one ploughed by Susan Reynolds in relation to legal change.[22] Reynolds’s general thesis has been that there is a fundamental qualitative difference between customary pre-1200 law and professional post-1200 law: that the former was characterized by more communal judgements rooted in society, the latter by a more professional law that became ‘more esoteric, rigid and expert’, and whose canons have been mistakenly presumed to connote a greater normative rationality.[23] My stress is on the stitching from materials diffused through Christendom (infamia, scandalum, official investigation, ‘inquisition’), into a respectable uniform for responding to officers’ excessus, one of which was the ultimately formalized canonical inquisitorial procedure. Where Reynolds has stressed distinctions between unlearned law and learned law, I wish to make suggestions about communication between the two.

This chapter explores the development of inquisitorial procedure to hold bishops to account, using case law and formal law, and making some comparative observations about inquisitions. A working axiom is Maitland’s suggestion that ‘legal ideas never reach very far beyond practical needs’.[24] The challenge ultimately is to explain the similarities and differences between multiple sorts of inquisition and why the particular nature of canonical inquisitorial procedure was produced by its sociological matrix. This chapter will suggest that it was the comparable ambitions, and pretensions, on the part of different elites that led them to assemble, from learned laws and improvised practices, legal systems for regulating societal—and official—conduct.

  • [1] See pp. 92—3.
  • [2] Gerald of Wales, ‘De Invectionibus, ed. W. S. Davies, Y Cymmrodor 30 (1920), 97. Geraldused the same contrast to distinguish princes from tyrants: Liber de principis instruction in GiraldiCambrensis Opera, RS, 8 vols. (London, 1861—91) viii. ed. George F. Warner, 54, 56 (Dist. 1, cap. 16),their comparability, 142 (Dist. 1, cap. 20).
  • [3] For the Augustinian and Gregorian origins of the reference see R. A. Markus, Gregory the Greatand His World (Cambridge, 1997), 30 and n. 54 (esp. Augustine, City of God, §19.19 and Enarrationesin Psalmos, §126.3). Bernard of Clairvaux, De consideration, §III.i.2, was an important formulation, ed. in Sancti Bernardi opera, ed. J. Leclercq, C. H. Talbot, and H. M. Rochais, 8 vols. in 9(Rome, 1957—77), iii. 381—493. The pairing was a favourite of Innocent III: e.g. Innocent III EnglishLetters, #62, Innocent to Nicholas Bishop of Tusculum (13 October 1213) at 166, and generally JohnC. Moore, Pope InnocentIII: To Root Up and to Plant (Leiden, 2003), 255—60. In Angevin and Capetiancircles cf. e.g. Peter of Blois, Tractatus de institution episcopi in PL, 207, cols. 1097—12 at 1102—1108;Philip Augustus’s debate with Peter the Chanter in Leopold Delisle, ‘Etienne de Gallardon, clerc dela chancellerie de Philippe Auguste, chanoine de Bruges’, Bibliotheque de lEcole des chartes 60 (1899),5^4 at 24; or in the section on the disciplining of officials in Le Traite Eruditio regum et principum deGuibert de Tournai, O.F.M., ed. A. de Poorter, Les Philosophes belges, 9 (Louvain, 1914), 44 (§2.1.1).For the thirteenth-century scholastic handling of a related Augustinian-derived distinction betweenrule as dominandi cupiditate (will to dominate) or officio consulendi (duty to counsel) see Markus,Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St Augustine, rev. edn. (Cambridge, 1988), App. C. Onpreesse see further Thomas Bisson, Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power, Lordship, and the Origins ofEuropean Government (Princeton, NJ, 2009), 455 n. 92.
  • [4] Gerald of Wales, De invectionibus, 114, also 97. Cf. a similar critique in Nigellus de Longchamp ditWireker, i. Introduction, Tractatus contra curiales et officiales clericos, ed. A. Boutemy (Paris, 1959), 190.
  • [5] Cf. Alexander Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1978), 217, and his following section on the ‘lucrative sciences’. Gerald’s complaint about Walter’s education correlates withMurray’s subsequent argument that clerical complaints about properly literate ecclesiastics were aproduct of competition for finite benefices (Reason and Society, 292—314, esp. 308—9).
  • [6] Roger of Howden, Chronica, iv. 47—8. If Howden is reliable here the complaint was specificallyabout the conflict between the spiritual values Walter was supposed to uphold as archbishop andthose secular political values he was upholding when making ‘judgements of blood’ and smoking theLondon demagogue William fitz Osbert out of his St Mary le Bow sanctuary to his death. See JohnGillingham, ‘The Historian as Judge: William of Newburgh and Hubert Walter’, EHR 119 (2004)’,1280-1.
  • [7] Gerald of Wales, De invectionibus, 97 (2 Timothy 2:4).
  • [8] J. A. Watt, ‘The Theory of Papal Monarchy in the Thirteenth Century: The Contribution of theCanonists’, Traditio 20 (1964), 179-317 at 250-60 and Kenneth Pennington, Pope and Bishops: ThePapal Monarchy in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Philadelphia, 1984), ch. 2, on the thirteenth-century crystallization of the idea that the Pope summons bishops to a share of responsibility, but notto the fullness of power he had.
  • [9] Gerald of Wales, Gemma ecclesiastica (c.1197-8) in Giraldi Cambrensis Opera, ii. ed. J. S. Brewer,359, and more widely 358-62 (Dist. 2, cap. 38).
  • [10] Cf. the Retractationes (c.1217) in Giraldi Cambrensis Opera, i. ed. Brewer, 426-7; C. R. Cheney,From Becket to Langton: English Church Government H70—1213 (Manchester, 1956), 36.
  • [11] Robert Bartlett, Gerald of Wales: A Voice of the Middle Ages, repr. edn. (Stroud, 2006), 208 n. 10and App. 1; David H. Farmer, ‘The Cult and Canonization of St Hugh’, in Henry Mayr-Harting(ed.), St Hugh of Lincoln: Lectures Delivered at Oxford and Lincoln to Celebrate the Eighth Centenary ofSt Hugh's Consecration as Bishop of Lincoln, (Oxford, 1987), 75-87 at 82.
  • [12] Adam of Eynsham, Magna Vita Sancti Hugonis, ed. Decima L. Douie and Hugh Farmer, OMT,2 vols. (London, 1985), ii. 96 (§5.5).
  • [13] Adam of Eynsham, Magna Vita Sancti Hugonis, ii. 188—9 (§5.16), adapting Douie and Farmer’strans. See also Farmer, ‘Cult and Canonization of St Hugh’, 76—7.
  • [14] e.g. the De consideratione (1148/9—1152/3) of Bernard of Clairvaux, addressed to Pope EugeniusIII, stressed Eugenius’s standing as a bishop (§ and see also §II.ix.17), and the importance ofconscience to right rule (§§II.i.4; II.iii.6). The fifth book, the solution to the curial litigiousness andspiritual enervation Bernard has criticized, is best seen as a highly structured means of ordering thePope’s conscience.
  • [15] Bernard again might be cited in relation to De consideratione §§II.i.4 and III.iii.13, a spiritual,though not a formal reproof to Eugenius.
  • [16] Matthew 18: 15—17. e.g. in the famous ‘Novit ille qui’ letter of April 1204 from Innocent IIIto the French prelates (Innocent III English Letters, #21 at 64; Reg. Inn. Ill, vii. #43 (42) at 73). Seefurther on conscience and correction pp. 158, 237—9, 256—7.
  • [17] Cf. Ecclesiasticus 15: 5.
  • [18] Adam of Eynsham, Magna Vita Sancti Hugonis, i. 20—1 (§1.6).
  • [19] Cf. another en passant illustration of inquisitorial procedure in Herman of Tournai’s descriptionof an ex officio inquisition on the basis of rumour in his De Miracula S. Mariae Laudunensis, PL 156,cols. 961—1020 at 1009 (2nd version 1146/7).
  • [20] See also R. I. Moore’s stress on connections between heretical and secular inquisitions in TheWar on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe (London, 2012), 171—2 (Philip of Alsace’s 1163code for Arras), 193 (cap. 21 of the 1166 Assize of Clarendon) and his First European Revolution,c.970-1215 (Oxford, 2000), 171-3.
  • [21] 21 Cf. e.g. Raoul van Caenegem, ‘L’Histoire du droit et la chronologie. Reflexions sur la formation du «Common Law» et la procedure romano-canonique’, in Etudes d’histoire du droit canoniquedediees a Gabriel Le Bras, 2 vols. (Paris, 1965), ii. 1459-65; Caenegem, History of European CivilProcedure’, International Encyclopedia of International Law, XVI.2 (Tubingen, 1973), 16-23. In theformer van Caenegem argues for a pragmatic make-do-and-mend attitude on the part of Henry Il’scounsellors; in the latter for the normatively more coherent and greater rationality of the ius communeand its aesthetic ability to compel assent.
  • [22] See Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted (Oxford, 1994), andKingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900-1300, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1997).
  • [23] 23 The pre-/post-1200 characterization, Fiefs and Vassals, 1Ъ—4 ‘esoteric, rigid, and expert’, 478; on‘rationality’ and law, Kingdoms and Communities, 64—6.
  • [24] 24 Frederic William Maitland, Township and Borough (Cambridge, 1898), 27.
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