FLAMBARD, RANULF, or Ralph (d. 1128), bishop of Durham and chief minister of William Rufus, was the son of a Norman parish priest who belonged to the diocese of Bayeux. Migrating at an early age to England, the young Ranulf entered the chancery of William I. and became conspicuous as a courtier. He was disliked by the barons, who nicknamed him Flambard in reference to his talents as a mischief-maker; but he acquired the reputation of an acute financier and appears to have played an important part in the compilation of the Domesday survey. In that record he is mentioned as a clerk by profession, and as holding land both in Hants and Oxfordshire. Before the death of the old king he became chaplain to Maurice, bishop of London, under whom he had formerly served in the chancery. But early in the next reign Ranulf returned to the royal service. He is usually described as the chaplain of Rufus; he seems in that capacity to have been the head of the chancery and the custodian of the great seal. But he is also called treasurer; and there can be no doubt that his services were chiefly of a fiscal character. His name is regularly connected by the chroniclers with the ingenious methods of extortion from which all classes suffered between 1087 and 1100. He profited largely by the tyranny of Rufus, farming for the king a large proportion of the ecclesiastical preferments which were kept vacant, and obtaining for himself the wealthy see of Durham (1099). His fortunes suffered an eclipse upon the accession of Henry I., by whom he was imprisoned in deference to the popular outcry. A bishop, however, was an inconvenient prisoner, and Flambard soon in effecting his escape from the Tower of London. A popular legend represents the bishop as descending from the window of his cell by a rope which friends had conveyed to him in a cask of wine. He took refuge with Robert Curthose in Normandy and became one of the advisers who pressed the duke to dispute the crown of England with his younger brother; Robert rewarded the bishop by entrusting him with the administration of the see of Lisieux. After the victory of Tinchebrai (1106) the bishop was among the first to make his peace with Henry, and was allowed to return to his English see. At Durham he passed the remainder of his life. His private life was lax; he had at least two sons, for whom he purchased benefices before they had entered on their teens; and scandalous tales are told of the entertainments with which he enlivened his seclusion. But he distinguished himself, even among the bishops of that age, as a builder and a pious founder. He all but completed the cathedral which his predecessor, William of St Carilef, had begun; fortified Durham; built Norham Castle; founded the priory of Mottisfout and endowed the college of Christchurch, Hampshire. As a politician he ended his career with his submission to Henry, who found in Roger of Salisbury a financier not less able and infinitely more acceptable to the nation. Ranulf died on the 5th of September 1128.
See Orderic Vitalis, Historia ecclesiastica, vols. iii. and iv. (ed. le Prévost, Paris, 1845); the first continuation of Symeon’s Historia Ecclesiae Dunelmensis (Rolls ed., 1882); William of Malmesbury in the Gesta pontificum (Rolls ed., 1870); and the Peterborough Chronicle (Rolls ed., 1861). Of modern writers E. A. Freeman in his William Rufus (Oxford, 1882) gives the fullest account. See also T. A. Archer in the English Historical Review, ii. p. 103; W. Stubbs’s Constitutional History of England, vol. i. (Oxford, 1897); J. H. Round’s Feudal England (London, 1895). (H. W. C. D.)