Clare, Osbert de (DNB00)
CLAIRE, OSBERT de (fl. 1136), prior of Westminster, was born, as he himself states (ep. x.) at a place called Clare, no doubt the town of that name in Suffolk. The expression ‘Stockæ Claranæ alumnus,’ by which Leland designates Osbert, seems to mean that he entered the monastic life as an inmate of the priory of Stoke, near Clare. This cannot be strictly correct, as Osbert was already a monk of Westminster before the priory was removed from Clare to Stoke; but he may probably have belonged to this house before its removal. He enjoyed the friendship of Anselm, of whose abbey of Bee the priory of Clare was an offshoot, and a letter (ep. xiii.) is extant in which Osbert congratulates the archbishop on his anticipated return from exile. Axer entering the Benedictine monastery of St. Peter at Westminster, Osbert, for some reason not fully explained, incurred the displeasure of the abbot Herebert (ep. xii.) and his brother monks. In a letter addressed evidently to some person of high ecclesiastical rank (ep. viii.); by a scribal error the name of Anselm appears in the superscription) Osbert represents that the charges made against him were prompted by the odium which he had excited by his zeal on behalf of the new festival of the Immaculate Conception. This festival had recently begun to be observed, chiefly in England, but met with great opposition, and was eventually suppressed, a result which was principally due to the authority of St. Bernard, who was a determined adversary of the doctrine which the feast was intended to celebrate. The dignitary to whom Osbert wrote the letter just referred to had himself been active in promoting the establishment of the new feast. Osbert requests him, when he comes to judge his case, to consult Gilbert, bishop of London, and Hugh, abbot of Reading. The mention of these names taken in connection with other circumstances refers this letter to the period from 1128 to 1130.
It appears that for a few years after this Osbert was banished from his monastery. In several letters he refers to himself as an ‘exile,’ and as one of these letters was addressed to Æthe1wold, bishop of Carlisle, by Mr. Edmund Wrigglesworth of Hull. who was consecrated in 1133, his banishment must have continued until after that date. It is probable that Osbert's disgrace was due to other causes besides his conduct with regard to the festival of the Immaculate Conception, since he acknowledges having been to some extent in fault, although complaining of the unjust severity of his sentence. In one letter (ep. xxvi., which seems to belong to this period of his life, as it contains no allusion to bis having held the office of prior) he thanks his correspondent for some assistance in money, and says that he had been too poor to pay his amanuensis or copyist regularly. He adds that although his need had been great, he had never disgraced himself by engaging in trade, but he had been supported by the generous gifts of his friends. Shortly afterwards, however, Osbert was not only restored to his monastery, but was elected prior. The date of this event appears to have been 1136. In a letter (ep. xiv.) to Æthelmær, prior of Canterbury, wno died in 1137, he calls himself prior designate. When he had held the office for five years (ep. vi.), he was sent by 'G. abbot of Westminster' (i.e. Gervase, appointed in 1141) on a mission to Pope Innocent II. His errand was partly to ootain redress for certain encroachments on the rights of the monastery, and partly to advocate the canonisation of Edward the Confessor, the great benefactor of the house. He bore with him letters of recommendation from King Stephen, from the papal legates, Alberic, bishop of Ostia, and Henry, bishop of Winchester, from the convent of St. Paul's, and from his own abbot. On the occasion of this joumev he wrote a life of Edward the Confessor, which he dedicated to the legate Alberic. An abridgment of this work, in a manuscript of the thirteenth century, exists in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge ; and it was the principal source used by Æthelred of Rievaulx in his biography of Edward. iEthelred mentions that Osbert had himself been cured of a fever by appealing to the intercession of the royal saint. The pope directed that careful inquiry should be made into the alleged grievances of the abbey (ep. i.), but with regard to the other object of his mission Osbert was unsuccessful, the reply being to the effect that the canonisation of Edward would be taken into consideration when it could be shown that the demand for it was really national, and not merely local.
It is stated by some modern writers that Osbert's mission to Home was in the reign of Adrian IV, about 1158, and that he remained there until the canonisation of Edward was granted by Alexander III in 1161. There seems, however, to be no foundation for this, or for the more general statement (Wright, Biog. Lit. Anglo-Norman period, 319) that Osbert was 'more than once' employed in missions to the papal court.
There is evidence in Osbert's letters that he was intimately deprived of his office of prior, and expelled from the monastery. The cause is nowhere distinctly stated, though in a letter to the abbot and monks we find Osbert defending himself firom a charge of having admitted Cistercian monks into the Benedictine order. In another letter to his brethren at Westminster he accuses them of having sold him, like another Joseph, into Egyptian slavery, 'but,' he adds, 'the Egyptians themselves now pay me tribute.' It is somewhat difficult to understand whether Osbert's rhetorical talk about 'exile in a foreign land,' which occurs both in the letters of this period and in those relating tohis earlier banishment, really means that he had left England, or is merely a figurative mode of referring to his absence from the monastery which he regarded as his 'own country.' The latter interpretation seems the more probable one. Osbert is said (Davy in Addit. MS. 19165) to have died in 1170, but no early authority is quoted for this date.
Besides the life of Edward the Confessor, Osbert wrote biographies of two other royal saints, St. Eadmund and St. Æthelberht, kings of the East Angles, and also of St. Eadburh. The life of St. Eadmund is stated by Wright to be in the Bodleian Library, but this appears to be a mistake. A Cotton manuscript (Titus, A. viii.) contains two works relating to this saint, both of which are ascribed to Osbert ; the second of these (ff. 83-151) may be really his work, but the other is a mere transcript from Abbo, with slight variations. Osberrs of St. Æthelberht, which was dedicated to Gilbert (Foliot), bishop of Hereford (consecrated 1148), is in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge ; and another copy formerly existed in the library of University College, Oxford (Coxe, Cat MSS, Coll. Oxon. i. 38). The life of St. Eadburh was written on the occasion of the translation of her remains. Some extracts from it are given by Leland (Collectanea, i. 337-41) ; he does not say where the manuscript is to be found, but there is a copy in the Bodleian Library (Laud, Misc. 114. 10).
The only writings of Osbert which have been printed are the letters included in the volume entitled 'Scriptores Monastici,' published by R. Anstruther at Brussels in 1846, and issued in the same year by the Caxton Society to its subscribers. Of these letters there are two manuscripts, one in the British Museum (Cotton, Vitellius, A. xvii.), the other in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. The printed text is taken from a transcript by Mr. Giles, hnt the editor does not say on which of the manuscripts it is founded, nor does he furnish any biographical information respecting the writer, or guidance as to the date of the letters, which are arranged with an utter absence of chronological order. Anstruther's text has meny obvious misreadings, and omits several messages of considerable interest. One of these is an account of the origin of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, or at least, of its first introduction into England, which in the Cotton MS. is appended to the letter numbered xxi. by Anstruther. The pieces printed are forty in number, and include the letters of recommendation which Oshert took with him to Rome, and two rescripts from Pope Innocent II. One of Osbert's letters in this collection (ep. xxxiv.) is an account of the miracles of St. Æthelthryth, addressed to the clergy of Ely, who had applied to him for information on the subject. Osbert enjoyed considerable reputation as a writer, and his letters show some literary ability, though their style is disfigured by excessive affectation of wit and display of classical learning.
By some authors Osbert de Clare is called Oshern, probably from a confusion with Osbern, prior of Canterbury, the biographer of St. Ælfhenh. In Latin writers his surname appears variously as De Clara, De Clara Valle, Claranus, Caraensis, and Clarentius.
[Osbert's letters in Anstruther's Scriptures Monasteri, 109, 263, and in Cotton MS., Vitelebus, Leland's Comm. de Scriptoribus, 187, Pits, De Script. Angl. 204; Luard's Lives of Edward the Confessor, preface, xxv, xli; Thomas Wright's Biog. Lit. (Angle-Norman period), 318, 319; Addit. MS. 19165.]