Cutcliffe, John (DNB00)
CUTCLIFFE, ROCHETAILLADE, or DE RUPESCISSA, JOHN (fl. 1345), Franciscan, is described by Fuller (Worthies of England, 1662, p. 263) as a native of Gammage (or, as it should be, Dammage) in the parish of Ilfracombe in Devonshire. The manor of Dammage is mentioned as having been long the seat of the family of Cutcliffe (Lysons, Magna Britannia, 1822, vi. 290). But beyond the presumption afforded by the name, there is nothing, so far as is known, to show that John de Rupescissa was a Devon man, or even that he was an Englishman at all. The identification and localisation of the friar seem to make their first appearance in Fuller (l. c.), who quotes the name ‘Johannes Rupe-Scissanus or de Rupe scissa [Cutclif]’ from a manuscript of Sir John Northcote; and though it is not clear whether the translation of the Latin name (in brackets) is due to Fuller or his original, the entry in Northcote's collections is evidence that the latter claimed him for his own county. On the other hand, neither in Trithemius nor in any of the ecclesiastical biographers, nor even in Foxe's ‘Acts and Monuments’ (where actually de Rupescissa and Rochetaillade are distinguished as two persons), is there the slightest trace that John de Rupescissa was in any way connected with England. Bale speaks of him in his ‘Acta Romanorum Pontificum,’ p. 331 (Frankfurt, 1567), but does not include him in his ‘Scriptorum Britanniæ Catalogus.’ The only writers after Fuller who make the identification seem to be Prince (Worthies of Devon, 1701, p. 141) and Tanner (Bibl. Brit. 1748, p. 646). As, moreover, Rochetaillade is recognised as the name of a noble Gascon family in the fourteenth century (Kervyn de Lettenhove, notes to Froissart, xi. 452), it will be best to speak of the friar by his French name, and leave the English identification, at least provisionally, on one side.
Rochetaillade was born in the early years of the fourteenth century. Of his education he tells us himself (De consid. quint. essent., p. 11, ed. 1561) that he studied worldly philosophy for above five years at Toulouse, and then entered the Franciscan order. His profession was made in the province of Aquitaine, and at a later time he is found holding official posts in the convents of his order at Rodez and Aurillac (see the title of his ‘Prophetia’ in Edward Browne's Fasciculus Rerum expetendarum et fugiendarum, ii. 494, London, 1690; and compare Baluze, Vit. Pap. Aven., 1693, i. 942, and the Paris MS. Bibl. Nat. 3598, cited by Kervyn de Lettenhove, notes to Froissart, vi. 494). For five years after his profession he continued his secular education, but then turned exclusively to spiritual things (De Consid. l. c.) He immersed himself in the study of alchemy, on which he has left several treatises, and of prophecy; in his published writings he looks back to St. Hildegard, and the title of one manuscript shows that he was a commentator upon, perhaps an avowed follower of, the famous Abbot Joachim of Flore. He soon became himself known as a prophet; and because in that capacity he made no scruple of speaking evil of dignities, and criticising with unsparing freedom the abuses of the church, he was in 1345 condemned to imprisonment at Figeac by William Farmena, the minister of his province (Baluze, l. c.) Four years later he was summoned to Avignon by Clement VI, and lodged there in prison (‘qui carcer vocatur Carcer Soldan,’ Browne, ii. 494). A prophecy, written in his captivity and ostensibly addressed to the pope (November 1349), is printed by Browne (l. c.) After some years he was removed to another of the Avignon prisons, that of Baignolles (Jean le Bel, ii. 235; Froissart, vi. 262), where he was still confined in 1356, as he states in his ‘Vade Mecum,’ which was written just after the battle of Poitiers (Browne, ii. 496, 497). The cardinals of Auxerre and Ostia were sent to persuade him to leave off his denunciations, but his reply (according to the story which Froissart, xi. 253 et seqq., says he heard when he was in Avignon in the time of Innocent VI) was only a new prophecy, given in the familiar fable of the bird which came into the world without feathers and was kindly clothed by the other birds, whereupon it became puffed up, and was despoiled. This story, together with its application to the endowments of the church, was already a commonplace in religious controversy; it reappears ten years later in Wycliffe ‘De civili Dominio,’ ii. 1 (cited by Shirley, Fasciculi Zizaniorum, introd. p. xxi). Froissart (xi. 257) adds that the cardinals would gladly have condemned him to death, but could find no cause, and so left him in prison so long as he lived. The ordinary account, however, as given by Bale and Foxe, is that he was burnt at Avignon by order of Innocent VI; and this is referred to the notice of the Saint Albans chronicle (as given in the Chron. Angl. p. 31, ed. E. M. Thompson, 1874; in Walsingham's Hist. Angl., i. 278, ed. H. T. Riley, 1863; and in the Continuation of Adam of Murimuth, p. 184, ed. T. Hog, 1846) that two Franciscan friars were so burned for erroneous opinions in 1354 (cf. Raynald, Annal. Eccl., vi. 610 et seq., Lucca, 1750), whereas we have Rochetaillade's own word (see above) that he was alive in 1356.
His works are numerous. First, Trithemius mentions a commentary on the four books of the ‘Sentences,’ which is not known to exist. Secondly, on alchemy Rochetaillade wrote at least three treatises, all of which have been published: (1) ‘De confectione veri lapidis philosophorum … quem libellum composuit ad hoc divina præmonitus revelatione,’ printed in the ‘Theatrum Chemicum,’ iii. 191–200, Altorf, 1602; (2) ‘Liber Lucis,’ in the same collection, p. 297; (3) ‘De consideratione quintæ essentiæ rerum omnium,’ edited by G. Grataroli, Basle, 1561, reprinted ibid. 1597, the second book of which is entitled ‘De generalibus remediis.’ In the Digby manuscript (Bodleian Library) No. 43, f. 101, this last named work bears the title ‘Liber de famulatu philosophie ewangelio domini nostri Jesu Christi et pauperibus ewangelicis viris: Primus liber de consideracione,’ &c.; which explains how the author has been credited with a work ‘De famulatu’ as though distinct from the ‘De consideratione.’ Rochetaillade's prophetical writings are cited generally by Trithemius as his ‘Revelationes,’ a title which is enlarged by Wadding (Script. O. M. p. 154 a) into ‘Revelationes Antichristi de adventu [? ‘de adventu Antichristi’] et ecclesiasticorum correptione et reformatione,’ who speaks of a manuscript of the work in the Vatican. Wadding also notices an ‘Epistola ad quendam cardinalem [no doubt William Curt, bishop of Tusculum, see Baluze, l. c.] in vinculis scripta de suis vaticiniis et tribulationibus,’ which is probably the same with the latter part (beginning ‘Reverendissime pater’) of the ‘Copia prophetiæ’ printed by Browne, ii. 494 et seqq., the former part being apparently an hysterical address to the pope, and prefixed by an error. Another work, ‘Commentarius super prophetiam Cyrilli eremitæ … simul cum commento Joachim,’ is stated by Oudin to exist in manuscript at Paris. Lastly, there is the ‘Vade mecum in tribulatione,’ written in 1356, and already referred to, full of prophecies of future reformation, and of the overthrow of existing evils (in Browne, ii. 496–508). In this work Rochetaillade mentions three other prophetic books of his, ‘De speculis temporum,’ ‘De reserationibus arcanorum scripturæ sacræ,’ and ‘Ostensor quod adesse festinant tempora,’ of which nothing further is known.
The prophecies of Rochetaillade were not confined to the future of the church. Helped, he said, by the study of the prophetical writings, he claimed to have correctly foretold various events in the history of France, Castile, &c., and chroniclers like Jean le Bel and Froissart are manifestly persuaded that he was often right. Nor will it be denied that his prophecies, pervaded as they are by a spirit of exaggeration and an attempt at an impossible precision, show an exceedingly shrewd insight into the affairs of the writer's time.
Rochetaillade has sometimes been confounded with another John de Rupescissa, who was archbishop of Rouen in the second quarter of the fifteenth century.