Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Alan of Tewkesbury

ALAN of Tewkesbury, a writer of the twelfth century, was, according to the express statement of Gervase of Canterbury, an Englishman by descent, ‘natione Anglus’ (Chronica, ed. Stubbs, Rolls Ser., i. 335). He appears to have passed some years of his life as a canon of Benevento in Italy, at that time a possession of the Holy See and a great ecclesiastical centre. It is probable that during his residence there he became deeply interested in the struggle which Becket was carrying on with Henry II, and he may have received, directly or indirectly, from Alexander III himself, the information and documents which enabled him subsequently to become the biographer of the archbishop. On his return to England in 1174, he entered the monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury, and after a five years' novitiate, in August 1179, was elected prior, in succession to Herlewin (Gervase, i. 293). According to Gervase, his appointment was almost forced upon Archbishop Richard by the other monks, from their conviction of Alan's high qualities. In the exercise of his authority as prior, he seems to have sought to assert on a smaller scale the prerogatives for which Alexander III was at the same time contending with the emperor in Italy. About the year 1184, he visited the court of Henry for the purpose of conferring with that monarch respecting the proposed election of Odo, a former prior of Christchurch, to the archbishopric—the election being at that time vested in the monks at Canterbury. On this and on other occasions he appears as a strenuous supporter of the monks and of Rome against the crown and the episcopal party. He also incurred Henry's displeasure by procuring from Rome authority to collect Peter's pence throughout the realm—a proceeding which drew from Henry the angry comment ‘that the prior of Christchurch wanted to be a second pope in England’ (Gervase, i. 313). In the memorable contest respecting the election of Archbishop Baldwin, Alan took a foremost part, and his sympathy with the monastic cause seems to have completely prevailed over that which Baldwin might have claimed on the ground of their common English descent. Alan subsequently sought to upset the election, and Henry himself repaired to Canterbury in order to arbitrate in the matter. At an interview in the consistory, Alan swooned away under the influence of his excitement, whereupon Henry in his alarm declared Baldwin's election irregular and void. Baldwin himself also refused to accept the dignity unless his election were sanctioned by the convent, and Alan, satisfied with this recognition of the privileges of the body over which he presided, then gave way and recognised Baldwin's election as valid. According to Gervase, Baldwin subsequently revenged himself on Alan for his obstructive proceedings by procuring his removal, some two years later, to the abbacy of Tewkesbury, which office he held until his death in the year 1202 (Annales Tewkes., in Annales Monast., Rolls Ser., i. 53, 56).

The ‘Life of Becket,’ the only printed work which can with any certainty be attributed to Alan, was professedly written as a kind of supplement to the life by John of Salisbury, and was designed as a kind of introduction to the collection of Becket's epistles which Alan had formed and arranged. It is printed in the second volume of the collection entitled ‘Materials for the History of Thomas Becket,’ edited for the Rolls series by the Rev. J. C. Robertson. Other writings of Alan are preserved in manuscript in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

The foregoing outline having been written on the assumption that Alan of Tewkesbury was a different person alike from Alan of the Isles (or Alan of Lille) [see Alain de Lille], known as the ‘Doctor universalis,’ and from Alan, bishop of Auxerre, it will be desirable to indicate the sources from which these conclusions are derived. The facts which establish (in opposition to Oudin) the distinct individualities of Alan of the Isles, and of Alan, bishop of Auxerre, are given by Dom Brial, ‘Hist. Litt. de la France’ (ed. 1824), xvi. 396–425; and also by Dupuis, ‘Alain de Lille,’ pp. 52–56. But Dom Brial, it is to be noted, considers Alan of Tewkesbury and the ‘doctor universalis’ to have been the same person. In contravention of such a view it may be observed that none of the writers nearest to the times in which Alan lived, such as Otho of St. Blasius, Alberic of the abbey of Trois Fontaines, and Henry of Ghent, when speaking of the ‘doctor universalis’ refer to the fact of his having filled any important post in England, or speak of any relations existing between him and Thomas of Canterbury. On the other hand, Henry of Ghent expressly states that the ‘doctor universalis’ was head of a school for the clergy (‘ecclesiasticæ scholæ’) at Paris (De Scriptt. Eccles., in Fabricius, Biblioth. Eccles. part ii. 121)—a statement repeated by Trithemius (ibid. part iii. cap. 527), but one which it is difficult to reconcile with the known facts in the life of Alan of Tewkesbury. None of the writings attributed to the latter, again, bear the title of ‘doctor universalis.’

[Chronica of Gervase of Canterbury; Annales Tewkesburienses; Preface to Materials for History of Thomas Becket, ed. Robertson, Rolls Ser., vol. ii.; Alain de Lille, par Albert Dupuis (1859);]

J. B. M.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.4
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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215 i l.l. Alan of Tewkesbury: add Epistolæ Cantuarienses, ed. Stubbs, Rolls Series, pp. xl-lviii.