Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hubert Walter

HUBERT WALTER (d. 1205), archbishop of Canterbury, was a son of Hervey Walter and Matilda de Valognes, whose sister Bertha was married to Ranulf de Glanville [q. v.] (Monast. Angl. vi. 380, 1128). The 'Hubert Walter' mentioned in the 'Pipe Roll' of 1158, p. 30, was probably his uncle or his grandfather. His surname is usually given by Latin writers as 'Walteri;' but in some contemporary documents it is found agreeing in case with the christian name (‘de Huberto Waltero,’ Pipe Roll, l.c.); and we have no clue to its origin. Hubert's family lived in Suffolk or Norfolk. He is said to have been born at West Dereham (Tanner, Not. Monast., Norfolk, xxi.). He and his brothers (one of whom became ancestor of the Butlers of Ormonde [see Butleṙ, Theobald]) seem to have been brought up in Glanville's household (Mon. Angl. vi. 899); he became one of Glanville's chaplains or clerks, and was so much in his confidence that he was afterwards said to have ‘shared with him in the government of England’ (Gerv. Cant. ii. 406). In 1184 and 1185 he appears as a baron of the exchequer (Madox, Hist. Exch. c. vi. sec. iii.; Form. Angl. p.217); and in 1185 he was one of six envoys employed by Henry II to negotiate with the monks of Canterbury about the election of a primate. Next year he was made dean of York, and in September was one of five persons nominated by the York chapter for the vacant see; the king, however, rejected all five. In April 1189 Hubert appears as a justice of the curia regis at Westminster (Fines, ed. Hunter, i. pref. xxiii); a little later he seems to have been acting as protonotary, or vice-chancellor, to Henry in Maine; in September the new king, Richard, appointed him bishop of Salisbury; and Archbishop Baldwin consecrated him on 22 Oct. In February 1190 Richard summoned him to Normandy, and he accompanied king and primate to the Holy Land. There he won universal esteem by his zeal and energy in relieving the wants of the poorer crusaders. After Baldwin's death he became the chief spiritual authority in the host; and he was also Richard's chief agent in negotiation with Saladin. As Richard's representative he headed the first body of pilgrims whom the Turks admitted to the sepulchre, and after Richard's departure he led back the English host from Palestine to Sicily. There he heard of the king's captivity; he at once went to visit him, and came back to England in April 1193 charged to act as one of the commissioners for the collection of the ransom, and closely followed by a royal mandate for his election to the see of Canterbury. Elected by the chapter 29 May, by the bishops next day, he was enthroned and received his pall 7 Nov. At the close of the year Richard appointed him justiciar; in this capacity he took a leading part in the suppression of John's attempt at revolt; as archbishop he officiated at Richard's second crowning at Winchester, 17 April 1194; and in May the king's departure over sea left him virtual ruler of England.

To keep the country in obedience and to supply Richard's ceaseless demands for money was Hubert's task during the next four years, and the credit of the constitutional and administrative progress made in those years is wholly due to him. His policy was based on the principles which he had seen put in action by Glanville under the inspiration of Henry II. Since April 1193 he had been engaged, conjointly with the other justiciars and the queen-mother, in raising the 100,000l. required for Richard's ransom. For the measures taken on this occasion he only shared the responsibility with his colleagues and with the king himself; but they were probably due to his initiative. The demands made upon the country were a scutage from the tenants-in-chivalry, a tax of two shillings per carucate from the socage tenants, a fourth of personal property from every free man, the year's wool from the Cistercians and Gilbertines, and the treasures of the great churches. The first was matter of course; the last was wholly exceptional, excused by exceptional need; the second was in effect a revival of the Danegeld under the less offensive name of ‘hidagium’ or ‘auxilium carucatarum’ (Madox, Hist. Exch. c. xv. sec. iv.); the third marked an important advance in the direct taxation of personal property as introduced by Henry II; and the fourth, commuted for a money-payment, was ‘an important precedent for the raising of revenue on and through the staple article of English production.’ To these taxes was added a tallage on the towns and royal demesnes, assessed as usual by the justices itinerant whom Hubert sent out, after Richard's departure, on their annual visitation tour, with a commission which by its extension and definition of the pleas of the crown, its appointment of elective officers (who grew into the modern coroners) to keep those pleas in every shire, and its elaborate regulations for the election of the juries of presentment, forms a landmark in the development of Henry II's plans of reform. Next year (1195) Hubert issued an edict requiring every man above the age of fifteen years to take an oath for the maintenance of public peace, before knights appointed for the purpose in every shire; from this sprang the office first of conservators, and later, of justices of the peace. At the close of the year he negotiated with William, king of Scots, a treaty of marriage between William's eldest daughter, and Richard's nephew Otto, which was never carried out, but served the good purpose of keeping peace between England and Scotland for many years.

In 1196 Hubert's troubles began. At Mid-Lent the London craftsmen, dissatisfied with the mode in which the local taxation was assessed by the civic rulers, were on the verge of a rising, which the justiciar strove to prevent by the arrest of their leader, William FitzOsbert [q.v.] William took sanctuary in the church of St. Mary-at-Bow; Hubert caused the church to be fired, and William, thus driven out, was seized, tried, condemned, and hanged with some of his followers. The rest submitted at once; but the common people persisted in honouring William as a martyr; the clergy were horrified at the firing of a church by an archbishop; and Hubert's own chapter, with whom he had long been at feud, were doubly furious, because the church belonged to them, and gloated over the sacrilege as a crowning charge in the indictment which they were preparing to bring against him at Rome. At the same moment Richard insulted his justiciar by sending over the abbot of Caen with authority to examine the accounts of all the royal officers in England. Though the abbot's death put an end to this project, and was followed by a half-apology from the king, Hubert threw up the justiciarship in disgust; he was, however, easily induced to withdraw his resignation. In 1197 he issued an assize of measures, which seems never to have been enforced, and was afterwards (1203) set aside by the justices. In June he went to Normandy; there he negotiated for Richard a pacification of his quarrel with the Archbishop of Rouen, a treaty of alliance with Flanders, and a truce with Philip of France. Shortly after his return (November) Richard sent over a demand for either three hundred knights to serve for twelve months against Philip, or money enough to hire three hundred mercenaries for the same period. Hubert called the bishops and barons to a council at Oxford, 7 Dec., and there proposed that they should furnish among themselves the required knights; the bishops of Lincoln and Salisbury opposed the scheme on constitutional grounds, and their opposition brought it to nought (Magna Vita S. Hugonis, pp.249-50; Gerv. Cant. i.549; Rog Hoveden, iv. 40). The justiciar was next called away to the Welsh marches, where he settled a dispute about the succession in South Wales, and fortified the border castles for the king. In 'the spring (1198) he ventured upon another great administrative experiment. He levied a tax of five shillings per carucate on all the arable land, save that held by serjeanty, or belonging to the parish churches; he decreed that the carucate, hitherto a variable quantity, should henceforth consist of one hundred acres, and to ascertain the number of these new carucates he ordered a survey to be made by means of an inquest taken by two royal commissioners in conjunction with the sheriff of each county, and certain chosen knights, on the sworn presentment of the local landowners or their stewards, and of duly elected representatives, free and villein, of every township and hundred in the shire. This application of the principle of representation to the assessment of taxation on real property was a marked step in the direction of constitutional self-government. But while the commission was in progress its originator was tottering to his fall. Innocent III was no sooner pope (January 1198) than he renewed the old decrees against the tenure of secular office by priests, and especially urged the dismissal of the Archbishop of Canterbury from the justiciarship, which Hubert thereupon resigned; in September he joined the king in Normandy; there he apparently remained till after Richard's death (April 1199), when John sent him home to form with William Marshal and the new justiciar, Geoffrey FitzPeter, a council of regency, whose energetic action kept England at peace till John's own arrival. On 27 May Hubert crowned the new king, after making the famous speech in which the old English theory of election to the crown was publicly enunciated for the last time (M. Paris, Chron. Maj. ii. 454-5). Next day he set papal prohibitions, constitutional precedents, and the warnings of an old colleague all alike at defiance by undertaking the office of chancellor; unquestionably for the country's good, as he was the only person who could act as a check upon John. He crowned the king and queen together at Westminster, 8 Oct. 1200; he was present at the Scottish king's homage to John at Lincoln, 22 Nov., and at the burial of St. Hugh two days later: he crowned John and Isabel again at Canterbury on Easter day 1201. In December John summoned him to Normandy, and thence sent him to France on a diplomatic mission, which failed, but through no fault of Hubert's; and next year the archbishop returned home, `that, as matters beyond sea were now almost desperate, he might at least keep England in peace,' in which he succeeded well enough while John was out of the way. In the spring of 1203 he went with some other prelates on another hopeless mission to Philip; at Christmas he entertained John at Canterbury. It may have been in the following year, when king and minister were brought into closer and more frequent contact than usual by the former's residence in England, that a quarrel took place which provoked John for a moment to deprive Hubert of the seals, ‘but the archbishop by his admirable prudence soon regained the king's favour’ (Gerv. Cant. ii. 410). His last political appearance was at Whitsuntide 1205, when he is said to have joined with William Marshal in dissuading the king from an expedition against France. On 10 July, on his way from Canterbury to Boxley to compose a quarrel between the Rochester monks and their bishop, he was attacked by a fever and a carbuncle; he turned aside to Tenham, and there, three days later, he died. In March 1890 a tomb attached to the south wall of Canterbury cathedral, close to its eastern end, was opened and found to contain remains which have since been identified as those of Hubert Walter (Antiquary, June 1890, 126-150).

‘Now, for the first time,’ said John, when he heard the tidings, ‘am I truly king of England’ (M. Paris, Hist. Angl. ii. 104). Coming from John, the words form the highest possible tribute to Hubert's character as a statesman. To his character as statesman, indeed, Hubert in his own day was accused of sacrificing his character as archbishop. But the charge is not altogether just. During the first five years of his pontificate he was hampered by a quarrel with his own chapter about a college for secular priests which his friend Archbishop Baldwin [q.v.] had founded at Lambeth out of the superfluous wealth of the metropolitan see, and which Hubert was most anxious to maintain, but which the monks strongly opposed; they carried the day, and in 1198 a papal brief forced Hubert to pull down the college. Appointed legate in March 1195, he had in that year made a visitation of the northern province, and held a church council at York; in September 1200 he held another council in London, in the teeth of a prohibition from the justiciar; at both councils some useful canons were passed. He was careful of the temporal interests of his see; he recovered for it the manors of Hythe and Saltwood, and the castles of Rochester and Tunbridge, which it had lost under Henry II; he kept the buildings at Christ Church and on the archiepiscopal manors in good repair; he obtained from Richard a renewal, afterwards confirmed by John, of the long-lost privilege of the archbishops to coin money at Canterbury (Ruding, Ann. of Coinage, 1840, ii. 181); he exercised a splendid hospitality during his life, and he bequeathed a mass of treasures to his cathedral church at his death, as well as the benefice of Halstow, whose revenues he directed to be appropriated to the precentor 'for the repair of the books,' i.e. the service-books used in the choir. When dean of York he had founded a Premonstratensian priory at West Dereham (Tanner, Not. Monast., Norfolk, xxi.; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi. 899); as chaplain-general of the Crusade, he seems to have originated or organised the house of canons regular attached to the chapel and cemetery for pilgrims at Acre, founded by a clerk named William in 1190 (R. Diceto, ii. 81; Ann. Dunst. a. 1231); and about 1204 he began transforming into a Cistercian monastery a secular college at Wolverhampton which had been surrendered to him for that purpose; this project, however, expired with him (Tanner, Not. Monast., Staffordshire, xxxi.; Mon. Angl. vi. 1443; 'Pipe Roll' Staffordshire, 6 Joh., in Salt Archæol. Coll. i. 119, 125).

Gerald of Wales mocks at Hubert's imperfect scholarship (Gir. Cambr. Opera, ii. 344-345); that he had, however, some scholarly sympathies is shown by his zeal for the Lambeth college, planned avowedly for the encouragement of learning. When once their great quarrel was ended, he and his monks were the best of friends; a week before his death he was at Canterbury, expressing the warmest interest in their welfare, and promising soon to return and ‘stay with them longer than usual,’ a promise fulfilled by his burial in their midst. One of them describes him as ‘tall of stature, wary of counsel, subtle of wit, though not eloquent of speech,’ and says that he chiefly erred in lending too ready an ear to detractors. It may have been this failing which led him to use his ecclesiastical influence and strain his temporal authority to the uttermost in order to drive out and keep out of the realm a man of whom he was somewhat unreasonably jealous, his fellow-primate of York [see Geoffrey, archbishop of York]. This, however, is the only instance in which his political action appears to have been influenced by personal motives. In his struggle with Gerald [see Giraldus Cambrensis] he was unquestionably fighting Canterbury's and England's battles, rather than his own. Gerald was the only person who ever brought any serious charge against the archbishop's honour, and those charges he afterwards retracted (Opera, i. 426).

[Gesta Henrici et Ricardi; Roger of Hoveden, vols. iii. and iv.; Gervase of Canterbury; Ralph de Diceto, vol. ii.; William of Newburgh and Richard of Devizes (Chronicles of Stephen and Henry II, vols. i-iii.); Epistolæ Cantuarienses; Roger of Wendover, vol. i.; Ralph of Coggeshall, all in Rolls Ser.; Stubbs's Constitutional History, vol. i., and prefaces to Roger of Hoveden, vol. iv., and Epp. Cantuar.; Foss's Judges; Hook's Archbishops, ii.]

K. N.