Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nonant, Hugh de

NONANT, HUGH de (d. 1198), bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, or Chester, was of a noble Norman family of Nonant, a bourg between Argentan and Seez. A Hugh de Nonant, who may have been the bishop's grandfather, and whom Ordericus Vitalis describes as ‘pauper oppidanus,’ was a prominent opponent of Robert de Bellesme early in the twelfth century (Hist. Eccl. iii. 423, iv. 181, Soc. de l'Hist. de France). A Roger de Nonant occurs as holding land in Devonshire between 1159 and 1170 (Pipe Rolls, sub annis), but there is no evidence as to his relationship to the bishop. Hugh's mother was sister of the famous Arnulf, bishop of Lisieux, a see which had been held by Arnulf's uncle John before him (ib. iv. 161, ‘Annales Uticenses’). Arnulf says that he brought up Hugh from a boy, had him well instructed, and gave him five livings in the bishopric of Lisieux, worth 100l., as well as a prebend of Lisieux at Vassy, and the archdeaconry. Afterwards, about 1182, Arnulf found occasion to complain to Henry II of Hugh's ingratitude (Epistola, 127). Hugh is alleged by Bale to have been educated at Oxford; this is not likely, but he was one of the scholars in the service of Thomas Becket before 1164. He was already archdeacon of Lisieux, for William Fitz-Stephen and Herbert de Bosham distinctly describe him as holding this office when in the archbishop's service (Materials for Hist. of Becket, Rolls Ser., iii. 57, 525). It would appear that he had resigned the archdeaconry of Lisieux before 1181 (Arnulf, Epistola, 121). Hugh was with Becket at Northampton on 13 Oct. 1164, when he asked Gilbert Foliot [q. v.] why he suffered the archbishop to bear his own cross (Materials, &c., iii. 57). He accompanied Becket in his exile, but before 1170 was reconciled to the king with the archbishop's consent. Hugh now appears to have entered the royal service, and was closely attached to the court throughout the rest of the reign of Henry II; he is referred to by Giraldus Cambrensis (Opera, iv. 394) and in the ‘Gesta Henrici’ (ii. 3) as a clerk and friend of the king. Arnulf wrote to Henry that he might employ Hugh with confidence, for, though devotion would not make him loyal, fear and self-interest would (Epistola, 127). Hugh was made archdeacon of Oxford in 1183 by his countryman, Walter de Coutances (Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 64), but the first particular mention of him in Henry's service does not occur till 1184, when he was sent to Pope Lucius to intercede with him on behalf of Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony. Hugh found the pope at Verona. He returned to Winchester in January 1185, and was rewarded for his success by promotion to the see of Lichfield and Coventry, or Chester, as it was then commonly styled. Gervase of Canterbury (i. 326) says that Hugh was ‘thrust into the see,’ so that he was probably from the start in a position of antagonism to the monks at Coventry, to whom the right of election belonged.

In 1186 Hugh was sent on another mission to the pope to procure one or two cardinals to act as legates with him in Ireland for the coronation of Henry's son John. In December he returned with the Cardinal Octavian; on 24 Dec. the two legates, though neither of them was a bishop, entered the cathedral at Canterbury with their mitres on and their crosses erect, and on 1 Jan. 1187 they were received by the king at Westminster. They claimed to have authority in all ecclesiastical matters, and Archbishop Baldwin, taking alarm at their pretensions, persuaded Henry to postpone the coronation and take the legates over to Normandy (Gesta Henrici, ii. 3, 4). However, Hugh was first sent to Canterbury with the bishops of Norwich and Worcester to try and effect an arrangement between the archbishop and his monks, but without result. On 27 Feb. Hugh went abroad with the king, and we find him with Henry at Alençon in August, and at Cherbourg on 1 Jan. 1188. About 27 Jan. Hugh returned with Baldwin to England, and on 31 Jan. he was at length consecrated by the archbishop at Lambeth. Henry himself crossed over on 30 Jan., and Hugh at once rejoined him at Otford. On 11 Feb., at the council of Geddington, Hugh was foremost in violence against the monks of Canterbury (Epp. Cant. p. 259). Immediately afterwards he was sent on a second fruitless errand to advise submission. In March Hugh went over to France, and was present at the enactment of the Saladin tithe. On 16 June he was sent on an embassy to Philip Augustus. Probably he remained with the king in France, and was one of the small band that continued faithful to Henry till the last; he was certainly with the king at La Ferté in June 1189. Like other of Henry's courtiers, Hugh seems to have been at once reconciled to the new king, and was sent over by Richard to England in August. He was present at the coronation on 3 Sept., and at the council of Pipewell on 15 Sept. On 1 Dec. he was present at the pacification of Baldwin's long quarrel with his monks at Canterbury, and on 5 Dec. witnessed the charter of release to William the Lion.

Up to this time Hugh had remained a court official, but he had already become involved in a quarrel with his monks at Coventry, similar to the one which had caused so much trouble at Canterbury. William of Newburgh says that as soon as Hugh was made bishop he attacked the monks, and, after stirring up discord between them and their prior, took advantage of the scandal to expel them by force (i. 395). Gervase of Canterbury (i. 461) says that Richard, in his greed to obtain money for the crusade, sold Coventry priory to Hugh for three hundred marks, and that the monks were expelled on 9 Oct. 1189. According to Giraldus Cambrensis (Opera, iv. 64–7), Hugh was repulsed with violence, and, coming to London, appealed to the other bishops in the council held at Westminster on 8 Nov.; he obtained the excommunication of his opponents, and advised a general substitution of secular clergy for monks, promising that if the other bishops concerned would give two thousand marks to be sent to Rome, he would add another one thousand out of his own revenues. Archbishop Baldwin opposed this suggestion, and Hugh then set out for Rome with letters from his colleagues. It hardly seems possible that Hugh went to Rome in person, for in March 1190 he joined Richard at Rouen (Epp. Cant. p. 324; Rog. Hov. iii. 32). The expulsion of the monks does not seem to have been finally effected till the latter part of 1190, for we know that their exile lasted seven and a half years (Ann. Mon. i. 54). From Newburgh we learn that Hugh gained his end through the assistance of William Longchamp. Richard of Devizes says that the ejection of the monks was ordered in the council held by Longchamp as papal legate at Westminster on 13 Oct. 1190. On the receipt of Hugh's request the pope had waited six months to give the monks an opportunity to appeal, and, on their failure, had confirmed the new arrangement (Will. Newb. i. 395). Richard of Devizes accuses Hugh of having tried to bribe certain cardinals by a promise to attach some of the new canonries at Coventry to their Roman churches (iii. 440–2). According to Gervase (i. 488) the final expulsion of the monks took place on Christmas-day 1190, after which Moses, the prior of Coventry, went to Rome in 1191. This agrees with William of Newburgh's statement that the appeal of the monks arrived too late. After Hugh had fallen out of favour, Hubert Walter restored the monks by order of the pope on 11 Jan. 1198.

Apart from his quarrel with the monks, Hugh held a not unimportant place in English politics during the first few years of the reign of Richard. He obtained from Richard the office of sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire. Archbishop Baldwin at once took exception to the tenure of such a post by a bishop, and Hugh promised to resign after Easter 1190. When he failed to do so, Baldwin ordered him to appear before the bishops of London and Rochester. Hugh thereupon, in a letter to the former, declared his readiness to abide by their decision. He, however, appears as sheriff of these counties in 1190–1, and again in 1192–4 (Ralph de Diceto, ii. 77–8). On the latter occasion he was no doubt acting in the interest of Earl John. In September 1189 Hugh was commissioned by Richard to endeavour to induce Geoffrey, the king's half-brother, to renounce his election to the archbishopric of York. A little later he was again sent to Geoffrey at Dover in company with Longchamp (Gir. Camb. iv. 376, 378). When Geoffrey returned to England in September 1191, Hugh had quarrelled with Longchamp; Giraldus Cambrensis says that the latter had tried to deprive Hugh of his London house (ib. iv. 416). Newburgh says that Hugh was reported to have instigated John in his rebellion. Hugh certainly took part in the pacification at Winchester on 28 July, when he received the castle of the Peak, no doubt to hold it in John's interest. When Geoffrey was arrested at Dover on 18 Sept. Hugh was foremost in denouncing the chancellor, and at once appealed to John. He was present with John at the conference of Longchamp's opponents near Reading on 5–6 Oct., persuaded the Londoners to proclaim Longchamp a public enemy (ib. iv. 398, 403), and took the chief part in his condemnation in the council of St. Paul's on 8 Oct. Longchamp's attempted flight is graphically but maliciously described by Hugh in a letter which he wrote at the time. Hugh's treatment of a man with whom he had but recently been on friendly terms met with not unnatural censure. Peter of Blois [q. v.] in particular remonstrated with him for his ingratitude, saying that Longchamp had looked on him as his other self (Epistola, 89, apud Migne's Patrologia, ccvii. 278). Hugh was included by Longchamp in the list of his opponents whom he threatened with excommunication in December 1191. On 27 Nov. Hugh was at Canterbury for the election of Baldwin's successor, Reginald Fitz-Jocelin [q. v.] During 1192 he was probably busy with his duties as sheriff and with his new buildings at Coventry (Richard of Devizes, iii. 440–2). After the news of Richard's captivity in 1193 Hugh started for Germany with horses and treasure for the king. On his way between Canterbury and Dover he was robbed, according to the statement of Giraldus, by men employed by Longchamp (Opera, iv. 417; Ralph de Diceto, ii. 111). He, however, made his way to Germany, but, finding that Richard was hostile to him, thought it prudent to retire to France. Meantime Hugh's brother, Robert de Nonant, had been sent to the emperor with treasonable letters from John and Philip Augustus. The emperor showed the letters to Richard, who nevertheless asked Robert de Nonant to become one of his hostages; when Robert refused, the king ordered him to be imprisoned (HOVEDEN, iii. 232–3). After Richard's return to England he ordered, on 31 March 1194 at Northampton, that Hugh should attend to answer before the bishops for his acts as bishop, and before laymen for his acts as sheriff. In the following year Hugh obtained pardon by a fine of five thousand marks, but his brother Robert was kept in prison at Dover, where he died (ib. iii. 242, 287). Hugh himself probably never returned to England, but remained in seclusion in Normandy. Before his death he assumed the habit of a monk in the Cluniac abbey of Bec Hellouin. There he fell ill in the autumn of 1197, but lingered till the following spring, occupied with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. He died on 25 or 27 March 1198, and was buried in the abbey at Bec (Gir. Camb. iv. 68–71; Ann. Mon. i. 56, ii. 67; Gervase of Canterbury, i. 552).

Hugh is not a bad type of the official prelate of the latter twelfth century—masterful and contentious, but sagacious and learned. As one who ‘never loved monks or monkhood,’ he finds little favour with the monastic historians, though they all agree in admitting his skill in letters and oratory. William of Newburgh describes him as ‘crafty, bold, and shameless, but well equipped with learning and eloquence.’ His uncle Arnulf accuses him of greed and ingratitude, a charge which is to some extent justified by his relations with Longchamp. On the other hand he served Henry II faithfully, and Giraldus Cambrensis says that, ‘whatever he may have appeared in his public career, he was in private acceptable to God both in heart and deed.’ His reputation for eloquence is justified by the graphic report which Giraldus gives of his speech to the bishops in November 1189. He was witty, and had a bitter tongue, never losing an opportunity to carp at monks. He told Richard: ‘If I had my way there would not be a monk left in England. To the devil with all monks!’ On another occasion, when Hubert Walter corrected Richard for saying ‘coram nobis’ instead of ‘coram nos,’ Hugh showed his scholarship by saying: ‘Stick to your own grammar, sire, for it is the better’ (Will. Newb. i. 394; Gir. Camb. iii. 30, iv. 67, 71, 397.

On the strength of his unimportant letter to the Bishop of London in 1190, and his longer account of Longchamp's fall, Hugh is included by Bale among his English writers. The latter letter is given in the ‘Gesta Ricardi,’ ii. 215–20, and Hoveden, iii. 141–7. It frequently occurs by itself in manuscripts, e.g. Bodleian Add. A 44, where it is accompanied by a metrical version of contemporary date, which has been printed in the ‘English Historical Review,’ v. 317–19. Arnulf, in his ‘Carmen ad Nepotem suum cum esset adolescens,’ speaks of Hugh as the rising poet of Normandy; but no poetry of Hugh's appears to have survived, unless indeed the metrical version referred to above is by him. Some constitutions originally published by Hugh are given in Wilkins's ‘Concilia,’ i. 496–501, and a letter from him to Herbert of Salisbury is in the ‘Register of St. Osmund,’ i. 266–7.

[The Gesta Henrici and Gesta Ricardi, attributed to Benedict Abbas; Roger of Hoveden; Giraldus Cambrensis; Ralph de Diceto; Ralph of Coggeshall; William of Newburgh and Richard of Devizes, ap. Chron. of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I; Gervase of Canterbury; Annales Monastici; Jocelin de Brakelond, ap. Memorials of St. Edmund's Abbey, i. 295–6; Materials for the Hist. of Thomas Becket; Epistolæ Cantuarienses, ap. Memorials of Richard I, vol. ii. (all these are in the Rolls Ser.); Arnulf's Epistolæ, &c. ap. Migne's Patrologia, cci.; Eyton's Itinerary of Henry II; Hist. Litt. de France, xv. 310–13; Le Neve's Fasti Eccl. Angl. i. 546 (where he is called ‘prior of the Carthusians,’ probably through confusion with his contemporary, St. Hugh of Lincoln), and ii. 64; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 552; Madox's Exchequer, i. ii. passim.]

C. L. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.207
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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103 i 21 f.e. Nonant, Hugh de: for Hubert of Salisbury read Herbert of Salisbury